On June 4, attorneys general from 17 U.S. states plus the District of Columbia collectively filed a federal lawsuit against the Trump administration over new rules that moderate certain provisions of Title IX for students at schools and universities.
The new rules, released by the Department of Education under Secretary Betsy DeVos, essentially make it more difficult to prove alleged incidents of sexual harassment and/or assault, in part by requiring hearings for the accused instead of issuing summary judgments.
The lawsuit claims that the rule changes are not only a violation of Title IX itself, but would effectively provide fewer protections for students. “Without adequate justification or explanation,” write the plaintiffs, “the Rule strips away longstanding protections against sexual harassment in violation of Title IX's mandate to prevent and remedy sex discrimination, and in ways that conflict with other federal and state statutes and Supreme Court precedent.”
The state attorneys general aren't the only ones challenging these rule changes. The day before, on June 3, thirty-seven United States senators sent a letter to Betsy DeVos demanding that the new rules be rescinded. In the letter to DeVos, the senators assert the new rules would override the efforts of individual states to address harassment and assault incidents as well as disproportionately hurt marginalized students.
Nearly a month prior to the senators sending their letter, the ACLU filed a similar lawsuit in a Maryland District Court.
What the Rule Changes May Mean for Students
If upheld, these changes to Title IX protections will go into effect in August 2020 as the new school year gets underway. What may be the ramifications for students going to school next fall? Let's look at just a few:
· A narrower definition of “sexual harassment.” Alleged victims can only report conduct that is considered “severe, pervasive and objectively offensive”—possibly reducing the number of situations in which students might be faced with charges for simple misunderstandings.
· New “hearsay” rules require live witnesses and cross-examination—basically like a courtroom setting, placing more burden of proof on accusers and giving the accused a better chance of mounting a defense against false charges.
· Limits school responsibility strictly to campus. Schools wouldn't be responsible for incidents that occur during study abroad programs, off-campus housing or even online platforms that the school doesn't specifically control.
· Cases dismissed if victim/survivor leaves school. Schools would no longer be responsible to pursue discipline if the accuser chose to drop out for any reason.
While it remains to be seen whether the new rules will be upheld by the courts, these changes to the interpretation of Title IX may give students who have been accused a better opportunity to see justice prevail and protect their futures. If you are a student currently facing disciplinary action from a school under Title IX, the Lento Law Firm can help ensure your rights are protected. Call our office at 888-535-3686.