Washington, DC — A coalition of legal and policy advocates today condemned a decision by Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos to rescind and replace guidance on federal Title IX law originally issued in 2011 to assist schools in addressing and investigating campus sexual violence. DeVos announced new guidance today which will make it harder for schools to hold students accountable for sexual violence and harder for sexual assault survivors to come forward and continue their education in a safe environment. The interim guidance would also drastically minimize the role the Department's Office for Civil Rights ( OCR ) plays in investigating schools' responses to sexual violence, stepping back from the proactive enforcement role OCR took in the years following the 2011 guidance.
"The purpose of Title IX has always been to protect students and ensure everyone is treated fairly, equitably and with respect at school," said Noreen Farrell, Executive Director of Equal Rights Advocates. "Today's announcement from the Department of Education marks the latest in a series of attacks on civil rights by the Trump Administration. By rescinding strong Title IX guidance and replacing it with an interim guidance that focuses more on perpetrators than survivors, Secretary DeVos is threatening years of progress made to end sexual violence in education. Sexual violence in education is a civil rights violation that must be taken seriously."
Advocates noted that, despite myths perpetuated by Secretary DeVos, Title IX already requires schools to ensure a fair process for both survivors and those accused of assault, and provides greater protection for students than due process standards under the U.S. Constitution. The guidance issued in 2011 was widely requested by school officials and has been effectively used to investigate reports of assault. Hundreds of thousands of people have called on the Department of Education, through a previous comment collection process, to keep the original guidance in place.
"The Department of Education's interim guidance shows that the Trump Administration is more interested in protecting the small group of students who claim they were falsely accused of sexual assault than the thousands of students sexually assaulted each year," said Adele Kimmel, Senior Attorney for Public Justice. "If the Department truly cared about students' civil rights, it would not rescind the 2011 guidance, it would enforce it. The 2011 guidance rescinded today was requested by schools and was working well when implemented correctly. It required schools to treat all parties in a campus sexual assault investigation fairly. The new interim guidance instead favors the rights of accused students. This is a dangerous step backwards that will have very real, and serious, consequences for the students Secretary DeVos and her agency are charged to protect."
Policy and legal advocates are encouraging parents, students and school officials to let DeVos know what they think of the new, harmful guidance. "Those of us who know, firsthand, the damage this new guidance will inflict on students have an obligation to speak up," said Abby Honold, a sexual assault survivor and alumna of the University of Minnesota. "Secretary DeVos cannot pretend to care about students while trying to rollback policies that encouraged survivors to come forward and helped schools hold perpetrators accountable."
"Today's announcement will have a devastating impact on students and schools across the country. It will discourage students from reporting assaults, create uncertainty for schools on how to follow the law, and make campuses less safe," said Fatima Goss Graves, President and CEO of the National Women's Law Center.
"Rescinding the Dear Colleague letter is counterproductive, if the goal of the administration and these proposed changes is in fact to seek ways to more effectively address and adjudicate sexual misconduct in colleges, universities in schools. Unfortunately, there's little reason to assume that is the goal. Rather, it seems the administration wants to stir up culture-war conversations, smear the integrity of survivors, and cause more confusion regarding how to effectively address sexual misconduct at schools. Schools need clear guidance. Students need robust enforcement of Title IX," said Terry L. Fromson, Managing Attorney at the Women's Law Project.
"This is a blatant rollback of strong guidance that was making real progress in the fight to end sexual violence," said Kim Churches, CEO of the American Association of University Women ( AAUW ). "The Department of Education should have heeded the recently submitted comments-including more than 10,000 from AAUW advocates-urging them to protect Title IX. The department's willingness to ignore the overwhelming grassroots to national support for Title IX, its regulations, and prior guidance is proof that the agenda was not to listen and take into account input from the community, but rather to move forward with a predetermined plan of action. Make no mistake, we will continue to stand with survivors and vigorously defend Title IX."
In a joint statement signed by 129 education, legal and policy advocates, the coalition said that DeVos is "taking away much needed tools and resources," adding that "her focus is wrong and dangerous." The statement goes on to say that, "Instead of continuing to address the violence and discrimination experienced by the thousands of students who are sexually assaulted yearly, she has directed her attention to a small group of students who claim to have been falsely accused."
"By utterly failing to engage students who have been sexually assaulted or to reach out to schools and account for the challenges they face," the group says, "Secretary DeVos has ruled by decree."
For a copy of the full coalition statement, and more information on Title IX and sexual assault issues, visit www.EqualRights.org, www.PublicJustice.net or www.NWLC.org .