Within the past month, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) announced two resolution agreements regarding inadequacies of protections for students in violation of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. Title IX prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex and thus provides protections for students facing sexual harassment. The law requires schools to introduce efforts to prevent or reduce harassment by other students, not just school officials or employees. The recent resolution announcements remind districts of the importance of maintaining robust grievance and tracking procedures and of avoiding inappropriate victim-blaming in responding to Title IX complaints. 


OCR’s recent agreement with the Newark (New Jersey) Public School District illustrates this point. In this case, OCR found that there was discrimination present due to the district’s repeated failure to respond to or address the effects of harassment as well as total failure to prevent the recurrence of harassment. The district’s noncompliance was due, in large part, to a failure to adopt and implement grievance procedures that complied with the Title IX regulations, and to OCR’s concerns about the district’s ability to track or monitor harassment across schools. According to OCR, the incident involved students from multiple school buildings, but there was inadequate communication between buildings, as one building’s administration denied that they were informed that their student was involved in the alleged incident at the other building. OCR indicated this inadequate communication created an environment where reoccurrence was possible because it prevented adequate response. 


Another recent OCR resolution, arrived at with Nash County (North Carolina) Public Schools, stresses another important point: OCR may find that a school creates a hostile environment if they shift blame for inappropriate conduct onto the victim while failing to substantially address the offending behavior. In this case, a male student’s post-threatening sexual violence against freshman girls was reported to school employees. The school’s response was to file a police report and to call an assembly for only their female students, which allegedly addressed the matter by effectively blaming inappropriate activity on the alleged victims. Per OCR, school officials made statements indicating that “female students gave male students ‘everything they want to see in a female’” in regard to clothing and further stated that this was “why they [the male students] disrespect you.” After this assembly, school officials allegedly continued to “blame female students for harassment by male students and discouraged female students from reporting misconduct.” OCR indicated that this inadequate response and shifting of blame created an environment which impeded students’ access to the school and thus violated Title IX protections. 


More information about creating a safe environment in compliance with Title IX can be found on the OCR Guidelines page. If you have general questions about Title IX, please reach out to the OSBA Legal Hotline at (855) OSBA-LAW or (855) 672-2529. If you have questions about a specific complaint or situation in your district, please contact your board’s legal counsel.