Public and private schools and colleges will have a new set of rules to follow next school year when it comes to how they address allegations of sexual misconduct.
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos unveiled new regulations for schools to adhere to on Wednesday. They will go into effect in August, The New York Times reports.
The new guidelines narrow the definition of sexual harassment. They require colleges to hold hearings where the victim and alleged perpetrator can be cross-examined. The rules limit what complaints schools are obligated to look into and states that allegations must be filed through a formal process and brought to the proper officials.
The changes provide a standard for schools to follow. Previously, disciplinary proceedings were left to schools to figure out on their own.
The guidelines are part of a broader overhaul of Title IX, a 48-year-old federal law that prohibits sex discrimination in programs that receive federal funding.
Critics say the new guidelines give too much protection to those accused of wrongdoing.
Fatima Goss Graves, president of the National Women's Law Center, told the newspaper she would fight the new rules in court, saying victims "refuse to go back to the days when rape and harassment in schools were ignored and swept under the rug."
"Betsy DeVos and the Trump administration are dead set on making schools more dangerous for everyone — even during a global pandemic," Goss Graves said. "And if this rule goes into effect, survivors will be denied their civil rights and will get the message loud and clear that there is no point in reporting assault."
The rules issued Wednesday are toned done from earlier versions that received backlash, The New York Times reports. DeVos' 2018 proposal received more than 120,000 public comments.
The final version addressed issues raised by victims rights groups. The department amended provisions that would have allowed schools to ignore allegations of misconduct that occurred off-campus, and officials changed certain proceedings that critics argued could have re-traumatized victims.
The new guidelines bar students from questioning each other, permit colleges to hold hearings virtually, and allow the two parties to be in separate rooms during the hearings.
The department maintained a Supreme Court definition of harassment, but added that conduct could be harassment if "a reasonable person" would say it was. The department also classified sexual assault, dating violence, domestic violence, and stalking as sexual harassment.
The rules still mandate that schools dismiss complaints that do not meet the sexual harassment definition, even if the allegations are proven true.
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