More protection for accusers of campus sexual assaults under proposed rule changes

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But at the K-12 level, an assault that occurs, for example, at a private home on the weekend would seem to be outside a school's responsibility under the new rules, even if harassment continues at school, advocates said.

The Department of Education on Friday proposed new rules for dealing with sexual harassment and assault on college campuses that would bolster the rights of those accused of wrongdoing.

"These rules would really make schools more risky for students and would put in place processes that have the potential to sweep sexual harassment and sexual assault under the rug", Deb Vagins, policy director of the American Association of University Women, told The 74.

"However, we are also aware that the proposed rules will likely undergo changes based on feedback provided during the public comment period before they are implemented".

The proposed rule goes too far in incorporating legal concepts into a school disciplinary setting, argued Terry Hartle, a senior vice president at the American Council on Education, which represents university presidents.

Supportive measures to assist students during investigations into complaints of sexual misconduct might include changes in classes, counseling, no-contact orders, dorm room reassignments, and leaves of absence. The proposal would regulate Title IX, a law that bars sex discrimination at schools that receive federal funding. If the rules are put into place, those accused of sexual assault will be given the ability to cross-examine alleged victims.

Taylor, however, said in an interview that the prospect of cross-examination, probably by an attorney, would intimidate victims and witnesses and discourage them from speaking up.

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However, others applauded the department's move, saying it took the rights of both parties seriously.

The rules are slightly different for higher ed and K-12, and it seems the department "is attempting to create a stiffer standard applicable to the K-12 context", Catherine Lhamon, assistant secretary for civil rights during the Obama administration, told The 74. They land at a time when the #MeToo movement brought increased public scrutiny and accountability to harassment and assault. Obama-era guidelines defined sexual harassment only as "unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature" that was so severe or pervasive that it denied or limited access to education. According to an EPA inspector general's report released September 4, the cost was deemed "not justified" as it was higher than the costs to protect other EPA administrators. Most of the attention is on higher education, but the rules also apply to elementary and secondary schools.

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, which promotes free speech on campuses, welcomed the narrower definition.

He said California courts already have begun ordering colleges to restore the due process rights to accused students that are spelled out in the new rules.

The department's announcement on Friday was certain to be met with outrage from victim advocacy groups. End Rape on Campus called it a move "to silence survivors" that would result in fewer reports and greater numbers of victims not finishing their educations. The University's priority is always to "provide students with a learning environment that is safe from sexual harassment and misconduct", says Jennifer Grodsky, BU's vice president for federal relations, and the proposals need to be evaluated in that light.

Requiring schools to choose one standard for deciding all cases, either a simple "preponderance of the evidence", as used at BU now, or the higher standard of "clear and convincing evidence".

The news comes nearly a year after DeVos confirmed that the Education Department would no longer investigate claims of discrimination against transgender students in bathrooms, locker rooms, or changing rooms in American public schools, sparking outrage among LGBTQ advocates.


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