The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

Local News

May 3, 2014

WVSOM faces federal investigation

LEWISBURG — The West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine was identified on a list released Thursday as one of 55 schools nationwide facing federal probes into allegations they failed to comply with regulations regarding sexual violence and harassment complaints.

WVSOM is the focus of an investigation into allegations that it mishandled a 2012 sexual misconduct report, a school spokesperson confirmed. The alleged incident occurred off-campus, according to Denise Getson, WVSOM’s director of marketing and public relations.

“This is the only Title IX issue of which we are aware,” she said.

“WVSOM conducted a thorough internal investigation at that time (2012) and collaborated with local authorities on their investigation of the alleged incident,” Getson said.

Lewisburg Police Chief Tim Stover said one of his officers investigated the alleged incident and charged the suspect in the case with two counts of harassment but did not pursue an assault charge. Stover said he is not aware of how the harassment charges were resolved.

Greenbrier County Prosecuting Attorney Patrick I. Via did not immediately return a message left at his office Friday seeking information on the status of the criminal case.

“WVSOM takes seriously any allegation of sexual misconduct,” Getson said. “Student safety is of paramount importance to everyone at WVSOM, and we have implemented a number of programs, procedures and security measures to make our campus a safe place.”

WVSOM has no on-campus housing. Students reside off-campus in the Greenbrier County area during their first two years of study and, in the third year, may travel to a statewide campus location to begin clinical rotations.

Schools named on the list that was released Thursday by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) are being investigated by that agency for possible violations of Title IX. The 1972 law best known for prohibiting gender discrimination at educational institutions that receive federal funds also regulates how schools deal with reports of sexual violence and harassment.

This marks the first time the Department of Education has issued a comprehensive list of the campuses that are under review by OCR for possible violations of the law’s requirements regarding sexual violence responses.

“We are making this list available in an effort to bring more transparency to our enforcement work and to foster better public awareness of civil rights,” Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Catherine E. Lhamon said. “We hope this increased transparency will spur community dialogue about this important issue.”

Lhamon added that the fact there is an investigation of a particular college or university should not be taken as an indication that the institution is violating or has violated the law.

When an investigation concludes, the Department of Education will disclose — upon request — whether OCR has entered into a resolution agreement to address compliance concerns at a specified school or found insufficient evidence of a Title IX violation there.

Getson said WVSOM officials believe they are in full compliance with federal regulations.

“We are cooperating with the Department of Education and believe the OCR review of our policies, programs and investigations will reveal that WVSOM is fully in compliance with Title IX regulations,” Getson said.

WVSOM conducts annual mandatory Title IX training for all students and employees, Getson said. The procedure and forms for filing a complaint are detailed on the school’s website.

— E-mail: talvey@register-herald.com

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