The National Women’s Law Center (NWLC) filed a suit Monday against the U.S. Department of Education (DOE) for failing to give the organization data it wanted on sexual harassment in schools.
The feminist nonprofit alleges in its lawsuit that the DOE violated the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) by not releasing records of pending sexual harassment investigations and other data related to Title IX in response to its January request.
The NWLC argues the issue is pressing because Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has not favored the stricter Title IX enforcement guidelines instituted during the Obama administration.
The women’s rights nonprofit claims the data is “a matter of public concern,” and that the Education Department’s data on Title IX ― the education law barring discrimination based on sex in schools that receive federal funding ― is required to understand how the department is handling its enforcement under the Trump administration.
NWLC president-elect Fatima Goss Graves said in a statement:
Radio silence from the Department of Education in response to our simple request to see documents about its enforcement of prohibitions against sexual harassment in schools is totally unacceptable… Without the release of these documents, students, families, and advocates are kept in the dark … survivors won’t know if they can trust the government to intervene on their behalf.
Federal agencies are not expeditious in responding to records requests and usually acknowledge FOIA requests within 20 days — at which point they can grant a request or specify why one was denied — so courts give them some breathing room. According to the NWLC’s complaint, the Education Department denied the FOIA petition “due to the backlog of requests.”
Since April 2011, the Department of Education has conducted 397 investigations related to colleges allegedly mishandling sexual assault reports, 355 of which are still pending, according to The Chronicle of Higher Education.
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