(Washington, D.C.) This week, the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights held a public hearing to consider how it restores civil rights enforcement of Title IX. It will hear steps the Department can take to ensure that schools are providing students with educational environments free from discrimination in the form of sexual harassment, which encompasses sexual assault. Over 15,000 written comments have already been submitted to the administration by groups and individuals, and 600 individuals are scheduled to share oral comments this week.
This week’s hearing comes in response to a rule imposed by Betsy DeVos, Secretary of Education under the Trump administration, that went into effect on August 14, 2020. DeVos’ rule drastically weakened protections for survivors of sexual violence, including by discouraging students in K-12 schools and colleges from reporting incidents of sexual violence, reducing schools’ obligations to respond to harassment and assault, and imposing uniquely unfair and traumatizing procedures against student survivors.
Last June, the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC) filed a lawsuit against the rule on behalf of student survivors who have been harmed by the rule and four organizations that represent student survivors of sexual harassment and assault. The lawsuit is still pending.
The following is a statement by Emily Martin, NWLC VP for Education & Workplace Justice, who provided testimony during the hearing:
“The DeVos rule is a profound distortion of Title IX. It reinforces the ancient, toxic myth that women and girls often lie about having been sexually assaulted. And it discourages survivors from seeking help. We need the Biden-Harris administration to turn the page on this misguided approach, including by restoring standards for addressing harassment, developing robust protections against retaliation, and setting basic safeguards for fair disciplinary procedures. These changes will help shift cultures to prevent harassment in the first place, promote accountability and healing, and provide fair, unbiased solutions to help ensure safety and equality for all students.”
The following is a statement by Chrissy Weathersby Ball, a former student and survivor who attended Michigan State University, who provided written testimony:
“DeVos changed Title IX in a way that creates a serious threat to student safety. By allowing colleges to ignore the vast majority of reports of sexual abuse, it lets serial sexual abusers, like the ones who were at my school (Michigan State University), off the hook. This administration must eliminate DeVos’s harmful changes to the Title IX rule and ensure that students are once again entitled to safe and supportive learning environments. No one should have to suffer the trauma I experienced when my school enabled school employees to abuse me without any consequences.”
The Department of Education will consider the comments submitted during the hearing as they review the rule and address potential changes.