AG Shapiro Leads Effort to Stop New Title IX Rule That Weakens Protections for Survivors of Sexual Violence in Schools

June 24, 2020 | Topic: Rights

HARRISBURG—Attorney General Shapiro today led a group of 18 Attorneys General, co-led with New Jersey and California, in seeking to block the U.S. Department of Education’s new Title IX rule, which weakens protections for sexual harassment victims and creates inequitable disciplinary proceedings for students from kindergarten through college.

Title IX prohibits sexual harassment in education programs and activities receiving federal funding. But the Department’s rule undermines this promise by narrowing Title IX’s protections and undermines fair process by imposing onerous and unnecessary grievance procedures. In a motion for a preliminary injunction or stay, the group seeks to keep the rule from going into effect on August 14, 2020. With school resources already stretched thin because of COVID-19, the rule and its unreasonable timeframe for compliance threatens to inflict direct, immediate, and irreparable harm to states and schools across the country by callously requiring schools to divert already-limited resources away from educating our students during the challenges of a pandemic.

“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.”

Title IX is a landmark law that is immensely important to states, students, families, teachers, and their communities. For nearly 30 years, it has required schools that receive federal funding to provide students with an educational environment free from sexual harassment. Despite the frequency of sexual harassment and its devastating effects on students, those subjected to harassment often refrain from reporting it. One national study found that only 12 percent of survivors in college and two percent of female survivors ages 14–18 reported sexual assault to their schools or the police. An even smaller fraction of survivors officially report sexual harassment to a Title IX officer. Students may often choose not to report for many reasons, but federal regulations should never be a barrier to survivors seeking relief — and that is what the new Title IX regulations do. The new regulations will also force schools to comply with Secretary DeVos’ unreasonable timeline and onerous requirements or face the prospect of losing federal funding at a time when the country’s education system can least afford it.

In the motion for preliminary injunction supported by more than 70 declarations from schools and state agencies, the coalition asserts that the new Title IX rule will cause immediate and irreparable harm to the states’ schools and students in several ways, including by:

  • Improperly narrowing what constitutes sexual harassment, where the harassment must take place, and who may submit complaints about it under Title IX;
  • Unlawfully mandating schools dismiss complaints that fall outside the new rule’s interpretation of Title IX;
  • Failing to address the unique circumstances of K-12 schools, unreasonably creating a one-size-fits-all approach; and
  • Setting an arbitrary effective date that directly impedes efforts by schools to address an ongoing health crisis.

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.

A copy of the motion for preliminary injunction is available here.

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