Title IX Coordinators

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

On this page, SSAIS inaugurates a new series showcasing best practices from experienced K-12 Title IX Coordinators across the country.

Title IX Coordinator Life: Part 1 – Who Are Your Constituents?

by Bill Howe

Dr. Bill Howe was the Connecticut State Title IX Coordinator for 17 years. He maintains a website on Title IX and one on multicultural education.

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.

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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.[1] 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.[2] 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.

[1] Public Affairs Council of Alabama

[2] Ballotpedia

10 Important Changes for K-12 Districts in the Title IX Final Rule

by Megan Farrell, Title IX and Civil Rights Officer, Palo Alto Unified School District

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.

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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.

9. Appeal

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.

10. Timelines

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 Farrell is the Title IX Coordinator and Civil Rights Officer for PAUSD and can be reached at mfarrell@pausd.org.  She also consults with K12, colleges, and universities on Title IX. You can reach her at Megan@titleixconsult.com.  

Resources from the U.S. Department of Education

New Regulations
Summary of Major Provisions of New Regulations
Title IX Summary
DeVos K-12 Initiative

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.

Immediate Response is Key to Successful Title IX Response

by Megan Farrell, Title IX and Civil Rights Officer, 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.

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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:

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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 Farrell is the Title IX Coordinator and Civil Rights Officer for PAUSD and can be reached at mfarrell@pausd.org.  She also consults with K12, colleges, and universities on Title IX. You can reach her at Megan@titleixconsult.com.  

PAUSD’s Sexual Harassment Policy

PAUSD’s Nondiscrimination Policy

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.