“No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”
For nearly five decades, these 37 words have governed the way that schools––elementary, secondary, and postsecondary––handle issues of gender discrimination, from academics to athletics.
Today, Title IX has become the primary legal mechanism through which educational programs handle sexual harassment and assault; the law requires that all educational programs receiving federal funds deal with sexual harassment and assault promptly and in a manner that enables students to participate in and benefit from educational activities.
As America’s Promise has previously reported, sexual harassment and assault remain alarmingly pervasive in K-12 education. Yet in recent years, conversations around Title IX and sexual assault have centered on college campuses and largely overlooked elementary and secondary schools.
And despite Title IX legal requirements, numerous stories from around the country show that many K-12 schools are underprepared, unaware of, or unwilling to comply with Title IX.Data from the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights show the recent uptick in Title IX complaints in schools across the country.
“Title IX is perhaps the least enforced of the education laws,” Bill Howe, Connecticut’s Title IX compliance coordinator until 2015, told the Christian Science Monitor.
Recent campaigns such as #MeTook12 and #KnowYourTitleIX have sought to fight this lack of awareness in K-12 education, arguing that educating students, parents, schools, teachers, and the public about Title IX is a crucial step toward combatting sexual assault.
“Knowledge is essential for countering this form of discrimination,” a recent report by the National Coalition for Women & Girls in Education found. “Students need to know their rights, and schools need to know their responsibilities under the law. All stakeholders, including the public, need to be aware of the extent of the problem, its effects, and the protections put in place to help address it.”
In 2017, the Department of Education rescinded Obama-era guidelines on campus sexual misconduct and issued a new interim guidance. Although this guidance changed some features of the Title IX grievance process––evidentiary standards, most notably––many of the law’s core rights and requirements remain the same.
So, what rights does Title IX protect and what responsibilities does it require? What does Title IX compliance look like? Here’s a practical guide to answering these questions:
What falls under the scope of Title IX?
All educational programs and activities that receive federal funds must comply with Title IX. This includes all public K-12 schools and many private schools. Notably, this definition also includes after-school programs, extracurricular activities, libraries, museums, and vocational rehabilitation agencies that receive federal funding.
Who does Title IX protect?
All students are protected from discrimination by Title IX, regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, nationality, immigration status, race or ability. Title IX protects boys and men as well as girls and women.
Title IX also applies to organizational employees, such as teachers, staff, and administrators.
What counts as sex discrimination?
Under Title IX, sex discrimination includes sexual harassment and gender-based harassment. Sexual harassment comes in many forms, ranging from unwanted sexual comments or advances to cyberbullying to any non-consensual sexual contact. Gender-based harassment is when an individual is harassed or bullied because they don’t conform to gender stereotypes (for instance, a boy being bullied by his peers for wearing a dress to school.)
Harassment is prohibited by Title IX when it creates a hostile environment for the victim such that he or she can no longer fully participate in or benefit from school. A hostile environment can be caused by a single incident or by repeated instances of harassment.
Schools must take action against harassment or discrimination regardless of where incidents occur. Instances of harassment that occur off-campus may be sufficiently serious to create a hostile learning environment and therefore fall under the purview of Title IX.
What does Title IX require schools to do?
First of all, schools must create, publish, and widely distribute an anti-discrimination policy. This policy must affirm the school’s commitment to non-discrimination on the basis of sex and include clear definitions of consent, sexual harassment, sexual discrimination, and sexual violence. The policy must also provide instructions on how students and members of the community can make complains and contact their Title IX coordinator.
Here’s a sample anti-harassment and discrimination policy, and here’s a checklist from the Department of Justice to help schools construct their own policy.
What does a Title IX Coordinator do?
The Department of Education requires that schools appoint a Title IX Coordinator. Title IX Coordinators are responsible for training faculty, staff, and students on rights and obligations under Title IX. Coordinators receive complaints of harassment or violence and subsequently oversee the school’s response. Coordinators are also responsible for creating healthy, equitable environments, meaning that they must identify and respond to systemic form of sexual discrimination in addition to individual instances.
Schools must appoint a Title IX Coordinator who has been trained in Title IX compliance in both federal and state laws. The school must publish the coordinator’s name and contact information in a readily accessible way, such that all students are able to reach the coordinator. In selecting a coordinator, schools must be careful to avoid potential conflicts of interest. For this reason, principals, athletic directors, and/or district superintendents should not be appointed.
Here’s an in-depth brief from the Justice Department about the responsibilities of the Title IX Coordinator
Here’s a tool from the American Association of University Women that helps you identify a Title IX Coordinator near you.
What happens when someone reports a claim of sexual harassment?
Schools must establish and follow a clear, prompt, and equitable grievance procedure in all cases when someone files a Title IX complaint with the coordinator. This procedure must be made available to all members of the school community. Although individual procedures may vary from state to state and district to district, here’s the Department of Education’s most recent Q&A standard on how to handle a complaint.
What must schools do while the complaint is resolved?
Schools must provide interim accommodations to protect complainants while the complaint is under investigation. This might involve limiting contact between the parties, changing classes, providing alternative opportunities to make up work. Schools must minimize burden on the complainant, such that a person who comes forward with a complaint is not penalized for speaking out. Schools should also make sure that victims are aware of existing resources such as counseling, academic support, and legal assistance.