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Equity & Diversity

Top Education Civil Rights Official Who Oversaw Title IX Shift to Step Down

By Andrew Ujifusa — July 09, 2020 2 min read
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Kenneth L. Marcus, the assistant secretary for civil rights at the U.S. Department of Education who helped craft new rules for how schools must respond to allegations of sexual harassment and assault, will step down from his post at the end of July, the department announced Thursday.

Marcus also oversaw a reversal of changes to how the department’s office for civil rights handles complaints—the Trump administration adopted the changes before his tenure. After the Senate confirmed Marcus to his post in 2018, the Trump administration issued an executive order designed to combat discrimination against Jews in education that used a definition of anti-Semitism Marcus had previously publicly supported.

When Marcus departs, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Kimberly Richey will take his place on an acting basis.

“Throughout my tenure, OCR has reinforced its status as a neutral, impartial civil rights law enforcement agency that faithfully executes the laws as written and in full, no more and no less, focusing carefully on the needs of each individual student,” Marcus said in a statement about his retirement.

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos said in the same statement that she was “thankful” for his service and added, “He helped drive incredible results for students by vigorously enforcing civil rights laws, expanding protections from discrimination, and refocusing [the department’s office for civil rights] on resolving cases efficiently and effectively.”

Marcus had previously worked in the same capacity at the Education Department under President George W. Bush, when he was delegated the duties of the assistant secretary for civil rights. At the time Trump nominated him to be assistant secretary, Marcus was president of the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law, which advances civil and human rights for Jewish people.

One of Marcus’ important legacies at the department is the creation of new Title IX rules about how schools must address sexual assault and harassment that were issued by the Education Department in May. These new rules cover K-12 and higher education, and came after years of debate and controversy about what the rules should prioritize.

Those rules include a new standard that schools must respond to allegations when there is a “clear and convincing evidence” of misconduct. That’s a higher threshold for a mandatory response than one used by the Obama administration, which required only a “preponderance of evidence.” Supporters said that the new rules from DeVos’ department respected the due process rights of the accused as well as the accuser. But critics said they would intimidate survivors of sexual assault and harassment.

The American Civil Liberties Union quickly sued to stop the new Title IX rules and named Marcus as one of the defendants. (S separate lawsuit about the rules filed by several states did not name Marcus as a defendant.)

During comments about the Title IX rules, Marcus said, “We’ve made number of changes to make sure there is a recognition of the differences between public school kids and college students.”

Photo: Kenneth L. Marcus delivers welcoming remarks at the Louis D. Brandeis Center’s National Law Student Leadership Conference in 2017.

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