On September 8, 2020, an Education Dive article quoted me about two recent letters from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) on the impact on Title IX of this year’s landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision on sexual orientation discrimination in employment. OCR’s position: Title IX, like Title VII, now protects against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in schools. But that does not mean that schools can grant transgender students equal access to sex-segregated facilities or sports teams, says OCR. Media reports suggest the Department’s stated approaches are “totally at odds”–but are they? Here is a summary of the letters and why they seem pretty consistent, after all.
Continue Reading Is OCR’s New Approach to Trans Rights in Schools Really Inconsistent? Here’s Why It’s Not

When I was studying for the bar many, many years ago, I remember waking up about six weeks before the exam with a sinking feeling in my stomach, wondering “How am I ever going get this all finished in time?!” I can imagine many educational leaders are feeling the same dread looking at the calendar this week, wondering how in the world their institution is going to come into compliance with the new Title IX regulations by the August 14, 2020 implementation date. It’s not a matter of lack of effort–just like I did that summer before the bar, I know that you all have been working diligently to get everything done. But the sheer amount of work there is to do can be overwhelming. That morning, during my bar summer, after I woke up I sat down and came up with a plan for how to get everything done by the date of the exam, and began checking things off the list one by one. That, too, is the approach I recommend you take right now to help your educational institution down the path to compliance by August 14.  Here’s how to do it.

Continue Reading Six Weeks to the New Title IX: Here’s How Your Institution Can Meet the Deadline

ostrich head in sandFor anyone taking the ostrich approach to the Department of Education’s Title IX regulations—sticking their heads in the sand and hoping that a lawsuit will come along to blow these pesky regulations away—there may be some hope. Two recently-filed lawsuits, one by attorneys general from 17 states, including Illinois, and the District Columbia and another by the state of New York, seek to invalidate the new regulations under the Administrative Procedure Act or, at the very least, obtain an extension of the August 14, 2020 implementation date. Despite these and other pending lawsuits—including one from the ACLU filed in May—schools, colleges, and universities should continue to prepare to implement the new Title IX regulations on August 14, 2020. Educational institutions may wish to consider including language in new policies and procedures allowing quick changes if a challenge to the regulations proves successful. This would allow a return to governing documents currently in effect without normal delays inherent in educational policymaking if warranted by a court ruling.

Continue Reading Don’t Count on Lawsuits to Save Schools from the New Title IX Regs

It seems like all we talk about these days in the Title IX world is sexual harassment, as we scramble to implement new Title IX regulations that go into effect in August. Yet, this week brought significant news with respect to another side of Title IX—the rights of transgender students under the Federal law.

In a Letter of Impending Enforcement Action from May that came to light yesterday, the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) threatened to take away federal funding from six Connecticut public high schools and the state’s athletics conference for allowing “biologically male” transgender female students to compete on girls athletic teams, which OCR found violates the Title IX rights of the cisgender female students on the teams. According to OCR, female students, unlike their male counterparts, were denied the ability to compete “on a level playing field” in athletics by not being allowed to compete against only cisgender female students.

We know that the Department has been pulling back on Title IX protections for transgender students for some time, so why is this news? Because as Title IX has become less useful for transgender advocates, they have turned to state laws (including in Illinois), which have been instrumental in the fight for access to facilities and activities based on gender identity in recent years.

Federal law generally preempts state law, however, so if Title IX prohibits providing equal access because of impacts on cisgender female students, schools may be required to disregard state law to avoid violating Title IX. Although the OCR decision appears to be limited to the realm of athletics, we have come to learn that with OCR these days, nothing is certain. This OCR letter, coupled with an imminent decision from the U.S. Supreme Court in the Title VII case Harris Funeral Homes v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, threaten to drastically upset the certainty for educational institutions regarding the laws governing transgender rights in schools.
Continue Reading More Title IX Turmoil: OCR Athletics Decision Puts Transgender Rights in Flux

One of the biggest changes from the new Title IX regulations issued by the Department of Education last week is that, beginning in August 2020, OCR’s complaint findings will be based on standards very similar to those used by federal courts for decades in lawsuits for money damages under Title IX. The U.S. Supreme Court set forth the standards in Gebser v. Lago Vista Independent School District, 524 U.S. 274 (1998), and Davis v. Monroe County Board of Education, 526 U.S. 629 (1999). Those cases included the fundamental ideas that have now been codified—in modified form—in the Department’s final rule, such as the ideas that a school can only be responsible for sexual harassment that is “so severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive that it effectively bars the victim’s access to an educational opportunity or benefit”; when it exercises “substantial control” over the harasser and the “context” of harassment; and when it has “actual knowledge” of the sexual harassment. These cases also are the root of the “deliberately indifferent” standard that OCR will now use to decide if a school has violated Title IX. What do these standards mean, and what lessons can your institution learn from the court cases in which they were created and fleshed out over the past two decades?
Continue Reading Why Your Next OCR Title IX Complaint May Feel Like A Lawsuit

As we discussed in our blog post on May 6, 2020, the U.S. Department of Education issued on that day its long-awaited Title IX regulations, raising panic and concern amongst stakeholders on every part of the Title IX spectrum. Our Title IX Insights blog team provided some initial thoughts on the new regulations during a webinar on May 11; you can watch the recording here. This blog post answers some of the questions we raised during the webinar as well as some questions we received from the audience but did not have time to address. For more on the details about the final rule, check out the webinar recording and stay tuned to our blog for more insights to come.
Continue Reading 9 for IX: Nine Essential Questions Answered About the New Title IX

After almost one-and-a-half years since issuing its original proposed rule, the U.S. Department of Education has issued final Title IX regulations effective August 14, 2020. Although analyzing the changes will take some time, what follows is a brief initial summary of some of the main changes in the final rule. Please join us for a complimentary webinar breaking down the new rule on Monday, May 11, 2020, at 11:30 a.m. We will be working on providing you more insights, as well, in the coming days.
Continue Reading They’re Finally Here: U.S. Department of Education Issues Title IX Regulations

Hand with garbage against full trash cans with rubbish bags overflowing onto the pavement.

The confusing messages coming from the U.S. Department of Education continue. We still await more information on if/when a final version of the pending Title IX regulations will be released. Those regulations have been almost universally described as rolling back Federal regulatory oversight in the Title IX realm for schools, colleges, and universities. Yet today, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos announced a “New Civil Rights Initiative to Combat Sexual Assault in K-12 Public Schools” that suggests elementary and secondary schools can expect an uptick in enforcement in this area starting today. The specific target: the purported uptick in elementary and secondary schools of the phenomenon known as “passing the trash.” This is where teachers who have engaged in sexual misconduct with a student or other minor are fired but allowed to find employment at another school. What can you expect from OCR in light of this initiative and what should K-12 schools do now to prepare?
Continue Reading Garbage In, Garbage Out: ED Department Takes Aim at K-12 Schools “Passing the Trash”

With guest editor Kendra Yoch

As an Office for Civil Rights (OCR) investigator, I was surprised by the number of times I saw the same issues again and again in Title IX sexual misconduct investigations. Nowhere was this more evident than with confidentiality issues. Three of the most common repeat confidentiality concerns in Title IX investigations are the failure to adequately describe the impact confidentiality may have on an institution’s investigation, misunderstandings about the information that can be shared with a reporting party after resolution, and the assumption that OCR will not have access to identifying information during an investigation. Let’s unpack these mistakes so that you can avoid them in your next Title IX investigation.
Continue Reading Learn From These Three Confidentiality Mistakes Before Your Next Title IX Investigation

Open DoorThe U.S. Department of Education has created a “new, proactive” civil rights compliance center within its Office for Civil Rights. The Department describes the Outreach, Prevention, Education and Non-discrimination, or OPEN, Center as an effort to “support[ ] school districts, colleges, and those closest to students” by providing educational institutions “technical assistance to help them come into compliance with federal civil rights laws prior to the filing of a complaint.” Yet OCR retains the right to open “directed investigations” and “compliance reviews” against educational entities without a complaint; is there a risk that opening your doors to the OPEN Center could put you at risk of further OCR enforcement.
Continue Reading Should You OPEN Your Institution’s Doors to OCR: New Civil Rights Office Raises Questions