Office of Civil Rights
On September 13, more than thirty members of Congress sent a letter to the Secretary of Education, Miguel Cardona, urging the Biden Administration to continue to build on the steps the administration has taken thus far to protect survivor-complaints from sexual misconduct. The letter emphasized President Biden’s clear interest in Title IX reform, celebrating many of the changes he has made since coming into office. However, alongside this praise, came the enumeration of several remaining concerns born out of the Trump Administrations widely criticized May 2020 Title IX regulations.
In May of last year, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) released a Final Rule, amending the regulations implementing Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. With this guidance came a plethora of changes to how recipients of Federal financial assistance covered by Title IX must respond to allegations of sex-based discrimination. Amongst the most notable changes to these regulations, was the clarification that a reasonable person standard applies to certain elements which are, at times, necessary to prove sexual harassment under Title IX.
The Trump administration has established a new division within the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) called the Conscience and Religious Freedom Division. The stated purpose of this office is to “restore federal enforcement of our nation’s laws that protect the fundamental and unalienable rights of conscience and religious freedom.”
One day after the creation of this division, HHS proposed a new rule, providing further protections to healthcare workers who object to providing certain types of care to patients—including elective sterilization, gender reassignment surgery, or emergency contraception—based on their personal religious beliefs. Additionally, the Trump administration issued a new directive, reversing an Obama administration directive which prohibited states from refusing to send federal funds to qualified providers. This new division, new rule, and new directive serve to ensure the already-existing rights of physicians, nurses, and healthcare staff at the expense of their patients.
In a world where sexual assault occurrences on college campuses are becoming more readily recognized and reported, one of the many arising issues is how to appropriately respond to the allegations. Facing college disciplinary boards is one of the principal battlegrounds. With cases of sexual assault often lacking enough evidence for police action, many have demanded that colleges take responsibility for their students’ safety. However, in a situation where it is already “he said, she said,” what is the appropriate evidentiary standard for reprimand?