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School’s Legal Responsibility to Help Survivors Who Report Violence

While a school may tell a survivor of violence to go to the police to report an incident instead of seeking help through the school, schools that receive federal funding are legally required to respond to reports about sexual violence, sexual harassment, dating violence and stalking. Instead of forcing survivors to seek help elsewhere, schools must recognize and act on their legal responsibility to help a survivor in ways law enforcement can’t. Your school is required to help you with academic accommodations if you report struggling with sexual assault, stalking, dating violence, or any of the above situations to your counselor, teacher, or other school administrator. While police can help survivors get orders of protection against a person who hurt you, or investigate the matter and potentially pursue a criminal case against them, police are not intended to provide help with specific actions where schools CAN, such as:

  • Help you feel safe in your classes
  • Help you get academic assistance (i.e. extra time on assignments or tests, rescheduing assignments, etc.)
  • Help you get counseling sessions with a school guidance counselor
  • Change bus schedules
  • Have a friend or designated person walk you to class
  • Prevent the person who hurt you from going to the same extracurricular activities
  • Prevent the person who hurt you from eating lunch in the cafeteria at the same time
  • Hall pass to seek help from an adult (i.e. guidance counselor, coach, teacher) when experiencing trauma symptoms
  • Help with excusing absences from school
  • Help with access to locker rooms and bathrooms based on gender identity
  • Create safety Plans to help reduce contact or interaction with the person who hurt you

Legal Remedies

Title IX

Title IX is a federal law that provides you the right to access the benefits of your education without gender-based or sexual discrimination. Gender-based or sexual discrimination includes sexual violence, domestic violence, dating violence, and stalking.

  • You have the right to choose whether or not to report or disclose gender-based violence.
  • You have the right to report what happened, whether it occurred on or off campus by a fellow student or campus employee.
  • You have the right to be notified of existing counseling, mental health, or other student services for victims of sexual violence, regardless of whether or not you file a disciplinary complaint.
  • You have the right to ask for safety measures to be put in place by your school. You and your school can determine what steps to take to protect you, including avoiding contact with the person who hurt you or their friends, or allowing you to change your academic circumstances, etc.
  • You have the right to receive school protection from any retaliation that occurs after you report. This may include retaliation by the person who hurt you or their friends, club members, teammates, or more.
  • You have the right to an adequate, reliable, and impartial investigation of your complaint by the school.

Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA)

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA, formerly No Child Left Behind) is a federal law that requires that a victim of a violent crime in or on public school grounds must be allowed to transfer to another public school.

  • If there is another public school within the same district, the school must offer you a transfer, but the student may opt not to take it.
  • If there is no other public school within the same district, the school is encouraged to work with neighboring districts.
  • A student cannot choose a specific alternative school.
  • A school is not required to pay transportation costs that result from this transfer.
  • The person who hurt you doesn’t have to be convicted of a crime for the survivor to have these rights.

Section 504

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act (Section 504) is part of a federal law that prohibits a school that receives federal funding (which includes almost all schools in the country) from discriminating against students with disabilities and ensures that schools provide necessary accommodations for students with disabilities to allow them equal access to their education. A student is eligible for 504 accommodations if they have a physical or mental disability that substantially limits a life activity or activities. A school must have an established policy and procedures related to 504 determinations. Sometimes experiencing sex discrimination such as sexual violence, sexual harassment, gender-based harassment, dating violence, and stalking can cause health problems that can be defined as either short-term or long-term disabilities.

  • Entitles eligible children to a free and appropriate education (FAPE)
  • An appropriate education is one that is designed to meet the disabled student’s needs as adequately as the needs of non-disabled students are met
  • Preference that children be placed in regular classroom setting
  • Applies to academic and non-academic programs


The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is a federal law that ensures that eligible students with disabilities receive appropriate services. A student between the ages of 3 and 21 is entitled to special education services if they meet the following criteria:

  • The student has a disability
  • The student is not making effective progress in school
  • The ineffective progress is a result of the student’s disability
  • The student requires specially designed instruction or related services in order to make effective progress in school

There is an eligibility determination process, and if determined eligible, the student will receive a written individualized education plan (IEP).

  • Entitles eligible students to a free and appropriate education (FAPE)
  • Preference that students be placed in regular classroom setting


These laws are your federal rights. You have the right to feel and be safe at school. If you have experienced any of what has been outlined here, you can also choose to access any of the remedies outlined.