Harrisburg -- On Wednesday, Attorney General Josh Shapiro led a group of 18 Attorneys General in a motion to block the U.S. Department of Education's new Title IX rule. Title IX is a federal civil rights law which makes it illegal to discriminate against people based on sex in federally funded activities, which includes most educational institutions.
- Defines sexual harassment and sexual assault as sex-based discrimination
- Requires educational institutions to provide support to alleged victims; this could be as simple as letting a student change an assigned seat
- Requires institutions to provide due process protections to the accused
- Specifies conditions that require an institution to respond to sexual harassment (deliberate indifference standards)
- Prohibits individuals from retaliating against people who exercise Title IX rights
- Establishes specific grievance procedures
The rule is currently scheduled to go into effect on August 14, 2020. The group of Attorneys General is trying to prevent the rule from going into effect as scheduled.
According to AG Shapiro and his colleagues, the rule weakens protections for victims and creates inequitable disciplinary proceedings for students from kindergarten through college. The Attorneys General find the grievance procedures to be unnecessarily burdensome, discouraging victims from seeking justice and creating unreasonable time limits on compliance during a time when schools are already struggling due to COVID-19.
“Pennsylvania schools must give every student equal access to education, which means that sexual harassment can never be tolerated,” said Attorney General Shapiro. “Secretary DeVos has exceeded her authority by unlawfully narrowing Title IX’s reach, making it harder for students to report, and for schools to respond, to sexual harassment. We cannot turn classrooms into courtrooms, and we cannot allow our country to take such a backwards step in the fight for justice. We are asking the court to stop this rule from going into effect and take this unlawful burden off the shoulders of schools across the nation.”
According to one national study, only 12% of college students who experienced sexual assault and 2% of female sexual assault survivors aged 14 through 18 actually reported the assault to their school or the police. An even smaller fraction reports to Title IX officers. AG Shapiro and his colleagues believe that the time limits and grievance requirements could further reduce those numbers.
The coalition of Attorneys General with a combined 70 schools and state agencies claims that:
- Sexual harassment, eligible locations for harassment to be reported, and individuals permitted to submit complaints are too narrowly defined
- The rule mandates schools to dismiss complaints that fall outside of the overly-narrow definitions
- The rule fails to address circumstances of K-12 schools
- The effective date is poorly-timed due to COVID-19
Attorney General Shapiro is co-leading the filing of this motion with the Attorneys General of New Jersey and California. He is joined by the Attorneys General of Colorado, Delaware, Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, Wisconsin, and the District of Columbia.