Education officials respond to potential revamp of Title IX guidelines


Last week, U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos made a statement announcing a replacement of the Obama administration’s Title IX guidelines surrounding sexual assault in order to better protect the rights of both the victims and the accused.

In her speech at George Mason University, DeVos claimed the federal guidelines went too far, “weaponized the Office of Civil Rights to work against schools and against students,” and “pushed schools to overreach.”

“The truth is that the system established by the prior administration has failed too many students,” DeVos said.  “Survivors, victims of a lack of due process, and campus administrators have all told me that the current approach does a disservice to everyone involved.”

In 2011, the U.S. Department of Education and the Office of Civil Rights sent a “Dear Colleague” letter to colleges, universities and schools that established the Obama Administration’s policy on sexual assault investigations through Title IX.

The letter reminded them to carry out Title IX requirements, minimized the burden of proof to take action, clarified responsibility for dealing with sexual violence, designated at least one employ to act as a Title IX coordinator, and adopt policies for procedures and resolutions.

Since the enforcement of the 2011 federal regulations, the government has opened 435 investigations into colleges’ possible mishandling of reports of sexual violence under Title IX, according to an online reporting tool from the Chronicle of Higher Education.

So far, 75 cases were resolved and 360 remain open.

In her speech DeVos did not announce any formal changes to Title IX requirements, but she did state that the Education Department would launch a notice-and-comment process before releasing new regulations.

“To implement sustainable solutions, institutions must be mindful of the rights of every student,” DeVos said.  “No one benefits from a system that does not have the public’s trust—not survivors, not accused students, not institutions and not the public.”

These solutions, DeVos argued, would better protect the due process rights of all students, especially of those accused of sexual violence.

“A better way means that due process is not an abstract legal principle only discussed in lecture halls,” DeVos said.  “Due process is the foundation of any system of justice that seeks a fair outcome. Due process either protects everyone, or it protects no one.”

Potential solutions cited in DeVos’ speech included recommendations from The American Bar Association and the American College of Trial Lawyers that included protections for both sides, a restorative justice approach and a higher standard of proof for proceedings.

She also noted an open letter from Harvard’s law school faculty and an idea from former prosecutors Gina Smith and Leslie Gomez.

The two lawyers proposed a “Regional Center” model that sets up a voluntary, opt-in Center where professionally-trained experts handle Title IX investigations and adjudications.

“Our interest is in exploring all alternatives that would help schools meet their Title IX obligations and protect all students,” DeVos said.

Local Response

If the Department of Education does change its enforcement of Title IX, COC said it would review them carefully and make revision to its policies and procedures to ensure it is still in compliance with regulations.

“While the details about potential changes to the way in which Title IX is enforced are not yet clear, our focus at College of the Canyons remains on creating an academic and work environment in which everyone can work and learn together in an atmosphere free of sexual harassment, exploitation or intimidation,” College of the Canyons (COC) said in a statement to The Signal.

Currently, COC has policies in place that make it clear that sexual harassment, discrimination, assault and exploitation will not be tolerated.

“When a problem arises, we will take every step to resolve complaints promptly and institute disciplinary proceedings against persons found to be in violation of the college’s policies,” COC said.  “Students who violate this policy may be subject to disciplinary measures up to and including expulsion.”

The college also has a Sexual Assault Response Team (SART) in place that is comprised of employees who are annually trained to ensure that all services are provided to victims of sexual assault.

CalArts said that tolerance, community support and mutual respect have been essential to its philosophy since its inception.

“California Institute of the Arts’s (CalArts) culture of respect and affirmation of gender identity, sexuality, and gender expression compels us to define and support our community through our own higher standards than are required by law,” CalArts said in a statement to the Signal.

CalArts has several locations on its website where it provides information on the institute’s policy on sexual respect, Title IX resources and reporting options and access to its annual security report.

According to the 2016 Annual Security Report, CalArts has a Title IX response team of individuals who are trained to help those affected by alleged sexual harassment or sexual misconduct.  This group works with the Title IX coordinator and consists of at least three institute officials.

“As has been our practice, we challenge ourselves to create a culture of inclusiveness, not because the winds of political change blow one way or the other, but because it is who we are as artists, educators and citizens,” CalArts said.  “As a community of artists, we are dedicated to fostering a safe and productive environment where creativity can flourish.”

Systems of Higher Education

DeVos’ statement also drew a response from leaders of two of California’s systems of higher education: California State University (CSU) and University of California (UC).

“The issue of sexual assault and ensuring that our campuses are safe and free from sexual violence is a priority for the CSU,” the California State University said on its Twitter.

University of California President Janet Napolitano called the statement from the Education Department “extremely troubling” as the university expanded its education requirements, created a state-wide Title IX office and developed new policies.

It also increased resources and established a confidential CARE advocacy office to support survivors of sexual violence at each UC campus.

“The University of California remains firmly committed to protecting its students and staff from sexual violence and sexual harassment, while ensuring a fair process for all involved,” Napolitano said in a statement.  “Even in the midst of unwelcome change and uncertainty, the university’s commitment to a learning environment free of sexual violence and sexual harassment will not waver.”

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On Twitter as @_ChristinaCox_

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