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Betsy DeVos stirs debate around college sex assaults: 5 things to know today

Natasha Lindstrom
| Monday, Sept. 11, 2017, 3:06 p.m.
Meghan Downey, 22, a recent graduate from the College of William & Mary, reacts outside an auditorium after Education Secretary Betsy DeVos spoke about proposed changes to Title IX, Thursday, Sept. 7, 2017, at George Mason University Arlington, Va., campus. 'It's pretty expected based on this administration,' says Downey, 'they don't condemn violence they perpetuate it.'
AP Photo / Jacquelyn Martin
Meghan Downey, 22, a recent graduate from the College of William & Mary, reacts outside an auditorium after Education Secretary Betsy DeVos spoke about proposed changes to Title IX, Thursday, Sept. 7, 2017, at George Mason University Arlington, Va., campus. 'It's pretty expected based on this administration,' says Downey, 'they don't condemn violence they perpetuate it.'
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos shakes hands with Henry Butler, dean of the Antonin Scalia Law School at George Mason University, before speaking about proposed changes to Title IX, Thursday, Sept. 7, 2017, at George Mason University Arlington, Va., campus. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos shakes hands with Henry Butler, dean of the Antonin Scalia Law School at George Mason University, before speaking about proposed changes to Title IX, Thursday, Sept. 7, 2017, at George Mason University Arlington, Va., campus. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
Sonja Breda, 23, right, holds a sign saying 'Stop Betsy' as a group of survivors of sexual violence and their supporters gather to protest proposed changes to Title IX before a speech by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, Thursday, Sept. 7, 2017, at the George Mason University Arlington, Va., campus.
Sonja Breda, 23, right, holds a sign saying 'Stop Betsy' as a group of survivors of sexual violence and their supporters gather to protest proposed changes to Title IX before a speech by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, Thursday, Sept. 7, 2017, at the George Mason University Arlington, Va., campus.
Survivors of sexual assault Faith Ferber, center, and Sage Carson, second from right, together with a supporter of survivors Bailey Bystry, third from right, are met at the door of the Department of Education by security personnel as they try to hand signed petitions that support the Dear Colleague Letter, Wednesday, Sept. 6, 2017.
Survivors of sexual assault Faith Ferber, center, and Sage Carson, second from right, together with a supporter of survivors Bailey Bystry, third from right, are met at the door of the Department of Education by security personnel as they try to hand signed petitions that support the Dear Colleague Letter, Wednesday, Sept. 6, 2017.

Summer vacation is over for Pennsylvania's lawmakers, with the House back in session Monday following a seven-week break.

Their most urgent to-do: Pass a revenue plan that resolves the state's latest budget woes .

A $32 billion budget bill became law in July without Wolf's signature — and without roughly $2.2 billion needed to fully pay for it.

House GOP leaders are set to meet Monday afternoon in Harrisburg and line up their latest budget plan for a vote on Tuesday, Republican House spokesman Steve Miskin told me this morning.

The persisting dilemma: Wolf already said he opposes the new House plan, questioning its approach of diverting cash from reserves or off-budget programs.

If lawmakers don't agree on a compromise by Friday, the state could start reducing payments to the likes of local governments , human service providers and school districts, Democratic lawmakers have warned. State Treasurer Joe Torsella, a Democrat, said has warned he may not continue loaning money from reserves.

Miskin argued that taxpayer funds are flowing into the state daily and that a reduction in payments would be a voluntary decision by the Wolf administration.

In a statement Monday morning, the state's largest teachers union demanded bipartisan compromise. The union favors the Wolf-backed plan that narrowly cleared the Senate two months ago. House leaders scoffed at its reliance on tax increases.

Pennsylvania State Education Association President Dolores McCracken had a stern message for elected officials: "The students who learn in our public schools deserve better than this."

Onto your daily dose of education-related news.

Here are five things to know today:

1). DEVOS RESCINDS COLLEGE SEX ASSAULT GUIDANCE: Education Secretary Betsy DeVos stirred up another serving of controversy by announcing she would replace what she branded as a "failed system" of responding to sexual assaults on college campuses.

Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro had joined 19 other state attorneys general in urging DeVos not to go proceed with the rollback.

DeVos said she was rescinding the Office of Civil Rights guidance documents issued under the Obama administration — "the era of rule by letter is over" — and repeatedly emphasized the importance of protecting the rights of accused students.

DeVos asserted that while "one rape is too many," it's also essential that "every student accused of sexual misconduct must know that guilt is not predetermined." She said the department will seek public input on how to make the system more effective and just.

The announcement left some Title IX experts and college officials who deal with sex abuse accusations scratching their heads.

University of Pittsburgh law professor Deborah Brake — who testified on the issue before DeVos in July — told the Trib that "Obama didn't break the mold" with the OCR guidance in question, which she said actually provide more protections for accused students than had been around previously.

Brake warned that whatever happens next, "it's wrong to see it as a zero-sum game between protecting survivors of sexual assault and wrongly accused students."

Related: The leaders of more than a dozen greater Pittsburgh-area colleges — Carnegie Mellon, Duquesne, Robert Morris, Point Park and Seton Hill universities, to name a few — plan to join with public health experts, violence prevention advocates, local dignitaries and justice officials in an event titled, "Southwestern Pennsylvania university presidents unite against campus sexual assault." The Trib's Martines plans to be there (Twitter: @Jamie_Martines ).

2). JUST WHAT IS DACA ALL ABOUT?: Chances are you've at least heard the acronym — DACA — at the center of an immigration debate that spurred protests across Pennsylvania and nationwide in the past week.

But do you really know what DACA is, who it protects and what it has or hasn't allowed its recipients to do?

Check out the Trib's latest explanatory piece looking into the program known as DACA — short for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals — and how even DACA recipients lack a clear-cut path to citizenship.

Learn why DACA recipients such as Ana Alberto, 23, a South Side hair stylist who's lived in the U.S. since age 10, find it frustrating when people learn she's not a citizen and ask, "Why don't you just do it the right way?"

3). 'CULTURE OF VIOLENCE' LAWSUIT WIDENS IN WOODLAND HILLS: Joseph Golden, a former behavior specialist at Rankin Promise School, has been added as a defendant in a federal lawsuit alleging a culture of violence against students in the Woodland Hills School District, the Trib's Ben Schmitt reports.

School administrators are accused of assisting, looking the other way or remaining indifferent while adults, including a Churchill police officer, beat up students.

Golden's job was to work with students in an alternative education program, which includes students with behavior problems. The lawsuit alleges that Golden grabbed a 13-year-old student by the neck, wrapped his hands around the teen's throat and lifted the teen off his feet to carry him down the hallway.

The incident was caught on camera and spurred the district to suspend and later fire Golden.

4). GATORS HELPING GATORS: Students at Gateway High School are selling T-shirts, raffling goodie baskets and organizing a ticketed girls volleyball game — all to raise money for Dickinson High School, a school near Galveston, Texas damaged by Hurricane Harvey, the Trib's Dillon Carr reports .

A Gateway administrator got the idea to rally the school around supporting Dickinson after watching boat rescues at the Texas district's facilities on the news and spotting the sign, "Dickinson High School Fighting Gators."

Gateway's mascot also is the gators.

Want to contribute, whether you happen to have your own gator connection or not? Call the high school at 412-373-5740. Donations are being accepted through Friday.

5). PLUM SCHOOLS EYE SEX-ABUSE SETTLEMENT: A woman who accused Plum School District of failing to investigate accusations of sexual assaults by a politically powerful teacher is poised to get a settlement.

The board is set to vote Monday night on settling the federal civil rights case for an undisclosed amount (the Trib is seeking the figure via a Right-To-Know law request).

The woman identified only as Jane Doe who filed the federal lawsuit last September claimed that administrators allowed former high school teacher Joseph Ruggieri to prey on her and other students. She said she was 17 when Ruggieri began having sex with her. (Ruggieri, by the way, is serving a two- to five-year prison sentence after pleading guilty to sexual assault).

In spring 2016, an Allegheny County grand jury released a 100-page report concluding that Plum administrators turned "a blind eye to obvious signs of teacher misconduct" that allowed a "suspected serial child predator" to continue teaching years before his arrest.

The same grand jury didn't find enough evidence to recommend criminal charges against any administrators.

In late July, I reported that court records revealed a settlement was imminent.

Stay tuned: Follow the Trib's Michael DiVittorio on Twitter @MikeJdVittorio for live updates from the Plum school board meeting that begins 7 p.m. tonight.

The rest of the TribLIVE Education Team also welcomes your input, follows and shares on Twitter:

• Emily Balser @emilybalser (Valley News Dispatch newsroom)

• Debra Erdley @deberdley_Trib (Greensburg newsroom)

• Jamie Martines @Jamie_Martines (Greensburg newsroom)

• Natasha Lindstrom @NewsNatasha (Pittsburgh newsroom)

Or email us your schools-related tips and story ideas to schooltips@tribweb.com.

Natasha Lindstrom is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 412-380-8514, nlindstrom@tribweb.com or via Twitter @NewsNatasha.

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