Last week, Title IX – the 1972 legal provision which prevents sex and gender-based discrimination in education – turned 45 years old. In honor of the anniversary, feminist groups briefed Congress on the victories Title IX has won, as well as the ways in which the law continues to fall short.

The National Women’s Law Center (NWLC) briefed lawmakers and advocates on their latest education equity campaign, “Let Her Learn: Stopping School Pushout,” which is focused on pinpointing and combatting factors that prevent girls from receiving the instruction they deserve.

In “a closer look at what girls need to be safe and successful in school,” the NWLC determined that discriminatory discipline, harassment and violence, lack of support for trauma survivors, and discrimination against pregnant and parenting students all play major roles in pushing girls out of classrooms and schools.

The NWLC found that one in five girls have been sexually assaulted, one in three girls have experienced violence of some kind, and one in seven girls have reported missing school because they felt unsafe there. When sexism interacts with racism and homophobia, girls are especially vulnerable. Girls of color are often subject to discriminatory discipline – for example, black girls do not commit more serious offenses than white girls but are five times more likely to be suspended from school. And girls who identify as LGBTQ+ are more likely to report experiencing sexual harassment and violence. Violence, discrimination, and harassment all interfere with girls’ ability to attend school and focus on learning.

The NWLC highlighted challenges faced by pregnant and parenting students, and emphasized the role that schools need to play in ensuring that these students receive equitable treatment. Pregnant and parenting girls and women are likely to experience school pushout as a result of being pushed into less rigorous schools or tracks, being penalized for medically-necessary absences, and not being allowed to make up missed work.

The National Coalition for Women and Girls in Education (NCWGE) also briefed lawmakers and advocates on their 2017 report “Title IX at 45,” which details Title IX’s strides and shortcomings in a number of education objectives. Panel speakers agreed that although Title IX has prompted many victories for women in education, there is still a long way to go.

To address these gender-based inequities, speakers at both the NWLC and NCWGE briefings urged members of Congress to increase funding for the Office of Civil Rights, hold Secretary of Education Betsy Devos accountable for upholding protections for sexual assault victims, and pass the Patsy T. Mink Gender Equity in Education Act of 2017, which would put more federal funding towards helping schools uphold Title IX. They also called for individual schools and communities to commit to enforcing Title IX. One panel speaker stressed the need for cultural competency, implicit bias, and trauma response training for teachers, while others highlighted the importance of proactive Title IX coordinators.

Advocates for women and girls are increasingly concerned that Secretary DeVos is opposed to enforcing Title IX and working to create an education environment free from gender based harassment and violence. DeVos hired Candice Jackson to serve as the new secretary for civil rights in the Department of Education. Jackson is a critic of programs that aim to assist people of color and has called the women who accused President Trump of sexual assault “fake victims.”

Media Resources: National Women’s Law Center website; National Women’s Law Center “Let Her Learn” 2017; National Coalition for Women and Girls in Education website; National Coalition for Women and Girls in Education “Title IX at 45” 2017; Patsy T. Mink Gender Equity in Education Act of 2017; Feminist Majority Foundation 4/21/17

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