Title IX in a COVID-19 World

As colleges and universities are quickly deciding to move to online platforms for courses due to the outbreak of COVID-19, it is imperative to have a fresh look at the jurisdiction language of your code of conduct and Title IX/Sexual Misconduct Policy. The students and employees who are leaving campus and studying or teaching remotely are still generally “students” and “employees” under your policy. Thus, if your institution’s jurisdiction applies directly to the student or employee (for some or all cases) regardless of where they are located, you will need to continue to investigate and adjudicate the violations. Here are a couple of tips and reminders to consider during this time of swift transition so that you are not caught off guard when a case appears on your desk.

1. Look at your campus code of conduct/Title IX policy’s jurisdiction and decide how it will be applied. Many schools already have online learners with plans and policies for the investigation/adjudication of alleged Title IX policy violations. If your institution has such a plan, I recommend applying that plan to students and employees who may be impacted by a move to online curriculum.

If your institution does not already support programs for online learning or have a policy explaining how the code of conduct or Title IX policy applies to virtual students/employees,  it is imperative that you read your current code/policy, and as strictly as possible, decide how the policy will apply to your new (or pending) virtual learning situation.

This review, update, and understanding will be critical because students will continue behaving in ways that violate your standards of conduct/policies both on and off campus. There will still be house parties, bars, and events that lend themselves to misconduct even if a physical campus is closed. Thus, you need a plan as to how you will continue to address the behavior.

2. Consult with your in house counsel or whomever your institution uses for legal advice. While your counsel will be understandably busy with the implementation of new virtual education plans, the ever changing environment, and the health of the community, your response to Title IX reports remains critically important.

3. Meet with your public relations/communications team. Make sure that they understand how Title IX policies apply to a new virtual learning environment. Have them assist in communicating to your students and employees. Additionally, it is crucial that the community understand their rights to report an alleged violation and how they should do so.

4. Provide Support Measures. As complainants and respondents are forced to leave campus, be sure to continue to provide support measures for them. This may include modifying counseling appointments to online sessions or assisting to find a counselor in the community, or finding similar support measures to whatever your student or employee was receiving on campus.  You may have to creative and think outside the box. You should do this proactively and not wait until they ask. Simply checking to see how you can help will go a long way.

5. No Contact Directives – If you have no contact directives in place, you should communicate with your students/employees about how/if those continue while they are away from campus. Further, they should be reminded of how to report if there is a violation of the No Contact Directive while they are away.

6. Don’t stop investigating and adjudicating. Your job as a Title IX team member does not stop because students/employees leave campus. You should continue your investigations using virtual platforms and stick to the timelines you have set forth in your policies as closely as possible. While there may be need for limited extensions, those should be clearly communicated to all parties in a timely fashion.

7. Communicate clearly, be a part of the solution. If you haven’t noticed, communication is key. You should make a plan and communicate it clearly. Be flexible and understanding while remaining as consistent as possible. Your work is essential for your campus constituents regardless of where they are physically located.