Newswise — Administrators and Title IX coordinators in K-12 districts often feel under-supported and under-prepared for Title IX-related duties and spend very little time on those duties, according to a new study from the University of Colorado Boulder.

The study interviewed Title IX coordinators from eight K-12 schools districts across California and Colorado. Coordinators are responsible for ensuring school districts conform with federal laws prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sex. That includes addressing sexual harassment, ensuring equal access to athletic opportunities and supporting transgender students.

The researchers requested interviews with dozens of school district Title IX coordinators in California and Colorado.

“We were quite surprised by how hard it was to identify Title IX coordinators in each school district and how little time they spent on this aspect of their jobs,” said Elizabeth Meyer, author of the study and associate professor in the Educational Foundations, Policy, and Practice Program in CU Boulder’s School of Education.

Recently published in the Educational Policy Analysis Archives journal, Title IX Coordinators As Street-Level Bureaucrats In U.S. Schools: Challenges Addressing Sex Discrimination In The #MeToo Era was co-authored by Andrea Somoza-Norton, Natalie Lovgren and Andrew Rubin of California Polytechnic State University and Mary Quantz, a CU Boulder doctoral student.  

The interviews found several structural issues with Title IX coordinator roles which could lead to issues in implementing the law, including inadequate resources, ambiguous or conflicting goals and duties, and a lack of training and education for newly appointed coordinators.

Several respondents found out about their Title IX duties after being in the role for six to 12 months. Their Title IX duties are also regularly part of a much larger job such as HR director, superintendent or athletics director.

Coordinators in the study said their districts rarely, if ever, offered professional development around Title IX. Some participants said they typically Google or ask people within their network when they wonder how to handle Title IX-related issues.

The study also found a public information issue. Title IX coordinators were often difficult to find on the public-facing district websites, and the information on those sites was often found to be incorrect once the district was contacted.

“The fact that these administrators were so difficult to find is a significant concern. Students and families who want the district to address a case of discrimination or harassment would be hard-pressed to locate the appropriate person to help them respond to their concerns,” said Meyer. 

Researchers worry the lack of defined Title IX responsibilities make administrations too reactive and focused merely on protecting schools from lawsuits, instead of proactive measures like faculty and staff development and school climate initiatives.

The researchers recommend increasing educational support for coordinators, providing more time and priority to prevention and education efforts, and developing a national database of Title IX coordinators.

“If schools are serious about reducing discrimination and supporting all students, including addressing sexual harassment in the #MeToo era, they need to provide time and resources to Title IX coordinators to enable them to be leaders for educational efforts and other proactive measures in their schools,” Meyer said. “We should also note that since our study concluded, the Office for Civil Rights has rescinded two key policy guidance documents on Title IX which impact some of the most vulnerable students in schools: transgender students and survivors of sexual assault.” 

These changes reduce the clarity of civil rights protections in public schools, the researchers say, and exacerbate the challenges documented in the study for people working to address gender equity in schools.

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