Don’t Let DeVos Gut Title IX

Deadline for public comments: January 28, 2019 – 

Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has proposed regulations that would modify the implementation of Title IX, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in federally funded education programs. Well, let’s call it what it is – Betsy DeVos has proposed a scheme to destroy an important part of Title IX. We have a chance to say NO.

The proposed regs, which have the outrageously misleading title “Nondiscrimination on the Basis of Sex in Education Programs or Activities Receiving Federal Financial Assistance” would gut Obama-era Title IX guidance for how schools address sexual violence. Among other changes, DeVos’s proposed regulations would specify how institutions covered by Title IX must respond to sexual harassment incidents, and would also revise the availability of remedies for violations. Hint: all the changes remove protections for women …

You have until Monday January 28 to protest the proposed changes by submitting a public comment. Go to this link and click the “COMMENT NOW” button in the upper right. If that doesn’t work, go to www.regulations.gov and click on “Nondiscrimination on the Basis of Sex…” under “What’s Trending” and follow the instructions to submit a comment. Be sure to reference Docket ID No. Docket ID ED-2018-OCR-0064. See below for suggested language and alternative methods to submit comments.

What to write:

Here are some suggested comments (personalize the language because copied & pasted comments or overly similar comments may be grouped together and not counted separately). Several of these are adapted from the Equal Rights Advocates’ excellent comment guide. Submit your comments by the end of day January 28:

My name is _____ and I am [fill in relevant identifying info, if appropriate – such as teacher, student, advocate, sexual assault survivor, etc.] I am writing in reference to Docket ID ED-2018-OCR-0064.

I oppose the proposed regulations for the following reasons:

  • General:
    • They would allow schools to refuse to investigate online sexual harassment.
    • They provide for dramatically reduced liability for schools, allowing them to turn a blind eye to sexual assault or harassment and shielding them from responsibility if they ignore or cover up sexual misconduct.
    • They would drastically reduce the number of school employees responsible for addressing or reporting sexual harassment.
    • They would encourage schools to reinstate an antiquated mediation process rather than investigating.
    • They would narrow the definition of sexual harassment, requiring schools to investigate only the most “serious forms of harassment and assault,” and only act when the sexual violence or harassment completely denies a student access to education, forcing students to endure repeated and escalating levels of abuse without being able to ask their schools for help.
  • Duty to Report:
    • I am concerned about how the proposed regulations narrow which school employees are required to act on reports of sexual harassment and misconduct in higher education settings (§§ 106.44(a), 106.30), as well as the regulations’ requirement of schools to dismiss reports of sexual violence that happen between students off campus (§§ 106.30, 106.45(b)(3)).
    • These rules would not balance the scales of justice between student complainants and student respondents, but would rather result in students’ reports and complaints being dismissed or ignored, which will very likely decrease reporting overall.
  • Burden of Proof:
    • Proposed regulation 106.45(b)(4)(i) requires schools to apply the higher standard of evidence to Title IX cases – Clear and Convincing Evidence. Application of this standard of evidence is inequitable and impractical, and contradicts decades of legal practice.
    •  The Department fails to consider and address the grave consequences to the victim of sexual assault when compared to other crimes. It is unfair for the Department to apply a higher standard of evidence based on its conclusion that the consequences to the respondent are “grave” without consideration of the grave consequences to the victim, whom the provisions of Title IX were designed to protect.
    • Application of this higher standard is impractical and seems intentionally designed to reduce the overall number of findings of sexual assault.
  • Deadline for comment period:
    • Please extend the comment period for these regulations for a minimum of 60 days beyond the currently scheduled public comment deadline. The proposed 60-day comment period is insufficient to receive meaningful public participation in the rulemaking process.
    • Please schedule public hearings at schools and colleges campuses throughout the country to encourage additional input from students, teachers, administrators, and advocates.

For more information, read the Equal Rights Advocates’ article. Also, this letter from the National Women’s Law Center, joined by more than 100 groups and 200 individuals, points out that the proposed changes are extensive and far-reaching and would drastically alter students’ rights and affect almost every aspect of schools’ obligations to respond to sexual harassment against students, and requests that the Department of Education extend the brief comment period.

Graphic © Equal Rights Advocates

 

 

IEB’s Last Meeting With Sean

On October 24, 2018 Indivisible East Bay had our last-ever meeting with Senator Feinstein’s State Director Sean Elsbernd. It was also our last office visit with the Senator’s staff before the 2018 midterm elections, so it could possibly also be our last-ever Feinstein meeting – but as of this writing, that’s unlikely given her lead in the polls. Feinstein has given no indication yet on who will replace Sean as state director.

Our first topic was immigration. We followed up on Sen. Feinstein’s recent commitment to visit the detention facilities in California where separated kids are being held; Sean said she plans to make that visit soon after the election. Feinstein has also said that a comprehensive immigration reform bill is one of her priorities for the next Congress, especially if the Democrats win. We gave a list of priorities for such a bill, including legal status for immigrants, protection for asylum seekers, and less leeway for the executive branch to make the system harsher and more restrictive. We also had in our group an advocate for help for a very specific population: adults who were adopted from foreign countries as children, but who never became citizens because something went wrong with their paperwork, meaning they are now technically unauthorized immigrants and could be subject to deportation. Our advocate was the wife of such a person, following up on a request she had made at a previous meeting for Sen. Feinstein to look into this issue. Sean assured us that she had, but that they had not been able to find a way to move legislation forward under this Congress. He confirmed that she will continue to try, and may include it in comprehensive reform.

We asked what we could do to help the senator fight the terrible judges that the president nominated for California seats on the 9th Circuit. Senator Chuck Grassley scheduled a so-called hearing for these nominees while the Senate is away on recess – a farce of an event attended by up to two Republican senators who asked approximately zero questions. Sean said that Sen. Feinstein is certain that the way this happened was intended as revenge for what Republicans perceive as her role in “ruining” the Supreme Court confirmation hearings for Brett Kavanaugh. As for what we can do to help, Sean said that Democrats on the Judiciary Committee are still strategizing, and that, of course, a lot depends on who wins the Senate in next week’s elections. He suggested raising awareness of the red flags in the judges’ records, writing letters to the editors of newspapers, and generally making it clear that California does not support these nominees.

We also discussed the United States’ shameful role in the war in Yemen and on the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty; we found, not surprisingly, that we are on the same page as Sen. Feinstein, who has called abandoning the treaty a “strategic mistake.” Even if the administration tries to withdraw from the formal treaty, Sen. Feinstein is committed to enforcing its terms by way of her role on the Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee.

And we talked about creating a fair economy and protecting our social services. A theme of that conversation was the GOP’s false promises about its economic policy, its lies about looking out for working people who are struggling to get ahead, and its double-talk about everything from Social Security to pre-existing conditions. We told Sean that sometimes Sen. Feinstein’s moderate tone and abiding belief that Republicans will be reasonable “when push comes to shove” make some of us worry that she is falling for their lies and will be fooled into making compromises in exchange for empty words.

We also asked that the senator take the administration’s recent attack on trans people as an opportunity for a renewed push to pass the Equality Act. This bill amends existing civil rights law and defines sexual orientation and gender identity protected classes under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in federally funded education programs or activities.

And we asked that Sen. Feinstein look at the evidence that has come out on SESTA-FOSTA, an anti-sex trafficking bill she and Sen. Harris voted for. Although the bill was intended to prevent human trafficking and forced sex work, there are serious concerns that it has actually further endangered the populations that are vulnerable to those threats.

IEB Feinstein office visit. Photo credit: Catya de Neergaard

If Sean was sorry to be seeing the last of what he has called the “most demanding Indivisible group in California,” he didn’t show it. As for us, while we may not have shed tears at parting either, we do think he has set a high for bar his replacement as a responsive and informative representative for Senator Feinstein.

Photographs by Catya de Neergaard