Last month a local district suspended one of its high school boys and moved to expel him. Even in a pandemic, that was not out of the ordinary. But then the district’s officials paused. The new Title IX regulations have already changed the way schools act.
Officials suspended the boy for a video he made on campus. He taped himself posing sexually explicit questions to female classmates. This clearly violated the district’s code of conduct. Normally the Superintendent would have proceeded directly to expel him.
Instead, an assistant principal referred the video to the district’s Title IX Coordinator. Without waiting for a formal complaint, the Coordinator immediately offered ‘supportive measures’. Both the girls and the boy could have counseling, more time to finish assignments and changes to their schedule. The boy could be kept from the girls when his discipline ended and he returned to campus.
The Coordinator told each student they had rights under Title IX. They could ask for an investigation. They could have an advisor of their choice. They could present evidence of their side of the matter. They could challenge the side’s evidence and cross-examine its witnesses.
A year ago the district wouldn’t have seen the need to make these offers. It’s not that officials ignored sexual harassment. Ever since the US Supreme Court’s opinion in Davis v. Monroe in 1999, schoolchildren have had the power to take officials to court for knowingly allowing another student to abuse them. But this gave officials room for judgment. From judges’ decisions they knew what they might do to avoid legal liability for harassment. Indeed, they might have taken many of the same steps these officials took, supporting and protecting the girls — although probably not the boy.
The difference in 2021 is that K – 12 officials are under a spotlight from the federal government. Last year the United States Department of Education wrote new Title IX regulations. Schools must follow them or lose federal funding. The new rules tell administrators exactly what they must do when faced with unwelcome sexual conduct between students. Officials now have no opportunity for independent judgment. They must take the steps these officials took, and more, or risk federal funds.
The new Title IX regulations may change. Some in Washington have decried their ‘favoritism’ towards the ‘perpetrator’. But until that happens, officials like the ones at this local district will have to act quickly when they hear of questionable behavior, even if it means putting discipline on hold.