The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly changed life as we know it, including the education system. Schools are closed until further notice, classes were moved to online coursework for the rest of the semester, and college students were forced to move out of campus housing.
These changes have also resulted in many current Title IX hearings around the U.S. being delayed or postponed. However, the Title IX office in most universities remain open, which means new and ongoing investigations are being conducted in a timely and practical manner, while officials also take steps to prevent the spread of the coronavirus by practicing social distancing.
As of April 22, 2020, the Department of Education has yet to provide guidelines for public and private educational institutions to follow regarding Title IX proceedings. So, for now, schools must wade through these unchartered waters on their own to address Title IX issues.
The following is a breakdown on how Title IX investigations could be affected by the COVID-19 outbreak:
As we mentioned before, campuses are expected to investigate alleged sex-based discrimination from school-related activities in a timely manner, according to the federal law. While many college and university policies set a deadline for such investigations, the law does not.
Even though Title IX offices are considered “essential” and operational, the transition from in-person courses to online learning and remote services has resulted in delays in every facet of college life. Since campus administrators and faculty are doing their best to catch up with the changes caused by the pandemic, some Title IX offices have yet to communicate with students about the status of their cases.
However, Title IX officials have conducted many investigations and hearings through remote technological platforms before the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, videoconferencing is typically used during investigations that occur during summer/winter breaks or while students are studying abroad.
All students have the right to due process in public college and university Title IX hearings. Yet, the meaning of due process differs from one campus to another.
In the Sixth Circuit of Court Appeals (i.e. colleges in Michigan, Kentucky, Ohio, and Tennessee), the accused student has a chance to cross-examine his/her accuser at a hearing. By contrast, the First Circuit Court of Appeals (i.e. colleges in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Maine, and New Hampshire) administers an “inquisitorial” approach when it comes to questioning, rather than cross-examination involving both parties.
Private institutions do not have to provide constitutional due process. Instead, they have their own policies to follow.
New complaints can arise through prior on-campus incidents and off-campus conduct (e.g. virtual harassment). Since Title IX offices are still open and students are still able to access victim-advocacy resources on college campuses, colleges and universities may provide instructions on how to file a new complaint remotely and instructions for following through with the case.
No-contact and other protective orders will remain in place, which means students subject to such orders must avoid communicating with the other party, whether it is through phone call, e-mail, or social media messaging services.
If you have been accused of campus-related sexual misconduct in California, Arizona, Texas, or New York, contact Parisi, Coan & Saccocio, PLLC at (737) 200-2332 today. We remain open and available through phone or prescheduled videoconferencing.