School District, Feds Reach Agreement over Sex Harassment Policy

City News Service Pristine Villarreal

MORENO VALLEY (CNS) – The Val Verde Unified School District will implement a series of policy changes to comply with a federal program intended to address sexual harassment of students and personnel, it was announced Thursday.

The district, which operates campuses in Moreno Valley and north Perris, reached an agreement with the U.S. Department of Education following a probe into Title 9 compliance actions in the 2015-16 and 2016-17 academic years.

“Val Verde Unified School District has agreed to address … Title IX noncompliance regarding sexual harassment, committing now to ensure its students may learn in the safe and nondiscriminatory environment Congress has promised them,” DOE Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Catherine Lhamon said.

The resolution that the school district signed at the agency’s request requires that anti-discrimination procedures based on Title 9 be utilized, that staff receive training to ensure they understand Title 9, including how to identify and respond to alleged acts of harassment, that records be maintained documenting any Title 9 actions and that surveys be provided biannually to students and district employees to assess their satisfaction with Title 9 measures.

Title 9 was approved by an act of Congress in 1972, with amendments in 2020 that addressed grievance procedures. The law expresses the need for grade schools, colleges and universities to address acts that create a “hostile environment,” mainly the sexually oriented variety.

“We don’t know what inspired the compliance review by the Office of Civil Rights,” VVUSD Superintendent Michael McCormick told City News Service. “It began in 2015, my first year here, and we agreed from the beginning to furnish all documents and meet all of their requests. We very much appreciated the collaborative nature of working with the office.”

According to McCormick, despite the alleged past non-compliance with Title 9, all measures prescribed by the state have been followed.

He said the federal evaluation was hit-and-miss after the coronavirus public health lockdowns started in 2020, which apparently delayed the Department of Education’s assessment. He said there was little communication from the department from mid-2020 to the winter of 2023.

“The major update to the Title 9 regulations in 2020 may also have had something to do with it,” he said.

According to the superintendent, the agency at no time tried to strongarm the district with warnings of a potential loss of federal funding for lack of compliance with Title 9.

“Our position is, we’re very much committed to implementing the regulations,” he said. “That’s why we voluntarily signed the resolution agreement.”

Meeting the terms of the resolution will require hiring a compliance officer, at an estimated cost of $150,000 per year, according to McCormick.

Copyright 2023, City News Service, Inc.

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