Department of Education Begins Radical Overhaul of Title IX Rules on Sexual Misconduct | Education News


The Education Department began a lengthy job on Monday to rewrite the Title IX campus sexual misconduct rules with a week-long hearing expected to dismantle the Trump administration’s regulations on the landmark civil rights law by gender discrimination and potentially expand its scope.

“Students deserve to feel free from gender discrimination in all learning environments,” Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said in a statement on Monday. “These Title IX hearings are an important step in the right direction and an opportunity for us to get your views on this important topic.”

President Joe Biden campaigned to overturn the Title IX rule finalized under the Trump administration last year – a rule that raised the bar of proof for sexual assault and misconduct, has freed schools from investigating on incidents that occur off campus and strengthened the rights of defendants.

The rule, which was aimed at countering an Obama-era directive that pressured schools to lower the bar of proof, sparked an outcry from Democrats, civil rights groups and others working on campus assault issues who said former Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ Title IX rule would catapult students and schools at a time when sexual assault was routinely swept under the rug. The majority of the 124,000 public comments submitted when DeVos first proposed the Title IX rule were opposed to the measure, and once finalized, it sparked dozens of lawsuits, including one involving 17 states and the District of Columbia. .

The president said the rule would “shame and silence survivors” and “give colleges the green light to ignore sexual violence.”

In March, Biden signed an executive order ordering Cardona to suspend, revise, or repeal the DeVos-era rule, or begin the process of collecting feedback to draft a new rule. That process began in earnest on Monday, with department officials blocking out the entire week to hear public comment – the start of a process that many say will dismantle what DeVos considers his most important legacy.

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“The Biden administration is making this a priority,” said Emily Martin, vice president of education and workplace justice at the National Women‘s Law Center. “The fact that there are five days of hearings, the fact that the White House launched this process by executive order, really demonstrates the recognition that these issues are essential for the work of the Department of Education in the coming years and we’re really encouraged by that. ”

“We hope this week of hearings will provide lots of opportunities for students who have experienced sexual harassment and assault to tell their stories and share the ways the DeVos Title IX rules have made it harder to feel safe. on campus and placed barriers in how schools respond appropriately to sexual harassment, ”she said.

The kick-off of the week-long hearing brought to light long-standing political and philosophical battles over the issue, with Title IX advocates applauding the start of the process and opponents bracing for an inevitable return of this. which they consider to be hard-earned. due process rights for accused students in the #MeToo era.

In the lead-up to the week-long comment period, Families Advocating for Campus Equality, a nonprofit that advocates “for those affected by unfair disciplinary processes on Title IX campuses,” urged students and their families in an “everyone on the bridge” email. alert to share with the Civil Rights Office why the administration should keep in place due process enacted under DeVos.

Advocates say it’s more than just ping-pong between administrations.

“Since the 1980s, the Civil Rights Office of the Ministry of Education has developed guidelines and tried to guide schools on how to ensure that gender discrimination does not prevent access to education in anyone in federally funded education programs, and works to ensure fairness in the processes associated with it, ”says Sarah Nesbitt, policy and advocacy organizer at Know Your IX. with the Trump administration was a complete reversal of this whole process. “

“What we now envision moving forward is not necessarily a restoration of the exact policies or preferences that were in place previously,” she says, “but rather the continuation of this process of building civil law. solid that Title IX provides and preserving fairness along the way. “

The process comes at a time when the most recent federal data from civil rights data collection shows that incidents of sexual violence in public schools increased by more than half between the 2015-16 school year and the school year 2017-18, and cases of rape or attempted rape almost doubled.

The process also begins at a time when there is more online than sexual misconduct on campus. The Biden administration also signaled its interest in addressing discrimination on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation, saying in the announcement to the public comments that it was particularly interested in hearing opinions on the issue. question.

“The attacks on Title IX and the attacks on LGBTQ students have become even more aggressive,” said Martin. “The issues are clearer than ever and the importance of Title IX as basic protection for students against the really related issues – sexual harassment and harassment based on LGBTQ status and gender-based targeting – that for these issues it is clearer than ever how important they are to the well-being of students.

In March, the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice released an interpretation of the 2020 Supreme Court decision in Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia, that an employer cannot fire an employee for being gay or transgender. Interpretation extended the rule to schools.

“Having examined the text of Title IX, the jurisprudence of the Supreme Court, and the developing jurisprudence in this area, the [Civil Rights] The division determined that the best reading of Title IX’s prohibition of discrimination “on the basis of sex” is that it includes discrimination on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation, “reads -on in the note, noting that two appellate courts have reached the same conclusion. .

Interpretation has potentially important ramifications for denominational schools that receive federal funding, including federal assistance. Nearly 30 current and former evangelical college students filed a lawsuit against the education ministry last month, demanding that the religious exemption built into Title IX be declared unconstitutional.

Any future Title IX regulated by the Biden administration could also fit into the latest culture war sweeping through conservative states by considering and passing laws banning transgender students from participating in sports.

In an exclusive interview with ESPN, Cardona said transgender girls have the “right to compete,” and expected the Biden administration to prepare to intervene on their behalf. Currently, eight states prohibit transgender students from participating in women’s and women’s competitions.

“I believe in local control,” he told ESPN. “I believe in state control, but we have a responsibility to protect the civil rights of students. And if we believe that civil rights are being violated, we will act.”

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