A. Statement of Policy
It is the policy of Bellingham Public Schools to maintain a learning environment that is free from all forms of discrimination, including sexual harassment. To this end, the district prohibits sexual harassment of students by other students, district employees, or third parties involved in district programs or activities. This policy extends to all students involved in academic, educational, extracurricular, athletic, and other programs or activities of the district, whether that program or activity is in a school facility, on school transportation, or conducted at a non-district location.
B. Sexual Harassment Defined
Sexual harassment refers to behavior that is unwelcome, offensive, or interferes with effectiveness in the school environment. Sexual harassment includes:
1. Acts of sexual violence;
2. Unwelcome sexual advances;
3. Unwelcome requests for sexual favors;
4. Unwelcome sexual or gender-directed conduct or communication that interferes with an individual’s educational performance or creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive environment;
5. Sexual demands where submission or rejection is a factor in an academic or other school-related decision affecting an individual; or
6. Sexual demands where submission is a stated or implied condition of obtaining an educational opportunity or other benefit.
An intimidating, hostile, or offensive educational environment is created for a student when sexually harassing behavior is sufficiently serious to interfere with, limit, or deny the student’s ability to participate in or benefit from a district program or activity. All acts of sexual violence, such as rape, sexual assault, sexual battery, and sexual coercion, are presumed to substantially interfere with an individual’s educational performance.
Sexual harassment also includes gender-based harassment. The latter may include acts of verbal, nonverbal, or physical aggression, intimidation, or hostility based on sex or sex-stereotyping, even if those acts do not involve conduct of a sexual nature.
Sexual harassment, as covered by this policy, may include conduct or communication that occurs adult to student, student to student, an individual to a group, a group to an individual, male to female, female to male, male to male, or female to female, as well as to, from, or between transgender individuals.
C. Staff Responsibilities
The superintendent shall develop and implement procedures delineating staff responsibilities under this policy, including designating a Title IX officer and describing reporting responsibilities.
The superintendent’s procedures shall require at a minimum that all bus drivers, campus security personnel, principals, office of student affairs personnel, and teachers are responsible for reporting any instances of sexual harassment that they personally witness or that are reported to them orally or in writing by any person. In addition, at the elementary school level, all district staff members are responsible for reporting any instances of sexual harassment that they personally witness or that an elementary age student reports directly to them. The superintendent’s procedures must also emphasize that the district’s internal reporting responsibilities do not relieve district staff members of any mandatory legal obligations to report immediately suspected child abuse or neglect to Child Protective Services or local law enforcement under chapter 26.44 RCW.
The superintendent’s procedure shall also include guidance for referring allegations of discrimination and discriminatory harassment, other than sexual harassment, to the appropriate school official. For example, allegations of disability discrimination or disability harassment may be referred to the district’s Section 504 Coordinator.
D. Investigation and Complaint Procedures
The district strongly encourages individuals who believe that a student has been subjected to sexual harassment in the district’s educational environment to bring a complaint or concern to the immediate attention of a teacher, principal, or district administrator, including the district’s Title IX officer. If the district knows or reasonably believes that sexual harassment has occurred in the educational environment, the district will promptly investigate to determine what occurred and will take appropriate steps to resolve the situation. The superintendent shall develop and implement formal procedures for promptly and effectively receiving, investigating, and resolving complaints or reports of sexual harassment that (1) address the requirements of chapter 28A.640 RCW, prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sex; (2) implement the requirements of WAC 392-190-056 through 392-190-075; and (3) incorporate the requirements of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. In establishing these procedures, the superintendent can refer to the district’s procedure 3210P regarding complaints of discrimination not specific to sexual harassment.
Nothing in this policy should be construed to prevent any individual who believes that a student has been subject to sexual harassment from filing a complaint with a law enforcement agency, any other governmental agency, or a court. The district will report allegations of criminal misconduct to law enforcement and will report suspected child abuse to either law enforcement or Child Protective Services, as appropriate. Regardless of whether alleged misconduct is reported to another agency, district staff will follow the same procedures applicable to all allegations of sexual harassment to the extent that those procedures do not interfere with an ongoing criminal investigation. A criminal investigation does not relieve the district of its independent obligation to investigate and resolve sexual harassment.
E. Remedial and Disciplinary Action
In an effort to eliminate sexual harassment, prevent its reoccurrence, and curtail its effects, the district shall take prompt, reasonable, and equitable action within its authority on informal and formal reports alleging sexual harassment that come to the attention of the district. Individuals who have been subjected to sexual harassment in the district’s educational environment shall have appropriate district services and other support made reasonably available to them.
Engaging in sexual harassment will result in appropriate discipline or other appropriate sanctions against offending students, staff, or other third parties involved in school district activities. Others who engage in sexual harassment on school property or at school activities will have his or her access to school property and activities restricted or contracts cancelled, as appropriate.
F. Reprisal, Retaliation, and False Accusations
No one’s status with the district shall be adversely affected because of his or her use of this policy or related procedures.
It is unlawful for any district student or employee to intimidate, threaten, coerce, or discriminate against any individual for the purpose of interfering with his or her right to file a report or complaint of sexual harassment. It is also unlawful for any district student or employee to harass, demote, discipline, or otherwise retaliate against anyone because they filed a report or complaint or because they participated in an investigation. The district shall take reasonable steps to protect complainants and witnesses against interference or retaliation by students, employees, or others.
No one shall knowingly or with reckless disregard for the truth make or corroborate false accusations of sexual harassment. However, withdrawal of or failure to prove a claim of sexual harassment is not equivalent to a false allegation. Appropriate discipline or other sanctions may be imposed on individuals who knowingly or with reckless disregard for the truth make or corroborate false accusations of sexual harassment.
G. Dissemination and Discussion of Policy
The superintendent shall develop procedures to provide age-appropriate information and education to district staff, students, parents, and volunteers regarding this policy and the recognition and prevention of sexual harassment.
At a minimum, a copy of this policy—along with any other information that the superintendent deems reasonably necessary to inform district staff, students, parents, and volunteers about this policy—shall be prominently posted in each school building and district facility and shall be provided to each employee. Reference to the district’s sexual harassment policy and procedures shall be included in district or school orientation presentations or in any materials or publications specific to students, parents/guardians, staff members, or volunteers that sets forth the rules, regulations, procedures, and standards of conduct for the school or the district.
At least once each year, the district shall publish notice in a manner that is reasonably calculated to inform all students, parents/guardians, and employees about the Title IX officer’s identity and contact information and about the district’s sexual harassment complaint procedures.
H. Internal Review and Report
Annually, at the conclusion of each school year, the Title IX officer or designee shall review the utilization and efficacy of this policy and the related administrative procedure. Based on this review, the Title IX officer or designee shall prepare a report to the superintendent. The annual report shall provide information about the utilization of and compliance with this policy. Periodically, this annual report shall include any recommended policy or procedure changes. The superintendent’s procedure may encourage the involvement of staff, students, parents, or volunteers in the periodic review process.
Chapter 26.44 RCW Abuse of Children
Chapter 28A.640 RCW Sexual Equality
Chapter 49.60 RCW Discrimination—Human Rights Commission
Chapter 392-190 WAC Equal Educational Opportunity—Unlawful Discrimination Prohibited
20 U.S.C. §§ 1681-1688 Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972