Title IX Coordinators are a school district’s primary resource for identifying sex discrimination, including sexual harassment. They help resolve grievances and train school staff on gender equity. They play a critical role in ensuring schools take proactive steps in complying with Title IX:
Having a Title IX Coordinator in place is not only required law, it is also essential for helping schools fulfill their mission of providing students with the best possible education. ––Title IX at 45: Advancing Opportunity through Equity in Education
Use the guide How to Gather Information about a School District’s Title IX Policy to find out if your school has a Title IX policy, what it says, and if it meets federal guidelines.
On this page, SSAIS inaugurates a new series showcasing best practices from experienced K-12 Title IX Coordinators across the country.
by Bill Howe
Many new Title IX Coordinators receive little guidance when starting their roles. Training is available, but much of it pertains to the interpretation of the law instead of explaining how to do the job. Part 1 of this series, “Who Are Your Constituents?” helped frame the role. This part addresses key first steps in creating a place and a forum for Title IX in your district.
The Title IX Coordinator is a federally mandated position. A person hired for this role must have institutional support. An important message is that if you can do your job with full cooperation, you will help keep the school district out of the courts.Read more
A fundamental working condition should be that you have full access and communication with the Superintendent’s Office. You should know about any policy or changes that involve the protections afforded under Title IX, hopefully before final decisions are made. These can include hiring practices and building renovations. For example, I dealt with one middle school that renovated the entire school but neglected to update the girls’ locker room. Imagine touring the spacious boys’ locker rooms with gleaming new lockers, sinks and showers and then seeing the girls’ facilities, built in the 1950’s, with splintering wooden benches and showers used as storage space.
Unless you went to law school and have been schooled specifically in Title IX and other civil rights laws, there will be issues that are “above your pay grade.” You should have ready access to your school attorney for legal advice. If in doubt, consult with the school lawyer. If your school gets sued it will be your school attorney who has to defend the district in court.
If a school employee gets charged with any kind of sexual misconduct will you, as the Title IX Coordinator, be kept in the loop? Do you have an open working relation with the Human Resources Department? Do they understand that educators are covered under Title IX as well as Title VII?
Title VII is employment law that protects employees against discrimination based on certain specified characteristics: race, color, national origin, sex, and religion. In cases where school employees are charged with sex discrimination, Human Resources should take the lead because union agreements often apply. In some situations, an alleged Title VII violation might not hold but a Title IX complaint might. Take the example of a school principal who ignores a sexual harassment complaint by a teacher. They could possibly avoid punishment for sex discrimination under Title VII, but they could still be liable under Title IX for failure to follow the required complaint procedure. Again, this is where consultation with the school attorney is advisable.
If you investigate a sex discrimination complaint that involves students of color, Title VI might apply. Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination based on race, color, or national origin in programs or activities receiving federal financial assistance. Find out who handles Title VI violations in your district. Does that person understand that violations under Title VI may also constitute Title IX violations? Most school districts now have a person who leads anti-bullying efforts. Bullying violations may also be Title IX violations. Coordinate with any other school individual who has oversight responsibilities for civil rights protections.
Make an appearance at a school board meeting so the members get to know you. While at the meeting introduce yourself to people, especially those that represent interested groups, such as the PTO/PTA and civil rights advocacy groups. Follow the agendas and read the minutes watching for issues that might be of concern.
Here are some other connections you should make:
- Head of Guidance Department – to review data on participation in Career Technical Education courses by sex and create a remediation plan if needed.
- Athletic Director – to review data on participation in athletics by sex and create a remediation plan if needed.
- Head of Maintenance/Facilities Director – to monitor equity in facilities. Common violations are lack of comparable athletic fields, snack bars, field houses, and more.
- PTO/PTA – make occasional appearances to maintain a relationship and to educate parents and guardians.
- Union Leaders – they are required to be informed about Title IX.
- School Resource Officers and Security Guards – this is an important relation to maintain to ensure protections under Title IX.
- Publications – if you have a person in charge of publishing school material make sure they understand the requirement to include the district’s nondiscrimination statement in all publications.
- Information Technology – the website should be transparent and easily accessible for information on Title IX. The nondiscrimination statement with your contact information should ideally be on the main page in the footer, at least. Test the web search box to make sure searches for topics like sexual harassment, sexual assault, complaint procedure, Title IX all lead to a main source where information is located.
You should form working relationships with the Police Department, especially School Resource Officers or Youth Bureau Officers. Consider creating a Memorandum of Agreement with the Police Department on how to handle Title IX cases that might also be criminal violations.
State Civil Rights Agencies are helpful resources. All 50 states, including the District of Columbia, have a civil rights agency or government division. The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) provides excellent programs for students. They have 25 regional offices in the United States. I have found the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) helpful, especially in First Amendment issues.
The key to working with external agencies is to NOT think of them as the enemy, but as a partner in helping to deal with complaints. I will discuss working with the U.S. Office for Civil Rights in the next article.
Finally, religious and cultural organizations can be key allies when working with youth in their communities because students often speak to their community cultural leaders before they reach out to school officials. I conducted several presentations at mosques for parents and their children, especially after anti-Muslim incidents. These were conducted with attorneys from the state civil rights agency, and sometimes with attorneys from the Department of Justice/U.S. Attorney’s Office.
I cannot emphasize enough the value of making personal connections. I have found the leader of the Muslim communities, the Imam, to be most helpful in explaining culture and tradition. In the Sikh faith the holy places of worship are called a gurdwara. They are under the leadership of a trained leader or any qualified adult. And of course, the Jewish community has unfortunately had to deal with centuries of discrimination and persecution. The rabbis I have worked with actually enjoy having my future teachers attend services to learn more about the faith and the culture.
You can send out all the letters, postcards and emails you want to cultural organizations but the most effective way I have found to make connections is to show up at their events. For example, I have been to numerous Chinese, Laotian, Cambodian, and Nepali New Year’s events where hundreds of people are in attendance. Colleagues have attended Korean Baptist church services and picnics where the venues are filled. Greek and Italian festivals are fun, and you will often run into politicians and local celebrities. I have made many important connections at these events. In many cultures, person-to-person contact is significant. Contacts like these open up helpful connections for being made aware of concerns and learning about cultural influences. And the food and entertainment are amazing.
Being a Title IX Coordinator, often in addition to other duties, can be a daunting task, but you don’t have to work alone. Seek out allies who will support your work.
Opinions expressed are the author’s own. Nothing in this article should be construed as legal advice.
With the Covid-19 pandemic necessitating that K-12 schools adopt remote learning and the U.S. Department of Education releasing a new Title IX Rule on sexual harassment, school district Title IX Coordinators have faced significant challenges in 2020.
SSAIS asked Megan Farrell, consultant at Title IX Consult and former Title IX and Civil Rights Officer at Palo Alto Unified School District (PAUSD), to shed light on how K-12 schools can manage these issues.Read more
SSAIS: What challenges did you face implementing the new Title IX regulations at PAUSD?
MF: The biggest challenge was the quick timeline for implementing these new regulations. With a release date in May and an implementation date in August, there was little time to determine the best course of action. We had recently adopted our administrative regulation that allowed us to manage the process consistent with Title IX and also analyze matters under state law, which provides additional protections for complainants.
SSAIS: The new Title IX Rule creates two tiers of sexual misconduct: one for harassment that meets the threshold of a sexually hostile environment as defined in the new Title IX rule and another for harassment that doesn’t. How do you plan to manage separate investigation procedures, grievance processes, and supportive measures for these two tiers? What problems do you foresee?
MF: We will run a parallel investigation process. We expect that under the Title IX sexual harassment process we will dismiss many of the allegations that we receive because they do not meet the new federal definitions, but we will proceed under state law. In our initial notification of complaint communication with the families, we will include reference to both policies and both procedures. Of course, we are always available to answer questions about the process. At this time, we think we will send one final outcome letter that explains a potential dismissal under Title IX but then analyzes the situation under state law.
SSAIS: The new Rule states that schools must not conduct a Title IX investigation unless the harassment meets the new threshold of creating a hostile environment. How do you determine whether the harassment meets that threshold without conducting some kind of investigation? What does that process look like? What advice can you offer administrators who do not deem sexual harassment to be “severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive” when the student is clearly distressed to the extent that it is impacting their education?
MF: The New Rule has mandatory dismissals of certain actions that can be made on the face of the allegations themselves. Specifically, the Rule would require dismissal of matters that would not fit within the new definition of sexual harassment, that did not occur in an education program or activity of the college, and/or that did not occur in the United States. This process would require the Title IX Coordinator to conduct a formal review of the allegations upon receipt to determine which actions require dismissal under the new Rule. For instance, any matter that happens off campus will need to be dismissed under Title IX. Also, a single sexually harassing comment probably won’t meet this new definition. Regardless of the conclusion about whether the actions meet the Title IX definition, the school has an obligation to provide the student with supportive measures (previously called interim measures) to ensure the student can pursue his/her/their education. Aside from the supportive measures, the school may also be required to analyze the matter under state law and impose appropriate discipline in the event of a violation.
SSAIS: How have you explained the provisions of the new Title IX Rule to students and staff? For example, how would you clarify to students the difference between a complaint and a “formal complaint?” Have you conducted any training?
MF: PAUSD trains 100% of its staff on Title IX annually. We had focused training for all administrators to walk through the process and describe the decision-maker role in detail. We also provide training to students. It has been PAUSD policy for over three years to offer a formal complaint process to any report of sexual harassment. We have continued these efforts. We have information available on the district website and direct links to the Title IX website on every school website in the district. If a school does not provide training either internally or externally, the district will be in violation of this requirement. It is imperative that schools find a way to get this information to its staff.
SSAIS: What recommendations do you have for other districts (in California and elsewhere) who might be wrestling with problems implementing the new Rule?
MF: Find training and get your Title IX staff and other relevant individuals (decision-makers, appeal officers, advisors) educated about the process. Also, reach out to other districts to find out what they are doing. Many districts, like PAUSD, have policies and procedures available on the district website. There is no need to recreate the wheel in many instances. Some of the larger Title IX organizations offer trainings that can be cost-prohibitive, but there are a number of other ways to get this training through local law firms and Title IX consultants. My practice, Title IX Consult LLC, offers a low-cost membership to school districts that includes annual training for Title IX Coordinators and online training for staff members that meet the regulatory requirements.
SSAIS: Are students reporting sexual harassment incidents in virtual classes? If so, what are they saying?
MF: Yes, we have complaints related to inappropriate language that has been used in the online classroom. In other districts, I have heard reports of students exposing themselves in the online classroom.
SSAIS: How did you respond to these reports?
MF: We respond to every report of harassment within 24 hours and offer our formal complaint process. If a formal complaint is filed or the Title IX Office files a formal complaint, we investigate and determine if the allegations constitute a violation of our policies, which include both federal and state law/regulations.
SSAIS: Have students reported peer sexual harassment incidents outside of online classes? If so, how have you responded?
MF: We respond to any report of harassment, regardless of whether it happens on our campus or off. We provide supportive measures to the complainant and offer the formal complaint process.
SSAIS: Has PAUSD updated its sexual misconduct policies to cover harassment that occurs during online classes?
MF: No, this was not necessary as our policies were inclusive of classroom behavior, whether that classroom was online or face-to-face. PAUSD is revising its policies related to the New Rule on sexual harassment to be inclusive of all of these requirements.
SSAIS: What other measures are you taking to keep students safe from sexual harassment in virtual classrooms (e.g., some schools disable the private chat feature of the conferencing software or take measures to prevent outsiders from interrupting online classes)?
MF: PAUSD is providing outreach to students and training on recognizing harassment through online training during our advisory periods. The Information Technology department offers support for responding to online harassment. I have seen some districts using the technology to offer a reminder that students agree to comply with all policies prior to entering the classroom.
SSAIS: There’s a national trend in which middle and high school students form Instagram groups to expose sexual harassment they or others have experienced in their schools. We’ve seen reports about students taking matters into their own hands in Oregon, Colorado, New York State, New York City, and Maryland. Why do you think students resort to this public method of airing complaints anonymously?
MF: Some students and parents may not understand how to bring these complaints within the district. Some students find sharing these experiences in an anonymous way to be the first step in talking about the situation. Others find comfort in knowing that others have experienced similar situations. In some instances, students may feel that the public outcry will lead to a reaction from a district that may not have addressed these matters in the past.
SSAIS: Here’s an example post from an Instagram group called “Dear Culver,” whose members are students in Culver City USD:
Mr. [teacher’s name] has always made sexual and inappropriate comments to his students. Telling girls “I wish I had your body.” He has no boundaries, and the school ignores complaints about him.
How do you go about establishing trust with students who are frustrated by the lack of action taken by adults in their schools?
MF: I think building trust with students begins with educating students and parents about the complaint process. The process needs to be transparent and proactive, and all parties are entitled to timely updates about the progress of an investigation process. Keeping the lines of communication open throughout the investigation is also important, and the Title IX Office should schedule regular check-ins with complainants. Because of student privacy laws, a district often cannot share publicly what steps they have taken to address a specific matter. Further, there are privacy laws related to employees that also in some instances limit what information can be shared.
SSAIS: Do you now have or plan to employ ways for students to submit anonymous complaints of sexual harassment? Do you have other ideas for reaching out to students (e.g., holding listening sessions)?
MF: PAUSD has had an anonymous reporting system for over three years. We extended our training efforts to include concerns and feedback from students. We also developed some user-friendly mechanisms to share our messages – videos, etc. We also took efforts to display prominently on our website how to reach out during the shelter-in-place/Covid pandemic.
Title IX Resources at PAUSD
Cover Title IX Page
How to File a Formal Complaint
Workshop, Training, and Meetings
by Bill Howe
Many years ago, working with the Feminist Majority Foundation, I conducted a national survey attempting to find out who were the State Education Agency (SEA) Title IX Coordinators. An interesting finding was that many of the people in this role also held the position of SEA attorney. In K-12 schools it is not uncommon that the superintendent, school attorney, business manager, or head of human resources also acts as the Title IX Coordinator. This is a bad idea.Read more
There are several explanations for this practice. One is that schools often see Title IX primarily pertaining to sexual harassment that requires some degree of legal or management authority. These individuals usually do not have classroom teaching requirements, which would allow them more time to conduct investigations.
However, Title IX is also about sex discrimination in education. Ideally, Title IX Coordinators should have classroom experience. They need to have knowledge about athletic participation by sex, enrollment in career and tech ed courses, equitable curriculum, and teaching practices. They need to know what is going on in the schools. They should have regular contact with and be well-known to students, teachers, and parents.
But perhaps the most serious concern is the question, “Who are your constituents?” Title IX has become increasingly politicized over the years. Title IX Coordinators need to uphold the law diligently and fairly regardless of whether the complainant is a student, parent, teacher, or school administrator. Are you there to protect the organization or the individual? Are you willing and capable of withstanding political pressure to rule one way or the other? What will you do if your superiors ask you to review or revise your final report before it is released? How will you uphold the integrity of the process while being told the respondent is a star athlete or the child of a prominent family?
K-12 Title IX Coordinators often seek out the State Education Agency for technical advice and training. Herein lies another complicating factor. Many SEAs do not provide training and oversight for K-12 schools. Referrals are often sent to the U.S. Dept. of Education, Office for Civil Rights (OCR). Again, the issue here is “who are your constituents?”
The position of Superintendent of Instruction, or Commissioner of Education exists in all 50 states; it is elected in 13 and appointed in the remaining 37 states. This person heads the state Department of Education, which oversees federal and state education initiatives. The Superintendent of Instruction reports to the State Board of Education. All but two states (Minnesota and Missouri) have a school board or commission. Eleven states have elected school boards (12 if including the district of Columbia). The rest have appointed boards, most of which are appointed by the governor. SEA Title IX Coordinators must manage political influences internally and externally to the agency.
The state Department of Education usually has a legal affairs department. It is within this department that the lead attorney or another attorney acts as the SEA Title IX Coordinator. Herein lies potential conflicts of interest. Elected or appointed individuals hold their positions as the largesse of their appointing authority or voters. Though surely a democratic process, political influences do exist. It is not uncommon for legislators to intercede on behalf of constituents. Local school districts have significant sway in decisions made by the SEA. At the local level, the District Title IX Coordinator may be subject to internal and parental pressures.
Once, a school district business manager questioned why they must comply with Title IX if the district does not get “Title IX money.” I explained that every state and federal dollar that they get is contingent upon compliance with Title IX.
I have had school attorneys ask me to explain what Title IX is and what the district must do to comply. Attorneys often are knowledgeable about Title VII, which is employment law that includes protection against sex discrimination, but often not as familiar with the protections of Title IX, which is education law. I have also worked closely with excellent school resource officers (SROs) to discuss sexual harassment.
One local Title IX Coordinator called me in a panic because the father of a respondent confronted him in a meeting and claimed that he was an attorney and that he had not heard of Title IX so therefore it did not exist. I had to reassure the Title IX Coordinator that the father/lawyer was misinformed. I also have had school districts complain to my superiors about my duties as the SEA Title IX Coordinator.
How can Title IX Coordinators do their jobs effectively and fairly? What do you do if your decisions or findings are challenged? These are questions you must answer yourself. As I say in my trainings, you cannot lie on a report. You cannot falsify reports. If you find yourself caught in this dilemma, seek the advice of your union, if you have one. Also, there may be legal advice available to you through local and national women’s civil rights groups. Above all, remember that Title IX is meant to protect the rights of everyone. As a Title IX Coordinator, you are essential in this process. Do your job diligently and with integrity.
Opinions expressed are the author’s own. Nothing in this article should be construed as legal advice.
This article also appeared in Campus Safety Magazine.
 Public Affairs Council of Alabama
by Megan Farrell, JD, Title IX consultant to K-12 schools and former Title IX Coordinator/Civil Rights Officer at Palo Alto Unified School District (PAUSD)
Among the many challenges faced by K-12 school districts during this school year, the Department of Education released its long-awaited Final Rules under Title IX (“New Rules”). The regulations require sweeping changes for districts and are required to be implemented by August 14, 2020. These changes require districts to change policies, procedures and practices around sexual harassment and emphasize the due process rights of the accused.Read more
The Dear Colleague Letters issued by the Office for Civil Rights in 2011, 2014, and 2016 (all rescinded) were considered non-regulatory guidance. Thus, schools could implement or refuse to implement the recommendations. Failing to follow those recommendations would be at their peril of course. The New Rules followed the administrative requirement of Notice and Comment period, and thus these requirements have the force of law, and all schools are required to follow them.
As of June 15, 2020, we note that several Attorneys General throughout the United States have joined in litigation against the Department of Education. That suit seeks to overturn some of this guidance and also stay the implementation date of August 14, 2020, giving all education institutions more time to digest and implement requirements. However, this same group appealed to the Department of Education to hold off issuing these new rules during the pandemic, and such pleas fell on deaf ears.
Below is a brief summary of ten of the changes that will have great impact on how K-12 school districts manage Title IX complaints as well as links to additional Department of Education resources on these new rules.
1. Notice of Sexual Harassment
K-12 schools must respond when ANY employee has notice of sexual harassment. In the past, districts may have designated only some employees as “responsible employees” with this duty. Because ALL employees have this responsibility under the new rules, districts need to ensure that ALL employees are trained on Title IX, how to recognize potential claims, and how to report it internally to the Title IX Coordinator.
2. Definition of Sexual Harassment
The Final Rules have redefined sexual harassment, limiting the definition and scope. This narrow definition is contrary to other legislation. The definition is as follows:
Sexual harassment means conduct on the basis of sex that satisfies one or more of the following:
1. Quid pro quo sexual harassment;
2. Hostile environment sexual harassment, defined as unwelcome conduct determined by a reasonable person to be so severe, pervasive and objectionably offensive that it effectively denies a person equal access to the recipient’s education program or activity (emphasis added); or
3. Sexual assault, dating/domestic violence, or stalking (uses Violence Against Women/Clery Act definitions)
This definition will limit when a sexual harassment policy violation is found. On its face, it appears that the definition restricts when a hostile environment can be found.
3. Jurisdiction for Title IX
The Final Rules clarify that a school must dismiss actions that do not occur in an education program or activity under Title IX. Initially, it is noted that a complainant must be currently enrolled or attempting to enroll in an educational program or activity for the complaint to be accepted. Thus, an individual who had transferred out of the district and/or graduated from the district could not file a complaint. The prior guidance looked broadly at what would be investigated, and in many cases, schools would be required to look into a matter even if a complainant or respondent was no longer attending school in the district.
Further, the New Rules state that these matters MUST be dismissed if they:
- Would not fit within the definition of sexual harassment
- Did not occur in an education program or activity of the school
- Did not occur in the United States
In addition, the New Rules state that a school MAY dismiss complaints if the:
- Complainant withdraws formal complaint in writing
- Respondent is no longer enrolled as a student or employed by school
- Circumstances prevent school from gathering evidence that would be sufficient to reach a determination
Each of these limits when a school may respond. Under the New Rules, there are more options for a school to dismiss a matter. In fact, the New Rules make some of those dismissals mandatory.
4. Requirement of Formal Complaint
Schools are required to investigate formal complaints received in writing from the complainant. The Title IX Coordinator may file and sign a formal complaint. However, the New Rules note that if the complainant does not file a formal complaint, the wishes of the complainant should be respected unless the Title IX Coordinator decides to initiate the complaint and it is “clearly not unreasonable in light of the known circumstances.” The New Rules include no guidance on what a Title IX Coordinator should consider in a determination about bringing a complaint.
5. Response to Report
The obligation imposed on a school is that it cannot be deliberately indifferent to a report of sexual harassment (this Gebser standard was issued in a Supreme Court decision in 1999). Mandatory obligations include offering “supportive measures” to a complainant that must be non-punitive, non-disciplinary, and not unreasonably burdensome on the other party. The measures must be designed to provide both parties with equal access to their education, protect safety, and deter sexual harassment. A school cannot take any measure that could be construed as disciplinary against a respondent at this stage. The New Rule indicates supportive measures are available to a respondent after a formal complaint is filed. Many of the “interim measures” that schools provided in the past would not be available to the school at the report stage, potentially opening up the door to continued harassment.
6. Grievance Process
The New Rule identified specific requirements that must be included in the sexual harassment grievance process. Some of these changes are:
- Process must be fair, equitable, without bias or conflict of interest, not reliant upon stereotypes
- Advisors for the parties are permitted, and in some instances, must be provided to the parties
- Separate decision-makers must be involved in process – i.e., investigator separate from the ultimate decision-maker (policy violation decision)
- Either a preponderance of the evidence or clear and convincing standard can be used to make determinations.
- The burden is on the school to gather evidence to support a finding
- Process cannot violate any constitutional protections of any party – First, Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments
- All information gathered in the investigation process must be shared with both parties before a decision is issued
- Appeal allowed for both parties
7. Hearing Panel
The New Rule permits but does not require K-12 schools to hold a hearing to adjudicate the matter after the initial investigation is completed. A hearing would allow for cross-examination of parties and witnesses by the advisor to a party. If one party has an advisor and the other does not, then the school must provide a trained advisor for the other party for its hearing. The hearing could be run by an officer or a panel. Specific training is required for all panelists/officers. In the absence of a live hearing, the parties will be permitted to submit questions that will be asked of other parties and witnesses by the decision-maker before a final decision is issued. Because of the substantial burden of instituting a hearing process, it is unlikely that most K-12 schools will voluntarily adopt this model.
8. Informal Resolution
Informal resolution is permitted after the filing of a formal complaint, review of the informal process by the parties, and agreement to participate in the informal process. Either party can leave the informal process and return to the formal process at their election before a final decision is made. In light of the new procedural requirements, schools are expected to develop informal resolution processes to provide a viable option to participants to resolve the matter without going through a time-consuming process.
The Final Rules indicate that both parties should have an appeal process available after dismissal of a formal complaint or a finding of policy violation. This appeal process must include the following basis:
- Procedural irregularity that affected the outcome of the matter;
- Newly discovered evidence that could affect the outcome;
- Title IX personnel had a conflict of interest or bias that affected the outcome.
Schools are permitted to include other bases for appeal beyond those outlined above.
The New Rules abandon the 60-day investigation completion guideline and advises schools to complete investigations within a reasonable period of time. This open-ended guidance may allow schools to unnecessarily delay investigations in the future.
. . .
As the information above indicates, the changes for K-12 school districts are significant. Districts need to assess the changes that must be made and move quickly with the impending implementation date. While many Title IX advocates do not feel that these new regulations do enough protect victims, they do have the force and effect of law. The implementation date of 8/14/20 means that these changes need to be in place, and staff will need to be trained before the next school year.
Megan is the former Title IX Coordinator/Civil Rights Officer at Palo Alto Unified School District. She consults with K-12 districts and colleges nationally on Title IX, including serving as Title IX Coordinator and Equity Officer at Los Gatos Saratoga Unified School District.
Resources from the U.S. Department of Education
Listen to Megan Farrell’s podcast “A Clearer Understanding of Title IX in the School System” as she discusses Title IX compliance in K-12 schools during the Covid-19 school shutdown.
by Megan Farrell, JD, consultant at Title IX Consult and former Title IX and Civil Rights Officer at Palo Alto Unified School District
When I joined Palo Alto Unified School District (PAUSD) in 2017 as Title IX Coordinator, the District had recently completed a resolution agreement with the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights (OCR) related to a wide-reaching Title IX investigation. As part of this agreement, PAUSD agreed to hire its first full-time Title IX Coordinator. While most if not all colleges and universities were well aware of the requirements related to complying with Title IX, many school districts, lacking funding and expertise, had not undertaken a concerted effort to comply.Read more
During my tenure at PAUSD, I have had the opportunity to work closely with dedicated and professional administrators whose focus has always been on the best interest of the students. Unfortunately, many of them had not been trained in Title IX prior to my arrival and did not understand the intricacies related to its requirements for response, investigation, and conclusion. While Title IX covers all forms of sex-based discrimination (i.e., access to educational programs, parity in athletics), the majority of my work in this period has involved sexual harassment and sexual misconduct matters.
Over the course of these years with PAUSD, I have concluded that assisting administrators with an immediate, reasoned response is a critical to managing Title IX claims and achieving the goal of allowing students to pursue their education without the fear of discrimination/harassment. The information contained in this blog deals with the immediate response, oftentimes prior to the initiation of a formal/informal investigation and definitely prior to reaching a conclusion about whether the Districts’ Sexual Harassment and/or Nondiscrimination policies have been violated.
Below are my suggestions for both Title IX Coordinators and school level administrators to assist in the process.
What is NOTICE of a Title IX matter?
As general guidance, a district is deemed to have notice of a Title IX matter when a “responsible employee” learns of a situation that may give rise to a Title IX complaint that the district must investigate. Under OCR guidance, responsible employees are those who have authority to redress or a duty to report incidents of sexual violence, or those who students reasonably believe have this authority or duty. In many districts, responsible employees include administrators, counselors, and teachers. At PAUSD, all employees of the District regardless of their title are considered responsible employees. The information regarding who is a responsible employee at any given District should be included in the District policies or on the website.
What is the OBLIGATION when a district learns of a Title IX matter?
As a guiding principle, districts need to remember its underlying obligation – upon notice of a Title IX matter, they must:
- Stop the harassment;
- Remedy the effects of the harassment; and,
- Prevent the harassment from occurring in the future.
What are the STEPS to an immediate, reasoned response?
Although it is difficult to predict exactly what might be necessary in any given circumstance, below is a list of considerations:
- Identify a School Point Person
For all those involved in a Title IX matter – the reporting party, the responding party, friends of both (who may have brought the initial report), and parents – the process can be intimidating and scary. Providing a party with a designated, on-campus point person can help everyone feel safe and solidify that that the District is taking the matter seriously. Normally, we try to select an administrator with whom the individual has a relationship prior to the incident. When there is not an administrator who fits, we will find a non-confidential counselor or teacher, and our Title IX Office supports the point person with any response that is necessary.
2. External Reporting Requirements
Title IX matters often trigger other reporting requirements. Upon learning of the matter, consider whether a report is necessary to:
- State welfare organization – most employees do this immediately due to mandatory reporter obligation. Districts are required to train on this mandatory reporting obligation in most states.
- Local Police
These reports are often state-mandated and cannot wait.
- Physical and Mental Health Support for Parties
Title IX matters often involve trauma and stress. Districts should ensure that they have resources to assist the parties and extend this support to other students who may be impacted. Responsible employees should know how to access this mental health support. Providing this information on the school website can assist in getting this information into the hands of those who need it.
Medical Health Assistance – Students should be given information about where to go for support after a sexual assault, maintaining evidence (clothing, etc.), and where they can receive a Sexual Assault Response Team examination.
Mental Health Support – Both parties may need the assistance of mental health professionals to manage the trauma and stress related to the Title IX matter. School resources that provide support and confidential services (if appropriate) should be shared with the parties. Initial appointments should be scheduled if possible. Districts should also compile a list of local resources, in the event that the parties may not want to receive this care through the District, including fee and free service options. Both the reporting party and the responding party should be given access to these resources.
- Academic and School Programs
Upon notification of a Title IX matter, schools need to examine how the students involved can continue to pursue their education. In many instances, this may mean altering students’ schedules and/or participation in school-sponsored activities. Prior guidance from OCR allowed preferences to be given to the requests of the reporting party. More recent guidance in 2017 advised schools to weigh the impact of the changes on both parties before instituting a change.
For example, if two students are in the same class, one may request that the other student be moved. In reaching a decision about the class, the school must weigh a number of factors and allow both parties to pursue their education. At PAUSD, we have moved one or both students, have allowed students to finish the class through independent study, moved seats, and also had class monitors attend the class going forward. Unfortunately, there is generally not a simple solution, and many factors need to be analyzed before an adequate solution is found.
Districts should review their policies before making any changes, and in complicated cases seek the advice of an expert or counsel. In addition, OCR plans to issue new regulations in the near future that could impact what schools are required to do going forward.
- Safety Measures
In order for students to pursue their education, they need to feel safe at school. Thus, schools should address what safety measures are necessary.
No Contact Directives – In general, these directives keep students from communicating while the investigation is pending. At PAUSD, we routinely issue these directives to ensure that we are preventing the possibility of continued harassment. Our directives prohibit the students from communicating with one another at school and off-campus. The prohibition includes verbal outreach and digital/social media posts about the other party.
Safety Plans – When a matter involves a serious allegation that includes potential violence, and/or students interacting frequently during the course of a normal school day, a more detailed Safety Plan can be used to address class and non-class time. Some of the areas that we usually cover in creating a safety plan include the following: designating how a student will arrive and depart from school; setting up specific routes for students to follow when traveling to and from classes; designating where students eat lunch; identifying when students use campus resources (library, technology lab); deciding who will and will not attend any school activity (dances, teams, clubs); and, including any other protections related to time/space where students might interact or run into one another.
In the K12 arena, the immediate response of the district is integral to allowing the students to feel safe and continue their education. Without a concerted response, students are left feeling unsupported and may disengage from their education. Each Title IX claim is unique and different, and the responses need to be tailored to the circumstances. Hopefully, this article can guide some of these responses and serve the best interests of the students.
Megan is the former Title IX Coordinator/Civil Rights Officer at Palo Alto Unified School District. She consults with K-12 districts and colleges nationally on Title IX, including serving as Title IX Coordinator and Equity Officer at Los Gatos Saratoga Unified School District.
A Title IX Coordinator helps a parent whose children are sexually harassed at school
In this excerpt from the SSAIS video Sexual Harassment: Not in Our School! a mother talks with Keasara Williams, the Title IX Coordinator of San Francisco Unified School District, about the sexual harassment of her three children. Watch to find out what a the Title IX Coordinator should do so students can learn in an environment that is safe and free from sexual harassment.