Students Accused of Sexual Misconduct Had Title IX Rights Violated by Wesley College, Says U.S. Department of Education

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Students Accused of Sexual Misconduct Had Title IX Rights Violated by Wesley College, Says U.S. Department of Education

October 12, 2016

The U.S. Department of Education announced today that its Office for Civil Rights (OCR) has reached an agreement with Wesley College in Dover, Delaware after finding the college in violation of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 as it applies to sexual violence and sexual harassment. OCR determined that students accused of sexual misconduct had their Title IX rights violated by Wesley in the course of its investigation of the case.

Title IX prohibits sex discrimination in education programs and activities receiving federal financial assistance.

“With this agreement, Wesley College undertakes a strong commitment to equitably address sexual violence and sexual harassment for all parties, including both accused students as well as accusers, consistent with the fairness mandate of Title IX,” said Catherine E. Lhamon, assistant secretary for civil rights. “I look forward to continuing to work with Wesley College to support its efforts to ensure student safety, including through promoting processes all students can believe in to protect their rights.”

OCR’s Title IX probe was based on a complaint filed on behalf of an accused student asserting that Wesley failed to fully investigate a report of sexual misconduct against the accused student.  The complaint also alleged that the student was wrongly charged and expelled within seven days in April 2015, just prior to his anticipated graduation.  Three other students were also accused of the same conduct and received the same punishment.

OCR found that Wesley College violated Title IX by failing to provide accused students with essential procedural protections and also by not adhering to its safeguards provided for in its own disciplinary policies and procedures.  OCR found that the accused student about whom the complaint was filed was not provided a full opportunity to respond to the charges, rebut the allegations, or defend himself at his hearing.  Among the violations:   

  • While a school must assess whether the accused may present a danger or threat to the safety of self and others, an interim suspension was imposed the same day as the college received the report against the student even though the college had not interviewed the student.
  • The student was not interviewed during the investigation of the complaint.
  • The student was provided the wrong policies and procedures by the college and reported that he went to the hearing expecting to participate in an initial conference.
  • The student did not receive a copy of, or information contained in, the incident report prior to the hearing.
  • Accused students were not provided a full opportunity to provide witnesses and other evidence at the hearing. 

Also, for the 2013-2015 case files reviewed, OCR determined that college violated Title IX in failing to provide procedural safeguards and equitable investigations for other accused students, including several incidents in which the college provided no evidence that accused students were interviewed before receiving interim suspensions, some on the same day. 

OCR also had concerns that interim measures, such as counseling and adjustments to academic schedules, and notice of the written outcome of the complaint were not provided to both parties; and that the time allowed may have been too short in some investigations for the gathering of all pertinent evidence.

In addition to these violations specific to accused students, OCR found the college failed to:

  • Provide a Notice of Non-Discrimination identifying the individual at the college responsible for investigating and resolving Title IX complaints.
  • Widely publicize its Notice of Non-Discrimination.  And,
  • Adopt Title IX policies and procedures that:
    • Provide adequate notice to students and employees regarding where complaints may be filed.
    • Designate reasonably prompt timeframes for all stages of the grievance process. And,
    • Provide notice of its deputy Title IX coordinators.

OCR also identified concerns regarding whether the college maintained all records from its investigation of the allegations regarding the student, adequately trained its Title IX coordinator and Title IX Team, and properly designated confidential reporters who are not obligated to report possible sexual violence to school officials.

Under the resolution agreement, Wesley College agreed to take actions to remedy the Title IX violations, including the following:

  • Determine whether it engaged in a sufficient level of inquiry prior to imposing interim suspensions upon the student and the other three accused students and provide specific remedial actions as warranted.
  • Complete its investigation of the incident involving the student and the other three accused in compliance with Title IX.
  • Re-investigate or address the investigative deficiencies OCR identified for specific case files from 2013 to 2015 and provide remedies as warranted.
  • Provide OCR with copies of incident files of alleged sexual harassment or sexual assault at the college for the 2017-2018 and 2018-19 academic years.
  • Publish an anti-harassment statement and revise its Title IX grievance procedures, and ensure that the responsibilities of the Title IX coordinator and deputy coordinators are consistent with Title IX. 
  • Provide training to ensure that all members of the college community – including students, faculty, administrators, and other staff – are trained regularly on issues related to the sexual harassment and violence requirements of Title IX. 
  • Enhance outreach to and feedback from students, including by conducting climate surveys with students on campus to assess the effectiveness of steps taken by the college towards providing a safe campus environment.
  • Convene a Title IX committee, composed of staff and students, to develop a plan for educating students and employees about sexual harassment and assault.

A copy of the resolution agreement is posted here. And, a copy of the letter can be found here.

OCR's mission is to ensure equal access to education and promote educational excellence throughout the nation through the vigorous enforcement of civil rights.  OCR is responsible for enforcing federal civil rights laws that prohibit discrimination by educational institutions on the basis of race, color, national origin, disability, sex, and age, as well as the Boy Scouts of America Equal Access Act of 2001. Additional information about OCR is available here.