(Reuters) – U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said on Friday her department was issuing new interim guidelines to colleges on how to handle sexual assault allegations, rescinding Obama administration rules that it said treated the accused unfairly.
Earlier in September, DeVos, a controversial advocate of school choice appointed by President Donald Trump, had called for an overhaul of the guidelines implemented under former President Barack Obama.
She said too many students had been falsely charged with sexual assault and schools were terrified about being accused of ignoring accusations.
“This interim guidance will help schools as they work to combat sexual misconduct and will treat all students fairly,” DeVos said in a statement on Friday.
“Schools must continue to confront these horrific crimes and behaviors head-on,” DeVos said. “But the process also must be fair and impartial, giving everyone more confidence in its outcomes.”
The interim guidelines offer several steps colleges can take to address sexual assault complaints pending the outcome of an investigation.
Those include counseling, changing schedules, escorting students, restricting contact between the parties, housing changes, leaves of absence and more security and monitoring of certain areas of campuses.
The Obama guidelines, issued in 2011 and 2014, required colleges to investigate complaints even if there was a separate criminal probe. Unlike in criminal cases, where guilt must be proved beyond a reasonable doubt, universities may judge students based on a preponderance of evidence.
That guidance “may have been well-intentioned,” the department said, but it led to “the deprivation of rights for many students.” These included accused students denied fair process and victims denied an adequate resolution of their complaints, it said.
In developing a new set of school guidelines, the department said it would follow a standard rulemaking process, including soliciting public comments.
Earlier this month, the department said 360 sexual violence cases were under investigation at 250 colleges and universities.
Reporting by Jonathan Allen and Peter Szekely; Editing by Steve Orlofsky and Richard Chang