de León Calls Out U.S. Education Secretary DeVos for Repeal of Obama-Era Protections
SACRAMENTO – In a letter released today to U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, Senate President pro Tempore Kevin de Leon vowed California would resist federal policies that “tip the scale of justice” against victims of campus sexual violence.
Senator de León (D-Los Angeles) also condemned DeVos’ decision to rescind years-old Obama-era protections, a move that will make it more difficult to punish sexual predators while pushing their victims “back into the shadows.”
Last month, DeVos announced she was rescinding guidelines outlined in a “Dear Colleague” letter from President Obama to college presidents in April 2011 on campus sexual violence. The guidelines, designed to force colleges to take sexual violence more seriously, used the “preponderance of evidence” standard of proof to determine whether a student committed sexual assault.
DeVos has told colleges they are free to abandon the preponderance standard and employ a higher standard of proof known as “clear and convincing evidence.”
“The withdrawal of this key guideline undermines the progress that has been made in combatting sexual misconduct and assault on college campuses nationwide,” Senator de León wrote, “and will make it more difficult to punish sexual predators…”
California has been on the forefront of combating sexual violence on college campuses. In 2014, Governor Jerry Brown signed SB 967 (de León, Jackson), making California the first state in the nation to implement a universal affirmative consent standard to evaluate complaints of sexual assault on college campuses.
Under SB 967, colleges must adopt a policy with specified provisions to deal with sexual assault and other forms of sexual violence, including an affirmative consent provision to determine if both parties agreed to sexual activities. Colleges that fail to do so face the loss of state funds for student financial assistance.
In his letter, Senator de León wrote DeVos’ decision to rescind the Dear Colleague guidance was based on a “false and gross misunderstanding” of the protections afforded to all students involved in a sexual assault proceeding.
“Under the guise of making sexual assault policies ‘fair for all,’ the Department of Education’s recent actions strikes at the core of what has made California so successful in the battle against sexual assault on its campuses – the utilization of the preponderance of evidence standard,” Senator de León wrote.
“The role of Title IX is to prevent and respond to sexual discrimination in education, not recreate a criminal justice response,” Senator de León wrote. “Our colleges and universities should not be required to replicate a criminal proceeding to enforce administrative and disciplinary rules.”
California recognizes the serious problem posed nationwide by sexual violence and has taken preventative steps by teaching public middle school and high school students about healthy dating relationships.
“California will continue to implement and develop policies that respect the rights of all parties,” Senator de León wrote. “We will not accept policies from the federal government that intentionally tip the scales of justice against the rights of victims.”