April 4 - The U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights (OCR) today unveiled guidance outlining colleges' and school districts' responsibilities under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 to respond to allegations of sexual violence.
The guidance, released in the form of a "Dear Colleague" letter, does not state a new position. Instead, the letter reinforces the requirements established in a 2001 document - Revised Sexual Harassment Guidance - by offering practical suggestions for staying Title IX-compliant as well as strategies to help prevent sexual violence on campus.
"Our primary goal is prevention through education," U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said on a conference call with reporters. "Information is always the best tool to combat sexual violence."
Title IX prohibits discrimination based on sex in any institution receiving federal funds. Title IX also covers sexual harassment, including sexual violence and any retaliation related to a previously identified hostile environment.
To be compliant under Title IX, a school, according to the guidance, must undertake three basic steps: 1) distribute a nondiscrimination statement to students and employees; 2) identify a Title IX coordinator by name, address and telephone number; and 3) adopt and publish grievance procedures and policies that ensure the "prompt and equitable" resolution of any complaints related to sexual harassment or violence.
The letter synthesizes many of the findings of recent OCR investigations, including problems identified on numerous campuses, such as a lack of appropriate grievance procedures and the use of a "clear and convincing" standard of evidence rather than the OCR-expected "preponderance-of-evidence standard" when weighing Title IX accusations.
A main point raised in the new guidance is that a school's civil rights responsibilities should not wait on the outcome of a legal investigation. Schools are responsible under Title IX for investigating complaints of sexual violence, regardless of local law enforcement's decision to pursue criminal cases.
Russlynn Ali, the department's assistant secretary for civil rights, made clear there is "no cookie-cutter approach" for universities to respond to sexual violence on campus, but that the Title IX statute creates a framework for schools to follow.
Look for further analysis of the new guidance in the May issue of the Educator's Guide to Controlling Sexual Harassment. For more on OCR letters of finding, see Thompson Publishing Group's database for subscribers at http://www.thompson.com. Log in and click on "Resources" to search the "OCR Letter Database."