Months before the U.S. Department of Education released new final Title IX Regulations on May 6, 2020, schools that receive federal funding were expecting changes to how the Department requires them to address issues of sexual harassment in school activities and programs. In February, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos announced, in a Department press release, that she was directing the Office of Civil Rights to “tackle the tragic rise of sexual misconduct complaints in our nation’s K-12 campuses head on" through compliance reviews and "raising public awareness about what’s actually happening in too many of our nation’s schools.”
The secretary’s February statement served as a prelude to the new final regulations issued, not as guidance, but with the full force of law. Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, as school districts confront fundamentally difficult questions such as how to safely reopen their school buildings in the fall, superintendents, principals, school boards and other administrative leadership must also focus on complying with new Title IX regulations, which take effect Aug. 14, 2020.
Title IX prohibits sex discrimination in a school’s activities and programs and requires all schools, from K-12 to post-secondary institutions, to take appropriate steps to prevent and redress issues of sex discrimination. For many years, while the public’s focus has been drawn to Title IX at institutions of higher education, Title IX has always been and remains equally applicable to K-12 schools. Now, the initial question for many K-12 schools, is “What do the new final regulations mean for us?” For districts that have a Title IX policy in place, this question will prompt a series of other questions that will need to be asked and answered, such as:
The above questions offer K-12 schools a small sample of what the final regulations direct districts to incorporate in their new or revised policy and procedures. As states across the country are debating budgets, school funding and all the direct and collateral consequences of the pandemic, K-12 schools cannot ignore and must take the immediate step of addressing how to implement the new Title IX regulations. After taking the preliminary step of reading the regulations and the Department's summary, school district administrators and leadership should consider the following steps as an outline of some of the things that will need to be done:
The Department expects compliance. Parents, students and the school community expect safety and learning. A decision delivered on May 22, 2020 in federal court in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania offers timely insight into the importance of this subject in K-12 schools. The ability to be effective in the implementation of a new Title IX policy will rely heavily on how effective the lines of communication are with educating and responding to any concern that suggest a student’s safety or access to an educational opportunity is infringed upon based on sex.