With the start of the school year well underway and the many things to remember and think about that come with it, it can be easy to forget some of the most essential elements of Title IX compliance. For example, when is the last time you checked to ensure that employees who are involved in Title IX investigations are clearly identified and appropriately trained on the requirements of Title IX? We all assume these ducks are in a row, but we’ve seen OCR find issues with these responsibilities time and again in Title IX complaints. The real rub: even if you handled the specific complaint that led to an OCR investigation perfectly, if your notice and training requirements are lacking you might still find yourself staring down months or even years of OCR monitoring for a procedural violation. What can you do now to protect against that dreaded outcome?
First, the Rules
We know you know the rules, right? Each college, university, or secondary or elementary school that receives federal funding is required to designate at least one employee to coordinate the school’s efforts for compliance and carrying out its responsibilities under Title IX. These responsibilities include, but are not limited to, investigating any complaints of discrimination based on gender.
But designating coordinators is only the first step. Title IX requires that all students and employees are notified of the name, office address, and telephone number of the employee or employees designated. In addition to the notification requirement, schools are required to make sure that all designated employees have adequate training regarding what conduct constitutes sexual harassment and are able to explain the school’s grievance procedure for sexual harassment complaints.
Who Should We Designate?
Your institution may wish to designate multiple employees to have responsibilities regarding complaint investigation. Having more than one designated employee allows students to have an effective means of reporting harassment if, for example, one designated employee has a conflict or is busy with other complaints. Consider which administrators already have investigatory responsibilities – deans of students are a great example. Remember, though, that if your institution decides to designate multiple employees as responsible for Title IX matters, one employee should be identified to oversee and coordinate all sexual harassment complaints to ensure consistent standards and practices.
How Much Notice is Enough?
Yes, it’s technically enough if the required information is in your policies somewhere, but remember that there are benefits to making this information easy to find (not the least of which is to avoid a complaint that it wasn’t clear). Here’s a test if you really want to know how easy it is for someone to find the information for your institution: pull out your smartphone or laptop and search “Title IX Coordinator [insert name of your institution here].” Did you find the information? If not, you may want to consider updating your website to make this information more visible.
Also, even though OCR no longer interprets its regulations to require notice of the email address for your coordinator, it is still a best practice. Use a generic email that redirects to your current coordinator (e.g., “firstname.lastname@example.org”) so you don’t have to change your information if your coordinator changes.
What Training is Required?
In addition to the specific requirements identified above, designated individuals should receive training on the fundamentals of Title IX, including administrator responsibilities and legal updates, as well as techniques for investigations. What is key here is to be interactive and to allow Title IX administrators an opportunity to apply their skills in a hands-on manner, so that an actual investigation is not the first time a Title IX coordinator or investigator puts what they learn in training into practice.
What topics are required? We recently held a Title IX training here at Franczek for K-12 school districts, allowing a diverse group of administrators to network and learn from both our team and other administrators from across the state. During this training, we covered the main topics that OCR recommends addressing in these activities:
- How to respond appropriately to reports of sexual violence;
- Handling sexual violence complaints;
- How to implement your institution’s grievance procedures;
- Working with and interviewing persons subjected to sexual violence;
- Information on types of conduct that would constitute sexual violence;
- Proper standard of review for sexual violence complaints;
- Information on consent and the role drugs or alcohol may play;
- Importance of accountability for individuals found to have committed sexual violence;
- Need for remedial actions for the perpetrator, complainant, and school community;
- How to determine credibility;
- How to evaluate evidence and weigh it in an impartial manner;
- How to conduct an investigation’
- Effects of trauma; and
- Cultural awareness regarding how sexual violence may impact students differently depending on their cultural backgrounds
Of course, the easiest way to ensure your training covers the requirements is to use ours! If you missed this training, don’t worry. Our team can bring this training to your K-12 institution, college, or university (contact the blog editors to discuss). We also will offer future dates for K-12 and Higher Education trainings in our offices in early 2020.