Sexual Assault, Harassment, and Discrimination at School
This article explains Title IX. Under this federal civil rights law, schools must protect students from gender-based violence and harassment, including rape and sexual assault. In addition to sexual harassment, this includes harassment on the basis of sex, sex stereotypes, sex characteristics, sexual orientation, gender identity, as well as pregnancy or parenting status, and any related conditions—whether or not the harassment is sexual in nature.
Which students does Title IX protect?
Title IX protects all K-12 students, including but not limited to:
Students who have disabilities;
International or undocumented students, including English learners; and
All students, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
Note that while this article focuses on how Title IX protects students in K-12 schools, Title IX also protects college students and employees of schools, too.
In what school environments does Title IX protect students?
Title IX protects students in all educational programs and activities. This includes, but is not limited to, school-sponsored activities, school-recognized activities, and travel away from school.
This means that, as a student, you are protected by Title IX when you are in a class, in your school’s hallways, on a school bus, on a field trip, at a school dance, and participating in your school’s athletics, music, or other extracurricular programs, to name a few examples.
Does Title IX still protect me if I was harassed, abused, or assaulted by a school or district employee?
Yes! Title IX protects you if you were harassed, abused, or assaulted by another student or by school or district employees, such as teachers, principals, bus drivers, police officers, or coaches.
How do you make a Title IX report?
A student who has experienced sexual harassment, assault, discrimination, abuse, or other gender-based violence at school might want to report it to someone at their school. In that case, students can make a report to a school employee such as a teacher, guidance counselor, school nurse, coach, assistant principal, or principal.
The best person to report the incident(s) to may be your district’s Title IX Coordinator, who is specially designated to receive and follow up on these complaints.
Can I file a report even if I am not the person who personally experienced the sexual harassment, sexual assault, abuse, or other gender-based violence?
Yes! Any person can report incidents of sexual harassment, sexual assault, abuse, or other gender-based violence.
What is a Title IX Coordinator?
A Title IX Coordinator is a person designated by your school district to ensure compliance with Title IX. A Title IX Coordinator’s responsibilities include, but are not limited to:
Investigating reports of sexual harassment, sexual assault, abuse, or other gender-based violence;
Managing the response to reports and complaints of sexual harassment, sexual assault, abuse, or other gender-based violence;
Coordinating the grievance procedure for Title IX complaints;
If a student or parent wishes to file a grievance against a school or district on an issue related to Title IX, assisting students and parents in filing and investigating the concerns or issues;
Working to decrease sex discrimination in the school district;
Overseeing education and training on Title IX issues; and
Otherwise ensuring a district fulfills its federal obligations under Title IX.
The Title IX Coordinator cannot have other job responsibilities that may create a conflict of interest with their responsibilities under Title IX.
How do I find my district’s Title IX Coordinator?
Your school should make this information available to students and parents by listing the name and contact information for the Title IX Coordinator on its website and in your student/parent handbook. Your school should have provided this information to you at the beginning of the school year, too. If you cannot find this information easily, try searching the name of your school district along with the words “Title IX Coordinator” on the internet.
If I make a report to a teacher, guidance counselor, coach, or other school employee, will they keep it private?
School personnel, including, but not limited to, teachers, bus drivers, law enforcement personnel, administrators, and cafeteria staff, are required to report incidents of alleged sexual harassment, sexual assault, abuse, or other gender-based violence to the Title IX Coordinator, even if the behavior does not rise to the level of unlawful or criminal conduct. This means that your school may decide to investigate the allegations in your report, even if you do not want it to.
You should also be aware that, if you are under age 18, some of these people may be required by mandatory reporting laws to disclose certain kinds of child abuse or neglect to a government agency, such as law enforcement, child protective services, or a child abuse reporting hotline. If you would like to seek help but want to know more about mandatory reporting first, consider calling a confidential hotline first for more information. Visit the Texas State Law Library’s guide on Family Law Hotlines for a list of free legal hotlines.
What should my school do after I make a report of sexual harassment, assault, discrimination, abuse, or other gender-based violence?
After you make a report, your school is required to:
Inform you of the option and process for filing a formal complaint; and
Discuss the availability of supportive measures.
Is a formal complaint different than just making a report?
Yes. A formal complaint is typically filed using a form you can obtain from your school’s Title IX Coordinator, principal, guidance counselor, other administrator, or website. If you cannot find your school’s formal complaint form, contact the Title IX Coordinator.
What should happen after I file a formal complaint?
Once you file a formal complaint, your school should initiate a Title IX investigation.
The investigator should be properly trained in Title IX investigation, unbiased, and free of conflicts of interest. After the investigator finishes their investigation, they should make a report of their findings, and your school should notify you of what they found. Then, a decision-maker should review the investigator’s report and communicate their findings to you.
What are supportive measures?
Supportive measures are individualized services to restore or preserve equal access to education, protect safety, and/or deter harassment.
Examples of supportive measures include, but are not limited to:
Medical and mental health services, including counseling;
Academic accommodations, including course-related adjustments,
Schedule modifications, and/or extensions of school deadlines;
Providing an escort to ensure the student can move safely between classes and other District programs and activities;
Increased security and monitoring; and
Mutual restrictions on contact between the complainant and other parties.
Supportive measures must be non-punitive, non-disciplinary, and not unreasonably burdensome to the student who reported the abuse, harassment, or assault. When discussing supportive measures, your school should ask and consider your opinion.
Will my school cover the cost of supportive measures?
Yes! Your school should provide supportive measures for free.
Am I entitled to supportive measures even if I do not want my school to investigate the incident(s) I reported?
Yes! Your school should provide supportive measures such as counseling, academic support services, changed class schedules, and increased security to you whether or not you want to file a formal complaint and/or pursue an investigation.
However, keep in mind that for your school to take certain actions, such as disciplinary action against a perpetrator, an investigation will likely be required.
Am I entitled to supportive measures even if my school investigates and finds that no wrongdoing occurred?
Yes! Your school should provide counseling and academic support services to you regardless of the outcome of any investigation.
What else does Title IX require of schools and school districts?
Title IX requires schools and school districts to:
Have a Title IX Coordinator;
Provide a process for complaints, prompt investigation, and hearing/resolution; and
Provide accommodations to students who have been harmed (such as changes in class schedules and preferential use of common spaces) and no-contact directives to alleged perpetrators.
Can my school, my school district, employees, students, or anybody else retaliate against people who report sexual harassment, assault, discrimination, abuse, or other gender-based violence?
No! Title IX prohibits all schools, school districts, students, and school personnel from retaliation against students who report sexual harassment, sexual assault, abuse, or other gender-based violence. If you or somebody you know suffers retaliation for making a report, filing a complaint, or even providing information about a report or a complaint, this can be the basis for a separate complaint of retaliation. A complaint of retaliation might be successful even if the original complaint of discrimination is not.
What is retaliation as a violation of Title IX?
Retaliation is negative conduct against anyone in response to a complaint of discrimination or harassment. Retaliation includes, but is not limited to, instances where a school district or its employees:
Take an adverse action, such as suspension, unjustified punishments, schedule changes, or school transfer, against a student because they report or complain about harassment, assault, or discrimination; or
Limit a student’s freedom of speech after a report or complaint has been made.
By the way, students can violate Title IX by retaliating, too. Examples of retaliation by other students include, but are not limited to:
Threats and intimidation;
Threats to distribute pictures, video, or audiotape of sexual activity; or
Destruction of property.
What can I do if I believe my school violated my Title IX rights?
Some ways a school might violate a student’s Title IX rights include, but are not limited to:
Not initiating an investigation after you file a formal complaint;
Not providing an investigator who is properly trained in Title IX investigation;
Not conducting an investigation that is unbiased and free of conflicts of interest;
Retaliating against you; or
Allowing other students to retaliate against you
If you believe that your school has violated your Title IX rights, there are some actions you can take. These include, but are not limited to:
Filing a Title IX complaint with the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights;
Filing a complaint using your school’s grievance process;
Talking with an attorney; and
Filing a Title IX lawsuit.
How do I file a complaint with the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights?
Anyone can file a complaint with the Office for Civil Rights (OCR). While it is helpful to have an attorney, you are not required to have an attorney in order to file a complaint with the OCR.
In most cases, a complaint must be filed within 180 days of the last act of sexual harassment, assault, discrimination, abuse, or other gender-based violence.
If you are in Texas, you should send your complaint to the OCR enforcement office in Dallas. You can do this online using the OCR’s electronic complaint form. You can also send your complaint by mail, fax, or email. The Department of Education provides a list of contact information for each OCR enforcement office.
For more information, see Taking Legal Action Under Title IX from the organization KnowYourIX and How to File a Discrimination Complaint with the Office for Civil Rights from the Department of Education.
What is the grievance process, and am I required to use this process before filing a complaint with the OCR?
A grievance is your school’s internal process for handling student and parent complaints. You can file a grievance if you think your school violated your rights under Title IX. Every district is required to have a grievance policy.
You are not required to use your school’s grievance process before filing a complaint with the OCR.
If you decide to use your school’s grievance process and also choose to file the complaint with OCR, the complaint must be filed with OCR within 60 days after completion of the grievance process.
For more information, see What Is a Grievance, and How Do I File One? from Disability Rights Texas.
How can I find a lawyer to help me with my Title IX issues?
If you need help finding a lawyer, you can:
Contact Texas Legal Services Center's Impact Litigation team.
Use our Legal Help Directory to search for a lawyer referral service, legal aid office or self-help center in your area.
Check our Legal Events and Clinics page for free legal clinics in your area.
Use Ask a Question to chat online with a lawyer or law student.
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