By Sooah Choi and Jessica Iniguez
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In the past six months, actions that the Department of Education has taken under Education Secretary Betsy DeVos have chipped away at students’ civil rights. These policies could have damaging, long-term effects on schools and communities across the country.
Here are just five examples:
The Department of Education has scaled back investigations of systemic discrimination.
In early June 2017, the Department announced it would change how it handles discrimination complaints. Candice Jackson, interim director of the Department’s Office for Civil Rights, said that efforts to identify systemic issues and whole classes of victims during investigations will be scaled back.
Investigators will no longer be required to conduct systemic reviews that have, in the past, uncovered patterns of discrimination in school districts related to violations related to school discipline, sexual, and gender-based abuse. This new protocol could have drastic implications for students and educators.
Secretary DeVos wants to loosen guidelines for investigating on-campus sexual assault claims.
The Obama administration and the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) created more encompassing Title IX policies in 2009, in order to facilitate and support survivors of on-campus sexual assault and violence.
Those policies are now under threat as the Department of Education considers weakening federal guidelines dictating how colleges respond to accusations. In addition, there are plans to discontinue publishing the list of colleges and universities under investigation. Interim OCR Director Candice Jackson showed disregard for the importance of Title IX claims when she recently told the New York Times that “90% of Title IX claims fall into the category of ‘we were both drunk,’ ‘we broke up, and six months later I found myself under a Title IX investigation because she just decided that our last sleeping together was not quite right.’”
Although Jackson later apologized for the statements, her words and actions indicate that her views could be truly devastating not only in terms of how they impact future cases, but also for all of the victims who will be further dissuaded from reporting incidents.
DeVos won’t commit to protecting LGBTQ students.
Earlier this year, the Trump administration rescinded Obama era Title IX guidance that allowed transgender students to use the bathroom corresponding with their gender identity. Then, when asked during congressional committee hearings this summer if she would deny private schools federal funds if they discriminate against LGBTQ students, DeVos refused to commit to protecting students against such discrimination. Instead, she stated that discrimination in schools based on sexual orientation is “unsettled law” and a matter for Congress and the courts to address–not her department.
By not committing to protect all students in schools receiving federal funds, the Department is sending clear signals that it will not intervene in such cases of discrimination, further harming and endangering this student population.
DeVos delayed protections for college students against predatory and unfair lending practices.
The “gainful-employment” and the “borrower defense to repayment” rules–set up to protect student borrowers and to hold for-profit colleges accountable for predatory lending practices–were set to go into effect on July 1, 2017. These protections included forgiveness of federal student loans if the school “misled them or engaged in other misconduct in violation of certain laws.”
Under Secretary DeVos, the Department of Education has put a hold on these student protection laws.
Veterans, low-income students, and students of color have been disproportionately hurt by predatory practices of for-profit colleges. Delaying these two essential provisions will block much-needed protections for students across the country.
DeVos puts vouchers and charter schools ahead of protecting special needs students.
Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) law, states are required to ensure that all students with disabilities receive a free and appropriate education in public schools and that parents are given a voice in their child’s education.
At her confirmation hearing earlier this year, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos admitted her lack of awareness of the federal law. Since then, her commitment to enforcing the law has come into question.
A vocal supporter of vouchers and private charter schools–where accountability and transparency are often non-existent–DeVos has concentrated on expanding those programs rather than finding ways to improve the public school system for all students, including those with disabilities.
In her zeal for these education schemes, DeVos conveniently ignores the fact that once steered into those private school options, students and families may lose their legal rights of due process and redress for accountability.