United States: Handling Student Sexual Assault In K-12 Schools

Last Updated: April 14 2015
Article by Scott D. Schneider

In March, U.S. News & World Report featured a lengthy story provocatively titled, "High Schools and Middle Schools Are Failing Victims of Sexual Assault." In addition to documenting situations where schools allegedly mishandled allegations of sexual assault, the article cites Justice Department statistics indicating that nearly 20% of girls between the ages of 14 and 17 have been victims of sexual assault or attempted assault.

Over the last several years, colleges and universities have been in the regulatory and media crosshairs regarding their handling of campus sex assault. The bulk of legal claims have focused on violations of Title IX or the Clery Act. This law requires colleges and universities that receive federal financial aid to keep and disclose information about crimes on and near their campus.

While K-12 schools are not covered by the Clery Act, Title IX applies to all schools which receive federal funding. Notably, there has been an uptick in Title IX regulatory reviews (currently 24 schools are under federal investigation by the Department of Education) and there have been several court determinations against K-12 institutions for failing to adequately address sexual misconduct in school. A recent decision out of Tennessee is illustrative of the latter.

In that case brought against the Robertson County school district by the parents of two children who claim they were sexually abused by peers (Belcher v. Robertson County, Tennessee), Judge Todd Campbell found that the school district's deliberate indifference to peer-on-peer sexual abuse rendered it liable under Title IX.

The facts of the case focus on the actions of two students (identified in court pleadings as ML and WJ) who at all relevant times were under ten years old. They were accused of:

  • Hitting female classmates in the private areas multiple times;
  • Showing pornographic images to other students on a school bus;
  • Touching, rubbing, and simulating a sex act on fellow students; and
  • Trying to perform oral sex on a female student.

The court noted that to be liable under Title IX, "a school must have possessed enough knowledge of the [sexual] harassment that it reasonably could have responded with remedial measures to address that harassment." The court determined that the parents had presented sufficient evidence that the school district had actual knowledge of the harassment by ML and WJ from as far back as their time in kindergarten. The court strongly criticized the district for "siloing" that information and not sharing it with people who had a need to know.

For instance, a "safety plan" was developed for ML whereby he was supposed to be monitored at all times by his teacher; but the teacher was not advised why such monitoring was even necessary. The school district rationalized its failure to share specifics by citing privacy concerns and the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), a position the court strongly and correctly criticized.

The court is accepting briefs on what the damages in the case will be but has already indicated that those damages will include therapy costs for the abused students, compensation for emotional distress, and attorneys' fees.

In addition to civil liability, three Robertson County educators have been charged criminally for failing to appropriately report student-on-student sexual assaults in violation of mandatory reporting obligations applicable to educators in Tennessee.

For years, the focus of K-12 administrators in this area was on sexual abuse of students by adults. Media attention (exemplified by the U.S. News article) coupled with decisions like the case above and criminal prosecutions, scream for that focus to include the appropriate handling of student-on-student sexual abuse. Simply put, this is an emerging and complicated legal and compliance issue for K-12 schools.

Our Advice

Here are some guidelines we believe will help:

  • Seek guidance from counsel on state-law mandatory reporting requirements and determine how those requirements apply to student-on-student misconduct cases. In many instances, the definition of sex abuse is far broader than most school employees suspect and the consequences of getting this wrong can be significant;
  • Ensure that all teachers and staff are provided with training on what their responsibilities are in this area. That training should also provide guidance on how FERPA applies (and doesn't apply) in these situations;
  • Assess whether they are covered by Title IX and, if so, review their policies and practices to ensure that they are Title IX compliant. As indicated above, only public schools and private schools which receive federal funding are covered. Even if Title IX does not apply, a review of policies and practices in this area is advisable to insulate schools from negligence claims;
  • Find a resource which can help investigate student-on-student cases when they arise and can provide counsel on appropriate responses;
  • Provide annual training to all students on what conduct is prohibited by school policy and who they should report to if they are victimized or learn that a classmate has been victimized.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on Mondaq.com.

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Scott D. Schneider
Similar Articles
Relevancy Powered by MondaqAI
In association with
Related Topics
Similar Articles
Relevancy Powered by MondaqAI
Related Articles
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Registration (you must scroll down to set your data preferences)

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including your content preferences, for three primary purposes (full details of Mondaq’s use of your personal data can be found in our Privacy and Cookies Notice):

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting to show content ("Content") relevant to your interests.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, news alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our content providers ("Contributors") who contribute Content for free for your use.

Mondaq hopes that our registered users will support us in maintaining our free to view business model by consenting to our use of your personal data as described below.

Mondaq has a "free to view" business model. Our services are paid for by Contributors in exchange for Mondaq providing them with access to information about who accesses their content. Once personal data is transferred to our Contributors they become a data controller of this personal data. They use it to measure the response that their articles are receiving, as a form of market research. They may also use it to provide Mondaq users with information about their products and services.

Details of each Contributor to which your personal data will be transferred is clearly stated within the Content that you access. For full details of how this Contributor will use your personal data, you should review the Contributor’s own Privacy Notice.

Please indicate your preference below:

Yes, I am happy to support Mondaq in maintaining its free to view business model by agreeing to allow Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors whose Content I access
No, I do not want Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors

Also please let us know whether you are happy to receive communications promoting products and services offered by Mondaq:

Yes, I am happy to received promotional communications from Mondaq
No, please do not send me promotional communications from Mondaq
Terms & Conditions

Mondaq.com (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd (Mondaq). Mondaq grants you a non-exclusive, revocable licence to access the Website and associated services, such as the Mondaq News Alerts (Services), subject to and in consideration of your compliance with the following terms and conditions of use (Terms). Your use of the Website and/or Services constitutes your agreement to the Terms. Mondaq may terminate your use of the Website and Services if you are in breach of these Terms or if Mondaq decides to terminate the licence granted hereunder for any reason whatsoever.

Use of www.mondaq.com

To Use Mondaq.com you must be: eighteen (18) years old or over; legally capable of entering into binding contracts; and not in any way prohibited by the applicable law to enter into these Terms in the jurisdiction which you are currently located.

You may use the Website as an unregistered user, however, you are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the Content or to receive the Services.

You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these Terms or with the prior written consent of Mondaq. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information from the Content. Nor shall you extract information about users or Contributors in order to offer them any services or products.

In your use of the Website and/or Services you shall: comply with all applicable laws, regulations, directives and legislations which apply to your Use of the Website and/or Services in whatever country you are physically located including without limitation any and all consumer law, export control laws and regulations; provide to us true, correct and accurate information and promptly inform us in the event that any information that you have provided to us changes or becomes inaccurate; notify Mondaq immediately of any circumstances where you have reason to believe that any Intellectual Property Rights or any other rights of any third party may have been infringed; co-operate with reasonable security or other checks or requests for information made by Mondaq from time to time; and at all times be fully liable for the breach of any of these Terms by a third party using your login details to access the Website and/or Services

however, you shall not: do anything likely to impair, interfere with or damage or cause harm or distress to any persons, or the network; do anything that will infringe any Intellectual Property Rights or other rights of Mondaq or any third party; or use the Website, Services and/or Content otherwise than in accordance with these Terms; use any trade marks or service marks of Mondaq or the Contributors, or do anything which may be seen to take unfair advantage of the reputation and goodwill of Mondaq or the Contributors, or the Website, Services and/or Content.

Mondaq reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to take any action that it deems necessary and appropriate in the event it considers that there is a breach or threatened breach of the Terms.

Mondaq’s Rights and Obligations

Unless otherwise expressly set out to the contrary, nothing in these Terms shall serve to transfer from Mondaq to you, any Intellectual Property Rights owned by and/or licensed to Mondaq and all rights, title and interest in and to such Intellectual Property Rights will remain exclusively with Mondaq and/or its licensors.

Mondaq shall use its reasonable endeavours to make the Website and Services available to you at all times, but we cannot guarantee an uninterrupted and fault free service.

Mondaq reserves the right to make changes to the services and/or the Website or part thereof, from time to time, and we may add, remove, modify and/or vary any elements of features and functionalities of the Website or the services.

Mondaq also reserves the right from time to time to monitor your Use of the Website and/or services.


The Content is general information only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice or seek to be the complete and comprehensive statement of the law, nor is it intended to address your specific requirements or provide advice on which reliance should be placed. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the Content for any purpose. All Content provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers hereby exclude and disclaim all representations, warranties or guarantees with regard to the Content, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. To the maximum extent permitted by law, Mondaq expressly excludes all representations, warranties, obligations, and liabilities arising out of or in connection with all Content. In no event shall Mondaq and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use of the Content or performance of Mondaq’s Services.


Mondaq may alter or amend these Terms by amending them on the Website. By continuing to Use the Services and/or the Website after such amendment, you will be deemed to have accepted any amendment to these Terms.

These Terms shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England and Wales and you irrevocably submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales to settle any dispute which may arise out of or in connection with these Terms. If you live outside the United Kingdom, English law shall apply only to the extent that English law shall not deprive you of any legal protection accorded in accordance with the law of the place where you are habitually resident ("Local Law"). In the event English law deprives you of any legal protection which is accorded to you under Local Law, then these terms shall be governed by Local Law and any dispute or claim arising out of or in connection with these Terms shall be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts where you are habitually resident.

You may print and keep a copy of these Terms, which form the entire agreement between you and Mondaq and supersede any other communications or advertising in respect of the Service and/or the Website.

No delay in exercising or non-exercise by you and/or Mondaq of any of its rights under or in connection with these Terms shall operate as a waiver or release of each of your or Mondaq’s right. Rather, any such waiver or release must be specifically granted in writing signed by the party granting it.

If any part of these Terms is held unenforceable, that part shall be enforced to the maximum extent permissible so as to give effect to the intent of the parties, and the Terms shall continue in full force and effect.

Mondaq shall not incur any liability to you on account of any loss or damage resulting from any delay or failure to perform all or any part of these Terms if such delay or failure is caused, in whole or in part, by events, occurrences, or causes beyond the control of Mondaq. Such events, occurrences or causes will include, without limitation, acts of God, strikes, lockouts, server and network failure, riots, acts of war, earthquakes, fire and explosions.

By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions