Last month, the commenting period for proposed Title IX changes issued by Betsy DeVos and the Department of Education ended with a total of 104,367 comments. Now, the comment period has been reopened, for one day only.
The comment period was reopened after a technical issue on regulations.gov may have prevented some users from submitting their comments during the final days of the first commenting period, which ended on Jan. 30. Between Nov. 29, 2018 and Jan. 30, the Federal eRulemaking portal received 104,367 comments.
DeVos’ proposed changes have been criticized for lessened liability placed on K-12 schools and colleges regarding Title IX cases. According to DeVos, the proposed Title IX regulations balance the rights of the victims and accused in sexual harassment or violence cases.
According to Jodi Solito, director of the SRU Women’s Center and Pride Center, the proposed guidelines would strengthen the rights of the accused.
“That is problematic,” Solito said.
If the proposed changes took effect as they stand currently, schools would only be required to investigate a sexual harassment or violence case if a formal complaint is made to a designated officer on campus. The 60-day time period to respond to a sexual violence case is eliminated under the proposed guidelines. Schools would only need to investigate cases that took place on campus, excluding incidents of parties, care breaks and study abroad trips.
The proposed changes also update the definition of sexual harassment to state that an incident must be “severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive” enough to deny a student the ability to pursue an education.
Solito says that the narrowed definition would reverse progress made under the “trauma-informed” response model to sexual violence cases.
“It’s going to really limit the definition for folks,” Solito said. “It’s more objective versus subjective, which takes away the rights of the [victim]. It has to fall under our definition.”
The proposed changes would also permit cross-examination, a process that may be particularly difficult for sexual violence victims who would need to testify in the same room as their abuser. Currently, students cannot ask each other questions directly in a hearing, which may change if the proposed guidelines took effect.
“That’s just insane when I think of how scared students are to come forward to begin with, let alone to be cross-examined by either the student who you are accusing, or that student’s spokesperson,” Solito said. “It’s really harmful to students.”
For people who wish to comment may submit their comments online, public comments will now close Friday at 11:59 p.m.