While most people associate Title IX with college or sports, recent complaints of sexual assault and harassment have exposed the importance of these programs in K-12. They’ve also exposed concerns about training, as parents question if those coordinators and districts understand what the job is designed to do.
Universities and colleges are required to train their Title IX coordinators every year, but no such requirement exists for the K-12 educational system. Districts are required to have a Title IX coordinator, but the level to which that person is involved in sexual misconduct claims appears to vary widely.
In February, 11Alive talked with Victoria and her family. The teen (whose name has been changed to protect her identity) says she was raped by a middle school classmate.
The alleged attack happened at a friend’s house, but she shared four classes with the boy at Jefferson City Middle school. Victoria didn’t report it until nearly a year later but says she had no choice when the bullying and harassment never seemed to stop. The family understood there was little the school could do about the attack, but they expected to the middle school administration to take action to investigate and stop the harassment.
They claim that never happened.
11Alive Investigator Rebecca Lindstrom looked into Jefferson City’s Title IX coordinator. According to an open records request, the last time he received Title IX specific training was in 2007. That means the coordinator’s training was seven-years-old by the time Victoria needed help.
Lindstrom learned that wasn’t uncommon. Fulton and Cobb counties each have one Title IX coordinator for their district and while those people are expected to stay current on the law, there are no requirements on how often they must receive training specific to Title IX.
Dekalb County says it's Chief Legal Officer assumes the role and must complete 12 hours of continuing legal education each year, but again, can determine how much of that is related if any to Title IX.
Fulton, Cobb and DeKalb say their coordinators do train others within the district on how to handle and investigate sexual harassment and other sexual misconduct related cases and all employees are trained on district related policies regarding harassment and bullying each year. But ultimately, it is the coordinator who is responsible for making sure the law is followed.
If the Title IX investigator was ever involved in Victoria’s case, the family never knew it. Title IX requires the school to investigate the complaints and then provide a written report to the student. Victoria’s family never received any documentation in middle school, nor were they ever alerted they could contact the Title IX coordinator for help.
Victoria’s family says they made at least five complaints with the middle school principal while she was in 8th grade, but the district says it has no record any complaints were made.
The coordinator’s name is listed in the handbook sent out by the district each year, but Lindstrom has learned most parents don’t understand the role. Victoria’s parents certainly didn’t until they started researching other schools for her to attend, resolving they would have to take steps on their own to protect their daughter.
They’ve now filed a complaint with the US Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights.
“I just want to be a voice for the people who don’t feel like they have a voice because no one really stands up for them. Especially in school systems… it’s ignored. And it can’t be ignored anymore,” Victoria said.