Education Secretary Betsy DeVos on Friday released interim guidelines for colleges in handling instances of sexual assault, as the agency works on its controversial rollback of Obama-era policies.
In her effort to better protect victims and students who are accused of sexual assault, DeVos has rescinded a 2011 “Dear Colleague” letter that requires colleges to adopt a minimum standard of proof–the preponderance-of-the-evidence test–when adjudicating accusations of sexual assault.
She also replaced a question-and-answer document that guides schools step-by-step when a sexual assault case comes before them.
The moves are meant to be temporary, as the agency works to provide its own plan.
Senior Department officials said it was inappropriate to hold schools to the preponderance of the evidence standard without public input.
“The Department’s interim guidance emphasizes the importance of fairness and impartiality in campus proceedings while relying heavily on prior guidance from [the] OCR (the Office for Civil Rights) dating back to 2001,” the official said.
They referred to previous guidelines as “deeply flawed, substantively and procedurally”.
However, critics were quick to voice their anger.
“This decision shows the Trump administration’s utter disregard for survivors of sexual assault,” said Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) in a statement. “The effect of this policy reversal will be to delegitimize and suppress the voices of survivors, who are being told by this administration that they will be met with skepticism. Shame on the Trump [a]dministration.”
The agency said the removal of the letter merely gives schools more flexibility, allowing them to go by either the preponderance-of-the-evidence standard; the clear-and-convincing-evidence standard, meaning is it “more likely than not” that sexual harassment or violence occurred; or the convincing evidence standard, meaning “it is highly probable or reasonably certain,” whichever is the higher standard of proof.
“As I said earlier this month, the era of rule by letter is over,” DeVos said in a statement. “The Department of Education will follow the proper legal procedures to craft a new Title IX regulation that better serves students and schools.”
The Department expects to release a notice of proposed rule-making in the next few months.
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