First Parents Through New Title IX Office Want Changes
Jason and Tumay Harding are frustrated at the way the Title IX office in Loudoun County Public Schools has handled their daughter’s case and they want change.
They were one of the first cases to go through the new Title IX office after it was revamped last March after two sexual assaults were committed by the same student at two different schools in 2021. The changes included drafting new policy, hiring two Title IX investigators and a full time Title IX Coordinator.
Title IX is a federal civil rights law that prohibits discrimination based on sex in education programs and activities at schools that get government funding.
“The heart of Title IX is to reduce or eliminate any barriers to education caused by sex discrimination,” Division Title IX Coordinator for Loudoun County Public Schools Christopher Moy said. He said it applies to all employees, students and anyone associated with the school division.
Its job is to provide for the “prompt and equitable resolution of student complaints alleging sexual harassment” and must meet definitions outlined in regulation, according to the division’s Title IX website. There are five terms that are used when deciding if someone’s behavior fits within the definition of Title IX sexual harassment under the 2020 regulations according to Moy—quid pro quo (where an employee gives something to a student in exchange for unwelcome sexual contact), sexual assault, dating violence, domestic violence and stalking. Moy also said hostile environment is looked at as well. “This is where the unwelcome conduct is determined by a reasonable person to be so severe and pervasive and objectionably offensive,” that it denies equal access to someone’s education, he said.
Moy said about 90% of what comes through his office doesn’t meet the threshold.
In March 2022, shortly after the division beefed up its office, the Hardings’ daughter and two other students brought allegations of sexual harassment and inappropriate touching by a teacher.
The Hardings said their initial communication with the Title IX office was to get absences excused for their daughter, who was struggling to leave her room after sharing what had happened. They were told they could open a Title IX investigation, but Tumay said she knew her daughter wasn’t ready for that, and they decided to wait.
Eventually, they were contacted by the Department of Human Resources and Talent Development about opening an investigation based on their daughters’ allegations. Tumay agreed to have her daughter interviewed by the HRTD staff and said when they arrived, they were introduced to Moy and one of the Title IX investigators.
Tumay said they felt ambushed and said they had only agreed to the interview with human resources but were told that “Title IX trumps HR,” and felt like they had to answer questions.
Within the school division, the Title IX Coordinator reports to the chief human resources officer, but conducts its own investigations, according to division Media and Community Relations Coordinator Daniel Adams.
“In cases where there is both a Title IX investigation and an HR investigation, the Title IX investigator would oversee the overall investigation,” he said.
“We were happy to work with human resources but had an immediate reservation with how Title IX was engaging us because our gut feeling was, they were just focused on protecting LCPS,” Jason said.
A few months after going through the interview, the Hardings and the other families learned a case was never opened or investigated. They were told there was no evidence to open an investigation and it didn’t apply to Title IX.
The three families appealed the decision and asked for a formal investigation. A third-party decision maker reviewed the appeal and granted it based on two of three grounds: procedural irregularity that affected the outcome, and new evidence that was made available.
A Title IX investigation was conducted, and the findings shared with not only the three girls and their families but also with the teacher facing the allegations. That is standard for Title IX investigations, according to Moy.
After months of waiting, the families learned their claims were found unsubstantiated. The families filed another appeal and learned in February their appeal was denied for a final time.
The Hardings said they felt like the whole process started wrong, and that they were guinea pigs as the new office was being used for the first time.
Jason compared it to a corrupt insurance company that denies all claims.
“We brought a very straightforward claim to them when our daughter and her friends came forward, and they almost immediately rejected it,” he said.
They said from the ambush interview to inconsistent and sometimes wrong information they were given from the Title IX office about policies that didn’t apply or sometimes didn’t exist, to Virginia code sections that didn’t apply to their case, to being told security camera footage wasn’t looked at before it was erased, they became concerned their case was being swept under the rug and that the new office was no better than the old one.
Tumay said other than the interview with human resources in which Title IX participated, they were never properly interviewed by the office. She said the investigation used the testimony given at that meeting for all three girls, which confused her because she said at the time, they were told multiple times Title IX and human resources don’t work together.
“In hindsight, I think [human resources] would agree things should have not panned out like that. We felt like through the whole process, things should have been done differently,” Jason said. “No one has come out and explicitly apologized for the missteps, but we’ve gotten a lot of shaking heads or course corrections midway through the process.”
Another inconsistency involved the report of a no-contact order another student filed in 2020 against the same teacher. The Harding’s learned about the student and reached out to the parents and were told the no contact order was sent to human resources multiple times. However, when questioned, Tumay said human resources said the office was unaware of it and said files at the school level don’t match the administration level.
“It sounds like there are two different sets of books. Why are they not the same between the administration and the schools? This office does a lot of very important reporting to the state and the federal government on these matters, and they rely on those files,” Jason said.
Jason said he feels like the division is “playing fast and loose” with policy.
“For us, we think that the whole dynamic speaks to the fact that our investigation was improperly conducted, and someone needs to go through it with a fine-tooth comb,” Jason said. “We were placed in a situation where we were on the fly trying to figure it out, we had a tight deadline, and we were trying to figure out what was wrong and what was right. We shouldn’t have been put in that situation and no other person should in the future.”
Moy said when he does an investigation, he is only looking at it through the lens of Title IX and its parameters and policy within the division and said other policies in human resources may apply in other cases.
“Title IX has a higher threshold of sexual harassment,” Moy said. “Someone could be found not responsible under Title IX, but responsible under a human resource policy and they are certainly going to take disciplinary measures and they may consider past history in what is going on.”
He said when an allegation involves a student and a teacher, human resources and Title IX always work together. He said because of the lengthy process of Title IX’s investigation requirements Title IX takes the lead, but human resources still does its own investigation.
He said human resources waits until the Title IX investigation is done before issuing sanctions to an employee. Those sanctions could be anywhere from a warning to termination and license revocation.
Moy said Title IX regulations require a teacher be put on administrative leave if a student makes an allegation against them. The teacher is allowed to come back once the investigation is complete.
The Hardings were notified in a letter in August that human resources had conducted an investigation into that teacher, and had determined their daughter’s complaint was founded under the School Board policy on environments free from harassment, discrimination and abuse.
They said they have been told by human resources that recommended personnel actions against the teacher will not be shared because it’s protected information, and exempt from Virginia Freedom of Information Act.
The Hardings have shared their story with several members of the Board of Supervisors as well as School Board members, hoping to see change.
“Our broader concern is that LCPS functions by policy and practice to protect itself first, and students come second. We know first-hand from our experience with the new and improved Title IX office that there are still dramatic problems related to how they approach the investigation and equity,” Jason said. “And until we are given any indication they have enacted or recognized our concerns and implemented mechanisms to ensure the same thing doesn’t happen in the future, we are going to keep talking.”