Betsy DeVos: Dismantling Civil Rights Policy in Education Since 2017

As U.S. Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos has a civil rights record that is either despicable or stellar, depending on whom you ask. Like other members of Trump’s cabinet, one of Betsy DeVos’ chief goals appears to be to systematically reverse Obama-era legislation, as well as other established civil rights policies.

Here are just four out of many of Betsy DeVos’ notable acts regarding civil rights in American schools:

    • At the beginning of her tenure as Education Secretary, DeVos recommended hefty spending cuts to the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights. The proposed reductions included cutting approximately 40 jobs, part of a $3.8 million reduction. (Congress, even though it is controlled by DeVos’ party, voted against DeVos’ recommendations and instead increased funding for the agency.)
    • Not long after Betsy DeVos was at the helm, the Office for Civil Rights drafted a memo to agency investigators that proved to be the beginning of a trend in the agency’s loosening approach to civil rights enforcement. The memo told investigators that instead of looking at “systemic bias” when investigating a claim of racial discrimination, they were to make swift (and likely insufficiently researched) judgments on individual cases.
    • The Office for Civil Rights has opted to place less consideration on Obama-era thinking that schools should be held accountable when educational or disciplinary outcomes vary by race. The agency may repeal a directive aimed at school districts to study whether African American students receive more harsh discipline than other students do. The agency also put a two-year delay on a policy that would ensure that students of color are not channeled disproportionately into special education programs. (Why this avoidance, nay, prevention, of fact-finding?)
    • DeVos seeks to diminish federal authority over schools, placing more oversight in the hands of state and local governments. As with the healthcare policies proposed by Congress that hid behind “states’ rights,” this could almost certainly mean disaster for both education in general, and for civil rights. (Would schools in states where the Confederate flag is largely supported make fair and ethical decisions about racial discrimination against their students?)

“We are law enforcement officials, not advocates or social-justice people,” said Assistant Secretary of Education for Civil Rights Kenneth Marcus.

We should all let that sink in. Betsy DeVos’ appointee to help run the civil rights agency of the Department of Education – the office that oversees civil rights violations and was designed to enforce justice in such cases – has said “We are not advocates or social-justice people.”

The Check In: Betsy DeVos’ Rollback of Civil Rights | Late Night with Seth Myers [2018-07-24]

Black congresswoman visibly annoyed as Betsy DeVos struggles to answer basic civil rights questions | The Daily News [2018-05-22]

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