Six activist groups for sexual assault survivors are calling on U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona to expedite changes to the federal rule governing how colleges must investigate and potentially punish sexual misconduct on campuses.
The coalition is demanding Cardona issue his regulatory proposal on the Title IX law by Oct 1. The organizations are also pressing the Education Department not to penalize colleges that don't follow the current rule, which the Trump administration developed.
President Joe Biden's Education Department started the process for revising the Title IX regulation, though it likely won't publish its draft rule until at least May 2022.
The request from the groups — which include It’s On Us, Know Your IX and the National Women's Law Center — comes as the Biden administration has already pledged to unravel the rule put in place by former Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.
DeVos' rule aimed to correct what she and other critics believed was an unbalanced system for evaluating reports of sexual violence in which colleges unfairly punished students who were accused of misconduct.
This allegedly slanted approach stemmed from guidance the Obama administration released in 2011, which survivor advocates credit with bringing new national awareness to the issue of campus sexual assault. Survivor advocates have railed against the DeVos regulation, emphasizing how it limits the incidents colleges must investigate, such as many taking place off campus.
The organizations' petition to Cardona, published Monday, drew attention to the period at the beginning of the academic year known as the "Red Zone," the time when students are new on campus and sexual assaults occur more frequently. The groups fear the phenomenon will worsen this year as a contingent of students who last year enrolled in college remotely because of the pandemic will be stepping foot on campuses for the first time.
They are asking the department to not discipline colleges that do not obey parts of the DeVos rule, including a contentious provision requiring institutions to hold live hearings to adjudicate reports of sexual violence.
The coalition also wants the Education Department to change a Trump-era policy that determines when its Office for Civil Rights can intervene in discrimination cases. Current practices only allow federal officials to follow up on complaints students make to OCR if the first instance of harassment occurred within the last 180 days. They are arguing for an altered timeline in which the office can investigate complaints made 180 days after the most recent episode of discrimination.
In addition to reworking the Title IX rule, the White House is attempting to install Catherine Lhamon, an attorney, as head of OCR, a role she held during the Obama administration.
Lhamon was key in enforcing the Obama guidance on Title IX, but Republican lawmakers criticized her approach, saying she overextended the department's authority and dictated policy outside of the regulatory process.
Her nomination recently stalled in the Senate's education committee. But the Senate majority or minority leaders could hold a vote to advance it from committee, and then the full body could confirm her.
The Education Department did not respond to a request for comment by publication time Monday.