DeVos proposed new protections for students accused of assault

Betsy DeVos

Betsy DeVos

The U.S. Department of Education, headed by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, has announced new Title IX rules governing how schools receiving federal funding handle sexual harassment and assault allegations, which include expanding the rights of the accused party.

In a statement, the Education Department said that the proposal "seeks to produce more reliable outcomes [of investigations], thereby encouraging more students to turn to their schools for support in the wake of sexual harassment and reducing the risk of improperly punishing students".

"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 the announcement.

They replace previous Obama-era guidelines, which DeVos rescinded in September 2017.

Even if victims don't file a formal complaint, the proposal encourages schools to offer a range of measures to help them continue their studies, including counseling, class schedule changes, dorm room reassignments and no-contact orders for those accused of harming them.

The new proposal adds protections for accused students, giving them a presumption of innocence throughout the disciplinary process and the right to review all evidence a school collects.

It is already notoriously hard to get schools to take student's allegations of sexual-assault seriously and issue proper disciplinary action.

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".

Victims are further limited by new rules that would require students to report any assault to a Title IX coordinator instead of a trusted professor or adult, which only encourages them to stay silent.

For years, schools have relied on a series of letters issued by the Obama administration instructing them how to respond to complaints.

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But supporters say the new rules do a better job providing equal treatment to all students.

Students on the University of Nebraska Omaha's campus said they feel the revisions don't look out for them.

FIRE also commended the DOE for following the official rulemaking procedures, instead of imposing the new rules through "Dear Colleague" letters - a reference to what happened in 2011, when the Obama administration did just that with the rules now in effect. Some colleges complained that the rules were too complex and could be overly burdensome.

Whaley said "clear and convincing evidence" would likely fall somewhere between preponderance of evidence and criminal standards of "beyond a reasonable doubt", but where on the spectrum she was not sure.

Currently, sexual harassment through guidance of Title IX is defined as "unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature, such as unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal, nonverbal, or physical conduct of a sexual nature".

DeVos is likely to be questioned by Democratic lawmakers on her rule changes on sexual assault.

DeVos, a charter school advocate, was among President Trump's most controversial cabinet choices because of her lack of familiarity with public schools.

In the case of Gebser, the court determined that a school can be financially liable if a teacher sexually harasses a student. "This rule abdicates the responsibility to protect every student's right to safety on campus".

The Education Department stated, "The proposed regulation is grounded in core American principles of due process and the rule of law".

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