DODEA must do more to protect students from sexual assaults, lawmakers say
U.S. lawmakers are demanding that Defense Department schools do a better job of protecting students from sexual harassment and assault, calling for a centralized database to track cases that critics say are frequently ignored.
Provisions in a final version of the National Defense Authorization Act, agreed to by lawmakers on Monday, require Department of Defense Education Activity to develop policies and procedures to protect students by March 2019.
The demands from lawmakers come as the inspector general’s office conducts an investigation into allegations that the Pentagon’s schools lack a clear policy on how to deal with student-on-student sexual assaults.
The IG, which announced the launch of its investigation earlier this month, will also examine how DODEA refers incidents to law enforcement and child-advocacy service providers. DODEA leaders have said the school system has a zero tolerance policy when it comes to sexual assault.
However, the congressional demand for action comes after a series of revelations that exposed how some students at overseas schools were subjected to repeated sexual assaults and that school leaders failed to take proper action.
“We expected some kind of justice,” a soldier’s wife told The Associated Press in a March story that highlighted abuses at overseas DODEA schools. “It was really discouraging and kind of disheartening to know the military kids, especially overseas, have no protection, and there was nothing we could do.”
At a Grafenwoehr elementary school, a group of parents told the AP their daughters were among six girls assaulted by a boy in their first-grade class at the base school in 2015 and that the assaults continued even though the principal was aware of the boy’s misconduct.
The NDAA bill, which is expected to come up for a final vote in the weeks ahead, says that DODEA must develop a policy addressing sexual harassment of students “that uses and incorporates terms, procedures, protections, investigation standards, and standards of evidence consistent with Title IX,” a federal civil rights law that deals with education.
DODEA also must ensure a procedure is in place that allows students and parents to file complaints about an incident and appeal any school decision regarding the complaints, the bill says.
Some parents have complained that incidents are handled at the local school level and that there is no place to turn if a principal fails to take proper action.
The NDAA bill now up for approval says that local leadership of military communities must be held accountable for acting upon complaints of sexual harassment at DODEA schools. At overseas bases, school leaders work closely with command leadership on various councils, and parents sometimes bring their complaints directly to military leadership. An AP March 15 investigation, however, found that a lack of coherent policy and confusion over jurisdiction meant that complaints were not always acted upon by commanders.
To remedy this, lawmakers are requiring the Defense Department to consolidate various databases for reporting and tracking juvenile misconduct at DODEA schools into one comprehensive database. That is expected to help enable schools to track trends and identify potential repeat offenders.
“The comprehensive database shall include all unresolved and all substantiated allegations of juvenile-on-juvenile sexual misconduct,” the NDAA says.