Legislation from one of President Donald Trump’s most vocal opponents in Congress would take aim at the approach to education civil rights probes adopted by U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos.
Last week, Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., introduced the Education Department Civil Rights Transparency Act, which would require the Department of Education to disclose academic institutions that were the subject of investigations by the department’s office for civil rights. The legislation would also require the department to post agreements between the Education Department and academic institutions, including the effectiveness of steps taken by the institutions to address civil rights issues.
DeVos’ approach to civil rights has been one of the most controversial elements of her tenure. The secretary has changed the department’s process for how it reviews and investigates civil rights complaints, as part of a general change in how DeVos and her team approach civil rights investigations DeVos has said that she is committed to improving the efficiency and speed at which the office for civil rights handles cases, in order to better serve more students.
However, Democrats on Capitol Hill and several advocacy groups have reacted in alarm. They say that the department under DeVos will simply shunt aside many legitimate civil rights complaints.
Under the Trump administration, the Education Department has revoked Obama-era guidance to schools that supporters saw as a step forward for the civil rights of transgender students and for racial diversity in education. Critics of these Obama administration initiatives say they were improperly burdensome for schools.
The Obama administration posted resolutions in civil rights cases online. The Education Department under Trump posts some details about pending civil rights investigations online, including the name of the school district and the type of violation alleged, but not the name of the school itself.
In a statement, Waters said she had looked on in “horror” at how DeVos had handled civil rights investigations.
“Betsy DeVos has launched a full-on assault on civil rights protections for students—particularly students of color, students with disabilities, transgender students, and survivors of sexual assault—all in the name of greater efficiency. However, a Department of Education that ignores its mandate to enforce federal civil rights laws isn’t efficient, it’s delinquent,” she said.
In addition to the elements listed above, Waters’ bill would also require the Education Department to publicly disclose:
- “Instances in which the Department determines a complaint does not allege a civil rights violation over which it has jurisdiction—for instance, if a student alleges discrimination based on gender identity and the Department does not consider that allegation to be a civil rights issue.”
- “Any changes made, in the preceding year, to the manual used by the Department’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) to investigate complaints of civil rights violations.”
- “Any complaints dismissed for administrative or procedural reasons, and for such complaints, whether the Department offered the complainant the opportunity to correct the administrative or procedural error(s).”
Waters’ bill doesn’t stand much of a chance this Congress, but it does reinforce Democrats’ anti-DeVos message heading into the midterm elections as the party seeks to take back control of the House.
Photo: Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., center, and other members of Congress finish a news conference as they introduce the “Secure America from Russian Interference Act,” on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, July 19, 2018. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)