Title IX coordinators and their role

Knowing your schools Title IX coordinator and their role can help parents understand and protect the civil rights of their children.

As parents and other caring adults in the lives of kids, we want to know that young people are part of educational settings designed to help them thrive and that are free from hurtful and negative behaviors like bullying, bias and harassment. While many of us have some understanding about ways in which schools are working to ensure that students feel valued, included and affirmed, some of us may be unaware of the legal responsibilities of schools to ensure that our kids’ civil rights are protected.

All educational institutions that receive federal funding as part of their efforts – including schools, colleges and universities – have a legal obligation to comply with civil rights laws related to race, sex, disabilities and other areas of identity. These institutions are supported by the United States Department of Education Office for Civil Rights (OCR), which has a mission “to ensure equal access to education and to promote educational excellence throughout the nation through vigorous enforcement of civil rights.” The OCR periodically distributes “Dear Colleague” letters that share information about these issues, including schools’ responsibilities to comply with Title IX of the Education Amendment of 1972, the law that prohibits sex discrimination in education programs and activities. Title IX protects students, employees, applicants for admission and employment, and other persons from all forms of sex discrimination – including discrimination based on gender identity or gender expression that doesn’t conform to stereotypical notions of masculinity or femininity.

While some of the previous “Dear Colleague” letters related to Title IX have focused on understanding sexual harassment and sexual violence and the importance of distinguishing between harassment and bullying, the most recent “Dear Colleague” letter focuses on the role of Title IX coordinators. The letter reminds schools and other educational institutions that at least one of their employees must be designated to coordinate efforts to comply with and carry out their Title IX responsibilities.

So why might it be important for you to have a clear understanding of the role and responsibility of a Title IX coordinator? Studies have shown that sexual harassment behaviors are on the rise and that they’re becoming increasingly violent and happening to kids at younger ages. These kinds of behaviors – which can include unwanted sexual advances, sexual jokes and comments, homophobic slurs and sexual rumors – often contribute to a hostile learning environment. The Title IX coordinator is charged with helping school staff, students and their families understand the legal rights that Title IX provides in order to ensure that all students have equal educational opportunities and a safe setting in which to learn. Here are some of the key points stressed in the OCR letter:

  • Within a school district, one employee must be designated to serve as the Title IX coordinator to ensure the district complies with Title IX and to respond to complaints involving possible sex discrimination and sexual violence. This role involves monitoring outcomes to complaints, identifying and addressing patterns, and assessing effects on a school’s climate. Within larger school districts, there may be multiple Title IX coordinators designated (for example, one in each building or school); in these cases, the district must designate a lead coordinator who is responsible for providing oversight. The Title IX coordinator (or lead coordinator) reports directly to the institution’s senior leadership (for example, the school district superintendent), and the position of Title IX coordinator may never be left vacant.
  • Schools are required to share their non-discrimination statement with the school community along with the name, address, phone number and email address of the Title IX coordinator. This contact information must be widely distributed and should be easy to find on a school’s website and within publications such as school handbooks. The OCR encourages schools to create a page on their website that includes the coordinator contact information, Title IX policies and grievance procedures, and additional helpful resources. In districts with multiple coordinators, this information should indicate the contact information for the lead Title IX coordinator, as well as the other coordinators and their specific locations.
  • All Title IX coordinators must receive training and support to ensure that they understand laws, policies and procedures needed to effectively carry out their responsibilities. The recent “Dear Colleague” letter was accompanied by a Title IX Resource Guide that outlines some of the key issues covered by Title IX and lists additional resources for supporting this work.

These OCR resources – along with other materials available at the OCR website – can help school staff, parents and others learn more about students’ civil rights and schools’ responsibilities to enforce them. In addition, Michigan State University Extension provides a variety of resources related to helping parents and other adults understand issues of bullying, bias and harassment in the lives of young people. Among these is an initiative called Be SAFE: Safe, Affirming and Fair Environments, which is designed to help adults and young people work in partnership to create positive relationships and inclusive settings.

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