Title IX: Knowledge or Compliance?

Stock photo of a teacher speaking to students.

Stock photo of a teacher speaking to students.

The Office of Civil Rights (OCR) requires schools to inform students and staff about Title IX each year, but the students may not be getting the knowledge they need. Schools continue to make local news when cases of sexual misconduct are reported. Although some feel that the yearly training provided in schools is sufficient, others feel that the school system should do more to ensure that both students and staff are well educated on this topic.

Title IX is a sex discrimination law that protects people in education programs and/or activities that use federal assistance. Students and teachers are required to have knowledge about this law to make sure they understand their rights and their options if victimized. Students and teachers also need to be aware that their words, gestures, and behaviors can offend others. 

At the beginning of each school year, teachers receive training on this law by watching a video, and then the teachers train their own students about this important topic using the same methodology. When asked about receiving Title IX training, one small group of juniors reported that none of the six viewed or received training this year. 

“I didn’t have training this year.  I remember last year we watched a video, but I don’t remember much.  I do remember the next day [another student] made a joke about it,” stated Nick Harden.  Colman Rowell noted, “I remember watching a bunch of videos on DUIs, but nothing on Title IX,”  when describing his sophomore year.

When asked if they could identify their Title IX coordinators, they were confused.  Morgan Crean asked:  “We have Title IX Coordinators?”  Nick Harden added,  “I didn’t know that was a thing.”  Parkview’s Title IX coordinators are Mrs. Tina Smosny and Mr. Doug Nichols.  

Currently, there is a court case filed against Gwinnett County Public Schools relating to Title IX. The plaintiff is a student who reported an alleged sexual assault that happened to her in 2015. The student was questioned multiple times, then suspended after reporting the assault. She felt that the school did not handle this situation properly and hopes for systemic changes as a result of her current court case. According to Plaintiff’s attorney, Adele Kimmel, “What she is hoping that will come out of this lawsuit is that school officials acknowledge that victim-blaming and punishment are wrong.”

This court case is reflective of the fact that despite annual training on Title IX for both teachers and students, there is still a need for more communication and discussion in order to help everyone understand the law and the process for investigating an alleged violation.  

When interviewing different students, all have learned about this law in the past and have a very general understanding of the topic. Phrases such as, “When someone crossed personal boundaries,” were used to explain their understanding, but when asked if they really pay close attention to the videos, many had different answers. Grace, a current ninth-grader said, “No not really, because they play the same exact video every year.” Another Freshman, Lane, added, “No I just don’t care.”  

Jessica Zoeller, a fifth-grade elementary school teacher in Gwinnett, has trained students on  Title IX before. According to her, “We get our instructions from the administration, to then present it at the start of school each year. I also teach it case by case, meaning I teach it when there is a Title IX case. We don’t have many of these cases, maybe two a year. I also think that students pay a little less attention at the beginning of school to the lesson and more during the year when the expectations are higher.”

Gwinnett is required to educate its students every year about Title IX as directed by the Office of Civil Rights. School Title IX coordinators have the responsibility to receive and investigate complaints of discrimination and/or sexual harassment, as well as coordinating compliance with Title IX. Despite this training and these key people in place, incidents still occur.  

As high school students, the expectation is to pay attention to offensive behaviors or offensive language when observed, no matter where or to whom it is directed. If schools are taking the time to provide training, students and teachers have the responsibility of asking questions and taking the topic seriously.  Both students and teachers can be more proactive in helping to ensure that people who report incidents in which they feel victimized understand their rights. This is extremely important to discuss with students especially due to their age and inexperience. 

If the goal of the OCR is to ensure that school communities understand Title IX, a law put in place to help protect victims, then everyone takes a role in ensuring that the information is not only presented but also understood.  Perhaps a more frequent discussion on the topic in addition to the yearly training is a possibility to help with this.  Adding classroom visits from Title IX Coordinators throughout the year to ensure that students and staff are reminded of who handles investigations in their buildings may also support this work. This Title IX discussion may be the educational conversation that helps deter victims from staying silent, or immature students from making very real and offensive mistakes that bring along dire consequences. 

A Note of Disclosure: A Title IX Coordinator was emailed a request for comments, but no response was given by the publishing deadline.