6th Circuit Temporarily Pauses Implementation of New Title IX Regulations

6th Circuit Temporarily Pauses Implementation of New Title IX Regulations

Tennessee v. Cardona, 2024 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 106559

A federal district court judge in Kentucky issued a preliminary injunction on June 17, 2024 against the Department of Education’s new 2024 Title IX regulations that are set to go into effect on August 1, 2024. The injunction issued by the Kentucky judge is limited to the six plaintiff-states of Tennessee, Kentucky, Ohio, Indiana, Virginia, and West Virginia. There are multiple other lawsuits across the country with pending motions for preliminary injunctions that also may impact when the Department’s Title IX Final Rules will go into effect.

The Final Rules released by the Department in April include an expanded definition of “discrimination on the basis of sex” based on the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Bostock v. Clayton Cty., 590 U.S. 644, 681–83 (2020), that seeks to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity in a Title VII case. The federal district court held that the new regulations will dramatically alter the purpose and meaning of Title IX, and issued a preliminary injunction to pause the implementation of the 2024 Title IX regulations until the case may proceed further for the following reasons:

  • The Department’s interpretation likely exceeds its statutory authority,
  • The Department’s actions were arbitrary and capricious,
  • The Department’s reading goes against the major questions doctrine,
  • The Clear statement rule under the Spending Clause weighs against the new Title IX regulations,
  • The Plaintiffs raised valid First Amendment free speech concerns, and
  • The Department’s reading likely violates parental rights.

According to the court, the original goal of Title IX was to ensure that women have an equal opportunity to aspire, achieve, and participate in society based on their individual talents and capacities, and that before the last decade, the words “sex” and “discrimination on the basis of sex” had universally been understood to refer to biological sex under the statute. The court disagreed with the Department’s reliance on Bostock. The majority in Bostock claimed the decision did not apply beyond Title VII to other federal laws that prohibit sex discrimination, and the dissent warned about how the ruling could be misapplied in the school context. 

Citing last week’s different decision in Texas, in which a federal district court in the 5th Circuit enjoined the Department’s 2021 guidance, the court reminded the Department that federal agencies “…lack the authority to rewrite clear statutory terms to suit its own sense of how the statute should operate.” Texas v. Cardona, 2024 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 103452, at 85.

For purposes of Title IX, the court found that the term “sex” unambiguously refers to biological sex, and that Congress did not implicitly delegate its authority to change or expand that meaning to the Department. Similarly, Title IX was enacted as an exercise of Congress’ power under the Spending Clause which requires the government to condition the receipt of federal funds “unambiguously” so that states may be cognizant of the consequences of their participation and exercise their choice knowingly. South Dakota v. Dole, 483 U.S. 203, 207 (1987). But the court found that the Final Rule’s language provides no indication that an institution’s receipt of federal funds is conditioned on any sort of mandate concerning gender identity.

Lastly, the court cautioned that the new Title IX regulations may infringe on the constitutional rights of students, staff, and parents. The court found that the Final Rules require districts to treat children consistent with their gender identities on school grounds, even if that conflicts with parental preferences.  The court cautions that the Department’s reading of Title IX may require districts to enter the “private realm of family life” that has been afforded both substantive and procedural protections.

What this means for your district

The preliminary injunction issued by the federal district judge in Kentucky within the 6thCircuit this week pauses the Title IX Final Rules implementation in the six states involved, including Ohio, but only temporarily. As the case progresses to a full hearing, the injunction may be lifted or a permanent injunction could be issued. There is also potential that one of the other pending lawsuits impacts how the Final Rules are implemented. We may not have a definitive answer on compliance with the new Title IX regulations until these cases make their way through the court system. In the meantime, districts should continue to prepare for the new rules, even if they are currently delayed, to ensure they are prepared to implement Title IX provisions if and when they go into effect. This decision does not reverse or modify the 6th Circuit precedent concerning Title IX and students within K-12 schools. Consult your legal counsel.

Gender Equity Under Scrutiny: 4th Circuit Questions Law Prohibiting Transgender Girls from Competition

Gender Equity Under Scrutiny: 4th Circuit Questions Law Prohibiting Transgender Girls from Competition

B.P.J. v. W. Va. State Bd. of Edn., 98 F.4th 542 (4th Cir. 2024).

On April 16, 2024, the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals issued a split decision holding that West Virginia’s Save Women’s Sports Act (the Act) violated Title IX as applied to the plaintiff. The 2022 state law prohibited transgender girls from competition in girls and women’s sports in K-12 and college athletics throughout the state. After the Act went into effect, B.P.J., a transgender girl, was no longer allowed to compete on the middle school cross-country team. She sued the State Board of Education and local public school district, alleging that the Act violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and violated Title IX.

Beginning with the Equal Protection claims, the court applied intermediate scrutiny to the Act after determining that it constituted sex-based discrimination. The State’s position was that the law was enacted for the purposes of “participant safety” and “competitive fairness” to justify the Act’s treatment of transgender girls. The court questioned how B.P.J.’s exclusion from the cross-country team was substantially related to either of those interests. The facts of the case were that B.P.J. played a non-contact sport, so the court failed to see a participant safety issue. Additionally, the majority reasoned that B.P.J.’s early transition and prolonged use of hormone therapy called into question whether she enjoyed a competitive advantage over her cisgender peers. Since the parties disputed whether those assigned male at birth enjoyed a competitive advantage over cisgender girls, the court ordered further proceedings to debate the issue.

The public school tried unsuccessfully to argue that it should not be held liable since it was complying with the state law, rather than district policy that violated Title IX. While true, a federal law such as Title IX supersedes the district’s obligations to the state. After quickly dismissing the district’s argument, the court warned that mere compliance with a state law is not a legitimate defense to a Title IX violation.

According to the court, the Act discriminated against and caused harm to B.P.J. in violation of Title IX. The Act prohibited only one category of students, transgender girls, from competing on teams with their corresponding gender. The majority further explained that the state should not expect B.P.J. to go against her social transition to play on the boys’ team, and that the Act risked exposing her to the same level of unfair treatment that West Virginia claimed it was trying to prevent for cisgender girls because of B.P.J’s hormone treatments. The court was careful to note that its holding was a limited ruling on the Act as applied to B.P.J., and that it was not holding that Title IX required every transgender girl to play on a girls’ team.

What this means for your district
It is important to note that this decision applies only to the 4th Circuit. The ruling is limited to its facts as applied to a specific student playing a specific sport, and is not a blanket requirement that all transgender girls be allowed to compete on girls’ sports teams under Title IX. However, Title IX is a federal law and must be followed regardless of jurisdiction. Several states, including Ohio, have adopted similar legislation to West Virginia’s Save Women’s Sports Act. Conflict between these laws and Title IX may force districts into a situation where state compliance risks exposing them Title IX liability.

Special Education Update: IDEA Does NOT Take a Summer Recess

Special Education Update: IDEA Does NOT Take a Summer Recess

Most educators were ready for a much deserved break as soon as the final school buses leave the building. While some things may resume at the start of the next school year, many mandates of the Individuals with Disabilities Act and Ohio Operating Standards do not take a summer break.

1. The 60-day timeline applies: Even if parents request an evaluation at the end of the school year, districts may not wait until the start of the 2024-2025 school year to complete the evaluation. Schools have thirty (30) calendar days after a request for an evaluation to obtain parent consent and only sixty (60) calendar days after consent to complete the evaluation. After that,  the IEP must be completed in thirty (30) days.

 If, for instance, the District tells a parent, “The beginning of the year will include a lot of review. Let’s set some things in place and wait until after the first 9 weeks next year. Then we’ll evaluate.” Caution is warranted.  Schools may not use interventions to delay an evaluation, and a parent may successfully argue that the school may have violated its Child Find obligation. Potential consequences could include corrective action or the parent being declared the prevailing party in a due process complaint with an award of attorney fees.

 2. Consulting with private schools: Each school district must engage in meaningful consultation with representatives of nonpublic schools within their jurisdiction. Since this includes discussions of how the consultative process will operate throughout the school year, it may be beneficial to engage in those conversations while school is not in session.

 3. ESY services include data collection: While IEP teams have already made ESY decisions for eligible students, data collection and progress monitoring during these summer sessions may prove critical for informing future services for the student as well as the necessity for ESY services in the future. Moreover, such documentation is important to establish that students received the required specially designed instruction and related services over the course of the summer program.

4. Due process timelines prevail: In the unfortunate circumstance of a due process complaint at the end of the school year or during the summer months, there is no flexibility to wait until the commencement of the new school year. Indeed, the absence of IEP team members or other witnesses during the summer months is not a justification for delaying the due process complaint. Moreover, schools need to prepare to conduct a resolution session within fifteen (15) days of the notice of the due process – with or without staff participation.

Update on New Guidance Regarding Joint Purchasing Programs Under Revised Code Section 9.48

Update on New Guidance Regarding Joint Purchasing Programs Under Revised Code Section 9.48

For those of you familiar with the web of statutes and Ohio Attorney General opinions regarding competitive bidding and cooperative purchasing for construction and other services, the Ohio Attorney General (“OAG”) recently added a new section to the web.

For those of you that are not so familiar, some brief context: Boards of education are required by R.C. Section 3313.46 to competitively bid when they determine to build, repair, enlarge, improve, or demolish any school building and the cost of the work is more than fifty thousand dollars ($50,000). However, R.C. Section 9.48 permits school boards to use cooperative purchasing contracts to acquire equipment, materials, supplies, or services. The OAG released an opinion in 2019 finding that school boards may not use R.C. Section 9.48 to obtain construction services, because the General Assembly did not specify so in the statute.

On March 18, 2024, the OAG issued Opinion No. 2024-003, to clarify the scope of services that may be obtained under R.C. 9.48. The opinion revisits the definition of “services” within R.C. 9.48 and clarifies that the interpretation of the term “services” is to include installation, maintenance, repairs, and similar activities, particularly when associated with equipment, materials, and supplies procured under the program. This clarification aims to differentiate between the terms “construction services” and “related services.” While the opinion explores some possible definitions of “construction” and “construction services,” the opinion ultimately concludes that determining whether a service falls under impermissible “construction services” is a factual inquiry beyond the OAG’s purview, emphasizing the need for legal counsel’s guidance.

To put it briefly, repair services that do not constitute construction work are able to be procured through RC 9.48. Equipment purchases that have only incidental installation requirements, are also likely permissible items for RC 9.48 cooperative purchasing. Maintenance services are also safe because maintenance is not a service that is required to be bid. Careful consideration should be given to whether a particular project is a repair or just maintenance.

Keep in mind that there are cooperative options available to school districts that do include construction and construction services. If you are considering a project and are exploring your cooperative procurement options, do not hesitate to contact an Ennis Britton attorney to discuss your available options!

Ohio Court Emphasizes Need for Flexibility in Administrator Contracts

Ohio Court Emphasizes Need for Flexibility in Administrator Contracts

State ex rel. Ruble v. Bd. of Edn. of Switzerland of Ohio Local School Dist., 2024-Ohio-1542

The Switzerland of Ohio Local School District was sued by four administrators after their contracts were suspended by the Board of Education in July 2021. The Superintendent announced to the Board that he was recommending the suspensions due to the “reorganization and consolidation” of their administrative functions. After giving the administrators the required notice, the recommendation was adopted at the next board meeting listing the “financial condition of the school district” as a basis for the suspension of their contracts.

In a case argued by Ennis Britton’s own Michael Fischer, the Ohio 7th District Court of Appeals upheld the suspension of the administrators’ contracts on April 11, 2024 after determining the school board’s policy did not violate R.C. 3319.171. According to the court, Ohio’s administrative personnel suspension policy was meant to be construed broadly to give school boards the flexibility they need to adjust their administrative staff according to the needs of the school district.

In its decision, the court held that a district’s policy pursuant to R.C. 3319.171 needs to include the following:

  • One or more reasons that the board may consider for suspending any contract,
  • Procedures for determining the order of suspension of contracts, and
  • Provisions requiring a right of restoration for employees whose contracts of employment are suspended.

Additionally, school boards need to consider input from other administrators when developing its administrative personnel suspension policy.

However, the court noted that the statute does not require detailed lists of criteria for suspension, nor does it preclude the board from considering the overall needs and interests of the district when making staffing decisions. While the policy may not have been as detailed as the administrators argued it needed to be, the court noted that as long as the board’s policy meets the minimums established above as well as considering the administrators for other openings for which they may be properly qualified, the district is in compliance with the statute.

It is worth noting that the court suggested that the board’s policy, which was sourced from a third-party provider, may have been invalid for failing to consider the input from other administrators as required by R.C. 3319.171(C). But the court did not review this issue on appeal, since the argument never was properly raised by the administrators.

What does this mean for your district? Administrators do not have the same level of protection as teachers under Ohio law with regard to reductions in force. District policies still are required to meet certain statutory minimums, but R.C. 3319.171 is broadly construed to consider the best interests of the district and give boards of education the flexibility they need to adjust their administrative staff in response to changing circumstances.