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Phoebe Prince: Title IX’s Application to School Harassment Cases

By Nicole Marschean

Phoebe Prince was not just the “new girl” at South Hadley High School in Western Massachusetts, but also new to the American education system. When Prince and her family moved from a small town in Ireland last fall, they never could have predicted the tragic events that would follow.

Media reports allege that after the 15-year-old Prince briefly dated a popular senior football-player, she was subject to persistent bullying and harassment by some of her fellow classmates. In the hallways, names like “Irish slut” were jeered in her direction and students would continually knock her books out of her hands. 

The harassment did not just end with the school day; it was also reported that Prince was sent threatening messages through texts and social networking sites such as Facebook. It culminated in mid-mid-January—while Prince was walking home from school her tormentors followed her in a car flinging first insults and later an energy drink can at her. It was after this incident, prosecutors say, that Prince committed suicide

In the wake of these terrible events, Massachusetts officials have sought to bring justice to Prince and her family by charging nine students with felonies, including statutory rape, violation of civil rights with bodily injury, harassment, and disruption of a school assembly.

In addition, Massachusetts legislators have responded with work on an anti-bullying law that would require school staff members to report incidents of bullying and for school principals to investigate these events. The law, which is near passage, would mandate that Massachusetts schools add education on the dangers anti-bullying to the curriculum.

But the media has largely missed that Title IX, the federal law that bans sex discrimination in education by recipients of federal funds, already applies to harassment in schools. Even without state anti-bullying protections, schools have an obligation to address and prevent sexual harassment. These horrible events serve as an unfortunate reminder to school administrators across the country. 


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