End of public comment approaches for proposed Title IX regulations

Students protest on Sproul Plaza with signs that say "Impact not intent" and "Accountability not apology"
Alice Langford/File

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Wednesday will be the last day to submit a public comment for U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos’ proposed updates to Title IX regulations, which have sparked controversy among both schools and students nationwide.

Since DeVos’ proposed changes were released to the public in November 2018, they have faced criticism from educators and students across the country, including UC Berkeley, Berkeley Unified School District, or BUSD, and the wider UC system. DeVos’ proposal would limit school obligation for reporting incidents, remove the responsibility of investigating off-campus incidents, tighten the definition of actionable harassment and assault claims and put a greater emphasis on due process for the accused.

“These changes are extremely detrimental to survivor support because they significantly roll back a lot of protections that have (been) gained over the past few years,” said ASUC External Affairs Vice President Nuha Khalfay in an email.

Many educational organizations, including the BUSD board, UC system and the ASUC have issued letters to the public comment online portal.

The 60-day public comment period was extended from its original Monday deadline to Wednesday because of technical issues with the portal. The public comment period also drew criticism because of its length — denounced as too short — and because its timing coincided with school breaks across the country, when students were not on campus.

In a letter submitted to the public comment portal, UC President Janet Napolitano and interim UC systemwide Title IX coordinator Suzanne Taylor said they were “deeply troubled” by the effects the new regulations would have if they went into effect in their current form. Describing the proposed regulations as “overly prescriptive,” the two cited the additional burdens the regulations would place on both institutions and survivors.

“The Department would dictate to schools when their grievance processes can be invoked, the conduct to which they can apply, and the exact form they must take,” Napolitano and Taylor said in the letter. “This degree of prescription is unworkable. Nearly half a century after Title IX’s adoption, these rules should reflect our nation’s increased understanding of sexual harassment. … They do not.”

ASUC Senator Teddy Lake said in an email that because the new regulations add disproportionate pressure to survivors, she believes they present an “attack” on survivors under the “guise of due process.”

“While all of (DeVos’) rules are frankly troubling, I am most disturbed by her provision regarding the live cross-examination of the survivor by a representative for the accused — by nature, the amount of effort on the survivor’s part that the reporting process demands already discourages them from coming forward, but for many, I know the idea of cross-examination is too much (to) bear,” Lake said in an email.

Sophie Bandarkar, the ASUC student advocate, said in an email that the proposed regulations are concerning because the off-campus restriction could affect campus authority regarding incidents related to campus-affiliated Greek organizations.

UC Berkeley spokesperson Janet Gilmore said in an email that the campus agrees with the UC Office of the President’s stance, describing UC Berkeley as “absolutely dedicated” to ensuring a “safe and respectful” community.

The new regulations would also make it “significantly” harder for K-12 students to file complaints because of the bureaucratic nature of the new system, according to an email sent by BUSD spokesperson Charles Burress on behalf of BUSD.

In a letter sent by BUSD Superintendent Donald Evans on behalf of BUSD, Evans said the district also worries about how the changes would affect responses to incidents that occur off-campus, particularly online harassment.

“College students – young adults but adults nonetheless – may be able to navigate bureaucratic systems, but many children cannot,” Burress said on behalf of BUSD in an email. “We fear that some of the proposed revisions will frustrate that mission, because they may make it more difficult for K-12 districts to foster safe and supportive learning environments.”

Alexandra Stassinopoulos covers schools and communities. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @AE_Stass.