People For the American Way

Letter: DeVos Makes “Deeply Troubling” Move in Rescinding Sexual Violence Guidance

People For in Action
Letter: DeVos Makes “Deeply Troubling” Move in Rescinding Sexual Violence Guidance
Photo by Gage Skidmore

On September 20, the public comment period closed for evaluating a range of existing U.S. Department of Education regulations. Less than 36 hours later, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos announced the rescission of Obama-era Title IX guidance for how schools should address sexual violence. Secretary DeVos apparently didn’t bother to consider the hundreds of thousands of students, parents, and school personnel who urged her to keep the guidance in place. People For the American Way also submitted comments, agreeing that the guidance has spurred schools to address cultures that for far too long have contributed to hostile environments that deprive many students of equal educational opportunities. Following the September 22 rescission announcement, PFAW joined the National Women’s Law Center and more than 100 other organizations and individuals calling Secretary DeVos out for endangering the safety and lives of students. You can download this letter, with footnote, here.

An Open Letter:

We the People, who have spent years actually working to prevent and address sexual assault in schools, are deeply troubled that Secretary Betsy DeVos is putting the safety and lives of students at risk. On Friday, she continued her reckless campaign to destroy the laws and processes in place to protect students from sexual assault and allow all students an equal access to education. Her latest move—condemning and rescinding existing guidance documents on campus sexual assault, and replacing them with a poorly developed interim set of “Questions and Answers”—breeds chaos and uncertainty. Everyone on campus loses in the process.

Schools across our country—from universities to elementary schools—face very real and difficult challenges in meeting their obligations to prevent and address sexual assault. Students’ lives are at stake. So when students and school administrators asked for assistance, the Department of Education answered by issuing the 2011 Dear Colleague Letter on Sexual Violence and, in 2014, a set of Questions and Answers to respond to concerns raised by schools and students. The 2011 and 2014 Guidance did not make new law or change legal standards. Instead—drawing from dozens of investigations and reflecting the input of students, faculty, administrators, staff, attorneys, sexual assault response teams, counselors, student advocates, medical personnel, parents, law enforcement, prosecutors and campus police—they clarified both the protections afforded to students and schools’ accountability for addressing and preventing sexual assault under federal law.

Secretary DeVos is engaged in a dangerous effort to roll back, rather than improve, protections for all students. She has done little or no work to engage or understand sexual assault. For example, she points to a small handful of one-sided and cherry-picked anecdotes of how complaints of sexual assault have been improperly addressed on campus to justify rescinding the Guidance. Her justification doesn’t hold up: each of her anecdotes involve problems that arose because schools did not follow the Guidance –problems that could effectively be addressed by implementing, not scrapping, the Guidance.

Secretary DeVos continues to show callous disregard for the thousands of students who are subject to sexual violence and abuse every year. Instead, she is very clear that her main if not sole concern is the tiny number1 of students wrongfully found responsible for rape, without any evidence that this is a wholesale problem or extends beyond the few one-sided anecdotes she provides. And while she claims that the rights of the accused have not been fairly protected, the Guidance requires that campus policies and procedures be “adequate, reliable, impartial, and prompt and include the opportunity for both parties to present witnesses and other evidence.”

So what is her idea of fairness? Changing those policies and procedures to permit survivors to be cross-examined by their rapists. Limiting the right to appeal to accused students, thereby leaving survivors with no recourse on appeal. Giving schools an unlimited amount of time to resolve complaints of rape, even though that means many students will drop out of school in the meantime.

Secretary DeVos suggests that the Guidance was issued without public input and did not reflect the concerns of stakeholders. She is entirely wrong. What is true is that her new mandates on Friday came less than 36 hours after the public comment period closed on Department of Education guidance and regulations. She didn’t bother to consider the comments of hundreds of thousands of students, parents, and school personnel who asked that she leave the Guidance in place. Making matters worse, all of the reasons she gives for rescinding the Guidance are directly contradicted by what the Guidance actually says. We cannot help but wonder whether Secretary DeVos has even read the Guidance.

We the People have long worked to prevent and address sexual assault in schools. We have conducted surveys to assess the challenges and needs of students and of schools. We have taken part in campus sexual assault proceedings as students, administrators, attorneys and counselors. We have conducted hundreds of interviews to determine how complaints of sexual assault are being addressed. We have addressed complaints raised by students accused of sexual assault. We have engaged with school administrators and law enforcement to understand what works, and what tools and resources need to be revised or developed. We worked with (and in) the federal government in developing the Guidance and in coordinating dozens of listening sessions and campus meetings to hear the concerns of stakeholders.

We the People rely on facts. The fact is that Secretary DeVos’s new interim guidance creates ambiguity and chaos, not clarity and fairness. As a result, she has endangered the safety and lives of students in schools across the nation.

Sincerely,

American Association of University Women
American Association of University Women, Sandhills/SP Branch
American Federation of Teachers
Atlanta Women for Equality
Black Women’s Blueprint
Boston Area Rape Crisis Center
Champion Women
Clearinghouse on Women’s Issues
Coalition of Labor Union Women
Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund
End Rape on Campus
The ERA Education Project
Equal Means Equal
Equal Rights Advocates
Equality North Carolina
Feminist Majority Foundation
Gender Justice
Girls for Gender Equity
Girls Inc.
Heroica Films
Human Rights Campaign
Jewish Women International
Know Your IX
Legal Momentum, The Women’s Legal Defense & Education Fund
Legal Voice
National Alliance for Partnerships
National Alliance to End Sexual Violence
National Center for Youth Law
National Coalition Against Domestic Violence
National Coalition Against Violent Athletes
National Crittenton Foundation
National Disability Rights Network
National Education Association
National Organization for Women
National Organization for Women, Alexandria Chapter
National Organization for Women, Boulder Chapter
National Organization for Women, Brevard Chapter
National Organization for Women, California Chapter
National Organization for Women, Capital Area Missouri Chapter
National Organization for Women, Charlotte Chapter
National Organization for Women, Charlottesville Chapter
National Organization for Women, Columbia Area Chapter
National Organization for Women, Connecticut Chapter
National Organization for Women, Ft. Myers/Naples Chapter
National Organization for Women, Illinois Chapter
National Organization for Women, Maryland Chapter
National Organization for Women, Michigan Chapter
National Organization for Women, Mississippi Chapter
National Organization for Women, Missouri Chapter
National Organization for Women, Montana Chapter
National Organization for Women, New Jersey Chapter
National Organization for Women, North Carolina Chapter
National Organization for Women, Northern New Jersey Chapter
National Organization for Women, Oregon Chapter
National Organization for Women, Raleigh Chapter
National Organization for Women, SWPA Chapter
National Organization for Women, Thurston County Chapter
National Organization for Women, Triad Chapter
National Organization for Women, Young Feminists and Allies Chapter
National Resource Center on Domestic Violence
National Women’s Law Center
National Women’s Political Caucus
Ohio Alliance to End Sexual Violence
People For the American Way
Public Justice
Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law
Safety Advisors for Educational Campuses, LLC
SCOPE50
S.E.S.A.M.E., Inc.
Southwest Women’s Law Center
Stop Sexual Assault in Schools
SurvJustice
Texas Association Against Sexual Assault
Title IX Litigation Enforcement Group, Hutchinson Black and Cook, LLC : Lauren Groth, Kimberly Hult, Christopher Ford, Baine Kerr, and John Clune
Women’s Law Project
Women’s Sports Foundation
YWCA-USA

The following individuals are listed with their affiliations for identification purposes only:

Gloria Allred, President of the Women’s Equal Rights Legal Defense and Education Fund
Shana Becker, Organizer Women’s March on Raleigh
Kelly Behre, Director of Family Protection and Legal Assistance Clinic, UC Davis School of Law
Caroline Bettinger-López, Director of Human Rights Clinic, University of Miami School of Law and Former White House Advisor on Violence Against Women
*Anurima Bhargava, Former Chief of Educational Opportunities Section in the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division (Primary Author)
Cindy Wolfe Boynton, President of NOW-CT
Lisa Brodoff, Associate Professor, Seattle University School of Law
Erin Buzuvis, Western New England University School of Law
Nancy Chi Cantalupo, Co-Author, Title IX & the Preponderance of the Evidence: A White Paper
Daniel Carter, Safety Advisors for Educational Campuses
David S. Cohen, Professor of Law, Drexel University Thomas R. Kline School of Law
Seileach Corleigh, President of Missouri NOW
Regina Cowles, Boulder NOW
Michele Dauber, Stanford Law School
Maggie Davidson, National Organization for Women, Broward County Chapter
Sarah Deer, Professor, University of Kansas
Margaret Drew, Associate Professor of Law, University of Massachusetts Law School
Ellen Eardley, Former Assistant Vice Chancellor for Civil Rights & Title IX at the University of Missouri
April Emmert-Maguire
Ellen Fern
Mavis Flemmer
Muriel Fox
Rus Ervin Funk, RusFunk Consulting
Kristen Galles, Equity Legal
Susan Gibson
Julie Goldscheid, Professor of Law, CUNY School of Law
Neil Gotanda, Professor of Constitutional Law, Western State College of Law
Rachel Graber
Courtney Green
Joanna L. Grossman, Chair in Women and Law, SMU Dedman School of Law
Nancy Hoghead-Makar, J.D.
Abby Honold
Lisalyn R. Jacobs, CEO of Just Solutions
Professor Deseriee Kennedy, Associate Dean of Diversity & Inclusion, Touro Law Center
Charles Kliment
Judith E. Koons, Professor of Law, Barry University School of Law
Kamala Lopez
Mary Lynch, Director of Domestic Violence Prosecution Hybrid Clinic, Albany Law Clinic & Justice Center
Emily McCoy, Fairfax County Commission for Women
Joan S. Meier, Professor of Clinical Law and Legal Director of DV LEAP, George Washington University Law School
Dr. LaWanda D. Miller, Assistant Athletics Director for Business Affairs and Senior Woman Administrator, Fayetteville State University
Jocelyn Morris, Chair of NOW Task Force to End Racism
Gailya Paliga, President of NC NOW
Joette Prost, Ph.D.
Jane Randel, Co-Founder of NO MORE Campaign
Alberta S. Roesser, Past President of NOW Rochester
Diane L. Rosenfeld, Lecturer on Law & Director of Gender Violence Program, Harvard Law School
Rita Smith
Jan Strout, US Women and Cuba Collaboration
Cindy Thomson, President NOW Charlotte
Roberta Waddle, Chairwoman, Cumberland County Democratic Party
Rita Webb
Martha J. Willi, MD