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Department of Education: Penn State Failed to Protect Students from Sexual Misconduct, Must Change Title IX Policies

by on March 26, 2020 6:45 PM

Penn State is now required by the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) to make “major changes” to its Title IX policies after failing to protect students and address their complaints of sexual abuse, U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos announced in a press release on Thursday.

The OCR found that the university violated Title IX in multiple ways over the past several years, including failing to appropriately respond to complaints of sexual harassment, implement adequate record-keeping practices for the OCR to keep tabs on the university’s response with, and provide adequate notice to students and employees of the procedures.

The violations included transgressions related to both student complaints and those reported first to the athletic department. Additionally, the OCR discovered that beginning in 2017 and through 2019, Penn State imposed interim suspensions to accused parties without giving them a fair opportunity to first respond to the allegations.

According to the investigation, Penn State has failed to have systems in place that protect and help students, especially in cases where sexual misconduct involves athletic staff. In addition to University Park, the OCR also reviewed the policies and reminders regarding sexual misconduct for seven Commonwealth campuses as well: Altoona, Behrend, Berks, Harrisburg, Hazelton, Schuylkill, and Worthington.

Given these findings, the university must now cooperate with the OCR to fix the problems and violations by reporting on the handling of all Title IX complaints for the 2019-20 and 2020-21 academic years, revising and improving its record-keeping practices to ensure complaints are properly documented and filed, and keeping record of the university’s response to such complaints.

University officials will now undergo additional Title IX training to continually educate themselves on how to respond properly to any complaints filed. The university agreed to implement all required courses of actions, as further explained in this resolution.

Penn State entered the resolution agreement on March 18 and in doing so does not make "any admission of liability."

In 2016, the university was fined $2.4 million by the Department of Education for Clery Act violations following an investigation after the Sandusky scandal.

"Given all of the attention that Penn State has faced in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky scandal, it is disappointing that so many serious problems have remained at that university system," Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Kenneth L. Marcus said in a statement on Thursday. "As OCR has demonstrated, schools will be held responsible for how they respond to complaints of sexual harassment. We are pleased that Penn State has now agreed, in a spirit of cooperation, to fix the problems that we have identified. OCR will closely monitor the University to make sure that it fulfills the requirements of the Resolution Agreement."

An investigation to look into students complaints about how the university was mishandling sexual abuse cases began in 2014 during the prior administration, which never completed it.

“As I’ve said before, ‘justice delayed is justice denied,’ and for too long the students of Penn State have been denied justice. I committed to clearing out the backlog of cases we inherited from the previous administration, and we are doing just that,” DeVos said in the release. “I hope resolution of this Title IX investigation and the changes we are requiring will help to bring continued healing to the Penn State community.”

 



Ryen Gailey is a Penn State student and a writer for Onward State.
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