Colleges and universities across the nation, including in Kansas, rely on federal funding to remain operational. As a result, these schools face intense pressure to aggressively pursue allegations of sexual misconduct among students, faculty, or staff according to federal rules—or possibly risk losing their funding. New rules recently instituted by the U.S. Department of Education have thrown additional confusion into the mix in recent months. As a result of these factors combined, any college student accused of sexual misconduct today faces huge risks of being disproportionately disciplined or denied due process.
That being said, if you are a Kansas college student facing disciplinary action for sexual misconduct allegations, having an experienced advisor in your corner can improve your chances for a positive outcome. Here's what you need to know.
Changes in Title IX Regarding Sexual Misconduct
Title IX is designed to protect students from discrimination on the basis of sex in educational institutions that receive federal funds. For many years, these protections have included protection against sexual harassment and assault, and colleges and universities have set policies in place to ensure these protections under Title IX. But beginning in the 2020-21 school year, the U.S. Department of Education has instituted several key changes in the rules interpreting these protections and how schools must enforce them. Among the most notable changes:
- A single investigative process for faculty, staff, and students who are accused of sexual misconduct. This process must now include live hearings with cross-examination of witnesses, similarly to what occurs in a court of law. If a witness declines to participate in the live hearing, their testimony cannot be used in the investigation.
- Clarification of off-campus jurisdictions. Under the new rules, colleges and universities are responsible for pursuing alleged sexual misconduct occurring at any event or location (on or off campus) where the school exercises “substantial control.” Off-campus sorority and fraternity houses are included in this definition. Other off-campus housing is not—nor is any incident occurring with students participating in study programs abroad.
- The “actual knowledge” criteria. Schools could previously be penalized for failing to pursue sexual misconduct allegations that it should have “reasonably known” about. With the new rules, they are only responsible for allegations about which they have “actual knowledge.”
Narrowed Definitions for Sexual Misconduct
Under previous interpretations of Title IX, sexual misconduct/harassment encompassed any unwelcome contact of a sexual nature. With the new DOE rules, sexual harassment as it pertains to Title IX must now fall under one of the following three categories:
- Instances of sexual assault, dating violence, domestic violence, or stalking
- Incidents of quid pro quo (i.e., faculty or staff attempting to barter favors for sexual acts)
- Unwelcome conduct deemed “so severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive that it denies someone equal access to education.”
It is this third category that seems to be generating more confusion for schools when it comes to sexual harassment allegations. Specifically, defining what is “objectively offensive” and determining whether the act hinders someone's “equal access” may leave a lot of room for ambiguity. Even what constitutes "severe" and "pervasive" can be a matter of dispute. Theoretically speaking, this definition may actually exclude some victims from sexual harassment protections if it can be argued that the incident didn't hinder the student from having “equal access.”
How Kansas Schools Are Responding
While these DOE rule changes are widely intended to make it less likely for students falsely accused of sexual misconduct to be unfairly punished, the resulting confusion and ambiguities may actually have the opposite effect. There are a couple of reasons for this:
First—the new rules change the parameters of Title IX protections for schools nationwide. Still, they do NOT preclude individual schools from having their own sexual misconduct policies alongside Title IX. Thus, many schools are now revising their internal student conduct policies to restore some protections for accusers that Title IX no longer covers. In some cases, an accused student may actually have to defend against alleged violations of both policies at once.
Second—the future of the DOE rule changes themselves may be in question. Attorneys General from at least 18 states have filed lawsuits challenging the new rules, and other cases have started making their way through the courts. Additionally, if a Democratic administration comes into power after the next election, these rules will likely be revisited.
With so much chaos surrounding the new rules and how they will be interpreted, how schools will modify their own enforcement mechanisms, and whether the rules themselves will remain in effect—there is much more opportunity for a student in Kansas accused of sexual misconduct to be unfairly disciplined or denied due process. There are simply too many variables in the mix.
Advantages of Hiring an Attorney-Advisor
If you face a school disciplinary investigation on sexual misconduct allegations, your academic and professional future could be at severe risk. Hiring an attorney-advisor to help you through the process can make a positive outcome much more likely. An experienced advisor stays current both on federal rules and on the updated policies of the individual college or university, giving you an advantage when it comes to preparing your defense and protecting your rights. An attorney-advisor can also help you gather evidence and procure witnesses to bolster your defense. In many cases, the very involvement of the advisor keeps the school authorities accountable for preserving due process and abiding by their own rules. As a result, you are ensured a fairer process—one that gives you a much better chance of clearing your name and protecting your future.
Experienced Kansas College Sexual Misconduct Advisor
For a Kansas college student facing sexual misconduct allegations, your first step forward is to contact an experienced attorney-advisor. The Lento Law Firm has many years of proven experience helping students navigate disciplinary proceedings at colleges and universities nationwide. Joseph D. Lento is one of the nation's most knowledgeable attorneys in the area of Title IX and college sexual misconduct cases and student discipline. Protect your rights and your future today. Give the Lento Law Firm a call at 888-535-3686 to see how we can help.
Kansas colleges and universities where Joseph D. Lento can help as your or your student's college sexual misconduct advisor during investigations, hearings, and appeals include, but are not limited to, the following schools:
- Allen County Community College
- Baker University
- Barclay College
- Barton County Community College
- Benedictine College
- Bethany College
- Bethel College North Newton
- Brown Mackie College Kansas City
- Brown Mackie College Salina
- Bryan University Topeka
- Butler Community College
- Central Baptist Theological Seminary
- Central Christian College of Kansas
- Cleveland Chiropractic College
- Cloud County Community College
- Coffeyville Community College
- Colby Community College
- Cowley County Community College
- Dodge City Community College
- Donnelly College
- Emporia State University
- Flint Hills Technical College
- Fort Hays State University
- Fort Scott Community College
- Friends University
- Garden City Community College
- Hesston College
- Highland Community College
- Hutchinson Community College
- Independence Community College
- ITT Technical Institute Wichita
- Johnson County Community College
- Kansas City Kansas Community College
- Kansas State University
- Kansas Wesleyan University
- Labette Community College
- Manhattan Area Technical College
- Manhattan Christian College
- McPherson College
- MidAmerica Nazarene University
- National American University Overland Park
- National American University Wichita
- Neosho County Community College
- Newman University
- North Central Kansas Technical College
- Ottawa University Ottawa
- Pinnacle Career Institute Lawrence
- Pittsburg State University
- Pratt Community College
- Salina Area Technical College
- Seward County Community College and Area Technical School
- Southwestern College
- Sterling College
- Tabor College
- The Art Institutes International Kansas City
- University of Kansas
- University of Phoenix Wichita Campus
- University of Saint Mary
- Vatterott College Wichita
- Washburn University
- Wichita Area Technical College
- Wichita State University
- Wright Career College
It is critical to make certain the college sexual misconduct investigation at your Kansas school is handled properly and that the accused student's interests are protected from as early as possible during the sexual misconduct investigative process. One major reason is because even at colleges and universities where a finding of responsibility for sexual misconduct charges is made at a hearing, the investigation will set the stage for what the hearing panel is provided prior to a hearing (and what the hearing panel will in large part rely on at a hearing), and at schools where the finding of responsibility is made solely through the investigative process, what takes place during the investigation itself will determine whether the accused is found responsible or not responsible for college sexual misconduct charges.
Unfortunately, some students, families, and college employees make the mistake of not taking the necessary precautions as soon as possible when accused of sexual misconduct at college. Some people will mistakenly believe that if they "just explain what happened," their college or university will be fair and impartial and will arrive at the truth. In a perfect world this may be the case, but in a perfect world, sexual misconduct cases would not exist.
Fighting passionately for the future of his clients at universities and colleges throughout the nation for many years, Joseph D. Lento knows how important it is to mount the strongest defense because he understands that an accused's academic and professional future is on the line. He does not settle for the easiest outcome, and instead prioritizes his clients' needs and well-being. Joseph Lento is a licensed attorney in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York, is admitted as an attorney pro hac vice in state and federal court if needed when representing clients nationwide, and serves as a college sexual misconduct advisor to students and others in academia facing sexual misconduct investigations and Title IX disciplinary cases in Kansas and throughout the nation. Make certain your or your student's interests are protected - Contact National College Sexual Misconduct Attorney Joseph D. Lento today at 888-535-3686 or by completing our online form.