The Scottsbluff Public Schools Board of Education heard the first reading of Title IX policy changes, or rules that prohibit discrimination based on sex and gender.
The change aligns the district with federal policy after the U.S. Department of Education changed Title IX rules earlier this year, according to Title IX Coordinator Wendy Kemling.
Kemling told the Star-Herald the district handles just one or two Title IX complaints a year.
Previously, if a student brought forth a claim of sexual discrimination, harassment or assault, the superintendent assigned an investigator to the allegation who conducts interviews, gathers evidence and compiles a report that recommends the next steps to the superintendent. The superintendent made the final determination about the necessity of punishment.
Now, once an investigation begins, the district must notify the accused party as well as the accuser that an investigation has begun. The district also has to tell both parties’ parents an investigation has begun, if they are students. The changes also require that the investigator can’t take part in deciding punishment.
The new changes also clarify the “mandatory reporter” role of all school employees.
Whether employees be teachers, bus drivers or any other district employee, they’re required to report instances of sexual assault or harassment immediately after they become aware of a claim.
Kemling said this wasn’t a problem she was aware of in Scottsbluff school buildings because of the district’s yearly trainings. She also told the Star-Herald the changes didn’t force SBPS to hire additional staff or shuffle any current staff into new positions.
At Monday’s meeting, Board Vice President Ruth Kozal asked Kemling about who would be considered the investigator, something that SBPS’s new policy didn’t specifically outline.
Kemling added she would be the investigator in most cases. However, that also disqualified her from making any decision about punishment after the alleged incident.
She said other administrators, like Director of Curriculum and Instruction Mike Mason and Director of Finance Marianne Carlson, would be assigned as investigators if there is a conflict of interest between a party and Kemling.
“Anyone of our administrators could fill that investigator role,” Kemling said.
The changes drew condemnation from several national groups, including the National School Boards Association, who called the changes “a detachment from reality” in January 2019, when the draft of the plan was released.
One piece of the original plans would’ve required administrators to conduct in-person hearings while investigating claims. That piece was axed from the final set of policy changes.
Kemling had a few criticisms of the new rules as well.
“This process is different and it’s going to take a significantly longer amount of time to conduct an investigation,” Kemiling said.
She said the new rules were to blame in-part for potentially deleted findings.
“It’s going to be concerning for some people that things take longer,” Kemling said. “Usually, when you’re in a Title IX situation, you want a response today.”
The process will take a minimum of 30 to 40 days, according to Kemling.
The new rule were released in May in a 2,033-page document.
The board will hear a second reading of the policy change at its next meeting. At the Monday meeting, the board approved rewritten Title IX statements for student handbooks, signaling that the Title IX changes to board policy are likely to pass through the board.
Justin Garcia is a reporter with the Star-Herald. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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