The Department of Education issued its final rule to implement Executive Order 13864 (Improving Free Inquiry, Transparency, and Accountability at Colleges and Universities). The final rule was announced on September 9, 2020 with an accompanying Fact Sheet, and was formally published on September 23, 2020. It is scheduled to go into effect on November 23, 2020.
The final rule’s major changes are outlined below, and include a clarification for Title IX as well as new conditions imposed on public and private institutions receiving federal direct grants or subgrants from a state-administered formula program. Continue reading Department’s New Final Rule Clarifies Title IX Exemption and Introduces Free Speech Requirements for Grant Recipients
The new Title IX Rule is now in effect as of today (Aug. 14, 2020). As such, all K-12 and postsecondary academic institutions that receive Title IV funding are required to have Title IX policies and procedures in place and to be implementing them going forward. As our readers will remember from our prior in-depth Client Alert, the new Rule governs employees and students, can include incidents on and off campus, requires institutions to adopt a formal process for investigating and resolving complaints (including a live hearing with cross-examination), and an appeals process.
Concurrent with the new Title IX Rule going into effect today, the Department of Education launched a Title IX website. The website is a repository Continue reading As New Title IX Rule Goes into Effect, Department Launches New Title IX Website
On June 11, 2020, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) released additional Q&As in “What You Should Know About COVID-19 and the ADA, the Rehabilitation Act, and Other EEO Laws,” clarifying and expanding upon guidance covered in our previous Alert.
As businesses reopen during the COVID-19 pandemic, employers continue to grapple with how to safely return employees to the workforce, particularly those employees with certain underlying conditions identified by the CDC, as well as pregnant employees and those over the age of 65. Continue reading Paternalistic Employers, Beware: EEOC Addresses Employer Concerns for Workplace Safety via Mandated Accommodations
The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights recently issued a FAQ in its continuing effort to address civil rights issues during the COVID-19 pandemic. The new guidance focused on disability accommodations, Title IX, and harassment issues.
The overall message was to again remind postsecondary institutions to “stay the course” with their civil rights obligations. Institutions must continue to engage in the interactive process and provide disability accommodations that do not fundamentally alter the academic program and/or are undue burdens. Institutions must also continue to receive, investigate, and resolve harassment complaints. Institutions should adapt their policies to the new distance learning environment, and, if they do, they must inform students, faculty, and staff of any changes.
OCR also offered practical advice for how institutions can meet their civil rights obligations (and take advantage of new technology in doing so): Continue reading OCR Provides Practical Pointers for Postsecondary Institutions to Meet Civil Rights Obligations In Distance Learning Environments
On April 3, 2020, the Office for Civil Rights continued its guidance on how institutions can implement distance learning while complying with federal civil rights laws. This guidance is timely because, as we all know, distance learning due to COVID-19 is redefining how most educational institutions operate. When all levels of academic institutions had to close their doors due to stay-at-home orders, many of them opened the proverbial window by turning to online education. Despite its increasing popularity over the past decade or so, distance learning remains an emerging and potentially scary (as well as exciting) landscape for many institutions as they navigate purchasing/installing new technology, implementing new methods of teaching, and ensuring connectivity with students. OCR’s guidance provides a roadmap to this new territory.
In further response to some institutions declining to use distance learning at all because they were unsure of being able to provide a free and appropriate public education (K-12) or appropriate accommodations (postsecondary) to students with disabilities, OCR reiterated: Continue reading OCR Guidance on Disability Rights and Distance Learning During the COVID-19 Pandemic
Governor Newsom’s Stay-at-Home Order requires “all individuals living in the State of California to stay home or at their place of residence except as needed to maintain continuity of the federal critical infrastructure sectors.” The Order exempted “16 critical infrastructure sectors whose . . . incapacitation or destruction would have a debilitating effect on security, economic security, public health, or any combination thereof.”
We all intuitively know academic institutions fit this description, and the Order agrees: “Government Facilities” are included as one of those 16 critical infrastructure sectors, and the cited-to guidance in the Order confirms that this includes an “Education Facilities Subsector [that] covers pre-kindergarten through 12th grade schools, institutions of higher education, and business and trade schools. The subsector includes facilities that are owned by both government and private sector entities.”
The State Public Health Officer published a list confirming who qualifies as “Essential Critical Infrastructure Workers,” which includes two areas relevant for educational institutions: Continue reading California Education Institutions Exempted from Statewide Stay-at-Home Order
As with all crises, this pandemic is a rapidly evolving situation that is forcing schools to quickly implement new policies and practices, often operating on limited information and without the usual procedural safeguards and vetting. Such an environment creates a risk of the unintended consequences of those new policies/procedures being overlooked, resulting in potentially discriminatory effects to students.
Recognizing this risk, the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights published guidance on March 16, 2020, reminding schools that students’ civil rights must be safeguarded during responses to the COVID-19 pandemic. OCR’s guidance encourages schools to take measures to protect against COVID-19, but to do so in a manner that is free from discrimination and continues to accommodate people with disabilities.
The Department of Education focused on a few key areas as examples of potential pitfalls: Continue reading Department of Education Issues Guidance on Safeguarding Civil Rights During COVID-19 Pandemic
Massachusetts Institute of Technology is seeking approval to pay $1,000,000+ in attorneys’ fees to settle a putative class action alleging MIT’s website was inaccessible to people with hearing difficulties. See Nat’l Assoc. of the Deaf et al. v. Mass. Inst. of Tech., 3:15-cv-30024-KAR (D. Mass. filed Feb. 12, 2015). This comes just months after Harvard University preliminarily settled a nearly identical lawsuit for $1.575 million. See Nat’l Assoc. of the Deaf et al. v. Harvard Univ., 3:15-cv-30023-KAR (D. Mass. filed Feb. 12, 2015). Neither university admits liability or wrongdoing in the settlement agreements.
The complaints alleged each university lacked adequate closed captioning of videos and audio tracks on publicly availably websites in violation of Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. They alleged the lack of captioning hindered the ability of individuals with hearing difficulties to fully and equally enjoy the services and goods offered to the public via the websites. The complaints alleged that closed captioning of such content was a reasonable accommodation. After motion practice, the courts agreed these allegations constituted viable claims under Section 504 and the ADA, and the parties proceeded into discovery before settling.
In the settlement agreements, the universities promised to: Continue reading Million Dollar Settlements of Closed Captioning Website Accessibility Lawsuits Highlight Need for Dual Approach