The U.S. Department of Education announced on Wednesday a new effort to address the “tragic rise of sexual misconduct complaints” from K-12 schools across the country.
A new Title IX enforcement initiative will be led by the Department’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR), according to a press release. The OCR will conduct “nationwide compliance reviews” in schools and districts to examine how they handle sexual misconduct complaints, including those involving teachers and school staff.
In addition, the OCR will conduct quality reviews of data on sexual misconduct cases submitted by school districts, in order to make sure that those incidents are accurately recorded and reported to the federal government. The plan also includes public awareness campaigns, and a nationwide proposal to collect more detailed data on Title IX offenses.
“We hear all too often about innocent children being sexually assaulted by an adult at school. That should never happen. No parent should have to think twice about their child’s safety while on school grounds,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. “That’s why I’ve directed our OCR team to tackle the tragic rise of sexual misconduct complaints in our nation’s K-12 campuses head-on.”
School districts across the United States reported approximately 9,700 incidents of sexual assault, rape, or attempted rape in public elementary and secondary schools during the 2015-2016 school year, according to the latest data available (pdf) in the OCR’s Civil Rights Data Collection.
“The number of K-12 sexual harassment and violence complaints filed with OCR is nearly 15 times greater than it was a decade ago,” said Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Kenneth L. Marcus. “This disturbing change is a matter of serious concern and requires immediate attention.”
The new initiative follows a recent announcement by the Education Department that it’s doing extensive research to find the best ways states and school districts can prevent what’s commonly called “pass the trash.” It occurs when school officials quietly transfer a teacher or other employee who has committed or been accused of a sexual offense to another school district. Although the practice is prohibited under the Every Student Succeed Act, it is known that from time to time abusers find new jobs at different schools.
“Outlawing the despicable act of ‘passing the trash’ was a major step toward keeping our children safe from predators while they’re at school,” said Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Penn.), who pushed for a ban on “passing the trash” in 2015. “Parents deserve to know that when their kids go to school each day, they are going to be in a safe environment where they will not be preyed upon.”