Denounces Supreme Court's Giant Leap Backwards On Sexual Harassment
Calls On Congress To
- June 22 - Calling it "conservative judicial activism
at its worst," the National Organization for Women today blasted the Court's decision
in Gebser v. Lago Vista Independent School District.
"This decision says that a school district is not responsible for taking any steps to
prevent sexual abuse and harassment of students," said NOW Executive Vice President
and attorney Kim Gandy. Ruling 5-4, the court decided that the school district was
not liable for a teacher's coercive sexual relationship with a student.
Alida Star Gebser brought suit against the Lago Vista (TX) school district after the
teacher, with whom she'd been repeatedly forced to have sexual relations, pleaded guilty
to statutory rape. The teacher, Frank Waldrop, taught an advanced placement (AP)
course Gebser needed to take. When the school district cut funding for honors
courses, Waldrop became the only AP teacher for the 1992 summer semester. Eventually
two of the three AP students dropped out of the class, leaving Gebser as the only student.
In Gebser's first year of high school, Waldrop escalated his campaign of harassment --
from singling her out for special treatment, to using sexual code words in class, to
visiting her when he knew she was home alone, to kissing her and finally, to instigating
sexual relations. Gebser testified that she was too afraid to report the situation
for fear of losing the classes she needed for college.
"Not only did the Court say that a 13-year-old has no right to expect a
harassment-free school, the justices set up an impossible standard. If a girl wants
to stop the harassment or abuse, telling someone isn't good enough," Gandy said.
"Even if Gebser had told her guidance counselor, another teacher, or the school
nurse, it still wouldn't have been sufficient. I have two little girls. Every
parent of a daughter should be outraged at this Court's callous indifference to their
welfare," Gandy said.
"This ruling tells school districts they have no responsibility for
screening their teachers or disciplining them when they break the rules." Other
parents had complained to the principal that Waldrop had verbally abused their daughters,
but the principal did not take any disciplinary action.
In the second significant part of the ruling, the majority wrote that the district would
only have been liable if the student reported the harassment to someone who actually had
authority over the harasser's employment *and* that person reacted "with deliberate
To undo the Court's decision, NOW calls on Congress to amend Title IX -- which mandates
that institutions receiving federal education funds provide equal opportunities for girls
and boys -- to hold school districts liable for the behavior of their personnel and to
require teachers to report every complaint of sexual harassment or abuse.
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