Title IX Organizers’ Big Win is Contingent on School Compliance

"While we can celebrate the Biden administration’s updated Title IX regulations as a win, we can’t become complacent."

Illustration of people playing sports
Politicians and school boards don't get to tell students how they feel—instead, it's their job to listen when survivors are brave enough to speak out. Cage Rivera/Rewire News Group illustration

This story is part of our monthly series, Campus Dispatch. Read the rest of the stories in the series here.

After years of pressure from student organizers, the Biden administration only just recently released its long-awaited update to the regulations guiding how schools interpret and enforce Title IX, the civil rights law that prohibits sex-based discrimination in schools that receive federal funding.

The regulations are monumental for sexual violence survivors: The final rules clarify that student survivors of sexual harassment, pregnant and parenting students, and LGBTQ+ students (especially transgender, nonbinary, and intersex students) have strong and comprehensive protections against discrimination in school. The move is monumental for sexual violence survivors, as students of all ages and identities will now have critical protections against sex-based discrimination.

Although I’m only in high school, I’ve spent years fighting for this moment. I’ve organized walkouts, lobbied my local and federal representatives, trained advocates across the country, and rallied outside the Department of Education (DOE). You’d think after all this time, I could finally breathe a sigh of relief, but with states and institutions across the country announcing they won’t comply with the updated Title IX rules, I know my work is far from over.

Only days after the DOE released the updated Title IX regulations, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis announced his state would refuse to comply. He has since been joined by the governors of more than half of states, including Arkansas, Nebraska, and Texas to block the new rules from taking effect on August 1. Conservatives have fixated on the regulations’ protections for LGBTQ+ students, which include safeguards against bullying and persistent, purposeful misgendering of transgender students, as well as guidance ensuring students can use bathrooms that align with their gender identity.

State officials’ refusal to comply with updated Title IX guidance is rooted in bigotry and hatred. It will have detrimental effects not only on LGBTQ+ students, but also on every member of a marginalized group who would see increased protections and accommodations under the new regulations, including pregnant and parenting students, survivors of sexual violence, and any young person experiencing harassment.

Unfortunately, Title IX noncompliance is far from a new problem, and it doesn’t just stem from governors and state-level offices. There has long been devastatingly low nationwide compliance with current Title IX policies—especially at the high school level, where administrators lack information about implementing Title IX guidance and students receive insufficient education on their right to an education free from harm.

It shouldn’t be up to students to push our schools to comply with federal law, but when the adults in power fail us, we only have each other.

The Title IX investigation process’ lack of uniformity causes survivors irreparable harm. Under Trump-era Title IX rules, school districts failed to follow procedure, opting instead to side with alleged perpetrators over survivors as a default. Survivors are often not given timelines for their investigations or explanations about procedure, which creates distrust between the investigator and the reporting student. Investigators often use victim-blaming language that makes survivors doubt themselves. Administrators’ lack of transparency exacerbates students’ confusion: Some survivors believe they have to go to the police before reporting to their educational institutions, which, especially for survivors of color, can be even more daunting than going to school administrators.

Through my work, I have met people who have had to sit in the same classrooms and walk the same halls as their abusers, which is both legally and morally wrong. Young people—and especially students at K-12 schools like mine—bear the cost of noncompliance. While governors grandstand to score political points, students across the country experience devastating harm that severely impacts their academic performance and ability to participate in school activities.

It shouldn’t be up to students to push our schools to comply with federal law, but when the adults in power fail us, we only have each other. As high school underclassmen, we noticed that survivors in our district weren’t hearing back about their cases for months because our coordinator was working remotely, denying students the option of discussing their cases in person. Although my classmates and I were too young to vote, we organized to ensure our school district’s school board candidates promised to replace the coordinator with someone who would take Title IX seriously.

Our organizing paid off: The newly elected school board appointed a fully in-person Title IX coordinator who has streamlined the process so that survivors receive a reply within 24 hours of initially making a report.

At every step, student organizers fighting for comprehensive Title IX protections have faced opposition: from antagonists at school board meetings, to conservative politicians, to school administrators, and even the pace of federal bureaucracy itself. Alongside my fellow organizers with Know Your IX, I’m committed to lobbying for strong, fair, and consistent investigation processes, educating students on their rights, and holding schools accountable when they fail to live up to their responsibilities. I push for national change because I believe it is my job as a student-advocate to tell both our elected and unelected decision-makers that it is not their right to tell us how to feel—rather, it is their responsibility to listen when we have the courage to speak up about what happened to us.

While we can celebrate the Biden administration’s updated Title IX regulations as a win, we can’t become complacent. We have to keep fighting to make the promise of an education free from violence a reality in every state, in every district, and in every classroom across the U.S.