United States: Office For Civil Rights Issues New Guidance For Title IX Coordinators

Philip J. "Phil" Catanzano is a Senior Counsel and Paul G. Lannon is a Partner in our Boston office.

HIGHLIGHTS:

  • The Office for Civil Rights (OCR) requires a designated Title IX coordinator at all times to stop, prevent and remedy sex discrimination in education programs and activities.
  • Title IX coordinators must be adequately trained and given sufficient independence and authority to fulfill their roles.
  • OCR's new resource guide provides helpful guidance for Title IX coordinators in areas of recruiting and admissions, financial assistance, athletics, pregnancy, discipline, employment and others.

The children's rhyme regarding April showers bringing May flowers should be revised to include reference to April also bringing guidance from the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights (OCR). For the third time in five years, OCR has issued guidance to colleges and universities regarding compliance with Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. The focus of this April's guidance is on Title IX coordinators.

OCR's April 24, 2015 "Dear Colleague Letter on Title IX Coordinators" outlines several factors that colleges and universities should consider when designating and supporting their Title IX coordinators. The following is an overview of OCR's most recent guidance:

All Institutions Must Have a Title IX Coordinator

The Title IX coordinator role is of central importance to the implementation of Title IX. Consequently, the position may not be left vacant – institutions must have at least one person designated and serving as the Title IX coordinator at all times.

Title IX Coordinators Must Have Adequate Training

Title IX coordinators must be adequately trained on the different facets of Title IX and its regulatory provisions, OCR guidance, and recent case law. OCR states that an individual's prior training may be enough to qualify them for the Title IX coordinator role in "rare circumstances," but generally, training and mentorship should be provided to Title IX coordinators regularly and on an evolving basis to ensure compliance.

Title IX Coordinators Must Be Visible and Accessible

Everyone on campus should know who the Title IX coordinators are and how to contact them. Such visibility and accessibility requires regular and coordinated notice and training for the community, including students, faculty and staff.

Title IX Coordinators Should Have Sufficient Independence and Authority

Title IX coordinators should be provided the requisite independence and authority to implement the institution's sexual misconduct policy. OCR recommends that Title IX coordinators report directly to an institution's president or other senior executive.

Title IX Coordinators Should Avoid Conflicts of Interest

Conflicts frequently arise when Title IX coordinators are subordinate members of departments or have other reporting functions that overlap with their duties in enforcing Title IX. Accordingly, OCR discourages designating as Title IX coordinators persons who are also serving as general counsel, athletics directors, dean of students, or disciplinary board members.

Full-Time Role with Full-Time Resources

OCR encourages institutions to treat the role of Title IX coordinator as full time – not as one more hat for an administrator to wear. OCR also encourages institutions, especially larger institutions, to have multiple coordinators, typically deputies or designees, who can share or assume certain responsibilities as situations require, provided that one coordinators is designated as primary with ultimate responsibility for the compliance program.

Title IX Coordinators Need to Manage Institutional Knowledge

Title IX coordinators are expected to know:

  • the institution's policies
  • the campus resources
  • the community resources (local police, counseling centers, etc.)
  • training and awareness programs
  • the results of climate and environment surveys
  • the status of recent complaints of Title IX violations on campus and the outcomes of those complaints

This institutional knowledge requires data management skills and technical support. Proper management of this information allows Title IX coordinators to play a role that is increasingly important to OCR, which is the ability to effectively:

  • identify patterns of conduct
  • assess whether conduct is an immediate threat to an individual or the community
  • assess the larger environment on campus

If there is ever an investigation by OCR, the Department of Justice, or a state authority, Title IX coordinators are usually the investigative starting point because they are expected to be the most knowledgeable about the broader Title IX processes and efforts on campus.

Additional Guidance

Beyond the most recent OCR guidance, experience has shown that Title IX coordinators with the following capabilities are more likely to succeed in this challenging role:

Strong Communication and Data Management Skills

The Title IX coordinator's role is to coordinate institutional responses to sexual misconduct and improve the learning environment by eliminating sexual discrimination and harassment. Achieving those goals requires understanding and buy-in from many different constituencies. Poor communicators struggle to obtain the necessary cooperation of those constituencies. Similarly, Title IX coordinators lacking strong data management skills have difficulty collecting, analyzing and applying valuable information about how well the institution is achieving its Title IX compliance goals.

The Ability to Create and Execute an Effective Training Strategy

Title IX coordinators should be capable of creating and adapting a master training and awareness plan to ensure the various campus constituencies understand and fulfill their roles in Title IX compliance. Developing and implementing such a plan involves working closely with other campus leaders and groups to ensure training is provided in a consistent and effective manner.

Leadership Ability

Given the high profile, proactive nature of their responsibilities, Title IX coordinators must embrace a leadership role to be successful. They should take the initiative to identify areas of improvement, follow best practices as they evolve, troubleshoot, and seek out necessary support and guidance.

In sum, OCR's most recent "Dear Colleague Letter" confirms the critical importance of the Title IX coordinator role on campus. Given the ever-evolving legal requirements in this area, institutions should select Title IX coordinators who have the aptitude, experience and skills necessary to help keep their educational institutions compliant with OCR requirements.

Holland & Knight attorneys are experienced in advising clients about the role of their Title IX teams and can assist in providing the necessary training and support that OCR recommends.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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