Students and school employees may soon be able to file complaints for all sex-based discrimination, rather than just sexual harassment and assault, according to the Education Department.
The proposed new guidelines from the Biden administration, which address how schools should apply federal regulations ensuring equal access to education, significantly expand protections beyond the current interpretation of the rule to include discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation.
The long-awaited framework for how K-12 schools and colleges should interpret and apply Title IX, the federal law prohibiting sex discrimination in educational institutions receiving federal funds, reverses some Trump administration changes that increased protections for those accused of violations. President Biden initiated the policy review in March 2021.
Among the most significant changes, the Education Department mandates that schools investigate all forms of sexual discrimination, not just sexual harassment complaints. The new rule would apply to all conduct that creates a hostile environment, rather than just actions that are so severe that they limit someone's ability to participate in an educational program, as the current regulation does. It would also cover pregnancy-related harassment, as well as discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
The Biden administration is also urging schools to use a lower standard of evidence to determine guilt for accused individuals, reversing a Trump administration recommendation and returning to one made by former President Barack Obama.
During a press conference to announce the new rules, U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona stated that the changes are intended to protect students, teachers, and school personnel from all forms of sexual discrimination while also ensuring due process for those accused.
Before the new framework can take effect, it must undergo a process for public comment.