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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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. 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)

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)

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)

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)

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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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