Sexual harassment—when it creates a hostile environment—is a form of discrimination prohibited in Washington public schools. Schools must take steps to protect students and investigate sexual harassment—as soon as they know or reasonably should know—even if a parent or student does not file a complaint.
Title IX Regulations | Chapter 28A.640 RCW | Chapter 392-190 WAC | Chapter 49.60 RCW
Sexual harassment is unwelcome behavior or communication that is sexual in nature and (1) leads the student to believe they must submit to the unwelcome sexual conduct or communication to gain something in return—for example, a grade or a place on a sports team, OR (2) the conduct substantially interferes with a student’s educational performance or creates a hostile environment.
Any student or school employee can be the target of sexual harassment, regardless of sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression.
Examples of sexual harassment could include:
- Pressuring a person for sexual favors
- Unwelcome touching of a sexual nature
- Distributing sexually explicit texts, emails, or pictures
- Making sexual jokes, rumors, or suggestive remarks
- Physical violence, including rape and sexual assault
Harassment creates a hostile environment when the conduct is so severe, pervasive, or persistent that it limits a student’s ability to participate in, or benefit from, the school’s services, activities, or opportunities. A hostile environment could impact a student’s school life in many ways. Physical illness, anxiety about going to school, or a decline in grades or attendance could signal a hostile environment.
Questions, Concerns, Complaints
A discussion with your school principal, or Title IX coordinator at the school district, is often the best first step to address your concerns or disagreements about sexual harassment and work toward a solution. Share what happened and let the principal or coordinator know what they can do to help resolve the problem.
If you cannot resolve the concern or disagreement this way, you can file a complaint.
Schools must take steps to protect students from sexual harassment and sexual violence. School staff must investigate sexual harassment—as soon as they know or reasonably should know—even if a parent or student does not file a complaint or ask the school to get involved. This investigation must be thorough, fair, and impartial.
School staff also need to take steps to protect students when necessary, even before any investigation is complete.
If an investigation reveals that harassing conduct created a hostile environment, staff must act quickly to stop the behavior and put an end to the hostile environment.
The school must:
- Address any effects discriminatory harassment had on the student at school, AND
- Make sure that harassing conduct does not happen again.
The school must protect students and parents from retaliation by other students or school employees because they communicated concerns about sexual harassment, filed a complaint, or participated in an investigation.
Policy and Procedure
School districts must adopt a sexual harassment policy and procedure that meet the requirements in state and federal law. For a sample sexual harassment policy and procedure, contact the Washington State School Directors Association (WSSDA)
WAC 392-190-056 Sexual Harassment—Definitions
WAC 392-190-057 Sexual Harassment Policy—Required Criteria
Notifications — Posters
School districts must post their sexual harassment policy in each school building in a location visible to students and staff to inform students and staff of their rights and encourage them to share any concerns about sexual harassment.
Notifications ─ Student Handbooks
Information about school districts’ sexual harassment policy and complaint procedure must be included in staff and student handbooks—or in any publication that explains the rules and standards of conduct for the school or district. This helps inform students and staff about their rights and how to bring forward concerns about sexual harassment.
Sample language for your student handbook
Resources and Support
Federal Policy and Guidance