Education News

MAUSD adopts sexual harassment policy

BRISTOL — The Mount Abraham Unified School District board at its Nov. 30 meeting adopted a new sexual harassment policy, 14 months after it was approved for posting.

“Prevention of Sexual Harassment as Prohibited by Title IX” contains new and updated regulations required by the U.S. Department of Education. Schools receiving federal funding were required to comply with the regulations by Aug. 14, 2020.

The MAUSD board approved the policy for posting on Sept. 22, 2020, and had meant to adopt it after the public comment period.

“Unfortunately this policy … didn’t make it to the next agenda because of the amount of work we had,” board Chair Dawn Griswold said at last week’s meeting. “It just fell through a crack. So when it was brought to my attention, I put it back on the agenda.”

Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 is a federal civil rights law prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sex in education programs and activities. During the late 1970s, case law established that sexual harassment can be considered a form of sex-based discrimination and thus a violation of Title IX.

The Obama administration issued guidance broadening the definition of sexual harassment and encouraging more aggressive investigations of sexual harassment complaints. The Trump administration rescinded that guidance and replaced it with legal updates to the law, which narrow the definition of sexual harassment and raise the evidentiary standards required to prove Title IX violations.

Those updates, which were finalized in May 2020, form the basis of the required sexual harassment policies adopted by the MAUSD board last month.

One of the people pointing out the district’s Title IX policy discrepancy was a parent who filed a formal complaint of sexual harassment on Nov. 10, requesting an investigation into what she alleges were “unwelcome advances, physical assault and other contact of a sexual nature” experienced by her child and at least four other children during recess at Bristol Elementary School.

According to the complaint, Bristol Elementary staff were made aware of the issue in September and a school counselor assured the parent the school was “aware and mindful of the need to supervise this situation during recess.”

But more incidents were reported by multiple students in November, the complaint states. As a result, the parent said, her child expressed concerns about returning to school.

Because the parent could not readily determine who the district’s Title IX coordinator was, the complaint says “to be forwarded to Title IX coordinator.”

Five days later, at a MAUSD board meeting, the parent accused the district of not fully complying with the new regulations, which stipulate, among other things, that the title, name, office address, email address, and telephone number of institution’s Title IX coordinator are to be prominently displayed on both the website and in publications, along with a statement that Title IX inquiries may be referred either to that coordinator or to the assistant secretary for the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights.

On Nov. 16, the Independent searched the MAUSD’s district and school websites and found one reference to “the superintendent” being the Title IX coordinator, but was subsequently told by Superintendent Patrick Reen that the district coordinator is in fact Assistant Superintendent Catrina DiNapoli.

The following day, DiNapoli informed the parent she’d been appointed to that position, that she had received the parent’s formal complaint, and that the district would be opening an investigation into the allegations.

That investigation is still ongoing, the parent told the Independent on Tuesday.

The text of the adopted MAUSD sexual harassment policy can be found on the district website at tinyurl.com/policyC12.

Reach Christopher Ross at [email protected].

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