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

wish listIn recent weeks, I have been lucky enough to be involved in the conversation about what changes the Biden administration should make under Title IX. In addition to informal discussions with colleagues, administrators, and associations, Real Clear Investigations interviewed me for a recent piece. I discussed the pressure that many schools felt under the Obama administration as one reason the Biden team should not simply return us to the Title IX guidance of that era.

Most conversations, including the Real Clear Investigations interview and article, focus primarily on Title IX and higher education. To some extent, that makes sense. There are more Title IX incidents in higher ed. Colleges and universities have and dedicate more resources toward the process. The highest-profile cases of mishandled complaints are from the higher ed space.

But K-12 administrators have been working hard since May 6, 2020, to implement the new Title IX regulations. They are already feeling the real impacts of the new rules in the schoolhouse (whether in-person, hybrid, or virtual). I have trained thousands of administrators during the summer and fall and helped countless others write policies and respond to complaints under the new rules. I have heard time and again how much in the 2020 rules are not workable for K-12 schools. If K-12 administrators had a wish list for the Biden transition team regarding their genuine and unique concerns, what might it be? Here are the top three considerations as I see them.


Continue Reading A K-12 Holiday Wish List for The Next “New” Title IX

Over 100 self-described advocates for civil rights and student survivors of sexual assault and harassment recently signed a letter asking President-elect Joe Biden to “stop enforcement” of the new Title IX rules “as soon as [he] takes office.” As discussed elsewhere on this blog, there is an open question about whether such a quick reversal on the Title IX rules is possible. Unless done well, a fast rollback of the rules could put schools, colleges, and universities between a legal rock and a hard place. Some of the other requests in the letter face fewer barriers to implementation. Although the letter is only one source in a crowded discussion about what the Biden administration should do concerning Title IX and civil rights, it is an interesting addition to the discussion of what changes might be afoot under the new administration.

Continue Reading Hundreds of Organizations Ask Biden for Immediate Change in Title IX; How Realistic are the Demands?

When it issued its final Title IX regulations in May 2020, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights said in the preamble to the rules that it would not enforce the final rules retroactively. It repeated that position in a blog post on August 5, 2020, saying unequivocally that “the Rule governs how schools must respond to sexual harassment that allegedly occurs on or after August 14, 2020.” Schools, colleges, and universities rightfully understood that they should use their old Title IX procedures to address conduct occurring before August 14, 2020.

A recent court decision from the Northern District of New York has called that understanding of the new regulations into serious doubt. The court refused to grant OCR any real deference on whether educational institutions should use new Title IX procedures for pre-August 14 conduct. There are some critical features of the case that schools, colleges, and universities can rely on to support using old Title IX procedures for conduct that occurred before the effective date of the new rules. But there is no question that the decision increases the risk of legal challenges by respondents against their schools for using old procedures in ongoing or new cases. Educational institutions should work with legal counsel to address whether the court’s decision necessitates changes to the processing of existing or future complaints under Title IX.
Continue Reading Are the New Title IX Regulations Retroactive? One Court Says Yes

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