Here’s a breakdown of the stories right now at www.democratandchronicle.com.
New York Sen. Kristen Gillibrand is one of 34 Democratic senators who have signed a letter to Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos raising concerns about the direction of the department in its civil rights enforcement.
A key part of the department’s civil rights responsibilities is the handling of complaints filed against colleges about how they’ve reviewed allegations of sexual assault.
January 2016: Survey: 10% of college women sexually assaulted
“We are extraordinarily disappointed and alarmed by recent actions you and your staff have taken that have diminished the U.S. Department of Education’s … enforcement of federal civil rights law,” says the letter, dated Tuesday.
The letter cites DeVos’ testimony before Congress, her continued association with groups with records supporting discrimination and two memos written by the department’s Acting Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Candice Jackson.
“You have also appointed staff who have fought against the department’s 2011 Title IX guidance clarifying schools’ responsibility to address campus sexual assault and against expanded protections for survivors of sexual violence on campus,” says the letter.
Concerns were also raised about the Trump administration’s withdrawal of protections for the transgender population.
Currently, the department’s Office of Civil Rights is investigating 237 postsecondary institutions for issues related to their handling of sexual violence allegations.
Hobart and William Smith Colleges, The College at Brockport, the University of Rochester and Monroe Community College are the local colleges on this list.
Title IX protects against discrimination on the basis of sex and it is under this provision that these investigations are conducted. If a college is found at fault, corrective actions can be required.
In efforts to combat sexual assault on college campuses, Gov. Andrew Cuomo ordered a comprehensive review of New York’s higher-education institutions on Wednesday to certify that they are complying with the “Enough is Enough” law enacted in 2015.
Lindsey Riback, Albany Bureau
A response to the letter from the senators was not available from the Department of Education.
Over the past decade, the letter notes, the Office of Civil Rights “has maximized its impact and ability to enforce civil rights law by taking a systematic approach, gathering multiple years of data, and looking to see whether the discrimination, harassment, or other prohibited behavior raised by a complainant was indicative of a broader problem affecting other students or school community members.”
But the senators’ letter says that a memo Jackson sent to the regional directors of the Office of Civil Rights scales back and narrows civil right enforcement.
The letter says the senators share the department’s desire to resolve complaints in a timely manner, and that is why they fought to increase the Office of Civil Rights budget.
“Unfortunately, the administration’s budget request proposes to reduce OCR funding, which will lead to a loss of staff and, as a result, an increase in the backlog of cases,” the senators wrote.
The senators also criticized the department’s withdrawal in February of its guidance on transgender students’ rights under Title IX, and they said that the department has abandoned its defense of some students who have experienced discrimination or harassment.
That was done in at least two cases involving transgender students, according to the senators.
“We are also extremely disappointed in the department’s failure to take actions to protect transgender students,” says the letter.
Because of the Trump administration’s action, the letter goes on to say, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, is investigating whether the risk of discrimination has increased.
The letter concludes by asking the department to provide data on such matters as a list of all Office of Civil Rights cases closed or dismissed since January and the reason for doing so.