Betsy DeVos rolls back Obama-era guidance on campus sexual assault

Betsy DeVos rolls back Obama-era guidance on campus sexual assault

The change announced Wednesday by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos reshapes the way the nation's schools respond to complaints of sexual misconduct.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has released the department's overhaul of how schools and colleges should handle sexual misconduct complaints-and while some controversial proposals have been watered down, victims' rights groups are still vowing to fight the new rules.

The agency says in its 2,033-page document that these rules - unlike decades of prior federal guidelines - are legally binding on K-12 and postsecondary institutions.

The new rules will take effect and "carry the force of law" as of August 14, according to the DOE statement.

As a result, the University of California, California State University, USC, Occidental College and other campuses have made changes to their Title IX processes.

In 2011 and in 2014, after a rash of sexual harassment scandals in universities, the Obama administration provided schools with a series of recommendations for investigating the accusations. Reports of coaches and assistant coaches failing to do so have been referenced in several federal Title IX lawsuits against universities and complaints to the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights. The latter - often defined as 51% of the evidence favoring a finding of fault - was the threshold under the prior guidance.

Under the new rules, the definition of sexual harassment is narrowed to include only misconduct that is "so severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive" that it effectively denies the victim access to the school´s education programs.

Schools must respond with options for reporting the alleged misconduct, including in writing, by email or telephone.

Biden said the rules "shame and silence survivors" and "gives colleges a green light to ignore sexual violence and strip survivors of their rights".

Over the coming weeks, the University will be carefully reviewing the new regulations and determining how to implement the new requirements in a way that best preserves our current system's fairness, thoroughness, and sensitivity to the needs of all parties and witnesses.

The rules add dating violence, domestic violence and stalking to the definition of sexual harassment. And that makes sense since DeVos kicked off her Title IX reform project by taking meetings with a bunch of men's rights groups who are famous for their belief that most sexual assault charges are false. It also potentially gives an advantage to wealthier students who can hire private counsel.

"Under these new rules, students who experience sexual harassment will face unjust obstacles to an equal education - obstacles that do not stand in the way of classmates who face comparable harms, like other forms of harassment and physical violence", said Public Justice staff attorney Alexandra Brodsky.

"The department is not under an obligation to conform these final regulations with NCAA compliance guidelines and declines to do so", the document states.

While previously required to adhere to a "preponderance of evidence" - where the burden of proof can be met by convincing investigators that there is a greater than 50 percent chance a claim is true - individual colleges and universities will now be able to choose between that standard and a "clear and convincing evidence" standard.

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