Last week, U. S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos announced plans for a new compliance review and data collection initiative to address the rise in sexual assaults in K-12 education, this time targeting the actions of adult employees toward school students.  Among other things, the new initiative will implement provisions to prohibit public schools from reassigning employees accused of sexual assaults against students. 

Asserting that “No parent should have to think twice about their child’s safety while on school grounds,” DeVos directed the Office for Civil Rights to lead the initiative to examine sexual assault through several avenues, including the following:

  • OCR will focus on raising public awareness of the issue of sexual assault in K-12 schools, including making information on the issue available to educators, school leaders, and families.
  • OCR will conduct nationwide compliance reviews to examine how sexual assault allegations are handled under Title IX, with special emphasis on sexual incidents involving teachers and school staff. It will then become OCR’s job to work with districts to correct any compliance concerns.
  • OCR will conduct Data Quality Reviews (DQRs) of the sexual offenses data including sexual assaults, as submitted by school districts through the Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC). In doing so, OCR will partner with the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) and support districts in accurately recording and reporting incidents of sexual assault/sexual offenses through the CRDC.
  • For the 2019-2020 data collection, OCR has proposed collecting more detailed data on sexual assault. The proposed data collection includes incidents perpetrated by school staff or school personnel.  If adopted, the inclusion of this data would make the CRDC collection the first universal collection to gather such data systemically for individual schools.

This is the second nationwide initiative announced by the OCR within the last 13 months.  The present announcement comes in the wake of OCR’s recent resolution of two sexual harassment complaints involving Chicago Public Schools. However, Secretary DeVos insists the issue is widespread, stating “We hear too often about innocent children being sexually assaulted by an adult at school.”  Her declaration is supported by 2015-2016 CRDC reports recording more than 9,700 incidents of sexual assault, rape or attempted rape in public elementary and secondary schools.  The Agency additionally reports the problem is “fifteen times greater than a decade ago.” The reporting as referenced does not break down the number of adults directly involved in such allegations but relate to a companion announcement by the Office of Elementary and Secondary Education that it will publish an extensive study on state and local measures to prevent the “pass the trash” phenomenon in dealing with adults accused of sexual offenses against students.