BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Louisiana’s college administrators will start receiving training this summer on new requirements for how sexual misconduct claims must be handled and what safety measures must be enacted, the state’s higher education chief said Wednesday.
Lawmakers in the just-ended legislative session passed several bills spelling out who is required to report allegations of sexual harassment, abuse and dating violence allegations and what steps must be followed for dealing with any claims. The tightened standards came in response to years of widespread mishandling of sexual misconduct claims at Louisiana State University.
Gov. John Bel Edwards has said he intends to sign the measures into law.
Commissioner of Higher Education Kim Hunter Reed said her staff at the Board of Regents is working now to ready for the training and reporting the agency will be required to oversee. The training requirement must be fulfilled by June 2022. Reed told the board, which oversees higher education policymaking for the state, that she wants the instruction done more quickly.
“We will train this summer to try to do everything we can to have the (college) management boards, the Board of Regents and the institutions ready for this fall, along the line with the new state law and the new expectations,” Reed said at the monthly Regents’ meeting.
Colleges will be required to fire employees who don’t report sexual misconduct, harassment and abuse allegations covered under federal Title IX laws — or who make reports that are knowingly false. They will have to follow new training requirements and publish detailed reports online about how they handle misconduct claims. The new law will ban retaliation against people who report allegations and limit their liability from lawsuits.
LSU hired independent law firm Husch Blackwell to review its response to sexual misconduct complaints after reporting by USA Today scrutinized the university’s handling of assault cases implicating two former football players. The blistering report outlined multiple examples of the university ignoring student allegations of rape, domestic violence and assault.
Louisiana’s female lawmakers held hours of hearings to go through the report and hear from students and others who said their abuse went unaddressed by university officials, particularly in LSU’s athletic department. The bills — including the primary measures sponsored by Republican Sen. Beth Mizell and Democratic Rep. Aimee Freeman — arose from those hearings.
The proposals aimed to close loopholes found in previous college campus safety laws passed in recent years.
After the report, the Board of Regents requested information from all four of the state’s public college systems about its Title IX policies and its rules for handling sexual assault claims, to review their compliance with existing laws — even before the new toughened regulations were passed by lawmakers.
An attorney hired by the Board of Regents to review the 500 pages of responses told the panel Wednesday that she identified gaps in campuses’ existing policies and a lack of compliance with the laws already on the books.
Nina Gupta, with the Atlanta-based law firm Nelson Mullins, said the review combined with the latest requirements passed by lawmakers will give schools the ability to “shore up any deficiencies that we might have.” She offered detailed recommendations for minimum requirements that she suggested should be in place across the four college systems.
Follow Melinda Deslatte on Twitter at http://twitter.com/melindadeslatte.