DeVos rescinds Obama-era rules on campus sexual assault cases

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos on Friday rescinded Obama-era guidelines for investigating allegations of sexual assault on campus, replacing them with guidelines she said would help schools “treat all students fairly.”

DeVos, who has been highly critical of the Obama administration’s approach, had announced earlier this month she planned to replace the policy she describes as unfair.

"This interim guidance will help schools as they work to combat sexual misconduct and will treat all students fairly," DeVos said in a statement Friday. "Schools must continue to confront these horrific crimes and behaviors head-on. There will be no more sweeping them under the rug. But the process also must be fair and impartial, giving everyone more confidence in its outcomes." 

The temporary guidance will be in place while the Education Department gathers comments and comes up with new rules. 

The Obama administration had reshaped how colleges handle complaints of sexual assault, setting new rules and starting hundreds of investigations into colleges accused of straying from them.

Central to the debate is a 2011 department memo that laid out rules colleges must follow when responding to complaints of sexual assault from their students.

The memo requires colleges to investigate complaints even if there's a separate criminal inquiry. It also established what has become a polarizing standard of evidence used to judge cases. 

Critics have, among other complaints, claimed the system denies due process to the accused. 

Unlike in criminal courts, where guilt must be proved beyond a reasonable doubt, colleges judge students based on whether it's "more likely than not" they committed the offense.

Colleges that are found to have violated Title IX rules can lose federal funding entirely, although the department has never imposed that penalty. 

The department is now withdrawing that 2011 letter, with DeVos saying in a statement “the era of rule by letter is over.”

In a fact sheet, the department said schools must address sexual misconduct that is “severe, persistent or pervasive,” while conducting fair and impartial investigations in a “timely manner.”

The department said such investigations must be led by an individual free of conflicts of interest.

The department maintained the changes do not limit the rights of anyone to file such a Title IX complaint. 

Some advocacy groups say the Obama-era policies are flawed but worth saving. They argue the policies have protected many students and forced colleges to confront problems that were long kept quiet.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.