Recent changes have been proposed to the Title IX policy nationwide, which, according to the Berkeley Unified School District’s (BUSD) Title IX Coordinator, Chelsea Yogerst, would dictate the way that schools across the country handle allegations of discrimination on the basis of sex, including sexual harassment and sexual assault.
The current title states that “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.” The US Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, has recently suggested that changes be made in order to better ensure the protection of all students against sexual harassment and assault. Any responses to the proposed changes were due on January 28.
These changes were proposed after over a year of research and input from stakeholders around the country. One of the main changes this entails is that it stresses that schools must investigate all claims of sexual harassment, and also respond meaningfully. Another crucial alteration to the preexisting title is that it clearly defines sexual harassment as, “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 previous law had no such definition, making it more difficult for schools to determine what could, or could not be considered sexual harassment.
Yet many, including the BUSD School Board, believe that the changes to Title IX will do little to actually support victims of sexual assault, and may even make it more difficult to come forward.
In response to the proposed changes, the BUSD School Board published a letter addressed to the US Department of Education outlining their thoughts on these changes, and what they believed they were lacking. The letter echoed the opinions of Yogerst. Among other things, the letter pointed out that, “Under California Education Code, school districts are limited in their ability to discipline students for conduct that occurs off-campus and is unconnected to a school activity,” also adding that they “believe that it is critical that school districts maintain the tools to address all instances of harassment that affect students in school, even if the district’s disciplinary options are limited by other laws.” This was just one of many aspects that they believed these adjustments did not completely cover. Other points included the difficulty of providing a narrowed definition of sexual harassment, and the way that only people who have the authority to take “corrective action,” such as a teacher or Title IX coordinator, can respond to claims of sexual harassment, which could prevent students from opening up to people they trust.
BUSD School Board Director Ty Alper, commented on the board’s decision to publish this opinionated letter. “Many people are concerned that some of the proposed changes will make it harder to protect victims of sexual violence. We wanted to make the District’s voice heard in Washington, and we also wanted our community in Berkeley to know that we stand for the safety and protection of all students,” said Alper.