Title IX is a federal law which prohibits school districts from discriminating against students on the basis of sex in exchange for federal funding. The U.S. Department of Education’s (“DOE”) Office of Civil Rights oversees school district compliance with Title IX, including the investigation and resolution of Title IX complaints when they arise. Locally, the Michigan Department of Civil Rights, by way of the Michigan Department of Education, also investigates and resolves complaints of sex discrimination in schools.
Historically, the DOE has viewed sexual harassment and sexual assault (referred to collectively as “sexual harassment”) as a form of sex discrimination under Title IX. However, there are no statutes or regulations in place that explicitly define sexual harassment as sex discrimination. Instead, the DOE handles sexual harassment complaints either through published guidance or rulings made by the United States Supreme Court. As may be expected, this has led to inconsistent and confusing results which leave many school districts unsure whether they are actually complying with Title IX’s mandates.
To combat this continued uncertainly, the DOE has released proposed regulations to definitively include sexual harassment as a form of sex discrimination under Title IX and to streamline the process for school districts responding to sexual harassment complaints. Specifically, the proposed regulations would:
- Define the conduct constituting sexual harassment under Title IX;
- Specify when a school district must respond to allegations of sexual harassment and impose a general standard for the sufficiency of a school district’s response;
- Specify situations that require a school district to initiate its grievance procedures; and
- Establish procedural safeguards that must be incorporated into a school district’s grievance procedures to ensure a fair and reliable factual determination when it investigates and adjudicates a sexual harassment complaint.
The above is only a brief summary of the law proposed by the DOE. For more detailed information, please visit the DOE website or click on the materials linked below from the DOE. Keep in mind that the proposed regulations are not yet law; the DOE must accept and consider written comments from the public before finalizing the regulations. Once the process is complete, however, we anticipate there will be much less confusion and uncertainty surrounding Title IX sexual harassment complaints which can only be a benefit school districts and students alike.