Councilmember David Grosso, chairperson of the Committee on Education, sent a letter signed by every member of the Council of the District of Columbia, to U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos opposing the Trump Administration’s proposed changes to Title IX enforcement for failing to properly address the realities of sexual harassment and assault in schools.
“As local elected officials, including the chairperson of the D.C. Council Committee on Education, we support a robust oversight role by the Department and we look to the Department to set the bar for ourselves and other jurisdictions in protecting our students,” the Councilmembers wrote. “The proposed rules would restrict our ability to build upon the floor that federal laws and rules should allow, thereby undermining your goal of providing greater control over these decisions to local communities.”
Last year, Grosso introduced and the Council unanimously passed the School Safety Act, which requires all schools to have policies in place to prevent and properly respond to sexual abuse by adults against children and sexual harassment and assault among students, including dating violence. The act also increases the requirements of what efforts D.C. Public Schools and charter schools must make to uncover past sexual misconduct of any potential employees who will have direct contact with students.
Councilmembers expressed their concerns that changes to Title IX could undermine this work, including its ability to address off-campus incidents which have on-campus effects.
“We heard consistently from schools, students and parents, and experts about the need for schools to be able to respond to incidents of abuse or harassment that happen outside of school hours or off-campus,” Councilmembers wrote, referencing testimony they heard in considering the school safety legislation. “This could include online harassment or an abuse near school that significantly disrupts students’ ability to learn. The proposed rules would contradict this by requiring schools to dismiss a complaint if the alleged conduct “did not occur within the [school’s] program or activity.”
The Council also raised concerns over language that forces schools to ignore harassment until it becomes incredibly severe, raise the bar on what is considered “deliberate indifference” to complaints of misconduct, and allow parochial schools greater freedom in claiming religious exemptions from fulfilling their Title IX responsibilities.
“Taken together, these proposed rules represent a serious misstep in the ongoing effort to address safety and stop discrimination in education. We ask that you withdraw the proposed rulemaking and reconsider the best way to ensure safety for students,” the Councilmembers concluded.
You can read the full letter below and here.