PFLUGERVILLE, Texas (KXAN) — The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, or OCR, on Monday announced the Pflugerville Independent School District violated Title IX during its response to a sexual assault case, and separately did not provide accommodations for a student with a disability.

According to a release from the Department of Education, the OCR has entered a resolution agreement to address the district’s handling of a sexual assault case that occurred during the 2018-19 school year, and to ensure the district’s compliance with Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. Title IX outlines “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”

The District disagrees with the facts alleged and characterization of the matter in the Department’s press statement regarding a matter that occurred five years ago. Although the District disagrees with the Department’s findings, we made the decision to enter into a Resolution Agreement to resolve this matter which continues to draw resources away from the District’s priority of educating students. Contrary to the Department’s statement, the District did not ignore this issue. The District conducted a full investigation of the situation, including reporting the allegations of sexual assault to law enforcement, as well as evaluating the Title IX issues.

Pflugerville ISD spokesperson

OCR determined the district violated Title IX by failing to respond equitably to a report that a student was sexually assaulted by another student in a school restroom in the 2018-19 school year.

“The Pflugerville Independent School District’s response to an allegation that one of its students raped another of its students in a school bathroom violated Title IX, not only because it relied on stereotypes about how a person should respond to sexual assault but also because it failed to provide fair process both to the accused student and to his accuser,” said Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Catherine E. Lhamon. “The district has committed that it will follow the law in Title IX going forward, in addition to providing all students with disabilities the necessary services to meet their individual educational needs.”

The school district said it disagrees with additional details of the OCR’s determination.

We disagree that we failed to respond equitably to a notice that a child was sexually assaulted by another student; we disagree that we failed to provide a fair process to the accused and accuser; We disagree that we never undertook a Title IX investigation; we disagree that the Complainant was not provided accommodations related to his/her disability.  Due to FERPA, we cannot specifically address those accommodations, but extensive accommodations were made to ensure that the student returned to school and completed the year. We dispute the “compliance concern” regarding the end-of-course assessment and submit that if there were evidence of a violation, OCR would have characterized this issue as a “violation” rather than a concern.

During the five-year period that OCR investigated this matter, the District expended thousands of dollars and untold hours of staff time in responding to OCR’s requests for information.  Over fifteen individuals were interviewed by the OCR over multiple days.  Then, inexplicably, the matter went unresolved for years.  OCR only this year decided to pursue this matter that they did not pursue for multiple years.

Pflugerville ISD spokesperson

According to the release, the district was asked by local law enforcement to temporarily take no action to investigate while law enforcement conducted its criminal investigation. However, it said the district never conducted its own Title IX investigation, even after the completion of the law enforcement investigation.

When PfISD eventually retained a third-party investigator to conduct “a review of the administrative procedures followed in an alleged sexual incident,” the third-party investigator did not conduct an equitable investigation as required by Title IX, the release said.

The release said the investigator “reported to OCR that she interviewed only the student who alleged she had been raped, and no one else, because – based on the student’s responses to questions about the alleged incident and her physical demeanor – the investigator did not think the assault happened.”

As a result, the investigation did not provide the accused student an opportunity to be heard about the allegation, failed to interview witnesses and failed to determine whether the student was subjected to a hostile environment.

The release also said PfISD’s Title IX coordinator, who had not participated in the investigation, adopted the third-party investigator’s findings and issued a notice of outcome that also failed to comply with Title IX because it did not provide the accused student with notice of the outcome of the investigation.

Other violations found

According to the release, OCR also found the district violated Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 during the same school year.

According to OCR, PfISD failed to provide a student with a disability accomodation in a class as required by the student’s Section 504 plan. OCR had a compliance concern regarding whether the district afforded the student a required accommodation for a state-mandated end-of-course exam. 

The district agreed to take specific actions to resolve this investigation and signed an agreement memorializing that commitment.

What’s next

The agreement, when fully implemented, will resolve the Title IX, Section 504, and Title II violations and compliance concerns. 

According to OCR, the resolution agreement provides that the district will:

  • Offer to meet with the student who reported the assault and her family to discuss the district’s handling of the sexual assault allegation and offer reimbursement for the student’s related counseling expenses;
  • Designate a Title IX coordinator;
  • Conduct training on Title IX and Section 504/Title II for relevant district and school staff;
  • Provide OCR with information and documentation regarding sexual harassment complaints received in the 2021-2022 and 2022-2023 school years;
  • Develop and disseminate a sexual harassment climate survey to the school’s students, with OCR review and approval of responsive district actions;
  • Develop and implement a record-keeping system to preserve all sexual harassment complaints and related documentation.

More information about the ED OCR complaint process, including how they can be filed, can be found online.