NAICU Washington Update

Education Department Releases COVID-19-Related Civil Rights Guidance

May 15, 2020

The Department of Education has issued guidance advising institutions of higher education how to comply with federal civil rights law during the coronavirus pandemic. The guidance primarily focuses on compliance with Title IX and with the disability laws such as the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.

With respect to harassment complaints under Title IX and other civil rights laws such as Title VI, the Department’s guidance clarifies that institutions must continue accepting reports of harassment and investigating such claims but may need to adjust their approach on a case-by-case basis as they also take into consideration the health and safety of the campus community. Specifically, because investigative delays may occur during the pandemic, the Department will account for current circumstances when the agency evaluates an institution’s good-faith effort to conduct investigations in a timely manner.

The Department also advises institutions that they may modify their Title IX procedures to conduct interviews and hearings using technology, but they must notify students and employees of these changes. Likewise, an institution must notify all parties if there are any COVID-19-related delays anticipated in a particular case. Finally, institutions may modify no-contact and no-communication agreements in response to changed circumstances, but such agreements should continue to remain in effect.

With respect to federal disability laws, the Department emphasizes that institutions must continue to meet their legal obligations but acknowledges that current circumstances may affect how accommodations for students with disabilities are provided. According to the Department, institutions should not decline to provide distance education based on concerns that they must first address all disability accommodations issues, but rather should consider the health and safety of the entire campus community while also taking reasonable steps to address the needs of students with disabilities. The Department acknowledges that some accommodations can be provided online while others cannot and therefore institutions may have to adjust services for students with disabilities on a case-by-case basis that takes into account the national emergency.


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