Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has issued the final version of a new rule governing how K-12 schools and postsecondary institutions must handle allegations of sexual assault and harassment under Title IX, the federal law prohibiting sex discrimination in education. The new 2,033-page regulation increases privileges for students and faculty accused of assault and requires colleges to conduct live hearings to adjudicate allegations, a drastic change from the more survivor-friendly Obama-era policies.
“This new regulation requires schools to act in meaningful ways to support survivors of sexual misconduct, without sacrificing important safeguards to ensure a fair and transparent process,” said DeVos in a statement. But women’s rights and survivor advocacy groups have condemned the rule changes since they were first proposed in 2018. They argue that the new rule unfairly favors those accused of assault, reduces schools’ responsibility for addressing harassment, and discourages survivors from coming forward.
The regulation gives college students accused of assault the right to have representatives cross-examine their accusers in a live hearing, which advocacy organizations say will discourage survivors from coming forward. The regulation also reduces colleges’ responsibility to investigate allegations, only requiring investigations for complaints made to certain designated employees such as Title IX Coordinators, through a formal process. The live hearing and some of the other mandated procedures do not apply to K-12 schools covered by Title IX.
The final regulation includes some changes in response to critiques from activist groups and the over 120,000 public comments mostly objecting to the proposed rule published in November 2018. Changes from the proposed regulation include requiring universities to investigate incidents at certain off-campus sorority and fraternity houses and including dating violence and stalking as allegations schools must investigate. The new regulation clarifies that any person may report sexual harassment even if they are not the victim and that schools must prominently display on their websites the contact information for the Title IX Coordinator. However, limits on the extent of the schools’ coverage such as study abroad programs and off-campus housing are still a problem.
Many of the most heavily criticized aspects of the proposed rule remain in the final regulation, including the live hearing process and a narrowed definition of sexual harassment that critics say allows schools to avoid responsibility for harassment on their campuses. The rule will go into effect in August 14, 2020 if it is not blocked by lawsuits or other actions from members of Congress such as provisions to delay the implementation of the new regulation in new coronavirus pandemic or other legislation.
“Betsy DeVos and the Trump Administration are dead set on making schools more dangerous for everyone—even during a global pandemic. Releasing this rule during the unprecedented challenges of COVID-19 unveils a disturbing set of priorities,” said Fatima Goss Graves, president of the National Women’s Law Center. “We refuse to go back to the days when rape and harassment in schools were ignored and swept under the rug. And we won’t let DeVos succeed in requiring schools to be complicit in harassment, turning Title IX from a law that protects all students into a law that protects abusers and harassers. We will fight this unlawful rule in the courts.”
Sources: The New York Times 5/6/20; The Hill 5/6/20, The Washington Post 5/7/20