DeVos proposes overhaul to campus sexual misconduct rules


Associated Press

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos today proposed a major overhaul to the way colleges and universities handle sexual misconduct complaints, adding protections for students accused of assault and harassment and narrowing which cases schools would be required to investigate.

Under the plan, schools would have to investigate complaints only if the alleged incidents occurred on campus or other areas overseen by the school, and only if they were reported to certain campus officials with the authority to take action.

The Education Department said the proposal ensures fairness for students on both sides of accusations, while offering schools greater flexibility to help victims who don't want to file formal complaints that could trigger an investigation.

"Throughout this process, my focus was, is, and always will be on ensuring that every student can learn in a safe and nurturing environment," DeVos said in a statement. "That starts with having clear policies and fair processes that every student can rely on. Every survivor of sexual violence must be taken seriously, and every student accused of sexual misconduct must know that guilt is not predetermined."

DeVos previously said the current rules pressure schools to take heavy action against students accused of misconduct without giving them a fair chance to defend themselves.

Her new proposal adds several provisions meant to protect accused students. They would be allowed to review and respond to all evidence collected by the school, for example, and have a presumption of innocence throughout the disciplinary process.

They could cross-examine their accusers, although it would be done indirectly through a representative to avoid personal confrontation.

Opponents say the proposal would deter victims from reporting assaults, and allow schools to shirk responsibility when they do receive complaints.

"If these draft rules go into effect, schools will become more dangerous for all students and more schools will shield harassers and rapists," Fatima Goss Graves, president and CEO of the National Women's Law Center, said in a statement.

Virginia Rep. Bobby Scott, the top Democrat on the House Education and the Workforce Committee, said the proposal would be "a damaging setback for our efforts to prevent campus sexual harassment and assault."

But supporters say the new rules do a better job providing equal treatment to all students.

"By taking the rights of both complainants and accused students seriously, these proposed regulations make important strides toward ensuring that complaints of sexual misconduct will be neither ignored nor prejudged," said Samantha Harris, vice president for procedural advocacy at the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.

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