JEFFERSON CITY — Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos wants to scale back federal oversight of public schools.
“There’s no failed policy more in need of urgent change than our government-run education monopoly,” she told attendees of the fourth annual Missouri Federalist Society conference Monday in Jefferson City.
DeVos cited proposed reforms made to Title IX procedures on college campuses as an example of this.
“When I took this job, I committed myself and my team to three guiding principles,” she said. “To reduce the role of government, respect the rule of law and to resurrect the rights of students and families.”
At the federal level, Title IX is administered by the Office of Civil Rights within the Department of Education. Title IX prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex, which includes sexual harassment and sexual violence. In 2011, the office issued a “Dear Colleague” letter to universities across the country with guidance on handling cases of sexual assault on campus.
DeVos rescinded the guidance in 2017. In 2018, her office issued a draft of a proposed overhaul of these rules. The draft received more than 100,000 public comments, which will be reviewed before anything becomes law.
“Our proposed rule recognizes that we can continue to combat sexual misconduct without abandoning due process,” she said. “It provides a menu of things schools can do to help survivors heal from trauma and to continue their education. Some mischaracterize these reforms as tilting the scales of justice, but we believe they will simply balance them.”
The proposed bill stresses placing the burden of proof on the school, working with a presumption of innocence and requiring live hearings and cross examinations.
Last legislative session, Missouri lawmakers Sen. Gary Romine and Rep. Dean Dohrman proposed a bill with similar themes of offering more protections to those accused of Title IX violations, according to previous Missourian reporting. The bill did not pass, and neither Romine nor Dohrman has officially refiled it for this session.
Dohrman said he is still considering filing a similar bill this session. On Monday, Parson announced that he was appointing Romine to a new post, so he is leaving the Senate.
After DeVos’ speech, panelists discussed Title IX and due process at universities. Andy Hayes, assistant vice chancellor for civil rights and Title IX at MU, attorney Brent Haden and MU law professor Ben Trachtenberg spoke.
“We can argue about the appropriate evaluation and measurement of sexual assault on campus or in the world in general,” Trachtenberg said. “But it is a real problem that people mostly don’t like to talk about.”
Haden, who has represented students accused of Title IX violations, raised concerns about due process for those accused of violations, like a lack of cross examination during hearings and different standards of proof.
“The purpose of our process is to find out if we can get to the truth,” said Hayes, who oversees compliance for MU’s Title IX.
Before DeVos spoke, several lawmakers addressed the crowd of about 160 people. Gov. Mike Parson talked about the importance of education, workforce development and careful judicial appointments. Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft stressed the need to work together as a society. Attorney General Eric Schmitt spoke about First Amendment rights.
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