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As DeVos Eases Sexual Assault Rules, Her Old High School May Provide a Test Case

Category: Political News,Politics

The Hoffmans’ lawsuit said that the Holland Christian had received more than $600,000 in federal funding through its participation in the National School Lunch Program, which reimburses schools for serving free or reduced-price meals. Currently, 4,700 private schools nationwide participate in the program according to Agriculture Department officials. All schools that participate in the voluntary program are required to comply with federal civil rights laws, department officials said.

But experts and advocates say there is little way of knowing if private schools actually are aware of their legal obligations — or care.

“This case has unearthed this whole set of protections that haven’t really been talked about, and that parents and private schools don’t know exist,” said Seth Galanter, director of legal advocacy at the National Center for Youth Law, who worked in the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights under former President Barack Obama.

The Hoffmans initially turned to the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights, which dismissed their complaint in July 2017, citing lack of jurisdiction. The Hoffmans learned months later, as they prepared to file a lawsuit, that the complaint should have been filed with the Department of Agriculture.

Unlike the Education Department, the Agriculture Department has enforcement power in private schools, but Title IX investigations in schools participating in the National School Lunch Program are rare. Officials said in recent years, the department’s office for civil rights has only investigated one such complaint. The agency declined to answer any other questions about its civil rights investigations.

For decades, Title IX enforcement in private schools has been contentious.

A 1984 Supreme Court decision, Grove City College vs. Bell, held that Title IX only applied to a specific program, not the institution, that received federal funding. In response, Congress passed the Civil Rights Restoration Act of 1987, which clarified that anti-discrimination laws applied institutionwide. President Ronald Reagan vetoed the bill, and Congress overrode it.

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