The public has 60 days to weigh in on the proposal, and the Department of Education must respond to concerns before it issues final regulations.

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Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has proposed narrowing schools’ obligations when it comes to responding to sexual misconduct. Starting today, you can tell the U.S. Department of Education what you think about her desired changes to Title IX regulations.

DeVos’ proposal is a departure from Obama-era guidance for Title IX, a federal civil-rights law that prohibits gender discrimination in schools that receive public funding. These changes, DeVos has said, would make the process more fair to accused students and their schools. 

The proposal — leaked in September and officially released by the Education Department mostly unchanged this month — has been denounced by survivors and their advocates, who believe it will allow schools to avoid dealing with cases of sexual misconduct.

Public comment opened Thursday, and lasts for 60 days — meaning you have until about the end of January to share your thoughts.

[Betsy DeVos is proposing changes to Title IX. What will this mean for Washington schools?]

What are the changes?

Schools would only be required to respond if an official report was made to them or if multiple complaints about the same person were made to an official with authority to respond. (Under Obama, schools could be found in violation of their Title IX obligations for not responding to sexual misconduct if they knew or reasonably should have known about it.)

Schools also wouldn’t have to respond to off-campus incidents and the definition of sexual harassment would be narrower.

Other controversial changes include allowing schools to use a higher standard of evidence and mediation for sexual-misconduct cases, as well as requiring cross-examination by advisers during hearings.

What Washington officials and college leadership say

In September, administrators from Washington’s public four-year colleges told The Seattle Times they felt their schools already provided a fair process and hoped to stick to current policies as much as possible.

The University of Washington plans to host discussions at the Seattle, Bothell and Tacoma campuses Jan. 14-17 and will have an online forum, spokesperson Victor Balta said. The university will consider responding to the proposals based on student input.

The 60-day comment period comes as students prepare to go on holiday break. Balta said administrators would welcome an extension.

UW administrators have concerns about the proposal’s narrowed definition of sexual harassment and the cross-examination requirement, Balta said.

“These and other such requirements would, at minimum, result in more complicated and burdensome procedures and, at worst, could result in a chilling effect and erosion of trust and confidence in the University’s response,” Balta said in an email.

Western Washington University’s Title IX Coordinator Sue Guenter-Schlesinger said administrators are committed to a fair process, but want to make sure they are following federal policy and are closely reviewing the proposal.

Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., ranking member of the U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, called on DeVos to withdraw the proposal at a Wednesday news conference in Washington, D.C.

“Secretary DeVos’ proposed rule will return us to a time when sexual-assault survivors were ignored and felt like they had nowhere to turn,” she said. “It is clear from this rule that Secretary DeVos did not listen.”

Murray is also supporting calls to extend the public-comment period.

Sexual-assault survivors and advocates — including a survivor of ex-gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar and a 14-year-old who said she was sexually assaulted by a peer — joined Murray.

Jess Davidson, executive director of End Rape on Campus, said she went through the Title IX process in college. She said her perpetrator was found responsible, but not until after graduation. Because of how long her case took, she said she walked across the graduation stage the same day he did.

“While the system was really flawed for me, I was grateful that there was an alternative system I could turn to,” Davidson said, explaining that she didn’t want to go to law enforcement.

Davidson said she and other advocates have been working to improve the Title IX process for survivors, and that DeVos’ changes would roll back that progress.

How to submit your feedback

The Title IX proposed rule can be found on the Federal Register. 

The public has until Jan. 28 to provide feedback, which can be submitted through the Federal eRulemaking Portal.