Parallel Tracks: Response to Title IX and Criminal Matters

It’s Monday morning and a report crosses a Title IX Coordinators desk. The allegations read “history teacher seen having sex with Student A, a tenth grade student, by the bleachers during fifth period.” The Title IX Coordinator notifies the police department and makes an internal note in the school system that the matter has been deferred. The Title IX Coordinator continues on with their day, satisfied that the matter has been resolved.

As you’re reading the above scenario, we at ICS hope that alarm bells are going off in your head and that you realize the above matter is far from being resolved. Unfortunately, scenarios similar to the above are common and institutions and school districts across the country are failing to conduct Title IX grievance procedures alongside criminal investigations.

Recently, in Montana, the Office for Civil Rights (“OCR”) found that a school district failed to appropriately respond to a report of sexual harassment and violated a student’s federal Title IX protections on multiple counts. Upon receiving a report of harassment allegations, instead of completing an investigation as mandated under Title IX, the school district dismissed the complaint and relied upon the decisions of local law enforcement and child protective services. Sound familiar to the scenario above? As a result of their violation, the school district entered into a Resolution Agreement with OCR. Under this agreement the school district is required to undertake extensive reforms, including annual training requirements and providing OCR with information regarding its responses to any future complaints.

It is imperative that institutions and school districts understand their responsibilities under Title IX, even in matters that are reported to law enforcement. Police investigations do not relieve a school of their Title IX duty to respond promptly and in a manner that is not deliberately indifferent. When a Title IX Coordinator receives a Formal Complaint that must also be reported to law enforcement, the investigations must run parallel. In other words, the school will complete their Title IX investigation, while local law enforcement proceeds with their criminal investigation.

One of the most important responsibilities of a Title IX Coordinator is managing the expectations of the parties involved. As we say at ICS, transparency is kindness. It is important for a Title IX Coordinator to explain to the parties that two separate investigations will be taking place parallel to each other. The Title IX Coordinator should explain the similarities and differences between the Title IX and law enforcement process, as well as why the parties have to interact with different agencies and individuals.

Additionally, to help aid in the understanding of Title IX and the school’s responsibilities, we encourage Title IX Coordinators to proactively develop a relationship with law enforcement. If possible, theTitle IX Coordinator should introduce the Title IX Team to local law enforcement, as well as explain the institution or district’s responsibility to respond, provide supportive measures, and investigate under Title IX. This will help ensure that each agency has understanding of the others legal requirements and aid in the ultimate goal of ensuring the safety of the community and school.

To learn more about the similarities and differences between the Title IX and criminal grievance process, we recommend you listen to Episode 46 of The Law and Education Podcast – Institutional Compliance Solutions (icslawyer.com). As always, we at ICS are committed to helping districts and universities comply with the requirements under Title IX. To learn more about how ICS can help support your district or university with Title IX compliance, please click here or reach out to info@icslawyer.com.

Blog by ICS’ newest team member, Michaela Bland.

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