• New title IX rules give more protection to the accused
  • Victim rights groups say schools will become more dangerous

Betsy DeVos, the education secretary, announced the new rules against the wishes of attorneys general of 17 states and several education organizations, who had asked for a delay. Photograph: Alex Brandon/AP

The US education secretary, Betsy DeVos, has issued new rules on sexual assault in schools and colleges, handing more protections to those accused of assault and further reversing Obama-era guidance designed to protect college students.

The regulations, due to take effect in August, require colleges to hold live hearings, where victims and the accused can be cross-examined, in a move that equal rights groups argued “tips the scales in favor” of abusers. Schools will also be able to choose two different standards of evidence when assessing assault cases.

Victim rights groups condemned the new rules, saying they would reduce the rights of survivors of sexual assault. DeVos’s regulations are expected to be challenged in court.

“If this rule goes into effect, it will make schools more dangerous and could push survivors out of school entirely,” said the group Know your IX, which aims to eradicate sexual violence in schools.

“The rule does not prioritize students and survivors, but rather tips the scales in favor of named abusers and protects universities and their bottom lines.

“If this rule goes into effect, schools will be shielded from liability for ignoring or covering up sexual harassment.”

The new rules are the result of a long-running effort by the Trump administration to overhaul title IX, a federal law banning sexual discrimination. Under Barack Obama, colleges and universities were required to have processes in place to combat sexual assault, or risk losing federal funding.

The National Women’s Law Center said it planned to sue the Department of Education over the new rules.

“No one should be pushed out of school for experiencing violence – but that is exactly what the Trump administration’s weakened title IX rule will do to students,” the NWLC said in a tweet.

DeVos announced the new rules against the wishes of attorneys general in 17 states and several education organizations, who had asked for a delay given the coronavirus outbreak.

“With school resources already stretched thin, now is not the time to require school administrators, faculty, and staff to review new, complex title IX regulations, revise their schools’ policies in response, and communicate these changes to students and parents,” wrote the attorneys general, who represent states including Michigan, New York and North Carolina.

The American Council on Education had similarly asked DeVos to wait until some sense of normality has returned.

“Implementation of the title IX regulations is expected to be enormously complex and burdensome for campuses,” the council wrote to DeVos in March.

“At a time when institutional resources already are stretched thin, colleges and universities should not be asked to divert precious resources away from more critical efforts in order to implement regulations unrelated to this extraordinary crisis.”