Task force, Steamboat school board members work to finalize Title IX policy
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — For months, a task force has been working to address a wide scope of efforts to improve policy and culture related to sexual misconduct across the Steamboat Springs School District.
At the Sept. 28 Board of Education meeting, the Title IX update discussion centered around incorporating recommendations from the task force into the policies and procedures displayed on the district website.
Title IX is a federal statute requiring educational institutions that receive federal funding to ensure that sexual harassment and sexual violence do not interfere with their students’ education and well-being. The laws were traditionally identified with colleges and universities, but in recent years have been applied more in K-12 settings.
On Aug. 14, the U.S. Department of Education’s newest Title IX regulations governing how educational institutions respond to sexual misconduct went into effect.
The Steamboat task force includes teachers, administrators, counselors, parents, students and community members, and was formed to address issues and carry forward recommendations in the report from Jane Quimby, of Quimby and Associates. Quimby, a former FBI agent, was hired by the Steamboat Springs School District in February to investigate the culture at the school related to the alleged mishandling of claims of sexual harassment made by students and parents to the administration.
The task force is divided into three subcommittees.
- Repair, Restore and Rebuild, with the goal to “Promote healing and strong relationships between Steamboat High School students, staff, administration and parents.”
- Complaint Procedures, Education Support and Accountability, with the goal to “Create concrete changes in the reporting system and provide recommendations and support for establishing a reporting system that are explained to students in an effort to increase understanding and trust.”
- Cultures of Dignity and Programming, with the goal to “Establish educational and programming opportunities to help meet our mission and support the Steamboat Springs School District in creating a culture of dignity and respect.”
At the end of June, about 25 people trained on the latest Title IX guidelines and regulations reported Anne-Marie Williams, the district’s new Title IX Coordinator.
About five district employees have gone through investigator training, she said, and all district staff has participated in basic Title IX training. That includes people who work in food service, custodial services and bus drivers.
One of the changes to the federal laws broadens the definition on who is considered mandatory reporter of sexual misconduct.
Previously, the rule was that a school was liable if a school official with actual knowledge of an incident “acted with deliberate indifference.” Now it states if any school employee reports an incident, the school must respond and investigate.
Another mandatory training through Safe Schools will be completed this month, Williams said, which helps employees learn how to recognized signs of sexual harassment.
A Safe Schools training for students also is scheduled, she said, with different programs for sixth through eighth graders and ninth through 12th graders.
A majority of the board’s discussion focused on the goal to make the reporting procedures as clear as possible for students and families.
Much work has been done to simplify language policy, make it more user friendly with less legalese, and easier to understanding and navigate, Williams described.
That also means being easy to navigate for the school’s legal team, she said, so they have explicit directions on the next steps.
Board member Katy Lee expressed urgency in the goal of a very clear reporting process online — ensuring as soon as possible there are clear directions and documents for individuals to report an incident, and know exactly what to expect in terms of the procedures following the report.
In terms of changes to policy language, the board discussed adding clarification of “on or off campus” in terms of prohibited misconduct. They also discussed the district’s policy on responding to misconduct that may not fall under Title IX laws.
“Just because it is not under Title IX ,the school still takes it seriously,” said Carolyn Lawrence, Associate Dean for Student Affairs at Colorado Mountain College’s Steamboat campus.
Proficient in Title IX policies, Lawrence has been advising the district and board throughout the process of creating and improving guidelines.
Board member Lara Craig emphasized a need to make it clear that there are district employees beyond the administrators to whom students and families can turn first to report or for support.
The board discussed whether a number of different things belonged in policy language, or a practice and procedural document.
Also discussed was providing support in the form of counseling and mental health to the victim. Lawrence noted those services need to be provided to all parties involved, including the accused.
The Title IX regulations are designed to protect both victims and the accused — and falsely accused.
A number of changes have been made to the investigation process under the new regulations. Written notice must now be provided to all parties, including a statement identifying the victim to the accused.
At a meeting over the summer, board members expressed concern that knowing he or she will be identified to their accuser may discourage some reporting.
The regulations also require both parties to be allowed to submit questions to the other party or any other witness, and be able to review those answers.
Steamboat Springs School District Superintendent Brad Meeks reiterated the distinction in keeping policy separate from procedure, and the need to very clearly lay out how formal complaints will be handled.
“It’s not going to be perfect from the beginning,” he said, with room for refinement and improvement.
It is a vast difference from what existed year ago.
Lawrence noted that at this time, and in comparison to what is just starting to happen at school districts across the country, “Just the fact you have a Title IX policy is awesome.”
To reach Kari Dequine Harden, call 970-871-4205, email kharden@SteamboatPilot.com or follow her on Twitter @kariharden.
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