The pressures of Title IX and the risk of litigation have all of us (attorneys and practitioners alike) wound pretty dang tight. Thus, we often draft policies with fancy language and a focus on that big C word… Compliance. Of course, our policies need to be compliant with the law. However, if we focus on compliance alone (which we often do because who has time for anything else), we are failing our students, employees, and campuses/districts.
What if a policy was clear, concise, consistent AND compliant? What if it was written for the overwhelmed student/employee who has experienced an exceptionally traumatic event or the student/ employee who has been accused of something that may leave them terminated or expelled? Well, I am here to tell you it’s possible. It takes effort, campus/district specific evaluation, and commitment to getting it right. But it’s possible.
Clear: First and foremost, a policy needs to be clear. This is often challenging when we are trying to simplify the 2000+ pages of preamble and regulations. However, thinking of your policy as a road map can be helpful.
Start with a clear index. Draft chronologically. The policy should flow seamlessly through the process. Create a definitions section that is easily accessible. Unless a specific word is required by law, attempt to use the most user friendly and commonly understood language. Use numbers and bullet points (not Roman Numerals). Number the pages. Bold the headings. Create a flow chart. Have students and employees review the policy and describe it back to you. If it’s clear to them, you are on the right path. If they struggle to understand, imagine how challenging it will be for individuals who have experienced trauma or are stressed about the process.
Concise: Be concise, not short… Title IX polices, even the best ones, are not short…just shorter. A concise policy doesn’t have extra words, isn’t repetitive, and doesn’t require flipping back and forth through pages and pages of unrelated information. Multiple concise policies (instead of one behemoth policy that encompasses every process or law) are much easier to digest for the reader. Keep it simple.
Consistent: Use campus/district specific language when possible. In order to prevent confusion, it is critical to define terms consistently throughout all policies. For example, the term “day” can be defined as business day or calendar day in a Title IX policy. It becomes exceptionally confusing when the term “day” means calendar day in one policy and business day in another. Other examples include the terms reasonable person, employee, student, etc.
Compliant: Finally, and the one we likely worry about the most, the policy needs to be compliant. Make sure all boxes are checked, i’s are dotted, and t’s are crossed.
As a final note of encouragement, the hard work you put in to create a Clear, Concise, Consistent, and Compliant policy will pay dividends on the back end. Your students and employees will certainly appreciate it!
The ICS team would love to partner with you in the policy drafting process. Contact us for more information!
Blog by Betsy Smith, ICS’ Director of Title IX Services.