DeVos rescinds Title IX rule protecting student survivors of sexual violence
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has trashed an Obama-era practice under Title IX that shielded survivors of sexual abuse at schools and on college campuses. | AP

WASHINGTON (PAI)—Apparently Trump Education Secretary Elizabeth “Betsy” DeVos never heard of the “Me, Too!” movement—or of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford. Even if she had, she’s trashed them, along with an Obama-era Title IX rule designed to protect student survivors of sexual violence, from kindergarten all the way up to college.

In so many words, DeVos wants to put the survivors through trial-like “hearings” where the victims would have to relive the brutality all over again, under questioning from defendants’ aggressive, unscrupulous lawyers, intent on blaming the victim.

That type of trial drives women, who make up 91% of such assault victims, not to report it. That’s what happened to Ford, then a teenager at a girls’ prep school in the D.C. suburbs. She was scared to report an alleged assault by boys’ school preppie Brett Kavanaugh. Ford forced herself to come forward because she could not bear seeing Trump put Kavanaugh, then an appellate judge, on the U.S. Supreme Court. GOP senators sidestepped trashing Ford, and OKd Kavanaugh. Ford has had to move her family because of death threats.

“As educators, we understand the need to protect those falsely accused”—the reason DeVos gave for her new rule—“but the evidence that led to the original Title IX changes” by Obama’s Education Department “demonstrated the system failed survivors,” said Teachers union (AFT) President Randi Weingarten, a New York City middle school civics teacher. AFT is mulling its next move, spokeswoman Sarah Hager e-mailed.

National Education Association President Lily Eskelsen-Garcia says DeVos’s Title IX rule now would give a 6-year-old she teaches in her Salt Lake City classroom less protection than an adult woman going through the same sexual harassment and violence trauma at work. Eskelsen-Garcia called DeVos’s rule “shocking, offensive” and said it “defies logic.”

“True to form, DeVos woefully ignored the voices of not only educators from public schools and higher education institutions, but also those of students who wrote to her about the chilling effect the proposed changes would have.” The NEA chief, whose union is the nation’s largest, with 3.2 million members, says the Education Department received more than 100,000 objecting letters.

“More to the point, the final rule means fewer survivors will report their assaults and harassment, schools and campuses will be more dangerous, and more students will be denied their legal right to equal access to education after experiencing assault and harassment,” said Eskelsen-Garcia in her statement.

None of the protests fazed DeVos, who wants to put current victims through the wringer Ford and others suffered. DeVos instituted her rules change on May 7, hoping it would get overlooked in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic and the subsequent widespread closures it forced—including almost every college, university, and public school in the U.S.

It wasn’t.

Besides the teachers, House Majority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., and Judiciary Committee Chair Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., and Education Committee Chair Bobby Scott, D-Va., all denounced it. “This new rule will make it harder for victims to seek justice and make it easier for serial abusers to keep positions from which they can victimize others,” Hoyer said.

Another blast came from Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., a noted advocate for women and families and—more to the point—the top Democrat on both the Education and Labor Committee, which oversees DeVos’s department, and the Education and Labor Appropriations subcommittee, which helps dole out money for it.

“Let me be clear: This rule is not about ‘restoring balance,’ this is about silencing survivors,” said Murray. “This rule will make it that much harder for a student to report an incident of sexual assault or harassment — and that much easier for a school to sweep it under the rug,” her statement said.

“There is an epidemic of sexual assault in schools. That’s not up for debate. But instead of responsibly working with advocates, survivors, students, K-12 schools, and colleges to address the issue, Secretary DeVos and this administration are going out of their way to make schools less safe.”

But while the lawmakers denounced the rule, one big progressive foe, Daily Kos, suggested how solons could stop it: Use the Congressional Review Act, a Gingrich-era law that lets lawmakers halt federal agency rules and permanently deep-freeze them. Most GOP successes in using the CRA came early in the Trump regime, overturning pro-worker rules.

The catch to that idea is the president would have to sign the measure scotching DeVos’s rule. If Trump vetoed the override, Congress would have to override him.

“Congress can use the CRA to overturn the new Title IX rule,” Sarah Hogg of Daily Kos e-mailed, urging people to sign the petition to demand lawmakers do just that. “The CRA allows Congress 60 days to overturn a federal rule once it is published in the Federal Register and submitted to Congress. It only needs a simple majority in both chambers.”

“Your senators and representative can stop this extremely dangerous, willfully cruel rule from going into effect. The Trump administration cannot be given a free pass to terrorize and re-traumatize student survivors.”


CONTRIBUTOR

Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of Press Associates Inc. (PAI), a union news service in Washington, D.C. that he has headed since 1999. Previously, he worked as Washington correspondent for the Ottaway News Service, as Port Jervis bureau chief for the Middletown, NY Times Herald Record, and as a researcher and writer for Congressional Quarterly. Mark obtained his BA in public policy from the University of Chicago and worked as the University of Chicago correspondent for the Chicago Daily News.

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