February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month. In both colleges and K12 schools, there are a growing number of students reporting dating violence to administrators or their school’s Title IX office. Dating violence statistics reveal that one (1) in three (3) women and men will be subject to relationship violence at some point during their lives. For transgender and non-binary people, the occurrence is even more frequent – one (1) in two (2) people will experience this type of violence.
Coincidentally, two important appellate court cases were decided in January that involve dating violence on college campuses and the complex analysis of whether an educational institution has jurisdiction over the behavior of the respondent (the party accused of dating violence). In one case, the Third Circuit extended jurisdiction to the actions a non-student took on campus and, in another case, a divided Ninth Circuit panel found no jurisdiction over a student-athlete with a history of violence. While both of these decisions are at the higher education level, their impact will also be felt in K12 enforcement:
Hall v. Millersville University – In this case, the Third Circuit Appellate Court found that the university could be held accountable for the behavior of a non-student. The tragic facts in this case involve a freshman student whose boyfriend, a non-student, murdered her in her dorm room. The facts of the case revealed that the perpetrator had visited the dorm months before and had punched the Millersville student. The resident assistant responded to the situation, wrote a report, and forwarded it to Student Life. At the time, several other university offices were contacted by the student’s roommate but no one reached out to the Title IX office. The court determined that the university could be responsible for failing to report the initial matter to the Title IX office and, further, that this failure could demonstrate deliberate indifference, the legal standard for liability under Title IX. https://www2.ca3.uscourts.gov/opinarch/193275p.pdf
Brown v. University of Arizona – A divided three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals held that the university was not liable for the behavior of a student-athlete who was accused of physically assaulting his girlfriend in an off-campus apartment. The court declined to accept the plaintiff’s allegation that the college exercised “substantial control” over its student-athletes, despite the fact that in this case respondent, as a student-athlete, needed the school’s permission to live off-campus and his athletic scholarship paid his rent. The court noted that the plaintiff offered no evidence that the university “exercised control over the context in which her abuse occurred,” because of the off-campus location of the incident. The facts in this case revealed that the university had been notified in the past of respondent’s similarly violent behavior and had investigated the prior complaints brought by two other female students, one of which included a criminal action that sent respondent to prison for a 5-year term. Case number 20-15568. https://www.law360.com/articles/1458619 (full decision not yet available)
Addressing dating violence is an important element of campus Title IX prevention programs, but some educational institutions struggle with getting the necessary expertise and information to address this problem. On February 3, Title IX Consult, LLC will feature the One Love Foundation on its monthly “Title IX Thursdays” free training webinar. One Love is a non-profit organization whose mission is to end relationship abuse. One Love empowers young people with the tools and resources they need to see the signs of healthy and unhealthy relationships and bring life-saving prevention education to their communities.