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Civil Rights Groups Blast Betsy DeVos’ ‘Lack of Respect’ for Student Diversity

By Andrew Ujifusa — December 12, 2016 2 min read
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A coalition of civil rights groups are registering their concern that education secretary nominee Betsy DeVos’ track record does not square with the U.S. Department of Education’s mission of “fostering educational excellence and ensuring equal access” for all students.

At the same time, DeVos is pushing back on the specific idea that she favors school choice at the expense of public education.

In a Dec. 12 statement, the 33 groups argue that DeVos’ record of support for groups opposed to LGBTQ rights, and her criticism of affirmative action policies, “demonstrate a lack of respect and appreciation for the diversity of our nation’s classrooms and fail to recognize a long and pernicious history of discrimination against groups of students.”

And more broadly, they say her support for vouchers and opposition to “appropriate oversight” for charter schools, among other things, indicate a disregard for concerns about school segregation and raise questions about her commitment to fairness in education.

“While we have heard little of DeVos’ record with regard to the rights and interests of English learners, immigrant students, students with disabilities and religious minorities, we are deeply troubled by the unacceptable rhetoric of the President-elect during his campaign and the absence of a record of DeVos’ support for these students,” says the statement from the coalition, which includes the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, the NAACP, and GLSEN.

How Trump and DeVos (if she is confirmed by the Senate) will handle civil rights issues at the Education Department has been one of the major questions surrounding DeVos since President-elect Donald Trump announced her as his education secretary pick last month.

It’s important to remember that DeVos and many fellow educational choice advocates say that providing a broader set of school options to parents and children directly promotes students’ civil rights. During her remarks at this year’s annual meeting of the American Federation for Children, the pro-school-choice group DeVos led until recently, she said choice advocates fight for the kids who don’t fit in.

A statement issued Monday by a spokesman for DeVos says in part: “Nobody’s been a more forceful advocate for strengthening public education than Betsy. And, as it turns out, it’s almost impossible to find a single fan of her who doesn’t support public education. They’re all rooting for public schools to succeed.”

The statement also highlights an op-ed by Bill Schuette, Michigan’s attorney general, in which Schuette writes, “DeVos believes we should advance on all fronts: better quality in traditional public schools and better quality in charter public schools. Different children learn differently, and it makes perfect sense to offer a wide array of options for parents and children to choose from.”

And at a Friday rally with Trump, DeVos said, “I trust parents and I believe in our children” but significantly downplayed the power of Washington and the federal bureaucracy to improve schools.

President-elect Donald Trump, left, listens as his pick for Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, right, speaks during a rally at DeltaPlex Arena, Friday, Dec. 9, 2016, in Grand Rapids, Mich. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

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