Gov. Wolf objects to proposed Title IX changes |

Gov. Wolf objects to proposed Title IX changes

Deb Erdley
Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf speaks after he was sworn in for his second term, Tuesday, Jan. 15, 2019, at the state Capitol in Harrisburg, Pa. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

One day before the deadline for comments, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf went on record opposing the federal government’s proposed rollbacks in regulations governing allegations of sexual harassment and sexual assault in schools and colleges.

In a letter to U.S. Sec. of Education Betsy DeVos, Wolf voiced concerns on Tuesday about proposed changes to enforcement of Title IX, s a federal civil rights law that bars schools and colleges that receive federal aid from discriminating on the gender. Such discrimination can include both sexual assault and sexual harassment.

Directives handed down under the Obama administration demanded that colleges take strong steps to combat sexual assault and harassment on campus.

DeVos, however, said those rules may have stepped on the rights of those accused of assault and harassment and placed too much liability on colleges and universities.

New federal directives on title IX enforcement would define sexual harassment in schools as “unwelcome conduct on the basis of sex that is so severe, pervasive and objectively offensive that it denies a person access to the school’s education program or activity.

Wolf’s objections come on top of concerns Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapior previously voiced about the proposed changes.

DeVos, however, said the goal of the changes is “to ensure that Title IX grievance proceedings become more transparent, consistent, and reliable in their processes and outcomes,”.

But Wolf, whose administration has awarded $3 million in grants to colleges to strengthen Title IX enforcement at colleges and universities across the state, said the proposals would undo years of progress for victims. He called on DeVos to reverse course.

“These proposed changes send a dangerous message that sexual harassment and sexual assault do not warrant action from our schools and campuses. If adopted, they would also undermine decades of progress built on the foundational understanding that schools have an obligation to effectively prevent and address gender-based discrimination, harassment, and violence to ensure that all students have equal access to a full education,” Wolf wrote in his letter.

He urged the federal Department of Education to reconsider its proposed rules and explore ways to encourage students to access rights “Title IX should guarantee.”

“We cannot go back. We cannot tell survivors that they cannot be helped unless their victimization fits narrowly-defined criteria, or if they are willing to undertake the significant burden of a prescribed disciplinary process that prioritizes unfounded fears over evidence-based concerns for individual and collective safety and well-being,” Wolf concluded.

Federal regulators, however, said the proposed changes would continue to require colleges to respond “meaningfully to every known report of sexual harassment and to investigate every formal complaint” and promote impartial decisions in response to allegations of sexual assault and harassment.

Deb Erdley is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Deb at 724-850-1209, [email protected] or via Twitter @deberdley_trib.