Blog

Your Education Road Map

Politics K-12®

ESSA. Congress. State chiefs. School spending. Elections. Education Week reporters keep watch on education policy and politics in the nation’s capital and in the states. Read more from this blog.

Federal

Biden Pick for Education Civil Rights Office Has History With Racial Equity, LGBTQ Issues

By Evie Blad — May 13, 2021 2 min read
Flags decorate a space outside the office of the Education Secretary at the Education Department in Washington on Aug. 9, 2017.
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

President Joe Biden plans to nominate Catherine Lhamon to serve as assistant secretary for civil rights at the U.S. Department of Education, a role she previously held in the Obama administration.

The impending nomination of Lhamon, currently a White House adviser, signals plans for an aggressive civil rights push by the Biden Education Department. She will help direct efforts in areas like racial equity, LGBTQ rights, schools’ response to sexual assault and harassment, and efforts to root out systemic inequality in schools.

In a 2017 interview with Education Week after she’d left the Obama administration, Lhamon called the Trump administration’s approach to education civil rights “distressing and dangerous.”

See Also

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos arrives for an event in the State Dining room of the White House in Washington. As millions of American children start the school year online, the Trump administration is hoping to convert their parents’ frustration and anger into newfound support for school choice policies that DeVos has long championed but struggled to advance nationally.
U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos arrives at a White House event in August. Civil rights activists expect the next education secretary will restore guidance to schools that she rescinded on transgender students’ rights, sexual assault, and school integration efforts.
AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, File
Federal Schools Could See U-Turn on Civil Rights Under Biden
Christina A. Samuels, December 2, 2020
8 min read

In her previous tenure at the department, she oversaw the creation of two key pieces of civil rights guidance: a directive that said transgender students had the right to access school facilities, like locker rooms and restrooms, that matched their gender identity; and another that said schools may be in violation of federal civil rights laws if they have significant racial disparities in discipline rates.

Both of those directives were overturned by the Trump administration, and Biden has said he will reinstate them.

Under Lhamon, the Education Department responded to civil rights complaints by examining school and district data to look for broader patterns of discrimination, rather than focusing solely on the incident in question. The Trump administration also steered away from that approach, calling it overreach.

“Unfortunately, in the past four years, all we saw was blatant efforts to dodge civil rights under the law,” Lhamon told Education Week in December.

Lhamon currently serves on the White House Domestic Policy Council. Before that, she chaired the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.

Nominee will face a full agenda

If confirmed by the Senate, she will join the Education Department as it confronts several key civil rights issues.

The agency is undergoing efforts to review and rewrite its policies for enforcement of Title IX, the federal law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in schools. That work will touch on schools’ obligations to respond to reports of sexual assault and harassment and the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender students.

The Education Department has also opened investigations into some school districts to determine if they adequately served students with disabilities during the COVID-19 pandemic.

And U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona has stressed concerns about racial equity at a time of tense public debate over the issue.

“We are thrilled to have Catherine serving as Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights and know she will continue to fight for fairness, equity, and justice for all of America’s students,” Cardona said in a statement Thursday, as the administration announced its intent to nominate her.

Events

Special Education Webinar Reading, Dyslexia, and Equity: Best Practices for Addressing a Threefold Challenge
Learn about proven strategies for instruction and intervention that support students with dyslexia.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Personalized Learning Webinar
No Time to Waste: Individualized Instruction Will Drive Change
Targeted support and intervention can boost student achievement. Join us to explore tutoring’s role in accelerating the turnaround. 
Content provided by Varsity Tutors for Schools
Student Well-Being K-12 Essentials Forum Social-Emotional Learning: Making It Meaningful
Join us for this event with educators and experts on the damage the pandemic did to academic and social and emotional well-being.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Federal What the Federal 'Don't Say Gay' Bill Actually Says
The bill would restrict federal funds for lessons on LGBTQ identities. The outcome of this week's election could revive its prospects.
4 min read
Demonstrators gather on the steps of the Florida Historic Capitol Museum in front of the Florida State Capitol on March 7, 2022, in Tallahassee, Fla. Florida House Republicans advanced a bill, dubbed by opponents as the "Don't Say Gay" bill, to forbid discussions of sexual orientation and gender identity in schools, rejecting criticism from Democrats who said the proposal demonizes LGBTQ people.
Demonstrators gather on the steps of the Florida Historic Capitol Museum in Tallahassee on March 7, 2022. Florida's "Don't Say Gay" law was a model for a federal bill introduced last month.
Wilfredo Lee/AP
Federal Fed's Education Research Board Is Back. Here's Why That Matters
Defunct for years, the National Board for Education Sciences has new members and new priorities.
2 min read
Image of a conference table.
vasabii/iStock/Getty
Federal Opinion NAEP Needs to Be Kept at Arm’s Length From Politics
It’s in all our interests to ensure NAEP releases are buffered from political considerations and walled off from political appointees.
4 min read
Image shows a multi-tailed arrow hitting the bullseye of a target.
DigitalVision Vectors/Getty
Federal Feds Emphasize Legal Protections for Pregnant or Recently Pregnant Students, Employees
The U.S. Department of Education has released a new resource summary related to pregnancy discrimination in schools.
2 min read
Young girl checking her pregnancy test, sitting on beige couch at home.
iStock/Getty Images Plus