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Sexual Assault and Harassment in Schools: The Call to Action is Still Calling

Sexual Assault and Harassment in Schools: The Call to Action is Still Calling

By John Shields, PhD, MSW | April 30, 2019
Senior Research Scientist, ETR

Journalist Tyler Kingkade’s recent story for The 74 is such a disturbing read that it appropriately includes this warning: This article contains graphic descriptions of sexual assault involving children. Still, it’s critical that you do read and understand it. You will see that there’s an immense amount of uphill work we must do to protect K-12 students from sexual and gender-based assault and harassment.

Title IX, the federal law which prohibits discrimination in education on the basis of sex, is merely the starting place. There are over 13,000 school districts in the United States, and they each have to turn the law into policies, turn the policies into procedures and protocols, and then support and train enough personnel to implement those procedures and protocols with fidelity and excellence—all while keeping an eye on developing best practices in the field.

A Tall Order

This is a tall order. There are so many competing priorities facing school districts, and I can’t think of a single one that would claim an overabundance of resources. Or even sufficient resources.

This means that disturbing stories like the ones in Mr. Kingkade’s article will continue to be written until sweeping changes are made to the way we think about and support K-12 education in our nation.

Every day, I get a summary email from the Association of Title IX Administrators that provides a list of four or five K-12 news stories from around the country detailing incidents of harassment, failure of districts to respond appropriately, and the resulting lawsuits. While I look forward to the moment when that daily summary is no longer needed, we will only get there through a determined and committed effort.

Pieces like Mr. Kingkade’s are hard to read, but we at ETR’s K12T9 Initiative do read them, every day. They keep us motivated and focused on crafting solutions for districts that are interested in strengthening their infrastructure, practices and compliance with Title IX. We have worked with outstanding partners—some of the best people in the field—to offer effective guidance for districts ready to meet the challenge and protect their students.

If this describes your district, we invite you to contact us and find out more about the work we’ve been doing, our model for creating safer schools, and the practical steps your administration can take to make Title IX compliance and the creation of a safe, positive learning environment a reality.


John Shields, PhD, MSW, is a Senior Research Scientist and Director of the K12T9 Initiative at ETR. He leads ETR’s School-Based Health & Wellness program, which includes a wide range of research, evaluation and information technology projects within K-12 school districts. He can be reached at


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