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Title IX:

U.S. Department of Education Title IX Final Rule Overview

GUIDING PRINCIPLES

Title IX Coordinator:

Mr. Jeffrey Caron, Assistant Principal

p: Ext. 277

e: jeffrey.caron@gnbvt.edu

Historic Recognition of Sexual Harassment as Sex Discrimination

For the first time, the Department’s Title IX regulations recognize that sexual harassment, including sexual assault, is unlawful sex discrimination. The Department previously addressed sexual harassment only through guidance documents, which are not legally binding and do not have the force and effect of law. Now, the Department’s regulations impose important legal obligations on school districts, colleges, and universities (collectively “schools”), requiring a prompt response to reports of sexual harassment. The Final Rule improves the clarity and transparency of the requirements for how schools must respond to sexual harassment under Title IX so that every complainant receives appropriate support, respondents are treated as responsible only after receiving due process and fundamental fairness, and school officials serve impartially without bias for or against any party.

Supporting Complainants & Respecting Complainants’ Autonomy

Under the Final Rule, schools must offer free supportive measures to every alleged victim of sexual harassment (called “complainants” in the Final Rule). Supportive measures are individualized services to restore or preserve equal access to education, protect student and employee safety, or deter sexual harassment. Supportive measures must be offered even if a complainant does not wish to initiate or participate in a grievance process. Every situation is unique, and individuals react to sexual harassment differently. Therefore, the Final Rule gives complainants control over the school-level response best meeting their needs. It respects complainants’ wishes and autonomy by giving them the clear choice to file a formal complaint, separate from the right to supportive measures. The Final Rule also provides a fair and impartial grievance process for complainants, and protects complainants from being coerced or threatened into participating in a grievance process.

Non-Discrimination, Free Speech, and Due Process

The Final Rule reflects core American values of equal treatment on the basis of sex, free speech and academic freedom, due process of law, and fundamental fairness. Schools must operate free from sex discrimination, including sexual harassment. Complainants and respondents must have strong, clear procedural rights in a predictable, transparent grievance process designed to reach reliable outcomes. The Final Rule ensures that schools do not violate First Amendment rights when complying with Title IX.

A SCHOOL’S RESPONSE TO SEXUAL HARASSMENT

Under the Final Rule, any of the following conduct on the basis of sex constitutes sexual harassment:

    •  A school employee conditioning an educational benefit or service upon a person’s participation in unwelcome sexual conduct (often called “quid pro quo” harassment);
    • 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 school’s education program or activity; or
    • Sexual assault, dating violence, domestic violence, or stalking (as those offenses are defined in the Clery Act, 20 U.S.C. § 1092(f), and the Violence Against Women Act, 34 U.S.C. § 12291(a)). 1 of 3 protections);
    • Consistent with Supreme Court precedent and the text of Title IX, a school must respond when: (1) the school has actual knowledge of sexual harassment; (2) that occurred within the school’s education program or activity; (3) against a person in the United States. The Final Rule expands “actual knowledge” to include notice to any elementary or secondary school employee, and states that any person (e.g., the alleged victim or any third party) may report to a Title IX Coordinator in person or by e-mail, phone, or mail. The Final Rule also specifies that a school’s “education program or activity” includes situations over which the school exercised substantial control, and also buildings owned or controlled by student organizations officially recognized by a postsecondary institution, such as many fraternity and sorority housess.
    • Consistent with Supreme Court precedent, a school violates Title IX when its response to sexual harassment is clearly unreasonable in light of the known circumstances, and the Final Rule adds mandatory response obligations such as offering supportive measures to every complainant, with or without a formal complaint.
    • Schools must investigate every formal complaint (which may be filed by a complainant or by a school’s Title IX Coordinator). If the alleged conduct does not fall under Title IX, then a school may address the allegations under the school’s own code of conduct and provide supportive measures.

A FAIR GRIEVANCE PROCESS

The Final Rule requires schools to investigate and adjudicate formal complaints of sexual harassment using a grievance process that incorporates due process principles, treats all parties fairly, and reaches reliable responsibility determinations. A school’s grievance process must:

  • Give both parties written notice of the allegations, an equal opportunity to select an advisor of the party’s choice (who may be, but does not need to be, an attorney), and an equal opportunity to submit and review evidence throughout the investigation;

  • Use trained Title IX personnel to objectively evaluate all relevant evidence without prejudgment of the facts at issue and free from conflicts of interest or bias for or against either party;

  • Protect parties’ privacy by requiring a party’s written consent before using the party’s medical, psychological, or similar treatment records during a grievance process;

  • Obtain the parties’ voluntary, written consent before using any kind of “informal resolution” process, such as mediation or restorative justice, and not use an informal process where an employee allegedly sexually harassed a student;

  • Apply a presumption that the respondent is not responsible during the grievance process (often called a “presumption of innocence”), so that the school bears the burden of proof and the standard of evidence is applied correctly;

  • Use either the preponderance of the evidence standard or the clear and convincing evidence standard (and use the same standard for formal complaints against students as for formal complaints against employees);

  • Ensure the decision-maker is not the same person as the investigator or the Title IX Coordinator (i.e., no “single investigator models”);

  • For postsecondary institutions, hold a live hearing and allow cross-examination by party advisors (never by the parties personally); K-12 schools do not need to hold a hearing, but parties may submit written questions for the other parties and witnesses to answer

  • Protect all complainants from inappropriately being asked about prior sexual history (“rape shield” protections);

  • Send both parties a written determination regarding responsibility explaining how and why the decision- maker reached conclusions;

  • Effectively implement remedies for a complainant if a respondent is found responsible for sexual harassment;

  • Offer both parties an equal opportunity to appeal;

  • Protect any individual, including complainants, respondents, and witnesses, from retaliation for reporting sexual harassment or participating (or refusing to participate) in any Title IX grievance process;

  • Make all materials used to train Title IX personnel publicly available on the school’s website or, if the school does not maintain a website, make these materials available upon request for inspection by members of the public; and

  • Document and keep records of all sexual harassment reports and investigations.

SEX DISCRIMINATION REGULATIONS

Relating to sex discrimination generally, and not only to sexual harassment, the final regulations also:

  • Affirm that the Department may require schools to take remedial action for discriminating on the basis of sex or otherwise violating the Department’s Title IX regulations;

  • Expressly state that in response to any claim of sex discrimination under Title IX, schools are never required to deprive an individual of rights guaranteed under the U.S. Constitution;

  • Account for the interplay of Title IX, Title VII, and FERPA, as well as the legal rights of parents or guardians to act on behalf of individuals with respect to exercising Title IX rights;

  • Update the requirement for schools to designate and identify a Title IX Coordinator, disseminate their non-discrimination policy and the Title IX Coordinator’s contact information to ensure accessible channels for reporting sex discrimination (including sexual harassment), and notify students, employees, parents, and others of how the school will respond to reports and complaints of sex discrimination (including sexual harassment); and

  • Clarify that an institution controlled by a religious organization is not required to submit a written statement to the Department to qualify for the Title IX religious exemption.