On May 6, 2020, the Department of Education released final regulations addressing schools’ Title IX obligations to respond to sexual harassment and sexual violence. As you might remember, a proposed version of these regulations was issued by the Department of Education in Fall of 2018 for public comment. Despite the fact that the proposed rules were overwhelmingly opposed by universities, K-12 school groups, advocacy organizations, survivors of sexual assault, and student leaders, the Department of Education included many of the same dangerous provisions in their final version of the rule.
We’ll level with you: we’re concerned
The new Title IX rules will make it much harder for students to get schools to take appropriate action in response to complaints of sexual harassment at a time when the world is just starting to recognize the pervasiveness of gender-based violence. It’s also worth noting that these regulations were released in the midst of a global pandemic, when students are already facing enormous stress and anxiety. Dramatically changing how Title IX complaints are handled in schools will only add to the difficult circumstances students are facing. Commenting on the final rules Dr. Stephanie J. Hull, President and CEO of Girls Inc. shared, “At a time when students are facing the unprecedented challenges of a global health crisis, the Department of Education is making it harder for the most vulnerable students—those who have experienced sexual harassment and violence—to get the justice and healing they deserve.”
What we are up against
A few of the alarming changes include:
- Schools would be required to ignore our youngest and most vulnerable students until the harassment is so severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive that a student is denied equal access to education. Schools might not do anything until a student fails a class or drops out. Instead, schools should be proactive and address harassment before it gets that bad.
- The regulations would require schools to presume the respondent is not responsible. In a world where victims are routinely disbelieved, this change reinforces the myth that respondents are falsely accused.
- Schools would be allowed to use a higher standard of evidence in conducting Title IX misconduct investigations than other misconduct investigations. This change would make it harder for survivors to get their schools to take appropriate action and would make school proceedings more like criminal courts. Advocates anticipate that in many cases this higher standard of evidence will be required if the rules go into effect given many schools’ collective bargaining agreements.
But there is reason to be hopeful
Advocates have already announced they will challenge these regulations in court. As put by Dr. Stephanie J. Hull, President and CEO of Girls Inc., “Girls Inc. will continue to stand up for survivors and advocate for safer schools.” We will keep you posted with opportunities to take action. Until then, join us in sharing this social media graphic & message to make it clear we aren’t giving up this fight.
I believe girls have the right to an education free from harassment. #HandsOffIX