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Democratic Senators, Tri-Caucus to Betsy DeVos: Protect Students’ Civil Rights

By Alyson Klein — July 09, 2017 2 min read
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The Trump administration is sending some very troubling signals on civil rights, dozens of House Democratic lawmakers and seven senators wrote in a recent letter to U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos.

“This administration’s proposed budget and staffing cuts for the Department of Education’s office for civil rights (OCR), and the repeal of important civil rights policy guidance, signals, at best, a troubling hands-off approach to protecting the civil rights of students across the country and, at worse, a complete undermining of the equal protections guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution,” the lawmakers wrote in a letter dated July 5, “We urge your administration to not just commit to protecting the civil rights of all students in this country, but to also do so proactively and with the utmost urgency.”

The letter was signed by 64 lawmakers, including members of the Congressional Black caucus, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, and the Congressional Asian Pacific Americans. (Read the full letter here.)

The lawmakers are alarmed by the Trump administration’s plans to slash staff at the office for civil rights by 7 percent, or 46 employees, as well as its roll back of Obama-era guidance aimed at protecting transgender students’ rights, among other big changes. And they are unnerved by DeVos’ decision to revamp civil rights procedures used during the Obama administration. The Trump administration will put much less of an emphasis on investigating individual complaints for evidence of broader, systemic discrimination.

The so-called “Tri-Caucus” was joined by more than half a dozen senators, including two often mentioned as presidential candidates, Sens. Cory Booker of New Jersey, and Kamala Harris of California, a sign that civil rights enforcement could be an issue in the 2020 race for the White House. (Booker used to team up with DeVos on school choice issues before she joined the administration). Other senators signing the letter included those who are part of minority groups or represent states with a high-minority population, including Sens. Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada, Brian Schatz of Hawaii, Robert Menendez of New Jersey, and Tammy Duckworth of Illinois.

This isn’t the first time that Democratic lawmakers have sounded the alarm bells about DeVos’ enforcement of students’ civil rights. Earlier this summer, the Congressional Black Caucus refused to meet with Trump, in part because of concerns about his education secretary’s commitment to civil rights. And the U.S. Commission has launched an investigation into the Trump administration’s handling of the issue, which includes a focus on the Education Department.

Photo: Education Secretary Betsy DeVos addresses Education Department staff, Wednesday, Feb. 8, 2017, at the Education Department in Washington. (AP Photo/Molly Riley)