February 1, 2023
Troy University must change its policies to better accommodate pregnant students under a deal it struck with the U.S. Department of Education this month, resolving an agency investigation into whether the Alabama public institution violated federal civil rights law.
University officials during the 2020-21 academic year failed to assist a pregnant student, even penalizing her for poor classroom attendance, the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights found.
Legal experts say the department’s agreement with Troy highlights the agency’s recent push to ensure pregnant students are protected under Title IX, the law prohibiting sex-based discrimination in federally funded schools. Colleges will need to account for this stricter oversight, they warn.
Congress passed Title IX in 1972, and though the text of the law has not changed, the way the federal government enforced it has.
More than a decade ago, Title IX was most often applied in the college athletics world, where the law aimed to ensure equitable sports opportunities and resources for women’s and men’s teams. But Title IX underwent a policy evolution beginning in 2011 with guidance from the Obama administration and is now also seen as a protection against campus sexual violence.
The Biden administration has proposed a Title IX regulation that would govern how colleges must investigate and potentially punish sexual harrasment and sexual assault. It would also clarify Title IX’s protections for LGBTQ students and pregnant ones.
Education Department officials released a draft rule last year, and the agency plans to put out a final, updated version in May. For now, the draft regulation states colleges would have to make reasonable accommodations for pregnant students and new parents, such as offering break times and designated lactation spaces.