By Sabrina Joy Stevens, National Women’s Law Center
As you’ve almost certainly heard by now, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos recently released draft Title IX rules about sexual harassment (which includes assault) that are nothing short of appalling. IF implemented in their current form, they would make schools more dangerous by weakening protections for survivors and encouraging schools to favor named harassers and rapists in Title IX investigations, resulting in fewer survivors coming forward and more abusers being allowed to harm students undetected.
But please note the big, bold IF in the beginning of that last sentence. Contrary to what far too many headlines suggest, this is not a done deal. And you can make a difference here.
By law, the Trump administration cannot finalize or implement these changes until they have gone through a public notice and comment period. (That seems to be why they’ve given this extensive rule change a relatively short sixty-day comment period during one of the busiest times in the school calendar. If you believe students and survivors deserve a meaningful chance to be heard, definitely take a moment to tell them to extend the public comment period.) Once the notice and comment period ends, the U. S. Department of Education (USED) has to review each comment and either make changes to the rules, or explain why they’ve ignored that element of the public’s input. In other words, the more unique comments they receive, the harder it will be for them to implement these changes legally.
As of this writing, the link to submit comments online hasn’t been posted yet. But, no worries. There’s still a way to make yourself heard right now, which may actually make an even bigger impact on this process: writing a comment with good old-fashioned pen and paper.
Here’s a quick step-by-step breakdown of what you need to include to send a strong message to Betsy DeVos and the other political appointees threatening students right now.
- Be sure to include the Docket ID Number (ED-2018-OCR-0064) and the RIN (1870-AA14) for this proposed rule at the top of your comment. This part is key to ensuring that the Department of Education includes your comment as part of this public notice and comment process, versus lumping it in with any other correspondence they get.
- Draft your comment. Sadly, there are a lot of problematic changes to choose from here; pick the ones that concern you the most and start writing. Your comment doesn’t have to be a novel or a legal brief to be important and worthwhile; it simply has to state and explain your concerns in neat, readable writing. Your comment also doesn’t have to be pretty; please do not let self-consciousness about your handwriting be the thing that stops you from taking meaningful action to help students experiencing sexual harassment! It simply needs to be legible enough for USED staff to read so it isn’t ignored.Note, too, that these comments will all become part of the public record. Be proud of the fact that you’ll be on the record opposing Donald “Grab-’Em-By-The-*****” Trump’s agenda for our schools, and also be mindful to only include information you’re comfortable making publicly available in your comment. You can share as much or as little of your personal stories as you’re comfortable with sharing, and you don’t need to include your return address on the comment itself.Another important tip for writing: please be respectful in your comment. ‘Respectful’ doesn’t mean making nice with Betsy DeVos or shying away from the tough issues created by these disastrous policies. But it does mean not resorting to abusive speech in your message. As rightfully angry as many of us are with DeVos, most of the people processing and reading these comments on her behalf are not political appointees handpicked by Donald Trump to carry out a deplorable agenda. They’re ordinary, hardworking people whose boss changed after the 2016 election. Indeed, many of them worked under the Obama administration on policies that protect and support survivors. Help them help us all by submitting thoughtful, decent comments.
- Take & save photos of your comment. This part’s not strictly mandatory, but it’s a good idea for a couple of reasons. For one thing, you can share it online with the #HandsOffIX tag to show us @nwlc and others that you’ve taken action, and I highly encourage you to do so. Also, keeping the photo ensures you have a record of what you wrote after you send in your comment.
- Mail or deliver your comment. Once you’re done, send your comment to: Brittany Bull, U.S. Department of Education
400 Maryland Ave SW, Room 6E310
Washington, D.C. 20202
Ready to write? I hope so. While submitting comments electronically is great and valid (and we will definitely help folks do that, too), legible handwritten messages are often especially effective at persuading public officials—or at a minimum, slowing down their attempts to do bad things, particularly when received in large numbers. And if you want to encourage others to write a high-impact comment, too, please share this blog with your friends and social networks. Thanks!