Indiana school revises policies after coach harassed players

By The Associated Press | Posted - Apr. 27, 2015 at 1:51 p.m.

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LAPORTE, Ind. (AP) — A northern Indiana school district will revise its sexual harassment policies and increase training on how to initiate and investigate complaints as part of a settlement in a case involving a coach who had a sexual relationship with a player, the U.S. Department of Education announced Monday.

The agreement announced by the department's Office for Civil Rights involves the LaPorte Community School Corp. and stems from a case involving former LaPorte High School junior varsity volleyball coach Robert Ashcraft.

Ashcraft was sentenced to 21 years in prison in 2011 on charges of sexual misconduct and child seduction. Court documents say the 46-year-old coach had sex with a 15-year-old player about 25 times between September 2007 and the summer of 2009.

Investigators found the coach harassed other female volleyball players by making sexual comments and jokes but that the school district failed to conduct a thorough investigation despite complaints from parents and students as early as August 2007.

The Office for Civil Rights said Ashcraft's actions created a sexually hostile environment in violation of Title IX, the 1972 act that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in all education programs or activities that receive federal financial assistance.

The office noted that even after the school district was informed that it had violated Title IX, the district didn't agree to take corrective action to address the sexual harassment concerns until the office warned that it could lose federal funding.

A message left Monday for Supt. Mark Francesconi was not immediately returned.

The agreement requires the district to determine who knew of the conduct and whether other students were subjected to a sexually hostile environment. It also must provide training for school employees and hold orientation sessions for students to explain sexual harassment policies.

Other steps include convening focus groups of student athletes to discuss any harassment concerns and conducting surveys to assess the effectiveness of the steps taken.

"Our students deserve to learn in schools free from sexual harassment and from predatory sexual behavior from their school staff," Catherine E. Lhamon, assistant secretary for the Office for Civil Rights, said in a statement. "I hope very much that the appalling predatory behavior, and accompanying school failure to respond to protect its students, will never be repeated."

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