Private and parochial schools that receive federal funding are, by federal law, required to comply with Title IX, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in education programs and activities. I have recently seen an increase in the number of private/parochial schools being investigated by the Office of Civil Rights (OCR), a unit of the Department of Education that investigates alleged Title IX violations. The recent investigations were triggered by complaints to the OCR by parents who feel that schools are not addressing sexual harassment (in these cases, male students harassing female students) in a prompt and effective manner. Complaints lead to a time-consuming and burdensome investigation which can include extensive document production and a formal interrogation of administrators, faculty and staff by attorneys employed as OCR investigators.
To minimize risk of a formal complaint and ensuing investigation, it is important to ensure your school is in compliance with basic requirements of Title IX. Cross-gender teasing, harassment and bullying can be regarded as sexual harassment, and should be quickly and thoroughly investigated and effectively addressed. Also, schools that received federal funding are required to publish a statement that the school does not discriminate on the basis of sex in the education programs or activities it operates, and that it is required by Title IX not to discriminate in such a manner. In addition, the notice must state that questions regarding Title IX may be referred to the recipient’s Title IX coordinator (who should be identified personally or by job title) or to OCR. Schools should also ensure all personnel understand their legal obligations to prevent, respond to and address these issues.
It is should also be noted that documents and information gathered by the OCR are subject to public information requests and can ultimately be used in the context of a lawsuit against the school. It is highly recommended that any school being subjected to a Title IX investigation hire legal counsel with experience in such matters.
More information can be found in the Title IX Resource Guide.
Allen & Gooch is providing this legal update for informational purposes only. This article should not be construed as legal advice or a legal opinion as to any specific facts or circumstances. You should consult your own attorney concerning your particular situation and any specific legal questions you may have.