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Dear Colleague Letter

OFFICE OF THE ASSISTANT SECRETARY



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    education programs and activities (e.g., by causing some Jewish students to avoid the library and computer lab).  Therefore, although the discipline that the school imposed on the perpetrators was an important part of the school’s response, discipline alone was likely insufficient to remedy a hostile environment.  Similarly, removing the graffiti, while a necessary and important step, did not fully satisfy the school’s responsibilities.  As discussed above, misconduct that is not directed at a particular student, like the graffiti in the bathroom, can still constitute discriminatory harassment and foster a hostile environment.  Finally, the fact that school officials considered one of the incidents “teasing” is irrelevant for determining whether it contributed to a hostile environment.
    Because the school failed to recognize that the incidents created a hostile environment, it addressed each only in isolation, and therefore failed to take prompt and effective steps reasonably calculated to end the harassment and prevent its recurrence.  In addition to disciplining the perpetrators, remedial steps could have included counseling the perpetrators about the hurtful effect of their conduct, publicly labeling the incidents as anti-Semitic, reaffirming the school’s policy against discrimination, and publicizing the means by which students may report harassment.  Providing teachers with training to recognize and address anti-Semitic incidents also would have increased the effectiveness of the school’s response.  The school could also have created an age-appropriate program to educate its students about the history and dangers of anti-Semitism, and could have conducted outreach to involve parents and community groups in preventing future anti-Semitic harassment.

Title IX:  Sexual Harassment

  • Shortly after enrolling at a new high school, a female student had a brief romance with another student.  After the couple broke up, other male and female students began routinely calling the new student sexually charged names, spreading rumors about her sexual behavior, and sending her threatening text messages and e-mails.  One of the student’s teachers and an athletic coach witnessed the name calling and heard the rumors, but identified it as “hazing” that new students often experience.  They also noticed the new student’s anxiety and declining class participation.  The school attempted to resolve the situation by requiring the student to work the problem out directly with her harassers. 
    Sexual harassment is unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature, which can include unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, or other verbal, nonverbal, or physical conduct of a sexual nature.  Thus, sexual harassment prohibited by Title IX can include conduct such as touching of a sexual nature; making sexual comments, jokes, or gestures; writing graffiti or displaying or distributing sexually explicit drawings, pictures, or written materials; calling students sexually charged names; spreading sexual rumors; rating students on sexual activity or performance; or circulating, showing, or creating e-mails or Web sites of a sexual nature. 

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Last Modified: 10/26/2010