Attorney General Bonta Leads Multistate Coalition in Support of Federal Proposal Aimed at Strengthening Protections Against Sexual Harassment in Schools

Friday, September 9, 2022
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Highlights additional areas for action under Title IX to combat sex discrimination in all its forms

OAKLAND – California Attorney General Rob Bonta, Acting New Jersey Attorney General Matthew J. Platkin, and Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro today led a coalition of 20 attorneys general in a comment letter in support of the federal government’s proposed rule aimed at strengthening protections against sex discrimination — including sexual violence and harassment — under Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972 (Title IX). Title IX requires schools to provide educational programs and activities free from sex discrimination, sexual harassment, and sexual violence. In the comment letter, the coalition applauds the federal government’s efforts to reverse many of the critical missteps of the Trump-era rulemaking and highlights additional areas for regulatory action under Title IX to help combat sex discrimination in all its forms.

“It’s 2022 and we’re still cleaning up the Trump Administration’s mess,” said Attorney General Bonta. “Students are entitled by law to be free from sexual violence and harassment, and they deserve a process that keeps them safe. The current proposed regulations offer a strong, robust framework to deliver on that promise. I applaud the Biden Administration’s efforts to stand up for our students and help them focus on what matters in school: their studies.”

In 2020, the U.S. Department of Education abruptly deviated from more than 30 years of consistent implementation of Title IX to impose an onerous and harmful new process for Title IX sexual violence and harassment proceedings in schools. The department promulgated new rules that work to significantly change how Title IX is enforced. These amendments simultaneously weaken protections for individuals subjected to sexual violence and harassment and burden schools with duplicative, courtroom-like Title IX proceedings. Rather than supporting state efforts to implement Title IX, the 2020 amendments hinder ongoing work to prevent and stop school-based sexual violence and assault at the state level. The 2020 amendments also impose unnecessary barriers to student survivors seeking relief unique only to sexual harassment. These changes were put in place despite clear warnings from the coalition states the year prior. Accordingly, the states subsequently filed a lawsuit challenging the previous federal government’s final rule in an effort to protect students and shield schools nationwide from the unreasonable implementation timeframe imposed at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The states strongly support the current efforts by the U.S. Department of Education to end many of the harms imposed by the 2020 amendments by creating comprehensive standards for Title IX that better meet its primary objectives, i.e., to provide individuals with effective protection against sex discrimination and harassment and to ensure that federal funds are not used to support such misconduct. The current proposed rule realigns Title IX’s implementing regulations with the statute’s nondiscrimination mandate. It also helps preserve schools’ resources by limiting potential duplication of procedures. Additionally, of particular importance to the states, the proposal complements state laws that ensure greater protections for survivors, while preserving the rights of respondents under Title IX to fair and equitable proceedings.

In the comment letter, the coalition addresses how the proposed rule:

  • Better effectuates Title IX and aligns with congressional intent and longstanding practices;
  • Standardizes and codifies definitions and procedures across Title IX enforcement;
  • Improves the sexual violence and harassment complaint process for students in colleges and K-12 schools;
  • Realigns Title IX’s sexual harassment standards and higher education proceedings to ensure a prompt and equitable resolution process for all students;
  • Reinforces critical protection against discrimination based on gender identity, sexual orientation, and pregnant and parenting status; and
  • May be further strengthened to help combat sex discrimination in all its forms.

In filing the comment letter, Attorney General Bonta is joined by the attorneys general of New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington.

A copy of the comment letter is available here. California’s Title IX case against the federal government remains ongoing pending the issuance of final regulations.

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