Act now to protect your children from sexual assault and harassment – Courier Journal

Teena Halbig, Opinion contributor Published 12:15 p.m. ET Jan. 24, 2019

Title IX is not just about sports. It’s about sexual harassment, too.

President Richard Nixon signed Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 into law. It is a comprehensive federal law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in any federally funded education program or activity. Sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination that jeopardizes equal access to programs or activities. You can help retain existing protections by going to regulations.gov to oppose unacceptable changes.

Title IX is a federal civil rights law that applies to all elementary and secondary schools, colleges and universities. Thus, it includes most schools — including private institutions and grades K-12. Title IX addresses sexual harassment, sexual violence or any gender-based discrimination that may deny a person access to educational benefits and opportunities. 

Unfortunately, U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos proposed a new set of regulations on Nov. 16, 2018, that would wreak havoc and substantially weaken Title IX’s existing prohibition of sex discrimination in any institution or program receiving federal funding.

Read this: What parents and students should know about Title IX changes

In fact, it appears Secretary DeVos is not in step with the U.S. Department of Education’s mission: “to promote student achievement and preparation for global competitiveness by fostering educational excellence and ensuring equal access.” 

How can students have equal access to education in schools if they are experiencing sexual harassment, violence and/or sexual assault (including rape)? The proposed changes would weaken Title IX’s protections by changing the definition of what constitutes “sexual harassment” or “sexual assault.” Why remove vital sexual harassment training of school personnel? Why remove school investigations of misconduct? Existing regulations must be retained, and you can make a difference by sending in your comments as soon as possible. 

Secretary DeVos’ withdrawal of Title IX existing protections would no doubt increase sexual violence and cause discrimination in education programs. And school teachers, principals, superintendents, etc., definitely need guidance on legal obligations. It is important that victims are able to get fast action and be treated fairly when coming forward with sexual assault allegations; therefore, guidelines must not be removed. To do so would cause grave harm to students.

Existing guidelines requiring schools to address sex discrimination and criminal sexual violence in schools should not be removed. Unfortunately, nearly half of students can experience some form of sexual harassment while in school, which can cause absenteeism and a host of effects — including post-traumatic stress disorder and mental health problems that affect grades, education, graduation and employability. 

More: New Title IX sex assault rules may affect your Kentucky college student

Why roll back the existing regulations of necessary protections that are already in place? I believe removal of these regulations would make moms and dads think schools are not safe places for their children to spend so many hours away from home. It is imperative that you act today to ensure protections stay in place for your children, grandchildren, relatives, friends, neighbors and for a future healthy workforce.

Sexual harassment takes many forms and is currently covered under Title IX. Sexual harassment can be unwelcomed sexual conduct or advances, requests for school favors, verbal and nonverbal or physical contact of a sexual nature. If such problems are not reported and addressed, escalation may occur that can be even more damaging to students. And, how can a student learn if they are suffering in silence and unable to get help, should these regulations be changed? How can a student function in a hostile and pervasive environment of offensive sexual harassment, which could occur if the regulations are changed? What if the perpetrator is in the same classroom day after day?

As the public policy chair for the American Association of University Women of Kentucky and AAUW Louisville Branch, I urge you to join with us now to fight to retain existing regulations in Title IX. Your help is greatly needed. Please act today to protect and defend the existing Title IX regulations that will protect students. Please send your comments to regulations.gov before Jan. 28.

Teena Halbig is Public Policy Chair for the Kentucky and Louisville Branch of American Association of University Women and immediate past president of the United Nations Association of the United States of American Kentucky Division. She also is a former president of the League of Women Voters of Kentucky and of Louisville. 

 

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