WASHINGTON – Ahead of U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ Senate testimony before a Senate Appropriations subcommittee on Tuesday, several national civil rights leaders spoke out on the implications of DeVos’ alarming lack of commitment to protecting all students’ civil rights.
“America’s students deserve a Secretary of Education who will protect their civil rights. That is one of the most important mandates of the Department of Education. And yet, since her confirmation hearing, Secretary DeVos has actively worked to undermine those rights,” said Vanita Gupta, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. “Senators should demand that she clearly state an unequivocal commitment to civil rights. During her recent appearance before the House subcommittee, it was not clear that DeVos was willing to do her job and enforce our nation’s civil rights laws in defense of historically marginalized students. The American people have a right to know now if their tax dollars will be used to fund schools that discriminate against children and if the Department of Education will intervene when federal laws are violated.”
“Secretary DeVos’ lackluster commitment to civil rights is disturbing,” said National Women’s Law Center President-Elect Fatima Goss Graves. “It’s not enough to say that the department will step in only after the law is broken. The department must also ensure that federal law isn’t broken in the first place. If the secretary abandons the longstanding duty to engage in a robust, proactive enforcement of our nation’s civil rights laws there will be negative consequences for our students. Girls and women would miss out on basic educational opportunities, like the chance to engage in STEM, play sports, balance motherhood with academic pursuits, or not be harassed or threatened by sexual violence at school. We call on the secretary to uphold and enforce these decades-long commitments.”
“Secretary DeVos’ withdrawal of lifesaving guidance supporting transgender students has already been repudiated by the courts. Her recent statements that she would let private schools openly discriminate with federal dollars are unacceptable. It’s not too late for the secretary to change course and commit to protecting the dignity of all students,” said Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality.
“Children with disabilities deserve a Secretary of Education that will protect their right to attend a great school free from discrimination. Put simply, the president’s budget dismisses the needs of public school students, parents, and educators. And in trying to defend it, DeVos has failed to articulate how she would spend the American people’s tax dollars to ensure that our nation’s schools – public or private – are treating children with disabilities fairly. Tomorrow, she has the opportunity to correct the record and parents of children with disabilities will be listening closely,” said Mimi Corcoran, president & CEO of the National Center for Learning Disabilities.
“One of the Department of Education’s fundamental responsibilities is ensuring that every public school student feels safe and respected in the classroom,” said NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. Associate Director-Counsel Janai Nelson. “Unfortunately, in appointing officials with no civil rights background and proposing a budget that includes stark disinvestments from public schools, this administration has shown no interest in meeting that responsibility, despite the discrimination and bias that remain all too common in our educational system. We remain steadfast in our commitment to public education and ensuring that students’ civil rights are protected. We urge the Education Department to meet its legal obligation to enforce civil rights laws.”
“Secretary DeVos’ failure to commit to protecting our nation’s students from discrimination is alarming and of course of great concern to our community considering Latino students represent the largest ethnic minority group in U.S. public schools today. Every child has the right to learn in a safe environment where their civil rights are both guaranteed, and protected. Geography shouldn’t determine whether a student is treated fairly or has access to an equitable educational experience and therefore why federal safeguards are so critical to maintain,” said Eric Rodriguez, vice president, Office of Research, Advocacy, and Legislation at the National Council of La Raza
The Department of Education, along with the Department of Justice, is responsible for protecting the civil rights of all students in America. At a time when the majority of public school students in America are children of color or from low-income families, the nation needs a Secretary of Education who is committed to enforcing our education laws and protecting the civil rights of all students. DeVos has failed repeatedly in this regard.
DeVos must explain how she will enforce federal civil rights law and promote equal educational opportunity regardless of race, ethnicity, language, disability, religion, immigration status, gender, gender identity, or sexual orientation. Too many young people experience discrimination resulting in vastly different educational opportunities. 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 under the law.
NOTE: On Monday, the groups held a press call briefing on this issue. The audio of that call is available here.
The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights is a coalition charged by its diverse membership of more than 200 national organizations to promote and protect the rights of all persons in the United States. The Leadership Conference works toward an America as good as its ideals. For more information on The Leadership Conference and its 200-plus member organizations, visit www.civilrights.org.
The National Women’s Law Center is a non-profit organization that has been working since 1972 to advance and protect women’s equality and opportunity. The Center focuses on major policy areas of importance to women and their families including economic security, education, employment and health, with special attention given to the concerns of low-income women. For more information on the Center, visit: www.nwlc.org.
The National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE) is the nation’s leading social justice advocacy organization winning life-saving change for transgender people. NCTE was founded in 2003 by transgender activists who recognized the urgent need for policy change to advance transgender equality. With a committed board of directors, a volunteer staff of one, and donated office space, we set out to accomplish what no one had yet done: provide a powerful transgender advocacy presence in Washington, D.C.
The mission of NCLD is to improve the lives of the 1 in 5 children and adults nationwide with learning and attention issues—by empowering parents and young adults, transforming schools and advocating for equal rights and opportunities. We’re working to create a society in which every individual possesses the academic, social and emotional skills needed to succeed in school, at work and in life.
Founded in 1940, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF) is the nation’s first civil and human rights law organization and has been completely separate from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) since 1957—although LDF was originally founded by the NAACP and shares its commitment to equal rights. LDF’s Thurgood Marshall Institute is a multi-disciplinary and collaborative hub within LDF that launches targeted campaigns and undertakes innovative research to shape the civil rights narrative. In media attributions, please refer to us as the NAACP Legal Defense Fund or LDF.
NCLR—the largest national Hispanic civil rights and advocacy organization in the United States—works to improve opportunities for Hispanic Americans. For more information on NCLR, please visit www.nclr.org or follow along on Facebook and Twitter.