Schooled Reporting on education

Pushing for due process on campus

Education | Updated rules about sexual assault in schools receive a mixed response
by Laura Edghill
Posted 5/20/20, 07:29 pm

New Title IX regulations released on May 6 by the U.S. Department of Education could strengthen due process rights for those accused of sexual harassment and violence on campus while also shoring up support for victims. But some victims’ advocates said the requirement to have live disciplinary hearings could keep traumatized victims from coming forward.

Joe Cohn, legislative and policy director at the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, said practices on college campuses over the #MeToo years have swung too far in favor of the person making a Title IX complaint about a sexual assault, with the accused facing unjust punishment. The new rules work to rebalance the scales of justice and restore Title IX’s original intent.

“It wasn’t really designed to be a secondary, shadow justice system,” Cohn said. “It was supposed to be there to ensure that sex-based discrimination didn’t drive students away from pursuing their educations.”

Congress amended the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964 to add Title IX in 1972. It bars discrimination based on sex, including sexual harassment and violence, at colleges and K–12 schools. The Education Department, which oversees and enforces Title IX, spent the last year and a half evaluating procedures that some said stripped the accused of their due process rights. Officials combed through more than 124,000 public comments on proposed revisions.

The new regulations, which take effect on Aug. 14, require colleges and universities to presume the accused person is innocent until proven guilty and allow cross-examination of witnesses in live hearings—all stark differences from the department’s previous policies. The rules include a standard definition of “harassment” and an array of supportive services for individuals who come forward with complaints of sexual abuse. They can receive modified class schedules, assignment extensions, housing changes, counseling, escorts, and even institutional enhancements like increased security in an area of campus. The rules also specifically mandate that schools address dating, domestic violence, and stalking. Although the changes affect colleges, universities, and K–12 schools, some measures, like the live hearings, apply only to institutions of higher education.

“Too many students have lost access to their education because their school inadequately responded when a student filed a complaint of sexual harassment or sexual assault,” said Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.

The Education Department clarified that the requirements have the force of law unlike the Obama administration’s 2011 “Dear Colleague” letter about sexual violence in schools.

“For the first time, the department’s Title IX regulations recognize that sexual harassment, including sexual assault, is unlawful sex discrimination,” Education Department officials said in an overview of the 2,033-page document.

Opponents argued the changes shift too much protection onto the accused, creating barriers to justice for victims.

“I’m feeling really hurt after the announcement today,” Faith Ferber of the youth advocacy group Know Your IX said in September 2017, when the Education Department proposed the changes. “As a survivor, as an activist, as someone who’s been doing this work for almost five years now, it really feels like a slap in the face.”

Ferber said she endured a sexual assault while studying at American University in Washington, D.C., in February 2015. She said inadequate enforcement of the previous guidelines made the new rules necessary.

Know Your IX, along with other opponents of the law, expressed particular concern about the addition of live hearings. They said processes such as mediation or restorative justice could intimidate victims who’ve already suffered harm. And they criticized the level of scrutiny required for schools to declare behavior harassment.

Cohn noted the new Title IX rules more closely mimic the off-campus legal process. Ultimately, the introduction of strong protections for the accused brings more legitimacy to the disciplinary process, a win for everyone.

Facebook/Cedarville University Facebook/Cedarville University The campus of Cedarville University in Ohio

Cedarville board to investigate president’s hire

The Cedarville University Board of Trustees placed President Thomas White on leave on May 1 over his hiring of a man with a known history of sexual misconduct accusations.

White hired theology professor Anthony Moore, a friend of his, in 2017 with the knowledge that accusations of sexual misconduct against Moore ended his employment with The Village Church in Fort Worth, Texas. White said he considered the appointment a probationary one and part of a larger “restoration process.” He believed at the time of Moore’s hiring that the alleged misconduct happened over a short period of time.

But in April, White said he learned the reported abuse transpired over multiple months, prompting him to terminate Moore’s employment at Cedarville immediately.

The independent Baptist school’s board said in addition to placing White on administrative leave, it was hiring an outside firm to investigate whether Moore had inappropriate contact with any Cedarville students. The firm also will audit Moore’s hiring process, including employment references from The Village Church.

“As our Cedarville University community processes this situation, we pray we would do so with humility, grace, mercy, integrity, civility, and respect,” the board said. “Above all, we pray God would be honored by our deliberations and actions.” —L.E.

Associated Press/Photo by Roger Schneider (file) Associated Press/Photo by Roger Schneider (file) Marcus Garvey Academy in Detroit

Settling for less

In a settlement reached just weeks after a federal appeals court ruled that students in Detroit Public Schools had a constitutional right to literacy, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat, agreed to ask the state legislature for at least $94.4 million to bolster reading programs and related initiatives in the underperforming school district.

The settlement also requests an additional $280,000 for the seven plaintiffs of the original lawsuit. Citing Detroit Public Schools’ dismal academic record, the former students argued the state had a responsibility to provide additional funding and resources to local districts.

“Students in Detroit faced obstacles to their education that inhibited their ability to read—obstacles they never should have faced,” Whitmer said. “In the future, I will remain committed to ensuring paths to literacy for children across Michigan.”

Meanwhile the Republican-controlled state legislature petitioned the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to vacate the April ruling, arguing state and local officials should manage K–12 education, not the federal courts. It is unclear if lawmakers will authorize Whitmer’s request for the funds. —L.E.

Associated Press/Photo by Gregory Bull (file) Associated Press/Photo by Gregory Bull (file) A yoga class at Capri Elementary School in Encinitas, Calif.

Yoga a no-go in school

More than 100 pastors recently argued successfully to keep yoga out of several northern Ohio public school districts. In a letter to state officials in March, the ministers stated that coercing children to practice an Eastern religion violated the establishment clause found in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

“Yoga is not merely an external physical practice with a purely physiological effect, but rather an internal spiritual practice advertised as being able to provide the power to change an individual and transform the world,” the pastors wrote. “The courts have repeatedly ruled that yoga and meditation are religious practices.”

Several of the districts responded directly to the pastors, assuring them that yoga would not be included in the school curriculum. Even atheist blogger Terry Firma agreed the pastors were onto something, writing that the practice of yoga can’t escape its Vedic and Hindu spiritual roots.

“For consistency’s sake, it might be a good idea for atheists and agnostics to make common cause with the pastors (difficult though that may be!), and to err on the side of preferring that yoga instruction and public schools remain separate,” he wrote on his Friendly Atheist blog. —L.E.

Who’s the homeschool teacher?

A recent survey featured in The New York Times found nearly 50 percent of dads say they’re shouldering the majority of the homeschooling burden during the coronavirus pandemic. But just 3 percent of moms agree that’s the case.

And while that’s bound to provoke a smirk, the survey also showed fathers were quick to give credit to their spouses for homeschooling efforts. Nearly 40 percent readily pointed to their wives as the top teacher in the home. —L.E.

Laura Edghill

Laura is a freelance writer, church communications director, and public school board member living in Clinton Township, Mich., with her engineer husband and three sons. She is a graduate of the WORLD Journalism Institute's mid-career course. Follow Laura on Twitter @LTEdghill.

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  • Ed Schick
    Posted: Thu, 05/21/2020 07:46 am

    Thank-you Mrs. Edghill for the Cedarville report. As sad as it is to hear about such an incident, it seems that reporting on the story provides an extra layer of outside accountability that is unfortunately necessary in a day when students, parents and donors don't seem to be aware of what is going on or what the school should do to correct this. You might also check with Brent Detwiler who is very good at researching and analyzing situations like this. I think he would add that the board was more aware of this than you article implies. I also found the university to be short on parental support and integrity when our children attended there. Things can look good when the sun is shining but a university's true character comes out in the difficult situations.

  • HJM
    Posted: Thu, 05/21/2020 10:33 am

    We have had a positive experience at Cedarville University the last 3 years our 2 oldest children have attended there, not because it is a perfect school, but because the leadership there on all levels have been humble, willing to listen, proactive in working through any difficulties, giving clear communication to parents and students when needed, and willing to take responsibility for any missteps, while doing whatever is neccesary to right the direction of their institution back toward the path God has laid out for them.  

    This has been our personal experience and I pray that WORLD will be careful not to make this a witch hunt, but to watch and wait for the outcome before doing further reporting.  As all institutions are run by fallen, sinful man, there is not one perfect institution on this earth.  The real test of the heart of an institution is its willingness to confess wrong, to seek the Lord, and to be transparent in the process.

    Please do let Cedarville show itself for what it is, I have every faith that the leadership and the board will learn and grow through this and allow God to correct them as needed, all the while showing a watching world what the love, forgiveness, and righteousness of God looks like.