Signed on November 3, 2020, Act 110 (24 P.S. § 1318.1) requires schools to separate perpetrators and victims of rape and sexual assault.
Senator Martin, the law’s sponsor, stated the goal of the law is to ensure that victims of sexual assault do not have to uproot their own education and social networks to avoid contact with an abuser.
In the past, schools have often taken steps to assign students with known abusive backgrounds to separate course schedules to the extent possible. In some situations this is not possible, such as when a course is taught by only one teacher, or when the students engage in the same extracurricular activities. Prior to this law, schools did not have authority to take extreme measures to ensure separation of affected students. Schools could not deny perpetrators or victims access to selected courses or school activities. A strict separation of perpetrator and victim is now required under the law, not only by classroom, but throughout the school day, including extracurricular activities.
A revision under Act 110 to Pennsylvania’s Juvenile Act requires the county’s juvenile probation officer to notify the building principal if a student has been adjudicated delinquent of a sexual assault.
Once the school has been notified of a sexual assault conviction or juvenile adjudication, the school must either expel the convicted student, or transfer or reassign the student so that the victim is not required to be educated in the same school building, be on the same bus, or participate in school-sponsored activities at the same time as the perpetrator. Thus, schools now have not only authority but an obligation to ensure that no contact between affected students occurs.
These obligations arise even if the incident occurred outside of the school setting if the victim is another student of the same school as the perpetrator and the incident substantially interferes with the victim’s education, creates a threatening or hostile school environment, or substantially disrupts the orderly operation of the school. The convicted student may return to the school of origin only when the victim ceases to be enrolled in the school, or the conviction or delinquency adjudication is reversed and no appeal is pending.
When reassigning a convicted student who has a disability, schools must ensure that the new school placement meets the student’s needs.
A student who is convicted of one of the listed offenses must notify the school within 72 hours. In addition, parents of convicted students must disclose the expulsion or reassignment when enrolling in a subsequent school.
Just as with any new law, as many questions arise as are answered. For instance, what, if any, obligations does Act 110 impose on schools prior to conviction? What if a Title IX or other school-based adjudication proceeding determines that a sexual assault occurred? Does Act 110 establish a standard for reasonable response? What if the district has no alternative buildings to assign the student?
The requirements of the Act go into effect on January 12, 2021. The law applies to school districts, career and technical schools, intermediate units, and charter schools.
Bottom Line for Schools
Act 110 creates a new and possibly costly mandate for the strict separation of perpetrator and victim in the event of a sexual assault. A school’s flexibility in shaping safety plans is replaced by requirements of strict separation.
Principals, Title IX officers, and school boards charged with framing dispositions in expulsion cases involving sexual assault need to be made aware of this new requirement.
Finally, the Act specifically mandates that schools develop or update their written policies to ensure compliance with Act 110.
If you have a question, please contact your legal counsel or one of the Education attorneys at KingSpry.
School Law Bullets are a publication of KingSpry’s Education Law Practice Group. This article is meant to be informational and does not constitute legal advice.