Final report on sexual misconduct at Steamboat high school to be released Tuesday
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Giving a final report to the Steamboat Springs School Board on Monday, independent investigator Jane Quimby called her past eight weeks of work very challenging but said she was impressed by the level of cooperation and participation.
Quimby, of Quimby and Associates, is a former FBI agent hired by the Steamboat Springs School District to investigate the culture at the high school related to the alleged mishandling of claims of sexual harassment made by student victims to the administration.
Quimby conducted more than 100 interviews, collected surveys from students, parents and staff and underwent an extensive review of documents.
“Sexual misconduct has definitely occurred, but I did not find it to be pervasive or systemic,” Quimby said.
The majority of the reported misconduct occurred off-campus, she noted.
Her 28-page report resulted in 19 recommendations for the district.
Quimby said she focused on tangible steps and actions the district could take to improve their policies and culture.
A full copy of the report will be made public Tuesday, minus personal and identifying information, which will be redacted.
The first phase of Quimby’s investigation involved a detailed review of the district’s policies and procedures related to sexual misconduct
She said the policies have been “drastically improved” from what they were three or four months ago. One additional change she recommended was a policy prohibiting retaliation for reporting sexual misconduct.
In terms of specific incidents, Quimby reviewed 28 cases at the high school and 19 at the Steamboat Springs Middle School. Those were any reported cases that involved some type of misconduct that had a sexual component, Quimby said.
She broke those cases into three categories. Category one includes “sexually suggestive comments or behavior without a physical component,” Quimby said, which would include sexting. Category two included unwanted touching or contact, and category three involved the most serious cases of “forced sexual conduct or contact.”
Among the high school cases, 13 fell into category one, eight into category two and seven into category three. At the middle school, 15 fell into category one, two in category two and two in category three.
She did identify a significant “fear of reporting” that brought more incidents to her attention during the interviews and through the surveys, and which she acknowledged led to underreporting.
Quimby discussed the role of Title IX, the portion of the federal Education Amendments Act of 1972 that states, “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.”
It is an evolving and emerging area of law on which Quimby said the entire district needs more training and fundamental awareness.
“There is clearly a lack of understanding of Title IX,” she said, “across the board — students, staff and parents.”
While it used to be mostly associated with college athletics, the broad law is now applied to protecting both victims and the accused in cases of sexual assault.
According to an April 2011 letter issued by the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, “The sexual harassment of students, including sexual violence, interferes with students’ right to receive an education free from discrimination and, in the case of sexual violence, is a crime.”
There were six cases at the high school that fell under Title IX and three at the middle school, Quimby said.
While she said she didn’t believe any of the Title IX cases were mishandled, Quimby identified a clear need to improve the reporting and investigation process, and she recommended hiring someone who could act as a third party investigator and who did not work at the school where the complaint was filed.
Phase two of Quimby’s investigation focused on climate and culture. Surveys were given to students, staff and parents. The response rate was strong, she said, especially among staff and students. Those surveys revealed a “wide disparity of views depending on perspective,” Quimby noted.
But one comment she called common related to a lack of responsiveness from both the district and the school administration.
Quimby said she was somewhat surprised that bullying was identified as more of a problem than sexual misconduct or assault, with 53% of students surveyed saying they had experienced bullying and 73% of parents surveyed reporting their students had experienced bullying.
Quimby said she was also concerned about the significant number of students — 37% — who reported sending or receiving sexually suggestive messages. She recommended adding a specific provision to the district policies dealing with sexting.
“It needs to be a point of emphasis, because it’s widespread and it’s a concern,” she said.
A significant percentage of students and parents reported being worried they were not being heard, Quimby said, or that their concerns were being dismissed, and not believing there had been appropriate follow-through or outcomes when incidents were reported.
One of Quimby’s strongest recommendations was to increase educational programming for students around consent, boundaries and healthy relationships.
Quimby had a list of “other issues” that came up over the course of her investigation. That included anti-Semitism on campus in recent years, dissatisfaction about how the district handled the controversy over the use of the poem “Howl” in the classroom and concerns about general student behavior and a lack of discipline.
Quimby made a point to say there were a lot of good things happening in the Steamboat school district and said she hopes her report is “a catalyst for positive change.”
“I tried to be very tangible in specific things you can to promote positive change,” Quimby said.
Board members thanked Quimby for her professionalism, fairness and thoroughness.
“We needed to find out what is wrong, so we can fix it,” said Board President Kelly Latterman.
Latterman added she did not want to wait until the next regularly scheduled meeting in May to start talking about implementing more of Quimby’s recommendations.
The board agreed to hold a special meeting at 4 p.m. Thursday, April 16, to discuss the report and follow up with recommended actions. Latterman said there will be an opportunity for (virtual) public comment at the meeting, with several days for the public to have the opportunity to review the report.
“We fully endorse this report, and we think it’s thorough and fair,” Latterman said.
To reach Kari Dequine Harden, call 970-871-4205, email kharden@SteamboatPilot.com or follow her on Twitter @kariharden.
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