The US Education Department issued guidance as a reminder to schools that an employee must be appointed to oversee efforts concerning the compliance of Title IX on the campus, which prohibits sex discrimination.
The letter states that not only must a Title IX coordinator be hired at each school, but that those coordinators must be protected in order to best perform their job duties.
A Title IX resource guide was also released by federal officials in an effort to help schools better understand their obligations, in addition to helping Title IX coordinators understand their role.
All institutions that must comply with Title IX must also submit to the guidance. This includes K-12 schools, colleges and universities, writes Emma Brown for The Washington Post.
"This announcement and supporting documents is a big deal because Title IX complaints are up, and so is the stress on Title IX coordinators," said Lisa Maatz, the top federal relations staffer at the American Association of University Women. "They need this assurance that in the eyes of [the Education Department's for Office Civil Rights], their concerns are about sex equality in schools and they have the authority to do their job without fear of retaliation."
The efforts come as the latest intent from the Obama administration to bolster Title IX, which makes it illegal to discriminate on the basis of sex in K-12 schools and colleges. A 2011 release from the department colleges schools to address all allegations of sexual assault on campus, and last year announced that gay and transgender students are protected under Title IX, reports Tyler Kingkade for The Huffington Post.
According to Maatz, the guidance was issued after cases such as the one in Anoka-Hennepin School District in Minnesota came about. The school came under fire in 2011 when it was alleged that students were being harassed by peers because they "didn't dress or act in ways that conform to gender stereotypes." The Title IX coordinator at the school did not handle cases outside of the athletic community.
"Unfortunately, this lack of knowledge about Title IX among those tasked with enforcing it is not uncommon," Maatz sad. "That is why these tools released today are important."
A record number of complaints have been filed by students across the country, alleging that colleges are continuously mishandling sexual assault cases. So far, over 100 federal investigations have occurred due to these allegations.
The Education Department is conducting 24 Title IX reviews of K-12 school districts.