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Revised sexual harassment policy adopted by Harford County Board of Education

A revised policy on sexual harassment, in line with new regulations put forth by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, was recently adopted by the Harford County Board of Education.

The new regulation, which took effect Aug. 14 after being issued at the federal level in May, “is specifically directed towards and addresses sexual harassment in programs that receive federal assistance” — programs and activities which include the local school system, Patrick Spicer, general counsel for Harford County Public Schools, told school board members during their Nov. 16 meeting.

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Prohibitions of sexual harassment, under Title VII of the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972 as well as state law, are part of the Harford school board’s existing non-discrimination policy, according to Spicer.

“Sexual harassment is a form of discrimination, on the basis of sex, and it is prohibited by those laws,” Spicer said.

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The revisions to school board policy, based on the Office for Civil Rights’ new regulation, include “a number of processes” for the school system to address sexual harassment within its activities and programs, as well as “for the first time, a specific, detailed definition of sexual harassment,” Spicer noted.

Prior versions of local as well as federal regulations incorporated “judicially developed” definitions of sexual harassment, or definitions developed by courts over time through their interpretations of Title VII and Title IX. The current definitions are part of the revised regulations issued by the Department of Education, according to Spicer.

The Harford school board’s revised regulations have one section defining harassment as it pertains to overall forms of bullying, intimidation and harassment, types of “unwelcome conduct” that are used by the harasser as a condition of access to HCPS activities, services or employment, or conduct that becomes so “severe or pervasive and objectively offensive” that the victim cannot have access to school system employment or programs and services.

Another section of the revised regulations is dedicated to defining sexual harassment, which is described as creating conditions for receiving “aid, benefit or service” from the school system based on “an individual’s participation in unwelcome sexual conduct (i.e., quid pro quo sexual harassment).”

Another part of the definition covers “unwelcome conduct, determined by a reasonable person to be so severe, pervasive and objectively offensive” that the victim cannot have access to HCPS activities or programs.

The final portion of the definition includes sexual assault, stalking, dating violence and domestic violence as defined through other federal laws.

Spicer first presented the proposed policy revisions to the school board Oct. 12; they were then posted for a 30-day public comment period, but no one commented on the revisions, according to the attorney. The board approved the revisions to its policy unanimously during the Nov. 16 meeting.

“It appears that it’s completely aligned to Maryland and federal statutes,” board member Sonja Karwacki said of the revision.

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