LaShonda Davis, an elementary school student from Monroe County, Ga., told her mother in late 1992 that a boy at school had been “messing” with her – grabbing her breasts and crotch. Her mother complained to the girl’s teacher and the school’s principal, but it took the school three months just to move the taunting boy’s desk away from Davis’. The boy harassed Davis until her mother filed a complaint with the county sheriff in 1993, and eventually pleaded guilty to sexual battery.
In 1994, the Davis family filed a $1 million lawsuit against the Monroe County Board of Education, arguing the school failed to stop sexual discrimination as it was required to do under Title IX’s requirements for gender equity in schools that receive federal funding. The board argued that the Davis’ concerns were addressed and that federal sexual harassment laws that apply in the workplace do not apply in the classroom. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled last year that schools could be sued when a teacher sexually harassed a student. But student-on-student harassment also should fall under Title IX.
The biggest concern is whether the extension of Title IX to the playground will lead to an explosion of lawsuits. But that easily can be averted if schools act against instances of sexual harassment. Playground taunting has been part of childhood for centuries. But a school that fails to address the concerns of egregious harassment fails to provide a safe learning environment for its students. If the court dismisses the lawsuit, it will leave families without recourse when a school fails to address sexual misconduct. The court must help put an end to “boys will be boys” as an excuse for harassment.