On May 6, 2020, the United States Department of Education released new Title IX regulations that establish how education programs which receive federal funding must respond to sex discrimination, including sexual harassment.
Much has been written about how the new rules apply to college classrooms and dormitories, but the new regulations also apply to elementary school playgrounds and high school sports programs. In fact, the regulations detail specific minimum responsibilities and requirements that apply to kindergarten through 12th grade.
The date of implementation of the new regulations for schools was August 14, therefore, the new regulations process for schools is now in place.
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, this legislation has always been and remains equally applicable to K-12 schools.
To be clear, the new regulations do not affect Title IX compliance relative to a school’s obligation to provide a fair and equitable athletic program. Schools are still required to provide equitable opportunities and treatment to students who choose to participate in interscholastic athletic programs.
The Office for Civil Rights (OCR) will continue to determine whether a school’s athletic program provides adequate participation opportunities through the “three-prong-test.” In addition, schools remain obligated to provide gender equity in the “other athletic benefits and opportunities” area that accompany sports participation.
As schools across the country develop budgets, accessing 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. A major focus in the regulations is to ensure that alleged victims (complainants) and perpetrators (respondents) of sexual harassment, are treated equitably during any complaint process. Among the key provisions for K-12 schools are:
When a school district has actual knowledge of sexual harassment, the new regulations prohibit districts from responding in a manner that is “clearly unreasonable in light of the known circumstances.” A K-12 district has “actual knowledge” when any employee has notice of sexual harassment or allegations of sexual harassment. While many states already have mandatory reporting statutes for districts, the new Title IX regulations essentially make reporting a federal requirement.
School district administrators and leaders should consider the following steps as an outline of some things that need to be done in order to meet the requirements of the new Title IX regulations.
Unfortunately, incidents of sexual harassment occur across the spectrum in K-12 schools. The new Title IX regulations increase the obligations K-12 schools have for addressing sexual harassment – including athletic departments. School district athletic administrators must take a proactive approach to address the requirements put forth by the new regulations. Among the essential steps for athletic administrators to undertake are:
Title IX is an important and valuable federal law. Schools have the responsibility to protect every student, and to ensure that they have the freedom to learn and thrive in a safe and trusted environment. Schools have a legal requirement to educate all students and they also have a legal obligation to provide a safe and orderly environment for students and, to protect their health, safety and welfare. This legal obligation also extends to education-based athletic programs.
U.S. Department of Education www.ed.gov
U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights www2.ed.gov
Association of Title IX Administrators www.atixa.org
Institutional Compliance Solutions www.icslawyer.com
Title IX Clearinghouse www.titleix.com
Stop Sexual Assault In Schools www.stopsexualassaultinschool.org
PA Coalition Against Rape www.pcar.org (Sexual Harassment Curriculum Guide)
Coaching Boys Into Men www.coachescorner.org
Peg Pennepacker, CAA, retired in 2017 after 36 years in public education serving 30 years as a high school athletic director. She is an advocate for Title IX and commits her time to educating and consulting K-12 schools. She can be contacted at pegpennepacker@ gmail.com or 814-470-7101. Pennepacker is a member of the High School Today Publications Committee.