Written by Natalie Hoernschemeyer

Mickes O’Toole, LLC

Title IX prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in educational programs and activities that receive federal funds. In May, the Department of Education released new regulations for Title IX to govern the reporting, investigation, and adjudication of sexual harassment allegations in educational institutions. These major changes went into effect on August 14, 2020. The new regulations re-define sexual harassment and establish detailed complaint and grievance procedures that schools must follow in response to sexual harassment allegations. In short, how school districts and colleges handle sexual harassment complaints and grievances has drastically changed.

To assist members in their obligations under the new Regulations, MUSIC has partnered with SafeSchools in the development of a new course for K-12 schools, entitled Title IX Compliance Overview. This training video provides school staff with an overview of Title IX regulations. Title IX Compliance Overview covers the history of Title IX and explains the new regulations for Title IX, including the new definition of sexual harassment and the process for how to handle allegations of sexual harassment, as well as the guidelines school districts must follow to remain in compliance with the law.

The training highlights that, for the first time, the regulations for Title IX now explicitly include an official definition of sexual harassment: conduct on the basis of sex that satisfies either Quid Pro Quo harassment, a hostile work environment, or harassment under the Violence Against Women Act. The standard for a hostile environment was heightened to be “unwelcome conduct determined by a reasonable person to be so severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive that it effectively denies a person equal access to the recipient’s education program or activity.” This standard must now “effectively deny” an individual’s participation in or benefit from an educational program or activity, as opposed to the previously lower standard of “interfering with or limiting” an individual’s access. Additionally, the reach of Title IX was narrowed by re-defining the scope of educational programs or activities over which a school district has substantial control. Ultimately, these refined definitions narrow the scope of alleged activity that triggers a school district’s duty to initiate a formal investigation, while also increasing the burden on a school district for each individual step of the adjudication process.

It is important for school staff to be aware of the overall changes in the Title IX structure and process. School districts are now required to designate a staff member as the Title IX Coordinator to organize the district’s compliance efforts, facilitate the receipt of formal complaints, and implement appropriate remedies. Moreover, there are two possible pathways for districts to respond based upon the type of complaint received. First, if ANY employee of a school district has “actual knowledge” of sexual harassment or allegations of sexual harassment, the employee must report this knowledge to the district and the Title IX Coordinator must reach out to the alleged victim to offer supportive measures. Second, a formal complaint can be filed with the district, which initiates the district’s responsibility to investigate the allegation of sexual harassment through a specific, seven-step process. These new regulations outline the equitable treatment of both parties to ensure that investigations and adjudications are fair in recognition of each party’s right to due process.