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Feds open Title IX investigation into how Decatur Township schools handled sexual harassment allegations

Title IX bans sexual discrimination in education and requires K-12 schools to address reports of sexual misconduct.
WRTV Investigates filed a records request and obtained a five-page letter from the Office for Civil Rights to MSD Decatur Township dated May 9, notifying them they are opening a Title IX investigation.
Posted at 8:58 AM, Aug 09, 2022
and last updated 2022-08-09 21:56:17-04

INDIANAPOLIS — The federal Office for Civil Rights has launched a Title IX investigation into allegations of sexual harassment within MSD of Decatur Township.

The Office for Civil Rights, which is part of the U.S. Department of Education, is looking into how the MSD of Decatur Township handled allegations of sexual harassment involving an employee who resigned in February 2022.

Title IX is the 1972 civil rights law known for breaking down barriers for women in sports. Title IX also bans sexual discrimination in education and requires K-12 schools to address reports of sexual misconduct.

Schools risk losing federal funding if they are found in violation of Title IX.

WRTV Investigates filed a records request and obtained a five-page letter from the Office for Civil Rights to MSD Decatur Township dated May 9, notifying them they are opening a Title IX investigation.

Complaints from parents prompted the investigation.

Shalena Bender has lived in the Decatur Township community for 19 years.

“I’ve had two kids here at Decatur Central,” Bender said.

Bender said her oldest daughter was the victim of sexual harassment by a then-school employee.

WRTV Investigates is not naming the former employee because he has not been criminally charged, and he is not named in the federal government’s letter to MSD of Decatur Township.

Bender says they became concerned in the fall 2021.

“Our daughter just broke out crying and said I don’t want what happened to me to happen to my little sister,” Bender said. “She said he would walk in while they were changing with his phone out, claiming he had to take attendance on more than one occasion, that he would be in a room with lights off door shut with some other kids. She said he would also brush by them in the hallway and make sexually inappropriate comments about them.”

Bender said she and other parents contacted the district’s administration about the harassment allegations.

“I was horrified, completely horrified,” Bender said.

MSD of Decatur Township opened its own Title IX investigation in December 2021, but it came to a halt when the teacher resigned from the district on Feb. 9.

Bender said she was shocked when the employee resigned.

“I can't believe they're just going to let this go and pretend it never happened,” Bender said. “One thing we asked for was these girls need counseling. They stated they had no obligation to do that."

Parents are also concerned because the teacher attended an event on school property after his resignation.

“They allowed him to come back and be around all these kids even with these accusations,” Bender said.

In an email to WRTV, Superintendent Matt Prusiecki of MSD Decatur Township, said the former employee has not been banned from school property and they’re aware of one instance in which he has been on school property since his resignation.

The event was an extra-curricular school event that was open to the public, Prusiecki said, and the former employee was only in areas of school property that were open to all members of the public.

Mother Tarah Bunch, as well as Bender, both filed complaints against MSD Decatur Township with the federal Office for Civil Rights.

"I filed a complaint with the OCR and I reached out to you for help, because I didn't know where else to go,” Bunch said. “They just didn't handle it properly. I think he should not have been able to resign until the end of the investigation or at a minimum, the investigation should be carried out so we could find out their findings."

Bunch said they left MSD Decatur Township because the district retaliated against her daughter.

Records show the federal Office for Civil Rights investigation, which launched May 9, includes allegations involving both “retaliation” and “sexual harassment.”

Both mothers are relieved OCR has opened an investigation.

“I’m ecstatic about it,” Bunch said. “I want change.”

“It was a relief that someone was listening who could actually help these girls and the girls in the future,” Bender said.

The five-page letters shows OCR is asking the MSD Decatur Township to provide a slew of documentation including:

  • Names and titles of school district employees designated as Title IX coordinators
  • A copy of the 2021-2022 student handbook
  • A list of all training session given to school employees on sexual harassment in the 2020-21 and 2021-22 school years and the names and qualifications of those who provided the training
  • A copy of all written complaints of sexual harassment or mistreatment of female students since 2018 involving the teacher in question
  • A description of all actions taken by the district to investigate and respond to the complaints
  • A list of all other reports of sexual harassment of students during the 2021-22 school year and the district’s investigation of each report

If OCR finds Title IX violations, the district could have to pay fines or make changes to its procedures and training.

Prusiecki declined to speak with WRTV on camera about the situation.

“Due to pending litigation, we are not able to comment via statement nor an interview,” Prusiecki said in an email to WRTV. “Also, the person in question resigned. We cannot prevent someone from resigning if that is their choice."

Bender also filed a report with the school police department.

Terrance Smith, chief of police for MSD Decatur Township, said there was no specific evidence “that would rise to the level of criminality.”

Bender also filed a complaint against the teacher’s license with the Indiana Department of Education.

A spokesperson for IDOE told us they “will take all necessary actions as set out in state law when evaluating teacher licensure."

Bender and Bunch hope their complaints will improve safety for children.

“That they take it seriously and put the kids first,” Bender said. “That has not been done."

The Office for Civil Rights received more than 14,000 complaints last year related to elementary and secondary schools.

“Many of these complaints are currently being evaluated. In that same time period, however, OCR opened or resolved over 7,500 cases,” according to a spokesperson for the U.S. Department of Education.

Not every complaint becomes an investigation. The agency evaluates each one to determine if they have jurisdiction, if they have enough information and if the allegations are timely.

Last year, the Office for Civil Rights found the North West Hendricks School Corporation violated Title IX when it failed to address sexual harassment complaints.

As part of a five-page resolution agreement with the Office for Civil Rights, the North West Hendricks School Corporation has to make the following changes to comply with Title IX:

  • Develop and implement a system to preserve records maintained under Title IX
  • Provide training on the record-keeping system
  • Provide “effective training to all employees” on Title IX
  • Conduct surveys on the effectiveness of the training
  • For a period of two years, the district must provide to OCR copies of sexual harassment complaints, final reports, documentation of supportive measures provided and copies of final notices provided to the parties
  • Contact parents of current and former students who reported sexual harassment during the 2018-2019 and 2019-2020 school years and invite them to share their concerns

WRTV Investigates contacted the district to find out whether they were meeting the requirements.

“The Corporation is in full compliance with the Resolution Agreement it entered into with OCR and has met all deadlines,” Scott Syverson, superintendent at North West Hendricks School Corporation, said.

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