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

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Betsy DeVos through the years
U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos speaks at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government in Cambridge, Massachusetts, U.S., September 28, 2017. REUTERS/Mary Schwalm

Continuing a day of one-on-one meetings with candidates for positions in his cabinet, President-elect Donald Trump met with Betsy DeVos, two polar opposites thought to be in contention for the education portfolio.

(Photo by Andy Katz/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images)

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, U.S. first lady Melania Trump and Jordan?s Queen Rania speak with students and administrators at the Excel Academy public charter school in Washington, U.S., April 5, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos speaks before U.S. President Donald Trump signed a memorandum "Increasing Access to High-Quality Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) Education" in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, U.S., September 25, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 30: U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos (L), who was dressed as Ms. Frizzle from 'The Magic Schoolbus' series, and Counselor to the President Kellyanne Conway attend Halloween at the White House on the South Lawn October 30, 2017 in Washington, DC. President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump gave cookies away to costumed trick-or-treaters one day before the Halloween holiday. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

U.S. President-elect Donald Trump and Vice President-elect Mike Pence stand with Betsy DeVos before their meeting at the main clubhouse at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey, U.S., November 19, 2016.

(REUTERS/Mike Segar)

Continuing a day of one-on-one meetings with candidates for positions in his cabinet, President-elect Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence met with Betsy DeVos, two polar opposites thought to be in contention for the education portfolio.

(Photo by Andy Katz/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images)

U.S. President Donald Trump (C, background) waits to interrupt Education Secretary Betsy DeVos as she speaks to students at a school choice event at the White House in Washington, U.S. May 3, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

Grant Hill #33 of the Los Angeles Clippers shakes hands with Owner Dick DeVos, Chairman of Amway and his wife Betsy DeVos during the game against the Orlando Magic during the game on February 6, 2013 at Amway Center in Orlando, Florida.

(Photo by Fernando Medina/NBAE via Getty Images)

US President George W. Bush and First Lady Laura Bush wave after they were introduced by the Chair of the Michigan Republican Party Betsy DeVos 30 October 2004 in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Bush is on his final three days of campaigning prior for the election November 02.

(STEPHEN JAFFE/AFP/Getty Images)

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos makes remarks during a major policy address on Title IX enforcement, which in college covers sexual harassment, rape and assault, at George Mason University, in Arlington, Virginia, U.S., September 7, 2017. REUTERS/Mike Theiler
U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos and U.S. first lady Melania Trump are greeted by a student during a visit the Excel Academy public charter school in Washington, U.S., April 5, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos (C) and Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) Tom Price (R) attend a cabinet meeting with President Donald Trump at the White House in Washington, U.S. March 13, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
U.S. President Donald Trump, joined by U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (from L), advisor Jared Kushner and U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, thanks fourth-grade students Janayah Chatelier (3rd R) and Landon Fritz (R) for the "Happy Birthday Florida" card they gave him as he visits their classroom at Saint Andrew Catholic School in Orlando, Florida, U.S. March 3, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
U.S. President Donald Trump talks to U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos during a meeting with teachers and parents at the White House in Washington, U.S., February 14, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos (2nd R) and U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) (R) arrive with President Donald Trump aboard Air Force One at Orlando International Airport in Orlando, Florida, U.S. March 3, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
CAMBRIDGE, MA - SEPTEMBER 28: U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos speaks in a forum at Harvard University Kennedy School of Government on Thursday, September 28, 2017. (Photo by Katye Martens Brier for The Washington Post via Getty Images)

U.S. President-elect Donald Trump and Vice President-elect Mike Pence emerge with Betsy DeVos after their meeting at the main clubhouse at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey, U.S., November 19, 2016.

(REUTERS/Mike Segar)

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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.

The reversal of the guidance was DeVos' first major action as education secretary, though she reportedly resisted the move and locked horns with Attorney General Jeff Sessions over the directive.

SEE ALSO: Betsy DeVos and Jeff Sessions reportedly battled over one law

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.

Copyright 2017 U.S. News & World Report

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