Home Two-thirds of school districts report zero incidents of sexual harassment, bullying

Two-thirds of school districts report zero incidents of sexual harassment, bullying


economic-forecast-headerThe American Association of University Women has reviewed the U.S. Department of Education’s recently released Civil Rights Data Collection for 2013–14 to find out how often sexual harassment is being reported in U.S. public schools.

Analyzing the data by local education agency (LEA) — typically a public school district, charter school, or system of charter schools — AAUW found that more than two-thirds (67 percent) of LEAs in the United States reported zero allegations of sexual harassment or bullying during the 2013–14 school year.

“If these zeros were factual, I’d be thrilled. But from what we’ve heard from students, parents, and administrators, not to mention reliable research, we know these zeros bear no resemblance to what’s really happening,” said Lisa Maatz, vice president of government relations at AAUW. “Zeros like these are a red flag. We believe it’s likely that these schools haven’t taken the steps necessary to educate their school communities about what to do when sexual harassment occurs, and they may have rusty procedures in place to respond to such complaints.”

Rates of zero reporting vary from state to state. For example, 88 percent of LEAs in Florida and 80 percent of LEAs in Arizona reported zero incidents of sexual harassment, whereas 25 percent of LEAs in West Virginia reported zeros. The numbers themselves also require scrutiny: Some LEAs contain hundreds of schools, whereas others consist of only a single charter school.

AAUW found that 65 percent of LEAs in Virginia reported zero instances of harassment and bullying based on sex in 2013-14.

School districts may attribute the vast underreporting of allegations to many causes. Some districts may claim they don’t have resources to devote to educating the school community and then adequately investigating and reporting harassment and bullying complaints. Others may say they are confused about whether to use the federal or state definition of harassment. Still others claim that the resources and training available to school staff can vary by school and district.

This 2013–14 release is the third collection of harassment data from the CRDC. AAUW believes that schools have had ample time to correct and adjust their policies and procedures to ensure accurate reporting. Regardless of the cause, the reality is that the zeros likely represent a failure to report the sexual harassment that far too many students experience every day.

“These zeros might seem like good news, but we know from AAUW’s own research that that is far from the reality in our nation’s public schools,” said Catherine Hill, vice president of research at AAUW and co-author of Crossing the Line: Sexual Harassment at School. In the report, AAUW found that nearly half of students in grades 7–12 (and more than half of girls) reported experiencing some form of sexual harassment in the previous school year. It’s likely, then, that the schools included in the CRDC data are vastly underreporting the incidence of sexual harassment and bullying in American schools.

“The information provided in the CRDC is vital to promoting Title IX compliance in local communities and finding out which schools don’t appear to be following the law,” said Maatz. “I urge parents, students, and advocates to locate their school’s Title IX coordinator and bring these findings to their attention. Schools owe it to students and parents to get these numbers right. Students’ well-being and access to an education free of sex discrimination are on the line.”

In the past several years, improvements in the CRDC have shed additional light on the pervasiveness of sex discrimination in schools. This most recent collection contains AAUW-supported improvements, including identifying schools’ civil rights coordinators and reporting allegations of bullying or harassment based on sexual orientation or religion.

The full 2013–14 data set is available online from the U.S. Department of Education. Members of the public can visit the CRDC site to look up data for individual schools, school districts, and states.



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