Tuesday, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) issued new, anticipated guidance concerning the Department’s current regulations related to sexual harassment. The guidance, titled Questions and Answers on the Title IX Regulations on Sexual Harassment, clarifies how OCR interprets schools’ existing obligations under the 2020 amendments. The Q&A addresses 67 questions covering a variety of topics ranging from general obligations under Title IX, sexual harassment, formal complaints, and participation in the grievance process to supportive measures, time frames, live hearings, informal resolution, and retaliation. The Q&A also includes an appendix containing example policy provisions addressing particular regulatory requirements. Continue Reading OCR Issues Q&A on Title IX Regulations on Sexual Harassment
The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, or OCR, recently issued a Notice of Interpretation stating that Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 prohibits discrimination against LGBTQ+ students and employees in public schools, colleges, universities, and other recipients of Department funds. This would not necessarily be big news, because the United States Supreme Court recently recognized similar rights for employees under Title IX’s sister statute, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. But it is news for schools. It’s the next chapter in OCR’s ever-changing position on this important question (from vigorous enforcement under the Obama administration to the Trump administration’s flip-flop in 2017 and subsequent clarification after Bostock in 2020). And although the information ED released answered some questions, many important questions remain. Continue Reading Unanswered Questions on OCR’s About-Face on Transgender Rights
The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights announced today that it will hold a virtual public meeting from June 7, 2021 to June 11, 2021, to gather information to improve enforcement of Title IX. OCR is seeking input from students, parents, educators, school staff, administrators, and other members of the public about what changes should be made to Title IX. This could include changes to the 2020 Title IX regulations or other agency action, such as issuance of guidance documents. Those who would like to submit input can provide written or live comments. For more information on how to submit comments, contact the author of this post or any other Franczek attorney.
Yesterday, the United States Supreme Court heard oral argument in its first case ever to address the discipline of students for speech occurring off-campus, on their own time, and online. The argument focused on what test should apply, the fate of political and religious speech under the proposed standards, whether schools can impose additional limits through extracurricular and athletic codes of conduct, and if the student in the specific case was too harshly disciplined for the speech in question.
A majority of the Court’s Justices appeared prepared to overturn the lower court decision, which had held that the longstanding “substantial disruption” test does not apply to off-campus student speech. A majority also struggled with whether—and, if so, how—to refine or replace that test with something clearer. Indeed, most seemed to lean toward deciding the case narrowly, finding that even if the substantial disruption test applies, the school did not meet it in this case. Such a decision would fail to provide school officials long-sought-after guidance on the bounds of their jurisdiction to address off-campus speech. Even though, as one of the attorneys noted, the “Court has not had a Tinker decision since Tinker,” there is a real chance that schools may have to wait decades more to get guidance from the highest court on this significant issue. Continue Reading United States Supreme Court Hears Argument in Historic Student Speech Case
It’s an all-too-common scenario these days: Students report sexual misconduct perpetrated against other, often unnamed students. They post anonymously on Instagram. They hang letters on walls or post complaints on bulletin boards. They hold protests and speak out at board meetings. Often, the allegations are nothing more than vague references to harassment and mishandling of reports by the institution. Our Title IX Decision Tree walks you through various decision steps of the Title IX process, including those related to bystander and anonymous complaints. We also have a free flowchart that addresses responding to bystander and anonymous complaints; email me at email@example.com to request a copy. For more on how to respond to bystander and anonymous sexual harassment reports under Title IX, keep reading here. Continue Reading Responding to Bystander and Anonymous Sexual Harassment Complaints
Today, President Joe Biden issued an executive order addressing Title IX, entitled Executive Order on Guaranteeing an Educational Environment Free from Discrimination on the Basis of Sex, Including Sexual Orientation or Gender Identity. Unfortunately, the order sheds little light on how the Biden administration intends to change Title IX and, as a result, warrants little practical change for schools, colleges, and universities. The order directs the new Secretary of Education, Miguel Cardona, to “consider” suspending, revising, or rescinding the 2020 Title IX rule, but does not actually take any action with respect to the Trump-era rule. Similarly, it directs Cardona to issue “new guidance” interpreting the rules, but does not provide any actual guidance now. Perhaps the most interesting part of the order is language directing Cardona to consider “additional enforcement actions” to enforce the new administration’s position on Title IX. Does that mean that the Office for Civil Rights will begin taking a different position when investigating Title IX complaints, even before new guidance or rules are issued? As we have discussed before, the most reasonable approach for educational institutions now is to stay the course, implementing the 2020 Title IX rules as written, unless and until the Department says otherwise. Even then, schools, colleges, and universities will need to assess whether new guidance or direction from the Department will adequately protect institutions from legal challenges from those who may prefer the 2020 rules. Because of the statement in the order, however, schools, colleges, and universities should work closely with counsel when they receive a request or internal complaint involving sex-based issues. This is particularly true with respect to LGBTQ+ issues, upon which the Department has taken more concrete policy actions to date. Continue Reading Biden’s Executive Order on Title IX Warrants Little Practical Change for Schools
Some Illinois school district clients have received emails recently about purported required Title IX training that must be completed by August 14, 2021. Are we experiencing deja vu? Or is there some new requirement that you don’t know about?
We have been speculating for quite some time now about what the U.S. Supreme Court will do with Title IX after its decision last term in Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia. The landmark Bostock decision held that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 bars discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and transgender status in the workplace. Although the Justices discussed Title IX in the oral argument and decision in Bostock, because of differences between employment laws and Title IX, many questions remained unanswered. A school district’s recent request that the Supreme Court hear a case involving transgender student access to bathroom facilities offers the high court a chance to answer many of the lingering, important questions. The case is one of the longest-running LGBTQ school cases in the country; the Supreme Court has even heard it once before. Here’s what you need to know now about the case and the request to the Supreme Court.
President Joseph Biden has been in office for over three weeks, bringing more changes in the realm of Title IX. Where are we now, what do we need to know and do, and what is expected to come? This is the second part of a multi-part series addressing some of the last gasps of the Trump administration and the opening salvos of the Biden administration, and what they mean for school leaders under Title IX. (Find part one here).
Our topic today is diversity, equity, and inclusion in schools, colleges, and universities. This is an important topic under Title IX because DEI initiatives include those supporting LGBTQ students and employees and other sex-based topics. Although the Biden administration has rolled back the most controversial of the Trump team’s orders with respect to DEI initiatives, schools, colleges, and universities should still be cognizant of the potential for lawsuits from private parties who disagree with DEI initiatives. Those challenges should not prevent schools, colleges, and universities from continuing important DEI work, but educational institutions should work closely with legal counsel to craft such programs in the most legally defensible ways.
Part 2: DEI Initiatives in Schools, Colleges, and Universities under Biden
In late 2020, then-President Donald Trump signed an Executive Order attacking what the order described as “anti-American race and sex stereotyping and scapegoating” by federal contractors and recipients of federal grant funds, including schools, colleges, and universities. The order addressed racial and sex sensitivity trainings in employment and in schools. What was the action and what changes have we seen with respect to this issue in the first few weeks of the Biden administration?