OUR COMMITMENT TO EDUCATION ENVIRONMENTS FREE FROM SEX-BASED HARASSMENT, INCLUDING SEXUAL VIOLENCE
October 8, 2021
No one should ever have to experience sexual harassment, including sexual assault, stalking, and relationship violence. As students return to in-person schooling, attention to sexual-violence prevention is all the more important because we know—both from research and the many experiences shared with the Office for Civil Rights during our national public hearing in June—that sexual violence can derail a student’s ability to learn and thrive in school.
This is why efforts to prevent violence from occurring are so critical to ensuring that students have access to education programs and activities free from sex discrimination. In the midst of National Domestic Violence Awareness and Prevention Month, attention to relationship violence that students experience is also particularly important.
And yet we also know that alongside a focus on prevention of all forms of sexual violence, it is essential that educational institutions provide appropriate supports to students when sexual violence occurs. This is as true for students in elementary and secondary school as it is for students in higher education. This is also why it is so important that, if sexual violence occurs in an education setting, schools take necessary steps to address what has happened and prevent recurrence.
At the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR), supporting students’ rights to be free from sex-based harassment, including sexual violence, is a top priority. Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which prohibits all forms of sex discrimination in education programs and activities that receive federal funding, requires no less. Title IX is a promise to America’s students nearly 50 years ago, and this commitment is as important now as it was then.
President Biden has recognized this commitment repeatedly as a champion for our nation’s students. In an Executive Order issued in March 2021, he reiterated that “all students should be guaranteed an educational environment free from discrimination on the basis of sex, which encompasses sexual violence, and including discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.”
At OCR, we are diligently reviewing the Title IX regulations to be sure they carry out the law’s nondiscrimination requirements for educational institutions that receive federal funding. After a first-ever national public hearing in June and an expansive question-and-answer resource on the current Title IX regulations issued in July, OCR anticipates issuing new regulations for public comment, through what is known as a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking.
In doing this work day in and out, thoughtful urgency is our guidepost, recognizing both the urgency of ensuring that students can learn free from sex discrimination and the importance of developing regulations that fulfill this aim effectively across the diverse array of federally funded educational institutions serving students from pre-K through graduate school in communities of all sizes and kinds throughout the United States. (See OCR’s resource binders for more on the broader civil rights responsibilities of all federally funded education programs and activities.)
Throughout this process, we are also guided by our commitment to ensure that schools have grievance procedures that provide for the fair, prompt, and equitable resolution of reports of sex-based harassment, including all forms of sexual violence, cognizant of the sensitive issues that are often involved.
OCR also encourages students, schools, postsecondary institutions, and others to engage in robust efforts throughout the school year to support the prevention of sexual harassment, including all forms of sexual violence. Are you part of an effective prevention program? Let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org so that we can help raise awareness of models that are working in various educational settings across the United States.
With strong and consistent commitments to prevention along with effective responses to incidents that occur, we can all, together, bring about meaningful change and strengthen equal access and opportunity for all of America’s students.
Suzanne B. Goldberg
Acting Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights
Deputy Assistant Secretary for Strategic Operations and Outreach
Office for Civil Rights
U.S. Department of Education