In August 2023, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights announced that it resolved its compliance review with Newark Public Schools in New Jersey.
OCR found nine violations of Title IX and one compliance concern.
Among the violations, OCR found that the District failed to appropriately respond to reported sexual harassment. The District did not investigate multiple complaints of sexual harassment reported to responsible employees from 2017 through 2020.
OCR also found that the Title IX Coordinator was not coordinating the District’s efforts to comply with Title IX; rather, the “Anti-Bullying Coordinator” oversaw all student-to-student complaints implicating Title IX and this position did not report to or notify the Title IX Coordinator of any complaints. The Title IX Coordinator informed OCR that she had no role in the District’s investigation of any student-to-student complaints under Title IX, nor was she informed of their outcomes once complete.
OCR also found that the District failed to notify the school community about the Title IX Coordinator, and fewer than half of District employees could identify the designated Title IX Coordinator.
OCR reviewed 38 cases involving sexual harassment among students and found that the District failed to investigate at least nine of the allegations. When the District did investigate, OCR found that in both student-to-student cases and employee-to-student cases, the District failed to consistently notify parties of the allegations and outcomes of its investigations.
As a result of the review, OCR is requiring the District to:
-Update its website to provide accurate contact information for the District’s Title IX Coordinator;
-Ensure the Title IX Coordinator is coordinating the District’s efforts to address sexual harassment covered under Title IX;
-Publish revised policies which prohibit sex discrimination, including sexual harassment;
-Ensure all personnel responsible for any stage of the Title IX grievance process are adequately trained; and
-Implement an annual climate survey survey at each District school with respect to sex-based harassment.
It’s interesting to note the language in the agreement—”sex-based harassment.” This phrase is used in the proposed rules issued in June 2022, but is not found in the current regulations, last updated in 2020. The 2022 proposed rules define “sex-based harassment” in Proposed 106.2.
As always, 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 Newark Public Schools review highlight important discussions to have with community stakeholders, including:
-How are we ensuring that our community is aware of the Title IX Coordinator, who they are, their role, and how to contact them?
-Does the person designated as the Title IX Coordinator have the authority and duties to fulfill the obligations of the role, including monitoring the institution’s compliance around the prevention of and response to sex discrimination complaints? If not, who has that role, and should we reassign the coordinator title?
-How are we documenting notices to parties? Who is responsible for recordkeeping? How are we ensuring that procedural requirements are being met during each stage of an investigation or resolution process?