By Terri Mock - March 15, 2021
In October 2020, the Department of Education announced it was rescinding the Handbook for Campus Safety and Security Reporting and replacing it with an appendix to the Federal Student Aid (FSA) Handbook. The purpose of this change is to simplify the Department's guidance for Clery Act compliance and “reduce the regulatory burden on institutions”.
The Handbook for Campus Safety and Security Reporting is widely regarded as the ultimate go-to source for Clery Act compliance. It's 256 pages provide step-by-step guidance on how the Department of Education interprets the Act's statutory and regulatory provisions; and, although the handbook has no legal standing, its guidelines are the basis for many policy decisions.
By comparison, the content replacing the existing guidance is thirteen pages in length and has been tagged onto the FSA Handbook as an Appendix. Although nothing has changed with regards to the laws colleges and universities are required to comply with, the Department of Education claims the revised version reverses the overreach of past guidance and reduces the complexity of compliance.
In the press release announcing the 2021 update to the FSA Campus Safety Handbook, the department wrote: “Our goal was to provide guidance to institutions that would enable them to focus on maintaining a safe and secure environment, rather than spending time and resources generating reports that few students or parents consult, and that could overwhelm them with excessive data that obscures the most important and helpful parts of these reports.”
The primary difference between the former, comprehensive guidance and the new, abridged version is that the department has stripped out the “how to” sections (i.e., how to present crime statistics, etc.), accompanying explanations, summaries, and examples, and replaced them with language from the Clery Act as it appears in the Federal Register (CFR § 668.46) and little else.
The department claims this gives colleges and universities greater flexibility over how they interpret the language of the Clery Act. However, institutional interpretations will have to be “reasonable”, documented, and disclosed to recipients of Clery Act reports or other applicable crime statistics. Furthermore, “re-interpreted” and revised policies cannot be applied retrospectively.
The change in guidance has been criticized by some organizations for “making one less resource available to help answer persistent questions”; but, while the reduced regulatory burden may have been replaced by an increased administrative burden, there are some positive takeaways from the update to the FSA Campus Safety Handbook. These include:
In the Handbook for Campus Safety and Security Reporting, the guidance for on-campus geography states “it is reasonable to consider locations within one mile of your campus border to be reasonably contiguous with your campus”. The department believes that this guidance - and similar suggestions relating to non-campus buildings and public property – goes beyond the scope of the Clery Act and places an unreasonable expectation on colleges and universities to protect students off-campus. Consequently, any language that may result in unreasonable expectations has been removed.
The Department believes that the explanations, summaries, and examples of reportable Clery crimes took up a large section of the Handbook for Campus Safety and Security Reporting and may have “created misconceptions” for colleges and universities inasmuch as some institutions might have included some crimes in their reports that were not included by other institutions. Therefore, the new version of the guidance has removed the definitions of Clery crimes and instead refers readers to regulatory-defined sources at CFR § 668.46(c)(9) and Appendix A to subpart D of part 668.
Guidance relating to who is regarded to be a Campus Security Officer (CSA) has also been updated due to the previous guidelines potentially encompassing any person with “significant responsibility for campus and student activities”. The department feels this led to campus staff being identified as CSAs when they should not have been, and while it will defer to institutions' “reasonable determinations of who constitutes a SCA”, the Department refers colleges and universities to the regulatory definition of a Campus Security Officer in CFR § 668.46(av).
Although the new “Appendix A” guidance may be considerably less than its predecessor, nothing has changed with regards to the language of the Clery Act or how it will be enforced. While the new guidance gives colleges and universities more flexibility in developing campus safety policies – and hopefully removes previous misconceptions – institutions still have to comply with the Act.
To help colleges and universities comply with the Clery Act, we have several resources available. Last year we published blogs discussing how university systems can save money on Clery Act communication compliance and clearing up Clery Act myths during remote learning. There is also a webinar in which Abigail Boyer of the Clery Center clarifies the VAWA amendments of the Clery Act.
If you would like any further information about Clery Act compliance, do not hesitate to get in touch with our campus safety team. Our team will be happy to discuss any issues you have encountered with the new Department of Education guidance and explain how Rave Mobile Safety solutions for higher education can help protect and engage campus populations.
Terri Mock is Rave's Chief Strategy & Marketing Officer, overseeing strategy, product, and marketing. She is an executive leader with achievements in delivering revenue growth, driving go-to-market, innovating products, and scaling operations from high-tech startups to global companies.