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DeVos issues rules for sexual misconduct investigations in schools, bolstering protections for the accused

DeVos issues rules for sexual misconduct investigations in schools, bolstering protections for the accused
© Greg Nash

On Wednesday Education Secretary Betsy DeVosElizabeth (Betsy) Dee DeVosWomen set to take key roles in Biden administration America has a civic education problem — here's how to fix it Biden's Education secretary must expel the harmful policies of the last four years MORE issued final rules on how all schools will address allegations of sexual misconduct, securing new protections for students and faculty accused of misconduct.

The new rules modify Title IX, a 1972 law prohibiting “discrimination based on sex in education programs or activities that receive Federal financial assistance,” narrowing the definition of sexual harassment and requiring schools to challenge evidence and cross-examine students via a live hearing, among other things detailed in the more than 2,000-page rule.  

The new regulations, which take effect in August, will only find schools in violation of Title IX if they are determined to be “deliberately indifferent” to accusations of sexual assault that occurred in their programs and activities. 

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"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," DeVos said in a statemnet. "This new regulation requires schools to act in meaningful ways to support survivors of sexual misconduct, without sacrificing important safeguards to ensure a fair and transparent process. We can and must continue to fight sexual misconduct in our nation's schools, and this rule makes certain that fight continues."

President TrumpDonald John TrumpUSAID administrator tests positive for COVID-19 Kamala Harris, Stacey Abrams among nominees for Time magazine's 2020 Person of the Year DOJ appeals ruling preventing it from replacing Trump in E. Jean Carroll defamation lawsuit MORE issued a statement describing the new regulations as “even-handed justice” with “a transparent grievance process that treats the accused as innocent until proven guilty.”

“With today’s action and every action to come, the Trump administration will fight for America’s students,” Trump said in a statement. 

DeVos and the Trump administration have been critical of Title IX, which they have said unjustly puts matters of sexual assault and harassment in the hands of education officials. Republicans were critical of the Obama administration’s use of Title IX, which they argue lacked public input. 

“This final rule respects and supports victims and preserves due process rights for both the victim and the accused,” Sen. Lamar AlexanderAndrew (Lamar) Lamar AlexanderThe Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump holds his last turkey pardon ceremony The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by the UAE Embassy in Washington, DC - Trump OKs transition; Biden taps Treasury, State experience The Memo: Trump election loss roils right MORE (R-Tenn.), chairman of the Senate Education Committee, said in a statement. 

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“Under the previous administration, a single official in the U.S. Department of Education was issuing edicts, without the proper public input, to 6,000 colleges and universities about how to handle the complex and sensitive problem of sexual assault on college campuses,” Alexander added.

Victim advocacy groups, such as Know Your IX, have said that the new rules are "rolling back the rights of student survivors," claiming they shield schools from liability for sexual misconduct that takes place in their facilities.

"If this rule goes into effect, it will make schools more dangerous and could push survivors out of school entirely," the group tweeted

Fatima Goss Graves, president of the National Women’s Law Center, told The New York Times the organization plans to contest the new rules in court. 

“Betsy DeVos and the Trump administration are dead set on making schools more dangerous for everyone — even during a global pandemic,” Goss Graves told the Times. “And if this rule goes into effect, survivors will be denied their civil rights and will get the message loud and clear that there is no point in reporting assault.”