Schools must provide safe and inclusive spaces for learning and enrichment. Sexual harassment law, for instance, is essential to every institution. Find out how Title IX protects students from various forms of sexual harassment and violence.
A backgrounder on Title IX
Title IX under the Education Amendments of 1972 refers to a federal civil rights law protecting students, faculty, and staff from sex and gender-based discrimination while participating in educational programs and activities funded partially or in full by the Federal government.
The law covers all local and state educational agencies and institutions that accept federal financial assistance from the United States Department of Education, including elementary schools, secondary schools, colleges, and universities. All their educational programs and activities that benefit from federal funds must be nondiscriminatory.
Further they may not retaliate against any individual who openly challenges unlawful educational policies and practices by filing charges, testifying against violators, or participating in complaint actions under Title IX.
How Title IX is enforced in schools
All educational institutions receiving federal assistance must designate a Title IX Coordinator, whose contact information must be accessible to all students, staff, and faculty.
The Title IX Coordinator is tasked with filing complaints of Title IX violations with the Office of Civil Rights. Students, faculty, coaches, and concerned members of the community may also file complaints on their own. In any case, the complainant must remain anonymous. Institutions cannot retaliate against complainants.
The Three-Pronged Test for Title IX Lawsuits
- Proportionality – This helps determine whether school programs and activities have a proportionate number of male and female enrollees and that there is healthy overall representation in the student population.
For instance, if 50% of the student body is male and the other 50% female, with their athletics programs also split close to 50/50, then it can be concluded that the institution is in compliance with Title IX.
But if the student population is split 50/50, but representation and participation in the athletics programs is say, only 20% female and 80% male, then the institution might be in violation of the law.
To improve compliance, the institution can strengthen its female athletics program by introducing new opportunities and activities.
- Expansion – This applies to institutions with a track record of having significantly fewer programs and opportunities for women, for example, but who show substantial efforts towards expanding programs and opportunities for women, they may be perceived as complying with Title IX.
But only if their expansion efforts are in line with the interests of female students, staff, and faculty (i.e. the school is expanding its athletics program for women who have been vocal about wanting to do sports) can the school be considered Title IX-compliant, even if they currently lag behind having equally robust programs for male and female stakeholders.
- Accommodating interests – If male and female students don’t have equal representation in school programs and there are no on-going efforts to accommodate student interests, the school can argue that they comply with Title IX because their current offerings already meet the interests of all their students.
They can satisfy the “accommodating interests” prong of the test by conducting surveys and gathering input from students stating that they’re satisfied with fewer opportunities or less funding, for example.
If the school is able to show that their female students’ interests are already being met despite the disproportionate representation in programs, then they are not in violation of Title IX. This is plausible in student populations where there is low interest in athletics, for instance.
However, schools must actively seek input proving that there isn’t enough interest in adding more sports and extracurricular activities.
While helpful, the three-pronged test for Title IX lawsuits has its limitations. For one, it mainly applies to athletics programs. It can be difficult to apply to other areas of discrimination, such as classrooms and entire campuses.
Moreover, it isn’t normally used to determine whether there is a Title IX violation in the school’s dress code, handling of sexual assault and harassment cases in the campus, or LGBTQ+ exclusion in education.
Lastly, many schools try to get around the three-pronged lawsuit test by simply cutting men’s athletics to create a superficial balance in representation and participation in their campuses.