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Title IX & Student Conduct Code Blog

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New Title IX Changes by the Secretary of Education

The Republican Party’s platform during the 2016 campaign made a clear priority of attacking parts of Title IX that relate to sexual assault. Now, after making statements at George Mason University, U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos specifically made gutting Title IX, when it comes to sexual assault and harassment investigations, a major part of her agenda.

While DeVos did mention that sexual assault was unacceptable and acknowledged the hardships of being a campus assault victim, nearly every time she mentioned the plight of a survivor, she, in turn, talked about the hardships of being accused of misconduct. DeVos repeatedly focused on the supposed lack of due process on school campuses when it comes to investigating sexual assault claims and ensuring that a student’s rights are upheld. While you may first think of the victim’s rights, DeVos is definitely focusing on the rights of the accused.

It important for anyone for whom Title IX is important to read DeVos’s full remarks, but she focused on the following:

  • The definitions of assault and harassment are too broad. She stated that any possible offense should not lead to a Title IX investigation and that harassment allegations currently “trample” free speech rights.
  • While schools should make accommodations for sexual assault victims through scheduling changes, housing assignments, and more, making the changes to the accused’s educational environment is “punishing” them before a decision has been made.
  • Sexual assault is a form of discrimination, but accusers also regularly suffer discrimination by “biased” systems seeking to determine their responsibility.
  • She recounted anecdotes about accusers who had been wrongfully expelled and later became depressed and tried to take their own lives. She did not address the later struggles of victims who do not have their complaints adequately investigated.
  • The current policies protecting students from assault force schools to overreach, and the Office of Civil Rights terrifies schools into taking drastic actions.
  • Appeals of those found responsible for sexual assault only serve to punish survivors more, framing the issue that it is somehow in the victim’s interest to cater to the accused.

Existing Sexual Assault Policies

In 2011, the Department of Education and Office for Civil Rights under the Obama Administration recognized that sexual assault and harassment were issues that had long been neglected under Title IX policy. The Department issued a letter providing guidance on how Title IX should be better interpreted to protect students from sexual assault, harassment, and other forms of misconduct, which are considered to be forms of sex discrimination prohibited under Title IX. The letter instructed colleges and universities to adequately respond to complaints of assault, provide necessary resources and accommodations for victims to continue learning when possible, and thoroughly investigate the claims.

DeVos insinuated that this guidance letter essentially stripped students accused of misconduct of their due process rights. However, the letter specifically instructed that schools protect the rights of all students involved in sexual misconduct cases. The guidance requires that both parties have equal opportunity to present evidence in their favor or defense and equal access to evidence.

Despite the important attention brought to this Title IX issue in 2011, the future is now uncertain. After the comments made by DeVos—who was protested by students outside the building who were not invited to attend the speech—it is clear that the strides made under the Obama Administration to protect sexual assault victims are in jeopardy.

Contact a New Haven, CT Title IX Attorney for Help Today

The highly experienced Title IX attorneys at Duffy Law represent the rights of students whose rights have been violated. We have extensive experience with Title IX claims and college and university disciplinary systems so that we can best represent clients in this type of case. To talk about any concerns, please feel free to call our office at (203) 946-2000 or contact us online today.

Felice Duffy

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Attorney At Duffy Law

Attorney Felice Duffy served as an Assistant United States Attorney for ten years after beginning her legal career at two prestigious firms (one in CT and one in NY) and then clerking for two federal judges. A life-long Title IX advocate, she brought a legal action under the then-new Title IX statute against UCONN while an undergraduate to compel the creation of its women’s varsity soccer program. She went on to become a first-team Division I All-American, was selected to be on the first U.S. National Women’s Team, and spent 10 years as Head Coach of the Yale women's soccer team. Attorney Duffy has Ph.D. in Education/Sports Psychology and has spoken to, and conducted trainings for, over 50 schools and organizations on a wide range of topics involving athletics, the law, and social justice. You can reach Felice at (203) 946-2000.