The purpose of this study was to trace the development of case law regarding sexual harassment in elementary and secondary public schools through a survey of state, circuit, and federal court districts, and United Supreme Court decisions. To trace these laws, the study examined nationwide sexual harassment court decisions from 1988 to present.
Sexual harassment is a critical problem in the school environment. Recent surveys indicate that sexual harassment has reached epidemic proportions in our schools and classrooms. Sexual harassment occurs daily on buses, in hallways, gymnasiums, classrooms, and on the playgrounds. Oftentimes, sexual harassment goes unreported by students. More importantly, when sexual harassment is reported, the school does virtually nothing to assure students that their complaints will be taken seriously.
Sexual harassment can contribute to serious harm to the victim, their families, other classmates, the school, and the school district. A review of related literature reveals that students who are sexually harassed suffer from behavioral, emotional, academic, and physical consequences. Without the support and intervention of school officials, students may not be able to overcome the impact of sexual harassment.
Several theories and models were reviewed in the study to examine possible explanations for incidence of sexual harassment in public schools. It should be noted that no single theory or model offered a precise explanation of the reasons students are harassed in schools.
Several landmark and key court cases regarding sexual harassment in public school were reviewed. Also, key federal legislative statutes and guidelines that provide the framework for judicial decisions on sexual harassment in public schools were reviewed. It was determined that four U.S. Supreme Court cases set precedence for lower courts to follow in adjudicating decisions of sexual harassment in public schools. The judicial decrees protect students in the school environment and are specific about the roles and responsibilities of the school district, administrators, and teachers. Additionally, the courts have taken important and significant steps toward making schools district officials liable for not effectively addressing sexual harassment in the schools.
Based on the broad scope of the study and the conclusions, several educational, prevention, and intervention strategies were recommended for students, parents, teachers, administrators, school districts, the community, and stakeholders. If these recommendations are implemented in school districts nationwide, the incidence and prevalence of sexual harassment in public school should decrease significantly.