Education Secretary Betsy DeVos on Friday rescinded the Obama-era guidance to schools on how to deal with sexual assault on campus, reversing course on federal policy that has played an important role in driving schools to do more to protect sexual assault victims.
The department issued a dear-colleague letter saying that it was rescinding guidance issued in 2011 by President Barack Obama’s Education Department, which said at the time that it was clarifying the obligations schools had under Title IX, a federal law that prohibits sex discrimination at federally funded schools.
Sexual assault survivors hailed Obama’s administration for providing them with long-overdue protections, but while critics accused the Obama administration of federal micromanaging and pushing colleges to find students guilty, with the number of sexual violence cases under investigation by the department’s Office for Civil Rights going from 55 in May 2014 to 344 as of July 12, 2017.
The most controversial part of the Obama-era guidance was that the outcome of investigations should rely on the preponderance of the evidence in each case to determine guilt. Critics said that was too low a standard, and DeVos has said that some innocent men were falsely accused under the standard.
My colleague Nick Anderson wrote about the new change, writing:
Common in civil law, the preponderance standard is lower than the “clear and convincing evidence” threshold that had been in use at some schools. Victim advocates viewed the April 2011 letter as a milestone in efforts to get schools to heed the longstanding problem of campus sexual assault, punish offenders and prevent violence.
Now, under President Trump, the Office for Civil Rights is declaring that schools may use either standard while the government begins a formal process to develop rules on the issue.
DeVos had signaled she would make this change for months. This is the letter issued by the department: