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Sexual Harassment, Discrimination, and Bullying
Employment Law in California

Sexual Harassment and Bullying in the Contra Costa County School District Under Investigation by OCR

In early November, the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) released an investigation on the West Contra Costa School District that found that the district is home to a pervasive environment of sexual harassment and assault and that the district failed to adequately address such issues, in violation of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972.

According to the Contra Costa Times, Catherine E. Lhamon, assistant secretary for civil rights stated: “I am dismayed by the prevalence of sexual harassment and assault occurring at elementary and secondary schools in West Contra Costa” and additionally commented on the school district’s failure to comply with the legal obligation set in place by Title IX. Specifically, Title IX guarantees that in federally funded education institutions, those institutions are required to ensure the equal treatment of genders and put in place procedures to prevent instances that would threaten the ability for students to participate fully in those institutions, such as instances of sexual harassment and assault.

The OCR report specifically states that instances of “sexual assaults, unwelcome touching, demands for sexual favors, and the use of sexually derogatory language” found between students and employees contributed to the hostile environment in schools.

This revelation is sobering and the ORC is determined to see its resolution by requiring the school district to hire Title IX officers to ensure compliance and create prevention and response training and protocols. Indeed, the OCR states that it “stands ready to work with the district to help it realize its commitments to preventing sexual harassment and sexual violence in its schools.”

Perhaps in response to this investigation, according to the Contra Costa Times, in early December the district’s school board and trustees agreed to revise and update the regulations currently in place for dealing with student conduct, including such issues as bullying and sexual harassment and assault. The trustees admit to not being proactive enough in the wake of allegations that a group of school girls attacked a transgender student.

This bullying and harassment is not solely the concern of administrators and parents. Students are aware of and concerned with the current atmosphere. According to the Contra Costa Times, in a recent survey by the California School Climate, more than half of West Contra Costa high school students who responded reported that they believed “harassment and bullying were moderate or severe problems.”

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