This week, the United States Department of Education (DOE) announced a new Title IX enforcement initiative led by the DOE’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) to combat the rise of sexual harassment, sexual assault, sexual misconduct, and sexual violence incidents occurring in elementary and secondary (K-12) public schools involving both student-on-student and staff-on-student incidents.

OCR is an enforcement arm of the United States Department of Education which enforces a number of civil rights laws in programs or activities that receive federal financial assistance. “Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 (Title IX), 20 U.S.C §§ 1681 et seq., prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in education programs and activities operated by recipients of federal financial assistance. Title IX’s prohibition of discrimination includes sexual harassment and assault, which interferes with students’ rights to receive an education free from discrimination on the basis of sex.” [1]

The 12 OCR regional enforcement offices across the United States will conduct OCR initiated Compliance Reviews in schools and school districts which will include reviewing policies and practices around how sexual assault complaints and cases are reviewed and resolved at the K-12 level. OCR will also conduct data collection and reviews of data collection processes to ensure that school districts are accurately recording and reporting sexual assault incidents through the Civil Rights Data Collection system. Additionally, OCR intends to heighten public awareness of sexual assault in the K-12 school setting by making information readily available to school leadership, personnel, parents and families.

It is unclear how the proposed Title IX regulations (which have not yet been finalized) will impact Title IX enforcement in the K-12 school setting. However, Title IX should no longer be considered an issue reserved for college campuses. K-12 school districts and schools should review their existing policies and procedures regarding how to address, resolve and report sexual assault incidents at their schools. Here at Cohen Seglias, we stand ready to provide assistance with all of your Title IX needs.

[1] Secretary DeVos Announces New Civil Rights Initiative to Combat Sexual Assault in K-12 Public Schools