A new study has found that the U.S. Department of Education (ED) under Secretary Betsy DeVos appears to have actively ignored an overwhelming number of public comments supporting the Obama administration’s 2011 Dear Colleague Letter (DCL) that provided guidance on the enforcement of the sexual violence portion of Title IX in schools.
The 2011 Dear Colleague Letter was issued by the Obama administration after the Center for Public Integrity documented wide-spread and decades-long discrimination by schools and the criminal justice system of sexual assault victims. Most victim advocates believe the 2011 guidance was a significant step forward in addressing these injustices.
In September 2017, Secretary DeVos characterized the Obama Administration’s guidance as a “failed system” that had been “widely criticized.” This was used as a justification for the department to rescind the 2011 Dear Colleague Letter. However, contrary to DeVos’ claims, the Obama administration’s guidance was widely welcomed and supported by an overwhelming majority of the public who responded to the department’s call for public comments on Executive Order 13777, according to a study conducted by Tiffany Buffkin, Nancy Chi Cantalupo, Mariko Cool, & Amanda Orlando of the University Dwayne O. Andreas School of Law.
“Of the 12,035 public comments addressing Title IX, 99 percent (n: 11,893) of the commenters filed a comment in support of Title IX, with 97 percent of Title IX supporters (n: 11,528) specifically urging ED to uphold the 2011 Dear Colleague Letter: Sexual Violence (2011 DCL),” the report says. “Only one percent (n: 137) filed comments opposing Title IX, of which 90 percent (n: 123) specifically urged that ED rescind the 2011 DCL. When all the individual comments, as well as the petition and jointly-signed comments, are included, 60,796 expressions of support for Title IX were filed by members of the public, in marked contrast to the 137 comments in opposition,” the study found.
99% of the commenters filed a comment in support of Title IX, with 97% of Title IX supporters specifically urging ED to uphold the 2011 Dear Colleague Letter
Additionally, nearly half (44.5 percent) of the 137 comments opposed to the 2011 Dear Colleague Letter were posted anonymously, while the overwhelming majority (99.1 percent) of those in favor of the Obama administration guidance identified themselves.
Before DeVos rescinded the 2011 guidance, she vowed to listen to all sides of the campus sexual violence debate.
“We will seek public feedback and institutional knowledge and professional expertise and the experience of students to replace the current approach with a workable, fair and effective system,” she said in a statement in September 2017.
However, this newly released study appears to show that DeVos ignored the overwhelming majority of that feedback.
Last month, the New York Times reported that new Title IX sexual misconduct rules were scheduled to be released by the Department of Education this month. Many of those rules are very different or even contradict the guidance provided by the Obama administration.