On June 15, 2016, the Offices for Civil Rights and Career, Technical, and Adult Education within the U.S. Department of Education (“Department”) issued a Dear Colleague Letter on Gender Equity within Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs.

The Dear Colleague Letter clarifies that all students, regardless of their sex or gender, must have access to the full range of CTE programs. To ensure equitable access to CTE, discriminatory practices should be eliminated and proactive steps taken to expand participation and increase success of students in fields where one gender is underrepresented.

Despite efforts to increase enrollment of students in fields that are non-traditional for their gender, disparities continue in certain fields. For example, data from the 2013-2014 CTE program year show that few girls and women are enrolled in CTE programs for plumbers and electricians. Similarly, few boys and men are enrolled in CTE programs for nursing and education. Expanding access to CTE programs can help promote economic mobility for individuals adversely impacted by the gender wage gap.

The Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act of 2006 (the “Perkins Act”) requires that (1) States identify percentage or numerical targets for participation and completion rates of students in programs that are non-traditional for their gender; (2) States annually report to the Department on their progress in meeting those targets; and (3) subrecipients of the Perkins Act grants likewise identify such targets and report on their progress to their States.

Under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 (“Title IX”) and its implementing regulations, sex and gender discrimination is prohibited in all federally funded educational programs and activities.
The Dear Colleague Letter focuses on five key areas related to CTE programs: (1) recruitment and promotional activities; (2) admission and access; (3) counseling and appraisal materials; (4) Title IX procedural requirements, including notice of nondiscrimination, designation of a Title IX coordinator, and adoption of grievance procedures; and (5) Title IX requirements related to enrollment, retention, and academic achievement of students of the underrepresented gender, including discrimination based on pregnancy and parental status and sex-based harassment.

Recipients of federal financial assistance that offer CTE programs must conduct their admission, recruitment, and counseling practices in a nondiscriminatory manner. They must also respond to substantially disproportionate enrollment by reviewing their policies and practices to ensure promotional activities and materials, admissions and counseling practices, and appraisal materials are nondiscriminatory. If sex or gender discrimination, or the use of sex or gender stereotypes, is discovered, recipients must address and rectify such discrimination and use of stereotypes. Appropriate remedial actions include (1) creating new, nondiscriminatory materials; (2) removing non-essential admissions criteria and prerequisites that have a disproportionate impact on one gender; (3) providing training to counselors and teachers on issues such as implicit bias, ambient bias, and sex and gender stereotyping; (4) conducting outreach programs to potential students; (5) eliminating single-sex classes in coeducational schools and programs; (6) providing training to administrators, counselors, and teachers on the requirements of Title IX, including those related to pregnancy and parental status; and (7) offering training to administrators, counselors, teachers, and students on prevention of sex-based harassment.

The Dear Colleague Letter concludes with seven examples of how a CTE program could fail to comply with the legal requirements of the Perkins Act and Title IX and the actions that could be taken to remedy the violation(s) in each example. While Dear Colleague letters do not have the force or effect of law and do not constitute Department regulations, they do give districts a better understanding of how OCR interprets the laws and regulations it enforces, particularly in the context of complaints and investigations. In the coming months, the Department will release additional tools and resources on the Perkins Collaborative Resource Network at cte.ed.gov.