Public comment period on Title IX policy ends soon

Annie Deitz, Campus Carrier Deputy News Editor

Last November, United States Secretary of Education Betsy Devos proposed a series of new Title IX regulations that would change the manner in which reports of sexual misconduct are addressed on college and university campuses. Currently, the new rule is undergoing a 60 day stage for public comment.

The proposed rule comes after Betsy Devos’ rescinding of Obama-era guidelines in September of 2017. It consists of nine main points, each aimed at clarifying and improving some aspect sexual harassment response policy in colleges and universities. The proposal focuses on making certain that schools take reports of sexual harassment seriously while also ensuring all students receive due process, the fair treatment they are legally entitled to while going through a judiciary process. While some of the points deviate little from previous Title IX regulations, such as the requirement for schools to respond meaningfully to and investigate reports of sexual harassment, others focus on protecting the rights of all parties involved, such as maintaining the due process of all students by maintaining a presumption of innocence throughout the investigation into the claim.

“Throughout this process, my focus was, is, and always will be on ensuring that every student can learn in a safe and nurturing environment,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos in the Department of Education’s formal release of the draft rule. “That starts with having clear policies and fair processes that every student can rely on. Every survivor of sexual violence must be taken seriously, and every student accused of sexual misconduct must know that guilt is not predetermined.”

After the comment period ends, the Department of Education will look at the public’s opinions on the matter and respond accordingly. Then, the Department will be able to issue its final policy. After the final policy is issued, Berry administration will have to examine current Title IX protocol to ensure it matches the new rule. Although Berry is a private institution, it still accepts federal funding and, therefore, is subject to regulations such as these from the Department of Education. As of now, Berry is waiting for the final rule to be issued before editing any policy.

“It’s important to be mindful that right now, these [policies] are not set in stone, they have not been put into place yet,” said Dean of Students and Title IX coordinator Lindsey Taylor. “We’re waiting on what that will be and what the exact language will be.”

Despite this, Taylor has already begun to work on how to implement any necessary changes, taking part in webinars of national organizations and the Georgia Independent College Association (GICA), as well as working with Berry’s General Counsel Danny Price.

“We’re listening, we’re taking it all in,” Taylor said. “There are some things that would change our policy significantly, so we’re being mindful of paying close attention to what sections would we need to recraft.”

Taylor explained that while the new rule will be mandatory for Berry and other similar federally funded institutions, there is some degree of leniency in implementation. The current verbiage gives schools the opportunity to decide how best to reflect the policy in their own statutes. They will also be given time to make these decisions, allowing Berry to ensure that any policy changes can sufficiently protect all students.

“It’s written so that schools can choose,” Taylor said. “There will be a period given for those changes to be made. Right now the guidance has been don’t do anything immediately because it really will come down to ‘you must’ versus ‘you may,’ those kind of nuances.”

The 60 day public comment period closes Jan. 28. Until then, opinions can be submitted and the entirety of the proposed regulation can be found on the Office of the Federal Register’s website.

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