As part of the settlement of a high-profile Title IX lawsuit brought by Virginia M., a former student, the Sacramento City Unified School District has agreed to sweeping programmatic changes in how it will respond to reports of sexual assault and harassment. Signed by the Superintendent of the District with the authorization of the District’s Governing Board, the new policies will impact nearly 50,000 students attending schools in the District.
After Levy Vinick Burrell Hyams LLP and its co-counsel, Equal Rights Advocates, filed suit in state court, the District paid a monetary settlement of $400,000 to the student in the fall of 2019. However, the settlement required more than money. It also required SCUSD to work with Equal Rights Advocates to draft, implement, and monitor progress of new policies for responding to reports of sexual assault and harassment. After months of further negotiations, a comprehensive programmatic agreement has been reached, including expanded training for students and staff, increased support services and protections for students, and at least one on-site Title IX specialist at every school in the District.
The suit which brought about these programmatic changes, alleged that when school officials found out about the rape, they effectively suspended the victim, escorting Virginia off campus and directing her not to return for the rest of her Junior year. Meanwhile, the two students who raped her remained in school completely unaffected. According to the lawsuit, school officials broke several federal and state laws, including Title IX, the federal law banning gender discrimination in education by: failing to inform Virginia of her rights; discouraging her from taking legal action; failing to provide any academic support or counseling; failing to provide options for avoiding her assailants at school (other than kicking her out); not conducting a Title IX investigation; failing to take effective action to stop the bullying, threats, and harassment she experienced when she returned to school; and failing to provide any accommodations for the resulting trauma symptoms that interfered with her education.
The lawsuit received media attention and resulted in hundreds of students protesting how the District handled sexual harassment. With the momentum of the #MeToo movement driving industries, communities and governments to change how we address sexual harassment, students joined the fight for meaningful change. Virginia was committed to making sure what happened to her never happened again, and insisted that part of the settlement include SCUSD’s commitment to genuine culture change and best practices by entering into a separate agreement with ERA to assess and revise SCUSD’s policies, procedures and practices related to discrimination and harassment.
Additional highlights from the newly signed agreement include:
- SCUSD agreed to limit the rights of police officers and school administrators to question students – including the accused – without their parents and/or a support person of their choosing present.
- Counselors and support people who are trained and experienced in how sexual violence affects K-12 students specifically
- Interactive, and student-led trainings for students about affirmative consent and how to recognize and report sexual harassment, sexual assault, and other gender-based harassment
- An annual Climate Survey assessing from students, parents and teachers the prevalence of gender-based discrimination that will include mechanisms to asses students’ attitudes and knowledge of their rights, whether gender-based discrimination was underreported and why, and how experiences of gender-based discrimination interfere with students’ education
- SCUSD’s commitment to genuine culture change and best practices (not just legal compliance)
- Policies that address ALL gender-based conduct (including discrimination targeting LGBTQI+ students) both on campus and off.
- SCUSD will affirmatively and regularly check-in with the victim-student during and after the investigation, irrespective of the ultimate findings of the investigation, to determine whether further gender-based discrimination has occurred or whether additional supportive measures are needed
- ERA will monitor SCUSD’s progress, compliance and the effectiveness of changes implemented under the agreement for three years
This is a significant victory for the students of SCUSD and the District has promised to comply with both the letter and the spirit of Title IX and analogous California laws. LVBH thanks and congratulates Equal Rights Advocates for their continuing commitment to fight for gender justice in workplaces and schools across the country.