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Frostburg reaches agreement with U.S. Education Department to address sexual assaults, harassment

Frostburg State University violated federal law in its handling of sexual assault complaints, including a report that a student was sexually assaulted by a campus police officer, the U.S. Department of Education said Friday.

A civil rights investigation by the agency faulted the university for "failing to promptly and equitably respond to complaints of sexual violence." The probe, which reviewed 40 incidents over five years, determined that Frostburg was in violation of Title IX, the federal gender equality law.

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The Allegany County school has agreed to set new standards for investigating alleged sexual violence and regularly train students, faculty, administrators and staff on Title IX requirements, university and federal officials said.

Frostburg "has built a comprehensive program to respond to and prevent sexual violence," according to a statement released by the university. "It is continuously improving upon this program with a goal of ensuring that FSU is a safe, respectful and inclusive community for all."

The university has nearly 6,000 students. A third of its undergraduates are from Baltimore and its suburbs.

More than 200 colleges nationwide are under investigation for their response to allegations of sexual violence, including the Johns Hopkins University, Morgan State University, Mount St. Mary's University, St. Mary's College of Maryland and the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

The investigation at UMBC came after a complaint that the university mishandled a 2015 sexual assault case on its campus. According to the student's attorney, university officials discouraged the student from reporting the incident to Baltimore County police after the student was allegedly drugged, raped and beaten.

The university found the alleged assailant, a fellow student, not at fault during a disciplinary hearing, the attorney said.

The spate of investigations is in response to an Obama administration task force that released guidelines in 2014 on how universities should handle sexual assault allegations. Colleges are required under Title IX to respond to claims of sexual assault the same as they would other forms of gender discrimination. Failing to do so can result in a loss of federal funding.

Catherine E. Lhamon, the Education Department's assistant secretary for civil rights, said Frostburg and its leadership have shown a commitment to "making changes to satisfy Title IX, working to ensure that all Frostburg students can learn free from sexual violence."

The investigation of Frostburg was launched after two students filed complaints.

The Education Department determined that Frostburg failed to "to end the sexually hostile environment for the two students." In the case of the campus police officer accused of sexual assault, the officer involved ultimately pleaded guilty, officials said.

The investigation found that university staff members required to report such complaints did not take action after being notified of an alleged rape. And Title IX investigations were not launched due to improper reliance on local or campus police, officials said.

Investigators also said the university did not do enough to safeguard a victim after repeated violations of a no-contact order. In one case of alleged assault, the parties involved waited nearly 10 months for the university to issue a determination.

Frostburg officials said that they agreed to take action to address recommendations by the civil rights office but that they were not admitting fault.

In addition to the training and new investigation standards, the university hired a full-time Title IX coordinator in January 2015, becoming one of the first Maryland higher education institutions to do so.

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Officials said the university will now use the correct "preponderance of the evidence" standard to investigate sexual assault and violence allegations. Frostburg also will publish an anti-harassment statement, create an anonymous tip line and enhance its outreach procedures.

Frostburg also will reimburse the two complainants for expenses for counseling, academic and therapy services.

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