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Keeping an Eye on Title IX

Joel Gerring

By Joel Gerring, MASB Assistant Legal Counsel

DashBoard, Sept. 21, 2016

With so much of the present dialogue concerning Title IX focused on LGBTQ situations, it may be time to reacquaint yourself with some of the other aspects of this educational amendment. While the current debate, regarding whether or not Title IX provides protections for transgender students as part of its mandate banning discrimination “on the basis of sex” continues unabated, it is important that districts do not lose sight of the other, more established, Title IX requirements. This includes equal access to athletic opportunities and sex-based harassment or discrimination.

As we have seen with respect to transgender matters, the Office of Civil Rights will vigorously investigate any perceived Title IX transgression, and has the power to enforce Title IX on a fairly comprehensive scale. This makes it crucial for districts to avoid OCR attention by understanding what is expected of each and every school, having the proper protocols in place, and making sure that staff members are trained with respect to recognizing a potential Title IX issue and knowing how to respond.

More often than not, a teacher will be the very first district employee to become aware of a possible Title IX complaint; whether it be a parent complaining about a lack of perceived support for a female athletic team (in comparison to a male team) or a student reporting an incident of sexual harassment, abuse or discrimination that they either witnessed or were the victim of. School staff must understand that their initial reaction in such situations is critical, as the “first contact” often sets the tone for the interplay between the complainant and the district moving forward.

Situations in which a school employee appears unconcerned or dismissive when such matters are reported to them can significantly hamper attempts by the district to resolve the situation appropriately and without OCR intervention. It is important to understand that, per OCR guidelines, any employee who has the “authority” (perceived or otherwise) to take action to stop, prevent or redress a sexual misconduct issue is considered a “responsible” employee, and the failure of a “responsible” employee to take appropriate action when necessary can result in a Title IX violation.

Of equal importance is identifying and training a proper Title IX Coordinator (or perhaps two, one of each gender) who can become the district’s primary contact for guidance, as well as its single voice with respect to navigating such issues. Title IX coordinators are responsible for facilitating the ongoing training of faculty, staff and students, keeping policies up-to-date and in compliance, overseeing investigations, in addition to many other things.

Demonstrating that your Title IX coordinator has received not only proper training but the necessary ongoing support from the district, is vital should a situation arise that draws the attention of OCR. These individuals should have the demeanor and competency to effectively carry out the grievance process, as well as an understanding of not just Title IX, but other state and federal antidiscrimination laws.

Districts are encouraged to take a look at their Title IX policies, examine their training protocols and, if necessary, get reacquainted with the “ins and outs” of this and other vital nondiscrimination laws.

Questions? Contact the MASB Legal Team at 517.327.5900 or legal@masb.org.

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