Photo of Jackie Gharapour Wernz

Attorney representing educational institutions in a wide range of education and employment law matters.

The Title IX world is abuzz with expectation about the release of regulations from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights. The general consensus is that even if the Department makes some changes based on the 100,000+ comments it received on the proposed rules, any final rules released will roll back many Obama-era protections for students reporting sexual misconduct. Yet, even as the Department continues with its plans to lighten the load on institutions in the Title IX sphere, it recently issued a “blistering” report finding numerous Clery Act violations at the University of North Carolina, many of which have implications for Title IX compliance. This situation shows that institutional consequences are still alive and well in Betsy DeVos’s Department of Education, and it’s not the first time in recent history that we have seen this to be true—we’re thinking of the oddly intense decisions from OCR against Chicago Public Schools and Michigan State University. No matter how confusing the Department’s actions may be, it is our job to try to understand and follow the rules, whatever they may be. What can we learn about responding to sexual misconduct and Title IX from this recent Clery report?
Continue Reading Title IX Lessons from DOE Report Finding Clery Act Violations at UNC

My calendar has been full these past weeks with administrator trainings on Title IX, and one of the issues repeatedly raised is how age and maturity impact the analysis of whether conduct is sexual in nature. A recent report from Maryland provides a good opportunity to discuss this issue. Whether you are a K-12 or higher education administrator, this case is an important reminder of how age and maturity level come into play in student-on-student sexual misconduct investigations.

In this recent situation from Maryland, a group of fourth-grade boys was playing tag with a group of students, during which one boy made inappropriate comments and movement toward a group of girls. One of the boys wrapped his arms around one of the girls, as well. After an investigation, one of the boys was charged with a fourth-degree sex offense and second-degree assault.

The Office for Civil Rights (OCR) 2001 sexual harassment guidance addresses the issue of age and maturity, stating clearly as a preliminary matter that “[s]chool personnel should consider the age and maturity of students in responding to allegations of sexual harassment.” (2001 Guidance at iii). Where might age and maturity come into play in a case like this recent one from Maryland?
Continue Reading What Title IX Administrators At All Levels Can Learn From Recent Sexual Assault Charges Against 10-Year-Old for Playground Tag Game

Readers of the blog know that I recently presented at the ATIXA West Coast Conference in San Francisco, California. My presentation was on Title IX and employee rights—an issue I realized when I worked at OCR that many institutions were not thinking about as much as they should. It was a great experience to share my thoughts on the subject with a room full of engaged Title IX and HR administrators from K-12 and higher education institutions. Among other topics, we discussed policy issues, tenure and academic freedom concerns, and unique retaliation issues in cases involving employees. I know not everyone was able to make it out to San Francisco, so I wanted to share some highlights of the presentation here. My colleague Emily Tulloch and I will also present a complimentary 30-minute webinar on this topic on December 10, during which we will address these issues more thoroughly. We hope you will join in on the conversation then! For now, keep reading for some of the key points.
Continue Reading Title IX and Employee Rights: What Every K-12 and Higher Ed Title IX Coordinator Needs to Know

Last week, at an excellent and well-attended ATIXA conference at which I had the honor of speaking, ATIXA leadership reported hearing hints that the U.S. Department of Education intends to drop the new Title IX regulations at or near Thanksgiving. Why would they possibly do that? Because, as some speculate, we Americans are notoriously inattentive when we are stuffed with turkey and enjoying the company of our family and friends. If you’re going to release a cannonball of a regulation, the holidays are a great time to attempt to minimize the splash if ED wished to do so. Well, guess what? That prophecy looks like it might have some teeth.
Continue Reading Ready Or Not, Here They Come? Title IX Regulations Inching Toward Publication

What do many of the highest-profile sexual assault cases in our country have in common? Whether it is the high-profile case involving a Stanford swimmer or the contentious Supreme Court confirmation hearings for Brett Kavanaugh, we have seen the evolving understanding of “consent” take center stage in many of the most notable recent cases.

Consent education has evolved over time from the rhetoric of “no means no,” with its focus on express refusal as a precursor to stopping sexual conduct, to “yes means yes,” which requires affirmative consent to continue with sexual activity. Advocates argue that sexual education around consent must reflect these changes and nuances.

In Illinois, legislators responded to this call by passing Public Act 101-0579 (which began as House Bill 3550) in late August. The law amends the School Code to require Illinois public schools that offer sex education in grades six through twelve to provide lessons on the issue of consent. Training under the law does not necessarily check all the boxes required by Title IX, however. Read on for key takeaways for school leaders.


Continue Reading “No Means No” is Not Enough—New Illinois Law a Reminder of the Nuances Required for K-12 Sex Education on Consent

My Partner Bill Pokorny and I are getting excited about our upcoming trip to the Bay Area for the 2019 ATIXA West Coast Annual Conference. We are particularly thrilled to have been asked to be featured speakers at the conference! We will present on Title IX Employee Rights: The Hidden Risks Every Administrator Should Know. Here is a summary of our presentation: 
Continue Reading ATIXA West Coast Conference Here We Come! Franczek Title IX Attorneys Featured Speakers at Upcoming Title IX Conference

The U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments on October 8 in three closely watched cases addressing whether Title VII, which prohibits employment discrimination “because of … sex,” covers discrimination based on LGBT status. Commentators have recognized that these decisions may have important implications for Title IX, which prohibits discrimination “on the basis of sex” in education programs and activities receiving federal funds. As with Title VII, it is currently unsettled whether Title IX protects LGBT individuals. And courts interpreting Title IX often rely on decisions interpreting Title VII in reaching their decisions. In the oral argument in one of the cases, Harris Funeral Homes v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, questions by the Supreme Court Justices gave us even more reason to believe the case will impact the interpretation of Title IX as applied to transgender students.
Continue Reading Can a Transgender Female Student Compete on a Girls’ Sports Team? Supreme Court Justices Address the Question in LGBT Employment Case

In our recent training on Title IX Foundations and Investigation Techniques here at Franczek P.C., we discussed that schools often use informal processes for certain types of sex discrimination complaints. Whether some concerns are less serious (verbal bullying versus sexual assault, for instance) or there are perceived benefits of having administrators familiar with a particular population of students conduct investigations (e.g., deans of students), there certainly are many conceivably appropriate reasons for having different paths for different types of Title IX complaints. From my experience investigating Title IX complaints at OCR, schools frequently do this and doing so does not always create a Title IX concern. But a recent court decision from the higher education context provides some important reminders for schools at all levels of best practices for such informal paths to Title IX compliance.

Continue Reading Recent Court Decision A Reminder of Need for Extra Care with Informal Title IX Processes