The Department of Education – Investigations
The education of students and opportunities for teachers is regulated by both state and federal offices, ensuring a safe, secure and educational learning environment for all students, staff and parents. In New York, the Office of General Counsel leads investigations for allegations of abuse within the educational system. Two units investigate – first, the Office of Special Investigations. This office inquires into allegations of illegal behavior, such as corporal punishment or verbal abuse against students.
Meanwhile, The Office of Equal Opportunity (or OEO) investigates allegations of discrimination or harassment, as well as advising and training schools on updated laws regarding equal employment opportunities. There are several units within the OEO that focus on very specific potential violations of the equal employment opportunities. The Complaint Unit looks into complains of discrimination or sexual harassment. The Diversity Unit promotes compliance with New York law regarding diversity and inclusion in hiring (focusing on minorities and women). This unit also monitors compliance with Title IX, a federal law that will be discussed later in this article. The Disability Unit investigates allegations of violations or discrimination based on disability, and facilitates requests for disability accommodations. There is also a training unit available that will provide training on the Department of Education’s Non-Discrimination policy, workshops and training for employees and schools on topics like sexual harassment, diversity and sensitivity awareness.
Title IX is one of the largest federal rules that local schools must comply with. It is a civil rights law that prohibits sex discrimination in education, including pregnant and parenting students, or women in STEM. On top of this, it prohibits sexual harassment, discrimination based on gender, and sexual violence. Title IX is not just applicable to women – it can also apply to homosexual or transgendered students. Title IX applies to any school that receives federal funding (which comprises almost all educational institutions in the country).
Institutions must have a standard, established procedure for complying with Title IX, including handling allegations of sexual discrimination or sexual harassment. Students have the right to pursue an education free from sexual discrimination, sexual harassment or violence, which means schools have a duty to provide an environment in which students can continue their education, even if they have already suffered a violation of Title IX. This means that, if necessary, the school will accommodate requests to change housing, class schedules, extracurricular activities and even counseling to ensure the continued safe and secure education of that student. Title IX prohibits schools from charging students with any costs of accommodation.
If you feel that your educational institution is in violation of Title IX, you should seek experienced legal counsel, particularly if you wish to file a formal complaint with the U.S. Department of Education. The complaint should be sent to the enforcement office serving the state in which the alleged violation occurred. Complaints must be filed within 180 days of the date of the violation, unless there is good cause shown by the complainant. Then the time for filing may be extended by the Enforcement Office Director. Strong legal counsel can assist you in arguing good cause and earn an extension. When filing a complaint, the victim must include a letter explaining who the victim is, what the violation consisted of, and the date of violation, where it occurred, and any additional information about who else has knowledge of the offense. An attorney can help you draft these letter to ensure they are complete. Once your complaint is complete, they can actually be submitted to the D.O.E. online or via first class mail.
A civil rights attorney will be able to offer counsel and guidance in the event you have experienced a Title IX violation, and can speak directly with representatives of either the Department of Education of the Federal or State government.