Attorney General Shapiro Leads Multistate Coalition to Oppose Federal Rule Weakening Title IX Protections for Student Survivors of Sexual Harassment and Violence

January 31, 2019 | Topic: Rights

Title IX Requires Schools to Provide an Educational Environment Free from Discrimination, and Secretary Devos’ Proposed Rule is Unlawful

HARRISBURG — Attorney General Josh Shapiro, together with the Attorneys General of New Jersey and California, yesterday led a multistate coalition of 19 Attorneys General in submitting a formal, legal comment letter to Secretary Betsy DeVos and the U.S. Department of Education calling on federal officials to withdraw a proposed rule that would undermine the anti-discrimination protections of Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972, and weaken protections against sexual harassment and violence for students.  The proposed rule would impose new requirements on schools and students that would be a significant departure from the fundamental purpose of Title IX and the Education Department’s longstanding Title IX guidance, and leave campuses less safe.

Title IX requires schools to provide all students with access to an educational environment free from discrimination based on sex, including sexual harassment and sexual violence. While the Education Department’s draft rule claims to provide procedures to help implement Title IX, many of its provisions are inconsistent with Title IX and constitute an inappropriate exercise of the Education Department’s rulemaking authority.

“Title IX guarantees all students an education free of sexual harassment and assault, and these proposed rules are a step backward that would undermine that fundamental right,” said Attorney General Shapiro. “It’s vital for educational institutions to have more tools at their disposal, not fewer, to ensure proper responses to reports of sexual assault.  For months, I have joined with campus safety advocates to express serious concerns about the Administration’s plans to protect students on campus. I will continue to fight on behalf of survivors of sexual assault and abuse, and will not hesitate to take legal action for their protection.”

In the letter, the Attorneys General argue that the proposed rule would thwart the very purpose of Title IX in several ways, including:

  • Improperly narrowing the definition of sexual harassment;
  • Restricting schools’ ability to address harassment that occurs progressively;
  • Exacerbating factors that prevent students from reporting sexual harassment and violence;
  • Limiting schools’ obligation to respond to sexual harassment and violence that occurs outside “an educational program or activity”;
  • Mandating unfair and inequitable grievance procedures that would burden schools and students alike; and
  • Making it more difficult for the Education Department to take enforcement action against schools that violate Title IX.

The proper enforcement of Title IX is immensely important to states such as Pennsylvania.  As an administrator of public educational facilities, Pennsylvania will be bound by the Education Department’s final rules.  Pennsylvania also has a deep concern for the well-being of its resident students, families, and teachers – all of whom have the right to access education in a safe environment free from violence and discrimination. In addition, Pennsylvania has a strong interest in vigorously enforcing state anti-discrimination laws that promote students’ ability to learn in a safe environment free from violence and harassment.

In 2017, when it was first reported that Secretary DeVos and the Education Department were considering rolling back protections for students under Title IX, Attorney General Shapiro organized a letter signed by a coalition of 20 State Attorneys General to the Secretary expressing serious concerns with the proposal.

Joining Attorney General Shapiro in filing the letter are the Attorneys General of California, New Jersey, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington.

A copy of today’s comment letter can be found here.

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