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Congressman Ryan Costello

Representing the 6th District of Pennsylvania

On Title IX Anniversary, Rep. Costello & Rep. Dingell Urge Secretary DeVos to Maintain Title IX Guidance to Protect K-12 Students from Sexual Assault

June 23, 2017
Press Release

Washington, D.C. – Today, on the 45th anniversary of Title IX, Rep. Ryan Costello (R-PA) and Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-MI) led a bipartisan letter to Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos urging her to maintain Title IX guidance in K-12 schools that protects young people from sexual assault and harassment. The letter, signed by 52 Members of Congress, also urges Secretary DeVos to continue training for Title IX coordinators and support other critical programs that combat sexual violence in schools.

“Our schools must be prepared to protect students from sexual assault and violence, which is why maintaining current guidance to make sure schools know their responsibilities and commit to them is so important,” said Rep. Costello. “The lasting consequences for victims of sexual assault can be wide-ranging, which is just one of the reasons why we must ensure schools support completing training and education to provide an environment safe from sexual violence.”

“Over the course of the last few months, I have met a number of high school students who have been raped or experienced inappropriate sexual behavior and are suffering deeply as a result,” said Rep. Dingell. “The issue of sexual assault on college campuses has received more attention in recent years, as it needs to. The reality is that this behavior most likely began far earlier. It is critical that our K-12 schools have the resources, guidance and training to address this issue, support victims, raise awareness and educate young people. If we can address this behavior earlier, we may be able to prevent more devastating incidents of sexual assault in the future. A young man recently came up to me and observed, ‘they need to be teaching us this in middle school,’ which is one of the reasons continuing these vital protections is so important.”

“While we celebrate 45 years of successes under Title IX, we need to focus on the work that’s still left to be done when it comes to gender equity in education,” said Anne Hedgepeth, interim vice president of government relations and policy at the American Association of University Women (AAUW). “Now more than ever the Department of Education under Secretary DeVos must show their steadfast commitment and support to upholding and strengthening Title IX. Our students’ access to an education free from discrimination is on the line.”

“So much is at stake for our daughters and sons,” said Esta Soler, Futures Without Violence President and Founder. “School systems are failing victims of sexual assault and harassment. And more importantly, our culture is failing them by normalizing disrespectful and bullying behavior both online and off. Our leaders have a duty to fund and enforce the sexual violence protections guaranteed under Title IX.”

“Sexual violence remains a pervasive issue that we must relentlessly spotlight and address,” said Judy Vredenburgh, President and CEO of Girls Inc. “In order for girls to grow up healthy and realize their full potential, K-12 schools must have the resources and the will to understand and effectively address sexual harassment and assault. The Department of Education plays an important role in safeguarding these basic civil rights, and we applaud the members of Congress elevating this issue with Secretary DeVos. Together with our girls, affiliates, partners, and concerned citizens, we too ask the Department to preserve its Title IX guidance and join with us to ensure schools provide safe learning environments for our young people.”

“It is our responsibility to support students who have experienced sexual violence and provide them with the proper resources,” said Ebony Tucker, advocacy director for the National Alliance to End Sexual Violence. “Enforcement of the 2011 Title IX guidance and training for Title IX coordinators is the best way to accomplish that goal.”

A recent study conducted by the National Women’s Law Center found that more than 1 in 5 girls ages 14 to 18 reported being kissed or touched without their consent. The same study found that 68 percent of survivors had difficulty concentrating in class and another 30 percent reported being absent from school because they felt unsafe at school following their assault.  These statistics demonstrate that victims of sexual assault in K-12 schools face far-ranging emotional and academic consequences that can have a negative impact on their education. Continued strong focus on Title IX programs would decrease these numbers.

In addition to Rep. Dingell and Rep. Costello, the letter was signed by Reps. Jackie Speier (CA-14), Patrick Meehan (PA-7), Ann McLane Kuster (NH-2), David Joyce (OH-14), Bonnie Watson Coleman (NJ-12), Tom Reed (NY-23), Jerry McNerney (CA-9), Gwen Moore (WI-4). Luis Gutierrez (IL-4), Elise M. Stefanik (NY-21), Emanuel Cleaver (MO-5), Judy Chu (CA-27), José E. Serrano (NY-15), Frederica Wilson (FL-24), David Cicilline (RI-1), Jacky Rosen (NV-3), Sander M. Levin (MI-9), Mark Pocan (WI-2), Adam Smith (WA-9), Bobby Scott (VA-3), Juan Vargas (CA-51), Dwight Evans (PA-2), Lois Frankel (FL-21), John Yarmuth (KY-3), James P. McGovern (MA-2), Donald M. Payne Jr. (NJ-10), Carol Shea-Porter (NH-1), Anna Eshoo (CA-18), Tom O’Halleran (AZ-1), Katherine Clark (MA-5), Mike Thompson (CA-5), Suzanne Bonamici (OR-1), David Scott (GA-13), Susan A. Davis (CA-53), A. Donald McEachin (VA-4), Stacey Plaskett (VI-AL), Al Green (TX-9), Elizabeth Esty (CT-5), Sheila Jackson Lee (TX-18), Donald Norcross (NJ-1), Richard M. Nolan (MN-8), Lucille Roybal-Allard (CA-40), Carolyn B. Maloney (NY-12), Kathy Castor (FL-14), Jamie Raskin (MD-8), Colleen Hanabusa (HI-1), Diana DeGette (CO-1), Mark Takano (CA-41), Marcy Kaptur (OH-9), Jared Huffman (CA-2).

The Representatives letter can be read here and below. 

Dear Secretary DeVos:

As you begin to craft the priorities of the U.S. Department of Education, we ask you to consider an issue of great importance: protecting young people from sexual and dating violence.   As you know, K-12 schools have a responsibility under Title IX to take measures to prevent sexual violence and harassment in schools and to promptly investigate these instances when they occur.   We request that you prioritize efforts to combat sexual violence and harassment at K-12 schools by maintaining the 2011 Title IX guidance document issued by the Department and to supporting other critical programs that combat sexual violence in our schools.

All children deserve a learning environment in K-12 schools that is free from sexual violence and harassment.  While sexual violence and harassment has received great attention at the collegiate level, we know that most of the behavior we see on our college campuses didn’t begin there.  Many of the attitudes and behaviors begin much earlier, and if addressed early might prevent more serious incidents of rape and sexual assault.  Sexual harassment and assault, including cyber bullying that often accompanies assaults, can have a profound effect on victims, forcing many to drop out of school and in some of the most devastating instances drive a student to take her or his own life.

The numbers illustrate this point far too well.  Sexual and family violence are two of the biggest drivers of youth suicide, and are also unseen drivers of absenteeism and drop-out, particularly for girls.  According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 40 percent of rape victims were first raped before the age of 18, and youth suicide is increasing, with the rate of suicide among 10-14 year olds doubling since 2007. In a study conducted by the National Women’s Law Center in January of 2017, more than 1 in 5 girls ages 14 to 18 reported being kissed or touched without their consent.  The same study found that 68 percent of survivors had difficulty concentrating in class and another 30 percent reported being absent from school because they felt unsafe at school.   Continued strong focus of Title IX programs would decrease these numbers.  

As you know, under Title IX schools have a responsibility to address and prevent sexual violence and harassment.  In 2011, the Department of Education issued guidance to K-12 schools – in response to their request for more information – regarding how they can meet their Title IX obligations.  This guidance document provides clear guidelines to schools on how to respond to reported incidents of sexual violence and harassment.  By providing clarity to schools on how to respond, the guidance has driven a more thorough and fair process for all involved.  We believe it is vital this guidance be maintained and ask you to preserve it throughout your tenure as Secretary.

In addition to maintaining the guidance document, we ask that you support training and education for Title IX coordinators and school personnel in K-12 schools.  Schools need this targeted technical assistance to ensure they have the training to fairly and adequately enforce the intent of the law.   Having a knowledgeable and well-trained faculty is essential to ensuring our K-12 schools are free from sexual harassment and violence, and we hope the Department will continue to provide this support. 

Finally, as you continue your work as Secretary of Education we ask you to engage in active outreach and dialogue with survivors of sexual assault in K-12 schools and their advocates.  This is essential to ensuring the Department is hearing from all voices and is crafting policies that are responsive to the needs of victims.  This is an important part of ensuring that our K-12 schools are safe spaces for all.

We believe you share our commitment to these issues and were encouraged by your comments in March of this year when you said, “We all have a common responsibility to ensure every student has access to a safe and nurturing learning environment.”

We ask the Department to preserve the 2011 Title IX guidance for K-12, schools, support Title IX coordinators at K-12 schools, and engage the voice of victims of assault as the Department moves forward in these areas.   We look forward to working with you to ensure that our K-12 schools are free from sexual assault and violence.