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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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Florida Cracks Down on “Vaccine Tourism”

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  • Florida is now requiring that people show proof of either full-time or part-time residency in the state in order to get vaccinated against COVID-19. 
  • The state has been hit with “vaccine tourism” as many people, predominantly wealthy individuals, fly to the state from other parts of the U.S. and abroad just to get the shot. 
  • So far, nearly 41,000 of the 1.3 million doses administered in Florida went to out-of-staters, though it is unclear if all those people were tourists or if this figure includes some part-time residents.

Florida Requires Proof of Residency

Florida is cracking down on “vaccine tourism” and requiring that people show proof of either full-time or part-time residency in the state in order to get a COVID-19 shot.

Previously the state was allowing anyone 65 and older, including non-residents, to get the vaccine. This resulted in people flying to the Sunshine State from across the U.S. and abroad just for the purpose of receiving it. 

According to state data, nearly 41,000 of the 1.3 million doses Florida has administered have gone to out-of-staters. It is unclear if all these out-of-staters are tourists or if this figure includes some part-time residents. 

Now, people must show a form of identification like a driver’s license or mortgage payment to receive it. Exceptions will be made for healthcare workers. 

Vaccine Supply Continues to Be Limited

Wealthy people in particular were quick to schedule travel plans to Florida for this reason. According to the Wall Street Journal, there was an influx of Canadians booking private jets to Florida. Some were looking to book flights there and back on the same day, leaving just enough time for them to get vaccinated against the coronavirus. 

Meanwhile, people in Florida and across the country are waiting in long lines and struggling to book appointments on glitching websites to get their shots. Vaccine supply continues to be incredibly limited and not everyone in high-risk groups have received them.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis said this rule is not made to impact snowbirds, people who live in Florida during the winter to escape cold weather up north. 

“They go to doctors here or whatever, that’s fine, DeSantis said, according to CNN. “What we don’t want is tourists, foreigners. We want to put seniors first, but we obviously want to put people that live here first in line.”

See what others are saying: (Wall Street Journal) (CNN) (Travel + Leisure)

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Amanda Gorman Wows the Nation With “The Hill We Climb”

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  • Amanda Gorman, a 22-year-old poet, impressed the nation when she read “The Hill We Climb” at President Biden’s inauguration, making her the youngest inaugural poet in the nation’s history.
  • Gorman’s said the Jan. 6 attack on the nation’s Capitol inspired her to focus on a message of hope, community, and healing in her poem.
  • Big names like Oprah Winfrey, Anderson Cooper, Barack Obama, and Lin-Manuel Miranda have all praised her work.

Amanda Gorman Becomes Youngest Inaugural Poet

Inaugural poet Amanda Gorman wowed the nation on Wednesday as she spoke of healing, unity, hope, and what it means to be American while reading her poem, “The Hill We Climb.”

At 22-years-old Gorman is the youngest inaugural poet in the nation’s history. Born and raised in Los Angeles, she was the youth poet laureate of Los Angeles in 2014 at the age of 16. She then became the first national youth poet laureate in 2017. 

Now, her books are topping Amazon’s Best Sellers list and they are not even scheduled to be released until the fall.

First Lady Dr. Jill Biden became a fan of Gorman after watching her give a reading at the Library of Congress. She then suggested that Gorman be a part of the ceremony. 

“Let the globe, if nothing else, say this is true: That even as we grieved, we grew. That even as we hurt, we hoped That even as we tired, we tried,” Gorman recited during inauguration. “That we’ll forever be tied together, victorious. Not because we will never again know defeat but because we will never again sow division.”

Like President Biden, Gorman has struggled with a speech impediment and has been open about her experience overcoming it. She actually used poetry as a tool to correct it. First, she used it as a way of expressing herself without having to speak. Then she used it to bring her poems to life.

“Once I arrived at the point in my life in high school, where I said, ‘you know what? Writing my poems on the page isn’t enough for me,” she told CBS News. “I have to give them breath, and life, I have to perform them as I am.’ That was the moment that I was able to grow past my speech impediment.”

What Inspired “The Hill We Climb”

Gorman said the inaugural committee gave her freedom and flexibility when it came to choosing what to write about. She was well on her way before the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. Those events then influenced her writing. 

“It energized me even more to believe that much more firmly in a message of hope, community and healing. I felt like that was the type of poem that I needed to write and it was the type of poem that the country and the world needed to hear,” she told CNN’s Anderson Cooper.  

That message came across clearly and the insurrection was depicted in part of “The Hill We Climb.”

“It’s because being American is more than a pride we inherit. It’s the past we step into and how we repair it. We’ve seen a force that would shatter our nation rather than share it, would destroy our country if it meant delaying democracy and this effort very nearly succeeded,” she said. “But while democracy can be periodically delayed it can never be permanently defeated. In this truth, in this faith we trust. For while we have our eyes on the future history has its eyes on us.”

Nation Impressed by Gorman

“Wow…Wow, I just, wow you’re awesome,” Cooper said when closing his interview with her. “I am so transfixed.” 

Lin-Manuel Miranda also cheered Gorman on. “The Hill We Climb” notably references a line of scripture that appears in a “Hamilton” song. Gorman also said she used to sing the song “Aaron Burr, Sir” to help her say her R sounds and correct her speech impediment. 

“I have never been prouder to see another young woman rise!” Oprah Winfrey wrote. “Brava Brava Amanda Gorman! Maya Angelou is cheering—and so am I.”

Winfrey also gave Gorman a ring with a caged bird on it—a reference to the famous Angelou poem— which Gorman wore during the inauguration. 

Actor Mark Ruffalo joined the onslaught of praise, saying that her words will lead the nation. 

Former President Barack Obama echoed that idea as well, and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Gorman promised to run for president one day. 

See what others are saying: (CBS News) (New York Times) (Los Angeles Times)

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SAT Drops Subject Tests and Optional Essay Section

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  • The College Board will discontinue SAT subject tests effective immediately and will scrap the optional essay section in June. 
  • The organization cited the coronavirus pandemic as part of the reason for accelerating these changes.
  • Regarding subject tests, the College Board said the other half of the decision rested on the fact that Advanced Placement tests are now more accessible to low-income students and students of color, making subject tests unnecessary. 
  • It also said it plans to launch a digital version of the SAT in the near future, despite failing to implement such a plan last year after a previous announcement.

College Board Ends Subject Tests and Optional Essay

College Board announced Tuesday that it will scrap the SAT’s optional essay section, as well as subject tests.

Officials at the organization cited the COVID-19 pandemic as part of the reason for these changes, saying is has “accelerated a process already underway at the College Board to simplify our work and reduce demands on students.”

The decision was also made in part because Advanced Placement tests, which College Board also administers, are now available to more low-income students and students of color. Thus, College Board has said this makes SAT subject tests unnecessary. 

While subject tests will be phased out for international students, they have been discontinued effective immediately in the U.S. 

Regarding the optional essay, College Board said high school students are now able to express their writing skills in a variety of ways, a factor which has made the essay section less necessary.

With several exceptions, it will be discontinued in June.

The Board Will Implement an Online SAT Test

In its announcement, College Board also said it plans to launch a revised version of the SAT that’s aimed at making it “more flexible” and “streamlined” for students to take the test online.

In April 2020, College Board announced it would be launching a digital SAT test in the fall if schools didn’t reopen. The College Board then backtracked on its plans for a digital test in June, before many schools even decided they would remain closed.

According to College Board, technological challenges led to the decision to postpone that plan.

For now, no other details about the current plan have been released, though more are expected to be revealed in April. 

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

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