The U.S. Department of Education closed out its 60-day public comment period for proposed Title IX changes regarding sexual assault reporting last Wednesday after receiving tens of thousands of responses. Department officials estimate it will take months to sort through the comments. The law requires them to review each one individually. The extreme volume—more than ten times the norm—illustrates what a contentious issue the revisions are for many.
The proposed rules require schools to follow an investigative process more akin to a court proceeding, including burden-of-proof standards, evidence sharing, and cross-examination. They also require a live hearing, one of the most contentious provisions.
“This is about the proper use of power,” one commenter said. “Weakening Title IX and putting the burden on survivors of assault and rape to bear as the process of investigation, support, and rebuilding takes over, unfairly provides additional harm to the victim.”
Others pointed out that while the guidelines appear to accommodate critical differences between K-12 and higher education, many areas still fall short. In the case of student-to-student sexual harassment, only a notification to the K-12 district’s Title IX coordinator would trigger a full investigation. For students who are traumatized, ashamed, nonverbal, or even just overly shy, that might be an unsurmountable hurdle to overcome.
“Under the proposed rules, however, schools would have no obligation to act if students do not report to ‘the right person,’” according to a comment from a coalition of more than three dozen civil rights groups and others, including the National Education Association.
U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos maintains that the guidelines will ultimately make the process of reporting and prosecuting sexual assault on campus better for everyone.
“The fundamental focus from my perspective is ensuring that we are being fair and balanced for all students,” DeVos said last week at a forum sponsored by the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. —L.E.