A coalition of advocacy and education groups urged federal officials Wednesday to pause efforts to rewrite regulations on responding to sexual harassment and sexual assault in K-12 schools, colleges, and universities as the nation confronts the coronavirus pandemic.
In 2017, U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos revoked Obama-era guidance about sexual assault at schools and college campuses, and put in interim guidance as a placeholder while crafting a new policy “that better serves students and schools.” Among her concerns: due process rights for the accused.
The U.S. Department of Education and the White House have been working to finalize a new version of those rules, going through the federal rulemaking process to seek public input.
The 209 groups that called for a pause include the National Women’s Law Center, AASA, the School Superintendents Association, the American Federation of Teachers, the National Education Association, the American Psychological Association, and advocates for survivors of sexual assault. They wrote as schools around the country closed to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
“Given the lack of available institutional resources for schools to review and implement new requirements and the ongoing stresses on students, it is necessary to suspend this Title IX rulemaking—and indeed, all non-emergency rulemaking,” the letter says.
“The unprecedented challenges arising from this pandemic will continue to require significant school resources and will continue to create tremendous upheaval of students’ and school employees’ lives,” it continues. “Moving forward now with a new Title IX rule would only exacerbate these challenges by diverting schools’ already sharply limited resources toward creating complex new policies and training employees on implementation, at a time when schools are already working to radically shift their programs and meet student needs, even while staff operate remotely. Finalizing the proposed rule would also unnecessarily exacerbate confusion and uncertainty for students who are currently in pending Title IX investigations and hearings, which have already been delayed and disrupted by the pandemic.”
The White House Office of Management and Budget has meetings on the Title IX rule scheduled this week and through April 6.
You can see the rapid escalation of coronavirus-related school closures in our data visualizations.