Campus sexual assault has been a hot topic for several years. University of Florida Wide Receiver and Quarterback Treon Harris both were currently were suspended last year for their alleged involvement in a sexual assault in December 2015. With the prevalence of social media and attention focused on institutions like Duke University and Stanford University. Department of Education officials have had their hands full dealing with how to properly investigate a crime that doesn’t always involve physical evidence. For months, the Department of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has asserted that there is a “better way” for colleges to handle sexual assault cases.
What is a Title IX hearing?
“No person in the United States shall, based on sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”
Fundamentally, Title IX is a very short statute that can cause enormous problems for a state or private college. Title IX prohibits sex discrimination in educational institutions that receive funding from the federal government. Considering the vast majority of schools that rely on Pell Grants and other sources of financing, both indirect and direct, the consequences of losing that funding could be problematic.
What does Title IX have to do with sexual assault?
Regarding a Department of Education investigation, one single case of sexual violence is enough to qualify as creating a hostile educational environment. Meaning that if an institution fails to adequately investigate and attempt to remediate the accusation of sexual assault, the victim can file a complaint against the school with the Department of Education Office of Civil Rights.
In 2011, the Department of Education issued guidance, known as the “Dear Colleague Letter” (DCL). This guidance discussed the obligations institutions have to address and investigate campus sexual violence. At the same time, this is mere “guidance” it tells these federally funded schools how to report and how the Department of Education will review and enforce Title IX complaints.
What is the Department of Education reviewing its Rules?
For the past few weeks, Sec. DeVos has solicited advice from the American Bar Association’s Criminal Justice Section Task Force and the American College of Trial Lawyers. After much debate and compromise, they managed to agree on how to reform the current system, which has been labeled both biased towards the accuser and denies the due process of the accused.
One of the most significant points of contention grappled by these groups was the standard for evidence in Title IX hearings. Many saw the current stand, which requires a “preponderance of evidence” as too weak. That standard was eventually raised by the group to require “clear and convincing” evidence. However, more protections were afforded to the accuser as well.
One of the significant changes the group proposed was allowing students’ attorney to speak at the hearings rather than just be present. The task force also recommended that cases be judged by a panel rather than a single investigator.
It is unclear how Sec. DeVos will eventually change the requirements for Title IX hearings. Sexual assault is prevalent on college campuses across the United States and even locally at institutions such as the University of Florida, Florida State University, University of Central Florida and the University of North Florida. If you have been accused of sexual assault, ethical violations, or considering an appeal regarding a decision made by a Title IX hearing, you should seek legal counsel immediately.
The Law Firm of Massey & Duffy has vigorously defended Title IX complaints and aid students in navigating the complex system of academic appeals. Please call our office today at (352) 505-8900 to schedule a FREE CONSULTATION.