July 13, 2016

The Honorable John B. King, Jr.
Secretary
U.S. Department of Education
400 Maryland Avenue, SW
Washington, D.C. 20202

Dear Secretary King,

On behalf of the National Women’s Law Center and the 85 undersigned organizations, we write in support of the U.S. Department of Education’s efforts to address sex discrimination in our nation’s schools. Specifically, the 2010 Dear Colleague Letter on Bullying and Harassment, the 2011 Dear Colleague Letter on Sexual Violence and accompanying 2014 Questions and Answers on Title IX and Sexual Violence, and the 2016 Dear Colleague Letter on Transgender Students have provided much needed clarification of what Title IX requires schools to do to prevent and address sex discrimination in educational programs. These guidance documents and increased enforcement of Title IX by the Office for Civil Rights have spurred schools to address cultures that for too long have contributed to hostile environments which deprive many students of equal educational opportunities.

Unfortunately, the Department is facing unwarranted criticism for doing its job. Some advocacy organizations, law professors, and legislators claim that the Department violated the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) by issuing the above guidance documents without going through a formal notice and comment process. They also allege that grievance procedures outlined in the 2011 sexual violence guidance violate due process rights of students accused of sexual assault. Both of these arguments are without merit.

First, despite what detractors claim, the guidance letters under attack are not new rules but simply clarifications of existing rights under Title IX. As such, they were not required to go through the notice and comment process. As recently as 2015, the Supreme Court has reaffirmed that the APA allows federal agencies to issue “interpretive rules” that explain how the agency construes the laws and regulations it enforces. Interpretive rules do not require notice and comment. Because the guidance documents set forth above are interpretive rules clarifying the Department’s construction of Title IX, the Department did not violate the APA in issuing them.

Nor does the 2011 sexual violence guidance deprive accused students of due process. Since the Title IX regulations were issued in 1975, educational programs have been required to create “grievance procedures providing for prompt and equitable resolution” of complaints (emphasis added).  The 2011 guidance further clarified what constitutes an equitable grievance procedure. Namely, the Department reminded schools that both the complainant and the respondent should have the same rights in any grievance procedure—e.g., the same right to review documents, the same right to counsel, the same right to present witnesses and evidence, and the same right to an appeal.

Moreover, the Department clarified that an equitable grievance procedure means that both the complainant and respondent bear the same burden of proof—i.e., that schools should use the preponderance of the evidence standard. This standard is used in cases alleging discrimination under other civil rights laws, in civil lawsuits between two private parties (including suits related to possibly criminal conduct such as tort actions for battery or murder/wrongful death), and in 80 percent of schools according to a 2002 report issued well before the 2011 guidance. In fact, by demanding equitable treatment of both the respondent and complainant, the Department’s interpretation of Title IX provides students accused of sexual assault with procedural protections beyond those the Supreme Court has said are guaranteed under the U.S. Constitution.

The Department’s Title IX guidance letters and enforcement have been vital in the effort to ensure that students are not discriminated against based on sex in school. Yet, as advocates for civil rights, women’s rights, disability rights, LGBTQ rights, immigrants’ rights, racial justice, economic justice, education, and youth, we know that such discrimination continues to deny students equal access to education at all levels. We urge the Department to continue helping schools understand their legal obligations—for example, by providing materials and guidance focused on sexual violence in elementary and secondary schools—which affects a significant portion of the children we represent.

Thank you for your vigilance in ensuring that schools live up to their obligations under federal civil rights laws and for fighting discrimination in the classroom and on campus. If you have any questions, please contact Neena Chaudhry (nchaudhry@nwlc.org) or Adaku Onyeka-Crawford (aocrawford@nwlc.org) at the National Women’s Law Center at 202.588.5180.

Sincerely,

National Women’s Law Center, joined by:

Alliance for Girls
American Association of University Women (AAUW)
AAUW-San Francisco
American Federation of Teachers
American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee
Anti-Defamation League
The Arc
Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance, AFL-CIO (APALA)
Association of University Centers on Disabilities
Bay Area Girls Rock Camp
BLMNYC/EBG
The Body Positive
Breaking the Silence Philly (BTSPHL)
Brockport Social Work Association
Campus Pride
Casa de Esperanza: National Latin@ Network
Center for Women Policy Studies
Champion Women
Clearinghouse on Women’s Issues
Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund
Education Law Center-PA
End Rape On Campus (EROC)
FAIR Girls
Feminist Majority Foundation
FISA Foundation
Freedom Network USA
Futures Without Violence
Georgetown Law Center on Poverty and Inequality
Girls for Gender Equity
Girls Inc.
Girls On the Run International
GLSEN
GO! Athletes
Healthy Teen Network
Human Rights Campaign
In Our Own Voices, Inc.
It’s Time Network
Jewish Women International (JWI)
Know Your IX
The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights
League of United Latin American Citizens
Legal Momentum
MALDEF
The Maryland Women’s Heritage Center
Mosaic Family Services
NAACP
National Alliance for Partners in Equity (NAPE)
National Alliance to End Sexual Violence
National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum (NAPAWF)
National Center for Lesbian Rights
National Center for Transgender Equality
National Coalition Against Domestic Violence
National Council of Jewish Women
National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges (NCJFCJ)
National Council of La Raza
The National Crittenton Foundation
National Disability Rights Network
National Domestic Violence Hotline
National Education Association
National Organization for Women
National Women’s Political Caucus
National Women’s Political Caucus of Calif.
National Women’s Political Caucus of Fresno, Inc.
National Women’s Political Caucus, Sacramento
NWPC Silicon Valley
PAVE: Promoting Awareness, Victim Empowerment
Peers Envisioning and Engaging in Recovery Services (PEERS)
The Red Web Foundation
Rights4Girls
Robert F Kennedy Children Action Corps.
San Francisco Girls Chorus
Southeast Asia Resource Action Center
Southern Poverty Law Center
Stop Sexual Assault in Schools (SSAIS.org)
SurvJustice Inc.
Title IX and Clery Act Consulting, LLC
TransAthlete.com
Turning Heads
Waddell Consulting Services
Willpowered Woman
Women’s Law Project
Women’s Sports Foundation
Xinachtli Rites of Passage
Young Women’s Freedom Center

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