Misconduct & Discipline

The Department of Education (“ED” or the “Department”) issued its long-awaited Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to amend regulations implementing Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 (“Title IX”) on November 29, 2018. As the Department has acknowledged, the proposed rules would adopt standards that significantly depart from those set forth in prior ED regulations and guidance under Title IX. Although much of the debate regarding the proposed rules has focused on institutions of higher education’s treatment of sexual harassment, the proposed rules also would significantly impact elementary and secondary schools. Husch Blackwell’s education team offers the following overview of the proposed rules, with a focus on the Department’s regulation of K-12 institutions.
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In Salazar v. South Antonio Independent School District, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit held that an educational institution can be liable under Title IX for sexual misconduct committed by its employees only when an employee with power to correct the misconduct—other than the wrongdoer himself—is aware of the misconduct and is deliberately indifferent to it. Although the student plaintiff in the case argued an institution could be liable based on a principal’s deliberate indifference to his own misconduct, the court rejected this result as inconsistent with Title IX. The court held: “We discern no congressional intent in Title IX to provide a private cause of action for damages when the only employee or representative of [an institution] who had knowledge of the [misconduct] was the offender.” The court’s ruling ensures that an educational institution—including a college or university—will not be liable under Title IX someone other than the wrongdoer at the institution is aware of misconduct and the institution has a fair opportunity to respond to it, but nonetheless remains deliberately indifferent to it.

The facts of Salazar are tragic.


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The United States Education and Justice Departments recently released companion Dear Colleague Letters providing guidance on implementing School Resource Officers (“SROs”). In those letters, the Departments explained how school districts should use memoranda of understanding (“MOUs”) with local law enforcement agencies in order to clarify their expectations for SROs. Among other things, the MOUs should require training for officers working in schools and should explicitly state that their proper role is not to administer day-to-day discipline. This guidance comes in response to media scrutiny on situations involving SROs, like the infamous case last year in which a video of a sheriff’s deputy throwing a high school student out of her chair attracted nationwide attention.
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Yesterday, the White House released a Fact Sheet: Ensuring Safe and Supportive Schools for All Students. The White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault in partnership with the U.S. Department of Education (the Department) announced additional materials to help school districts address sexual assault misconduct in elementary and secondary schools. These resources demonstrate the continued commitment of the Department and White House to addressing the issue of sexual assault on campus. It also underscores that the Title IX requirements to prevent and address sexual misconduct are not just an issue for colleges and universities, but also for public school districts as well.
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