Once upon a time, when high school students found themselves in trouble, they could expect to get a warning or perhaps be sent to detention. If they did something really wrong, they might get suspended for a day or two. Discipline was largely dispensed by teachers in the classroom, though occasionally it might involve a trip to the principal's office.
Those days are over.
The stakes are much higher today: even minor offenses can get your child expelled, and expulsion can prevent them from getting accepted into college, make them ineligible for financial aid, even keep them from getting a good first job.
Disciplinary procedures are far more complicated today as well. If your child has been accused of sexual misconduct, for instance, they won't be visiting the principal's office; they'll be dealing with the district's Title IX Coordinator and facing a full Title IX investigation. That means your first job is to find out all you can about how Title IX works.
What Is a Title IX?
Let's start simple. What exactly is Title IX?
Title IX is the federal law that dictates how schools respond to allegations of sexual misconduct. Current Title IX guidelines detail precisely how investigations should operate, and the procedures schools must use to determine whether or not a student is “responsible” for the misconduct.
A little history: Title IX was originally passed by the US Congress in 1972. Its purpose was to guarantee that all schools provide equal educational opportunities to their male and female students. Achieving that goal was fairly straightforward. The government threatened to withhold federal funds from any school that refused to comply, and virtually all schools fell into line almost immediately. There was no need for a “Title IX Coordinator.” Schools didn't really need any Title IX officials at all.
That situation changed, though, as the interpretation of the law changed. As Title IX evolved, schools were asked not just to curb their own discriminatory practices but to promote a non-discriminatory campus atmosphere. Ultimately, that put high schools and colleges in the unusual position of disciplining their students for Title IX violations.
At the same time the burden of enforcement had shifted onto schools, the government broadened the definition of sexual discrimination to include sexual harassment and sexual violence. Instantly, the law became far more complicated than when it had originally been passed.
This new situation demanded that schools create complex judicial processes and multiple administrative officials to oversee those processes. The Title IX Coordinator position was born.
What Is a Title IX Coordinator?
So, what is a Title IX Coordinator?
In broad terms, a Title IX Coordinator is responsible for ensuring that a school or a school district complies with all the various elements of Title IX. More specifically, that means:
- Providing notice to every potential employee that the school does not discriminate on the basis of sex
- Promoting an atmosphere of non-discrimination on campus
- Letting all students know what to do if they should be victimized by sexual discrimination or harassment
- Receiving all reports of sexual misconduct and making decisions about whether or not to pursue formal investigations
- Creating, maintaining, and implementing policies for investigating and adjudicating allegations of sexual misconduct
Title IX mandates that every public school district in the US have at least one Coordinator. Often this Coordinator operates out of a larger Title IX Office, which may be staffed with several administrative officials. Some larger districts go even further and appoint a Coordinator to serve in each individual school.
It's important to recognize that, while Title IX coordinators are meant to be objective, to facilitate the district's compliance with the law, they often wind up in the position of being enforcers rather than mere facilitators. In part, that's because of how Title IX was written. Schools must comply or risk losing federal dollars. No school district is willing to risk that. So, coordinators are often aggressive in deciding whether or not to pursue accusations. They make sure investigations are thorough, and Decision-Makers are strict. This tends to undermine their objectivity.
In short, exercise caution when talking with these officials. When in doubt, it's best to consult an attorney or—when possible—to let an attorney do your talking for you.
How Do Title IX Cases Work?
For the most part, Title IX cases follow strict guidelines set out in 2020 by the federal government. Schools do have some choice in how to respond to certain aspects of the law. However, all schools follow the same basic set of procedures.
- All faculty and staff at a high school, from the principal to bus drivers, are required to report any knowledge they may have of sexual misconduct.
- The Title IX Coordinator receives all information on Title IX violations and evaluates each case to determine whether or not to open a formal investigation. While everyone has a responsibility to report, only a claimant, a claimant's guardian, or the Coordinator may sign an official complaint.
- When the Coordinator opens an investigation, they must immediately provide notice to the respondent (accused). As part of this notification, the Coordinator must identify the accuser and provide details about the alleged incident. In addition, they must remind respondents of their rights. Among these, respondents have the right to be presumed “not responsible” until proven “responsible” and the right to choose an advisor—who may be an attorney—to help with the case.
- The Coordinator then appoints an Investigator to collect facts and evidence related to the allegation. The Coordinator cannot serve as Investigator.
- The Investigator interviews both parties in the case. In addition, they will gather any physical evidence and any witness testimony. Both sides in the case have the right to provide evidence and suggest witnesses.
- Once the investigation is complete, the Investigator creates a written document summarizing their findings. This document should not deal with the respondent's responsibility. Rather, it should merely provide all the factual information on the case.
- Both sides in the case should have an opportunity to suggest revisions to this document before it is forwarded back to the Title IX Coordinator.
- The Title IX Coordinator appoints one or more Decision-Makers to review the evidence and determine the respondent's responsibility. The Decision-Makers must be someone other than the Coordinator or the Investigator.
- School districts have the option to provide respondents with an official live hearing where they can present evidence, call witnesses, and cross-examine each other. However, districts can waive this requirement and have the Decision-Maker come to a decision without a hearing. In this case, respondents still have the right to ask questions, through the Decision-Maker, of their accusers and any witnesses against them.
- The Decision-Maker decides the outcome based on the “preponderance of evidence” standard. Much less strict than “beyond a reasonable doubt,” this standard requires only that Decision-Makers be more than fifty percent certain a respondent is responsible for a violation.
- Finally, school districts must provide both sides with the opportunity to appeal the Decision-Maker's ruling. Once again, the Appeal Official must be someone other than the Coordinator, the Investigator, or the Decision-Maker. Typically, appeals may only be filed if new evidence has arisen or clear mistakes occurred in the Title IX procedures.
Title IX doesn't dictate how school districts may punish students who are found responsible for sexual misconduct. Most schools' disciplinary policies list a number of possible sanctions for misbehavior. These might include warnings, detention, loss of privileges, even counseling. When it comes to sexual misconduct allegations, though, suspension is usually the minimum penalty. More commonly, districts expel students who are found responsible. While state and federal law require that all students have access to K-12 education, the district can still enforce this penalty. They can, for instance, force responsible students to be home-schooled or place them in other alternative educational environments.
In any case, a responsible finding can have serious and long-lasting repercussions on a student's future. Colleges and universities aren't eager to accept applicants with a sexual misconduct violation on their record, and it can be hard to find financial aid sources. A responsible student might be barred from military service. They might even find it difficult to get a job. Given these possibilities, it's important to take advantage of Title IX rules and select an attorney as your advisor.
What Are a Title IX Coordinator's Qualifications?
Title IX makes clear that Coordinators must be given training in how to implement Title IX. In fact, Investigators, Decision-Makers, and Appeals Officials must be trained as well.
However, training is often minimal. The government doesn't dictate the particular kind of training officials must receive, and often the district is responsible for paying for this training. In practice, that means most schools are forced to use cheap, online training programs that don't provide an adequate understanding of how the law should work.
In addition, there are no minimum requirements to serve as a Title IX Coordinator. Of course, some school districts do try to hire qualified personnel, people with legal training or specialized education in social work or educational discipline. Districts aren't obligated to do this, however, and again, qualified staff cost money. Most districts simply ask a teacher or administrator to take on this extra responsibility.
This is yet another reason why it is important to have an attorney to help you deal with any Title IX accusation. Title IX is a complex law. With little to no background in the law and minimal training, Title IX Coordinators and other officials are prone to make mistakes. They don't always understand that students are entitled to essential due process protections, and they don't always follow procedures the way they should. A Title IX attorney, someone who is qualified and experienced in dealing with the law, can make sure schools don't abuse your child's rights or misuse the law.
Attorney Joseph D. Lento Can Help With Your Title IX Case
A sexual misconduct allegation is among the most serious kinds of charges anyone can face. It's especially scary for a high school student, someone whose whole future is still in front of them. Title IX violations can come with harsh penalties, and even an unproven accusation can haunt a kid if it should become public. In the digital age, baseless rumors can live on forever.
As a parent, your natural impulse is to protect your child. Parents often try extreme tactics in these kinds of situations. You may be tempted to try and meet with the accuser and their family to explain what happened or work out an equitable solution. You may find yourself railing at school administrators. You might even be considering leaving the district altogether. None of these strategies works, and most can create more problems than they solve.
The real solution is to defend your child through Title IX procedures. Yes, those procedures can be tricky, and you can't hope to deal with an investigation or a hearing on your own. You can get help, though.
Joseph D. Lento is a highly experienced, qualified Title IX attorney. He built his career representing students in school misconduct cases, and he understands exactly how these cases work. Joseph D. Lento knows the law. He knows how to navigate school politics. Whether you're defending your child against false accusations or trying to negotiate a fair settlement that will preserve their reputation and their academic career, attorney Joseph D. Lento can get you the best possible resolution to your case.
Charges like these can be scary. Attorney Joseph D. Lento is on your family's side. He's empathetic to your situation and ready to fight to protect your child and their rights.
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.