Dr. Bill Howe


Here is some simple guidance for parents and guardians on how to file a complaint with your school district regarding sexual harassment, sexual violence, sex discrimination and other violations of state and federal civil rights laws regarding gender discrimination.


  1. First, make sure that your school district is required to follow state and federal civil rights laws. Under federal law any educational entity that receives even one dollar of federal financial support must abide by Title IX and other federal civil rights laws. Do not let schools argue that since “they do not receive Title IX money” they do not have to obey the law.

    For example, schools are bound by Title IX under these circumstances.


  • Students attend with their tuition paid for through public school district funding. Public school funds, state funds and federal funds are commingled. Therefore, acceptance of public school district funding or state funds is essentially also receiving federal funding.
  • If any students receive services from their public school district –  such as speech therapy, or are on an IEP that is considered a link to federal funds
  • If any receive grants, scholarships, or loans through the school district or through the state, that is federal funding
  • If your school accepts donations from public schools or the state, such as used computers, books, etc. – that is federal funding

If the school receives any state funds, then you are bound by state civil rights laws which most likely include anti-discrimination laws such as sex discrimination and sexual harassment.


Students in parochial schools are not protected by state and federal civil rights laws if they do not accept state or federal funding. Complaints would go to the Arch Diocese Office. However, if the complaint involves sexual assault, it could be a criminal matter that falls under police jurisdiction. Or it could be a child welfare issue which should then also be reported to the state children welfare agency.


  1. Upon finding out that a violation as occurred, ensure that the child has not been physically injured and if so seek medical treatment first. Reassure the child emotionally. Gather all of your facts as soon as possible. Be descriptive as possible and write it down. The chronology is important. The fact gathering should take place immediately. Facts to gather are:
  • Where did this take place?
  • What time was it?
  • Who was the perpetrator? How does the child know the person?
  • Were there any witnesses? Get their names.
  • Describe the offensive behavior. Why does the child think this occurred?
  • Recall any conversations that were had at the time.
  • Draw a picture illustrating the location where the offense occurred and where people were positioned.
  • Were any adults notified of the incident? Get their names.
  1. If you have not already done so, you should be familiar with the schools policies and procedures regarding Title IX and violence.  Title IX requires that schools have written policies and procedures in the student handbook. The contact information for the Title IX coordinator is required to be provided in the student handbook.
  2. Call the person identified in the student handbook who is responsible for these matters. If a person cannot be reached, contact the school principal. If no one can be reached, leave a voice message and follow it up with an email indicating you have an urgent report of the civil rights violation and possible criminal action.
  3. When you reach the person in charge, make sure you get their name, title and other contact information. Reading from your notes describe exactly what your complaint is. Let the school official know that you believe that this incident is a impossible civil rights and criminal violation. Cite Title IX. Also, if your child is a special needs student, has a disability or has possibly been targeted because of race, religion, national origin indicate that these are also possible violations. Some federal civil rights in education laws are:


  • Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 (20 U.S.C. §§ 1681 et seq.) prohibits sex discrimination in education and in employment
  • Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, or national origin in all programs or activities that receive Federal financial assistance
  • Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 Prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in all programs or activities that receive Federal financial assistance.
  • Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) governs the equal treatment and education of special education students.
  • Matthew Shepard & James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009 Gives the Justice Department the power to investigate and prosecute bias-motivated violence by providing the Justice Department with jurisdiction over crimes of violence where a perpetrator has selected a victim because of the victim’s actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability.
  1. Write down what the school official says. Ask the school official how they plan to proceed. Get a commitment for a follow-up call. Follow up conversations with a written summary to the school.
  2. Get confirmation from the school official that there will be no retaliation against your child. There should be a statement in the student handbook that says that. It might be helpful to cite the page number. The commitment from the school for a safety plan to ensure that your child will not be at risk during the investigation.
  3. Consider enlisting the help of a victim’s advocate or rape crisis organization to serve as an intermediary. Get confirmation from your school that her child will have blanket permission to leave the classroom and seek the school counselor if need be.
  4. It is the schools responsibility to notify law enforcement and the child welfare agency, if they deem it appropriate. You may do so yourself.
  5. You should allow the school district time to investigate your complaint and come to a conclusion. Often the timelines are in the student handbook. If not, the Office for Civil Rights of the US Dept. of Education (OCR) generally considers 60 days a reasonable time for a school to complete an investigation. Most individuals feel that this is far too long a time
  6. You may ask for proof that the person conducting the Title IX investigation has been trained in Title IX. This is a federal requirement under OCR [Cape Cod Community College OCR Case No. 01-93- 2047].
  7. At the same time that you notify the school you also have the right to file a complaint with OCR. OCR will generally want to give the school sufficient time to conduct the investigation, but they feel that the investigation is not progressing in a timely manner, you may press for OCR to act.
  8. You may also file a complaint with the state civil rights commission and the state Department of Education. The state civil rights commission may decline to begin an investigation if OCR has already done so. At the same time, OCR will most likely not act if the state civil rights commission has already begun an investigation. OCR will most likely not act if you have contacted an attorney and become private litigation.
  9. If the school conducts an investigation and concludes that there was no violation, ask what the appeal process is for the school district. Sometimes, schools will include a policy on appeals in the student handbook. Sometimes they will not. Some schools may decline to have any appeal process.
  10. In high-profile cases, or in cases in which the alleged perpetrator is a school official, the school may hire a so-called “independent investigator” to conduct investigation. If this is the case, try to vet this independent investigator to ensure that they are indeed unbiased and have no conflict of interest with the school district.
  11. If the perpetrator is a certified teacher or administrator, you may have rights within your state to file a complaint with the state education agency and asked that their teaching credentials be revoked. This is usually done through the state education agency’s legal office.
  12. Remember, that even if the local law enforcement agency finds that there was no criminal action, that does not mean that there was no Title IX violation. Similarly, a child welfare agency may find no violation of child welfare laws but there may still be a violation of Title IX. Keep in mind that most states have parallel state laws to Title IX.
  13. If the school conducts an investigation and find that you have no grounds for your complaint, you may be able to proceed with a complaint with OCR or the state civil rights commission but generally only if you can prove that there were procedural errors, such as the person conducting the investigation was not trained in Title IX or that the school failed to follow its stated policies and procedures. At this point, you may want to consult a attorney to consider private litigation.
  14. The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (“FERPA”), generally prevents the disclosure of confidential information about other students. However, the US Department of Education has ruled that in Title IX cases, parents have the right to know the outcomes of the investigation and the punishment given to the perpetrator. This is a very contentious issue since schools have been traditionally warned not to disclose any confidential information.
  15. A final consideration is to determine what you want to happen as a result of an investigation. In civil rights parlance the question is “how can we make the victim whole again?” Some things that you may want to consider for your child are:
  • An opportunity to retake tests that were missed as a result of the incident.
  • Tutoring for your child to help them make up for lost schooling and lowered grades.
  • Payment for summer school to help your child get caught up in school.
  • Reimbursement for out-of-pocket medical expenses as a result of the incident.
  • Payment for counseling services for your child. You could ask the same for the perpetrator.
  • You may ask for a safety plan to ensure that the perpetrator will not have any contact or share classes with your child. This may not be possible in small schools.
  • And of course, protection against retaliation.
  • You might want to have your timeline coordinator receive advanced training.
  • You could ask that all faculty and staff be trained in Title IX, other civil rights laws, policies and procedures.
  • You could ask for a review and update on school policies, the employee handbook and the student handbook.



Important Resources

Find your school District Title IX Coordinator


State Education Agency Title IX Coordinators


Federally funded Equity Assistance Centers that can provides training for your school district –


U.S. Dept of Education Office for Civil Righhts to file a complaint


This is just a brief summary and should not be construed as legal advice.

Dr. Bill Howe  was the Connecticut State Title IX coordinator for 17 years. He maintains a website on Title IX at –