What Does Title IX Look Like At Franklin?

Image via PPS Title IX website. The PPS website provides support resources and contact information for advocates, along with information about Title IX as a whole.

With the issue of sexual assault being of current prominence within Franklin High School and our district as a whole, many students are questioning how Title IX is relevant, and the processes included. Title IX is an education civil rights law that pertains to each and every student within schools, however very few understand this law, its protections, and the process for reporting an infraction. 

According to the PPS website, “the ‘Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972’ is a federal civil rights law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of gender in all education programs and activities.” It applies to all students, staff, and third-parties (parents, friends, etc.), protecting those against discrimination and supporting sexual assault survivors. 

The PPS website outlines the definitions and reportable protections guaranteed by Title IX. Protections under Title IX as defined on the PPS website include: “gender based harassment (including sexual/dating violence, stalking, etc), discrimination/bullying based on LGBTQ2SIA+ or pregnancy/parenting status and/or inequity in educational programs (such as athletics).” On the website, additional information can be found about reporting an incident.

If a Franklin or PPS student feels that their protections as outlined under Title IX have been violated, the incident  should be reported. There are multiple pathways for reporting, all of which can also be found on the PPS website. At Franklin, Vice Principal Scott Burns is the school compliance officer, meaning he is responsible for coordinating and ensuring that the school and district are in compliance with Title IX, as well as being a support resource for students in Title IX emergencies. If a student does not feel comfortable going to him, they may instead reach out to a teacher or other trusted staff member, whose responsibility then is to aid the student in reporting the misconduct if they so wish. However, it must be noted that staff members within Franklin are mandatory reporters, meaning that they have the responsibility to tell additional administrators if they hear of misconduct that has occurred such as abuse or assault. If a student wishes to speak with a confidential advocate (a person who does not mandatory report), then there are other resources available to anyone, even outside of Title IX concerns. Regardless of where a Title IX report is made, all reports will eventually land with PPS Title IX investigator and educator, Elizabeth Johnson, and Title IX director, Liane O’Banion. 

To be very clear, filing a Title IX report does not automatically lead to a Title IX investigation. During my research I spoke with Ms. Johnson, who clarified that a report will lead to the school putting safety measures in place such as a no contact order. During our discussion, Ms. Johnson describes this as being “two way, where both parties cannot have direct or indirect contact in school, on line, or in the community.” As well as this, schools may change the class schedule of the person who caused the harm as a way to ensure both parties are safe from retaliation. Academic accommodations deemed appropriate for the survivor will also be put in place immediately. 

In an interview with Ashley Vaughn (partner at Dumas & Vaughn attorneys at law, and one of Franklin High School’s Constitution Law coaches), she noted the important step needed for an investigation to commence, saying “It is important for students to know that in order for a Title IX investigation to commence, they have to file a formal written complaint.” A formal written complaint can be filed with the school district or the school compliance officer for Title IX. The differentiation between a report and a formal written complaint is important to understand; while a report can be filed with the support and encouragement of any Franklin staff member, and leads solely to the establishment of school-based protections for the complainant, in order for an investigation to commence, the survivor must file a formal written complaint directly with Mr. Burns, Ms. Johnson, or Dr. O’Banion. In our interview, Ms. Vaughn also pointed out, “If they don’t file a formal written complaint, then the school has no duty to commence an investigation, and I think a lot of students don’t always understand that, because that information is not publicized as well as it should be.” Again, it is important to emphasize that “the school has no duty to commence an investigation,” if a formal written complaint is not filed. 

A formal written complaint can only be filed with a school compliance officer or through the district. In current practices, the process for filing a formal written complaint within PPS at the high school level is no longer traditional. The old process of sitting down and writing your story has been determined to add to the trauma. New processes are now in place to cause the least amount of further trauma. Ms. Johnson also stressed the trauma-informed adjustments the district has made to the process. These changes include the complainant sitting down with Ms. Johnson, where there will be a conversation regarding the events that occured, creating the basis for the written complaint, and therefore beginning the investigation process. It is important to be aware that none of this will ensue unless the survivor themselves wants an investigation to commence. If the survivor wants to begin the process, they must file the complaint, no other person can file it in place of the survivor. 

During my research on Title IX, I took a deeper look into the Franklin High School website, and struggled to find any information about Title IX, the reporting, and the investigation processes. When speaking with Ms. Vaughn, she also addressed this concern after reviewing both the Franklin High School and PPS websites, saying, “I found it difficult to navigate, so I can’t imagine how difficult it must be for a student to find the appropriate resources.” She brings up an important point; in a time of crisis, a student could be overwhelmed and discouraged by the lack of easily accessible information that currently exists on the website. During my interview with Vice Principal Burns, I asked him about this issue. He agreed it was unclear how to get to the Title IX information from the Franklin website. Since that interview, the Franklin website homepage now has prominently placed links to Title IX resources and reporting through the PPS website.

In listening to other Franklin students, they are not clear on what takes place after a report is made, and would like to understand the process. Once a formal written complaint is made, an investigation will commence. The investigation process begins with a neutral investigation officer (who is not a police officer) being appointed by the district. In the case of PPS, the neutral investigation officer would be Ms. Johnson (she is both the assigned Title IX investigator, and a neutral investigation officer). 

This is followed by a hearing, which should be scheduled on a mutually agreed upon date by both parties. Each party can and should have an advisor; this can be a parent, counselor, or attorney. Before the hearing, each party can submit questions they would like the officer to ask the other during the hearing, and they have the right to cross-examine the other party as well. Throughout, evidence may be submitted which can include any written evidence in the form of text messages, or any social media posts or communications. 

After the hearing, the panel will make a decision as to whether they think the complaint was substantiated or not (if there is enough evidence to support the allegations). If the complaint is determined to be substantiated, this will lead to appropriate disciplinary measures being put in place, such as suspension from athletics or other school activities, suspension from the school as a whole, or expulsion in extreme cases. If a hearing occurs and the conduct was found to be unsubstantiated, then all accommodations and orders put in place by the school will be lifted. 

In order for there to be legal consequences, the parents (if the student is under 18) would need to file a police report to get law enforcement involved. If a crime has occured, then the respondent may have to face consequences in the criminal justice system. It is important to note that the school has no ability to control any criminal proceedings or any proceedings in the court for that matter (criminal charges with a trial). If throughout this process, the school fails to prevent something they knew was a risk, then the student can (with the help of parents) file a civil lawsuit against the school, but the student is the one that needs to initiate it. 

The system is supposed to be survivor oriented, however under new guidelines put in place in 2020, the process has become more neutral. Ms. Vaughn stated in our interview, “it specifically says that there cannot be a presumption that the respondent did what he or she was accused of.” As a result of this, the system and process has shifted more towards an “innocent until proven guilty” mentality, however it all depends on the circumstance, and which teachers and administrators are involved. 

Franklin High School administrators are trying to address some of the recent Title IX concerns students have had. Steps the school has taken so far include hosting listening sessions with both the football and cheer teams, consent awareness drop-in sessions held during lunchtime in September, and a Teal OUT demonstration of support during spirit week for sexual assault awareness. The Franklin athletics department will also be partnering with the University of Washington and their Athletics Against Sexual Harassment and Assault program. Representatives from this program will be coming to Franklin to bring their expertise, knowledge, and practices to the sports teams. 

I sat down with Franklin High School’s Principal Chris Frazier, and asked him to share one thing he would like students to hear from him regarding Title IX policies. He responded, “I recognize that there are challenges associated with this process, and we, as administrators, as staff, as adults, need to once again earn our students’ trust. And that’s hard because this process really isn’t as transparent as individuals, students primarily, would like.” He then added, “It’s not for lack of desire, it’s not for lack of wanting to keep our students informed, it’s actually that we want to do this together and figure out what is the best way to do that, and so my ultimate goal is to create a safe, inclusive, school community environment. We want students to know that their voice matters, their voices are heard, and we want to be able to provide resources and support to them.” 

Resources:

For reporting –

For proceeding to the investigation process – 

  • Liane O’Banion – Title IX director and coordinator(lobanion@pps.net; call/text: 503.568.2646)
  • Elizabeth Johnson – Title IX investigator and educator (erjohnson@pps.net; call/text: 971.393.3560)
  • Scott Burns – Franklin High School’s Vice Principal and School Compliance Officer (sburns@pps.net)

If you are in imminent danger, have recently been harmed and/or are in need of medical attention, call 911 immediately.

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