Timberline teacher’s suspension gives rise to a larger conversation about Title IX

The Boise School District sent a mass email to patrons Thursday evening — an attempt to clarify the circumstances surrounding Timberline High School teacher Laura Boulton’s suspension, which has sparked outrage throughout the district and revealed underlying concerns about the district’s handling of sexual harassment and abuse reports made by students.

Boulton was placed on administrative leave on Sept. 7 — a move that has prompted a student walkout, countless questions and concerns fired at the district, and a Thursday press conference spearheaded by students and parents.

The district says Boulton, a 23-year teacher, was suspended due to an investigation over “allegations that she undermined colleagues and academic programs, spread misinformation to students and staff, manipulated students, harassed colleagues, and preyed upon vulnerable youth for her own purposes.” The district says Boulton’s suspension is not related to any reports of inappropriate sexual relationships with students.

But parents and students say they aren’t sure — Boulton had a hand in helping students file reports with the district over harassment and assault claims, both physical and sexual. Some have accused the district of suspending the high school math teacher in retaliation.

All school district staff are mandatory reporters, meaning they’re required to report any suspicion or knowledge of sexual abuse occurring in or in relation to the school district.

But Boulton’s suspension has given rise to a larger movement highlighting current and former students in the Boise district who feel that their sexual harassment or abuse reports were mishandled. As reported by Emily White of the Idaho Press, Boulton’s suspension resulted in at least 10 people who reported assault or harassment to the district using the proper methods coming forward to the Press about their frustrations with the district processes.

District officials maintain that all Title IX complaints are investigated thoroughly — according to federal rules.

“It is clear, however, that while the processes worked in accordance with federal Title IX, the results left many feeling unsatisfied and hurt. This is where we can do better,” the district wrote in a mass email sent to patrons Thursday evening, prefacing the press conference.

Title IX is aimed at protecting all students and staff from discrimination and sexual misconduct. But the federal law has been historically fraught — there are countless examples nationwide of schools ignoring or overlooking sexual misconduct claims, or conducting thorough investigations that ultimately side with the perpetrator.

And reporting sexual misconduct is generally complicated — victims often don’t immediately recognize their abuse due to trauma, and some victims don’t report abuse for a number of reasons, including a fear of retaliation, fear that they won’t be believed, or a lack of information about how and when to report abuse. Reporting can be cumbersome, and the process often forces victims to relive their trauma.

The Boise district outlines its Title IX processes on its website — a rule all districts are required to abide by. And in the Thursday email, district leaders seemed to acknowledge the challenges of Title IX.

“We understand and recognize that the Title IX process can feel very impersonal and bureaucratic based on the steps we are required to take in accordance with Federal Title IX,” the email reads. “For those seeking help, if you are aware of any report that has been made to Boise School District staff regarding sexual harassment or sexual assault that has not been addressed, we need to hear about it. Please report this directly to the district at titleixcoordinator@boiseschools.org.”

“As always, if you are the victim of sexual harassment or sexual assault involving students or staff, whether it happened on campus or not, please report this to the district. The district has a broad array of support for you whether you wish to file a formal complaint or not. You may do this through a variety of district channels: talk to your counselor, tell a teacher, send an email to titleixcoordinator@boiseschools.org, or use our online reporting form.”

Despite district efforts, students and parents still have their concerns — and they want Boulton back in the classroom.

Timberline students are calling on their peers statewide to walk out of school on Oct. 5 to show solidarity with assault victims in the Boise district.

A full version of Boise’s statement can be found below.

Sadie Dittenber

Sadie Dittenber

Sadie Dittenber, a former reporter with Ed News that focused on K-12 policy and politics. She is a College of Idaho graduate, born and raised in the Treasure Valley.

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