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Federal Rules Grant More Protection to Students Accused of Sexual Assault

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  • Education Secretary Betsy DeVos Announced Changes to Title IX that effectively give more power to those accused of sexual misconduct. 
  • Schools can now choose between two evidentiary standards when handling misconduct: the preponderance of evidence or the clear and convincing evidence standard, the latter of which makes it harder for students to be convicted of wrongdoing.
  • Schools are also not required to investigate off-campus incidents if it takes place at a location or event that is not affiliated with the school.
  • The revisions also mandate schools to allow students to go through a live hearing where both parties undergo a cross-examination led by the other student’s lawyer or representative.
  • DeVos believes that these changes make due process fairer, however many fear that this will harm survivors and potentially stop them from reporting.

General Changes to Title IX

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos announced new changes to Title IX regulations that give more protections to those accused of sexual misconduct. 

In a hefty 2,033 page document, DeVos unveiled a sweeping list of final regulations directing schools and colleges on how to handle sexual misconduct on their campuses. Many of these new regulations rescind rules made during the Obama administration.

Among the changes include a tighter definition of sexual harassment, which will now be considered conduct that is ‘“so severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive that it denies its victims equal access to education.” The previous definition included broader forms of misconduct that only had to interfere with or limit access to education, not deny it. The new term made additions to include sexual assault, dating violence, domestic violence, and stalking. which were not listed in the old one.

The new regulations also limit what kind of off-campus incidents schools are obligated to look into. If an assault takes place off-campus, a school is now only obligated to look into it if it took place at a school sanctioned event, or if it happened in an “off-campus building owned or controlled by” the school or a student organization. Things like school field trips and conferences, and events at fraternity and sorority houses are under the school’s domain. If an incident takes place at a student’s private off-campus apartment, however, the school is not required to investigate. 

Changes to Reporting and Investigation Standards

Some of the most controversial revisions change the way reported incidents will be investigated by schools. Schools can now choose which evidentiary standard to use when handling cases: the preponderance of evidence or the clear and convincing evidence standard. Currently, the preponderance of evidence standard is commonly used on campuses. The latter option makes it much harder for the accused to be found guilty of wrongdoing. 

The changes also mandate that schools allow live hearings where the accused and accuser undergo a cross-examination. The questioning will be led by the other student’s lawyer or representative so that the two do not have to meet face-to-face. Still, many fear that this process would be traumatizing for survivors of sexual assault.

Schools also are only required to investigate cases if they are reported via a formal complaint to a campus official with the authority to handle it. If the incident is just shared with an R.A. or another campus figure, an investigation is not mandatory. 

“Too many students have lost access to their education because their school inadequately responded when a student filed a complaint of sexual harassment or sexual assault,” DeVos said in a statement. “This new regulation requires schools to act in meaningful ways to support survivors of sexual misconduct, without sacrificing important safeguards to ensure a fair and transparent process.”

Kenneth L. Marcus, Assistant Secretary of Education in the Office for Civil Rights also made remarks in support of the Department’s changes to Title IX. 

“The new Title IX regulation is a game-changer,” Marcus wrote. “It establishes that schools and colleges must take sexual harassment seriously, while also ensuring a fair process for everyone involved.”

“There is no reason why educators cannot protect all of their students – and under this regulation there will be no excuses for failing to do so,” he added. 

Responses and Backlash

The changes were met with an expected amount of criticism. When DeVos first announced her plans in 2018, the Department of Education received 120,000 comments on the matter, which is the most the department has ever received for a proposal. 

Several organizations fear that these rules will hurt survivors and ultimately stop them from reporting sexual misconduct. Know Your IX said that the rules are “dangerous and could push survivors out of school entirely.”

Fatima Goss Graves, President and CEO of the National Women’s Law Center also released a statement with a similar sentiment. 

 “If this rule goes into effect, survivors will be denied their civil rights and will get the message loud and clear that there is no point in reporting assault,” Goss Graves wrote. “We refuse to go back to the days when rape and harassment in schools were ignored and swept under the rug.”

The National Women’s Law Center says they will be taking DeVos and her department to court over the issue. 

Another contentious aspect of DeVos’ announcement is its timing. Schools around the country are already dealing with the coronavirus pandemic. Attorneys General from over a dozen states signed a letter back in March asking DeVos to hold off on announcing these plans, as schools at every level have a full plate right now. 

“This unprecedented pandemic—and the necessary steps our country is taking to mitigate and minimize its harms—has placed a significant strain on our schools and our students,” the letter said. “With school resources already stretched thin, now is not the time to require school administrators, faculty, and staff to review new, complex Title IX regulations.”

The rules have yet to take effect. They are currently scheduled to be implemented on August 14, just before the beginning of the traditional school year, a timeline that is likely to be further impacted by the coronavirus. 

See what others are saying: (CBS News) (NPR) (The Guardian)

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CDC Data Shows Booster Shots Provide Effective Protection Against Omicron

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Public health experts have encouraged Americans to get boosted to protect themselves against the omicron variant, but less than 40% of fully vaccinated people who are eligible for their third shot have received it.


A First Glimpse of Official Data on Boosters and Omicron

COVID-19 booster shots are effective at preventing Americans from contracting omicron and protecting those who do become infected from severe illness, according to three reports from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published Friday.

The reports mark the first real-world data regarding the highly infectious variant and how it has impacted the U.S.

One of the CDC reports, which studied data from 25 state and local health departments, found that there were 149 cases per 100,000 people among those had been boosted on average each week. 

In comparison, the figure was 255 cases per 100,000 people in Americans who had only received two shots.

Another study that looked at nearly 88,000 hospitalizations in 10 states found that the third doses were 90% effective at preventing hospitalization. 

By contrast, those who received just two shots were only 57% protected against hospitalization by the time they were eligible for a booster six months after their second dose.

Additionally, the same report also found that the boosters were 82% effective at preventing visits to emergency rooms and urgent care centers, a marked increase from the 38% efficacy for those who were six months out from their two-shot regime and had not yet received a third.

Low Booster Shot Vaccination Rates

Public health officials hope that the new data will urge more Americans to get their booster shots.

Since the emergence of omicron, experts and leading political figures have renewed their efforts to encourage people to get their third shots, arguing they are the best form of protection. 

The CDC currently recommends that everyone 12 and older get a booster shot five months after their second shot of Pfizer and Moderna or two months after receiving the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Still, in the U.S., less than 40% of fully vaccinated individuals eligible for a third shot have gotten one.

While COVID cases in the country have begun to drop over the past several days from their peak of over 800,000 average daily infections, the figures are still nearly triple those seen in the largest previous surges.

Hospitalizations have also slowly begun to level out over the last week in places that were hit first, such as New York City and Boston, but medical resources still remain strained in many parts of the country that experienced later surges and have not yet seen cases slow.

Some experts predict that the U.S. will see a sharp decline in omicron cases, as experienced in South Africa and Britain. Still, they urge American’s to get boosted to ensure their continued protection from the variant, as well as other strains that will emerge.

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (CNN) (The New York Times)

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California Bill Would Allow Kids 12 and Up to Get Vaccinated Without Parental Consent

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Nearly one million California teens and preteens between the ages of 12 and 17 are not vaccinated against COVID-19. 


State Senator Proposes Legislation

Legislation proposed in California on Thursday would allow children age 12 and up to get vaccinated without parental consent. 

State Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) introduced Bill 866 in the hope it could boost vaccination rates among teenagers. According to Wiener, nearly one million kids aged 12- to 17-years old remain unvaccinated against COVID-19 in the state of California. 

“Unvaccinated teens are at risk, put others at risk & make schools less safe,” Wiener tweeted. “They often can’t work, participate in sports, or go to friends’ homes.”

“Many want to get vaccinated but parents won’t let them or aren’t making the time to take them. Teens shouldn’t have to rely on parents’ views & availability to protect themselves from a deadly virus.”

Currently, teens in California can receive vaccines for human papillomavirus and hepatitis B without parental consent. They can also make other reproductive or mental healthcare choices without a guardian signing off. Wiener argues that their medical autonomy should expand to all vaccines, especially during a pandemic that has already killed roughly 78,000 Californians. 

Vaccine Consent Across the U.S.

“Teens shouldn’t have to plot, scheme or fight with their parents to get a vaccine,” he said. “They should simply be able to walk in & get vaccinated like anyone else.”

Bill 866 would allow any kids ages 12 and up to receive any vaccine approved or granted emergency use authorization by the Food and Drug Administration and recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Currently, Pfizer’s COVID vaccine has been fully approved by the FDA for those 16 and older. It has received emergency authorization for ages five through 15. 

Across the United States, vaccine consent ages vary. While the vast majority of states require parental approval for minors to be vaccinated against COVID-19, kids as young as 11 can get the jab on their own in Washington, D.C. In Alabama, kids can receive it without parental consent at 14, in Oregon at 15, and in Rhode Island and South Carolina at 16. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, providers can waive consent in certain cases in Arkansas, Idaho, Washington, and Tennesee.

In October, California became the first state to announce plans to require that students receive the COVID-19 vaccine to attend class. The mandate has yet to take effect, but under the guidelines, students will be “required to be vaccinated for in person learning starting the term following FDA full approval of the vaccine for their grade span.” 

In other words, once the FDA gives a vaccine full approval for those aged 12 and up, it will be required the following session for kids in grades 7-12. Once it does so for kids as young as five, the same process will happen for children in kindergarten through sixth grade. There will also be room for exemptions from the mandate. 

The Fight to Vaccinate California

This week, a group of California state legislators formed a Vaccine Work Group in order to boost public health policies in the state. Wiener is among the several members who are “examining data, hearing from experts, and engaging stakeholders to determine the best approaches to promote vaccines that have been proven to reduce serious illness, hospitalization and death from COVID-19.”

“Vaccines protect not only individuals but also whole communities when almost everyone is vaccinated at schools, workplaces and businesses, and safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines have already prevented the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Americans,” Sen. Dr. Richard Pan (D-Sacramento) said in a press release. “Public safety is a paramount duty of government, and I am proud to join a talented group of legislators in the pro-science Vaccine Work Group who want to end this disastrous pandemic and protect Californians from death and disability by preventable diseases.”

While vaccine policies have been a divisive subject nationwide, including in California, state politicians and leaders are hopeful public health initiatives will prevail. 

“If we allow disinformation to drive our state policy making we will not only see more Americans needlessly suffer and die, but we will sacrifice the long term stability of our society having effectively abandoned the idea that we all must work together to protect each other in times of crisis.” Catherine Flores Martin, the Executive Director of the California Immunization Coalition, added. 

See what others are saying: (Los Angeles Times) (NBC News) (Sacramento Bee)

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Inmates Sue Jail for Giving Them Ivermectin to Treat COVID-19 Without Consent

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Four detainees who filed the suit allege that the jail’s doctor gave them “incredibly high doses” of the anti-parasite in a “cocktail of drugs” that he said were “‘vitamins’, ‘antibiotics,’ and/or ‘steroids.’”


Washington County Detention Center Lawsuit

Four inmates at an Arkansas jail have filed a federal lawsuit claiming that they were unknowingly given the anti-parasite drug ivermectin without their consent by the detention center’s doctor after contracting COVID-19.

The Food and Drug Administration, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and countless other medical experts have said that ivermectin — commonly used for livestock — can be dangerous and should not be used to treat the coronavirus.

According to the lawsuit, after testing positive for COVID in August, the four men at the Washington County Detention Center (WCDC) were given a “cocktail of drugs” twice a day by the facility’s doctor, Robert Karas.

The inmates claim that Dr. Karas did not tell them that he was giving them ivermectin, but instead said the drugs consisted of “‘vitamins’, ‘antibiotics,’ and/or ‘steroids.’”

The complaint also alleges that the detainees were given “incredibly high doses” of the drug, causing some to experience “vision issues, diarrhea, bloody stools, and/or stomach cramps.”

Use on Other Inmates

The four plaintiffs were far from the only people to whom Karas gave ivermectin.

According to the lawsuit, the doctor began using the drug to treat COVID starting in November of 2020. In August, the Washington County sheriff confirmed at a local finance and budget committee meeting that the doctor had been prescribing the drug to inmates, prompting the Arkansas Medical Board to launch an investigation.

In response, Karas informed a Medical Board investigator in a letter from his attorney that 254 inmates at the facility had been treated with ivermectin.

In the letter, he confirmed that whether or not detainees were given information about ivermectin was dependent on who administered it, but paramedics were not required to discuss the drug with them.

He also admitted that after the practice got media coverage, he “adopted a more robust informed consent form to assuage any concern that any detainees were being misled or coerced into taking the medications, even though they weren’t.”

The American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas, which filed the suit on behalf of the inmates, also claimed in a statement that after questions were raised about the practice, the jail attempted to make detainees sign forms saying that they retroactively agreed to the treatments. 

The WCDC has not issued a public response to the lawsuits, but Dr. Karas appeared to address the situation in a Facebook post where he defended his actions.

“Guess we made the news again this week; still with best record in the world at the jail with the same protocols,” he wrote. “Inmates aren’t dumb and I suspect in the future other inmates around the country will be suiing their facilities requesting same treatment we’re using at WCDC-including the Ivermectin.”

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (CBS News) (NBC News)

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