Education Dept. Proposes Enhanced Protection For Students Accused Of Sexual Assault



On Friday, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos announced her revision of federal rules governing campus sexual harassment and assault allegations, and the ACLU, which once believed in the necessity of guarding everyone's civil liberties, immediately ripped DeVos, claiming, "The proposed rule would make schools less safe for survivors of sexual assault and harassment ..."

"Every survivor of sexual violence must be taken seriously, and every student accused of sexual misconduct must know that guilt is not predetermined", DeVos said in a statement.

Last year, DeVos rescinded the Obama administration's controversial Title IX guidelines that imposed stricter requirements on colleges to investigate sexual assault cases.

The proposal also adds greater protections to accused students by allowing them to cross examine their accuser and the right to review evidence collected by the school. These new regulations, if enacted, would have the force of law. What this new standard says is that severe, pervasive, objectively offensive sexual harassment that negatively impacts a student's ability to attend class is a form of discrimination, because it denies the student's right to an education. "It promotes an unfair process, inappropriately favoring the accused and letting schools ignore their responsibility under Title IX to respond promptly and fairly to complaints of sexual violence".

"It will return schools to a time where rape, assault, and harassment were swept under the rug", she said.

Another major change would guarantee someone accused of sexual misconduct would be given the right to cross-examine their accuser, but only through an intermediary such as an adviser or an attorney.

Data from November 2, the most recent available, show the Education Department's Office for Civil Rights had 125 pending sexual violence investigations and 160 pending sexual harassment investigations.

The policy would also allows schools to choose to use a higher burden of proof when conducting investigations - a "clear and convincing" standard - that calls for more evidence to find the accused party responsible for misconduct.

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The regulation also limits the circumstances that would mandate a school respond to an incident.

The rules do not go into effect until they go through a public comment period, which could be a long process and could result in more changes.

"I think we were all expecting more structure around expectations related to due process and more narrowly defined definitions than what had been out there before", she said. "While not flawless, the proposed regulations indicate the federal government's recognition that students accused of serious misconduct are entitled to meaningful due process rights, and the proposed regulations include a number of important procedural protections that will improve the integrity of the process for everyone". The new policy would be a departure from the Obama administration's broader definition of sexual harassment as "unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature".

Her plan would scale back important Obama administration rules while adding mandates that could reshape the school disciplinary systems that schools have developed over the past decade. But if a school acts "deliberately indifferent" toward a case, the Education Department would only have to punish it "if its response to sexual harassment is clearly unreasonable in light of the known circumstances".

Many education and student-based organizations, survivor advocates and higher education faculty and administrators have voiced mixed opinions regarding the proposed adjustments and what they would mean for sexual assault victims. According to an EPA inspector general's report released September 4, the cost was deemed "not justified" as it was higher than the costs to protect other EPA administrators.

Students wishing to provide input on Stanford's comment can email either Drell or ASSU executive leadership.

At a roundtable discussion Thursday, Representative Maxine Waters of California predicted Devos's new proposal "will prioritize the interests of the institutions and the accused, while undermining protections for survivors".

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