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

Dozens of Democratic Senators Express Concerns About DeVos and Civil Rights

By Alyson Klein — June 27, 2017 2 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and 33 other Democratic senators have major concerns with the direction of the civil rights enforcement under U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. And they’ve sent her a six-page letter letting her know how they feel.

The letter doesn’t mince words: Here’s a snippet:

Your testimony in front of Congress, your continued association with groups with records of supporting discrimination, and two memos written by the Acting Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights, have reemphasized longstanding concerns about your dedication to the idea that all students, no matter their race, religion, disability, country of origin, sex, sexual orientation, or gender identity, have a right to receive an education free from discrimination.

A spokeswoman for DeVos didn’t immediately respond to an email asking for the secretary’s take on the letter.

The Democratic lawmakers point to recent actions taken by DeVos’ department. Those include a new policy surrounding Office of Civil Rights investigations announced by acting assistant secretary for civil rights Candice Jackson. That policy, announced in an internal memo first obtained by ProPublica, calls for a lot less emphasis on examining individual complaints for evidence of systemic discrimination.

The senators are also worried that DeVos isn’t looking out for transgender students’ rights. They point to the Trump administration’s decision to rescind Obama-era guidance calling for transgender students to be able to use the bathroom that matches their gender identity. And they’re worried that Jackson downplayed the importance of transgender student rights in another internal memo, which pledged to focusing on bullying, as opposed to the bathroom question.

The senators are also unhappy that DeVos invited groups with a historic record of supporting policies such as gay conversion therapy, including the Family Research Council, to a Father’s Day event at the department on June 15.

That invitation came after DeVos distanced herself from donations to the organization made by members of her family at her confirmation hearing. The senators are also upset that the department’s headquarters will no longer have as much authority over investigations at regional centers.

The senators are not pleased that DeVos hired Adam Kissel, who formerly worked at the conservative Koch network to serve as a deputy assistant secretary for higher education programs. Kissel has been skeptical of the standard of proof advocated by the Obama administration for colleges investigating sexual assault and harassment claims.

And, unsurprisingly, the senators don’t like the Trump administration’s proposal to trim the office for civil rights’ budget by 7 percent, or 46 full-time workers. That will lead to ballooning caseloads for the folks who remain, the senators fear.

The senators, of course, aren’t the only ones taking issue with the Trump administration’s handling of civil rights. The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, which is headed up by Catherine Lhamon, who lead OCR in the education department during the Obama administration, recently launched a two year investigation on the Trump administration’s handling of the issue, signaling out DeVos.

The senators have a long list of asks for DeVos and her team to address some of these concerns. They want a list of open cases involving transgender students, and to know the status of each case. And they’re looking for a list of cases OCR has closed this year, and the reason for each closure. They also want copies of any internal memos dealing with civil rights enforcement. (More on the fourth page of the letter.)

The letter was signed by just about every one of the Senate’s 44 Democrats. Noteably absent from the list: Senators in states President Donald Trump won, who have a tough re-election battle ahead in 2018. That includes: Sens. Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Claire McCaskill of Missouri, and Jon Tester of Montana.


Follow us on Twitter at @PoliticsK12.

Related Tags:

Commenting has been disabled on edweek.org effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


Events

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
Teaching Webinar
What’s Next for Teaching and Learning? Key Trends for the New School Year
The past 18 months changed the face of education forever, leaving teachers, students, and families to adapt to unprecedented challenges in teaching and learning. As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and
Content provided by Instructure
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
Curriculum Webinar
How Data and Digital Curriculum Can Drive Personalized Instruction
As we return from an abnormal year, it’s an educator’s top priority to make sure the lessons learned under adversity positively impact students during the new school year. Digital curriculum has emerged from the pandemic
Content provided by Kiddom
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
Equity & Diversity Webinar
Leadership for Racial Equity in Schools and Beyond
While the COVID-19 pandemic continues to reveal systemic racial disparities in educational opportunity, there are revelations to which we can and must respond. Through conscientious efforts, using an intentional focus on race, school leaders can
Content provided by Corwin

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 Feds Add Florida to List of States Under Investigation Over Restrictions on Mask Mandates
The Education Department told the state Sept. 10 it will probe whether its mask rule is violating the rights of students with disabilities.
3 min read
Surrounded by lawmakers, Florida Gov.Ron DeSantis speaks at the end of a legislative session on April 30, 2021, in Tallahassee, Fla.
Surrounded by lawmakers, Florida Gov.Ron DeSantis speaks at the end of a legislative session on April 30, 2021, in Tallahassee, Fla.
Wilfredo Lee/AP
Federal How Biden Will Mandate Teacher Vaccines, Testing in Some States That Don't Require Them
President Joe Biden's COVID-19 plan will create new teacher vaccination and testing requirements in some states through worker safety rules.
4 min read
Nurse Sara Muela, left, administers the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine to educator Rebecca Titus at a vaccination site setup for teachers and school staff at the Berks County Intermediate Unit in Reading, Pa., on March 15, 2021.
Nurse Sara Muela administers a COVID-19 vaccine to educator Rebecca Titus at a vaccination site for at the Berks County Intermediate Unit in Reading, Pa.
Matt Rourke/AP
Federal Biden Pushes Schools to Expand COVID-19 Testing, Get More Teachers Vaccinated
President Joe Biden set teacher vaccine requirements for federally operated schools as part of a new effort to drive down COVID's spread.
7 min read
President Joe Biden speaks in the State Dining Room at the White House, Thursday, Sept. 9, 2021, in Washington. Biden is announcing sweeping new federal vaccine requirements affecting as many as 100 million Americans in an all-out effort to increase COVID-19 vaccinations and curb the surging delta variant.
President Joe Biden in a speech from the White House announces sweeping new federal vaccine requirements and other efforts in an renewed effort to stem the COVID-19 pandemic.
Andrew Harnik/AP
Federal Education Department Opens Civil Rights Probes in 5 States That Ban School Mask Mandates
The move on behalf of students with disabilities deepens the fight over masks between the Biden administration and GOP governors.
4 min read
Kindergarten students sit in their classroom on the first day of in-person learning at Maurice Sendak Elementary School in Los Angeles on April 13, 2021.
Kindergarten students sit in their classroom on the first day of in-person learning at Maurice Sendak Elementary School in Los Angeles in April 2021.
Jae C. Hong/AP