The public has until January 28 to submit comments on proposed regulations that were issued by the U.S. Department of Education in November concerning sexual harassment. Once finalized, the regulations will provide new requirements under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 that impact the way in which school districts, colleges, and universities respond to allegations of sexual harassment.
Title IX, which most people know as a law that contributed to the growth of athletic opportunities for girls and women, is more far-reaching than that. It prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex, including sexual harassment, in all education programs and activities that receive federal financial assistance. According to the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights, which enforces Title IX, the law impacts approximately 16,500 school districts and 7,000 colleges and universities.
To begin, the proposed regulations would define sexual harassment as unwelcome conduct on the basis of sex that is so severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive that it effectively denies a person equal access to the school’s education program or activity. In addition, the proposed regulations would require schools to respond to every known report of sexual harassment, investigate every formal complaint, and provide certain due process protections, such as the right to cross examine witnesses with the assistance of a lawyer.
As a result of this rulemaking by the Education Department, school districts, colleges, and universities will soon receive from the federal government long overdue rules that will require modifications to school policies and procedures.
Jonathan A. Vogel, a former deputy general counsel with the U.S. Department of Education and a former federal prosecutor, is the managing member of Vogel Law Firm PLLC, an education law firm focused on legal issues that arise relating to K-12, higher education, and student loans.