Betsy DeVos to alter sexual misconduct guidelines to bolster rights of accused

LEAH MILLIS  REUTERS  Newscom

For example, the campus' Title IX coordinator. The new regulations would mark a major shift in how colleges and universities approach accusations of sexual misconduct, not only adding protections for accused students, but also significantly narrowing the definition of sexual harassment.

"Throughout this process, my focus was, is, and always will be on ensuring that every student can learn in a safe and nurturing environment", DeVos said in a statement.

Critics say the new proposal could prevent victims from coming forward. But Whaley said the Title IX guidelines - most recently adjusted in a "Dear Colleague" letter in 2017 - had been in conversation much longer than that.

"It demonstrates Betsy DeVos and the Trump administration share the same attitude about assault that we saw from Senate Republicans during the Kavanaugh hearing - disparage and diminish survivors and discourage them from reporting", Davidson said.

Colleges will only be obliged to investigate claims if the alleged misconduct was reported to certain campus officials and occurred on campus or other areas overseen by the school.

"These rules further protect abusers in a system that is already rigged in their favor and dramatically reduce requirements that schools protect their students", Thomas warned. "Accused students would be entitled to lawyers and cross-examination". These rules would make schools more unsafe and push survivors out of school.

Among other changes, it narrows what constitutes sexual harassment. "Any of those changes have a rebound effect in some way or another", she said. Unlike the previous Obama-era guidelines, the new rules will have the full force of law if enacted. "Under Obama, it was defined it as 'unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature.' The new rule would define sexual harassment as unwanted sexual conduct that is 'so severe, pervasive and objectively offensive that it denies a recipient's education program or activity'".

Gonzaga, Eastern Washington and Whitworth universities all report in compliance with the Clery Act. This could mean that assaults at off-campus house parties, for example, would not be properly investigated by the administration.

"One of the biggest changes to the rule would be a new definition of sexual harassment", writes ABC's Anne Flaherty.

DeVos previously said the existing rules pressure schools to take heavy action against students accused of misconduct without giving them a fair chance to defend themselves.

The office of Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers did not immediately reply to a request for comment. "If these draft rules become law, more survivors will be forced out of school by harassment, assault, and their schools' indifference to their complaints". This guidance established that "sexual harassment of students can be a form of sex discrimination covered by Title IX". The proposal raises the bar for proving that failure, saying schools must be "deliberately indifferent" to be held legally liable. The Davis case reaffirmed the Gebser case and added that the school would be responsible if it was a student harassing a fellow student.

DeVos' plan is also likely to cut down on actions taken by the Education Department, which can penalize schools for failing to uphold Title IX.

"We live in a society that often blames the victim in such cases, this is not OK", Beseler said.

The news comes nearly a year after DeVos confirmed that the Education Department would no longer investigate claims of discrimination against transgender students in bathrooms, locker rooms, or changing rooms in American public schools, sparking outrage among LGBTQ advocates.

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