Democratic Senators Show Strong Concern for Minority Students in Letter to EdSec Betsy DeVos

By Sabine Joseph

Last Tuesday, led by Washington Sen. Patty Murray, 33 Democratic senators and Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders penned a strongly worded letter to Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos regarding what they feel is her disappointing and alarming lack of dedication to making sure 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.”

This letter followed shortly behind two directives proposed by DeVos’ right-hand on civil rights, Candice Jackson, were released. Loosened regulations on how civil rights cases are investigated and the reduction of federal monitoring of the department’s regional offices were discussed in one memo.

Another directive seeks to reverse guidelines for transgender students set by President Obama, which DeVos repealed, by not expressly giving transgender students the right to use the school bathroom corresponding to their gender identity, and the exclusion of bathroom access among the listed areas that investigators are asked to probe into when examining school systems.

Among the senators’ concerns are DeVos’ decision to appoint Adam Kissel, a senior program officer at the Charles Koch Foundation, as deputy assistant secretary for higher education.

“You have also appointed staff who have fought against the Department’s 2011 Title IX Guidance clarifying schools’ responsibility to address campus sexual assault and against expanded protections for survivors of sexual violence on campus,” they stated in regard to Kissel’s appointment.

Furthermore, DeVos’ invitation of members of the Family Research Council, an anti-LGBT group in support of conversion therapy, to the state-sponsored “Engaging Fathers and Families” event adds to their concern that though DeVos “claim[s] to support civil rights and oppose discrimination, [her] actions belie [her] assurances.”

The senators are not the only ones with these concerns. The Human Rights Campaign, the largest LGBT civil rights advocacy group in the nation, made a statement in support of the letter  and echoing “their call for DeVos to vigorously enforce civil rights law and ensure LGBTQ students are protected from discrimination.”

Additionally, the United States Commission on Civil Rights announced on June 16 that a two-year review of the Trump administration will commence regarding its enforcement of civil rights. The commission cites the numerous departmental cuts and revisions proposed for several agencies, such as that which suggests that the Justice Department’s civil rights division let go of 121 full-time staffers.

“The dangerous reduction of civil rights enforcement across the country, leaving communities of color, LGBT people, older people, people with disabilities, and other marginalized groups exposed to greater risk of discrimination,” says the commission.

The letter’s signatories gave DeVos an ultimatum requiring that by July 11 she provides them with information regarding how complaints of transgender discrimination and sexual assault are processed and handled, records rationalizing budget cuts, as well as a list of all open Office for Civil Rights investigations regarding a transgender student, sexual assault or sexual harassment, and all investigations closed or dismissed since the start of the year.


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