These Important Protections Don’t Apply to DoDEA Students

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When Susan Roeder’s daughter was allegedly sexually harassed in her overseas DoDEA school, Roeder was shocked to find that students there weren’t subject to certain protections. This is her story.

If your child is sexually harassed or assaulted at a Department of Defense school, they lack the rights that every public school student has had since 1972.

We learned this the hard way.

Until December 2013, the only thing I knew about Title IX was that it gave girls the same rights as boys to play sports. That changed when my daughter was sexually harassed in her 11th grade English class at a DoDEA High School in Germany. With a substitute teacher present, but oblivious to what was happening, a student publicly urinated into a bottle and then asked my daughter at the end of class  “see it that time?” 

That evening when she told me he had previously exposed himself in the hallway, there was no doubt about what he wanted her to see, and at 6’2”, there was no question about why he picked out my 4’10” daughter to harass. After she came forward, both incidents were confirmed by other students when questioned by school administrators.    

I have said from the beginning of this odyssey that the school acted promptly. The student left the country within a month and returned to the U.S.

That’s why the issue is not so much about what the school did, but about what they didn’t do, and why students from military families attending DoDEA schools do not have the same rights as public school students. 

DoDEA students don’t have the same rights as other students

Title IX was signed into law in 1972, but because DoDEA schools are federally “conducted” and not federally “funded” like public schools, Title IX did not apply.

In 2000, President Clinton tried to correct this injustice when he made Title IX the “common rule” and signed Executive Order 13160. The order requires federally conducted schools to hold themselves to “at least the same principles” as state and local public schools when addressing discrimination, including sexual harassment or assault. 

Unfortunately for children from military families, that never happened. What DoDEA did instead was substitute their own three word policy, assigning  the principal to “investigate and respond” in place of the victim rights and school responsibilities of Title IX. That substitution also ignores the requirement to train and staff their schools with Title IX Coordinators. According to their Office of Investigations and Internal Review, “investigate and respond” “effectuates” the requirements of Title IX. 

Under Title IX, public schools must proactively ensure that schools are free from sexual harassment. Public school victims must be told up front about their rights and have access to and support from a Title IX Coordinator. Victims have the right to know the time frame of the stages of the investigation, they have the right to call witnesses and give evidence, they have the right to have the proceedings documented, they have the right to be protected from the offender and from retaliation and they have the right to know the outcome of the investigation as it pertains to the victim. 

But for the past 16 years at DoDEA schools, student reported sexual harassment investigations have been left solely in the hands of the principal. Rather than all the rights public school students have, DoDEA students have “investigate and respond” by the principal.

Because my daughter did not have the rights of public school students, we did not know until 18 months later that the principal chose to call the offender’s behavior “student misconduct” and not “sexual harassment.” And we had no recourse when the principal chose to rehire the substitute teacher who failed to protect my daughter from this behavior, as there was no written record that anything had ever happened. 

As the principal and DoDEA’s public affairs officer confirmed, student behavior records are destroyed at the end of each year. So instead of proactively helping a student who has escalating offensive behavior, they assume it corrected itself over the summer, and new teachers have no preparation to be extra vigilant. 

If this weren’t enough, military parents faced with this nightmare have nowhere to go to seek help when “investigate and respond” doesn’t do its job. DoDEA schools and military commanders report along parallel ladders until the reporting structure reaches the Pentagon. There is no local School Board, the School Advisory Committee has no authority, the School Liaison Officer has no authority, the Garrison Commander has no authority and the Inspector General has no authority. 

For overseas families in Germany or Japan, Italy or Korea it means trying to find an unnamed person 5,000 miles away in D.C.

The system is flawed on so many levels, I have honestly lost track of them all over the past three years.

Fortunately my daughter is now in college and doing well.  I have continued down this road because she does not want this to happen to anyone else. 

If you come down on orders for an overseas assignment, and unless you choose to homeschool, your child could be where mine was.

The DoD is currently investigating this issue and it is on the radar of the Department of Justice. Members of the House and Senate Armed Services Committees have expressed concern and support.

If you believe children from military families attending DoDEA schools deserve the same rights as public school students, call your representatives in the House and Senate. Tell them our children serve too and equal rights are the least they deserve. 

Susan Roeder is an Army spouse of 24 years. 

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