People For the American Way

DeVos Must Address Sexual Violence, Protect Trans Students’ Civil Rights

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DeVos Must Address Sexual Violence, Protect Trans Students’ Civil Rights
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People For the American Way isn’t letting U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos’ efforts to undercut civil rights go unchecked. Earlier this week, we called DeVos out for undermining guidance that helps schools address sexual violence and condemned her and U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions for walking away from transgender students and their civil rights.

You can read our messages to Secretary DeVos in full below.

Sexual Violence in Schools

Dear Secretary DeVos,

On behalf of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, a coalition charged by its diverse membership of more than 200 national organizations to promote and protect the civil and human rights of all persons in the United States, and the 40i undersigned organizations, we write in support of existing U.S. Department of Education policy guidance clarifying schools’ responsibility to prevent and address sex discrimination under Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972. The 2010 Dear Colleague Letter on Bullying and Harassment,ii the 2011 Dear Colleague Letter on Sexual Violenceiii and accompanying 2014 Questions and Answers on Title IX and Sexual Violenceiv provide much needed clarity for schools, students, and families regarding the law’s protections and obligations. These guidance documents and enforcement of Title IX by the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights have spurred schools to address cultures that for far too long have contributed to hostile environments that deprive many students of equal educational opportunities.

Your unwillingness to commit to retaining the 2011 Dear Colleague Letter on Sexual Violence during your confirmation hearingv has caused considerable concern among our communities. It is incumbent upon you to state clearly your intention to enforce civil rights law and to preserve clarifying guidance. Ambiguity and uncertainty will only serve to reinforce hostile and discriminatory school environments that deprive students of their right to an education.

We are aware that the Department is facing unwarranted criticism for having done its job. Some advocacy organizations, law professors, and legislators claim that the grievance procedures outlined in the 2011 sexual violence guidance violate due process rights of students accused of sexual assault. This argument is without merit.

Since the Title IX regulations were issued in 1975, educational programs have been required to create “grievance procedures providing for prompt and equitable resolution” of complaints (emphasis added).vi The 2011 guidance further clarified what constitutes an equitable grievance procedure. Specifically, the Department reminded schools that both the complainant and the respondent should have the same rights in any grievance procedure— e.g., the same right to review documents, the same right to counsel, the same right to present witnesses and evidence, and the same right to an appeal.

Moreover, the Department clarified that an equitable grievance procedure means that both the complainant and respondent bear the same burden of proof—i.e. that schools should use the preponderance of the evidence standard. This standard is used in cases alleging discrimination under other civil rights laws,vii in civil lawsuits between two private parties (including suits related to possibly criminal conduct such as tort actions for battery or murder/wrongful death), and in 80 percent of schools, according to a 2002 report issued well before the 2011 guidance.viii In fact, by demanding equitable treatment of both the respondent and complainant, the Department’s interpretation of Title IX provides students accused of sexual assault with procedural protections beyond those the Supreme Court has said are guaranteed under the U.S. Constitution.ix

The Department’s Title IX guidance letters and enforcement have been vital in the effort to ensure that students do not face discrimination in school, based on sex. Yet, as advocates for civil rights, including women’s rights, racial justice, disability rights, LGBTQ rights, and immigrants’ rights, we know that such discrimination continues to deny students equal access to education at all levels. We urge the Department to continue helping schools understand their legal obligations—for example, by reiterating its continued support for existing guidance letters.

Students deserve, and the law requires, a Department of Education that is working to protect all students from discrimination. These guidance documents and continued enforcement of the law are critical to making students’ rights real. If you have any questions, please contact Leadership Conference Director of Education Policy Liz King at king@civilrights.org or 202.466.0087 or Neena Chaudhry, National Women’s Law Center Senior Counsel and Director of Education at nchaudhry@nwlc.org or 202.588.5180.

Sincerely,

The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights
National Women’s Law Center
American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee
American Association of University Women (AAUW)
American Federation of Teachers
Anti-Defamation League
The Arc of the United States
Association of University Centers on Disabilities (AUCD)
Augustus F. Hawkins Foundation
Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund
Education Law Center-PA
Feminist Majority Foundation
Girls Inc.
GLSEN
Human Rights Campaign
Judge David L. Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law
Lambda Legal
Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law
League of United Latin American Citizens
MALDEF
NAACP
NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc.
National Alliance for Partnerships in Equity (NAPE)
National Bar Association
National Center for Learning Disabilities
National Center for Lesbian Rights
National Center for Transgender Equality
National Center for Youth Law
National Council of Jewish Women
National Disability Rights Network
National Down Syndrome Congress
National Education Association
National Urban League
OCA – Asian Pacific American Advocates
People For the American Way
Society of Women Engineers
Southeast Asia Resource Action Center
Southern Poverty Law Center
TASH
UnidosUS, previously known as NCLR
YWCA USA

Click here to download a PDF copy of this letter.

Transgender Students and Their Civil Rights

The U.S. Department of Education has a critical and well-established role in clarifying and enforcing civil rights protections for all students. The department has an obligation to ensure that all students have equal educational opportunities, a mandate that applies regardless of a student’s gender identity. Transgender students who face discrimination in schools have worse educational outcomes, and poorer psychological well-being than their cisgender peers.

The guidance released by the Departments of Justice and Education last May clarified for school districts across the country that transgender students are protected under Title IX, an existing federal civil rights law that protects students from discrimination based on sex. The guidance presented best practices from schools across the country and advised schools on complying with the law. School districts received much-needed clarification that, under federal law, they must treat students equally and with dignity, consistent with their gender identity. Additionally, hundreds of thousands of transgender students received a clear message: the law was on their side.

By rescinding the guidance [this February], the Trump administration has taken the opposite stance. They have sent a deeply troubling message to students that the administration will not stand up for students’ civil rights. We condemn the administration’s decision, vow to fight to enforce Title IX, which continues to protect transgender students, and call on individual schools and districts to treat students consistent with their gender identity and consistent with the rescinded guidance that accurately explained the law.

American Association for Access, Equity and Diversity
American Association of University Women (AAUW)
American Federation of Teachers
American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee
The American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees
Americans United for Separation of Church and State
Anti-Defamation League
Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance, AFL-CIO (APALA)
Association of University Centers on Disabilities
Center for American Progress
Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP)
Center for Reproductive Rights
Children’s Defense Fund
Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund
Education Law Center-PA
Educators for Excellence
Family Equality Council
Feminist Majority Foundation
Judge David L. Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law
Lambda Legal
Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law
League of United Latin American Citizens
Muslim Advocates
NAACP
National Alliance for Partnerships in Equity (NAPE)
National Black Justice Coalition
National Center for Lesbian Rights
National Council of Asian Pacific Americans (NCAPA)
National Council of Jewish Women
National Council of La Raza
National Education Association
National LGBTQ Task Force
National Urban League
People For the American Way
Southeast Asia Resource Action Center
Southern Poverty Law Center
TASH
TNTP
The Trevor Project

Click here to download a PDF copy of this statement.