More than thirty Senate Democrats and one independent—Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders—sent a letter (pdf) to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos on Tuesday expressing alarm at a recent memo unveiling her department's plans to drastically roll back civil rights protections at public schools.
"You claim to support civil rights and oppose discrimination, but your actions belie your assurances."
—Senate Democrats to Betsy DeVosThe memo, as Common Dreams reported, indicated that the Department of Education intends to undercut Obama-era rules aimed at preventing discriminatory practices in schools across the country. The department has said it will now take a case-by-case approach, which the senators' letter argues "may cause investigators to miss issues of pervasive discrimination or civil rights abuses."
The senators also took aim at DeVos's history of using her family's wealth to promote organizations, like the Family Research Council, that spread "intolerant views of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and gender non-conforming Americans and others."
The letter continues:
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 enforcement of federal civil rights laws. 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.
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You claim to support civil rights and oppose discrimination, but your actions belie your assurances. During your continuation 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.
The senators concluded by calling for a larger education budget—as opposed to the "manifestly cruel" cuts favored by DeVos—and expressing support for the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, which has launched a two-year investigation into the Trump administration, citing specifically DeVos's "repeated refusal" to commit to enforcing federal civil rights laws.
"There is no more serious responsibility of the Department than to ensure consistent, vigorous enforcement of civil rights laws and protections for all students," the senators wrote. "The Department must fulfill that responsibility and work tirelessly to promote equality, opportunity, and an environment free of discrimination for all our children."
In a statement, Human Rights Campaign—the nation's largest LGBTQ civil rights advocacy group—applauded the signatories of the letter and echoed "their call for DeVos to vigorously enforce civil rights law and ensure LGBTQ students are protected from discrimination."