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Three Takeaways From the OCR’s Guidance Package

Posted by On Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Without much fanfare, the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights issued a “Guidance Package” on April 24, 2015, which includes a Dear Colleague Letter (DCL), a Dear Title IX Coordinator Letter, and a Title IX Resource Guide. The three takeaways from the OCR’s Guidance Package are: (1) all primary, secondary, and postsecondary schools must have a Title IX coordinator; (2) Title IX coordinators must be given adequate authority and training to meet their obligations; and (3) interfering with a Title IX coordinator’s efforts to do their job violates Title IX’s anti-retaliation provision.

The DCL is a seven-page reminder that “all school districts, colleges, and universities receiving Federal financial assistance must designate at least one employee to coordinate their efforts to comply with and carry out their responsibilities under Title IX . . ..” Another significant guidance document—Questions and Answers on Title IX and Sexual Violence, released in April of 2014 — had already pointed out that designating a Title IX coordinator is one of three key procedural requirements in the Title IX regulations. This latest DCL leaves no doubt that this is not a matter of simply adding a title to someone’s long list of job duties:

This position may not be left vacant; a recipient must have at least one person designated and actually serving as the Title IX coordinator at all times.

An OCR spokesperson said that many schools currently under investigation do not have a Title IX coordinator. For example, Brown University just hired its first Title IX coordinator this month. Apparently, the OCR is lighting a fire under schools that have not yet taken this step.

The DCL lays out the Title IX coordinator’s responsibilities and authority, emphasizing that it is a Title IX violation to interfere with the Title IX coordinator’s performance of their job responsibilities:

Title IX’s broad anti-retaliation provision protects Title IX coordinators from discrimination, intimidation, threats, and coercion for the purpose of interfering with the performance of their job responsibilities.

To establish a strong and visible role in the community for the Title IX coordinator, the DCL encourages schools to create a prominent link on its homepage to a dedicated webpage with the Title IX coordinator’s contact information, Title IX policies and grievance procedures, and other resources related to Title IX compliance and gender equity.

To keep informed of the laws, regulations, and OCR guidance on campus safety, the DCL recommends regular training for Title IX coordinators and all employees whose responsibilities are related to the school’s Title IX obligations.

Also included in the guidance package is a Letter to Title IX Coordinators with a Resource Guide, which covers Title IX basics, as well as the Title IX coordinator’s administrative duties and role in helping schools meet their Title IX obligations. The letter contains this warning: “To be an effective Title IX coordinator, you must have the full support of your institution.”

As Catherine Lhamon, assistant secretary for civil rights, said in the OCR’s press release, “A critical responsibility for schools under Title IX is to designate a well-qualified, well-trained Title IX coordinator and to give that coordinator the authority and support necessary to do the job.”

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