U.S. Senate Democrats have sent a lengthy letter to Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos over her department’s cuts to civil rights enforcements and her association with an anti-gay hate group.
Buzzfeed reports that 34 Democratic Senators (a majority of U.S. Senate Democrats) signed off on the letter sent Tuesday, where they say they are “extraordinarily disappointed and alarmed” by DeVos’ associations and her department’s actions, especially as they relate to LGBT students.
“We are extraordinarily disappointed and alarmed by recent actions you and your staff have taken that have diminished the U.S. Department of Education’s (“the Department”) enforcement of federal civil rights laws,” states the letter.
“Your testimony in front of Congress, your continued association with groups with records of supporting discrimination, and two memos written by the Acting Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights, have reemphasized longstanding concerns about your dedication to the idea 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.”
DeVos has refused to state whether she will ensure LGBT students and their civil rights will be protected. She at best pledged to uphold federal law, which remains unclear on those issues.
“You claim to support civil rights and oppose discrimination, but your actions belie your assurances,” the letter goes on. “During your confirmation hearing, and during recent testimony, you gave confusing and contradictory answers about the federal role in protecting students’ civil rights and whether you believe that all schools receiving federal funds should follow civil rights laws.”
DeVos has also claimed she has no relationship with the Family Research Council (FRC), an anti-gay hate group. This is despite the fact that her family’s charity funds the group and that she recently invited the FRC to a Department of Education event. The Senators called her out on this as well.
“In testimony before the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, you attempted to distance yourself from your family’s giving to organizations such as the Family Research Council, which promote intolerant views of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and gender non-conforming Americans and others. Yet, on June 15, 2017, the Family Research Council participated in an official event on engaging fathers in students’ education at the Department.”
Among several other points such as unnecessary and detrimental staffing cuts, the Senators also called DeVos out for rescinding Obama-era guidance on protecting the civil rights of trans students.
“More than a third of transgender students report being the subject of harassment or bullying in school, sixty percent of transgender youth report being forced to use bathrooms inconsistent with their gender identity, and half of transgender children have seriously contemplated suicide.”
“Despite these shocking statistics, on February 22, 2017, the Department withdrew joint guidance on transgender students’ rights under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972.”
“On March 10, six Senators wrote you expressing outrage at that decision and asking how you intend to enforce civil rights protections for transgender students. While you have not yet answered that letter, recent steps by the Department suggest you will not act to protect transgender students. In fact, the Department has already abandoned its defense of some students who have experienced discrimination or harassment by dismissing or closing at least two cases involving transgender students and withdrawing previous findings of discrimination against the school districts.”
This new letter asks that DeVos explain her Department’s actions against transgender students, amongst other decisions, by July 11.
“There is no more serious responsibility of the Department than to ensure consistent, vigorous enforcement of civil rights laws and protections for all students,” it concludes. “The Department must fulfill that responsibility and work tirelessly to promote equality, opportunity, and an environment free of discrimination for all our children.”