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Sunday, October 1, 2023


Betsy DeVos proposes legislation to change sexual misconduct reporting

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos released proposed regulation that describes how schools would be required to handle allegations of sexual misconduct on their campuses. | Wikimedia Commons/Gage Skidmore

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos issued proposed regulation on Friday governing how schools receiving federal funding handle sexual harassment and assault allegations on their campuses. This umbrella would cover all public school districts, colleges and universities.

Title IX, which originated in 1972, prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex at schools that receive federal funding.  According to coverage by the Washington Post, the new rules narrow the window of sexual misconduct cases that educational institutions are mandated to investigate, and they would provide more rights for those accused of misconduct.

Under the change, schools would be required to respond to an incident only if there is “actual knowledge” of the allegations, if it occurred within the school’s “education program or activities” and if the alleged crime was against a “person in the United States,” according to the proposal.

In addition, the accused party would be entitled to a lawyer and the ability to cross-examine their accuser through a third party.

The proposed regulations come a year after DeVos rescinded the “Dear Colleague” letter released by then-president Barack Obama in 2011, which detailed the responsibilities of colleges and universities to respond quickly and with equity to reports of sexual misconduct under existing laws.

In contrast to the broad definition of sexual misconduct as “unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature” put forth in the Obama-era guidelines, the new rules by DeVos define sexual misconduct as “unwelcome conduct on the basis of sex that is so severe, pervasive and objectively offensive that it denies a person access to the school’s education program or activity,” according to the proposal.

If implemented, this change in language would result is a narrower definition than is currently used to define sexual misconduct in the University of Houston’s policy. UH defines sexual misconduct as “a range of non-consensual sexual activity or unwelcome behavior of a sexual nature,” according to the Sexual Misconduct Policy.

According to the proposal, the new regulation would make it so that intervention on behalf of the University would be required only in cases when the misconduct is severe enough to carry negative consequences for an individual’s access to education or participation in activities at a federally funded institution.

The incident would need to occur within the institution’s own programs and activities for action to be required, according to the proposal, meaning that UH would not be required to respond to allegations between two students or involving a student that did not take place on campus or at a school event.

The proposal will enter a 60-day public notice and comment period before being officially enacted. In this period, the regulations have the potential to be annulled, according to coverage by CNN.

The Cougar has reached out to UH’s Equal Opportunity Services for comment on how the enactment of this legislation would impact the University. This story will be updated as additional information becomes available.

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