Education Reporting

CHALLENGE TO UVM’S SEXUAL MISCONDUCT INVESTIGATION IS DROPPED

All StoriesBTVStories by BeatStories by publicationVTDigger

Author’s note: This story was originally printed by VTDigger on July 18, 2016.

BURLINGTON — A University of Vermont student has dropped a lawsuit against the school alleging he was not given due process in the investigation of a sexual misconduct complaint filed against him.

The unidentified student dropped the lawsuit after the university requested that it be dismissed, according to UVM.

“John Doe has dismissed his lawsuit requesting additional information. UVM has provided John Doe with no additional information,” UVM Director of Communications Enrique Correderas said in a statement.

The suit filed late last month in federal court claimed the man was not given enough information to defend himself in the investigation process. To protect his privacy, his lawyers filed under a pseudonym: John Doe.

The college’s probe was in the early stages, and the student had not been found responsible or not responsible for the alleged sexual misconduct.

Details of the sexual misconduct case are not publicly accessible because of regulations that govern student privacy.

The university said it will now complete the sexual misconduct investigation using its regular process.

In the lawsuit, John Doe claimed his rights were violated when he was not given information during the investigation.

“(UVM) has adopted a policy that violates the due process rights of those accused of sexual misconduct,” the suit stated.

Lawyers for John Doe did not respond to requests for comment.

The university said the protection of due process does not allow the accused to interfere with an investigation.

But his lawsuit stated that if the student was found responsible, his life would change drastically.

“If deemed responsible for the allegation, plaintiff may suffer severe reputational harm, difficulty continuing his education and securing employment in the future profession of his choice,” the complaint stated.

He argued he did not have enough information to properly explain his side of the story.

The University of Vermont moved to dismiss the lawsuit, claiming the use of federal court, in this case, was not appropriate. To complain to federal court, the university argued, the student must demonstrate having been injured or harmed. Legal injury includes the loss of rights or loss of reputation.

The university argued John Doe had not shown any harm.

“He has not been deprived of any interest in life, liberty or property, and any allegation that such an injury will occur is entirely speculative, especially at this early stage of the investigation,” UVM stated in its response to the lawsuit.

The suit also requested the university halt the investigation until the court ruled on whether John Doe’s rights were violated.

The university said it acted properly. “The university is confident that its sexual misconduct policy and procedures fully comply with federal law,” it said in the statement.

On June 10, the University of Vermont sent an email to John Doe stating that the office of Affirmative Action and Equal Opportunity would begin an investigation after an allegation of sexual misconduct was made against him, according to the lawsuit.

University investigator Nick Stanton emailed Doe on June 17, asking for a decision as to whether Doe wanted to participate in the investigation through an interview by June 22, the lawsuit stated.

John Doe’s lawyers responded June 23 stating that he denied the allegations and would cooperate with the investigation. Additionally, his lawyers asked for copies of statements of the student who made the allegations as well as any other witnesses, the suit stated.

“In order to have a meaningful opportunity to respond to the allegations we need to know specifically what is being alleged. The credibility of the accuser is a critical factor in this matter. Without knowing what the accuser said, (John Doe) is unable to prepare a defense and respond to the allegations,” his lawyers wrote to UVM on June 24, according to the lawsuit.

UVM maintained that it followed national guidelines for investigating allegations of sexual misconduct.

“Our procedures for conducting Title IX sexual misconduct investigations conform to the guidance issued by the U.S. Department of Education and best practices adopted across the country,” the university stated in a statement to VTDigger.

BURLINGTON SCHOOL BOARD OFFERS PAY-FOR-BENEFITS TRADEOFF

All StoriesBTVStories by BeatStories by publicationVTDigger

Author’s note: This story was originally printed by VTDigger on July 7, 2016.

BURLINGTON — The Burlington School Board says it has proposed a way to meet a key goal of the teachers union in their stalled salary negotiations but it would require redirecting some money from benefits.

The board and the Burlington Education Association presented arguments for their respective positions before a neutral fact finder last week.

“I feel confident we put our best foot forward (in presenting facts) that will help us reach a compromise,” said Mark Porter, chair of the school board.

The union must look over the information in greater detail before commenting, BEA President Fran Brock said Friday.

In a news release, the board said it presented a hypothetical salary grid that would fall within the middle of the salary ranges for teachers in other Chittenden County school districts.

Educators in Burlington are now paid less than the middle level of teacher salaries in the county, according to Brock. A provision in the 2013 three-year contract promises to bring Burlington teachers’ salaries to that point in 2016, she said.

The union has said the district is breaking that promise, while the board has pointed to turnover among board members and said the union’s expectations are unsustainable.

A board statement says this model is unsustainable because it makes Burlington dependent on other school districts’ salary decisions and does not allow the board to allocate money in the most effective way.

“While we want to be regionally competitive, we cannot be locked into an agreement that forces us to ignore and account for other key contextual factors, including the ability of our community to pay, legislative mandates and other needs of the district,” the board said.

The union is requesting a 5.7 percent salary increase and a continuation of medical and academic benefits.

The board wants teachers to pay more of the cost of their health insurance premiums. Burlington educators currently pay 15 percent, but the board wants 19 percent in the upcoming contract. The average Vermont professional pays 20 percent of his or her health insurance premiums, according to Stephanie Seguino, vice chair of the school board.

Porter said the proposed 5.7 percent pay increase would bring salaries far above the midlevel mark, and at a cost to students. The board wants to increase salaries about 1.8 percent.

“The board remains committed to providing regionally competitive compensation, but the associated salary increases will only be affordable if some of the dollars used to fund other generous benefits are reallocated to help pay for them,” he said in the news release last week.

The board said it told the fact finder that the union’s proposed salary increase in conjunction with benefits the district is currently covering would require moving money away from student programming.

Burlington teacher salary increases in the recent past have exceeded inflation, the board said.

The teachers’ current contract expires Aug. 31. In February, a mediator was designated to end a deadlock in negotiations. But a March 23 session with the mediator was unsuccessful, the board said in its release.

Brock said if the board does not increase salaries substantially, the district will lose good teachers. “If we want quality schools, we need quality teachers,” she said.

In the past year, the Burlington School District lost teachers to both the Community College of Vermont and South Burlington due to pay rates, Brock said.

But Porter said that with more than half of Burlington students qualifying for free or reduced-price lunch based on their families’ income, such increases would be unsustainable for the city.

Other places, with different demographics, are able to pay more, Porter said.

Brock also accused the board of withholding information. “Burlington prides itself on its transparency, and that is not something the board has shown throughout the process,” she said.

Porter said some budget breakdowns used for negotiation sessions remain private for the board just as some models remain private on the part of the union for negotiation purposes. But budget information is available online, Porter said.

The fact finder is required to issue a report within 30 days. Those findings are not binding but are meant to serve as a frame of reference when contract negotiations resume.

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