WLP Statement on Betsy DeVos’s Title IX Announcement

The Department of Education will “replace the current approach” to addressing sexual misconduct at schools that receive federal funding, according to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.

In remarks given this afternoon, DeVos repeatedly stated that “the current system” does not work. It remains unclear what exactly she is referring to since there is not one “current system” schools are using in administrative proceedings to resolve allegations of sexual misconduct.

What is needed now is more clarification, guidance, and enforcement–not less oversight.

School administrators have not always gotten it right. They certainly didn’t get it right for the many decades when sexual violence was almost entirely ignored.

Title IX is a landmark federal civil rights law designed to eliminate sexual discrimination in federally funded schools and education programs that was passed in 1972.

In 2011, the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights issued a guidance document known as a “Dear Colleague letter.” The guidance was issued in response to victim complaints that schools were failing to respond to their assaults. The 2011 guidance was designed to help school administrators understand and implement their responsibilities under Title IX to address sexual harassment and violence.

In her remarks, DeVos characterized the years since the guidance was issued, arguably the first time in history sexual violence has been seriously addressed since women earned equal education opportunities, as an “era of rule by letter.”

The Dear Colleague letter was a clarifying document. It did not contain new legal obligations.

“It is mind-boggling that the Secretary of Education can pretend to be interested in students’ welfare while characterizing the era wherein we finally took sexual assault in schools seriously as an ‘unraveling of justice,’” says Terry L. Fromson, Managing Attorney of the Women’s Law Project.

“It’s unsurprising that an administration led by a man who bragged about grabbing women between the legs would actively try to mitigate efforts to make schools accountable for addressing sexual assault and harassment,” says Women’s Law Project Executive Director Carol E. Tracy.

“But here’s the situation. No matter what this administration says or does, you can’t un-ring a bell. These days, rape survivors refuse to be silenced. The culture has shifted. Title IX is not going anywhere, and schools are still obligated to provide educational opportunities free of sexual harassment and violence.”

The Women’s Law Project is the only public interest law center in Pennsylvania devoted to advancing the rights of women and girls.

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The Women's Law Project creates a more just and equitable society by advancing the rights and status of all women throughout their lives. To this end, we engage in high-impact litigation, advocacy, and education.
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