Education Secretary Betsy DeVos pressed on Office for Civil Rights pick
Civil rights groups are urging Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to select a head for the department's Office for Civil Rights who has a track record of fighting discrimination against marginalized students.
"It is imperative that the administration demonstrate its commitment to civil rights through this appointment," more than 60 civil rights groups wrote in a Monday letter to DeVos. "Our nation's children deserve to be represented by a leader who will stand up for them, enforce core nondiscrimination statutes in schools, and ensure equal protection."
Betsy DeVos through the years
The person chosen to fill the position of assistant secretary for civil rights will be nominated by President Donald Trump, though the education secretary historically has heavily influenced the choice.
The request comes on the heels of the Trump administration's repeal of the President Barack Obama-era guidance that sought to ensure transgender students have access to bathrooms that match their gender identity.
In a statement released afterward, DeVos pledged that the Office for Civil Rights would continue investigating claims of discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students.
"At my direction, the Department's Office for Civil Rights remains committed to investigating all claims of discrimination, bullying and harassment against those who are most vulnerable in our schools," she said.
However, those thought to be in running for the assistant secretary position have signaled desires to roll back the role of the office and extricate it from issues, including issuing protections for LGBT students, which they see as beyond the office's jurisdiction.
Gail Heriot, for example – a member of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights and someone reportedly on the short list to head the civil rights office – has a long record of criticizing it for going far beyond what Congress intended, especially in regard to setting guidance for transgender bathroom policies and assuming responsibilities for combating on-campus sexual assault.
"The assistant secretary for OCR must have a track record of experience with civil rights law and be fully committed to remedying individual and systemic discrimination within our nation's school systems," said Wade Henderson, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, which spearheaded the letter to DeVos.
"You and the president have the opportunity in this decision to demonstrate a commitment to core American values of equal opportunity, nondiscrimination, and diversity as well as a respect for the rule of law," the letter says.
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