An investigation by the Minnesota Department of Human Rights found that the Hibbing School District failed to respond to complaints from female students who were inappropriately questioned by a senior administrator about sexual abuse, their dating lives and the use of birth control.
In a 14-page memorandum, the agency issued a probable-cause determination of illegal sexual discrimination against the district for its treatment of female students during the 2012-13 school year. The yearlong investigation began in September 2013 after complaints from parents that girls were being repeatedly pulled out of class by an administrator to discuss sensitive, non-school-related topics.
Jac Fleming, assistant principal at Hibbing High School, was forced to resign in August 2014 following the investigation — where he is not referred to by name. Fleming was reinstated in that role more than one year later, in September 2015, according to the Hibbing Daily Tribune. His duties have changed so that he no longer interacts with students, the paper reported.
Although Fleming was not a trained counselor and lacks any expertise in matters of sexual abuse, he summoned female students from class to speak with them about such trauma alone in his office, according to the memorandum. Investigators found that one student had been routinely pulled from class twice a week for an entire semester after Fleming learned that she’d been molested.
The girls told MDHR officials that the conversations made them feel uncomfortable and “traumatized.”
On other occasions, female students reported that Fleming advised and questioned them about their “use of birth control, their sexuality and their dating life,” according to the memorandum.
Some students said they were frequently called out of class to receive unsolicited dating advice. If he did not like the boy they were seeing, Fleming would attempt to dissuade them by calling the boy a “loser,” investigators wrote.
Fleming, who only had the authority to discuss issues pertaining to attendance, truancy and discipline, denied talking to students about the questionable topics.
“MDHR investigators found evidence of severe and pervasive sex-based behavior that created a hostile environment for female students that consequently interfered with their ability to learn,” Commissioner Kevin Lindsey said Friday. Several students dropped out or transferred to another school as a result of his actions.
Despite numerous complaints by parents, teachers and students, MDHR said it found little evidence the district investigated those claims. The district failed to comply with its own harassment policies and “did not act in good faith when responding to the reports” that female students were being subjected to inappropriate questioning, officials wrote.
MDHR has reached an agreement with the school district requiring Hibbing to hire an expert to review its policies for ensuring future compliance with state and federal laws, as well as secure discrimination training for Fleming and other administrators about “boundaries.”
Lindsey will meet with parents and community members to answer questions about the case on Monday night at Lincoln Elementary School in Hibbing.
Liz Sawyer • 612-673-4648