Despite their legal obligation, many elementary and high schools around the country still haven’t taken steps to comply with Title IX — the federal civil rights law, enacted in 1972, that bars discrimination based on gender in any education program or activity that receives federal financial assistance. Instead, schools often wait to develop protocol until it’s too late and lawsuits are in motion.
But with the average case costing schools $200,000, school leaders have plenty of incentive to ensure that they are compliant with Title IX, says William Howe — not just because it will potentially save money down the road, of course, but because it’s the right thing to do. Howe, former state Title IX coordinator for Connecticut who continues to train educators today, adds, “Some schools are ignoring it, but a lot of educators are just unaware.”
Many educators understand that Title IX requires them to provide equal opportunity to engage in sports, for instance, but they may not know that it is a broad law that also includes any discrimination based on gender identity, as well as sexual assault, harassment, and bullying.
Part of the problem, says Howe, is that Title IX compliance often needs to be pushed by school leadership, but with frequent changes in staff and superintendents, it can be difficult to make strides in bringing programs into compliance with the law. Add in the mixed messages often coming from the federal government about the law, and it’s easy to see how schools can lack initiative to take steps toward Title IX compliance. Newly proposed guidelines by the US Department of Education — an attempt to further clarify sexual harassment and the process of reporting and investigating incidents in schools — have only seemed to add to the confusion and debate, raising concerns among some advocates that students may be less inclined to come forward, even as a new emphasis on due process has been welcomed by others.