Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has released the department's overhaul of how schools and colleges should handle sexual misconduct complaints—and while some controversial proposals have been watered down, victims' rights groups are still vowing to fight the new rules. Under the new guidelines, which replace some Obama-era policies that DeVos revoked, the definition of sexual harassment has been narrowed to conduct "so severe, pervasive and objectively offensive" that it essentially prevents a victim from having equal access to an education at the school, NBC reports. Under the Obama rules, the broader definition encompassed actions that interfered with or limited that access. The changes also give alleged perpetrators more rights—including the right to have their accuser cross-examined at live hearings.
Democrats had asked the department to delay releasing the final rules and focus on the pandemic instead. DeVos said the rule changes, which tell schools how to implement the "Title IX" 1972 federal law on sexual discrimination in education, will "combat sexual misconduct without abandoning our core values of fairness, presumption of innocence, and due process," the AP reports. Victims' rights advocates warned that the new rules would discourage people from reporting assaults. Fatima Goss Graves, president of the National Women's Law Center, vowed to fight the rules in court, reports the New York Times. "We refuse to go back to the days when rape and harassment in schools were ignored and swept under the rug," she said. (Read more Betsy DeVos stories.)