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Does Title IX Apply to Events that Happened During an Academic or Summer Break?

Enacted in 1972, Title IX of the Education Amendments prohibits discrimination based on sex, including sexual harassment, in certain education programs and activities. Title IX protects not only students, but also faculty and staff members of qualifying educational institutions, whether they be enrolled in or employed by elementary or secondary schools, colleges or universities, private schools, or training programs. As long as the institution in question receives financial support from the federal government, it must protect its employees and students from being harassed, and in the event that harassment is reported, investigate the incident and take steps to remedy the problem and prevent future incidents from occurring.

While most people may associate this law only with on-campus activity, the reality is that the protections provided by Title IX could apply regardless of when the unlawful action occurred, including during academic or summer breaks, so if you attend a covered school and were harassed whether on the campus itself, at a school sponsored event, or while on break, it is important to contact an experienced Title IX lawyer who can advise you on your legal options going forward.

Sexual Harassment in Educational Settings

In most cases, claims filed against schools involve allegations of harassment that occurred on the campus itself. The protections offered by Title IX, however, do not only apply to traditional educational operations related to academics, but also to other services and benefits, as long as they are provided by a covered school. This includes extracurricular activities, athletic programs and events, student and faculty housing, campus shuttle services, and events that occur in campus bookstores, classrooms, and cafeterias.

This does not mean, however, that a student, employee, or faculty member will not be protected from harassment if not actually present at a campus facility. In fact, Title IX specifically applies to all locations associated with a particular school, including school buses and off-campus training programs sponsored by the institution.

Does Title IX Apply if an Assault Happens at Another College Campus Where I am Not Enrolled?

It is not clear, based on the language of Title IX, whether an individual must be a student or official staff member or employee of a particular educational institution in order to benefit from the law’s protections. However, the question of who has standing to file a claim against a university was at least temporarily addressed last year, when two federal district courts grappled with this issue. Ultimately, the courts concluded that non-students were barred from bringing Title IX claims for money damages against a school accused of deliberate indifference to allegations of sexual abuse. Both decisions were affirmed by the First and Eighth Circuit Courts, but lawmakers have yet to address the scope of the law specifically and its applicability to non-students.

Legal Redress

Individuals who are non-students often find themselves in settings where they are not enrolled in a particular school, but are engaged in campus communities, and in some tragic cases, may find themselves the targets of harassment or assault. These individuals, although they do not have standing to file a claim under Title IX, do have other avenues of legal recourse. For instance, victims of sexual violence or harassment can seek redress through the tort system by pursuing money damages from individual assailants and educational institutions and may also have the option of filing a criminal complaint.

Finally, victims of on-campus harassment or assault can go through Title IX’s grievance procedure by filing a claim with the Office for Civil Rights (OCR). It’s important to note, however, that the OCR focuses mainly on university compliance with Title IX and eliminating future harms at educational institutions and not necessarily on addressing a claimant’s specific situation.

Does Title IX Cover Off Campus Activities?

Title IX provides protection to students in connection with all school-related programs, including academic, educational, extracurricular, and athletic events and programs. This includes activities and events that are sponsored by or related to an educational institution even if those events occur off-campus. For instance, sororities and fraternities that are affiliated with a school, but that are not located on campus, are often still covered by Title IX, as are students who participate in off-campus trips.

This principle holds true for students on academic breaks and summer vacation, but only if the students, staff, or faculty members in question are engaged in a school-related activity. In fact, the law often covers activities that occur off school grounds, but that are not sponsored by or related to a school program, as long as there is carry-over into the educational setting. If, for instance, a student is sexually assaulted off-campus by another student and would be required to continue to interact with or see that individual on campus, the wronged student could have legal recourse against the other student and the school under the terms of Title IX.

Does Title IX Apply During School Breaks?

Title IX covers universities, colleges, and other educational institutions regardless of the time of year. This includes summer vacation and academic breaks, during which, educational institutions are required to comply with the terms of Title IX’s sexual harassment provisions. However, like off-campus events, coverage only applies in cases where the harassment occurred at an event or program that is sponsored by or affiliated with the school or when there is carry-over into the educational setting. This is true for all current, enrolled, and accepted students who are engaged in a school’s educational programs or activities.

Spring Break and Study Abroad

Schools often report an increase in Title IX complaints after spring break. Unlike winter break, which usually involves a trek home to be with family, students often use spring break as an opportunity to travel with friends. Alcohol use increases and so does sexual activity. Students often find themselves forced into situations against their will. Or they engage in conduct believing it to be consensual only to face allegations of assault when they get back on campus.

Under the 2020 regulations, Title IX only covers conduct occurring on campus or in a program or activity controlled by the school. So if an incident occurred during a school-sponsored trip, a student could face Title IX charges for misconduct during spring break. If the students arranged their own trip, which is usually the case, then under current regulations, the conduct is outside the scope of Title IX, although it could be addressed under criminal law or a violation of school policy.

Section 106.11 of the proposed new regulations would return to a broader standard. Under this proposal, conduct occurring off campus would be covered if the respondent is engaged in ”conduct that is subject to the recipient’s disciplinary authority.” Schools would have an obligation to investigate and address a complaint even when based on conduct that occurred outside an education program or activity or even outside the U.S. This could conceivably be interpreted to cover incidents during an independent spring break trip if it involved two students from the same school since they are both bound by the same code of conduct as students. It can also be argued that the possibility of interaction on campus could affect a complainant’s ability to get an education in an environment where they feel safe.

Since the proposed regulations expand the scope to cover incidents outside the United States, conduct occurring during study abroad programs would also be covered by Title IX.

Behind-the-Scenes Activity Over the Summer

Studies may cease for most students during the summer, but administrators and staff generally work throughout the summer months. That means that if a Title IX investigation is ongoing when the spring semester ends, the Title IX Coordinator and others working on the complaint will continue to work on it over the summer. It also means that a student can file a Title IX complaint during the summer.

Moreover, schools are required to process complaints and conclude the grievance process within a reasonably prompt time frame, so they are actually required to continue working on a case even if the parties involved have left campus for the summer or graduated. Under current regulations, a school is allowed to dismiss a Title IX complaint if the respondent’s enrollment in the school comes to an end, but they may choose to proceed with the grievance process if a determination of responsibility could still benefit the complainant or if it would protect the community or enable the school to ascertain a pattern of harassment.

When processing continues over the summer, schools may conduct interviews through video conferencing and take other measures to reach students off campus. If you are involved in a case at the end of the school year, it is essential to monitor communication channels such as email and remain in communication with your attorney to make sure you haven’t missed an important message. It is also important for the school to have supportive measures available when you return to campus in the fall, so it may be a good idea to have your attorney check in with the school to find out what measures will be available to you.

Experienced Title IX Attorneys

If you were harassed or sexually assaulted while a student, faculty member, or employee of a university, college, or other educational institution, you could have standing to file a claim against the person who wronged you, as well as the school itself. To learn more about your own legal options when filing this type of case, please contact one of the experienced Title IX lawyers at Duffy Law, LLC today. You can reach our office by calling (203) 946-2000 or by sending a message to inquiry@duffylawct.com.

Felice Duffy

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Attorney At Duffy Law

Attorney Felice Duffy served as an Assistant United States Attorney for ten years after beginning her legal career at two prestigious firms (one in CT and one in NY) and then clerking for two federal judges. A life-long Title IX advocate, she brought a legal action under the then-new Title IX statute against UCONN while an undergraduate to compel the creation of its women’s varsity soccer program. She went on to become a first-team Division I All-American, was selected to be on the first U.S. National Women’s Team, and spent 10 years as Head Coach of the Yale women's soccer team. Attorney Duffy has Ph.D. in Education/Sports Psychology and has spoken to, and conducted trainings for, over 50 schools and organizations on a wide range of topics involving athletics, the law, and social justice. You can reach Felice at (203) 946-2000.