Reps. Pressley, Speier, Kuster, and Slotkin Lead Letter Urging the Department of Education to Rescind its Indefensible Title IX Rule

May 22, 2020
Press Release

WASHINGTON Congresswomen Ayanna Pressley (MA-07), Jackie Speier (CA-14), Co-Chair of the Democratic Women’s Caucus, Annie Kuster (NH-02), and Elissa Slotkin (MI-08) sent a letter today to Secretary of Education Betsey DeVos, urging the Administration to rescind its dangerous new Title IX rule that guts protections for student survivors of sexual assault and places a tremendous strain on already-overburdened schools. The letter was signed by 101 of their U.S House of Representative colleagues. The final rule is slated to go into effect on August 14, 2020, and is being challenged in court. 

In their letter, the Members state, “it is indefensible to choose this unprecedented moment of crisis to enact new regulations that jeopardize the civil rights of students. School closures have affected over 70 million students nationwide and school districts and institutions of higher education alike are preparing for the possibility of remaining closed until 2021. As schools continue struggling to help students and families overcome the many extraordinary challenges arising from COVID-19, there is simply no justification for the Department to force schools to divert their already-strained resources to implement needlessly complex and burdensome policies. Moreover, it will be virtually impossible for schools to come into compliance with more than 2,000 pages of responses to comments on the proposed rules and regulation—which took the Department nearly three years to develop—in the required three-month window, and when schools are closed.”

The Members added, “We are also deeply disturbed by the substance of the final Title IX rule, which relies on and reinforces the false and toxic stereotype that survivors, particularly women and girls, tend to lie about sexual assault. It is simply unjustifiable for the Department to require schools to dismiss many complaints of sexual harassment and mandate uniquely inequitable procedures for sexual misconduct that are not required for other types of staff or student misconduct.”

“It flies in the face of common decency to require survivors to endure live hearings with live cross-examination by the perpetrator’s advisor of choice, who could be anyone from an angry parent or fraternity brother to a criminal defense lawyer. And it gives colleges a free pass if sexual misconduct occurs outside of a school program or activity, including most off-campus sexual violence and online harassment. There is also the injustice of allowing schools to ignore sexual violence in higher education that is not reported to a small set of high-ranking school employees. Under your rule, many of the victims of Larry Nassar would not have fallen under the narrow guidelines that require an institution of higher education, such as Michigan State University, to investigate a report of sexual assault. Specifically, many of the victims reported his abuse to athletic trainers and coaches, or the wrong people.”

The full text of the letter is below and can be found here

Dear Secretary DeVos and Assistant Secretary Marcus:

We are alarmed and disturbed by your decision to issue a new Title IX rule—in the middle of a global pandemic and national emergency—that will gut protections for student survivors of sexual assault, place a tremendous strain on already-overburdened schools, and effectively turn Title IX on its head. We urgently call on you to rescind this dangerous new rule before it takes effect on August 14, 2020.

As an initial matter, it is indefensible to choose this unprecedented moment of crisis to enact new regulations that jeopardize the civil rights of students. School closures have affected over 70 million students nationwide, and school districts and institutions of higher education3 alike are preparing for the possibility of remaining closed until 2021. As schools continue struggling to help students and families overcome the many extraordinary challenges arising from COVID-19, there is simply no justification for the Department to force schools to divert their already-strained resources to implement needlessly complex and burdensome policies. Moreover, it will be virtually impossible for schools to come into compliance with more than 2,000 pages of responses to comments on the proposed rules and regulation—which took the Department nearly three years to develop—in the required three-month window, and when schools are closed.

Your dangerous and ill-timed decision to issue the final Title IX rule during the COVID-19 pandemic not only flouts the White House’s own directive to federal agencies to prioritize all resources against COVID-195 but also ignores countless stakeholders’ requests for the Department to suspend Title IX rulemaking during the COVID-19 crisis, including requests from approximately 200 survivor advocate and civil rights organizations, 33 higher education associations, 53 members of Congress, and 18 state attorneys general.

We are also deeply disturbed by the substance of the final Title IX rule, which relies on and reinforces the false and toxic stereotype that survivors, particularly women and girls, tend to lie about sexual assault. It is simply unjustifiable for the Department to require schools to dismiss many complaints of sexual harassment and mandate uniquely inequitable procedures for sexual misconduct that are not required for other types of staff or student misconduct.

It flies in the face of common decency to require survivors to endure live hearings with live cross-examination by the perpetrator’s advisor of choice, who could be anyone from an angry parent or fraternity brother to a criminal defense lawyer. And it gives colleges a free pass if sexual misconduct occurs outside of a school program or activity, including most off-campus sexual violence and online harassment. There is also the injustice of allowing schools to ignore sexual violence in higher education that is not reported to a small set of high-ranking school employees. Under your rule, many of the victims of Larry Nassar would not have fallen under the narrow guidelines that require an institution of higher education, such as Michigan State University, to investigate a report of sexual assault. Specifically, many of the victims reported his abuse to athletic trainers and coaches, or the wrong people.

Not only will this new rule make it harder for victims to come forward and receive help to stay in school, but it will also unduly hinder many schools from responding effectively to many incidents of sexual violence. As such, it is unsurprising that the American public overwhelmingly opposes this rule. When the Department first announced its proposed rule in November 2018, students, school officials, civil rights advocates, and government officials submitted nearly 125,000 comments in response, the vast majority of which strongly opposed the proposal. Still, the Department chose to flout the will of the people and move forward with its plans.

In light of all these reasons, we call on you to rescind the Title IX rule before it takes effect. It is not too late to reverse course and protect rather than undermine students’ civil rights.

Sincerely,

###