New Title IX Enforcement Initiative to Address Sexual Violence in K-12 Schools

Sex-based discrimination is prohibited in education programs and activities that receive federal financial assistance pursuant to Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972.  Discrimination based on sex includes sexual harassment, sexual violence, and gender based harassment.  Although the focus of Title IX has generally been on post-secondary education, Title IX also applies to public schools and school districts.

Following regulatory guidance during the Obama administration and increased pressure from the media and the public to address sexual harassment and sexual violence, many colleges and universities changed their investigatory and disciplinary policies and procedures.  Unfortunately, some of these changes came at the expense of the accused students’ rights.  Although the current administration has withdrawn the guidance that lowered the standard of proof and discouraged cross-examination in student sexual misconduct investigations, colleges and universities still fail to ensure accused students receive due process.

Recently, the United States Department of Education announced a new enforcement initiative to address sexual harassment, sexual assault, sexual misconduct, and sexual violence incidents in K-12 public schools.  According to the press release, the new initiative will “strengthen the ability of schools to respond to all incidents of sexual harassment and assault.” The new initiative will include compliance reviews of schools and school districts, which will involve the review of policies, procedures, and practices for addressing complaints.  The initiative will also involve public awareness, data quality reviews to ensure incidents are being accurately recorded and reported through Civil Rights Data Collection, and the collection of additional data.

The press release referenced two complaints out of Chicago public schools as examples of the deficiencies leading to the new initiative.  The Office of Civil Rights has reached a resolution agreement with Chicago Public Schools District 299 that requires the district to have formal complaint procedures that provide for, among other requirements, designated prompt time frames for the major stages of the investigation and its completion, equal opportunity for both parties to present witnesses and evidence, a written report summarizing the evidence, timely and equal access to all parties of information used in the disciplinary meetings and hearings, and written notice of the determination. These requirements are specific to the district bound by the agreement, but may suggest the Office of Civil Rights’ expectations regarding investigations in K-12 schools.

Schools and school districts are likely to begin reviewing and revising their policies and procedures related to sexual harassment and sexual misconduct investigations.  While it is clear that some schools do not have sufficient policies and procedures to protect their students from sexual harassment, violence, violence, and discrimination, they should still ensure they protect the rights of accused students as well.

Parents should be aware that some college and university students accused of sexual misconduct have faced disciplinary action, including expulsion, without being afforded their due process rights.  Investigations are not always fair processes.  Allegations of sexual misconduct could result in serious disciplinary action from the school, and potentially criminal charges.  If your child is accused of sexual harassment or other sexual misconduct at school, you should contact the experienced school discipline and Title IX defense attorneys at Blair & Kim, PLLC.  We can help you fight to protect your child’s rights and education. Call (206) 622-6562 to schedule an appointment.

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