By Kirsten Bokenkamp – Originally posted on ACLU’s Blog of Rights
Senior Communications Strategist
Being a teenager isn’t easy. Kids can be hard on each other, and students must contend with the harsh realities of bullying, of lunch rooms fights, of students picking on one another, and of ending friendships over teenage love — all while trying to get an education to prepare them for adulthood, college and a career. Teachers and administrators are vested with the critical responsibility of creating and maintaining an environment where kids feel safe and supported so they can focus their attention on learning — the real mandate of public schools.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t always work that way, as one Texas student, called Faith (not her real name), found out last year, after she was raped, at school, by a fellow student. Faith took the brave step of reporting her rape to school officials only to be told to “work it out” with her rapist.
What?!? “Work it out”???
This is rape we are talking about — a violent and invasive act that often requires intensive rehabilitation for the victim. The student needed support and protection from the school officials to whom she reported the assault, and instead, received the opposite. They blew it off.
And it gets worse. The officials at her school ultimately charged her with sexual misconduct, and sent her to the same off-campus alternative school as her rapist, where she “had to not only face him, but the bullying of others because he bragged about it.”
We couldn’t sit back and watch. Many people often think of Title IX as a way to ensure there is no discrimination based on sex in school athletics, but the mandate of Title IX expands way beyond that limited scope. Last fall, the ACLU Women’s Rights Project and the ACLU of Texas filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights (OCR) on behalf of Faith. We asked the OCR to determine whether the district had violated its obligations under Title IX and requested that the OCR undertake a compliance review of the school district.
All students have the right to feel safe in school, and part of the job of school officials is to protect vulnerable students. ACLU attorneys, with cooperating counsel from Weil Gotshal and Manges LLP, were able to get Faith out of the disciplinary alternative education program she had been sent to with her attacker, and into another school district so she could complete her senior year in safety and graduate on time. Additionally, we sent letters to each of Texas’ more than 1,000 public school district superintendents to remind them of their obligations under Title IX, and to ask them to take a closer look at their policies to ensure that what happened to Faith will not happen to other students.