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Accused gain new rights

WASHINGTON (AP) — Education Secretary Betsy DeVos on Wednesday issued a new policy that will reshape the way schools and universities respond to complaints of sexual misconduct, bolstering the rights of the accused and narrowing the scope of cases colleges are required to investigate.

“We released a final rule that recognizes we can continue to combat sexual misconduct without abandoning our core values of fairness, presumption of innocence and due process,” DeVos said in a call with reporters.

In announcing the new policy, which carries the weight of law, DeVos condemned the Obama administration for adopting a “failed approach” that turned campus disciplinary panels into “kangaroo courts.”

DeVos’ changes narrow the definition of sexual harassment and require colleges to investigate claims only if they’re reported to certain officials. Schools can be held accountable for mishandling complaints only if they acted with “deliberate indifference.” Students will be allowed to question one another through representatives during live hearings.

The regulation largely mirrors a proposal DeVos issued in November 2018 but tempers some measures that drew some of the heaviest criticism.

The earlier proposal, for example, suggested that colleges would not be required to handle complaints arising beyond campus borders, but the final rule clarifies that their duties extend to fraternity and sorority houses, along with other scenarios in which the college exercises “substantial control” over the accused student and the “context” where the alleged misconduct occurred.

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