What is Title IX and how does it apply to bullying?
Title IX is not just about sports! It is a federal law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex—including harassment and bullying—in schools that receive federal funding. This means that school districts may violate Title IX when sex-based harassment by classmates (or peers) is so serious that it creates a hostile environment for the victim and such harassment is encouraged, tolerated, not adequately addressed, or ignored by school employees.
Who is covered by Title IX?
Title IX protects every student from sexual harassment or gender-based harassment in schools. It also applies to school employees, such as teachers.
What is “harassment”?
Harassment can take many forms. It can be verbal acts, like name-calling, images and graphics, written statements, or other actions that may be physically threatening, harmful, or humiliating. Harassment can include the use of cell phones or the internet (sometimes known as “cyberbullying”). It does not matter whether the harasser intends to harm or not, and harassment does not necessarily require repeated incidents. For the harassment to be prohibited by Title IX, it must be “on the basis of sex,” which includes sexual harassment and gender-based harassment.
Do the harassing student and victim have to be of the opposite sex?
No. As long as the harassment or bullying is on the basis of sex, it does not need to come from a student of the opposite sex to be prohibited by Title IX.
What types of sex-based harassment does Title IX prohibit?
"Title IX prohibits several types of sex-based harassment. Sexual harassment is unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature, such as unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal, nonverbal, or physical conduct of a sexual nature. Sexual violence is a form of sexual harassment and refers to physical sexual acts perpetrated against a person's will or where a person is incapable of giving consent (e.g., due to the student's age or use of drugs or alcohol, or because an intellectual or other disability prevents the student from having the capacity to give consent). A number of different acts fall into the category of sexual violence, including rape, sexual assault, sexual battery, sexual abuse, and sexual coercion. Gender-based harassment is another form of sex-based harassment and refers to unwelcome conduct based on an individual's actual or perceived sex, including harassment based on gender identity or nonconformity with sex stereotypes, and not necessarily involving conduct of a sexual nature. All of these types of sex-based harassment are forms of sex discrimination prohibited by Title IX." (Source: Title IX Resource Guide, U.S. Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights, April 2015.)
When does harassment create a hostile environment?
Harassment creates a hostile environment when it is sufficiently severe, pervasive, or persistent that it interferes with or limits a student’s ability to participate in or benefit from school, including all activities and services
What can my school do if I’m experiencing harassment or bullying?
There are many ways that your school can respond to your harassment. It could separate your harasser from you, provide counseling for you and/or the harasser, and provide training to the school community as a whole so that all students, families, and school staff can recognize harassment and know what steps to take. Your school should not discipline you because have been bullied or harassed, and should not require you to change your class schedule or make other changes to your educational program to avoid the harasser.
What if my school has an anti-bullying policy?
An anti-bullying policy does not mean the school’s work is done. Even if it has policies in place that prohibit bullying and harassment, your school is responsible for investigating, ending, and preventing harassment.
Is there someone in my school or district who should know about Title IX?
Yes. Hopefully more than one person knows about the law’s requirements, but Title IX requires that a district designate at least one employee as a “Title IX Coordinator,” to make sure the school is following the law. As part of this requirement schools must investigate any claims of sex discrimination. The school should also have an administrator responsible for Title IX complaints.
What must my school do to protect me?
A school must do something about harassment that it knows about or reasonably should know about. If harassment is reported, or if it is widespread or well-known to students and staff, the school has to respond. A school is required investigate the harassment in a prompt, thorough, and fair way. If a school determines that sexual harassment has occurred, it must take effective steps to end the harassment and prevent it from happening again.
What are my legal options?
Schools are responsible for complying with Title IX, and this responsibility can be enforced by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR)—you can file a complaint with OCR online—or through a lawsuit in federal court. You should talk to a lawyer to find out your options.