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NSBA Applauds Ruling in Favor of School Discretion in Maintaining Safe, Harassment-Free Learning Environments

April 9, 2015

Alexandria, Va. (April 9, 2015) - The National School Boards Association (NSBA) applauds the ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in support of schools’ discretion in maintaining safe, harassment-free learning environments. At stake in the case of Doe v. Board of Education of Prince George’s County was the standard by which school districts could be held liable for monetary damages under Title IX [1] in cases of alleged student-on-student harassment.

The decision of the Fourth Circuit adheres to the standard outlined by the U.S. Supreme Court in Davis vs. Monroe County Board of Education (1999) which ruled that school districts may only be held liable if school officials are actually aware of and act deliberately indifferent to severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive harassment.

“We need to be able to rely upon the education, training, and judgment of our school leaders when dealing with peer-to-peer harassment and bullying at school. The Fourth Circuit recognized that, and rightfully provides school leaders with the flexibility and authority to deal with issues of harassment at school without the threat of unreasonable liability,” said NSBA Executive Director Thomas J. Gentzel.

Last June, NSBA was joined by the Maryland Association of Boards of Education (MABE), in submitting a “friend of the court” (amicus) brief asserting that the narrow Davis standard should apply to the case. The brief highlighted school districts’ commitment to protecting students through the development and implementation of policies to prevent and address harassment and bullying at schools, but argued that school districts should not be legally responsible for failing to eliminate all instances of student-on-student harassment, or to follow recommendations in guidance documents issued by the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) of the U.S. Department of Education which appear to shift legal standards contrary to existing law.

“Consistent with NSBA’s position, the court strongly rejected the plaintiffs’ attempt to hold the school district liable under OCR’s confusing restatement of the legal standards for liability,” said NSBA General Counsel Francisco M. Negrón, Jr. “In our response to OCR’s 2010 Dear Colleague Letter, NSBA warned the agency that its failure to clarify its guidance could encourage misplaced, expensive and needless litigation such as this one, where the court emphatically refused to adopt negligence and constructive knowledge principles as the appropriate analysis for imposing Title IX liability.”

[1] Title IX is a federal civil rights statute that prohibits sex discrimination in education programs receiving federal funds.

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The National School Boards Association (NSBA) is the leading advocate for public education and supports equity and excellence in public education through school board leadership. NSBA represents state school boards associations and their more than 90,000 local school board members throughout the U.S.  Learn more at www.nsba.org.

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