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DeVos Meets With Victims of Sexual Assault Amid Moves to Change Title IX Procedure

Earlier this month, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos and Candice Jackson, acting head of the department’s Office for Civil Rights, met with both survivors of sexual violence as well as those who had been falsely accused and disciplined under Title IX.

The meetings that were closed to the press were meant to be an opportunity for stakeholders to share their personal stories and concerns with DeVos. The secretary of education has made it clear that she plans to alter the Title IX guidelines, concerning how reports of sexual violence and harassment on college campuses and in K-12 schools are handled.

"Today's summit made it clear to me there's work to be done," DeVos told the press. "This issue is hurting too many students. So we'll get to work to figure out the best way to solve this problem."

When asked what changes she plans to make to Title IX, DeVos didn’t give specifics. Her lack of a clear answer did little to calm advocates of sexual assault survivors’ rights.

"The symposium's limited participation from student survivors is hardly adequate to get a comprehensive understanding of how Title IX protections and enforcement have allowed so many survivors to continue their education and of what happens when schools fail to live up to their civil rights obligations," read a statement by Fatima Goss Graves, president and CEO of National Women's Law Center.

Jackson had come under fire in the days before the three 90-minute “listening sessions” for making controversial comments saying that 90 percent of sexual assault cases fell under the umbrella of “'we were both drunk,' 'we broke up, and six months later I found myself under a Title IX investigation because she just decided that our last sleeping together was not quite right.'" She later issued an apology to little effect.

The 90-minute sessions included DeVos talking with victims of sexual assault and harassment on college and K-12 campuses, where reports have steadily risen in both since 2009.

The current Obama-era rules require schools to use a “preponderance of the evidence” in disciplinary hearings for cases of sexual assault and harassment. While advocates say it is essential for bringing about justice, critics argue that it ignores student’s rights of due process.

The move to change Title IX guidance on sexual assault has been a call of concern for Obama officials, such as Catherine Lhamon, the assistant secretary for civil rights in the Obama administration’s Department of Education.

“I certainly don’t think that the posture of this administration—in what it has said and the actions it has taken to date—is consistent with the traditional ebbs and flows of administration change,” Lhamon told Education Week. “The particular hostility to civil rights enforcement and a callous and astonishing lack of knowledge about the civil rights minimums—that are bipartisan and long-standing in this country—amaze me.”

Chris Perry, deputy executive director of Stop Abusive and Violent Environments, told The 74 that he remained optimistic about DeVos’ actions. Perry represented a student who met with DeVos that was suspended after being falsely accused of verbal sexual harassment. "What we’re trying to do is really put together a fair system that allows both parties to feel as though they were treated respectfully and that the outcome is reliable,” Perry said.

While no timeline has been announced by DeVos for the changes to be made, she did emphasize that they need to happen sooner rather than later.


Article by Joel Stice, Education World Contributor

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