Although most of my clientele are university-level students and faculty, there is an increase in K-12 students being accused of sexual harassment and sexual violence. In recent years, I have worked with students as young as fifth grade (accused of pinching a girl) who have faced disciplinary actions including suspension, expulsion, involuntary transfers to other schools, being placed on independent study, loss of the right to participate in extra-curricular activities, and other consequences.
Increasingly, high school aged students are accused of sexual violence following sexual encounters or relationship breakups with other students. These often lead to criminal accusations on top of school investigations. One student I have recently been working with was arrested on an accusation of rape and has been placed in juvenile hall while awaiting his hearing on the charge. No matter what the outcome of his juvenile court case, his school district is independently investigating the accusation, and could impose disciplinary action, even if the juvenile court ultimately dismisses the charge.
Just as with college students, the school has authority to investigate sexual misconduct under Title IX, even if the alleged conduct took place off campus and outside of school hours. The theory is that having to return to the school where the accusing and accused student will encounter each other creates a hostile educational environment.
Another serious consequence of being accused as a k-12 student is that mandatory reporting laws require school officials to report the conduct to government officials as potential child abuse. While adult college students have the right to make their own choice whether or not to report their accusations to law enforcement, juvenile accusers and their parents do not. The school is legally required to make the report to child abuse authorities. This substantially increases the probability that police will investigate, charges in juvenile court will result, and a student could be adjudicated as a juvenile delinquent and face years of supervision by juvenile authorities, including removal from home to either confined settings or group homes for young offenders.
The consequences of a high school student being found responsible under Title IX can be disastrous. If the accusation is sustained, the school district is required to protect the accusing student and other students in the district. This can lead to consequences such as being pressured to go on home study or even expulsion under certain circumstances. For students who aspire to go to college or enter many career paths, such as the military or other government employment, having such consequences on a school record can make those dreams impossible.
Given the age and maturity level of high school students, the need for professional advice to respond to the investigation is even greater than with college students. They are much less prepared to respond effectively in interviews and tell their side of the case effectively. By working with these students and their parents, I have been able to help them do just that–give an effective interview, present the facts, identify supporting witnesses, and assemble supporting evidence. All of this increases the likelihood that the accusations against the student will not be sustained.
The parents of a k-12 student facing an investigation for sexual harassment or sexual violence need to act quickly. School district investigations can be much quicker than college investigations, and students are likely to be disciplined severely if their response to the investigation is inadequate.
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