Think Title IX sexual harassment and sexual misconduct cases don't happen at elementary, junior high, and high schools? Think again. For the most recent years for which the government has statistics, 2017-2018, the Office of Civil Rights reports there were 14,938 accusations of rape or attempted rape and another 14,152 accusations of sexual assault other than attempted rape. If your child should be accused, will you know what to do?
Below, you'll find answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about K-12 Title IX cases. It's an excellent place to start when you need to know more about how these cases work and what you can do if you need to defend your own son or daughter. You should know, though, that the very best way to protect your family is to hire a qualified Title IX attorney, someone who knows the law and has years of experience dealing with school districts. For more information, contact attorney Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm at 888-555-3686, or use our automated online form.
What is Title IX?
Title IX is a federal law passed in 1972 to prohibit sexual discrimination in U.S. educational programs. The central text of the law reads,
No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.
Initially, the law applied only to schools themselves, making it illegal for them to treat male and female students differently. Over time, however, the law was expanded to require that schools create an “atmosphere” of equality. That meant schools were additionally responsible for policing their students' behaviors. At the same time, the definition of what constitutes “discrimination” was widened to include sexually motivated behaviors such as stalking, assault, and rape.
Today, then, the law is the primary means by which most schools address incidents of sexual misconduct. It establishes the burden on schools to investigate and adjudicate such incidents; it sets up the guidelines for conducting investigations and adjudications; it permits schools to implement sanctions including suspension and expulsion for students found responsible.
How Are K-12 Title IX Cases Different From College and University Title IX Cases?
There are three significant differences between college and K-12 Title IX cases.
- First, the law mandates that all K-12 school personnel must report any knowledge they might have of sexual misconduct. Some universities place this burden on employees as well, but the law does not require it.
- At the K-12 level, parents and guardians may file complaints of harassment; only complainants themselves or Title IX coordinators can file complaints at the college level.
- Colleges and universities are required to hold live hearings into Title IX allegations. K-12 schools are allowed to hold hearings but are not required to do so.
What Is the Burden of Proof in Title IX Cases?
Typically, the burden of proof is the “preponderance of evidence” standard. Much less strict than the “beyond a reasonable doubt standard,” “preponderance of evidence” says decision-makers must believe it is “more likely than not” an incident occurred in order to find students responsible for a violation.
Under current Title IX guidelines, schools may—and some do—use the “clear and convincing” standard. Stricter than “preponderance of evidence,” this standard requires decision-makers to believe a violation “probably” occurred. However, “preponderance of evidence” is used far more often.
Whatever the standard it uses, the school must specify it in its Title IX policy.
Can the School Suspend or Expel My Child Under Title IX Even if They Haven't Been Convicted of Sexual Misconduct?
Title IX cases are completely separate from law enforcement and the U.S. court system. In fact, depending on where you live, some Title IX violations may not actually violate your city or state laws. Yet, Title IX makes clear that a criminal investigation, no matter what the outcome, does not relieve a school of its obligation to investigate and adjudicate all instances of sexual misconduct. The school cannot arbitrarily suspend or expel your child. They must conduct a proper investigation. However, their power to punish your child is unrelated to any criminal investigation.
Who Decides Whether My Child Is Responsible or Not?
The actual decision in a Title IX case is made by a designated “decision-maker.” This person cannot be the Title IX Coordinator or the designated “investigator.” In other words, no single person determines the outcome of a case. Rather, that outcome is the result of the Title IX Coordinator choosing to open an investigation, the investigator's findings, and—finally—the decision-maker's interpretation of those findings.
Is My Child Entitled to a Hearing?
K-12 schools are not required to hold a formal hearing into Title IX cases. Instead, a single decision-maker may decide whether your child is responsible or not. However, many schools do provide hearings. A hearing must be conducted live, though either side may request it be held via closed-circuit video. At the hearing, both sides are entitled, through their advisors, to present evidence and question witnesses.
Can My Child Be Suspended or Expelled if the School Finds Them Responsible for Sexual Misconduct?
If the school finds your child responsible for Title IX sexual misconduct, they have the freedom, under Title IX, to implement any sanction they deem necessary. In most cases, suspension is the minimum penalty. Expulsion is far more likely. Under state and federal laws, your child is entitled to an education, but the school can force you to utilize home school options.
How Can an Attorney Help My Child?
There are a number of important things that an attorney can do to help your child and your family through a Title IX defense.
- Communicate with the school district: In general, a qualified attorney can serve as a liaison between you and the school district, helping you better understand the district's point of view and ensuring the district understands yours.
- Prepare a strong defense: Your lawyer can help you create a strategy to prove your child's innocence or to make sure they get a fair and reasonable sanction.
- Formulate questions for the complainant: In order to get to the truth of the matter, you'll need to know exactly what questions to ask of your child's accuser.
- Formulate responses to questions: Your child's responses to questions from their accuser and the school district don't just reveal the facts in the case; they are also crucial for establishing your child's credibility. A qualified lawyer knows how to shape those responses to do just that.
- Accompany your family to all interviews: A lawyer can be at your side during all interviews to help you answer questions and to make sure your child's rights are protected.
- Prepare responses to the investigative report: Title IX gives respondents the right to suggest changes to the investigator's report before it is given to the decision-maker. An experienced attorney will know just what kinds of changes to suggest.
- Represent your child and family at any hearings: Many schools allow respondents to defend themselves at a formal hearing. An attorney can represent you at these proceedings, helping you introduce evidence and cross-examine witnesses.
- Prepare appeals of decision-maker's findings: Your child is entitled to appeal a responsible verdict. Your lawyer can help you to prepare appeal documents that make the strongest arguments.
- Maintain a record of any violations of Title IX or your child's due process rights: Schools don't always get things right. District officials aren't trained in judicial procedures, and they often violate students' due process rights. An attorney can keep track of such instances so you can file suit in court if you need to.
- Negotiate settlements with the school district: If your child should be found responsible, an attorney can help ensure they get a fair and equitable sanction.
What Due Process Rights Does My Child Have In Title IX Cases?
Under Title IX, your child has a number of crucial due process rights:
- The right to notice: The school district must notify you of the specific charges against you, including the name of the accuser and the specific details of the allegation. In addition, the district must keep you apprised of all developments in the case as it develops.
- The right to be presumed not responsible: Under Title IX, the district must begin its investigation with the assumption that your child is innocent of the charges.
- The right to an advisor who may be an attorney: Your family has the right to have an advisor to help you through the Title IX process. This advisor can be—and should be—an attorney.
- The right to ask questions of their accuser: While you are not necessarily entitled to confront your child's accuser directly, you do have the right to ask that accuser questions through the school's Title IX investigator.
- The right to be treated equally to complainants: Title IX mandates that both sides in the case must be treated equally in all matters. For instance, respondents are entitled to the same support services as complainants. Both sides are subject to the same rules. Both sides must be afforded the same rights.
- The right to be aware of all meetings connected with the case: The district must let you know of all meetings in advance, so you have time to prepare.
- The right to a three-step judicial process—complaint, investigation, decision: School districts cannot invest total authority in one official. Instead, three different officials must be involved—one to establish the complaint, one to conduct the investigation, and one to decide your child's responsibility.
- The right to make investigators aware of the evidence and potential witnesses: You are entitled to present evidence to investigators and to draw their attention to any witnesses.
- The right to a judicial process free of bias: All of the officials in a Title IX case must be entirely objective.
- The right to appeal the decision-maker's findings: As a final check on the Title IX process, you have the right to appeal the final decision in the case. However, there is typically a time limit on filing appeals. In addition, you may only be able to file appeals under very specific circumstances, such as the discovery of new evidence or the demonstration of bias.
How Should I Respond if My Child Is Accused of Sexual Misconduct?
You should treat any allegation of sexual misconduct seriously. That means hiring a Title IX attorney immediately. However, you should be careful not to overreact to the situation. Arguing with the school district or threatening the accuser can often make the situation far worse. This is another reason why it's so important to have a good attorney right from the beginning of the case. This person can respond on your behalf in ways that will benefit your child's case.
Call Attorney Joseph D. Lento for Title IX and Sexual Misconduct Help
Sexual misconduct is among the most serious allegations anyone can face. If your child is found responsible, it could affect the rest of their life. It isn't just that they may be expelled. With such a finding on their record, they may have trouble getting into college, securing financial aid, applying to the military, or even getting a job.
Title IX cases are complicated, and you may quickly find that the school isn't equipped to handle your child's case. They may not know all the subtleties of Title IX law, and they can—and likely will—make mistakes. You need someone in your corner who can stand up for your child when they do.
Joseph D. Lento is a highly-qualified, experienced Title IX attorney. He has defended hundreds of clients just like your child from Title IX allegations across the United States. Attorney Joseph D. Lento knows the law, but he also knows how K-12 schools operate. He spends part of every day talking with school faculty and administrators. He knows the culture and lingo, and he knows the processes they use. Whether you're looking to prove your child's innocence or to negotiate a fair settlement, attorney Joseph D. Lento will fight hard to get you the best possible outcome for your case.
If your child has been accused of Title IX sexual misconduct, don't wait. Contact the Lento Law Firm today at 888-555-3686 or use our automated online form.