On June 15, 2016, the Department’s office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education (OCTAE) and Office for Civil Rights (OCR) released a “Dear Colleague” letter regarding gender equity in CTE programs. The letter summarizes legal obligations for recipients of Federal funding that offer CTE programs (“Recipients”), which serve to ensure equitable access to CTE programs. The letter does not add requirements to applicable law, but provides information and examples to inform Recipients about how the Department evaluates whether covered entities are complying with their legal obligations.
The letter can be accessed by clicking here.
Overview of Dear Colleague Letter
Although disproportionate gender enrollment alone does not violate Federal law, Recipients must conduct their admission, recruitment, and counseling practices in a nondiscriminatory manner, and respond to substantially disproportionate enrollment of individuals of one sex by reviewing their policies and practices and, if applicable, addressing any unlawful sex discrimination or stereotypes in those policies and practices.
1. Sources of Federal Law: Recipients’ obligations to prevent and remedy sex discrimination in CTE programs arise from various different sources of legal authority. (Sources of legal authority include: a) Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972; b) Title IX Guidelines; c) the Methods of Administration (MOA) program; d) State Educational Agencies; and e) the Perkins Act.)
2. Specific Recipient Obligations: In order to ensure equitable opportunity for all students to participate in CTE programs, a Recipient:
· Must recruit a diverse pool of students and may not discriminate on the basis of sex in recruitment activities;
· Is prohibited from discriminating on the basis of sex in the admissions process and may not use any test or criterion that has a disproportionately adverse effect on individuals of one sex;
· Must ensure that its counseling practices and appraisal materials are nondiscriminatory.
3. Title IX Procedural Requirements: The following procedural requirements are important for the prevention and correction of sex discrimination and play a critical role in improving equitable access, participation, and retention of students in CTE programs:
· Notice of Discrimination: Recipients must publish a notice stating that they do not discriminate on the basis of sex in the education programs and activities they operate.
· Title IX Coordinator: Recipients must designate at least 1 employee to coordinate their compliance with Title IX and notify all students and employees of the name or title and contact information for this person.
· Grievance Procedures: Recipients must adopt and publish grievance procedures providing for the prompt and equitable resolution of sex discrimination complaints.
4. Title IX Discriminatory Practices: Recipients must also take steps to eliminate any discriminatory practices that discourage continued enrollment and achievement. Title IX protects students from discrimination on the basis of marital and parental status, as well as on the basis of pregnancy, with respect to admissions to CTE institutions. In addition, Title IX prohibits sex-based harassment by peers, employees, or third parties that is sufficiently serious to deny or limit a student’s ability to participate or benefit from the school’s education programs and activities.
5. Case Examples: To help illustrate the legal requirements described above, the Department’s dear colleague letter provides hypothetical examples of how a recipient could fail to comply with federal law related to equitable access to CTE programs and the actions a recipient could take to remedy violations. Listed below are two examples incorporated into the letter:
Example 1: Recruitment and Promotional Activities
A high school is planning to sponsor a career day for all students to promote its information technology program. This is the only promotional effort that the high school will undertake for its information technology program. All of the current students and recent graduates of the program who will be invited to speak at the career day are male, even though some female students are currently enrolled in and have recently graduated from the program. The high school has not revised its promotional materials in a number of years, and all of the materials distributed at the career day depict males and use male pronouns to refer to students in the program. The high school only distributed these promotional materials at the career day and did not distribute them to members of the student community who did not attend the career day. The inclusion of only male students and graduates as speakers at the career day and promotional materials depicting only males and using only male pronouns may perpetuate the stereotype that information technology is a field for men, and, thus, may violate Title IX guidelines.
To remedy this potential violation, the high school could alter its plans for the career day and include presentations from both male and female current students and graduates of the program about their experiences in the information technology program. The materials distributed at the career day could depict both males and females performing information technology-related tasks, include information about information technology-related jobs and college programs, and use gender-neutral pronouns. The school could also ensure that the materials depicting more gender diversity are sent to all members of the student community. In addition, in future years, the school could ensure that its career day and promotional materials are both gender-neutral and inclusive.
Example 2: Admissions
A community college requires students who wish to enroll in its construction management program to have taken classes in construction technology in high school. Few female students are enrolled in the college’s construction management program. Each year a number of female students who express interest in the program are not able to enroll because they did not take classes in construction technology in high school. Title IX and the Guidelines prohibit schools from using admissions criteria that have a disproportionate adverse effect on students of one sex unless the criteria are validated as essential to participate in the program and are shown to predict success in the program. The college has not determined whether the previous classes in construction technology are essential to participate in or predict success in the construction management program.
To remedy this, the college could convene a committee to study whether taking previous classes in construction technology is essential to participate in the construction management program. If the committee determines that although previous classes in construction technology are helpful, they are not essential to or do not predict success in the program, the college can eliminate this admissions requirement. To make up for any potential knowledge gaps, the college could offer an introductory class in construction technology to all students who did not take classes in construction technology in high school or who want a refresher course. Alternatively, or in addition, even if the committee determines that the previous coursework is essential or predictive of success, the community college could explore whether outreach programs or partnerships with its area high schools could encourage all students to take the necessary prerequisite courses to build a more equal pipeline of students prepared for admission to the Program.
Prepared by Ohio ACTE Legislative Counsel, Terrence O’Donnell and Will Vorys, Dickinson Wright PLLC Law Firm
To read an editorial piece by the U.S. Department of Education regarding gender equity, click here.