Thursday, May 7, 2020
Betsy DeVos, Title IX and COVID19
By Prof. Justine Dunlap
It was the worst of timing.
The Trump Administration’s Title IX regulations governing sexual misconduct were issued in draft form in November 2018. A year later, word came that they would be released in final form in December 2019, along with leaked drafts of what the final regs would contain. This allowed a sneak peek into which of the more than 120,000 comments proffered during the notice and comment period were considered and incorporated, and which failed to budge the regulators. So those of us who follow these things were waiting for the regs to drop. Some waited with anticipation, some with dread, others perhaps with mere curiosity.
Then the coronavirus hit and the resulting COVID-19 illness required schools across all learning levels and ages to become vehicles of remote learning. Schools, including IHE, are continuing this mode of remote learning through the summer and are now considering what the Fall term will look like on campus—or whether it can even be on campus. Further, institutions of higher learning are undergoing significant financial challenges due to coronavirus closures. Layoffs and furloughs are inevitable.
Amidst this, on Wednesday, May 6th, the Title IX final regulations were released, with an implementation date of August 14, 2020 attached. So merits aside for a moment, the timing is abysmal. These regulations constitute a major shift in Title IX law in numerous ways. They require significant changes in how schools conduct hearings on alleged sexual misconduct. It will be extremely hard for IHEs to plan for the regs’ implementation from—quite literally—afar. Moreover, the staff needed to implement these new regs may be unavailable, perhaps because they have been redirected to deal with student COVID-19 related crises. The American Council on Education, eighteen state attorneys general, and at least three senators had asked the DOE to delay the already delayed final regulations until the COVID pandemic abated. Somehow, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos’s response that “civil rights really can’t wait” is supremely unsatisfying.