Yes Means Yes. Everything Else Means No.

If you see something, say something.

[September 28, 2015]  The headlines and news stories recently coming out of a Concord, NH, courtroom can seem overwhelming. The tale is a tragedy. The lives of two teenage students at an excellent school veered terribly off course.

What can we learn from this? How can we try to prevent the next tragedy?

We want to find ways to reduce the risk of future sexual assaults. We want to have better policies, better education – for potential victims, for potential perpetrators, and for the bystanders (whether peers or adults) who might intervene and prevent the next sexual assault.

What Happened In Concord?

By way of background, the prosecution argued that the defendant (as an 18 year old senior at the School) had emailed the victim (a 15 year old freshman), to invite her to join him for a “senior salute.” He wrote to her, “I want to invite you to come with me, to climb these hidden steps,” to a place “locked since before we were born” (the mechanical room on campus, where a sexual assault occurred).

This was allegedly part of an annual, unofficial School ritual, called the “Senior Salute,” in which senior males tried to “slay” females in lower grades, and in which the male students competed to be “No. 1 in sexual scoring.”

The Verdict

The jury found the defendant not guilty of three counts of aggravated felonious sexual assault, each of which carried a penalty of 10-20 years in prison.

The defendant was also acquitted of a simple assault charge (allegedly biting the girl’s chest).

However, the jury found that the defendant was guilty of three counts of misdemeanor sexual assault. These counts are premised in part on the fact that the victim was under the age of 16, and thus legally could not consent to the sexual encounter. Each count carries a prison term of up to one year, and sex offender registration for up to 10 years.

The jury also found the defendant guilty of endangering the welfare of a child, by soliciting the victim (under the age of 16) to engage in sexual penetration.

Finally, the jury found the defendant guilty of unlawfully using a computer to solicit a child, which is a Class B felony punishable by up to 7 years in prison and carrying lifetime sex offender registration. Thus, unless this conviction is overturned on appeal, this young man will be a registered sex offender for his lifetime.

Policies & Education:

  • Yes Means Yes. Everything Else Means No.
  • If You See Something, Say Something

What can independent schools do to reduce the risk of something like this occurring on their campus?

1.  Review & Improve Policies & Procedures. School administrators should carefully review and improve (if possible) policies and procedures related to issues of sexual assault, to make sure that the school follows best practices. Sometimes this will be tailored to the school’s culture, and sometimes it may be the culture itself that needs a second look. This policy audit should also include a thorough examination of all student sexual conduct policies (such as parietals), including policies that address consent, sexual assault and sexual harassment, bullying and hazing prevention and intervention plans, prohibitions against cyber-bullying and sexting, acceptable use of technology and discipline policies, and policies related to mandated reporting.

2.  Review & Evaluate School Traditions. School administrators should carefully review the school’s culture, traditions and other practices in light of the Concord case, and abolish or amend these traditions or practices to ensure that students are kept reasonably safe.

3.  Review & Improve Employment Policies. Schools should also conduct a careful review of employment policies, such as mandated reporter policies and training, the hiring procedures for all employees, as well as policies governing everything from the athletic department, to dormitory life, school trips, and any other circumstances in which students might foreseeably engage in unlawful or dangerous behavior.

4.  Enhanced Education For Students. In recent years, more independent schools are providing “Boundary Training” for students, to educate them about acceptable behavior. Such training should continue, but more robust boundary training is needed to educate students about the state laws governing consent and sexual assault, in addition to education about which behaviors are generally acceptable and unacceptable.  Multiple sessions in small groups, where students are given opportunities to engage with educators on this sensitive topic, are likely to provide a safe space for students to ask questions and absorb the information.  It is particularly important that the topic of consent be addressed, including the fact that it seems that the definition of consent is evolving, most recently to affirmative consent: Yes means yes. (And just to be clear: Everything else means no.)

This enhanced education for independent school students might well be viewed as a kind of precursor to the training that colleges and universities are in essence required to do. Institutions of higher education provide sexual assault prevention training for their students, pursuant Title IX. Clearly, independent school students could benefit from an age-appropriate version of such training, not only in their high school years, but also in preparing them for collegeSome people think that an age-appropriate version of this enhanced boundary training should start as soon as fourth grade. 

5.  Enhanced Education For Faculty And Staff. Likewise, independent schools should continue and expand on the trend of providing “Boundary Training” for faculty and staff. More of this broad-based boundary training is needed, particularly to educate all school employees about each school’s potential liability when students engage in conduct on campus or sanctioned school events that violates state criminal laws. While many school employees seem reluctant to embrace the quasi police-like role inherent in such training, it seems too important to ignore in light of recent events in Concord.

In addition, this enhanced boundary training for school employees should also strongly reinforce the idea that if you see something, say something. We do not want more stories of coaches or janitors who did not get the training needed to know what to do when they saw an old man taking a shower alone with a young boy. Educate all employees. Empower all employees to do something.

Thus, for example, if you see an 18-year old senior going off into the dark, late at night, with a 15 year old freshman, say something, do something.

6.  Educate Parents And Board Members. Some version of boundary training should also be provided to parents and Board members, to make sure the entire school community understands what behavior is unacceptable. The potential for student sexual misconduct is not only a problem on boarding school campuses, and schools need to assist parents of day students in establishing appropriate guidelines when hosting social events in private homes or venues, off campus.  And to be sure that the students know that everyone knows the rules, and that it is safe to talk to anyone about unacceptable behavior.


Let your school’s words and actions say clearly to everyone in the community that student safety is paramount, and that each member of the community is strongly encouraged to do his or her part to make it safe for everyone.

Yes means yes. Everything else means no.

If you see something, say something.


Non-Discrimination Statements: In Sync And In Line With Your School’s Mission

[September 15, 2015]  Does your school’s application for admission ask potential students to provide a photograph? Are applicants required to indicate whether they are male or female? Do you promise not to discriminate against student applicants based on their genetic information? While all of these practices may be well-intended, some of them may miss the mark when it comes to avoiding discrimination and promoting diversity on campus.

Take the request for a photograph. The Internal Revenue Service (the “IRS”) notes that requiring a photograph may indicate that the admissions process is racially or ethnically discriminatory, even if that is not the school’s intent. Indeed, the IRS specifically requires private schools to include policies in their Bylaws and admissions materials, stating that the school does not discriminate based on race, color, or national or ethnic origin, as a condition of obtaining and maintaining § 501(c)(3) tax exempt status. Schools may, therefore, consider asking student candidates about their ethnicity as an optional question on an application, but should not insist on obtaining this information as a condition of admission.

Where does your state law stand on gender identity and expression? Some states prohibit this form of discrimination in public schools and many independent schools are choosing to take a fresh look at dress codes, restrooms and locker rooms with this characteristic in mind. Be sure that your school’s non-discrimination statement and application for admission are consistent with your school’s philosophy on this evolving topic. Do you need to know the gender of the applicant? You might consider increasing the number of check boxes on an application to permit a wider range of answers to the gender identity question, or include no check boxes, but ask a student applicant to self-identify in a way that best fits the applicant. Of course, in single-sex schools, this topic is significantly more complex.

Schools sometimes try to be inclusive with respect to genetic information. Under federal law, employers are generally prohibited from discriminating against employees based on genetic information; however, discrimination based on genetic information is not prohibited by independent schools toward student applicants and current students.  Though your school may not intend to evaluate students on this basis, schools are not legally required to include this characteristic as a protected class with respect to student applicants.

With schools focused on diversity and inclusion for the whole school community—based on financial need, disability, citizenship, the protected classes mentioned earlier and other characteristics—it is important to ensure that your non-discrimination statements and practices are consistent across the organization, are in sync with your school’s mission and are lawful. We recommend that independent schools review their non-discrimination policies wherever they appear—as illustrated in the list below—to ensure that they are drafted appropriately for both students and employees:

  • Student/Parent Handbook(s);
  • Employee/Faculty/Staff Handbook(s);
  • Acceptable Use Agreements (Employees/Students);
  • Bylaws;
  • Employment Applications;
  • Enrollment Contract; and
  • Website

If you have any questions about legal compliance with respect to non-discrimination policies and diversity initiatives, please do not hesitate to contact a member of the Firm’s Education Practice Group.


Who Makes The Call And When: Mandated Reporter Laws From State-To-State

[April 28, 2015]  Picture this: during an Upper School Assembly at Springtime Academy, a recent alumnus of the school gives a talk and video presentation about his recent adventure on Mount Kilimanjaro. He remains on campus for the day, attending classes and bonding with students. During a conversation after lunch, a couple of tenth graders reveal to the climber that some of their classmates recently engaged in sexual misconduct. The speaker tells the school administration about what he heard, but does not report the misconduct to the state child welfare authorities. Should he have?

Guess what the lawyers say? “It depends.” It depends on how your state law defines “mandated reporters,” or those who, by virtue of their profession, are considered to have a heightened responsibility to report good faith suspicion that a child has been abused, sexually abused or neglected. Typically, such reports must be made to state child welfare agencies within 24-48 hours of the individual learning of the suspected misconduct.

In most states, those employed by schools (administrators, coaches, teachers), doctors, social workers and other licensed counselors are considered to be mandated reporters; but by virtue of someone speaking at a school, the mantle of “mandated reporter” does not automatically apply. In other states, anyone—regardless of profession or school affiliation—is obligated to report suspected child abuse, sexual abuse and neglect. In those states, the speaker could have an obligation to report the misconduct—his telling school administrators what he heard may not be enough to satisfy that requirement. Some states require that school employees first report their good faith suspicions of child maltreatment directly to authorities before informing even their supervisor or head of school. Finally, most states penalize individuals who should have reported and do not, versus those who made a good faith report of child maltreatment, that later, turns out to be unsubstantiated.

The take away: the determination of who is legally obligated to report suspicions of child maltreatment is nuanced and highly dependent on knowing your school’s state law. Take the time to educate your entire employee population – boundary training and mandates reporter training will help the community be ready for whatever may arise on campus.

If you have any questions about legal compliance for reporting suspected child abuse, sexual abuse or neglect, please do not hesitate to contact a member of the Firm’s Education Practice Group.

Show Jumping And Steeplechase: Is Your Campus Horseback Riding Program Kentucky Derby Worthy?

[April 21, 2015] The nation’s attention will be turning to Kentucky, Maryland and New York for the triple crown horse races later this spring. While hoping that you may have the next National Velvet in the stables, we encourage independent schools to be aware of and effectively minimize their exposure to the potential risks that may arise from offering horseback riding programs.

Currently, all states, except California, Maryland, Nevada, and New York, have statutes that provide some level of protection from personal injury liability for an organization that offers equine activities. State laws vary quite a bit, however, in requiring specific wording for a release form, time periods for retaining such forms, and posting of warning signs in the stable and corral. For example, in Pennsylvania, signs indicating that riders assume the risks associated with the activity must be two feet by three feet in size. In Massachusetts, such signs must be in black letters, with each letter to be a minimum of one inch in height—we were not kidding when we said the laws are specific! Therefore, it is important that schools be aware of state laws and craft signage and permission and release forms to maximize their enforceability.

Furthermore, even a well-drafted release may not deter an injured student and the student’s family from filing suit against a school, so it is extremely important that schools take all appropriate measures to prevent injuries while students participate in high-risk activities, including horseback riding, through establishing and implementing appropriate risk management strategies. Has your school considered implementing baseline testing protocols to help prevent and manage concussions? Does your school have policies and procedures in place to make sure saddles and helmets are appropriately (and safely) fitted to horse and rider?

In an effort to minimize an independent school’s exposure to potential legal risks associated with riding programs, we recommend that schools take the following measures:

  • Carefully evaluate applicable laws related to equine activities in the school’s home state;
  • Implement appropriate athletic policies and risk management plans related to equine activities;
  • Carefully draft signage, permission, medical treatment authorization and release forms;
  • Ensure that all riding team trip forms are consistent with state-specific best practices; and
  • Educate students, parents, athletic trainers, instructors and coaches regarding the school’s policies and procedures pertaining to equine activities.

Please do not hesitate to contact a member of the Firm’s Education Practice Group if you have any questions about this information or equine activity-related issues in general.


Positive Peer Pressure? Faculty Compensation Surveys Merit Scrutiny

[April 7, 2015]  Educational institutions, both secondary and higher ed, routinely survey peer institutions in order to ascertain the details of faculty and other employee compensation. In some cases, the data enables institutions to pay similar amounts as their peers; in others, the data enables institutions to pay more than market value. In both contexts, the purpose is to attract and retain excellent educators: a noble goal. However, before participating in (or relying upon data from) a compensation survey, educational institutions ought to consider the reality that some of these compensation survey methods may unwittingly violate antitrust laws.

Antitrust laws prohibit “anti-competitive” business practices – meaning joint conduct that unreasonably restrains competition. While not a per se violation, the exchange of information about compensation and benefits among employers is subject to antitrust scrutiny. Notably, compensation surveys that promote competition generally comply with antitrust laws.

At first blush, distinguishing the surveys that promote, rather than quash, competition may seem like a daunting task. The U.S. Department of Justice (“DOJ”) and the Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”), the agencies tasked with enforcing federal antitrust laws, have identified three criteria that, if present, will generally protect employers under the umbrella of an antitrust “safety zone.” These are: “(1) the survey is managed by a third party; (2) the information provided by survey participants is based on data more than three months old; and (3) there are at least five providers reporting data upon which each disseminated statistic is based, no individual provider’s data represents more than 25% of a weighted basis of that statistic, and any information disseminated is sufficiently aggregated such that it would not allow recipients to identify the prices paid by any particular provider.”

Of course, this is not a fool-proof method; a survey that meets this test may still violate antitrust laws. However, the DOJ and FTC have represented that, absent extraordinary circumstances, they will not challenge an employer that participates in a survey satisfying the safety zone criteria. Thus, the safety zone provides a useful framework to help schools navigate this complex area.

If an educational institution decides to conduct or utilize a survey sharing compensation information, the following tips may help minimize the risk of violating antitrust laws:

      • Survey participants should not be identifiable, whether directly or indirectly.
      • Prospective wages and benefits information should not be collected.
      • Avoid including advice on how to use or interpret data. The more raw the data, the less likely it will be to raise antitrust concerns.
      • Prohibit or avoid improper discussions about the survey. For instance, consider including a written disclaimer or an agreement that prohibits discussions that violate antitrust laws.
      • In setting future compensation or benefits, the survey should be used as only one factor of many. This decision-making process should be carefully documented.
      • Avoid conducting surveys too often, as the frequent collection of data could support an improper motive.

If you have any questions about best practices and legal compliance for conducting or participating in a compensation survey, please do not hesitate to contact a member of the Firm’s Education Practice Group.