Chicago Schools Failed to Protect Students from Sexual Abuse

Whose job is it anyway?

Posted Jun 02, 2018

The Chicago Tribune just broke a story about 500+ cases of sexual abuse over the past 10 years. What happened in Chicago is terrible, but sadly not surprising in the #MeToo era. Whose job was it to protect these students? The obvious answer is “everyone”, but there is actually someone in each school district whose job it is to make sure this doesn’t happen: Title IX coordinators. 

Title IX states, 

No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance. 

Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, 20 U.S.C. § 1681 C.F.R. (1972). 

However, school districts often lack the local expertise and support needed to enforce Title IX effectively, and most people have a major misunderstanding about what Title IX says. All educational institutions that get money from the federal government (all public and many private schools do) are required to uphold this law. It includes nine major categories which go far beyond athletics funding in institutions of higher ed – the most well-known aspect of Title IX and includes the following:

  1. Recruitment, admissions, & counseling
  2. Financial Aid
  3. Athletics funding
  4. Sex-based Harassment
  5. Pregnant & Parenting Students
  6. Discipline
  7. Single-Sex Education
  8. Employment
  9. Retaliation
Liz Meyer
Source: Liz Meyer

The Obama administration focused some attention on Title IX, with the intent of strengthening its enforcement and to increase protections and prevention efforts against sex discrimination. However, Trump’s administration has rescinded some those protections, including protections for transgender and gender-nonconforming students and sexual assault reporting and investigating procedures. These actions contradict the prior eight years of enforcement. In the face of these changing realities, including the recent #MeToo and #MeTooK12 movements, it is important to understand who is supposed to be addressing sex discrimination in our schools: whose job is it anyway?

Every school district is required by law to have appointed at least one person in the role of Title IX Coordinator. The Office for Civil Rights issued clear recommendations about what responsibilities should be part of this role in the form of a Dear Colleague Letter in 2011. Colleagues and I recently published an article in Educational Policy Analysis Archives reporting on interviews with Title IX coordinators from 8 different school districts in Colorado and California about their perceptions of and preparedness for the job. What we learned is this:

  • Title IX coordinators are difficult to find
  • Being Title IX coordinator is a very small part of a very big job
  • Title IX coordinators often lack the training and resources they need to be effective
  • Many Title IX coordinators don’t name preventative or educational efforts as part of their job duties

In this era of increased awareness of sexual harassment and discrimination, it is important for school districts and community leaders to be asking themselves: are we doing enough to support our efforts to reduce sex discrimination in our schools? Who is our Title IX coordinator and how are we supporting them? What ways are we ensuring that this person can be effective in preventing incidents of sex discrimination rather than just responding to complaints as they arise? We learned some troubling facts during the course of this study that indicate many school districts are exposing themselves to legal liability and the potential to lose federal funding, as well as falling far short of their legal and ethical responsibilities to provide students and staff an environment free from discrimination. We continue to fail our students when gender equity, full access, and safety remain low priorities in districts.

For more information you can view a brief video about the Title IX study