A Wisconsin school district is under investigation for allegedly failing to properly respond to a sexual harassment complaint following an incident where an 18-year-old trans-identifying student exposed his genitalia to four freshmen girls in the girls' locker room.
In a Monday statement to The Christian Post, a Sun Prairie Area School District spokesperson explained that they intend to cooperate with an investigation being carried out by the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights.
“While the specific complaint that is the subject of OCR’s investigation is unclear, we anticipate the complaint relates to an incident the District previously investigated and addressed,” the spokesperson stated. “We have already communicated as much as we can concerning that incident due to student confidentiality laws.”
The incident occurred in March when the four girls encountered the male student in the locker room after gym class. The boy was a senior and not in their class, and after telling the girls that he identified as trans, the upperclassman stripped in front of them.
The OCR informed the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty (WILL) last week that it had opened a Title IX investigation into the school district. The announcement of the investigation comes after WILL filed a complaint in June about the district’s response to the incident.
“OCR enforces Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 (Title IX), 20 U.S.C. §§ 1681 - 1688, and its implementing regulation at 34 C.F.R. Part 106, which prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex in any program or activity operated by a recipient of federal financial assistance from the Department,” the OCR’s letter states. “As a recipient of federal financial assistance from the Department, the District is subject to this law."
OCR indicated that it would investigate whether the district followed Title IX requirements for responding to a sexual harassment claim. The office added that its decision to conduct an investigation does not automatically mean the school district is guilty, as it intends to remain neutral as it conducts its analysis.
Cory Brewer, WILL Associate Counsel, applauded the OCR’s decision to review the complaint in a press release last week. However, he warned that time will tell whether the DOE takes the complaint seriously.
“Parents and students should be able to feel confident that their school is complying with federal laws like Title IX, but right now in Sun Prairie, parents do not have that confidence,” Brewer stated.
“We hope this results in answers for parents and families at the Sun Prairie Area School District, but we won’t know until we see the results of the investigation."
In WILL’s June letter to the DOE, the legal organization explained that one of the girls involved in the incident told another student what happened, who proceeded to alert the assistant principal. As WILL noted, the assistant principal was required to tell the Title IX coordinator about the incident, but she reportedly did not take this action.
“A few days later when the four girls gave the student permission to provide their names to student services, the assistant principal told the student that the girls can instead approach her if they wanted,” the letter explained. "She admitted during a meeting with parents later on that she should have ‘dug deeper’ at that time.”
The letter further alleges that the school district failed to clarify what actions it would take to address the incident. The legal group also claims no one from SPASD attempted to contact the girls and offer supportive measures.
According to WILL, SPASD’s Title IX coordinator claimed that the district had interviewed the parties involved in the incident, but the daughter of a client WILL is representing said no one contacted her for an interview. The district later claimed it had already “established the facts of what occurred” without interviewing the girl.
The Wisconsin legal group also pointed to complaints from parents and community members about the district’s bathroom policy during school board meetings, with many raising concerns about boys and girls sharing spaces such as locker rooms.
“A lack of clarity about the policy in SPASD persists,” WILL alleges. “SPASD has not taken adequate actions to prevent sexual harassment.”
In its statement to CP, SPASD provided a link to several published statements on its website about the locker room incident, clarifying that it does not condone students undressing or showering in front of the opposite sex. One of the statements, released in April, stated that the school is working to “protect and support all students.”
“[The] Districts must balance the dual goals of supporting transitioning students while also protecting the privacy interests of all students,” SPASD stated.
“The Sun Prairie Area School District is committed to doing so in a manner that is grounded in our mission, vision, and equity statement,” the district continued. “The District stands in support of all of its students and will continue to ensure that all students’ rights are protected.”