Title IX + IDEA = NBD? OMG!

Some of the most important and confusing questions we receive from K-12 school administrators regarding Title IX involve two other important Federal laws, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. Those laws require public school districts to provide a free, appropriate public education to students with disabilities and include a myriad of rules that must be followed when educating such students. When can a student with disabilities be involved in a Title IX case? When can they be removed from school through Title IX processes? What steps must be followed to impose discipline on a student with an Individualized Education Program (IEP) or Section 504 Plan? Read more for the answers to those questions, and more, to turn the mix between Title IX and the IDEA from OMG to NBD (no big deal)!

What Can You Do When a Complainant Doesn’t Want a Formal Title IX Complaint? The Answer May Not Be What You Expect

By Jackie Gharapour Wernz

I was lucky enough to present with my dear friend Jacqui Litra in a lengthy session on all things Title IX at the inaugural conference of the National School Attorney’s Association last month in Nashville. If you aren’t familiar with it, NSAA provides the only unified, non-political, independent organization for attorneys representing school districts of all shapes, sizes, and political and social leanings. (Disclosure: I’m also lucky enough to be on the NSAA’s Transition Board and was the primary author of the organization’s comment to the proposed Title IX athletics rule, so I’m a pretty big fan).

One of the questions we received from the audience, packed with school lawyers from across the country, was, “What can you do when a Title IX complainant does not want to sign a formal complaint?” What that means is that this is not a stupid question—it is one that many brilliant people are struggling with across the country, even three years after the 2020 rules went into effect. So what is the answer? Is it “Nothing”? Or can you use another, non-Title IX process to address the behavior? As we explained at NSAA, neither of those options is correct. There are many things you can do. But you cannot use a complainant’s reluctance about the Title IX process to “back door” the case into a non-Title IX process. Here’s why.

Let the Girls Dance (and Dress!)? Title IX Implications for “Morality Codes” in Schools

By Jackie Gharapour Wernz

I know many of you may be wondering why this blog has been so quiet. Well, I took the summer off! And guess what, Summer just ended in Dallas this week, something that I was certainly not used to when living in Chicago. Now that it’s finally not 100+ degrees outside every day, my break is over and I am ready to tackle the fall.

My nine-year-old daughter started a new public school this year. I was very surprised when she came home from school a few days into the new academic year telling me that she had been “dress-coded” for her skirt being too short. Now, those of you who know me may not believe this, but this 5’4″ mama has a fourth grader who is already over 5 feet tall! She has long legs and a small waist, which makes buying skirts that meet the old “three-inches-above-the-knees” requirement nearly impossible. Also, she’s in fourth grade—is there really a risk that any fourth-grade boys are going to be so busy ogling her that they can’t focus on learning fractions and other elementary school topics? Shouldn’t she be told how big her brain is at school, not how distracting her body is to others?

This situation got me thinking about “morality codes” in schools. Whether you’re talking about dress codes, for which 90% of enforcement reportedly falls on girls, or other rules based on gender stereotypes about how girls should look or act, back to school is a perfect time to remind ourselves of Title IX’s limitations on these types of requirements. A recent story out of Louisiana provides a great backdrop for this discussion.

The #2 Tip for the Title IX Jurisdiction Analysis: Take Cross-Claims Seriously

In another blog post today, I talk about the many takeaways Title IX administrators and team members can glean about Title IX cases from the Johnny Depp/Amber Heard defamation trial. One of those takeaways deserves a closer look; it is the second tip for the Title IX jurisdiction analysis in our blog series addressing some of the most fundamental questions that arise during the Title IX sexual harassment intake process. Here’s what you need to know about cross-claims by respondents.

Top Three Title IX Lessons From the Depp/Heard Defamation Trial

The recent Johnny Depp/Amber Heard trial felt a bit like a black hole; no matter how hard I tried to pull away, the gravity eventually sucked me in. My reasons for wanting to stay away were simple: As an attorney and an expert in Title IX matters, I know how vital impartiality is in deciding these challenging cases. As a working parent and spouse, I knew I would not have the time or energy to watch every hour of testimony and review every piece of evidence. I knew it would be difficult not to base any opinions I might form about the case on my own biases and prejudices under those circumstances, particularly with the onslaught of media opinions on both sides. So best to stay away, I thought, if I can.

I couldn’t. In the end, I read many articles, watched some footage, and even listened to a few podcasts on the trial. I still do not believe I am in a position to make any of the many sweeping claims that the media and advocates on both sides of the aisle have made about the verdict. But the case does provide some important takeaways and practice tips for Title IX administrators. Here are the top three, in my opinion.

The #1 Tip for the Title IX Jurisdiction Analysis: Don’t Jump the Title IX Gun

I’ve been running around the country for the past couple of months, speaking at many spring conferences for school law. From NSBA’s Council of School Attorneys to LRP’s National Institute to the American Association of School Personnel Administrators DEI Summit, I’ve been thrilled to talk with many administrators and school lawyers about Title IX, First Amendment, and DEI related. I’ve also been doing tons of training (including our incredibly well-received Advanced Title IX Training and “Train the Trainer,” which we are offering again this Friday, both virtually and in person in Houston, Texas).

The most frequent Title IX questions I have been asked during this whirlwind tour relate to Title IX jurisdiction. When evaluating the jurisdiction of sex-based misconduct reports, when does the requirement to notify the alleged victim of the Title IX process kick in? What happens if there is jurisdiction over a report, but the alleged victim does not want to file a formal complaint? When can a school investigate under a non-Title IX policy or procedure, such as the student code of conduct?

These are some of the most fundamental questions that arise during the Title IX intake process, which is the period after a report of sex-based misconduct is made but before the Title IX Coordinator or their designee determines that Title IX applies. Although these cases, like most things in the Title IX world, are very fact-specific, I can offer a top 5 do’s and don’ts you should keep in mind. I will provide the dos and don’ts in this blog series. We will discuss the first don’t today: “Don’t jump the Title IX gun.”