Education Leaders Assert Supreme Court Standard Should Dictate School Districts’ Liability Under Title IX

September 30, 2015

Alexandria, Va. (September 30, 2015) - The National School Boards Association (NSBA), joined by the Texas Association of School Boards (TASB) filed a “friend of the court” (amicus) brief in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit regarding Salazar v. South San Antonio Independent School District, urging the Court to overturn the trial court’s decision. The Court will consider whether a school district may be held liable under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 for the sexual assault of a student by a school principal when the abuser was the only school official with actual knowledge of the offense.

The amici urge the Court of Appeals to apply the Title IX legal standard set forth by the U.S. Supreme Court in Gebser v. Lago Vista Independent School District. In Gebser, the Court ruled that a school district may be held liable for monetary damages under Title IX only if an official with authority to address the alleged discrimination and to institute corrective measures has “actual knowledge” of discrimination and fails to adequately respond.  The Court declared that the wrongdoer’s knowledge of his own misconduct does not equate to “actual knowledge,” under that legal definition.

 “If the Court of Appeals affirms the lower court’s decision, it will create a precedent where a district can be found liable based solely on wrongdoing by a school official, regardless of how vigilant a school district is in monitoring employees, and without the district being given the opportunity to address the harassment in question,” stated Thomas J. Gentzel, Executive Director, National School Boards Association. “It has been our long held position that Title IX liability of school districts should be determined strictly in keeping with the standards established by the U.S. Supreme Court.”

The case at hand involves a student, Adrian Salazar, who filed a Title IX claim against the South San Antonio Independent School District and its former employee, Michael Alcoser, based on a sexual assault claim against Alcoser while he was the vice principal and principal of two elementary schools in the school district. Prior to trial, the parties stipulated that no employee with the school district, other than Alcoser had knowledge of his abusive conduct, which violated the school district’s policies. The school district lacked “actual notice” of the wrongdoing, but was found liable for $4.5 million in compensatory damages.

“The U.S. Supreme Court’s legal standard is clear: School districts should not be held responsible for wrongdoing of which they have no knowledge or opportunity to correct,” said Francisco M. Negrόn, Jr., NSBA Associate Executive Director and General Counsel.

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