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Single-Sex Membership Youth Organizations Letter

On December 15, 2015, the US Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) issued a “Dear Colleague” letter, available here and summarized below, about lawfully providing resources to single-sex youth membership organizations.  The letter offers guidance from OCR on how to determine whether an organization qualifies as a voluntary youth service organization under Title IX and, importantly, how to remain compliant with Title IX when a school chooses to work with such an organization.[1]

Title IX generally prohibits districts from excluding students from educational opportunities based on their sex and from providing significant assistance to outside organizations that do so.  OCR explains that significant assistance can be financial support, provision of tangible resources (staff, equipment, facilities), or intangible benefits (recognition).  School Districts may provide significant assistance, however, to exempt “Voluntary Youth Service Organizations” (for example, the YMCA, YWCA, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, and Camp Fire Girls) regardless of their single-sex memberships.  In order to qualify for this exemption, membership in the organization must be (1) voluntary, (2) traditionally limited to members of one sex, (3) principally limited to persons under nineteen years of age, and (4) must facilitate public service opportunities for its members.  

OCR clarifies in its letter that an organization does not qualify for the exemption if it is solely focused on youth development, the organization’s program must also provide a service component.  OCR also makes clear that the exemption is limited to the membership practices: a voluntary youth service organization cannot engage in sex discrimination against students or employees in any other aspect of the organization’s program. The school district is responsible under Title IX to the same extent as if the school district were directly offering the program if students or employees are subject to sexual or gender-based harassment within the organization.

If the school district does provide significant assistance to an exempt voluntary youth service organization, the district still has Title IX obligations to ensure females and males have comparable educational opportunities overall.  In determining Title IX compliance, OCR will look at the overall set of opportunities available by combining the opportunities provided by the district and outside organizations. A school district is not required to provide identical opportunities, but differences should be negligible.  In an example OCR provided, if your district offers its facilities for a month long science camp for the district’s male students through a voluntary service organization, but offers no comparable summer opportunities for female students, OCR would likely find a violation of Title IX.

What should your district do to comply? Thoroughly vet the outside organizations that you are considering providing district resources. On a regular basis, assess opportunities provided to students to make sure that females and males have comparable educational opportunities.     

If you have questions, please contact an OSBA/PACE pre-loss attorney, at 1-800-578-6722 or pacepreloss@osba.org.



[1]“Dear Colleague” letters written by OCR are “significant guidance documents” that are issued to provide recipients with information to assist them in meeting their legal obligations under the civil rights laws.

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