Department of Education rescinds Obama-era sexual assault guidelines

The Department of Education has rescinded the Obama-era policies on sexual assault on college campuses found in the 2011 Dear Colleague Letter on Sexual Violence and the 2014 document called Questions and Answers on Title IX and Sexual Violence.

The announcement was made in a Dear Colleague letter on Sept. 22, written by Acting Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Candice Jackson.

Jackson’s letter explains the policy and guidance found in the documents from 2011 and 2014. The 2011 Dear Colleague Letter required schools to adopt a minimal standard of proof and an appeals process that allowed appeals of not-guilty findings. It discouraged cross-examination and forbid schools from relying on law enforcement’s investigation to handle Title IX complaints.

Jackson cited statements from Penn State Law School faculty as well as Harvard Law School faculty that criticized the Obama-era policies.

“The 2011 and 2014 guidance documents may have been well-intentioned, but those documents have led to the deprivation of rights for many students– both accused students denied fair process and victims denied an adequate resolution of their complaints,” Jackson wrote.

The DOE is withdrawing the previous documents to “develop an approach to student sexual misconduct that responds to the concerns of stakeholders and that aligns with the purpose of Title IX to achieve fair access to educational benefits,” the letter said.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos first announced plans on Sept. 7 for a new directive regarding sexual assault on campus, according to a DOE press release. This Dear Colleague letter written by Jackson fulfills that promise.

When DeVos first made that announcement, UK Personal Relations Executive Director Jay Blanton made a statement in response.

“The University of Kentucky takes very seriously its legal and moral obligation to fully and comprehensively investigate allegations of sexual assault, while protecting the rights of everyone involved in the process,” Blanton said. “That is what we have done and what we will do.”

The DOE also released a new interim question and answer document that explains how schools should investigate and adjudicate allegations of campus sexual misconduct, according to a Sept. 22 press release. 

This document provides interim information while the DOE gathers comments from stakeholders and the public. The DOE will engage in rulemaking on Title IX responsibilities, said the press release.

“The Department of Education will follow the proper legal procedures to craft a  new Title IX regulation that better serves students and schools,” DeVos said in the press release.