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OCR: Office for Civil Rights
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Dear Colleague Letter

OFFICE OF THE ASSISTANT SECRETARY



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investigation will vary depending upon the nature of the allegations, the age of the student or students involved (particularly in elementary and secondary schools), the size and administrative structure of the school, and other factors. Yet as discussed in more detail below, the school’s inquiry must in all cases be prompt, thorough, and impartial. In cases involving potential criminal conduct, school personnel must determine, consistent with State and local law, whether appropriate law enforcement or other authorities should be notified.13

Schools also should inform and obtain consent from the complainant (or the complainant’s parents if the complainant is under 18 and does not attend a postsecondary institution) before beginning an investigation. If the complainant requests confidentiality or asks that the complaint not be pursued, the school should take all reasonable steps to investigate and respond to the complaint consistent with the request for confidentiality or request not to pursue an investigation. If a complainant insists that his or her name or other identifiable information not be disclosed to the alleged perpetrator, the school should inform the complainant that its ability to respond may be limited.14 The school also should tell the complainant that Title IX prohibits retaliation, and that school officials will not only take steps to prevent retaliation but also take strong responsive action if it occurs.

As discussed in the 2001 Guidance, if the complainant continues to ask that his or her name or other identifiable information not be revealed, the school should evaluate that request in the context of its responsibility to provide a safe and nondiscriminatory environment for all students. Thus, the school may weigh the request for confidentiality against the following factors: the seriousness of the alleged harassment; the complainant’s age; whether there have been other harassment complaints about the same individual; and the alleged harasser’s rights to receive information about the allegations if the information is maintained by the school as an “education record” under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), 20 U.S.C. § 1232g; 34 C.F.R. Part 99.15 The school should inform the complainant if it cannot ensure confidentiality. Even if the school cannot take disciplinary action against the alleged harasser because the complainant insists on confidentiality, it should pursue other steps to limit the effects of the alleged harassment and prevent its recurrence. Examples of such steps are discussed later in this letter.

Compliance with Title IX, such as publishing a notice of nondiscrimination, designating an employee to coordinate Title IX compliance, and adopting and publishing grievance procedures, can serve as preventive measures against harassment. Combined with education and training programs, these measures can help ensure that all students and employees recognize the

13 In states with mandatory reporting laws, schools may be required to report certain incidents to local law enforcement or child protection agencies.
14 Schools should refer to the 2001 Guidance for additional information on confidentiality and the alleged perpetrator’s due process rights.
15 For example, the alleged harasser may have a right under FERPA to inspect and review portions of the complaint that directly relate to him or her. In that case, the school must redact the complainant’s name and other identifying information before allowing the alleged harasser to inspect and review the sections of the complaint that relate to him or her. In some cases, such as those where the school is required to report the incident to local law enforcement or other officials, the school may not be able to maintain the complainant’s confidentiality.


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Last Modified: 04/03/2011