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Supreme Court to Decide Whether Schools Are Responsible for Student Sexual Harassment

Yesterday, the Supreme Court accepted a case which will consider whether or not school districts can be held liable for failing to stop students from sexually harassing other students. The specific case in question is that of a Georgia girl who was taunted and abused by a classmate who grabbed her breasts and other parts of her body and made vulgar sexual remarks. After observing the drop in her daughter's grades and self-esteem, the girl's mother complained to school authorities. After these complaints went unrecognized, she sued the school board.

Student-on-student sexual harassment is not rare. The numbers of reported incidents of sexual harassment in the classroom continue to rise.

The suit initially cited Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which prohibits sex bias in schools receiving public funds. In the case of discrimination, Title IX permits private parties to sue for money damages. The Georgia girl's case was struck down in federal district court, because under Title IX, "Sexually harassing behavior of a fellow fifth grader is no part of a school program."

The lawyers for this case note in their appeal that other courts have held school districts responsible and claim, "It is time for this court to step into the fray."

Media Resources: Washington Post - September 30, 1998]