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The Department of Education Has Retracted Obama-Era School Sexual Assault Policies

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos announced last week that policies put in place under the Obama administration regarding how schools handle sexual assault would be rescinded.

DeVos had stated in the past her concerns that current policies in place denied proper due process to those accused of sexual assault. Attorneys for those accused had previously argued that the standard of proof in such cases under the Obama-era policies was not on par with the "beyond a reasonable doubt" standard used in criminal trials.

The secretary of education announced the release of a new interim Q&A for schools to use as a map to guide them through the process of a formal review.

"This interim guidance will help schools as they work to combat sexual misconduct and will treat all students fairly," DeVos said in a press release. “There will be no more sweeping them under the rug. But the process also must be fair and impartial, giving everyone more confidence in its outcomes." The secretary of education had met with both sexual assault victims and those wrongfully accused in meetings closed to the press back in July.

Perhaps the largest change will be the DOE’s withdrawal of the 2011 “Dear Colleague Letter” that DeVos had said went “too far.” DeVos called the “rule of letter over” and added that the DOE would “follow the proper legal procedures to craft a new Title IX regulation that better serves students and schools."

The announcement of the change was met with frustration and disappointment by both Democrats and sexual assault prevention advocates who argued it was a step backward. “It will discourage students from reporting assaults, create uncertainty for schools on how to follow the law and make campuses less safe,” Fatima Goss Graves, president and CEO of the National Women’s Law Center said. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) tweeted “Shameful. This decision will hurt and betray students, plain and simple.”

A new part of the policy will allow campuses to provide mediation in sexual assault cases, should both the accused and victim agree to it. This option was previously absent from Title IX.

Discussions regarding school guidance on handling sexual assault under Title IX federal law have largely focused on college campuses and universities, but could affect victims of sexual assault in K-12 schools as well.

Public Justice Senior Attorney Adele Kimmel represents victims of sexual assault and pointed out that under DeVos’ guidance, K-12 schools are not required to tell victims whether the perpetrator has been suspended. Kimmel said this needlessly creates a sense of dread and anxiety for the victim. “I think any victim would want to know that and should know that,” Kimmel told The 74. “Every day you go, ‘Are they coming back today?’”

The DOE has said that any resolutions previously reached with school investigations will remain in place and that new investigations will continue during the interim period.


Article by Joel Stice, Education World Contributor



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