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Ed. Dept.: Title IX Coordinators Must Have Independence, Training, Visibility

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K-12 schools and higher education institutions that receive federal funding must have a qualified and trained Title IX coordinator to field complaints and monitor compliance with the civil rights law, the U.S. Department of Education said in guidance issued Friday.

The guidance, in the form of a "Dear Colleague" letter and a guide about the key elements of the law—which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex or gender—should serve as a reminder to schools that they have "a critical responsibility" to have a coordinator who has "the authority and support necessary to do the job," Catherine E. Lhamon, assistant secretary for civil rights, said in a statement.

It comes as the Education Department continues ramped-up efforts to address sexual assault on college campuses. In a question-and-answer session at the Education Writers Association convention in Chicago this week, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said the agency has received complaints about improper handling of sexual assault cases on the K-12 level as well.

While the general public commonly regards Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 as the law that ensures equal participation for women in interscholastic sports, the law actually applies to a much-broader range of obligations related to sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity.

"In our enforcement work, [the Department of Education's office for civil rights] has found that some of the most egregious and harmful Title IX violations occur when a recipient fails to designate a Title IX coordinator or when a Title IX coordinator has not been sufficiently trained or given the appropriate level of authority to oversee the recipient's compliance with Title IX," the new guidance says. "By contrast, OCR has found that an effective Title IX coordinator often helps a recipient provide equal educational opportunities to all students."

Here are some highlights from the guidance:

  • The coordinator's "role should be independent to avoid any potential conflicts of interest, and the Title IX coordinator should report directly to the recipient's senior leadership, such as the district superintendent or the college or university president."
  • Some school districts may choose to designate a coordinator for each building or campus so that they are more accessible. In that case, the district should appoint a senior coordinator to oversee efforts.
  • Schools should make their coordinator visible and known so that students know where to report concerns and ask questions about their rights under the law.
  • Coordinators should be appropriately trained and aware of all existing federal guidance about schools' obligations under Title IX.
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