Education Secretary Betsy DeVos arrives for an event in the State Dining room of the White House, Wednesday, Aug. 12, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, File)

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos arrives for an event in the State Dining room of the White House, Wednesday, Aug. 12, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, File)

School district crafting Title IX policies

The move is aimed at bringing the district into compliance with federal changes governing how instances of sexual harassment and discrimination are handled by administration.

The Kenai Peninsula Borough School District will hire a new staff member and codify a process for handling allegations of sexual misconduct.

The move is aimed at bringing the district into compliance with federal changes governing how instances of sexual harassment and discrimination are handled by administration.

The district is expecting to implement a series of about six policies describing its Title IX personnel and Title IX process, which will bring KPBSD into Title IX compliance. Changes will include hiring and training new Title IX personnel, training teachers and staff and modifying parent and student handbooks. Four of those policies were discussed by the KPBSD Board of Education’s Policy Committee on Monday.

Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 protects people from discrimination on the basis of sex in education programs or activities that receive financial assistance from the federal government, according to the U.S. Department of Education. The statute is enforced by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights.

Title IX states that “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”

Betsy DeVos, who served as the U.S. Secretary of Education under Donald Trump, announced new Title IX regulations that included defining sexual harassment to include things like sexual assault and dating violence as unlawful discrimination on the basis of sex, holding colleges responsible for off-campus sexual harassment at houses under the control of school-sanctioned fraternities and sororities and implementing a new adjudication process the department said was more “fair” and “reliable.”

DeVos’ new regulations, which were announced last May, were supposed to be implemented last August by institutions that fall under Title IX. However, KPBSD has not implemented those regulations. To bring themselves into Title IX compliance, KPBSD will hire a new Title IX and Human Resources Coordinator for the first time and formalize a process for handling allegations of discrimination on the basis of sex, including sexual harassment, in its code.

Patty Burley, who serves as a deputy attorney for the Kenai Peninsula Borough and also provides legal services to KPBSD, said during the meeting that the administration of President Joe Biden is supportive of some of the new Title IX regulations, but that work is already underway to make “more stringent” changes.

“We were supposed to be already compliant and we were supposed to already have had this policy in place, rolled out [and] people educated and everything in the paper and on our website by Aug. 15,” Burley said Monday. “We’ve missed that deadline going on a lot of months.”

KPBSD Communications Director Pegge Erkeneff said Tuesday that the district was unable to implement the new policies prior to the beginning of the 2021-2022 academic year because it was focused on responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. To the district’s knowledge, Erkeneff said, no school district in Alaska has put a Title IX policy in place as of Tuesday.

KPBSD Superintendent of Instructional Support Dave Jones said Monday that the district’s goal is to have a Title IX coordinator hired and able to respond to complaints prior to the beginning of the 2021-2022 academic year.

Applications for a Title IX coordinator position are currently being accepted and people are encouraged to apply, Erkeneff said.

Ultimately, the board must vote on all proposed policy changes. Board of Education meetings can be viewed on the district’s media website at media.kpbsd.k12.ak.us/.

Reach reporter Ashlyn O’Hara at ashlyn.ohara@peninsulaclarion.com.

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