New Edu. Dept. Rule Eases Up on Students Accused of Sexual Assault (Video)

In the nearly four years the Trump administration has been in office, it has emboldened white supremacists, weakened environmental and financial regulations, handed a $1.5 trillion permanent tax break to corporations and the wealthy, caged asylum seekers at the Southern border in concentration camps, coddled the so-called “Christian” right, trampled on civil rights laws, was impeached for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress, and shrugged off preventable COVID-19 deaths of 100,000 Americans.

Another group to which the administration–specifically the U.S. Education Department–is giving a hand: college students and faculty accused of sexual assault.

Earlier this month, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos issued final rules to American academic institutions on how to address sexual misconduct allegations that alter the Title IX law that prohibits “discrimination based on sex in education programs or activities that receive Federal financial assistance.”

Beginning in August, the definition of sexual harassment will now require schools to challenge evidence and hold live hearings in which to cross-examine students, and schools will only be held in Title IX violation if they are found to be “deliberately indifferent” to sexual assault allegations that occur in academic programs and activities.

This extends the Sept. 2017 suspension of Obama-era regulations DeVos instituted after meeting with “men’s rights” groups.

Senate Education Committee chairman, Sen. Lamar Alexander, said in a statement:

“This final rule respects and supports victims and preserves due process rights for both the victim and the accused.”

Critics against the rule caution it will stifle survivors and limit their educational opportunities.

Many schools object to being compelled to serve as ersatz trial courts.

Senior vice president of the American Council on Education, Terry Hartle, explained:

“We are not set up to do that. We do not have the legal authority to do that. We don’t have the social legitimacy to do that. We want to teach students. We don’t want to run courts.”

Sage Carson, manager of sexual assault survivor advocacy group “Know Your IX,” countered:

 “This is extremely worrisome. [The new regulations] make it clear to me that DeVos cares more about schools and [accused students] than she does about survivors.”

She added:

“Betsy DeVos and the Trump administration have shown, once again, that they have no interest in supporting student survivors and their rights. [The new Title IX policy] makes it harder for survivors to report sexual violence and easier for schools to sweep sexual violence under the rug.”

The group tweeted:

National Women’s Law Center president, Fatima Goss Graves, expressed her intent to fight the new rule in court, stating:

“Betsy DeVos and the Trump administration are dead set on making schools more dangerous for everyone—even during a global pandemic. And if this rule goes into effect, survivors will be denied their civil rights and will get the message loud and clear that there is no point in reporting assault. 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.””

Two weeks ago, the America Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed suit to block the new rule.

Ria Tabacco Mar, director of the ACLU’s Women’s Rights Project, said:

“Betsy DeVos has created a double standard that is devastating for survivors of sexual harassment and assault, who are overwhelmingly women and girls. We are suing to make sure this double standard never takes effect.”

The 2,000-page suit delineates five unlawful provisions in the policy:

    •  Redefining sexual harassment to exclude many instances of misconduct that currently fall within the agency’s definition, and that continue to fall under the agency’s definition of harassment based on race, national origin, and disability;
    • Directing schools to ignore many Title IX reports of sexual assault that occur off campus/school grounds, including in off-campus housing or during study abroad, regardless of the effect they have on-campus and on survivors’ educations;
    • Relieving colleges and universities of the obligation to address sexual harassment unless reports of sexual harassment are made to a limited number of school officials, while requiring those same officials to respond to all harassment on the basis of race, national origin, or disability of which they knew or should have known;
    • Permitting, and in some cases requiring, schools to apply a higher standard of proof in sexual harassment hearings than has been required in hearings involving other forms of harassment committed by students; 
    • Holding schools accountable for their failed responses to sexual harassment only when they are “deliberately indifferent,” while requiring schools to “take prompt and effective steps reasonably calculated to end harassment, eliminate the hostile environment, prevent its recurrence, and remedy its effects” in cases of harassment based on race, national origin, or disability.”

Scrapping the Obama-era sexual assault rules has been in the making since Betsy DeVos assumed her role as the nation’s education secretary, as was rescinding support requiring the U.S. Education Department to investigate loan servicing companies’ past conduct before the government awards lucrative contracts, a major concession to the companies in which DeVos and her family have vested business interests.

Then she reversed former President Barack Obama’s directive requiring schools to allow transgender students to use restrooms that conform to their gender identities.

Ditto 72 policy documents outlining disabled students’ rights codified under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and the Rehabilitation Act (IDEA).

Then she came for students’ civil rights.

For whom might the administration come next?

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Ted Millar is writer and teacher. His work has been featured in myriad literary journals, including Better Than Starbucks, The Broke Bohemian, Straight Forward Poetry, Caesura, Circle Show, Cactus Heart, Third Wednesday, and The Voices Project. He is also a contributor to The Left Place blog on Substack, and Medium.