Feds Say Virginia School Division Lax on Sex Harassment Reports

September 30, 2014

A federal investigation has concluded Norfolk’s public schools have been negligent in handling sexual harassment complaints.

The Virginian-Pilot also reports that the investigation found the schools were negligent in responding to harassment of students with disabilities.

The U.S. Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights issued its findings this year. The newspaper said it obtained a copy of the report on Tuesday.

In response to the report, a spokeswoman for the schools said the school division takes “all allegations seriously, and the safety of all students and staff is paramount.”

The investigative report found that school officials failed to respond promptly and effectively to the sexual harassment of students. The report said that resulted “in a sexually hostile environment.”

It cited accounts from students at two high schools and four middle schools who said “students frequently touch, slap, and grab their private parts, particularly their buttocks and breasts, while they walk in the hallway, in class, on the school bus, in the cafeteria, in the stairwell, and in most other areas within the schools.”

Many students were reluctant to report problems to school staffers, the report stated, and students said teachers who were aware of the behavior “just ‘roll their eyes’ or turn the other way.”

The investigation included interviews with administrators who said they were aware of the offensive incidents, but did not consider them sexual harassment because “they only occurred one at a time.”

Students were disciplined for sexual harassment in about 100 incidents in the 2011-12 school year and about 78 instances through March 2013 of the following school year, according to data in the report.

Besides the sexual harassment, the report addressed problems with harassment of students with disabilities, even though the division produced no documented instances of such harassment.

Students told investigators, however, that “peers laugh at and tease special education students during physical education class and in the cafeteria.”

To address the problems, the schools must provide more staff training, create an anti-harassment campaign in schools and develop better reporting procedures and methods to track complaints.

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