By Elizabeth Tang, National Women’s Law Center
The School Superintendents Association (AASA), which represents more than 13,000 public school superintendents across the nation, has announced its strong opposition to DeVos’s proposed Title IX rules on sexual harassment. Why? Because not only would the proposed rules provide “less flexibility” to schools, “add new and unaccounted for costs,” and open schools up to “increased litigation costs,” the they would—most importantly—“undermine [schools’] efforts to ensure each and every child … has a safe and healthy learning environment.” If you agree, make sure you weigh in by January 30, 2019!
Here are five of the school superintendents’ top concerns about the proposed rules.
- The notice standard is an “unconscionable attack” on student safety.According to AASA, children should be able to report sexual harassment to “any school personnel,” not just the narrow set of school employees designated in the proposed rules. That’s why AASA says that the proposed rules “would be an unconscionable attack on the safety of students and [superintendents’] obligations to ensure their safety in school.”
- The exclusion of out-of-school harassment is “shock[ing],” “confusing,” and “impractical.”School superintendents are “shocked” that DeVos would require mandatory dismissal of harassment if it occurs outside of school. According to AASA, “it is already “common practice for district administrators to discipline students for off-campus conduct,” including use of drugs or alcohol at a house party, cyberbullying, hazing, and physical assault. That’s because school officials understand that out-of-school conduct “will often spillover into the school day and school environment.” According to the superintendents, mandatory dismissal of out-of-school harassment would “tie [their] hands not only in how [they] protect [their] students,” but also in “how [they] mitigate any potential litigation.” Moreover, DeVos’s proposal that schools could still process out-of-school harassment under a different conduct code—just not Title IX—is “confusing and impractical” and would further expose schools to legal liability.
- The definition of harassment “moves [school] districts in the opposite direction” of student safety.
AASA objects to the mandatory dismissal of all complaints of harassment that do not meet “the new, elevated” definition of harassment, which would “put less pressure on district personnel to address harassment when it first appears and is most easy to address.” As a result, children would be subjected to “repeated and escalating levels of abuse” before they could get help, “mov[ing] districts in the opposite direction” of what the federal government should be encouraging schools to do to ensure a “safe and healthy learning environment.”
- The rules “perversely” treat students worse than adult employees.The superintendents are concerned that schools would be “perversely” required to make it “harder for students than adults in non-education workplaces to get help when they are sexually harassed.” Not only would this double standard be extremely unfair and harmful to students—including minors, but it would also be “confusing” and would “expose school districts to potential liability,” because in many cases “it will be impossible to comply with both” DeVos’s proposed Title IX rules for schools and existing Title VII requirements for workplaces.
- The cross-examination rules are “totally unclear.”School superintendents “strongly object to allowing K12 students to be subject to a live hearing.” And they have a lot of questions for DeVos about how live cross-examination would even work, including, “most importantly why it is appropriate to force a minor to participate in this type of activity.” AASA also noted that live cross-examination would result in “sharp inequities” if one student can afford an attorney and the other student cannot. “If anything,” the school superintendents concluded, the live hearing requirement simply “places a new burden” on schools.
To recap, an organization of 13,000+ school superintendents thinks that DeVos’s proposal is “unconscionable,” “shock[ing],” “confusing,” “impractical,” “perverse,” “totally unclear,” and “moves [school] districts in the opposite direction” of safety. We couldn’t agree more.
There’s still time to let DeVos know what you think. It takes as little as 30 seconds to submit a comment opposing her proposed Title IX rules on sexual harassment. Every comment counts. Make sure you weigh in by January 30, 2019!