The Alpine School District “discriminated against students based on sex by failing to respond to reports of sexual assault by employees and students,” a federal Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights compliance review has determined.

In a 21-page letter to the school district, the Office for Civil Rights reveals five employee-to-student incidents “to illustrate these concerning failures.”

It also points to some 88 reports of student-to-student sexual assaults and the district’s “failure to take appropriate steps to investigate” them. The office’s review of district records revealed more than “100 incidents of student-to-student sexual harassment, including at least 88 sexual assaults.”

The Alpine School District began “taking steps to resolve self-identified compliance issues that came to our attention during the documentation-gathering process” even as the Office of Civil Rights was conducting its review, which began in 2020, according to Kimberly Bird, the district’s executive director of internal relations and operations.

“Since the initiation of the review, the district has been cooperating with OCR by providing documentation to their office as requested. Many of these steps align with the resolution that has just been entered into between OCR and ASD. Some of these steps included updating Title IX related policies, ensuring more thorough training of the Title IX coordinator and school administrators, and improving documentation of Title IX issues,” the district’s statement said.

It went on, “We continue to address these specific violations and compliance concerns identified by OCR as outlined on Sept. 20, 2023. Alpine School District is committed to ongoing improvement and adherence to Title IX regulations.”

The Office of Civil Rights determined that “the district failed to respond equitably to reports of student-to-student sexual assaults during the review period,” which included the 2017-18, 2018-19 and 2019-20 school years.

The review found that the district did not investigate most reports of student-to-student sexual assault as Title IX matters. “Only one of the 88 reported student-to-student sexual assaults was handled by the District’s Title IX coordinator,” according to OCR documents.

The reports ranged from allegations of student-to-student sexual harassment to reports of rapes on school campuses or adjacent to campuses.

In one case, a student told her parent and a school counselor that she was raped by another student in the school’s parking lot. The counselor notified an assistant principal, who called police, according to the letter.

Law enforcement interviewed the student who reported the sexual assault and arrested the other student, “but the case was never adjudicated,” the letter states.

“Another school employee notified the assistant principal that (the student who was arrested) was bragging to other students about having had sex with a female student in the parking lot. When the assistant principal notified the principal of this, the principal told the assistant principal that the student would not be returning to the school,” the letter states.

The federal office did not find evidence that the district conducted an investigation to determine if the student was raped in the school’s parking lot and if the alleged rape created a hostile environment for the reporting student or took any steps to remedy its effects on the student, the letter states.

“Even if the student (alleged to have raped a fellow student) was not returning to the school and law enforcement did not prosecute the alleged rape, the district had obligations under Title IX to determine if the rape occurred and created a hostile environment for (the reporting student), so that the district would know what remedies to provide (that) student and whether the (accused student) posed a risk to students in other schools,” the letter states.

Moreover, “OCR found that when the district investigated reported student-to-student sexual assaults, it did so only as a discipline matter. OCR did not find any evidence among the 88 reported sexual assaults that the district investigated or analyzed whether the reported incidents had created a hostile environment for the harassed students as required by Title IX, thus potentially limiting or denying their access to education,” the letter states.

Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 protects people from discrimination based on sex in education programs or activities that receive federal financial assistance. The Office of Civil Rights enforces Title IX and other statutes.

Among five teacher-to-student incidents that were reviewed, one involved a teacher who performed a “sexual act” on a student in the teacher’s high school classroom, the letter states.

The student told a third party, who reported the incident to law enforcement. Law enforcement questioned and arrested the teacher, who later pleaded guilty to unlawful sexual conduct.

“The district learned of the matter and reported it to the UPPAC,” which is the Utah Professional Practices Advisory Commission under the State School Board, “but allowed (the) teacher to resign without conducting a Title IX investigation to determine whether this conduct created a hostile environment for (the) student or whether other district students were subjected to an ongoing hostile environment,” the letter states.

In another case, a high school graduate sent a letter to a school counselor that alleged a teacher “had groomed her, caressed her exposed lower back, kissed her multiple times, and done the same to two other students,” the letter states.

Alpine School District interviewed nine former and current students, according to the letter.

“In a memorandum, the principal described how the teacher: (A) singled out female students and found out if they came from a single parent or distressed home; (B) crossed emotional and physical lines with the female students; (C) promised the female students (redacted content); and (D) found ways to be alone with the female students and to kiss them, including spending inordinate time teaching them how to kiss.”

The letter continues, “The principal wrote, ‘As we investigated we heard the same story again and again. … It was eerie how similar the stories were, even though most ended early with the students transferring or quitting.’”

The letter states that “the teacher denied the allegations and blamed the girls for misunderstanding his teaching methods.”

The teacher agreed to get a doctor’s note that would allow him to take the rest of the school year off and to retire at the end of the school year.

“OCR found no evidence that the district provided current students interim measures between (redacted content) 2019” and the teacher retirement, or that “the district determined whether the teacher’s conduct created a hostile environment for current or former students.”

Under terms of the agreement to ensure the school district’s compliance with Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972, the school district has agreed to additional age-appropriate training for students and staff that states the district’s policies, grievance procedures, its prohibition against sex discrimination, including sexual harassment, and “a statement that harassment of students based on sex will not be tolerated.”

By Jan. 12, 2024, the district is expected to develop for Office of Civil Rights review and approval “a written policy to implement a centralized record-keeping system that adequately and accurately documents and preserves all reports and complaints of sexual harassment.”

It also will conduct an annual climate survey starting this school year, among other corrective actions outlined in the letter such as coordination of compliance with Title IX through the district’s designated coordinator.

“The district will notify all of its employees, in writing, that they must promptly notify the Title IX coordinator of all Title IX reports or complaints of which they are aware,” the resolution agreement states.

DOJ investigation reveals ‘serious and widespread racial harassment’ in this Utah school district

Another example cited in the letter said that in 2019, the school district received a complaint “that a teacher had engaged in a sexual relationship with a student.” The teacher’s spouse, also a teacher in the school district and an assistant coach on the girl’s basketball team, lodged a complaint, the letter states.

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The district made a report to local police. “The police informed the school that no crime had been committed because the interactions were consensual and involved an (redacted content). The district allowed the teacher to resign ... and the district’s investigation appeared to end after her resignation,” the letter states.

The district reported the information to the Utah Professional Practices Advisory Commission.

The “Office of Civil Rights found no evidence that the district investigated whether the teacher’s conduct, even if not criminal, constituted sexual harassment under the district’s policies or created a hostile environment for the student.”

According to an agency press release, OCR found that the district “failed to investigate or redress employee-to-student and student-to-student sexual assault allegations after they were reported to law enforcement, leaving affected students vulnerable to the discrimination that Title IX prohibits but that law enforcement does not address.”

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