Members of the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District Board of Education attend a meeting on Monday, July 12, 2021 in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O'Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

District plans to comply with Title IX

The Kenai Peninsula Borough School District Board of Education will hold off on bringing the district into compliance with new federal Title IX guidance.

The board was scheduled to act on the revised policies and administrative regulations during its Monday meeting, however the legislation was removed from the board’s agenda to allow the policies to be considered further by the school board and district administration.

The district is expecting to implement a series of about six policies and administrative regulations describing its Title IX personnel and Title IX process, which will bring KPBSD into compliance with federal guidance issued at the federal level last year. Through those updates, KPBSD will hire a new Title IX and Human Resources Coordinator for the first time and formalize a process for handling allegations of discrimination on the basis of sex, including sexual harassment, in its code.

Betsy DeVos, who served as the U.S. Secretary of Education under former President Donald Trump, announced new Title IX regulations that included defining sexual harassment to include things like sexual assault and dating violence as unlawful discrimination on the basis of sex and implementing a new adjudication process the department said was more “fair” and “reliable.”

Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 protects people from discrimination on the basis of sex in education programs or activities that receive financial assistance from the federal government, according to the U.S. Department of Education. The statute is enforced by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights.

Title IX states that “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”

KPBSD was supposed to have brought itself into compliance with the new federal guidelines when they were signed into law by Trump last August, however the district has said they were busy responding to the COVID-19 pandemic.

KPBSD Assistant Superintendent Kari Dendurent said Wednesday that postponing action on the new policies will allow for more careful consideration by the board and district administration. Specifically, the district plans to wait for recommendations from the Association of Alaska School Boards, which is actively preparing guidance for Title IX compliance in Alaska and to simplify the language of the final policies and administrative regulations.

“We don’t have to rush,” Dendurent said.

Patti Burley, who serves as a deputy attorney for the Kenai Peninsula Borough and also provides legal services to KPBSD, gave a presentation explaining the history of Title IX to the KPBSD Board of Education during a board work session Monday.

“[The 2019 version of Title IX has] the exact same words,” Burley said. “It hasn’t changed. What has changed is the regulations around that.”

Dendurent said Wednesday that KPBSD already has Title IX policies in place, but that the new federal guidelines require them to modernize those policies.

People who testified before the board on Monday, however, were still skeptical.

Ethan Hansen and Danielle Fidai, who were protesting the Title IX policies outside of the board meeting on Monday, pushed back on the idea that the changes were necessary for the district to bring itself into compliance with new federal guidelines.

“They might be trying to get to their level, well, their level is wrong,” Fidai said. “The federal level is wrong.”

That sentiment was echoed by several people who testified inside the building, some of whom suggested the district forfeit federal funding and not bring itself into compliance.

“I would rather forget about the federal funding and just do the best thing for education for the kids,” said Joan Corr.

Dendurent said Wednesday that it is difficult to identify the impact a loss of federal funding would have on KPBSD because of the scope of district services that rely on federal funding.

On top of direct financial support from the federal government, KPBSD relies on federal funding for grant programs, district transportation, certain education programs like Migrant Education and school lunch assistance, among many other things.

“When people say we don’t need federal funding — we do,” Dendurent said.

School Board President Zen Kelly similarly refuted the idea of the district not bringing itself into compliance in his closing comments during Monday’s meeting.

“Title IX is a law,” Kelly said. “It is a law that we will follow. … We’re going to become compliant.”

Dendurent agreed with that statement, adding that whether or not the district complies with federal law isn’t really up for discussion.

“We will be complying,” Dendurent said.

Monday’s full Board of Education meeting can be viewed on the district’s media page at media.kpbsd.k12.ak.us.

Reach reporter Ashlyn O’Hara at ashlyn.ohara@peninsulaclarion.com.

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