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Advocacy Groups Urge DeVos to Rethink Approach to Civil Rights

By Andrew Ujifusa — April 24, 2017 2 min read
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More than two dozen civil rights and education advocacy groups have asked U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos to shift her thinking on civil rights issues affecting students, and urged her to reconsider her recent hire to be the acting leader of the U.S. Department of Education’s office for civil rights.

In a Monday letter, groups including the American Federation of Teachers, the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, and the NAACP criticized DeVos’ selection of Candice Jackson, a former attorney in private practice in Washington state, to be the acting assistant secretary for civil rights at the department. The groups said Jackson appeared “to be ignorant of the history and continued presence of race and sex discrimination,” given her past remarks that affirmative action policies in higher education represents racial discrimination against whites.

They also expressed concerns about DeVos’ early moves on civil rights, including the Trump administration’s decision to withdraw Obama-era guidance intended to provide additional protections for transgender students.

"[The office for civil rights’] enforcement, policy, and data responsibilities have considerable impact on whether or not students’ constitutional and statutory rights to equal protection under the law are meaningful and whether marginalized students receive the supports and attention they deserve to achieve their dreams,” the groups told DeVos in the letter. “These responsibilities are central to the work of the Department of Education.”

A recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling could affect that process if the White House were to formally nominate Jackson or other acting secretaries to take on those jobs on a permanent basis. Jackson and others did not have to go through Senate confirmation. But as Mark Walsh notes at the School Law blog, the court’s decision in National Labor Relations Board v. SW General Inc. could end up requiring them to first give up their current positions in order to to be nominated for the full-fledged assistant secretary positions.

Read the full letter from the civil rights groups to DeVos below.

On Wednesday, the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and 24 other organizations separately urged DeVos not to “rubber stamp” states’ submitted ESSA plans. “Parents and communities send children to school every day with the expectation that that school is doing its job and preparing their children for future success. They have the right to know that their state is committed to their children’s education and has a plan for what to do when a school is not educating well and needs help,” the letter to DeVos states.

Check out our handy interactive chart of highlights from states’ ESSA plans here. And read the letter on ESSA plans.

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