By Mary Kate McGrath - November 12, 2020
Title IX policy was recently updated on the federal level, requiring school districts, colleges or universities, and public institutions to adjust reporting protocol. In May, the Department of Education released new Title IX provisions, changing the process for investigating and managing claims, with widespread implications for safety management teams. Administrators for K-12 schools must be aware of the ED’s Title IX updates, and make the appropriate adjustments to school safety plans.
Title IX is a federal mandate that protects people from discrimination based on sex in education programs or activities that receive federal funding. The statute applies to institutions that receive federal funding assistance from the ED, including 16,500 local school districts, 7,000 post-secondary institutions, as well as many charter schools, libraries, and museums, as per the Department of Education website.
The new provisions - which largely impact processing of sexual assault and dating violence reports - will have the greatest impact on higher education institutions, but remain relevant for K-12 administrators.
K-12 safety managers should review the Department of Education’s Title IX updates and adjust their safety planning appropriately. The new policy updates will impact several key areas of emergency response, including threat assessment, investigation protocols, student support strategies, and communication with parents or other relevant individuals.
Emergency managers should reevaluate their security planning to align with these changes, making critical updates to their violence prevention planning, social services offered to students, and communication tools or protocols.
One key update for K-12 administrators to note is a requirement to “respond promptly when any school employee has notice of sexual harassment.” The Office of Civil Rights defines sexual harassment as any “unwelcome sexual conduct that creates an intimidating, hostile, or abusive environment that is so severe or pervasive it prevents a student from fully participating in an educational program or activity.” This new requirement requires administrators to have an effective procedure in place for managing sexual harassment complaints, as well as a relative timeline for completing investigations.
Several Title IX changes require administrators to take a more proactive stance. The emergency removal provision, for example, directly impacts threat assessment on K-12 campuses. The ED’s new policy rules that schools cannot remove a student who has been accused of sexual harassment unless they’ve gone through the complaint process. This means that any student who has been accused of sexual harassment or assault cannot be removed or receive an interim suspension - including participation in sports or other school-related activities - until the grievance process concludes.
There is a two-part threat assessment exemption to the new Title IX non-removal clause, which allows for an individual to be removed if found to be an immediate safety threat, according to Campus Safety Magazine. The exemption requires:
The new Title IX policy doesn’t mandate a threat assessment team for K-12 schools, but training a team on threat identification, assessment, and management can put a school in a better position to manage reports, both in regards to student safety and legal compliance.
Administrators will also be need to continue to prioritize safety and support for victims. While principals or other disciplinary administrators will be limited in their ability to suspend accused students, there are many strategies for managing student safety amid serious allegations. If possible, safety managers can shift class scheduling to avoid contact between victims and alleged assailants, provide a security officer escort between classes, or restrict contact between involved parties.
Title IX also allows victims to make recommendations about investigation proceedings, such as opting for a restorative justice approach or choosing to limit contact throughout the investigation. Teachers can also refer students to a guidance counselor or social workers for additional support throughout the grievance process.
The Department of Education’s new policies require all students, employees, and staff to have a clear, accessible option for reporting sexual harassment or assault. For years, safety experts have pointed to tip-reporting technology as a necessary part of proactive threat assessment and safety procedures.
The use of a two-way tip texting system can both empower victims of sexual assault to report an incident and provide administrators with a secure, expedient medium through which to begin the investigation process. The tip-reporting technology also allows students to report suspicious behavior anonymously, improving threat-assessment posture both for Title IX concerns as well as other potential risks.
Technology can also play a role in communicating Title IX changes and managing compliance with investigation procedure. A mass notification system can facilitate Title IX compliance by informing parents of Title IX updates and how it might impact K-12 protocol at the start of each year.
Keeping the community informed of procedures and protocols can ensure parents understand the process, and that students involved in a reported incident are guaranteed a swift and thorough response. It can also continue to keep channels of communication open throughout the process, allowing administrators to reach out to involved parties about the complaint and investigation at every step of the process, further preventing confusion and allowing victims to know their rights.
Mary Kate is a content specialist and social media manager for the Rave Mobile Safety team. She writes about public safety for the state & local and education spheres.
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