Will My Professors Know That I Have Been Accused of a Title IX Violation?
| Title IX|
Allegations of Title IX violations—particularly those involving sexual violence—trigger a chain of events that can change the course of your life. The prospect is terrifying. It is also embarrassing. We often have a tendency to assume that people are telling the truth, so when someone makes an accusation in the court of public opinion, the accused person bears the burden of proving they didn’t do it.
People look at you differently when you’ve been accused of a serious offense. So one question that troubles students who have been accused is—how many people know? There are protections in place to protect individuals who claim to have been victimized by Title IX violations, but how much protection is there for the person accused? What confidentiality provisions exist?
Students often express a valid concern that if professors know about the allegations, they will treat that student differently and perhaps penalize them without even realizing that’s what they’re doing. So, will your professors know if you’ve been accused of a violation?
Presumption of Confidentiality
Title IX regulations specify that schools “must keep confidential the identity of any individual who has made a report or complaint of sex discrimination, including any individual who has made a report or filed a formal complaint of sexual harassment, any complainant, any individual who has been reported to be the perpetrator of sex discrimination, any respondent, and any witness.” However, the regulation contains exceptions to this confidentiality requirement. Schools are allowed to disclose information in three situations:
- If permitted by the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) or FERPA regulations
- If required by law, or
- To carry out the purposes of the Title IX regulations, including the conduct of any investigation, hearing, or judicial proceeding
So, there is an initial presumption that an accusation will be kept confidential by the school if it has reached the formal complaint stage. Many school regulations also add their own confidentiality provisions that may cover much more than the identity information protected by Title IX.
However, the confidentiality provisions can be circumvented by applying one of the exceptions. Moreover, the rule prohibits the schools from disclosing information. They do not necessarily prohibit students and others from sharing information.
When Does FERPA Allow Disclosure of Title IX Proceedings?
The U.S. Department of Education, which has responsibility for enforcing Title IX regulations, has stated in a clarification Questions and Answers document that “FERPA permits but does not require the nonconsensual disclosure of records by postsecondary educational institutions in connection with disciplinary proceedings concerning crimes of violence or non-forcible sex offenses.”
This would indicate that the FERPA exception allows colleges to disclose the identity of a student accused of sexual assault and other forms of sexual misconduct. However, this guidance document does not carry the force of law.
When Disclosure is Necessary to Carry Out a Title IX Investigation
It is quite likely a school could justify notifying professors who work with the students involved in a Title IX investigation on the grounds that they need the professors’ observations and cooperation in carrying out the investigation. Those professors might be bound by confidentiality not to share what they’ve learned, but the damage is done as far as concerns about the impact on a student’s academic treatment.
Of course, if a professor is serving as a witness in any part of the proceedings or assisting as a support person for the complainant or respondent, then they would know not only the identity of the students but many other facts or alleged facts associated with allegations as well.
Disclosure for Safety Purposes
A school would also likely be able to justify disclosure to staff members out of concern for safety on campus, particularly if a violent offense is involved in the allegations. Safety needs would have to be balanced against the privacy rights of the students who are part of the proceedings.
However, in times of heightened security concerns, safety justifications can sometimes be accepted with little question.
How You Can Protect Your Rights and Privacy During a Title IX Investigation
Despite the difficulties, there are steps you can take to help protect your privacy and rights when you have been accused of a Title IX violation. First, you need to understand your rights. An experienced Title IX defense lawyer can be an invaluable guide and advocate.
You have the right to an investigation that meets certain standards for fairness and impartiality. In addition, you have the right to look for evidence and information and to present evidence to support your version of the events. When you know and assert your rights, you are more likely to be treated fairly and receive treatment that complies with legal standards.
A Title IX attorney can not only help you enforce your rights but also help you respond to questions in a manner that is clear and factual without inadvertently making statements that could be inconsistent or damaging. Title IX proceedings can often seem like there’s a presumption of guilt (even though this is not allowed under the rules) so having an attorney for advice and advocacy can help achieve balance in the process.
To defend yourself most effectively, it is helpful to:
- Become familiar with the Title IX policies and procedures in the school handbook regarding investigations and hearings. Then it will be easier to recognize if the school is deviating from its own rules.
- Communicate openly and honestly with your attorney or other support person
- Work with your advisor to develop a clear narrative of your side of the story and responses to allegations
- Prepare in advance when you have an interview or hearing
- Demonstrate respect to others throughout the process, even when accusations are painful and false and emotions run high
Duffy Law Helps Students Protect Their Rights and Future Opportunities
Depending on the situation, your professors may or may not learn about the Title IX accusations against you. They are not allowed to retaliate, and if they do, they may have their own offenses to answer for.
Defending yourself against a Title IX complaint can feel like fighting an uphill battle, but our experienced student’s rights attorneys can help level the playing field, get you fair opportunities to defend yourself, and protect your future prospects.
For a confidential consultation to discuss the assistance we can provide, contact Duffy Law today.