After emotional and contentious debate about federal changes to campus sex discrimination laws, supervisors agreed to spend up to $1 million to study the issue in Santa Clara County schools.
The Board of Supervisors voted unanimously Oct. 20 to begin the process of reviewing county compliance with Title IX and other laws regarding sexual harassment and violence at local K-12 and postsecondary schools.
Title IX prevents discrimination on the basis of sex at educational institutions that receive federal funds. It requires schools to address complaints of sexual harassment and violence or risk losing funding.
Initially, staff recommended spending up to $500,000 on the review but that was doubled when supervisors considered it might not be enough to cover the hundreds of schools in the county.
The study comes in the wake of the Trump Administration changes to Title IX rules, which would apply criminal justice standards to campus sexual assault cases by requiring a higher burden of proof from the accuser.
Supervisor Dave Cortese said Santa Clara County would be the first in the nation to conduct such a review, which would would include public hearings with students and school representatives.
“The schools will show up if we do it not because they’re under a mandate … but because to be absent at that convening would be shameful,” Cortese said.
Students had sharp words for those who questioned the need for the study.
“Today I don’t come to you to repeat the state of schools. That should be extremely apparent,” said Maia Brockbank, a senior at Stanford University. “Today I speak to you, supervisors (Susan) Ellenberg, (Joe) Simitian and (Mike) Wasserman. Please look at the camera and listen to me: You said you do not want to disappoint survivors with unactionable items. I am a survivor and I am telling you … it’s disappointing that you have caused continued delay.”
On Sept. 22, Stanford sent a letter to supervisors indicating the university would cooperate with the county’s rules for investigating sexual discrimination.
Rachel Sun, a senior at Henry Gunn High School in Palo Alto, said she supports the review.
“Right now, as students attend school in this county, sexual assault has been normalized as something that just happens to you. And once it does, it’s up for you to recover from it,” Sun said. “It’s almost a form of learned helplessness the way we’ve realized the administrations at our schools don’t investigate, they don’t make us feel safe and they don’t give us the justice we deserve even when we report.”
The initial $500,000 for the study would be paid for with funds from the Office of Gender-Based Violence Prevention. Any funding needed in excess of that has yet to be identified. The study is expected to take about 18 months to complete.
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