Proposed Title IX changes threaten student safety, equity
Our students should be able to go to school without experiencing sexual harassment or violence. That's the promise made over 45 years ago by Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which prohibits sex discrimination in any educational institution or program that receives federal funding. But current Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has proposed a new set of regulations that would fundamentally weaken Title IX and, in turn, put at risk the promise of safety and equity.
Let's be clear: Title IX is about more than girls playing sports, although that was a recent case in our school district. Title IX protects all students from sex discrimination — both boys and girls, kindergartners and college undergrads alike. That includes instances of sexual harassment and sexual violence which, can occur during a student's education, impeding their safety, comfort, access to education, and ability to participate in school life.
Claiming to promote fairness, Secretary DeVos is seeking to undermine the progress we've made toward preventing and ending discrimination in our schools. By changing the definition of sexual harassment to "unwelcome conduct on the basis of sex that is so severe, pervasive and objectively offensive that it effectively denies a person equal access to the school's education program or activity," the proposed regulations exclude many students' experiences, limiting what behavior counts. The proposed changes would put in place processes that make it harder for students to come forward. This will make schools fundamentally less safe. Many students already resist reporting incidences of harassment for fear of ridicule or retribution, but these new requirements will make that reporting even more difficult. When students cannot stay in school because they experience sexual harassment and violence, their access to education is fundamentally unequal.
If schools are failing to adequately protect students, it is not reason to weaken Title IX protections — it's evidence that we need to better enforce those protections and equip schools with the resources to do better. In fact, our own Legislature will be working to add staff to help support Title IX in our school districts.
The Department of Education is now accepting public comments on its proposed changes through Jan. 28. We must all stand up for equity in education by voicing our opposition to this attack on Title IX. We urge you to comment. Please use the identification number and address: 2018-25314
U.S. Department of Education,
400 Maryland Ave. S.W.,
Washington, D.C. 20202
Jeanne Lemieux is the advocacy chairwoman for the American Association of University Women's Lake Oswego chapter