The U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights (OCR) released a Dear Colleague Letter dated Dec. 15, 2015, addressing voluntary youth service organizations and how a school’s involvement with such an organization may affect compliance under Title IX.

Although the Dear Colleague Letter references scenarios involving elementary and secondary school districts, OCR makes clear that the principles apply to any recipient of federal financial assistance. Therefore, the principles outlined below apply to school districts, as well as colleges and universities.

Title IX prohibits schools from aiding or perpetuating discrimination by providing significant assistance to any outside organization that discriminates on the basis of sex in providing any aid, benefit, or service to students or employees. However, Title IX provides an exemption for voluntary youth service organizations.

What qualifies for the voluntary youth service organization exemption under Title IX?

  1. Membership in the organization must be voluntary (e.g., participation may not be required as part of a class, and students may not be automatically enrolled);
  2. traditionally limited to members of one sex;
  3. principally limited to persons under 19 years old; and
  4. facilitate public service opportunities for its members.

Despite this exemption, if a school provides “significant assistance” to a voluntary youth service organization, then the school must still meet its Title IX obligations.

What does “significant assistance” to a voluntary youth service organization mean?

OCR will assess the school’s assistance to a voluntary youth service organization on a case by case basis. However, some factors that may constitute “significant assistance” include any one of the following actions by the school:

  1. financial support;
  2. provision of tangible resources (e.g., staff, equipment, and facilities);
  3. intangible benefits (e.g., recognition and approval);
  4. the terms under which the school district provides similar privileges and resources to other organizations; and
  5. whether the relationship is occasional and temporary or permanent and long term.

What this means to you

If a school is providing significant assistance to a voluntary youth service organization, then the school must meet its Title IX obligation of ensuring that girls and boys have comparable educational opportunities.