It is natural to hope that your child won't be involved in Title IX or sexual misconduct allegations while they're in grade or high school. After all, many of the prevalent Title IX cases that we see in the news occur at the college level.
Unfortunately, K-12 schools are often the scene of similar events. Missteps and miscommunications can occur at any academic level. When they do, Title IX processes often come into play. Title IX is a national law affecting all schools in the United States—even those where young children study.
If your student needs to navigate Title IX allegations, or if you suspect that someone at your school could be guilty of Title IX misconduct, you're going to need an experienced professional to help you make the best decisions possible in your case. It's key to remember that Title IX is a niche area of practice. Not every attorney is going to know the nuances of properly handling these complicated, sensitive cases.
Reaching out to a national Title IX attorney or student defense lawyer is a far better idea than speaking with a local attorney. Why? A national Title IX attorney can help you, wherever you are, with the specific experience and expertise you need. Title IX cases are often heated. Schools don't always handle them well. When your student's future is at stake, you need the most precise experience possible on the case.
Title IX Cases at United States K-12 Schools
If you search the news, you will see that schools are rife with Title IX and sexual misconduct cases. Unfortunately, many of these stories make it clear that these schools are not well-equipped to manage these cases in a clear or fair manner. At one school in Colorado, a multi-year case involving sexual harassment was met mainly with vagueness and inaction on the part of the school. As a result, all parties involved were left hanging for a large fraction of the involved students' high school experiences.
Across the country, in Virginia, one teenage boy received accusations of sexual assault at two separate high schools. In a Texas case, a fifteen-year-old girl accused a seventeen-year-old of assaulting her on their high school campus. In a Florida high school, a fourteen-year-old accused a senior of rape.
Clearly, these cases happen, yet high schools don't often have the training or experience to handle these cases properly. As a result, many involved students don't get the chance to tell their side of the story. Often, these stories get out—regardless of the confidentiality concerns—and damage the reputation of the involved students for years to come. The school itself often wishes to close the matter as soon as is possible, so the administration handles the case sloppily and unfairly.
When you consider the fact that the majority of K-12 sexual misconduct and Title IX allegations tend to be false claims—or claims based upon a lack of communication or a mistake—it becomes clear that the poor handling of these cases may result in direct harm to innocent students' lives.
At the Lento Law Firm, we want to make sure that you and your loved ones have the resources and support you need to protect your future, regardless of past missteps or miscommunications. We'll start by delving into Title IX, its recent updates, and how K-12 schools across the nation tend to handle these types of cases.
What Is Title IX?
First established as part of the Education Amendments of 1972, Title IX is a civil rights law that initially sought to ensure gender-neutral decisions in school actions. These included athletics, benefit determinations, school admissions, and even employment.
Since 1972, the legislation and regulations associated with Title IX have expanded. Now, any school that accepts federal funding must follow Title IX regulations regarding sexual misconduct or risk losing that funding. K-12 schools, in addition to universities and colleges, fall under the jurisdiction of Title IX.
From a school's point of view, Title IX created a federal regulation and a specific standard that schools need to uphold while they are managing any sexual violence or sexual discrimination cases. While many may think that these standards only apply to colleges and universities, they actually apply to K-12 schools as well. The standards that schools need to follow include:
- Writing, publishing, and following immediate and clear procedures for all sexual misconduct allegations a school receives
- Selecting a specific person on campus to receive and handle all instances of sexual violence
- Using “preponderance of the evidence” as the standard of evidence in Title IX hearings
- Ensuring that all parties involved in a Title IX hearing have access to the same resources and support—including advisors, appeals, and evidence presentation
- Ensuring that all parties involved are protected from retaliation
Unfortunately, adhering to Title IX is not exactly simple because these standards tend to change or receive updates in the way they're interpreted on a regular basis.
Recent Updates to Title IX: From Years Past to 2020 and Beyond
Title IX tends to oversee relatively hot-button cases. Perhaps because of this, the rights of the accused in Title IX cases have been a subject of extreme tension over the past several years. Each of the most recent presidential administrations, for example, has issued its own recommendations for how schools need to handle sexual misconduct.
Schools have had to scramble to update their regulation to match a new paradigm shift every few years. This has not led to a clearer understanding of Title IX, its protections, its nuances, and how to navigate cases regulated by Title IX.
Prior to 2017, the Office for Civil Rights was the governing authority on school-related sexual assault. United States schools received specific instruction from that office regarding the standards of evidence and methods for handling Title IX cases at that time. These methods tended to favor the complainants in a Title IX case, instituting several standards that made it very difficult for the accused to enjoy any protections at all. For example, at the time, the OCR lowered the standard of evidence necessary to demonstrate responsibility in the case, restricted the ability to cross-examine during Title IX hearings, and did not allow schools the ability to offer accused students the opportunity for an informal resolution. Since these guidelines often heavily tilted the likelihood of a win towards the complainant in a case, there are those that say these standards “ruin[ed] the educations and often the lives of countless students” of many recipients of sexual misconduct allegations.
More recently, under the Trump administration, the Department of Education issued a comprehensive update to Title IX that may have allowed schools to take a more balanced approach when overseeing Title IX cases. Schools could allow students to pursue informal resolution processes, for example, and schools needed to require a higher standard of evidence to determine responsibility for an involved student.
Newer Title IX Updates in 2021
Now, in 2021, the Biden Administration is starting to move back toward heightened Title IX enforcement. Many fear a reissuing of harsh rules that would force schools to treat accused students in Title IX cases unfairly. Recently, in the summer of 2021, the Department of Education released a document that may constitute the first steps towards re-establishing the pre-2017 paradigm.
This is a lengthy and complicated document. However, the popular interpretation of the Biden-Harris question-and-answer document seems to demonstrate that, in order for schools to be compliant with Title IX going forward, they need to consider broader enforcement regulations. These actions could include:
- Pursuing adjudicative actions and potentially meting out sanctions based on a school's own definition of sexual misconduct, which could be much broader than the more-narrow Title IX definitions
- Meting out disciplinary charges for alleged off-campus sexual misconduct actions
- Allow school staff members, including professors, to pursue disciplinary charges from merely a public report of misconduct or an observation (e.g., no specific complainant required)
- Removing the accused parties from the school campus during a pending investigation
- Rushing due process to complete the entire set of procedures, including an investigation and hearing, within sixty days
- No longer considering pre-hearing statements from witnesses who are not available to testify at a Title IX hearing
Clearly, these standards could make life as a student accused of sexual misconduct much harder than necessary. For the vast majority of accused students who are the recipient of false or misunderstood allegations, this could wreak their educational experience (and their entire future) for no real reason.
What Does the New Title IX Guidance Mean for My Accused Student?
If your student is navigating their grade- or high-school experience in the aftermath of an allegation under these broader, harsher rules, you'll need to be on your guard. It may be much easier for your school to slap your student with severe sexual misconduct disciplinary charges. This is because your school's definition of misconduct may be wider. Your student may not even reasonably know that their behavior put them in danger of Title IX misconduct charges—e.g., if the cited violation is something like “invasion of privacy” or another similarly vague term.
Unfortunately, the potential lack of fair treatment does not end there. Under the new guidance, your child's likelihood of experiencing a fair adjudication is reduced. Your school's focus may be less on uncovering the truth and more on demonstrating to the government that they took decisive action. This may not bode well for your student's future.
Common Types of Title IX Infractions in K-12 Schools
You may wonder just how common Title IX infractions are at K-12 schools. Outside of loud, splashy media stories, do these violations really happen at the average local high school? After all: K-12 students are young. Even high school students are teenagers—kids, just figuring it out.
Middle and high school are also natural times to be figuring out sexual behaviors for the first time. Sexual behavior can span a wide range of actions, actions that can range from completely typical to problematic. In some cases, when students are just starting to experiment with their sexuality, it can be hard to know where the line is.
Much more frequently, however, Title IX allegations at the high school level are the result of miscommunications or misunderstandings. That's one of the reasons that it is so vital for accused students in these scenarios to receive fair treatment: Often, they are bewildered, confused, and innocent people caught up in an overly harsh system.
Largely speaking, any sexual contact or behavior that occurs without the full consent of all parties can constitute prohibited actions. Your school's code of conduct should spell out the specific actions that your school considers punishable under Title IX or under a more general sexual misconduct policy. These actions can include:
- Sexual aggression, violence, or assault
- Sexual words, comments, pictures, jokes, or suggestions
- Unwanted sexual advances
- Solicitation or harassment on the basis of sex over the internet
- Acting in an overtly sexual manner
- Spreading hurtful sexual rumors
As you can see, this (non-exhaustive) list of actions can range from clearly concerning, dangerous actions (e.g., rape) to actions that may be problematic but likely shouldn't merit the ruination of a child's entire future.
A Title IX investigation and adjudication can—even if it's for a lesser infraction (or a false allegation).
How K-12 Schools Respond to Title IX Allegations
The specific methods of Title IX and sexual misconduct due process may vary slightly from school to school. In order to know best what the standards are at your school, it's a good idea to check your school's code of conduct. This is a lengthy, likely confusing document that your school should make readily available to all students and families. It may be on your school's website or exist as a section in your school's student handbook.
You can likely expect some iteration of the following sequence of events:
- A parental notification. Your school should send you an official notice regarding the allegations against your student. This notice should contain information about your school's Title IX proceedings, as well as the specific part of your school's code of conduct or Title IX regulations that your student has allegedly violated.
- An investigation. Your school will take some time to determine what has really happened. This may involve questioning witnesses and reviewing an array of evidence, including information about your child (e.g., social media postings).
- A meeting. Your school should schedule a meeting between parents and school authorities. If it's an official Title IX hearing, your student should also be able to state their case.
- A determination of responsibility. Your school will review the evidence and come to a decision regarding your student's responsibility in the matter. Then, your school will recommend sanctions.
- After this, you will have the choice to either live with the sanctions or file an appeal (if you have the strategic basis to do so). You will typically only have a very short period of time in which you can file an appeal. After you appeal, even if your school decides not to reconsider your student's sanctions, your school's decision will be final.
The Appeals Process at K-12 Schools
You may be able to file an appeal on behalf of your student to prompt your school to reconsider any recommended sanctions. The specific process for doing so can vary widely from school to school. In any case, you'll need to provide a compelling basis for asking the school to reopen negotiations as well as a well-written persuasive or argumentative statement. Once you file this with the relevant authorities, they will take time to consider your case and potentially offer an updated sanction. Alternatively, they may refuse to budge. In either case, typically, their decision is final.
What Sanctions Can My K-12 Student Expect in a Title IX Case?
Your K-12 school's code of conduct will likely contain some type of rubric detailing the types of sanctions your student can expect for differing levels of offenses. The sanctions available may range from a lowered grade or detention all the way to suspension and dismissal. Sexual misconduct of virtually any kind will usually earn the involved student a suspension or dismissal.
Why is this a big deal?
If your student receives a suspension, by the nature of that punishment, they won't be in school for some period of time. As a result, there will be a gap in their academic transcript. Later, when they try to apply to the college of their dreams (or another high school, or an internship, or even a job), the admissions committee will review your student's transcript. Your student will need to explain away that transcript gap. This can result in long-term implications and ramifications. Not only will your student have a permanent mark on their academic record, but they'll also have a much harder time getting into another school or a good college. They may have to settle for a school with lesser academic standards, postpone their schooling, or pursue a course of study that results in them later getting a job they don't want, or that doesn't pay as well as they'd hoped.
While it may seem like an overreaction to measure in years the effects that your student's Title IX or sexual misconduct experience could have, there's no such thing as overreacting when it comes to your student's future. If your student is facing Title IX allegations now, you need to take action to ensure that this doesn't get out of hand.
Your K-12 Student's Title IX Investigation: How to Handle It Well
If you find out that your child has been involved in a sexual misconduct violation and you suspect that Title IX charges may be around the corner, you need to work quickly to make sure that you're able to put your family in the most favorable position possible. As we've mentioned, it's very likely that the odds will simply not be in your favor. It's vital that you take extra steps to avoid anything that could throw a further wrench in your child's case.
Don't say anything. To a friend, to anyone from your student's school, to the other involved parties—no one. Your child may wish to confide in their friends. You may want to seek answers from trusted teachers at your school. Regardless of the circumstances, even if you believe that your child is demonstrably innocent, now is not the time to initiate any conversations that could later backfire against you and your family.
Make a record of everything that happened. Write down everything you know about what happened, who knows what, how you found out about it, and anything else that occurred. Have your child walk through the incident, as well as anything that may have led up to it. Gather any corroborating information that you can (without speaking to anyone) and keep it in one organized place. This will likely come in handy later.
Contact a K-12 Title IX student defense attorney-advisor. This may also feel like an overreaction. It isn't. The earlier in your case that you can get professional assistance, the better. Once your lawyer learns the specifics of your case, you'll be better prepared to pursue a favorable outcome.
What if Our School Doesn't Consider Our Appeal? What Options Do We Have Left?
If you've filed an appeal and your school doesn't seem ready or willing to help you and your family pursue a more favorable outcome, you do have a few more options you could consider.
First, make absolutely sure that you're working with a K-12 student defense advisor that you trust. These further methods of relief will require an experienced professional working by your side.
Then, work with your advisor to consider which of the following methods would work best for you:
- Have your defense advisor reach out to your school's administration or your school's office of general counsel. Your advisor may be able to advocate more effectively or directly on your behalf than you could do by yourself or through the more standard channels.
- File a complaint against your school with a local authority. Locate the board of education in your area, or the school district board, and file an appeal with them. Reiterate the strong, strategic basis you may have cited in your initial appeal. If you can demonstrate to an external authority that your school did not follow the proper regulations in your case, for example, you may be able to exert some pressure on your school and thus be able to work towards a more favorable outcome.
- Consider a lawsuit. This step is drastic, but it can be a very effective way to move towards an outcome more helpful for you and your child. Your advisor will review your case carefully to determine whether you have the basis for a successful lawsuit.
If you want to know the #1 thing you can do to increase the likelihood of a successful experience for your family, it's this: Find and hire a national defense advisor as quickly as you can.
It's important to note that you don't have to limit yourself to working with the legal professionals in your hometown. In fact, you shouldn't. It's far more important to find a lawyer who has demonstrated experience managing and winning K-12 Title IX cases. These cases represent a very niche practice, and it's unlikely that the lawyer down the street will have the precise expertise that you need to win.
A national student defense attorney will be able to assist you well, no matter where you are. However, that isn't the only benefit you'll experience when working with a national K-12 Title IX student defense advisor.
The Benefits of Working With a National Title IX Defense Attorney
For the most part, high school administrations and officials do not have the processes or training to handle sexual misconduct and assault allegations. These concerns can be even more pronounced when cases involve younger children, and K-12 Title IX administrators will often not necessarily have the experience necessary to mete out fair, balanced treatment. As we've seen above, they may not be able to, based on the regulations themselves.
This can result in a lot of poor outcomes for the accused in a sexual misconduct or Title IX case. For example, schools without necessary experience could hesitate to place blame or be overly cautious in the complainant's favor—resulting in overly-harsh punishments for the accused.
Having a trained, experienced Title IX professional in the room (and on your side) can be a complete game-changer for you and your child. With your K-12 Title IX student defense attorney supporting you, you can ensure that your school does not steamroll over your student's rights. You can make sure that your school follows all of its own rules and regulations. You identify lesser-known loopholes in your school's code of conduct, interpret the available evidence to the very best of your abilities, and create a strong defense for your child.
Your attorney-advisor will be there through it all, helping you with many actions, including:
- Full review of the alleged incident, the relevant timelines, and your school's applicable documentation
- Gathering witness and evidence so that you and your child are able to tell your side of the story in the fullest way possible
- Helping you negotiate with your school to get your student the lightest penalty possible—thereby helping you avoid an expulsion, a suspension, a gap in your student's transcript, or another negative mark on their record
- Assisting you as you file an appeal for your student or even pursue subsequent steps if the normal avenues to recourse do not work for you and your child
- Allowing you and your entire family some peace of mind during this process!
At the Lento Law Firm, we want you to know that you don't have to go through this stressful time alone. Instead, work with an experienced professional like attorney Joseph D. Lento to have the confidence you need to care for your student and your family during Title IX processes.
Rely on a National K-12 Title IX and Student Defense Attorney to Get the Targeted Help You Need—Wherever You Are
For years, attorney Joseph D. Lento has worked to provide timely, critical support to hundreds of K-12 students and their families in cities and towns all across the United States. If your child needs similar help, it's time to reach out.
Why is it necessary to work with a professional lawyer? For one, it's important to remember that your child's future is at stake. If they receive disciplinary sanctions for sexual misconduct now, that could follow them throughout their entire future. This event could impact their later ability to get the job of their dreams—or even attend a great college in the first place. Now, being associated with that type of conduct could harm their ability to thrive in high school. You need to take strategic action now to make sure that none of this happens, and you don't have much time. Therefore, it's crucial that you get the right person on the job.
Whether you need help delving through your school's complicated code of conduct, gathering evidence to support your family's case, or assistance negotiating with your school, attorney Joseph D. Lento will be there to provide the help you need to work towards a successful outcome. Call the the Lento Law Firm today at 888-535-3686, or contact us online, and we'll respond in a timely manner to get you the help you need.