1. When do the new regulations become effective? *

The regulations are set to become effective on August 14, 2020.

*The Pennsylvania Attorney General and 14 other states attorney generals filed suit against the USDOE seeking a stay of the implementation date.  Argument was heard on July 24, 2020 and the court-ordered briefing on whether the Department of Education has authority to make “failure to comply with the final rule a violation of Title IX.”

  1. What must my school district do prior to August 14, 2020?
  • Adopt new policy and share with all staff
  • Identify and appoint Title IX Coordinator
  • Update student/employee handbooks with Title IX Coordinator and policy
  • Update Title IX Officer contact information on website
  1. What is the role of the Title IX Coordinator?

The Title IX Coordinator is responsible for the coordination of the school district’s efforts to comply with its responsibilities under Title IX.

  1. When must training required under the new rule be completed?

School districts should work to schedule training on all required components with the beginning of the 2020-2021 school year.  Priority for training should be given to those individuals tasked with implementing the grievance process.

  1. Why does the policy refer to “sexual harassment” and “sexual assault”?

The new rule has defined “sexual harassment” as conduct on the basis of sex, that satisfies one or more of the following:

  • An employee of the recipient conditioning the provision of an aid, benefit, or service on an individual’s participation in unwelcome sexual conduct;
  • Unwelcome conduct determined by a reasonable person to be so severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive that it effectively denies a person equal access to the recipient’s educational program or activity; or
  • “Sexual assault” as defined in 34 U.S.C. 12291(1)(10) of the Violence Against Women’s Act (“VAWA”), “domestic violence as defined in 34 U.S.C. 12291(a)(10) of the VAWA, or stalking as defined in 34 U.S.C. 12291(a)(30) of the VAWA.
  1. What is meant by recipient?

A recipient is any public or private educational entity to whom Federal financial assistance is extended directly or through another recipient and which operates an educational program or activity which receives such assistance.

  1. Who is responsible for reporting possible sexual harassment?

All employees of K-12 schools are required to report possible sexual harassment.  Actual knowledge of sexual harassment to impose liability against a school district is as notice of sexual harassment or allegations of sexual harassment to a Title IX Coordinator or to any employee of an elementary and secondary school.

  1. Who can file a complaint?

Any person may file a complaint of possible sexual harassment.

  1. The policy refers to complainant and respondent what is meant by these terms?

The new rule requires equitable treatment of both the complaining party and the party responding to the allegations.  A “complainant” is an individual who is alleged to be the victim of conduct that could constitute sexual harassment.  A “respondent” is an individual who has been reported to be the perpetrator of conduct that could constitute sexual harassment. The respondent is to be treated as not responsible for the alleged conduct until a determination regarding responsibility is made at the conclusion of the grievance process.

  1. Will both parties be involved in each stage of the grievance process?

Yes.  The new rule requires equitable treatment of both the complaining party and the party responding to the allegations. Both parties will be provided an equal opportunity to participate in the investigation and appeal.

  1. What notice are the parties required to receive?

Upon receipt of a formal complaint of sexual harassment, the school district must provide written notice to the parties explaining the grievance process.  The notice to the respondent must include sufficient details known at the time concerning the allegations and that the respondent is presumed not to responsible for the alleged conduct and that a determination of responsibility will be made following the grievance process. This notice must also inform both parties of any code of conduct provision prohibiting the making of false accusations or knowingly submitting false information.   Each party will also receive notice of any meetings concerning the allegations.

  1. Will both parties have equal access to materials/evidence collected during the investigation?

Yes, during the investigation, both parties will be given an equal opportunity to inspect and review any evidence obtained as part of the investigation that is directly related to the complaint, including any evidence the school district does not intend to rely on reaching a determination of responsibility.

  1. How can a person file a complaint?

A complaint can be received verbally, phone, phone message, email, or regular mail.

  1. Can a parent file a complaint? Will parents receive notice?

Yes, any person can file a complaint.  Parents will be notified if a complaint is received involving their son or daughter and will nothing in the new rule restricts a parents’ legal right to act on behalf of their son or daughter.

  1. How will the school district determine responsibility?

The new rule requires an objective evaluation of all relevant evidence-including both inculpatory and exculpatory evidence-and provide that credibility determinations may not be based on a person’s status as a complainant, respondent, or witness.

  1. Who will hear appeals?

Following a determination, each party has the opportunity to file an appeal with the Board of School Directors.

  1. What are supportive measures?

The new rule requires school districts to restore or preserve equal access to its educational program or activities without unreasonably burdening the other party, including measures designed to protect the safety of al parties or the educational environment to deter sexual harassment. Supportive measures are non-punitive and may include counseling, escorts, extensions of deadlines, modifications to work or class schedules, and mutual restrictions on contact.

  1. Will complainants and respondents be required to meet face-to-face?

No. Live hearings are optional in the K-12 setting.  The policy permits each party to submit relevant, written cross-examinations simultaneously exchanged by the decision-maker.

  1. Is a student’s or employee’s right to free speech abrogated by this policy?

No.  The new rule does not restrict any rights that would otherwise be protected from governmental action by the First Amendment.

  1. The policy prohibits retaliation not only against an individual raising an allegation but also against anyone cooperating in an investigation. What does that mean?

Retaliation is prohibited against persons who are cooperating with the grievance process in any way, including the complainant, respondent and any witness or other persons who have provided information.

Christina L. Lane

Christina Lane is an accomplished school, municipal, labor and employment attorney representing public sector employers. She has extensive knowledge and experience with Title IX and often serves as a third-party investigator.