Department of Education Issues Dear Colleague Letter Addressing Single-Sex Programming in School Districts

On December 15, 2015, the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights ("OCR") issued a "Dear Colleague" letter in response to questions OCR received about outside organizations that provide single-sex programming to school districts' students. The guidance outlines school districts' responsibilities under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 when providing assistance to outside organizations, namely, voluntary youth service organizations.

Title IX generally prohibits recipients of Federal funding both from excluding students from educational opportunities based on their sex and from providing significant assistance to outside organizations that do so. Still, Title IX permits the separation of students by sex in some instances. Specifically, Title IX does not apply to the membership practices of certain outside organizations, including voluntary youth service organizations.

In order to qualify for this exemption, membership in the organization must be voluntary, traditionally limited to members of one sex, and principally limited to persons under nineteen years old. A voluntary youth service organization must also facilitate public service opportunities for its members. For example, an organization that provides a program for girls in engineering would meet this requirement if the members worked together on a project to develop recommendations to improve the energy efficiency of public buildings.

OCR will consider a number of factors when determining whether a school district is providing significant assistance to an outside organization, including whether it provides financial support, tangible resources, or intangible benefits. OCR will also consider the terms under which the school district provides similar privileges to other organizations, and whether the relationship is occasional and temporary or permanent and long-term.

It is important to remember that the exemption is limited to the outside organization's membership practices. Where a school district provides significant assistance to a voluntary youth service organization, it remains responsible for addressing any sex discrimination against students or employees in any other aspect of the organization's program to the same extent as if the school district were directly offering the program.

Finally, the Dear Colleague letter reminds school districts that they have an obligation under Title IX to ensure that girls and boys have comparable educational opportunities overall. To determine whether school districts are meeting this obligation when outside organizations are involved with the school in providing opportunities to students, OCR will look at the overall set of opportunities available by examining both the opportunities offered by the school district directly and those offered by any organization to which the school district provides significant assistance.

For example, if a school district provides significant assistance to a voluntary youth service organization so that it can provide a four-week summer science camp for the school district's male students, the school district would have several options for complying with Title IX. It could, for example, allow another organization to provide comparable single-sex opportunities for girls, offer its own summer camp that is open to both boys and girls, or terminate the significant assistance to the outside organization. The alternative camp need not be exactly the same type of camp so long as it offers comparable opportunities—the key to Title IX compliance.

The "Dear Colleague" letter is available at: