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William Kritsonis, School Law, Ch 10 Sexual Harassment


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Title: William Kritsonis, School Law, Ch 10 Sexual Harassment

Sexual HarassmentTeacher v. Student
  • William Allan Kritsonis, PhD

What is Sexual Harassment
  • Sexual harassment is a serious problem for
    students at all educational levels. Students in
    elementary and secondary schools, as well as
    vocational schools, apprenticeship programs,
    colleges and universities can be victims of
    sexual harassment. It is different from flirting,
    playing around, or other types of behavior that
    you enjoy or welcome.

  • Sexual harassment can be requests for sexual
    favors or unwelcome sexual behavior that is bad
    enough or happens often enough to make you feel
    uncomfortable, scared or confused. It may
    interfere with your schoolwork or your ability to
    participate in extracurricular activities or
    attend classes. Sexual harassment can happen to
    girls and boys.

  • Sexual harassment can be
  • verbal (comments about your body, spreading
    sexual rumors, sexual remarks or accusations,
    dirty jokes or stories)
  • physical (grabbing, rubbing, flashing or mooning,
    touching, pinching in a sexual way, sexual
  • visual (display of naked pictures or
  • sex-related objects, obscene gestures)
    Sexual harassment can happen to girls and boys.

Two Kinds of Sexual Harassment
  • There are two kinds of sexual harassment
  • quid pro quo
  • hostile environment

Quid Pro Quo
  • Quid pro quo sexual harassment occurs when a
    teacher offers you a better grade or treats you
    better if you do something sexual. It could also
    be a threat to lower your grade or treat you
    worse than other students if you refuse to go
    along with a request for a sexual favor.

Hostile environment
  • Hostile environment sexual harassment occurs when
    unwanted sexual touching, comments, and/or
    gestures are so bad or occur so often that it
    interferes with your schoolwork, makes you feel
    uncomfortable or unsafe at school, or prevents
    you from participating in or benefiting from a
    school program or activity. This type of
    harassment does not have to involve a threat or
    promise of benefit in exchange for a sexual

Sexual Harassment is Against the Law
  • The federal law prohibiting sexual harassment in
    schools is Title IX of the Education Amendments
    of 1972 (Title IX), which prohibits any person,
    on the basis of sex, to be subjected to
    discrimination in an educational program or
    activity receiving federal financial assistance.
    Also, it is illegal to intimidate, threaten, or
    coerce a person who has taken action under Title

Landmark Cases
  • Doe v. Taylor ISD, 1994
  • Franklin v. Gwinnett County Public Schools, 1992
  • Gonzalez v Ysleta ISD, 1993
  • Rabe v Lewisville ISD, 1994
  • Molina v Pasadena ISD, 1989
  • Gebser v Lago Vista ISD

Doe v. Taylor ISD, 1994
  • The case was based on a sexual relationship
    between a teacher/coach and a minor student.
    Rather than seeking redress under state law for
    assault or negligence of some sort, the student
    alleged that her constitutional rights had been
    violated. The student alleged that the
    Constitution protects her from physical sexual
    abuse at the hands of her teachers. The Fifth
    Circuit agreed, thus opening the door to
    potential liability.

Franklin v. Gwinnett County Public Schools, 1992
  • In this case, petitioner Franklin, a student in a
    high school alleged that she had been subjected
    to continual sexual harassment and abused by a
    teacher, Andrew Hill. After the complaint was
    filed, Mr. Hill resigned on the condition that
    all matters pending against him would be dropped,
    and the school would close its investigation.
    The District Court subsequently dismissed the
    complaint on the ground that Title IX does not
    authorize an award damages, he the Court of
    Appeals affirmed.

Gonzalez v Ysleta ISD, 1993
  • In this case doing nothing could lead to an
    accusation of deliberate indifference, which
    could lead to liability. An Ysleta ISD teacher
    was accused of sexually molesting a first grader.
    School officials had conducted an investigation
    after two previous reports of the teachers
    improper contact with students, such as letting
    them sit on his lap and putting his arm around
    their waists. Following the investigation, the
    school board decided to transfer the teacher to a
    different school rather than terminating the
    teacher, as was customary in the district when
    instances of child abuse arose. The molestation
    continued after the transfer. The parents of the
    student sued the school district in federal
    court, alleging that by not terminating the
    teacher, the district was deliberately
    indifferent to the students welfare.

Gebser v Lago Vista ISD
  • School districts cheered when the Supreme Court
    held in Gebser v Lago Vista ISD that school
    officials are not responsible for a teacher's
    sexual harassment of a student unless they
    actually knew of the behavior and purposely
    looked the other way. In Gebser, Alida Gebser, a
    high school student, sued her school district for
    sexual harassment based upon the illicit actions
    of her teacher, Frank Waldrup. Waldrup instigated
    sexual relations with Gebser, coupled with
    suggestive comments in the classroom, when she
    was 14 years old and continued this behavior
    until discovered by the police approximately 1½
    years later.

Gebser v Lago Vista ISD continued
  • Gebser had not reported the relationship to
    school officials, testifying that she was unsure
    what to do and didn't want to lose Waldrop as a
    teacher however, other parents had complained to
    the principal about Waldrop's use of
    inappropriate comments in class. Gebser's suit
    claimed that under Title IX the school district
    was vicariously liable for Waldrup's illicit
    behavior. In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court
    held that liability under Title IX does not
    extend to a school district unless an official
    "who at a minimum has authority to institute
    corrective measures on the district's behalf has
    actual notice of, and is deliberately indifferent
    to, the teacher's misconduct."

Rabe v Lewisville ISD, 1994 Molina v Pasadena
ISD, 1989
  • A teacher with a continuing contract was writing
    a student notes, going over her house when her
    parents were not home, and kissing her on the
    lips constituted good cause for termination on
    grounds of immorality in the case of Rabe v
    Lewisville ISD, 1994. Even if the student
    consents to the relationship, grounds for
    termination may be established. As noted in the
    Molina v Pasadena ISD, 1989 decision, Even if
    the student were an adult, the fact that a
    student was as student is the controlling point.
    It is this status and this relationship that
    constitutes immoral conduct.

Common sense rules to prevent false claims
  • Try not to be alone with students particularly in
    isolated locations.
  • Avoid physical contact with student which could
    be misunderstood as sexual in nature.
  • Avoid any written communications with students
    which could be misconstrued as personal or
  • Avoid off-the cuff comments on students physical
    appearance or discussing personal topics which
    could be construed as sexual.
  • If a student confides in you regarding a personal
    topic of sexual nature, either invite another
    adult to join the conversation or report in
    writing immediately.

  • Code of Ethics and Standard Practices for Texas
    Educators website www.sbec.state.tx.us
  • Equal Rights Advocates Sexual Harassment at
    School Know Your Rights website
  • FindLaw website http//caselaw.findlaw.com
  • Sexual Harassment and Students website
  • Walsh, J., Kemerer, F., and Maniotis, L. (2005).
    The Educators Guide to Texas School Law.
    University of Texas Press, 6th Edition.
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