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U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights Announces Resolution of Sexual Assault and Disability Discrimination Investigation of Pflugerville Independent School District in Texas

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Today, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) announced that the Pflugerville Independent School District in Texas entered into a resolution agreement to address the district’s handling of a sexual assault case and to ensure compliance with Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972.

The resolution also covers additional issues raised under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.

OCR determined that the district violated Title IX by failing to respond equitably to notice that a student was sexually assaulted by another student in a school restroom in the 2018-2019 school year.

“The Pflugerville Independent School District’s response to an allegation that one of its students raped another of its students in a school bathroom violated Title IX, not only because it relied on stereotypes about how a person should respond to sexual assault but also because it failed to provide fair process both to the accused student and to his accuser,” said Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Catherine E. Lhamon. “The district has committed that it will follow the law in Title IX going forward, in addition to providing all students with disabilities the necessary services to meet their individual educational needs.

While local law enforcement had asked the district to temporarily take no action to investigate while law enforcement conducted its criminal investigation, the district never undertook a Title IX investigation even after the completion of law enforcement activities. When the district eventually retained a third-party investigator to conduct “a review of the administrative procedures followed in an alleged sexual incident,” the third-party investigator did not conduct an equitable investigation as required by Title IX.

The investigator reported to OCR that she interviewed only the student who alleged she had been raped, and no one else, because – based on the student’s responses to questions about the alleged incident and her physical demeanor – the investigator did not think the assault happened. 

As a result, the investigation failed to provide the accused student an opportunity to be heard regarding the allegation, failed to interview relevant witnesses, and failed to make a determination as to whether the student was subjected to a hostile environment.

Notwithstanding these flaws, the school district’s Title IX coordinator – whom the district had detailed to other duties and who had not participated in the investigation – adopted the third-party investigator’s findings and issued a notice of outcome that also failed to comply with Title IX because it did not provide the accused student with notice of the outcome of the investigation.

OCR also found that the district violated Section 504 and Title II, during the 2018-2019 school year, by failing to provide the student about whom the complaint to OCR was filed with a disability accommodation in a class as required by the student’s Section 504 plan. Finally, OCR had a compliance concern regarding whether the district afforded the student a required accommodation for a state-mandated end-of-course exam. 

The district agreed to take specific actions to resolve this investigation and signed an agreement memorializing that commitment. The agreement, when fully implemented, will resolve the Title IX, Section 504, and Title II violations and compliance concerns. 

The resolution agreement provides that the district will: (1) offer to meet with the student who reported the assault and her family to discuss the district’s handling of the sexual assault allegation and offer reimbursement for the student’s related counseling expenses; (2) designate a Title IX coordinator; (3) conduct training on Title IX and Section 504/Title II for relevant district and school staff; (4) provide OCR with information and documentation regarding sexual harassment complaints received in the 2021-2022 and 2022-2023 school years; (5) develop and disseminate a sexual harassment climate survey to the school’s students, with OCR review and approval of responsive district actions; and (6) develop and implement a record-keeping system to preserve all sexual harassment complaints and related documentation.

The letter to Pflugerville Independent School District is available here, and the resolution agreement is available here.

More information about the ED OCR complaint process, including how they can be filed, can be found here.

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