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Education Department walks back controversial sexual harassment guidelines

The Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights (OCR) released a letter Wednesday in response to mounting criticism over new sexual harassment guidelines that critics claim raise more questions than it answers. 

After two weeks of continued pressure from the nonpartisan Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), coverage in the media, letters from students, faculty and administrators sent to the OCR regarding its new speech codes, the OCR responded with another letter. 

As previously reported, FIRE claimed the new guidelines would make nearly every student a sexual harasser. The new mandate would make flirting, sexual jokes, and even many debates, presentations, and other expressions on campus fall under the expanded definition of sexual harassment. 

"OCR's regulations and policies do not require or prescribe speech, conduct or harassment codes that impair the exercise of rights protected under the First Amendment," the agency stated in its letter. 

The office said its May 9 letter to the University of Montana and the subsequent agreement between the OCR and the school "are entirely consistent with the First Amendment, and did not create any new or broader definition of unlawful sexual harassment under Title IX or Title IV." 

The DOJ and DOE's explanation letter appears to contradict its original letter sent on May 9, which called for sexual harassment to include "verbal" conduct and suggested the new guidelines would serve as a "blueprint" for all universities and colleges.

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