The U.S. Department of Education has proposed amendments to the Title IX rules affecting the way schools respond to complaints of sexual harassment and assault.
The change in rules was announced by the department on Friday, requiring the institutions to respond and investigate every complaint of sexual harassment.
The new rules, drafted after a year of research and taking opinions of various stakeholders, also redefine the definition of sexual harassment making it consistent with U.S. Supreme Court Title IX cases and adopting Clery Act definition of sexual assault.
“Throughout this process, my focus was, is, and always will be on ensuring that every student can learn in a safe and nurturing environment,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos.
“That starts with having clear policies and fair processes that every student can rely on. Every survivor of sexual violence must be taken seriously, and every student accused of sexual misconduct must know that guilt is not predetermined. We can, and must, condemn sexual violence and punish those who perpetrate it, while ensuring a fair grievance process. Those are not mutually exclusive ideas. They are the very essence of how Americans understand justice to function.”
If the new regulations are implemented, schools would be required to hold a live hearing allowing cross-examination through advisors of both the parties.
The rules disallow schools to use a single investigator and emphasize the need to apply the due process of protections, including a review of all evidence collected, the right to cross-examine and written notice of allegations.
“It is our goal with this proposed rule to ensure that Title IX grievance proceedings become more transparent, consistent, and reliable in their processes and outcomes,” DeVos said.
Reacting to the change in rules, the University of California has expressed its concerns over the amendments saying that they “undermine the very procedures designed to ensure fairness and justice.”
“Narrowing the scope of what constitutes sexual harassment risks leaving serious misconduct unaddressed, especially at schools that adopt the higher evidentiary standard,” University of California’s Interim Systemwide Title IX Coordinator Suzanne Taylor said.
“The rights of the most vulnerable among us are under attack, and it is important that we continue to counter ill-advised attempts to erode important Title IX protections for all members of the community,” she added.