U.S. Department of Education Reaches Agreement with West Contra Costa Unified School District in California to Address & Prevent Sexual Assault, Harassment of Students

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The U.S. Department of Education announced today that its Office for Civil Rights (OCR) has entered into an agreement with the West Contra Costa Unified School District (district), in Richmond, Calif., to ensure compliance with Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 (Title IX). OCR proactively initiated the investigation to examine whether the district responded promptly and effectively to instances of sexual harassment and sexual violence.

OCR’s investigation revealed that sexually harassing, student-on-student behavior permeated the educational environment at school sites and that the district has not undertaken school-wide or district-wide initiatives sufficient to address it.

Evidence included verbal and physical conduct by students, including sexual assaults, unwelcome touching, demands for sexual favors, and the use of sexually derogatory language created a hostile environment at district schools. OCR also found that students had been subjected to sexual harassment by employees. In addition, the district was not in compliance with the procedural requirements of Title IX, which include adoption and publication of grievance procedures providing for prompt and equitable resolution of complaints of sex discrimination and designation of at least one employee to coordinate compliance with Title IX.

“I am dismayed by the prevalence of sexual harassment and assault occurring at elementary and secondary schools in West Contra Costa,” said Catherine E. Lhamon, assistant secretary for civil rights. “Although the district frequently reported known incidents of sexual assaults to law enforcement for prosecution, the district did not fully comply with its legal obligations under Title IX to take immediate actions to eliminate the harassment, prevent its recurrence, and address its effects, and to put proper procedures and protocols in place.  OCR stands ready to work with the district to help it realize its commitments to preventing sexual harassment and sexual violence in its schools through satisfaction of this agreement.”

The agreement, in part, commits the district to take the following actions:

  • Designate a Title IX coordinator and ensure that grievance procedures comply with Title IX requirements;
  • Hire a consultant with expertise in the area of sexual harassment prevention and training;
  • Revise its policies, procedures, and practices for preventing, promptly investigating, and remediating sexual harassment and sexual violence;
  • Develop guidance to help ensure the effectiveness of remedial actions and conduct annual assessments of the climate at district schools to evaluate the effectiveness of the actions being taken, the students’ attitudes, knowledge and experiences around sexual harassment, and to inform future proactive steps to ensure a safe environment for students; 
  • Take interim measures to ensure the safety of victims, reporting students and the school community; and address any ongoing harassment and prevent retaliation;
  • Create a task force composed of parents, students, community members and representatives of community-based organizations to identify strategies to improve the school climate, and prevent sexual harassment and sexual violence;
  • Develop a comprehensive plan for educating students, parents and employees to ensure that they are aware of Title IX’s prohibition against sex discrimination, including the right to be protected from sexual harassment; how to recognize it when it occurs and how to report incidents. The plan will take into account the results of the climate assessments and recommendations of the task force;
  • Provide annual training to all district staff and school resource officers and age-appropriate instruction to students;
  • Increase supervision of students at school sites and at all school-sponsored after-school activities, whether held on campus or off campus;
  • Implement systems for tracking reports that may constitute sexual harassment, even when no formal complaints are filed, to ensure that incidents are promptly and impartially investigated and resolved; and assess the effectiveness of its efforts to prevent and address sexual harassment and sexual violence.

OCR will closely monitor the district’s implementation of the terms of the resolution agreement.

A copy of the resolution letter can be found here: http://www2.ed.gov/documents/press-releases/west-contra-costa-california-letter.doc

A copy of the agreement can be found here: http://www2.ed.gov/documents/press-releases/west-contra-costa-california-agreement.doc

The office’s mission is to ensure equal access to education and promote educational excellence throughout the nation through the vigorous enforcement of civil rights. OCR is responsible for enforcing federal civil rights laws that prohibit discrimination by educational institutions on the basis of race, color, national origin, disability, sex, and age, as well as the Boy Scouts of America Equal Access Act of 2001. Additional information about OCR is available at http://www.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/index.html.