AAUW MD Addresses Proposed Changes to Title IX

Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 was the first comprehensive federal law to prohibit sex discrimination in education. It covers women and men, girls and boys, and staff and students in any educational institution or program that receives federal funds. This includes local school districts, colleges and universities, for-profit schools, career and technical education agencies, libraries, and museums. Music classes or choirs, sex education classes, and sports involving bodily contact are exempt from Title IX, as are religious institutions if the law would violate their religious tenets. Admissions policies at private undergraduate institutions are also exempt.

The Department of Education has announced a plan to make sweeping changes to Title IX’s regulations, which would have significant implications for students’ civil rights. Specifically, the proposed rule would weaken Title IX’s protections by narrowing the definition of sexual harassment to allow schools to exclude much of the abuse students experience, limiting when schools will respond, and putting in place processes that make it harder for students to come forward when they experience sexual harassment or assault. Simply put, these changes will make schools less safe for students.

Erin Prangley, VP for Public Policy submitted comments to the proposed rules on behalf of AAUW Maryland.   The letter states in part:

“Sexual harassment pervades the lives of students. According to research by AAUW, sexual harassment can have damaging effects on academic outcomes, careers, families and even the health of those affected. Student activism on college campuses has brought to light a culture in which sexual harassment is still pervasive, and its harm too often ignored. AAUW research has found that women on college campuses and girls in junior high and high school frequently experience sexual harassment, sexual abuse or assault, and other crimes or behavior that constitute sex discrimination under Title IX. These experiences hurt their ability to focus on their academic goals and can diminish their equal access to educational opportunities.

In Crossing the Line: Sexual Harassment at School, AAUW found nearly half of students in grades 7-12 experienced harassment in the 2010–11 school year (56 percent of girls and 40 percent of boys.  Of that number, 87 percent said it had a negative effect on them. Furthermore, nearly two-thirds of college students experience sexual harassment at some point during college, including nearly one-third of first-year students, according to AAUW’s Drawing the Line: Sexual Harassment on Campus.

We believe Maryland’s educational ecosystem has a problem identifying and handling sexual harassment, including assault at all levels of education. Even though several peer reviewed studies find sexual harassment to be rampant, 68.6 percent of higher education campuses in Maryland reported zero incidents of sexual assault, including rape and fondling, domestic violence, dating violence, and stalking — a shocking statistic given how frequently these incidents occur on campuses.  In addition, 85.9 percent of the public schools with students in grades 7 through 12 in Maryland disclosed zero reported allegations of harassment or bullying on the basis of sex.  These numbers do not square with what research shows students experience. Despite schools’ legal obligation to address these issues, improvement in both welcoming students’ reports of sexual harassment and violence — and accurately disclosing those incidents in annual reporting—has been slow at all levels of education. These findings further demonstrate our need for full enforcement of strong Title IX and the Clery Act provisions, not a rollback of critical protections for students who experience incidents that are already frequently under- and inaccurately reported.”

She then describes the specific ways in which the proposed regulations roll back critical protections.  Read the full letter.

The public comment period for the proposed changes to Title IX regulations ended on January 30. Over 100,000 comments were submitted.   The Department of Education will now consider the submitted comments and finalize regulations in the coming months.