Cuomo Seeks Sex-Equity Law

By William Snider — June 24, 2019 3 min read

Reacting to recent court decisions that have curtailed federal civil-rights enforcement, Gov. Mario M. Cuomo of New York has proposed a bill that would significantly strengthen a state law prohibiting sex discrimination in schools receiving state assistance.

The Governor’s proposal would for the first time specify complaint procedures for students and employees who feel they have been discriminated against, and would give the state education department the authority to withhold state aid in cases of noncompliance.

The bill would also for the first time require private schools and colleges to comply with anti-discrimination provisions as a condition for the institutions or any of their students to receive state aid.

Twelve states have already adopted anti-discrimination laws similar to the New York proposal, many of them more comprehensive than federal Title IX regulations, according to Leshe R. Wolfe, executive director of the National Organization for Women’s Project on Equal Educational Rights. (See Education Week, Jan. 19, 1983.)

“I think there is a grounds well of support for state Title IX laws,” she said. “The great victory of federal Title IX is that it brought the notion of equity into the public consciousness. Fifteen years ago no one really thought about it that much.”

Bills mandating sex equity in education are also being considered this year by state legislatures in Ohio and Michigan, she said.

Equal Opportunities

Governor Cuomo’s proposal would replace a 1972 sex-discrimination law that is limited to public schools and lacks enforcement provisions.

“That law is a very broad statement, while the Governor’s proposal is an attempt to be more specific in terms of the types of discrimination which are prohibited and the types of institution which must comply with the law,” said Anne Crowley, a spokesman for the Governor.

Mr. Cuomo said in a prepared statement that the measure is intended to compensate for the limitations in current state law as well as for the reduced effectiveness of federal anti-discrimination statutes.

“With the passage of Title IX more than a decade ago, we thought an end had come to sex discrimination in our schools,” he said. But recent court decisions, particularly the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1984 ruling in Grove City College v. Bell, “have narrowed significantly the effectiveness of that federal statute to only those programs which directly receive federal aid,” Mr. Cuomo said.

“The bill will ensure female and male students that they will have equal access to all available educational opportunities,” he added.

Broad Provisions

If enacted, the new law would prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex in all admissions and recruitment procedures for all school programs and in the hiring or firing of school employees.

As currently proposed, the law would apply to all elementary or secondary schools, academies, vocational institutions, colleges, and private schools required to be licensed by the state education department. Only single-sex religious schools would be exempted.

The law would guarantee protection to school employees as well as to all students attending those schools or receiving state financial aid.

Persons who feel they have been victims of discrimination could either file a written complaint with the state commissioner of education or initiate a court action for damages and equitable relief.

The education department would be required to evaluate each school every three years to monitor compliance, and each school would be required to conduct a self-assessment within a year of the law’s passage and make its findings available to state officials and the general public.

An unrelated bill proposed last week by Governor Cuomo would clarify the right of children or youth in temporary living arrangements to continue attending school in the district where they had last resided, and would provide them with travel allowances.

Parents could also choose to enroll their children in the district where they are temporarily residing.

A version of this article appeared in the February 26, 1986 edition of Education Week

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