Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Punishments for peer sexual harassment

The Dallas Morning News reports that some Texas schools are taking an extreme stance in punishing students for activities they deem to constitute peer sexual harassment, based on a fear of school district liability if they do not actively try to end the harassment.

This is generally a laudable goal, although when a 7-year-old is suspended from school for pointing out the bra strap of classmate, one can only hope that common sense prevails in these types of situations. After all the Davis case which established school district liability for peer sexual harassment under Title IX does set workable guidelines as to what constitutes actionable negligence on the part of the school district.

The Department of Education guidelines make clear: "Effectiveness [of the school's actions toward the offending student] has always been the measure of an adequate response under Title IX. This does not mean a school must overreact out of fear of being judged inadequate. Effectiveness is measured based on a reasonableness standard. Schools do not have to know beforehand that their response will be effective. However, if their initial steps are ineffective in stopping the harassment, reasonableness may require a series of escalating steps."