Last year, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos proposed sweeping changes to how K-12 schools and colleges investigate sexual harassment and assault.
The changes would impact all schools that receive federal funding. But before the government could implement these changes, it had to seek input from the public. In response, more than 100,000 comments poured into the Department of Education — the comment period ended Wednesday.
The new guidelines would give more rights to those accused of sexual misconduct and limit liability for schools. The Department of Education has argued that the new rules will provide clarity for schools and introduce more due process into investigations of alleged sexual violence.
The proposed changes received 20 times more comments than usual for a regulatory rewrite, according to the Washington Post, with most commenters opposing what DeVos has in mind. Here’s what people had to say.
Schools will no longer have to investigate off-campus sexual assaults
Under the previous guidance, schools were responsible for investigating off-campus sexual assaults, as well as those on campus. But under the new rules, off-campus assaults would not be covered.
Kirsten Wong posted:
“In particular I am concerned about the fact that sexual violence that happens off campus will not be covered under these rules. Both of my assaults occurred in off-campus housing. When more than half the school student population lives off campus, it is unfair to leave these victims behind solely based on where the incident is located.”
Mediation would be permitted
The new rules would allow mediation between an alleged victim and the accused as a way to reach resolutions, which wasn’t the case in the previous guidance. Critics of the proposed change argue that mediation “has been proven to be traumatic for survivors.”
Catherine Thomasson posted:
“Having been sexually harassed myself, I understand how difficult it is to report and get reasonable action taken. … The proposed rules would allow schools to subject survivors to biased, traumatizing investigations or use a form of mediation that favor harassers over their victims.”
The alleged victim would need to provide more evidence
Previously, schools relied on a legal standard called preponderance of evidence, meaning that when a student alleges a sexual assault took place, schools have to determine if the allegation was more likely than not to have occurred. Under the new guidance, schools can raise the evidentiary standard to “clear and convincing evidence,” which is usually reserved for criminal charges.
Kevin Bird posted:
“Title IX investigations should not be carried out like criminal proceedings because they are fundamentally not court proceedings, they are internal investigations about university code of conduct violations. By treating them like criminal proceedings and putting unreasonably high burdens of evidence these changes will leave many survivors no avenue for justice. ”
The Department of Education will record and examine public comments and consider them as part of regulatory policy, according to a government fact sheet. That said, it is up to DeVos to draw whatever conclusions she sees fit from these tens of thousands of comments, as she shapes the future of how America addresses campus sexual assault.