In the next 24 hours, Secretary DeVos will make a “major announcement” on Title IX, and insiders say the announcement will deal with the Department’s policy on addressing sexual assault complaints. Given the bleak reality of gender-based violence in this country, one would hope that the Department is finally committing to preserving critical guidance on how schools must address sexual assault or building upon previous initiatives designed to eradicate high rates of violence, like the Not Alone and It’s On Us campaigns. That’s what a person charged with promoting equal opportunity should do. But unfortunately, most signs point to Secretary DeVos targeting the 2011 Dear Colleague letter, which outlines schools’ obligations to survivors under Title IX. We don’t know yet what this announcement will entail, but it may be the last chance to influence what the Department does on sexual assault policy.
That’s why more than 40 people flooded the plaza in front of the U.S. Department of Education to demand that Secretary DeVos preserve guidance on Title IX and sexual violence and increase resources towards addressing sex discrimination in school. Along with our partners at Know Your IX, AAUW, and Girls Inc., we delivered over 105,000 petitions from students, parents, educators, and advocates around the country who want the Department of Education to preserve the 2011 Dear Colleague Letter on sexual violence. Because it seems like DeVos is ignoring or not hearing them, we lifted up the voices of students—of all ages—who made it clear that the Department should be an ally in the fight against sexual assault—not a sounding board for rape apologists. There is no reasonable explanation for changing the Dear Colleague letter (DCL), just like there wasn’t an explanation for removing the transgender student guidance in January. Contrary to the Department’s viewpoint, Title IX guidance doesn’t create new rules or burdens for schools, it clarifies existing law. Attacking the guidance just intimidates survivors and potentially confuses schools’ understanding of their Title IX obligations.
Ignoring survivors’ and allies’ calls to preserve the guidance is all the more reprehensible when you think about the actual crisis of sexual assault in our nation’s schools. Research shows that 1 in 5 women are sexually assaulted in college. And as we found in our own research, sexual assault isn’t restricted to college campuses. More than 1 in 5 girls in our Let Her Learn survey also reported experiencing sexual assault, which means K-12 schools must also deal with this issue. But instead of introducing policies to address this problem, we have a Secretary of Education who is siding misogynist extremists and anti-Title IX legislators to the table.
The good news is that there’s still a way to stop DeVos. The Department of Education is currently conducting a public comment period on major rules and regulations, which includes Title IX guidance. You can still add your voice to the chorus of people calling on Secretary DeVos to uphold the Dear Colleague Letter. This is extremely important because the Department is legally obligated to provide reasons for not listening to public comments. So if enough people call on them to preserve the guidance, and they ignore it, we could potentially take them to court. It may be too late to sign the petition, but the public comment period doesn’t end until September 20th. Fill out our action alert and stay tuned to learn more about what the Department announces, what it means and how you can act.