Education Department to Curtail Civil Rights InvestigationsJune 22, 2017
On June 16, 2017, the U.S. Department of Education announced its decision to narrow investigations into civil rights violations at public schools and universities. The Department of Education is in charge of enforcing Title IX and its regulations and guidance. This includes investigating complaints about how schools handle instances of sex discrimination.
This scaling back means that the Department of Education will not fully protect students’ civil rights or address all the underlying issues that are a factor in complaints. Over the past eight years the Department of Education Office for Civil Rights (OCR) increased technical assistance and enforcement and provided critical guidance to schools, which led to better outcomes and safer climates for students at every level. In fiscal year 2016 alone OCR resolved 1,346 Title IX complaints that ranged from schools’ handling of athletics to sexual harassment.
Under Title IX recipients of federal education funding (such as schools) must adopt and publish a policy against sex discrimination, implement grievance procedures for when incidents occur, and ensure a prompt and equitable resolution of discrimination complaints. Students must be reassured that their rights under Title IX are being upheld by their schools and through vigorous enforcement by OCR.
The Department of Education also issued a problematic internal memo concerning the handling of sex discrimination complaints related to gender identity, which has raised questions about the administration’s plans for handling those cases. The memo fails to address a number of situations concerning transgender students, an area that had been covered by the Obama administration’s 2016 guidance — until Education Secretary Betsy DeVos recently rescinded it.
Also troubling, the new memo leaves the door open for OCR to cease enforcing Title IX in these situations. AAUW has serious concerns that this jeopardizes students’ rights to an education free from sex discrimination.
AAUW is pleased that OCR is still investigating Title IX complaints. But without a full commitment of time and resources to review systemic issues when considering complaints and to protect all students, regardless of gender identity, our country cannot fully say it is taking our students’ safety and civil rights seriously.
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