The Education Department's Office for Civil Rights is now investigating 360 sexual violence cases under investigation at 258 postsecondary institutions.
The new Q&A circulated today takes a different tack: While it allows colleges and universities to decide whether to continue using a lesser "preponderance of the evidence" standard in deciding claims, it also permits them to move to a tougher "clear and convincing evidence standard" if they so choose.
Friday's temporary guidance will be in effect until the permanent guidelines can be worked out the Department of Education said.
"This interim guidance will help schools as they work to combat sexual misconduct and will treat all students fairly", DeVos said in a release. "The Department of Education will follow the proper legal procedures to craft a new Title IX regulation that better serves students and schools".
Senator Patty Murray of Washington, the senior Democrat on the Senate's committee on education, said DeVos' decision "may cause survivors of sexual assault to go back into the shadows, allowing predators to continue to roam college campuses and the epidemic of college sexual assault to spread". The Letter provided that any due-process protections afforded to accused students should not "unnecessarily delay" resolving the charges against them.
Of particular focus has been what standard of evidence schools should use to determine if an assault has occurred and if it should respond by taking actions like disciplining students and making reasonable steps to separate the victim from the offender.
The agency will spend the coming months coming up with new rules through a public process.
"We are not going to rush for the sake of rushing this process", the official said. "The US Supreme Court and lower courts have repeatedly affirmed and upheld the enforcement practices of OCR and its guidance", and the notion that a new system was created under the Obama administration is a "fictional strawman". There will be no more sweeping them under the rug.
"My fear is that without knowing what comes next it's hard for schools to plan", said Nancy Deutsch, a University of Virginia professor working with colleges on sexual assault policies.
"Listening to her talk about walking in and finding him in the middle of trying to kill himself because his life and his future were gone, and he was forever branded a rapist - that's haunting", Jackson told the Times, describing a meeting with the mother of a young man who had been accused of rape three months after his first sexual encounter.
That guidance "may have been well-intentioned", the department said, but it led to "the deprivation of rights for many students".