On October 17, 2023, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights announced that it resolved its compliance review of New London Public Schools in Connecticut. This review was initiated more than three years ago, on March 12, 2020.
OCR found three violations of Title IX and identified three compliance concerns.
Among the violations, OCR found the District did not adequately oversee the coordination of Title IX during particular school years. Interestingly, the years identified in this violation (2020-21 and 2021-22) occurred after the compliance review was initiated. OCR also found that the District did not equitably respond to complaints of sexual harassment involving employees or adopt grievance procedures that complied with Title IX.
Specifically, OCR found the District had multiple policies that overlapped in scope and applicability, causing confusion about which procedures would apply in a given situation. OCR reviewed four District different grievance procedures for resolving complaints of discrimination based on sex. OCR found the overlapping policies made it difficult for covered individuals to to understand their rights. Additionally, OCR found some of these policies failed to state required elements of the grievance process, including that both parties have the opportunity to present witnesses and other evidence and that both parties would receive notice of outcome.
While New London had policies in place to address sex-based discrimination, this review highlights the importance of auditing internal processes to ensure: (1) the appropriate stakeholders are facilitating and overseeing the process; (2) that internal policies do not overlap in confusing ways and are clear in their jurisdiction and applicability; and (3) that policies are complete and consistent with state and federal law.
OCR also found that there were two instances of employee involved sexual harassment where the District did not fully investigate the allegations. The District cited in both instances ongoing criminal investigations as the reasons it did conduct complete investigations into the employees. OCR noted that despite the criminal investigations, “the District had its own separate Title IX obligation to investigate the alleged discrimination.”
As a result of the review, OCR is requiring the District to:
Update its policies to ensure compliance with Title IX and to explain how their related policies and procedures interact and apply.
Provide OCR with a detailed description of the Title IX Coordinator’s responsibilities to ensure they comply with Title IX.
Hold a mandatory, annual Title IX training for District staff and administrators.
Administer a climate survey for grades 6-12 related to the presence and effect of sexual harassment and students’ understanding of how to report sexual harassment.
This resolution agreement is not binding on other schools or institutions, but its content can include important takeaways or reminders, especially as trends continue to develop in OCR’s reviews. The facts of the New London Public Schools review highlight important discussions to have with community stakeholders, including:
How are we writing our policies to ensure they do not overlap with other policies? And if they do seem to overlap, how are we clarifying the distinctions to the school community, including those who are tasked with administering the policies?
How do we navigate concurrent criminal investigations while documenting how we’ve met our Title IX compliance obligations?
What are our recordkeeping practices, and do they support our Title IX compliance?