When Civil Rights Collide: Intersection of Disability Rights Law and Title IX in Education

Michael Thad Allen, J.D.

This presentation guides conference goers through the intersecting law of Title IX, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. In this context, the assertion of students’ rights to be free of discrimination on the basis of sex and the assertion of due process rights may conflict with other students’ disability rights.

Three statistical trends are currently on collision course: 1) more students with psychiatric diagnoses attend colleges and universities; 2) young people with disabilities disproportionately fall prey to sexual assault and other violent crimes; 3) social movements such as #MeToo and vigorous enforcement of Title IX through campus conduct codes has increased the number and pace of university’s reaction to students whose behavior appears to be “inappropriate.” More students than ever arrive on college campuses, who, because of the way their brains are wired, are both more vulnerable to predatory behavior but also more likely to be singled out by others for behaving in unexpected ways. Growing evidence suggests that students with psychiatric diagnoses are disproportionately accused of Title IX violations. At the same time, a victim with psychiatric diagnosis who comes forward with a complaint must navigate the university’s complex bureaucratic response, which follows its own rules.

Students who reach higher education have usually transitioned, performe well academically, and acquired independent living skills. However, navigating a campus Title IX proceeding requires familiarity with policies and formal social interactions of interviews (interrogations) and hearings that few train or prepare for. Disability Services Offices and Title IX Coordinator Offices are usually separate campus institutions. They typically share little information. The burden of demanding disability rights in higher education also falls more heavily upon the student than in K-12 education. At the same time, other students may assert due process rights or the right to “no contact orders” that are counterposed and may conflict with the rights of the student with disability.

In addition to providing a summary of relevant law in lay terms, this presentation introduces concrete steps to demand reasonable accommodations for Title IX interviews and hearings.

This presentation will deliver the following:

  1. A practical review of the current law of Title IX, the ADA, and Section 504.
  2. An introduction to campus procedures for adjudicating Title IX and other student misconduct disputes.
  3. Practical techniques for guiding students with psychiatric diagnoses through Title IX proceedings.
  4. Templates for requesting reasonable accommodations and asserting disability rights in Title IX proceedings.
  5. Suggested accommodations under Section 504 to protect students with psychiatric diagnoses in Title IX proceedings.