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DeVos: Obama-era Rules on Campus Sexual Assault Will Be Changed

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos speaks about campus sexual assault and enforcement of Title IX, the federal law that bars discrimination in education on the basis of gender, Sept. 7, 2017, at George Mason University Arlington, Va., campus.

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos says her agency will change its approach to handling cases of sexual assault on college and university campuses.

In a speech Thursday at George Mason University in Virginia, DeVos didn't detail how the rules will change, but she said the Education Department would seek public input on revamping the Obama-era guidelines on dealing with campus sexual assault.

The Obama-era rules, set forth in a memo now known as the "Dear Colleague Letter,'' asked schools to investigate all complaints. It also asked the schools to judge students based on whether it's "more likely than not'' they committed the offense.

"Instead of working with schools on behalf of students, the prior administration weaponized the Office for Civil Rights to work against schools and against students,'' DeVos told the invitation-only audience as protesters demonstrated outside.

Critics of the rules have charged that they pressure colleges to take harsh actions against the accused, without affording them due process. DeVos criticized the standard of evidence and said the system has led schools to create "kangaroo courts'' overseen by campus officials who don't always have legal training.

But supporters of the Obama-era rules fear DeVos' speech signaled a step back for victim's rights.

Fatima Goss Graves, president and CEO of the National Women's Law Center, said the speech "signals a green light to sweep sexual assault further under the rug.

"It will discourage schools from taking steps to comply with the law — just at the moment when they are finally working to get it right,'' she said in a statement.