The U.S. Department of Education recently released its proposed changes to the rules that determine how schools enforce Title IX, the 1972 civil rights law prohibiting discrimination based on sex in education programs or activities that receive federal financial assistance. When the public comment period for the proposed changes ended in September, more than 240,000 comments had been submitted to the Regulations.gov website.
Why so much public interest?
According to the U.S. Department of Education, Title IX has been “eroded by controversial regulations implemented during the previous Administration,” under Secretary Betsy DeVos. Under her rules, school administrators–already struggling with how to handle complaints of gender-based discrimination and sexual assault–have found the process so cumbersome as to be “unworkable.”
The comment from our organization, Stop Sexual Assault in Schools, notes that the proposed regulations would help schools learn more quickly about incidents of sex-based discrimination, including sexual harassment and assault, when they occur. The new regulations would require all K-12 school employees, except those designated as “confidential employees,” to report incidents to the Title IX coordinator.
This would make it easier for K-12 students to report sex discrimination, harassment and assault, because they would not have to go directly to their school or district Title IX coordinator to report a problem. Many K-12 students do not know which school staff have authority to address sex discrimination.
Overall, many students do not report incidents because they fear being ignored, disbelieved, blamed, or retaliated against. They are often unaware of how schools should respond when they do report. The proposed rules require the Title IX coordinator to identify and eliminate all such barriers to reporting.
Lack of proper training for Title IX coordinators is a serious problem nationwide. The proposed regulations require that district level Title IX coordinators be well-trained to ensure schools comply with federal and state education laws. Because many school districts lack a full-time Title IX coordinator, they appoint a staff member who has other full-time duties to take on this role. The proposed regulations help correct this situation by allowing district Title IX coordinators to appoint one or more school-level staff members to carry out some of the Coordinator’s responsibilities.
Our comment also notes how the proposed rules would better protect students by restoring the broader definition of a “hostile environment” so it is consistent with the definition that many state education laws and district policies use. The proposed rules would cover all forms of sex-based harassment that limit a student’s participation in a school’s education program or activity. They would also protect LGBTQI+ students from discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, and sex characteristics.
Many of the proposed regulations simply clarify and strengthen decades of federal guidance regarding discrimination based on sex. Although the proposed rule is one means for enforcing Title IX, it is a single tool in a much-needed, comprehensive toolbox.
Addressing sex discrimination in K-12 education programs has become more complicated over the last 50 years. The department should therefore take further steps to support K-12 schools in their enforcement of Title IX:
The proposed Title IX regulations restore and strengthen federal civil rights protections, drawing us closer to the promise of educational environments free from sex discrimination. We should applaud the Department of Education’s continued commitment to ensuring that all students have an equal opportunity to participate in and benefit from their schools’ educational programs and activities.
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