Protecting Students, Protecting Survivors: California Seeks to Codify Title IX into State Law

By Liana Thomason
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For the last 45 years, Title IX has defended students from gender-based discrimination. It reaches as far as all educational institutions that receive federal funding, and applies to teachers and staff as well. In short, Title IX was enacted to ensure that no student would be barred access to academic courses because of their gender. This can include providing equal funding for sports teams as well as for gender-segregated clubs, protecting the right of pregnant or parenting students, providing prompt responses to incidences of sexual harassment and assault and ensuring the necessary disciplinary measures take place- and much more. But recently the fate of Title IX has been called into question, as President Trump has appointed to his cabinet a series of people who disregard the necessity of laws protecting civil rights. The most recent comment came from Candice Jackson, the Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights at the Department of Education and head of the Office of Civil Rights (OCR), a position in which she is expected to advocate for students who have had their rights violated. In regard to sexual assault on college campuses, Ms. Jackson said in an interview that “ the accusations — 90 percent of them — fall into the category of ‘we were both drunk,’ ‘we broke up, and six months later I found myself under a Title IX investigation because she just decided that our last sleeping together was not quite right.’” As the acting head of the OCR, it’s Ms. Jackson’s responsibility to protect survivors of sexual assault, not make sweeping statements denouncing students who need their help.

It is within this environment that California Senate Bill 169 is being put forward by California State Senators . SB 169 seeks to codify many important Title IX provisions into state law. In the event that the OCR mishandles or refuses to enforce Title IX law, as is looking possible under DeVos’ Department of Education, bills like SB 169 could be instrumental in protecting survivors of sexual assault on school campuses and ensuring that girls and women have equal access to opportunities.

Here are the changes that will take effect in CA if the SB 169 is passed:

Current state law requires that:

  • Schools display a written policy on sexual harassment and provide it to new students, administrators, support staff and teachers.
  • Schools must display clearly on their website students’ rights under Title IX, how to file a complaint, and the link to the designated Title IX coordinator.
  • Post-secondary institutions adopt a sexual harassment policy that includes affirmative consent standards, victim-centered policies, and a preponderance of evidence standard (the complainant must prove that there is at least a 50% chance that the defendant committed the assault).

The bill mandates that schools:

  • Appoint a “sex equity coordinator” (equivalent to a nationally-mandated Title IX coordinator).
  • Publish their grievances process and make them easily accessible for all parties.
  • Investigate sexual harassment when it involves a student, regardless of if it happened on or off campus.
  • Take steps to protect both the complainant and the defendant from receiving negative backlash from the situation. This includes giving the complainant the option to switch class or living arrangements, and to afford due process to the defendant while ensuring that the investigation does not unnecessarily delay the protections for the complainant.
  • Additionally, the bill expands the definition of sexual harassment to include sexual assault, thus opening up a wider range of offenses that could be pursued under SB 169.

 

Several high school students testified as to the importance of codifying an equal academic playing field into state law. Daniella Viera, a rising senior at Berkeley High School and a member of the student activist group Berkeley High Stop Harassing said, “What our schools need is help to develop more robust policies that are trauma-informed.”

Talia Koger, a fellow rising senior at Berkeley High, voiced the frustration that many students feel at the inadequate enforcement of Title IX:

“Federal administrators have expressed intentions to degrade or simply ignore Title IX, although gender inequity is just as real now as it was in 1972. Sexual harassment, battery and assault are rampant on high school campuses, undermining students’ safety and effectively denying them equal educational access… Families are still in the dark about grievances, students aren’t told the difference between a complaint and a report (where one requires a follow-up and the other does not. Investigations continue to be biased. All students need SB 169.”

By Liana Thomason

Liana Thomason is a summer 2017 intern and current student at Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania, where she is working to obtain a degree in English. 

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