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Title IX Regulations: What's New?

These 37 words have had a profound effect on ensuring gender equity in education and beyond: No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.


Although Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, championed by Hawai‘i's Patsy Mink, has remained constant, in recent years its interpretation has been amended, altered, and redefined by the federal government and the Supreme Court. Originally focused on ensuring gender equality in education and athletics, its scope expanded to include protections against sexual harassment and assault. Over time, federal agencies and the Supreme Court have redefined and clarified how Title IX applies to various situations, especially regarding sexual misconduct on academic campuses. Recent regulatory changes underscore the evolving nature of Title IX enforcement and its ongoing importance in safeguarding equal educational opportunities and addressing gender-based discrimination and violence.


The most recent Title IX changes are not so much an expansion of what was covered, but really a clarification on the application of Title IX. This is not a “rollback” to what the regulations used to be five years ago. It’s more of a “slide and a pivot”…Title IX is again traveling. The regulations now clarify that sex discrimination includes discrimination based on sex stereotypes, sex characteristics, pregnancy or related conditions, sexual orientation, and gender identity. The new federal rules officially add "gender identity" to the list of protections from sex-based discrimination for the first time. Schools could violate Title IX if a transgender person isn’t allowed to use the bathroom aligned with their gender identity or if they are not referred to by their chosen pronoun.


Pregnancy and related conditions have long been covered by Title IX regulations, prohibiting discrimination on these grounds. However, the recent changes strengthen these requirements and expand obligations. This includes providing pregnant students with clear information about their rights, reasonable accommodations, the option of voluntary leaves of absence, and access to lactation spaces. It's a significant enhancement to ensure that pregnant students are supported and accommodated appropriately, marking another important step forward in promoting inclusivity and equity within educational institutions.


Additionally, the 2020 regulations had introduced a requirement for complaints to be formally made in writing and signed by the complainant. However, the most recent changes redefine what constitutes a complaint and now allow for oral complaints as well. This means that if a person verbally reports an incident of sexual harassment to a faculty member or university staff, it triggers the institution's obligation to respond and investigate, as appropriate. This adjustment aims to streamline the reporting process and ensure that individuals feel comfortable coming forward with their experiences, ultimately enhancing the effectiveness of Title IX enforcement in addressing instances of sexual harassment and misconduct.


Still posting up at the net waiting are our transgender athletes. The recent Title IX decision did not explicitly address whether transgender athletes can or cannot be restricted from participating on teams that align with their gender identity. It's an issue that may continue to be debated and decided upon at various levels of government, within athletic organizations, and through legal challenges.


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