Education Secretary Betsy Devos on Wednesday defended her agency’s controversial move to roll back nationwide guidance meant to protect transgender students, telling lawmakers that she knew the harms of rolling back the Obama administration’s protections for transgender students before she rescinded them.
During a hearing in front of the House Committee on Education and Labor, civil rights subcommittee Chairwoman Suzanne Bonamici (D-Ore.) asked DeVos if she knew that harassment and discrimination can lead to poor academic performance and depression for transgender students when she rescinded Obama-era regulations.
The Obama-era rule extended Title IX rights to students who were transgender and directed public schools to allow students to use bathrooms that aligned with their gender identity even if that conflicted with the gender on their birth certificates.
“When you rolled back that guidance, did you know that the stress of harassment and discrimination can lead to lower attendance and grades as well as depression and anxiety for transgender students?” Bonamici asked.
DeVos sidestepped the question at first, explaining that the Office for Civil Rights was “committed” to protecting all students and making sure they were given equal access to education before Bonamici quickly cut her off.
“I’m sorry, but I would really like an answer. Students and families need to know this,” Bonamici said. She then repeated her previous question of whether DeVos knew of the consquences for transgender students of rolling back the Obama administration’s guidance.
“I do know that,” DeVos said. “But I will say again that [Office for Civil Rights] is committed to ensuring that all students have access to their education free from discrimination.”
Bonamici then asked DeVos if she knew about a study published by the American Academy of Pediatrics that revealed “alarming levels” of attempted suicide among transgender youths when she rolled back the guidance.
“I’m aware of that data,” DeVos responded.
DeVos recently came under intense scrutiny when she proposed an $18 million cut to the Special Olympics, arguing that while the government was “committed” to students with disabilities, it “cannot fund every worthy program.
“There are dozens of worthy nonprofits that support students and adults with disabilities that don’t get a dime of federal grant money. But given our current budget realities, the federal government cannot fund every worthy program, particularly ones that enjoy robust support from private donations,” she wrote.