The Framingham school district has agreed to respond “promptly and equitably” to future complaints of sexual harassment and is overhauling its policies, more than a year after a male student allegedly assaulted two female students inside the high school.
The school district volunteered to make the changes, with the help of two paid consultants, to end an investigation by the US Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights.
Kevin Fox, a former social worker at the high school, filed the complaint in March because he said the school had done too little to investigate reports of the assaults, which allegedly occurred in 2012.
Fox resigned in March, the day of an assembly about violence against women, because he believed administrators had mishandled the case. “I really couldn’t stand the hypocrisy any more,” he said. Some students protested the school’s response as well.
But on Wednesday, Fox said he believes the Office for Civil Rights agreement is a vast improvement in the district’s policy on sexual discrimination.
‘It’s not that we didn’t have policies in place. It’s that we want to improve them and upgrade them.’ —Stacy L. Scott Framingham superintendent
“I’m delighted with it,” Fox said. “I think it was absolutely necessary. I think it is going to put into place rigid guidelines that those who work at the place need to follow.”
The federal office was investigating Fox’s allegations that the district failed to respond to a hostile environment based on gender at the high school and did not have a procedure for addressing complaints of sex discrimination.
“It’s not that we didn’t have policies in place,” said Superintendent Stacy L. Scott, who came to Framingham after the alleged assaults took place. “It’s that we want to improve them and upgrade them.”
In the agreement, Framingham did not admit that the school district had violated Title IX, the federal law that requires gender equality in all educational programs that receive federal funding.
The district’s agreement with the Office for Civil Rights lays out a detailed plan for carrying out the school’s responsibilities to prevent and address sexual discrimination and harassment under Title IX.
By Nov. 1, the district must provide training for all staff on Title IX and the district’s procedure for filing complaints. By June 2014, the district must show the Office for Civil Rights documentation of reports and complaints, and how the district has handled the complaints, as well as efforts to track complaints. Anyone who files a complaint must be informed that services such as counseling and academic adjustments are available.
Mark Prince, the district’s new assistant superintendent, is also the new Title IX coordinator. The two consultants who are helping to draft the updated policies are Richard Cole, a Boston lawyer, and Randy Ross, a Brown University gender equity specialist who helps school districts create policies to reduce bullying and harassment.
“It’s not unusual for an organization to enter into a voluntary agreement to kind of get some guidance through this,” Prince said. “I’ve been in some other school districts and we’ve had to deal with some of these thorny issues.”
Although the Office for Civil Rights is closing its investigation, it will monitor whether the school district sticks to its agreement.
The first student who said she was sexually assaulted came forward to Fox two weeks after the alleged incident. Fox said he notified school officials, the district attorney’s office, and a school police officer. Although he tried to persuade school officials to discipline the male student, they did not act, he said. About a month after the first report, he said, the same student assaulted a second female student. Finally, in June, the male student was suspended for five days, he said.
The Middlesex district attorney’s office investigated an allegation of sexual assault in May 2012 after it was contacted by the high school. “Based on the investigation that was made, it was determined that the case would be closed out without the filing of criminal charges,” said MaryBeth Long, a spokeswoman for District Attorney Marian T. Ryan.
Long said she couldn’t discuss the details of the investigation, or why no charges were filed.