SHS Students Voice Opposition to New Title IX Regulations
- Category: Schools
- Published: Tuesday, 30 June 2020 14:00
- Joanne Wallenstein
Seven Scarsdale High School students voiced concerns about changes to Title IX regulations that would reduce protections for victims of sexual harassment and assault in schools and strengthen the rights for those who are accused. The changes are scheduled to go into affect on August 14. The students delivered a list of eight demands to the Scarsdale School Board during the public comments portion of the Board of Education’s June 22, 2020 meeting.
The policy makes changes to the language defining which incidents of harassment and assault require intervention from the schools. The new standard calls for schools to investigate only incidents that are “severe, pervasive and objectively offensive.” Currently the wording requires the reporting of incidents that are “severe and pervasive.”
Critics believe the new standard will reduce the rights of accusers in favor of predators. The timing leaves little chance for districts to revise their own policies to comply with the new regulations. Several states have sued the Department of Education which is led by Betsy DeVos, to block implementation of these changes.
Seven Scarsdale High School students wrote to Assistant Superintendent Andrew Patrick, the district’s Title IX Coordinator, and read their eight demands via Zoom to the Board at their June 22, 2020 meeting. The group included Hae Won Sung, Vivan Gao, Nolan Bansal, Lea Reisel, Neema Mwanhuri, Daven Oh and Elliot Weinbaum.
Here are their comments, as read by the seven students:
My friends and I are concerned about these new federal changes to title 9. It is a civil rights law that makes schools move toward gender equality and have established procedures against sexual harassment and sexual assault. On May 6 Secretary of Education issued new changes to Title 9 and we believe that these tip the scales against survivors and that these new changes require schools to account for what we believe are only the most extreme cases of sexual misconduct. We would like to know what the board’s stance is on these changes and what they board is planning to do before these new changes are enforced on August 14.
Under these new changes sexual harassment is defined as “severe, pervasive and objectively offensive.” Previously it was defined as severe or pervasive. If enacted, behavior that is sever and pervasive but not objectively offensive would not meet the definition and schools could sweep incidents like these under the rug. Schools would not be required to report incidents that don’t meet this new standard.
We spoke to Mr. Patrick our district Title IX coordinator and he said while many of you are aware of the new changes there has not been much deliberation. We urge the Scarsdale School to commit to taking sexual violence seriously and reject certain clauses of the federal changes. We understand that we are lucky to live in a district where other laws protect us as well such as the “Dignity for Students Act” and the board’s own policies. But many other communities aren’t guaranteed the same protections and it’s important for the Board to be a model.
We have compiled a list of 8 demands which we would like the Board to implement to the best of its ability.
The Board has the flexibility to decide how it interprets each clause which gives them the power and obligation to stand up for survivors. We posted a petition online and it has already received over 200 signatures from concerned students.
The first demand is to re-establish the preponderance of evidence as the standard of evidence within these cases. With the preponderance of evidence standard, the burden is met when the party with the burden convinces the fact finder that there is a greater than 50% chance that the incident is true. What this means is that both the accuser and accused are on a level playing field in terms of the burden of proof. Under the new rules, the burden of proof is placed substantially on the accuser. As title IX cases are by definition civil cases and civil cases are overwhelmingly conducted under the preponderance of evidence, we implore the board to revert to it as the only standard that values the voices of both complainants and responders.
Our second demand is to maintain a time limit of 60 calendar days to complete all sexual misconduct cases. Lengthy misconduct investigations are emotionally taxing on complainants and survivors and often cause students drop out.
The third demand is that even during the pandemic we urge the district to continue to respond promptly to incidents of sexual misconduct.
The fourth demand gives students protection no matter where they are. Under the new regulations schools are not responsible if misconduct took place off school grounds or outside of school sponsored activities. Students need protection no matter where the incident occurred.
Our fifth demand is to bar the use of informal resolution mechanisms such as letting the Title IX accused and accuser act externally. Informal mediation in cases of sexual assault is widely agreed to be inappropriate.
The sixth demand is to reinstate the Department of Education’s guidelines on protecting LGBTQ students. This ensures that students of all genders and sexual identities equal access to a safe learning environment.
Our seventh is to give students online on online sexual harassment. When schools move online due to COVID 19, so to does sexual harassment. It is important for the school to set specific boundaries on online sexual harassment and educate students.
Our eighth demand is to elect Title IX officers in the Scarsdale student body. These officers can represent and advocate for their schoolmates.
In conclusion we demand that the School Board adopt these eight policies to uphold student rights and be committed to an inclusive space. We believe it is up to the school district to protect students, especially when the students’ government is failing us.
In the follow-up portion of the meeting, Andrew Patrick responded to the students saying, “The students had reached out to me to find out the district and boards positions on the changes to Title IX and how they could influence whatever changes we make. I met with some of the students last week over Zoom. I listened to their concerns and engaged in a discussion to understand their concerns and explain how board policy is made and how policy could be impacted by this Federal change.”
“The students wrote to the Board and I have shared that message with our attorney and I will speak to our attorney to talk through a game plan to approach our own current policies to consider what we are compelled to change and how we can involve students and others in that process. We are at the beginning stages of this. And I look forward to considering their very compelling demands.”
Board President Pam Fuehrer also welcomed the student’s involvement. She said, “We look forward to working with the students on these policies. We are currently reviewing Board policies in tranches. Most of the work is a fall effort as this group will not meet during the summer.
Board member Scott Silberfein commented, “The NYS Attorney General has sued the Federal Department of Education regarding the implementation of these changes. They wrote a letter to the court seeking an injunction in the next day or two. It is possible there may be some court intervention before the new provisions of Title IX take effect.”