Trump administration wants to end ‘Clinton-era’ policy on sexual assault reports

By Susan Milligan The Trump administration wants to end the Clinton-era practice of requiring schools to report to law enforcement any allegations of sexual assault against school staff, arguing the change would improve safety…

Trump administration wants to end ‘Clinton-era’ policy on sexual assault reports

By Susan Milligan

The Trump administration wants to end the Clinton-era practice of requiring schools to report to law enforcement any allegations of sexual assault against school staff, arguing the change would improve safety for children and faculty.

The Education Department has proposed making this change as part of a broader effort to make schools safer for students.

In proposing repeal of the former law, the administration said: “Beyond addressing the information gap that exists between federal requirements and state reporting requirements, the bureau is also seeking to provide consistency across Federal agencies, thereby raising the bar for reporting standards and supporting a consistent criminal justice response when an alleged criminal act occurs.”

School officials complain that reporting to law enforcement is time-consuming and carries a stigma that discourages victims from coming forward.

The long-standing Clinton-era policy was “widespread,” not only among federal agencies but was widespread in most states, according to the administration’s report on school safety, “Caring for Our Children: A Plan to Make Our Kids Safer.” The Clinton policy is “a poorly designed piece of poorly written law,” the report says.

An Education Department official said in an interview that this change would remove the possibility that “good people” who were not predators would be falsely accused. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss a proposed policy change.

The change would apply only to schools receiving federal money. The Clinton-era law, updated in 2009, allowed a school to withhold information regarding a case that would be disproportionate to its risk of sexual violence, the Education Department official said. It was unclear if that standard would be applied to the Obama-era law.

“It strikes me as a step in the right direction,” said Deborah Fine, a civil rights attorney and former assistant secretary of education during the Clinton administration. But she cautioned that the Clinton-era law was “too vague” and that the administration should revisit it.

The administration’s proposal comes nearly a year after The Washington Post reported that hundreds of former students had complained of being sexually assaulted by instructors at an elite New England prep school and felt they were reluctant to speak up for fear of retaliation.

“The Obama administration responded immediately to these reports and to other reports like them across the country. Unfortunately, the public safety pendulum has swung too far in the other direction, and we have seen too many vulnerable students lose their lives to senseless acts of violence on school campuses,” Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said in a statement.

“It’s time for us to take a step back to ensure the safety of our nation’s youth,” she said.

Schools that still hold to the Clinton-era reporting policy have been given 30 days to tell the Education Department if they will continue to report to local law enforcement any allegations of sexual misconduct against school personnel. DeVos’ office said it will continue to be consulted if the change is enacted.

The department’s decision to limit the term and nature of the new reporting standard means any incidents reported after Aug. 12, 2018, will not be counted. The earliest possible time frame for the reporting standard to be effective, if it is adopted, would be in July 2019. The department also plans to issue guidance with additional information to “help states and school districts better use” the reporting requirement for other types of misconduct, including marital and parental leave.

The post-Clinton Clinton-era guidance included protections for victims and an emphasis on openness. DeVos rescinded guidance issued by the Obama administration and replaced it with a ban on students suing school officials over sexual assault, which has been criticized by civil rights activists. In May, DeVos instructed schools to have a “zero tolerance” policy on sexual misconduct, explaining that schools could adopt a more conservative approach.

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