In recent years, advocates have worked tirelessly to expose and fight against the sexual assault epidemic on college campuses and K-12 schools. Under the Obama administration, they had a powerful tool in their arsenal: Title IX, a federal civil rights law that requires federally funded schools to address rape and sexual assault as a form of sex discrimination. It also gives the Department of Education the power to investigate instances where schools have allegedly balked on their responsibility to protect students
The Obama administration spent a significant amount of time strengthening the protections students are guaranteed under Title IX. Now that Trump has taken office, things are far less clear: Trump’s extremist secretary of education, Betsy DeVos, has been vocal about her desire to deregulate the school system, and it’s still uncertain if the Department of Education (ED) is still looking into violations of rape victims’ civil rights under her watch. During her confirmation hearing, DeVos said that it would be “premature” to commit to upholding former President Obama’s guidance explaining Title IX’s protections for victims of sexual assault.
In January, the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC) filed a Freedom of Information Act petition for documents “reflecting the enforcement or lack thereof” of Title IX. The agency’s response was troubling: According to a lawsuit filed today by the NWLC, the ED has evaded the request for six months now.
The suit states that the ED told the NWLC that they could not fulfill the petition “due to the backlog of requests and the competing demands for the time of staff that are working to respond to [NWLC’s] request.” Public agencies typically have a 20-day limit to release records following a valid FOIA request or provide the requestor an opportunity to limit the scope of the request; Alexandra Brodsky, an attorney with the NWLC, says the lack of response violates the law.
“It’s really startling that we have not received a single record. We have not even received an estimate for when they would get us the records. It’s just be radio silence,” she said.
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