The Education Department is giving the public an extra day to weigh in on its controversial regulation governing how universities and other schools handle allegations of sexual harassment and assault.
In a notice posted Tuesday, the agency said it was reopening the comment period for one day — Friday — because some people encountered technical difficulties submitting comments to the government website on the deadline for submissions, Jan. 30. The notice said the move was being made “in an abundance of caution.”
The agency has already received a crush of 104,367 public comments. The department is required to respond to every point raised, an enormous task that will take months. Opponents of the regulation had urged their allies to weigh in and complained when the online system failed on the final day.
The proposed rule, published in November, replaced nonbinding guidance issued under the Obama administration. It narrows the cases that schools are required to investigate, creates a more limited definition of sexual harassment and allows — some say pressures — schools to create a higher legal standard in considering evidence.
It also codifies rights for the accused, including the right to a live hearing with an adviser or attorney present, and the ability to cross-examine accusers.
DeVos said the regulation was intended to balance the rights of assault survivors with those who are accused, and to ensure due process in a high-stakes process.
Advocates for assault victims said the new rules will allow assailants and schools to escape responsibility and discourage survivors of violence from reporting. Separately, universities have balked at new mandates for investigations and hearings.
Jess Davidson, executive director of the advocacy group End Rape on Campus, said she was pleased the department conceded that the website had experienced problems and that people would have an additional day.
“We’ll mobilize our communities to utilize this opportunity to make our voices heard,” she said.
“It was unacceptable that on the final day of the comment period, students, survivors of sexual violence and their families were unable to voice how the proposed changes would impact them,” said Sage Carson, manager of the Know Your IX campaign, a project of the advocacy group Advocates for Youth.
Davidson and Carson said the administration did too little to listen to survivors of sexual violence and said Education Secretary Betsy DeVos should rescind the regulation.