ON AIR NOW

LISTEN NOW

Weather

heavy-rain-night
43°
Thundershowers
H -° L 44°
  • heavy-rain-night
    43°
    Current Conditions
    Thundershowers. H -° L 44°
  • partly-cloudy-tstorms-day
    Today
    Thundershowers. H -° L 44°
  • rain-day
    64°
    Tomorrow
    Showers. H 64° L 54°
LISTEN
PAUSE
ERROR

Wsb news on-demand

00:00 | 00:00

LISTEN
PAUSE
ERROR

Wsb traffic on-demand

00:00 | 00:00

LISTEN
PAUSE
ERROR

Wsb weather on-demand

00:00 | 00:00

National Govt & Politics
Rule could limit college response to off-campus sex assaults
Close

Rule could limit college response to off-campus sex assaults

Rule could limit college response to off-campus sex assaults
Photo Credit: AP Photo/Keith Srakocic, File
FILE - In this Jan. 23, 2019, file photo, a screen with information from the Women's Law Project shows information on some of the proposed changes to the implementation of Title IX as it pertains to the sexual abuse regulations in education at the NOW monthly meeting in Monaca, Pa. Several of the nation’s largest universities receive more sexual assault complaints from off-campus than from school property, but their obligation to address off-campus cases could be dramatically reduced under a federal proposal. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic, File)

Rule could limit college response to off-campus sex assaults

At some of the nation's largest universities, the vast majority of sexual assaults take place not in dorm rooms or anywhere else on school property but in the neighborhoods beyond campus boundaries, according to data obtained by The Associated Press.

But the schools' obligation to investigate and respond to those off-campus attacks could be dramatically reduced by the Education Department's proposed overhaul of campus sexual assault rules. That's alarmed advocacy groups and school officials who say it would strip students of important protections in the areas where most of them live. 

At the University of Texas in Austin, officials have received 58 reports of sexual assaults on campus grounds since the fall of 2014 while fielding 237 involving private apartments, houses and other areas outside campus, according to the data obtained through public records requests. Another 160 reports didn't include locations.

"The majority of our students are just not in proximity to campus, and a lot of things happen when they're not on campus," said Krista Anderson, the university's Title IX coordinator. Of the school's 51,000 students, she said, only about 18 percent live in campus housing.

For now, federal guidelines urge colleges to take action against any sexual misconduct that disrupts a student's education, regardless of where it took place.

But in its proposed rule, the department says schools should be required to address sexual misconduct only if it occurs within their "programs or activities," a designation that would exclude many cases off campus.

The proposal is included in Education Secretary Betsy DeVos' revision of Obama-era guidance on campus sexual assault, which officials say is unfairly skewed against those accused of assault and goes beyond the intended scope of Title IX, the federal law barring sex discrimination in education. Some colleges had complained that the Obama rules were too complex and could be overly burdensome.

The AP asked the nation's 10 largest public universities for several years of data on the topic. Out of eight that provided data, five had more reports from off campus than on school property: The University of Texas, Texas A&M, Arizona State, Michigan State and the University of Central Florida.

At Texas A&M, for example, the number of sexual assaults reported from beyond campus since 2014 is twice the number on school property.

Leaders of some schools say the proposal appears to let them decide whether to handle cases beyond their borders, but conflicting language has led some to believe they would actually be barred from it.

One section says schools would be permitted to address cases outside their property, while another says schools would have to dismiss all complaints from outside their programs. Dozens of schools have asked the department for clarification.

"There is a concern that these regulations might strictly limit the jurisdiction of the university to conduct which occurs on campus," said David Bunis, general counsel for Worcester Polytechnic Institute, a private school in Massachusetts.

Department spokeswoman Liz Hill said schools would be able to investigate cases outside their programs "at their discretion" but did not clarify the discrepancy. Unless the conflicting language is changed, legal experts say, it could give accused students legal grounds to get their cases dismissed.

Since the proposal was issued in November, it has generated a flood of feedback from students, parents, schools, politicians and activists on both sides.

A recent public comment period drew more than 104,000 responses, already the most in department history, and federal officials announced Tuesday that they would re-open the comment period for one day, on Feb. 15, because technical errors may have blocked some users from submitting feedback.

Tens of thousands of comments have been credited to campaigns meant to inundate the agency with criticism. In western Pennsylvania, for example, a local chapter of the National Organization for Women recently hosted an event on how to submit comments, one of many similar gatherings across the country.

Opponents are fighting against several of the plan's key provisions, including changes that would narrow the definition of sexual harassment and allow students accused of sexual misconduct to question their accusers through a representative.

Few points, however, have drawn as much anger as the move to reduce schools' obligations off campus. In public comments, students said it would leave little recourse for those assaulted at parties, bars or other sites. Advocacy groups worry that fewer victims would report assaults, and that more would drop out of school.

"We think it's very dangerous," said Terri Poore, policy director at the National Alliance to End Sexual Violence, an advocacy group in Washington, D.C. "There are several other very, very, disturbing issues, but this is absolutely among the worst aspects of the proposed rule."

Many colleges have raised their own concerns, especially institutions that fear the rule would cut off their authority at campus boundaries.

Laurie Nichols, president of the University of Wyoming, told the Education Department that curbing schools' powers would simply push sexual violence to areas where offenders know they're beyond the school's reach.

In her comment, Nichols added that refusing to take action off campus "communicates indifference on the part of the institution and ignores the impact of these experiences on a student's ability to succeed in the classroom."

Still, few colleges are asking the department to keep things just as they are. Instead, many want the flexibility to decide which cases to handle, even though they say they have no plans to scale back investigations.

Loyola University in Chicago is among those asking for the discretion to choose. Officials wrote that, regardless of where sexual misconduct takes place, "the lasting impact of such misconduct is likely to affect our students' education and sense of safety."

Further questions have emerged about the handling of online sexual harassment, which isn't explicitly addressed in the proposal. It's a major concern for many schools below the college level, which are bound by the same federal rules and have faced growing problems with cyberbullying.

The School Superintendents Association, which represents more than 13,000 education leaders, told the department it was "shocked" that the proposal seems to prevent schools from responding to online sexual misconduct.

"While monitoring and taking steps to address these activities can be burdensome, district policies have been built around doing so," the group wrote. "This would unduly tie the hands of school leaders who believe every child deserves a safe and healthy learning environment."

Even supporters of the rule say it needs clarification, but they contend it's a step in the right direction. Some argue that police are better equipped than schools to handle cases away from campus property, although advocates who work with victims counter that only a fraction of assaults are ever reported to police.

Cynthia Garrett, leader of Families Advocating for Campus Equality, a group that represents students accused of sexual misconduct, said existing rules have led some colleges to investigate sexual misconduct hundreds of miles away. She added that schools should handle some off campus cases, but only within reason.

"I just think it has to be a practical consideration. Is this something where the school has any power over the property? Can they go there? Can they look at the evidence?" she said. "It's very difficult to set a bright-line rule, which is unfortunate because it would certainly help matters."

The Education Department is now reviewing the public comments before it issues a final rule, a process expected to take several months.

Federal officials estimate that, if the rule is finalized, the number of off-campus cases schools investigate would fall by somewhere between 11 percent and 30 percent. As a result, the agency predicts, schools would collectively save up to $456 million over a decade.

Officials based their analysis on the assumption that about 40 percent of sexual assaults involving students take place off-campus, a statistic that comes from an insurance company's study of 305 sexual assault claims filed between 2011 and 2013. Some other surveys have put the figure above 60 percent.

Colleges say it's difficult to track exactly how many offenses take place off-campus. Many assaults are never reported. Sometimes the information is channeled through friends or professors who don't know where it happened.

At the University of Florida it was roughly an even split between off-campus and on-campus sexual assault complaints, according to the data obtained by the AP. Ohio State University had more cases on campus. The University of Maryland University College, which does not have residence halls and offers the majority of its classes online, says no sexual assaults have been reported in the past five years.

At the University of Central Florida, officials say they're awaiting the department's final rule but have not stopped investigating off-campus sexual misconduct complaints involving students or employees.

"It is the university's mission to provide a safe environment for all students and employees. Accordingly, we have no plans to change this practice, but we'll reassess if mandated to do so when the new regulations are issued by the federal government," Nancy Myers, director of the school's Office of Institutional Equity, said in a statement.

Anderson, the University of Texas official, said the school has no plans to narrow the scope of its work even if the final rule allows it. Although cases that arise off campus can be complicated, she said, the university will continue to investigate them unless it's explicitly forbidden.

"The complex cases are the ones that need our attention," Anderson said. "We have a duty to address those and respond to it appropriately."

___

Follow Collin Binkley on Twitter at https://twitter.com/cbinkley

Read More

News

  • A Texas man was arrested for allegedly slapping a 12-year-old Deer Park boy accused of bullying his stepdaughter in an incident that was caught on surveillance tape, according to news reports. >> Read more trending news  James Olander Peace is facing a felony injury to a child charge, but his wife told KTRK-TV that the court records don’t tell the whole story.  She wanted to remain anonymous but said her daughter was being bullied by two classmates and that her husband was just sticking up for the girl.  They said “that her body was ugly, said that she was a transvestite, started throwing ice cream at her and then they picked up the rocks,' the woman said, according to KTRK. The girl called her parents for a ride, and after Peace picked her up, they saw the two boys, authorities said. 'On the drive home, they happened to see the suspect juvenile walking and that's when the stepdad decided to stop and confront the kid,' Deer Park police Lt. Chris Brown said. The confrontation was caught on a surveillance camera, and Peace was seen shouting and hitting the boy, Brown said. 'He was slapped across the face with an open hand, had red marks and swelling to his cheek and upper jaw,' Brown said. >> Trending: School bus driver on heroin revived with Narcan after crash, police say The news station also reported that court records indicate Peace told the boy not to tell police or he’d beat him up. The boy did tell a teacher about the incident the next day, and Peace was arrested. He’s free on a $15,000 bond.
  • Police continue to investigate the reported attack against “Empire” actor Jussie Smollett, who told authorities he was assaulted in the predawn hours Jan. 29 by a pair of men who yelled racial and homophobic slurs at him. >> Read more trending news Update 8:50 p.m. EST Feb. 20: Smollett’s Chicago attorneys, Todd Pugh and Victor Henderson, released a statement following the indictment: “Like any other citizen, Mr. Smollett enjoys the presumption of innocence, particularly when there has been an investigation like this one where information, both true and false, has been repeatedly leaked. Given these circumstances, we intend to conduct a thorough investigation and to mount an aggressive defense.” Update 7:44 p.m. EST Feb. 20: The Chicago Tribune is reporting that Jussie Smollett has been charged with felony disorderly conduct for allegedly filing a false report on Jan.29. The charge is a Class 4 felony that carries a possible prison sentence of 1-3 years, but he could also receive probation. The bond hearing has been set for 1:30pm Thursday according to WLS-TV. Chicago police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi tweeted that detectives will make contact with his attorneys and negotiate a surrender for his arrest. Update 5:30 p.m. EST Feb. 20:  “Empire” actor Jussie Smollett is now considered a suspect and detectives are presenting case to grand jury according to the Chief Communications Officer for Chicago Police Department. Police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi tweeted the news on Wednesday after Smollett’s attorneys met with prosecutors and detectives. Update 4:30 p.m. EST Feb. 20: A police official said lawyers for Jussie Smollett are meeting with prosecutors and police investigators about the reported attack on the “Empire” actor.  Police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi told the Associated Press the meeting was taking place Wednesday afternoon. He declined to confirm reports that subpoenas had been issued for Smollett’s phone and bank records. Update 2:20 p.m. EST Feb. 20: Officials with 20th Century Fox Television and Fox Entertainment on Wednesday denied reports Smollett was being written out of “Empire” in a statement released to WBBM-TV. “Jussie Smollett continues to be a consummate professional on set and as we have previously stated, he is not being written out of the show,” the statement said. The comment followed reports that Smollett's role on the show was being slashed amid investigations into the actor's report that he was attacked in Chicago last month. Authorities continue to investigate. Update 9:30 a.m. EST Feb. 20: Cook County State's Attorney Kim Foxx recused herself Monday from the investigation into the reported attack against Smollett, according to WMAQ-TV. In a statement emailed to the station, a spokesperson for Foxx’s office said First Assistant State’s Attorney Joseph Magats would instead serve as acting state’s attorney in the case. “Out of an abundance of caution, the decision to recuse herself was made to address potential questions of impartiality based upon familiarity with potential witnesses in the case,” the statement said, according to WMAQ-TV. No further information was provided on the reason behind for the recusal. Chicago police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said Tuesday that authorities determined a tip they were investigating about a possible sighting of Smollett and the brothers who were previously suspected in the attack were unfounded. “It was not supported by video evidence obtained by detectives,” Guglielmi said. Original report: Authorities are investigating a tip that Smollett was seen in an elevator in his apartment building with two men who have since been arrested on suspicion of carrying out the attack in downtown Chicago, and were subsequently released without charges, police told The Associated Press. The men, who were identified by attorney Gloria Schmidt as brothers Olabinjo Osundairo and Abimbola Osundairo, were released without charges Friday after police said new evidence surfaced in the case, according to CNN and police.  >> 'I will only stand for love': 'Empire' actor Jussie Smollett performs in California after attack Police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi told The Associated Press a person who lives in the building or who was visiting someone there reported seeing the Osundairo brothers with Smollett on the night he was attacked. Guglielmi told the AP that as of Tuesday, officers had yet to confirm the account. Smollett told officers he was attacked around 2 a.m. Jan. 29, as he was walking downtown near the Chicago River. He said two men yelled that he was in “MAGA country” -- an apparent reference to President Donald Trump’s campaign slogan, “Make American Great Again” -- and that they hit him in the face, poured an “unknown substance” on him and wrapped a rope around his neck, The Associated Press reported. >> Jussie Smollett's attorneys say he will not meet with investigators, despite reports Guglielmi told the AP that Smollett still had a rope around his neck when officers first made contact with him after the alleged attack. Last week, police announced that the 'investigation had shifted' following interviews with the brothers and their release from custody without charges. Police have requested another interview with Smollett. They have declined to comment on reports that the attack was a hoax, a claim Smollett’s attorneys have denied. 'Nothing is further from the truth and anyone claiming otherwise is lying,' Smollett’s attorneys said in a statement late Saturday. Authorities continue to investigate. The Associated Press contributed to this report.
  • The Food and Drug Administration issued a warning Tuesday about new businesses offering blood transfusions from young donors. >> Read more trending news  Some companies, according to Yahoo News, “charge thousands of dollars to inject older patients with infusions of blood plasma from young donors.” In December, the Huffington Post detailed how one such company claimed these transfusions could reverse aging and provide something “pretty close” to immortality. None of those claims had any proof. “Simply put, we’re concerned that some patients are being preyed upon by unscrupulous actors touting treatments of plasma from young donors as cures and remedies,” the FDA said. “Such treatments have no proven clinical benefits for the uses for which these clinics are advertising them and are potentially harmful.”  >> Related: Nearly half of US adults have heart or blood vessel disease The FDA statement, which is credited to Commissioner Scott Gottlieb and FDA director Peter Marks, warns consumers these treatments have not been tested to show they actually help patients. In fact, the FDA says, the transfusions may hurt the recipient. “Plasma administration is not without risks,” the men wrote. “The more common risks are allergic reactions and transfusion-associated circulatory overload.” Less common risks include acute lung injury, infectious disease transmission or circulatory overload, the FDA warned. Plasma is the liquid part of blood, containing blood-clotting proteins. The FDA said there are a few instances where a plasma transfer has proved to be safe and useful. For example, patients whose blood is unable to clot because of illness or medication might receive a plasma transfer. In such a case, the benefits (helps the patient’s blood to clot) outweigh the risks (allergic reactions, etc.). However, even then, the patient still faces the same risks inherent to transfusions. >> Related: Feeling stressed? Thinking of your romantic partner can help lower blood pressure, study says “As a general matter, we will consider taking regulatory and enforcement actions against companies that abuse the trust of patients and endanger their health with uncontrolled manufacturing conditions or by promoting so-called ‘treatments’ that haven’t been proven safe or effective for any use,” the FDA said.
  • Some 3,000 outdoor turkey fryers are under recall over a potential oil leak that could cause a fire. >> Read more trending news  The voluntarily recall involves the Academy Sports + Outdoor Gourmet Turkey Keg fryer, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, described as a stainless steel fryer powered by propane. The spout can leak oil and pose a fire hazard, the CPSC said. The fryer’s item number, 157826, is located on one of the legs. The safety organization is urging owners to return the fryers as soon as possible to any Academy Sports + Outdoor stores for a full refund plus a $50 Academy gift card.  
  • Roosevelt Warm Springs Rehabilitation Hospital may have a grand history, and it may have disabled patients it helps to regain function. But it’s also just another rural Georgia hospital in danger of closing. The facility established by Franklin Delano Roosevelt has filed an emergency request for a federal judge to rein in the agency that runs Medicare, saying the federal government’s actions put it close to financial ruin. Lawyers for the hospital said the bureaucracy surrounding a disputed $585,000 in bills has cut off ongoing Medicare payments to the institution, payments that are the hospital’s lifeblood. Moreover, the hospital says, the government will likely take years to process the hospital’s appeal. By then, it will be too late. A judge will hear arguments March 5. “I would be heartbroken if it were to close,” said Beth Hadley, a County Commission member for Meriwether County, where the facility is located. She had not heard about the dispute. “Just the work they do is phenomenal,” Hadley said. “Lots of folks use their services. And the number of jobs they provide – good jobs.” Warm Springs is a tiny town located between Columbus and Atlanta. But it is known nationwide for the “Little White House” that FDR built there. The retreat, where he died, is now run as a historic site by the state. Roosevelt, unusual in catching polio as an adult, came to the Warm Springs area initially because he had been told the mineral spring waters there had healing powers. They didn’t heal him, and for the rest of his life he could stand and walk only with braces and support. But he came to feel benefits from swimming in Warm Springs. In 1927, five years before he was elected president, Roosevelt bought the resort property and established a polio treatment facility. That facility evolved and was resold. Now that vaccination has eliminated polio in the United States, the hospital, run by Augusta University Health, rehabilitates about 400 patients a year with a range of problems, including strokes and neurological and orthopedic conditions. The hospital has its own debt, running at a $637,000 loss last year, it said. Managers attribute its struggle partly to rural Georgia’s health care voids. It’s located far from regular hospitals that typically are a source of patient referrals to rehab centers, and it treats a high number of patients who are on Medicaid and Medicare, which don’t pay much. But, its lawyers said, the desperate situation now stems from cases the hospital billed to Medicare. The agency that runs Medicare, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, or CMS, said the hospital billed the CMS for too much care in about 16 cases. The CMS says it shouldn’t have paid the improper bills, and now it wants the money back. It’s started withholding the hospital’s regular Medicare reimbursements until the “debt” is repaid, a process known as “recoupment.” But what actually happened won’t be clear for years. That’s because CMS-hired auditors who identify overpayments are found to be wrong more than half the time when someone appeals. That problem causes a domino effect. The audits are so problematic that appeals have skyrocketed, jamming the waiting list. The law guarantees hospitals an appeal to an impartial administrative law judge within 90 days, but the backlog stretches years. The federal government has investigated the backlog and made the CMS report on its progress, and yet the wait still takes years. In the meantime, hospitals and treatment facilities cut down services or close down while waiting for their appeals. “It’s an especially draconian measure in that if the facility is challenging the audit, they often complete recoupment before they exhaust their appeals,” said Anna Grizzle, a lawyer in Tennessee who represents facilities dealing with the federal process. After the appeals finally make their way through, when a facility gets the CMS auditor overturned, the government writes a check with interest. “That interest payment is frankly little comfort if the provider’s been put out of business,” she said. Warm Springs hired its own auditor, who told it that the CMS auditor was wrong and that the hospital hardly owed anything. The hospital did get two chances at appeals within the CMS before the federal agency began keeping the money. The CMS said it hadn’t made a mistake. That CMS decision is where the recoupment begins. But the appeal at the next level, before an independent administrative law judge, is one where hospitals really have a chance, experts said. Yet recoupment isn’t put on hold for that. The hospital and lawyers who deal with such cases also point out that the CMS contractors have incentive to decide that the agency overpaid. In some cases the contractors are rehired on the basis that they’ve shown they can do a good job recognizing overpayments. In others, they’re paid a commission on whatever they said was overpaid. Jimmy Lewis, whose business Hometown Health is a consultant to rural Georgia hospitals, said he hears from clients about Medicare recoupment clawbacks “on a regular basis.” “Usually there’s not a lot of room for them to have any recovery,” he said. “The way those things work, you basically get a letter, it’s kind of their way or the highway.” And since many of the facilities often just have a few days’ cash flow in the bank, he added, “That can be a killer, there’s no question about it.” Both Augusta University Health, which runs the Warm Springs hospital, and the CMS declined to comment, citing ongoing litigation. A lawyer who researched Medicare recoupments for the Emory Law Journal, Maleaka Guice, said regulation surrounding recoupment has to be changed. In bankruptcies Medicare keeps taking money in spite of ongoing appeals even though all other creditors are put on hold, said Guice, who works with Grizzle. But even if the rules are finally changed to put recoupment on hold through all levels of appeals, “they have got to get that backlog down,” Guice said. “It’s a lack of due process to wait three to five years to go in front of a neutral judge,” she said. Stay on top of what’s happening in Georgia government and politics at ajc.com/news/georgia-government/.
  • Twitter descended into a furor after discovering an emoji that supposedly showed a rainbow flag with a crossed-out circle over it. >> Read more trending news However, this emoji does not exist. The talk began yesterday when one user tweeted the image, according to Fast Company. On iPhones, the tweet showed the crossed-out circle on the LGBT flag emoji. » New emojis are coming for 2019, include service dogs, inclusivity, sloth This is a bit of text trickery. The crossed-out circle is a special character that covers the previous letter or emoji. If you copy and paste it, the circle covers any previous character, not just the rainbow flag emoji. Jeremy Burge, who lists his title on Twitter as “chief emoji officer” for Emojipedia, set the record straight, saying, “It's literally how that character works in combo with any emoji or character.” Burge pointed out that in situations like this, it can be hard to differentiate which Twitter users have been genuinely fooled and which ones are pretending to be fooled as a joke. See for yourself: The special character is part of Unicode, which is a standard set of characters computers use to handle text. The latest version contains more than 137,000 characters to handle languages from English to Arabic as well as emojis and symbols.