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JUNE 22, 1998
6:22 PM
CONTACT:  National Organization for Women
Mira Weinstein NOW Press Office

NOW Denounces Supreme Court's Giant Leap Backwards On Sexual Harassment
Calls On Congress To Take Action
WASHINGTON - 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 indifference."

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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