Education Department rescinds Obama-era guidance on campus sexual assault

Updated: Sept. 22, 2017 at 2:18 p.m.

The Department of Education has replaced two major pieces of Obama-era guidance on how colleges and universities should handle sexual assault cases, according to a release Friday.

The two documents include the 2011 “Dear Colleague” letter, and a 2014 questions-and-answers document, items that Education Secretary Betsy DeVos discussed replacing in a speech earlier this month.

The department has replaced those directives with interim guidance that will set new standards for the reporting process, including allowing universities to use the more rigorous “clear and convincing” standard of evidence in determining responsibility in a sexual violence case and enabling officials to use informal methods like mediation to resolve cases.

The “Dear Colleague” letter mandated that colleges and universities use the less strict “preponderance of evidence” standard in sexual violence cases and suggested that mediation was not appropriate in cases of alleged sexual assault, “even on a voluntary basis.”

Students Against Sexual Assault released a statement Friday afternoon condemning the move. Leaders of the group said they are working with officials to ensure that GW upholds the rights and recommendations outlined in the previous guidance.

“Despite renewed efforts to undermine Title IX, the law itself and the legal precedents set by dozen of survivors and advocates still hold and will remain to protect and validate the rights of survivors at GW and across the nation,” SASA leaders said in the statement.

The changes to federal Title IX guidance come as the University conducts an external review of its own policies on sexual assault and harassment and faces an investigation by the Department of Education for its alleged mishandling of a Title IX complaint.

Earlier this month, Secretary Devos delivered a major speech suggesting that the Title IX system put in place under the Obama administration was in need of a broad reform, leaving survivors uncertain of how their rights in the case process would change.

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