Tips for Conducting Remote Title IX Investigations during Covid-19
With the increase and extension of stay-at-home orders across the nation, higher education institutions in the midst of transitioning their classes online are now also tasked with transitioning current, pending, and new Title IX investigations to virtual platforms. To help institutions conducting remote Title IX investigations due to COVID-19, we’ve put together some helpful tips below:
1.) Review and Update Title IX Policies and Procedures
Review your institution’s existing Title IX Policies and Procedures to determine whether changes to your policy are needed. In instances where your policies and procedures provide for in-person hearings, meetings, or interviews, you will want to update those policies and procedures to reflect the new ways that you will be conducting any in-person matters. For pending investigations, you will want to send notice to the parties about any changes that will be made to the procedures due to COVID-19. You will also want to ensure that you update your initial intake letters and Respondent notification letters to reflect any changes to the policies and procedures while your institution is conducting remote education. Make sure that you are documenting any changes that you make to the policies and procedures throughout the investigation process.
2.) Communicate How Title IX Coordinators Can Be Reached
Communicate how the Title IX Coordinators can be reached while remote instruction is in place and let the campus community know that you are still taking sexual misconduct and discrimination seriously. Provide updates to the students, staff, and faculty by sending notifications by email or other internal notification systems. You should also post any updated contact information to your Title IX website and provide updated contact information to other campus resources, such as Student Conduct, Human Resources, University Policy, Sexual Assault advocates, Counseling and Mental Health Services, etc. Consider how students can initially report Title IX violations and think about how those resources are currently being monitored or staffed during remote instruction. For example, if your institution has a reporting hotline, general email account, or other online reporting form, make sure that those resources are still being monitored regularly. For pending investigations, you will want to reach out to the parties and witnesses with any updates to how they can get in touch with you, in addition to any updates to your investigation process.
3.) Continue Moving Forward With Title IX Investigations
Continue moving forward with any new and pending Title IX investigations. While there are many changes occurring as institutions transition online, the parties still have a right to a reasonable response time. Institutions should continue to keep the parties informed of the status of any new and/or pending investigations as you move forward with the investigation. If there will be any delays due to implementing changes to the technology used to conduct interviews, communicate those delays with the parties. However, do your best to stay as close to your typical schedule as possible.
4.) Conduct Interviews By Video Conference If Possible
Conduct interviews by video conference or by phone while your institution is conducting remote instruction. Ideally, you will want to conduct interviews with the parties by video conference if possible. This will help you build rapport with the parties and will hopefully help them feel a little more comfortable. If neither video or phone interviews are an option, then you may also provide written questions by email if your Title IX policy permits this. However, this should be an option of last resort. Some things to consider with video conferencing prior to conducting the interview include:
- Work through any technical matters before the interview. Whether you are using Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Google Hangouts or any other video conferencing system, make sure you test the service out before the interview. If you plan to share evidence with an interviewee during the interview, figure out how you will share this information prior to the interview. If you are using any screen sharing features, make sure you test these out prior to the interview as well. Consider how you will take notes, particularly when you are using your laptop for the videoconference. If you typically have another witness present to record notes during your interview, consider recording the interview (so long as the interviewee provides consent) instead.
- Communicate with the interviewees about how you will conduct the interview in advance. If you will be conducting the interview by video conference, you will also want to provide detailed instructions to the interviewee about how to access the video conferencing service and provide any necessary login and password information needed to access the service. Due to the recent rise in “Zoom-bombing,” you will want to try to ensure that you are using a password to protect the privacy of the interviewee. You should also inform the interviewee how his or her advisor or support person can attend the interview, whether through the video conferencing service or by phone.
- Create the best atmosphere to get the best information possible. If you are conducting an interview by video conference, plan out where you will physically conduct the interview. To the extent possible, try to limit distractions in the background. If you have particular constraints (e., dogs barking, your children in the next room, etc.) acknowledge them up front, but ensure the interviewee that you are listening. Try to conduct the interview in a separate room from others, but if that is not possible make sure that you are using headphones during the interview for confidentiality purposes.
- Dress professionally. As tempting as it may be to conduct the interview in your pajamas, dress professionally from head to toe in case you need to relocate during the interview.
- Be flexible and conscious of any constraints that the interviewee may have. Prior to starting the interview, confirm with the interviewee that it is still a good time to talk, particularly in situations where there are domestic violence concerns. Think about some creative alternatives for obtaining consent and consider who else may have access to the means that you are sending information. If the interviewee does not have the proper level of privacy during your interview, let them know that you can always reschedule. If you are interviewing witnesses, be sure not to share more information than necessary to respect the privacy of the parties. If you notice that other people are around the interviewee or if the interviewee is on speaker, consider asking them if they are able to move into another room and/or use headphones for privacy purposes.
- Continue to engage in active listening during the interview. Apply the same rapport building and interview techniques that you do in person. Acknowledge that you understand this is a stressful time for the parties and witnesses (as you typically would in a Title IX investigation), but also acknowledge the additional stress that may come with the current state of everything due to COVID-19. Let the interviewee know that they can take breaks at any time.
5.) Shift Procedures With How the Report is Accessed.
After you have conducted all of the interviews, gathered evidence, and have written the report, consider how you may need to shift your procedures related to how you share the report with the parties. If you typically show the report to parties in person, consider using an internal share space to provide a copy (such as Box.com). Make sure that you place some limitations on how the report is accessed so individuals cannot download or email the report. If you typically allow witnesses to review their testimony, consider how you will share only their testimony in the report with them (i.e., redacting all of the other matters in the report, only provide witnesses with their testimony to review).
6.) Stay Calm and Carry On
While this is a time of uncertainty for everyone, try to remind parties and witnesses to remain calm and let them know the steps you are taking to continue a thorough and impartial investigation. We will all get through this difficult time. Make sure you are giving yourself the self-care that you need right now. If you have interviews scheduled back-to-back, make sure you take a break to stretch, get water, and clear your head.
We are able to answer any questions you may have. If you have questions about these procedures or any other matters, we encourage you to reach out to Debbie Osgood or Mikayla Hamilton at (312) 946-1800.