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Democratic Bill Aims To Block Title IX Rule Changes Pushed By Trump Administration

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos testifies before the House Education and Labor Committee in 2019.
Manuel Balce Ceneta
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos testifies before the House Education and Labor Committee in 2019.

A bill introduced in the House Tuesday aims to block Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos from implementing changes she's seeking in Title IX rules.

Four Democratic congresswomen introduced the legislation, as the Department of Education prepares to revise Title IX rules that govern how colleges and universities that receive federal funding handle sexual assault.

The legislation would likely face an uphill battle in the GOP-controlled Senate. A companion bill hasn't been introduced there yet.

The Title IX rule changes, first proposed in November 2018, aren't likely to be finalized before the end of the year. The Office of Management and Budget is currently reviewing the regulations and has scheduled meetings with stakeholders through the beginning of February.

NPR has requested comment from the Department of Education on the legislation and on when the rules are expected to be finalized.

The Trump administration rules would replace Obama-era guidelines with rules the secretary says would bolster the rights of the accused. The revisions are expected to, among other changes, allow schools to make it harder to support allegations by raising the burden of proof needed to find a student responsible. The changes would also guarantee students the right to indirectly cross-examine each other.

One of the sponsors of the Democratic bill, Rep. Elissa Slotkin, D-Mich., represents a district home to Michigan State University, where the sports medicine doctor Larry Nassar worked before he was sentenced to decades in prison for abusing young gymnasts.

"I cannot understand why Secretary DeVos continues to move forward with proposed changes to Title IX that make it harder for victims to come forward with a successful claim," Slotkin wrote in a statement. "I have done everything I can think of to appeal to Secretary DeVos to change course: I've submitted a formal comment on the rules and sent letters opposing her proposed changes, I've sent Freedom of Information requests, and met with her personally, all with the goal of reversing course."

When the public comment period ended last winter, the Education Department had received about 100,000 comments, ranging from praising the changes for "restoring sanity" to the process, to deeming the rules a "step backwards."

As NPR's Tovia Smith has reported, many schools are among those concerned about Devos' expected changes:

"Terry Hartle, with the American Council on Education that represents college presidents, says schools are wary of being pushed into increasingly court-like proceedings and dealing, for example, with cross-examinations.

" 'This would permit one student to hire a highly paid legal pit bull to grill another student in a campus disciplinary hearing,' Hartle says. 'But it's a mistake to try and turn us into courts because we're not very good at that.'

"DeVos insists the new regulations strike the right balance, considering the emotional and physical suffering of survivors, as well as the pain and ruined reputations of students denied a fair hearing."

Unlike the Obama administration guidelines, the DeVos proposals, if implemented, will carry the force of law, without having the approval of Congress.

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Sam Gringlas is a journalist at NPR's All Things Considered. In 2020, he helped cover the presidential election with NPR's Washington Desk and has also reported for NPR's business desk covering the workforce. He's produced and reported with NPR from across the country, as well as China and Mexico, covering topics like politics, trade, the environment, immigration and breaking news. He started as an intern at All Things Considered after graduating with a public policy degree from the University of Michigan, where he was the managing news editor at The Michigan Daily. He's a native Michigander.