Practical Implication of OCR’s Title IX “Dear Colleague” Letter

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All public school districts, colleges and universities that receive federal financial assistance (“schools”) are required to comply with Title IX, a law that prohibits all forms of sex discrimination, including sexual harassment. The three fundamental requirements of Title IX are that schools (1) disseminate a notice of nondiscrimination; (2) designate at least one employee to coordinate Title IX responsibilities; and, (3) adopt and publish grievance procedures for student and employee sex discrimination complaints.

The Office of Civil Rights (OCR) of the United States Department of Education recently issued a “Dear Colleague” letter clarifying Title IX’s requirements for schools to address sexual harassment. The letter provides significant guidance for creating and implementing a sexual harassment policy that will meet Title IX’s standards as viewed by OCR.

OCR’s letter first reminds schools that Title IX protects students from sexual harassment in academic, extracurricular, athletic, and other programs, on buses, during field trips, and in classes or training programs that take place off school grounds. The letter also explains that student-on-student sexual harassment that occurs outside of school programming may have effects within the school, such that schools are required to consider whether those situations create a hostile environment on campus. Additionally, OCR states that, regardless of whether anyone files a complaint about sexual harassment, a school must investigate any situation involving possible sexual harassment of which it is aware. In short, OCR takes a broad view of schools’ responsibilities to protect students against sexual harassment.

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DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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