November 6, 2017
State Superintendent Tom Torlakson Criticizes Federal Actions that Weaken Protections for Sexual Harassment and Assault Victims
SACRAMENTO—State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson criticized U.S. Department of Education (USDOE) Secretary Betsy DeVos for repealing guidance letters under Title IX that made it easier to protect the rights of victims of sexual violence and sexual harassment.
“Victims of sexual assault and harassment must know that they will have a fair chance at justice when they come forward with serious accusations,” he said. “California has changed our laws to make our system more just and to make certain victims are heard. The actions by the federal government take us backward.”
As leader of California schools, a regent of the University of California, and a California State University trustee, Torlakson said he will fight for the rights of victims while protecting the rights of the accused.
“I will do everything in my power to ensure the system for investigating sexual harassment and sexual violence claims remains fair and transparent,” he said.
Title IX is a federal law that protects people in education programs or activities that receive federal financial assistance—primarily local educational agencies and institutions of higher education—from discrimination based on sex. The Office for Civil Rights at the USDOE enforces Title IX by evaluating, investigating, and resolving complaints.
Last month, the USDOE announced that it will rescind a 2011 letter on campus sexual harassment along with a 2014 Questions and Answers document on the same topic issued by the Obama administration. The USDOE also released new interim guidance on sexual harassment under Title IX, “Q&A on Campus Sexual Misconduct.”
The Trump administration is allowing schools to require a higher standard of proof—“clear and convincing” evidence—against those accused of sexual harassment and sexual assault in campus disciplinary proceedings. Under the Obama administration, schools were required to use the “preponderance of the evidence” standard.
Torlakson said he plans to oppose the Trump administration’s proposed changes during the upcoming public comment period, and he urges others to join him.
“I am deeply disappointed with the direction the U.S. Department of Education is taking,” he said.
Torlakson praised members of the California State Legislature and the Governor for their “tremendous leadership” in passing laws that put additional protections in place against discrimination, including sexual assault and violence, for California students.
“But I believe all students, regardless of where they live, should have the same protections that California students now have,” he said.
Senate Bill 967 (de Leon, Jackson), enacted in 2014, implemented a universal affirmative consent standard to evaluate complaints of sexual assault on college campuses. Earlier this month Governor Brown vetoed Senate Bill 169 (Jackson), which would have codified a combination of federal regulations and guidance on sexual harassment, saying additional consideration and reflection is needed.
Torlakson said he plans to work with the Governor and the Legislature to determine if additional laws are needed to reinforce and strengthen protections against discrimination for California students.
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Tom Torlakson —
State Superintendent of Public Instruction
Communications Division, Room 5602, 916-319-0818, Fax 916-319-0100