(Mennonite Education Agency) – When the new Title IX Rule was announced in May, Mennonite Education Agency (MEA) knew it was time to act. As the education agency for Mennonite Church USA, MEA relates to 26 primary and secondary schools affiliated with the denomination, who comprise the Mennonite Schools Council (MSC). MEA also connects the Mennonite Higher Education Association, made up of six colleges, universities and seminaries, with the church.

Tom Stuckey, interim executive director and CEO for MEA said, "MEA felt a sense of urgency to ensure that Mennonite schools are prepared and in compliance with these critical new regulations."

The new regulations, known as the Title IX "Rule," went into effect August 14 and are intended to expand protections against sexual harassment and misconduct while ensuring that all students, both the accused and the accuser, have the right to due process. According to the U.S. Department of Education website, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said, "Today marks a new era in the storied history of Title IX in which the right to equal access to education required by law is truly protected for all students. Every student should know that their school will be held accountable for responding to incidents of sexual misconduct and that it must treat all students fairly."

Private schools are no exception. Neither are k – 12 schools. Historically, Title IX regulations have focused primarily on colleges and universities, but with this new Rule, high schools, middle schools, and even elementary schools are required to implement procedures and personnel to address sexual harassment or discrimination complaints.

Stuckey decided the best way to help prepare the schools to embrace the new Rule was to engage the services of ATIXA, an organization that specializes in "advancing gender equity in education," according to its website, atixa.org. ATIXA provides resources, collaboration, professional development and training for Title IX personnel. It is nationally recognized as an industry leader for Title IX education and resources.

In consultation with the Mennonite Schools Council's 26 primary and secondary schools, MEA purchased a district membership with ATIXA so that all of the schools in the MSC network could benefit from its expansive and expert services. ATIXA President Brett A. Sokolow, Esq., welcomed MEA to ATIXA, stating, "MEA now has access to field-leading Title IX resources for professional development, as well as model policies, procedures, templates and resources required not just to comply with Title IX, but to achieve programmatic excellence."

Dr. Conrad Swartzentruber, superintendent of Dock Mennonite Academy, Lansdale, Pennsylvania, and chair of the Mennonite Schools Council, said student safety is the schools' first priority. "Our MSC schools care deeply about each student," he said. "Providing an environment in which each student feels safe and is protected is paramount to the fulfillment of our mission.  In addition to compliance with the Title IX regulations, our schools are guided by an Anabaptist faith perspective that prompts careful attention to issues of peace, justice, and safety for each student.  We appreciate the opportunity to collaborate with MEA and ATIXA in this journey."

Dawn Graber, MEA's interim director for prekindergarten – 12 schools, agreed that this resourcing and preparation is in alignment with the values of the church. "Mennonite Church USA holds a commitment to peace and justice and believes all people are created in God's image. By seeking to strengthen safe cultures for the students and staff of our schools, we hold true to these values," she said.

Tom Stuckey agreed. "The Mennonite Church is known as a peace church for its historic commitment against all types of violence. This membership with ATIXA is a concrete way to demonstrate this commitment," he said.

Stuckey noted that the colleges, universities and seminaries affiliated with MEA are also interested in a similar ATIXA membership. Many of the Title IX personnel at the post-secondary education level already have extensive training in the procedures needed to respond to complaints. However, a district membership through MEA could yield significant savings for the institutions. "We're exploring what makes sense for the post-secondary schools and will be ready to support them," Stuckey said.

Mennonite Education Agency (MEA), headquartered in Elkhart, Indiana, partners with Anabaptist Mennonite educational institutions and programs to provide resources, networking and support to school administrators, faculty and staff. As an agency of Mennonite Church USA, MEA ties church and school together in a complementary and cooperative way to ensure students receive a quality Anabaptist Mennonite education. mennoniteeducation.org

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Contributed by MEA Staff  –  9/18/2020