Betsy DeVos has had a busy 2018. In her second year as the head of the Department of Education, she made a number of very questionable moves that make it clear that she cares more about protecting herself and corporations than children. For instance, she cut the department by 11 percent and rolled back protections for transgender students. She also attempted to cancel a program that would have forgiven nearly $150 million in student debt from students who were defrauded by for-profit colleges and helped her department dismiss hundreds, if not some thousands, of civil rights complaints.
None of these actions should be surprising. From the jump, DeVos had painted herself as the type of DoE head who would limit federal involvement in public schools and be an anathema to several Obama-era regulations. And she’s done quite a bit to make good on that promise, serve herself, and ultimately, hurt American kids in public schools. Here, are some things at just how much the DoE did to hurt kids this year.
Allowing Schools to Call ICE on Undocumented Kids
In April, DeVos was asked by Representative Adriano Espaillat of New York whether or not she thinks school officials should call ICE on students or their parents. “I think that’s a school decision, it’s a local community decision,” DeVos said. “I refer to the fact that we have laws and we also are compassionate. I urge this body to do its job and address and clarify where there is confusion around this.”
DeVos also failed to bring up the precedent altogether, either suggesting that it wasn’t important to her or she’s not aware of the laws surrounding public education and legal protections for students. The move catered to a political base that elected the man who hired her, yes. But it also ignored the constitutional rights of hundreds of thousands of students that she was appointed to ensure had a quality education that focused on the whole kid, not just their immigration status.
The Rolling Back of Obama-Era Title IX Protections
Title IX protects people from discrimination based on sex in education programs or activities — universities, etc. — that receive Federal financial assistance. This year, DeVos rolled back certain parts of Title IX’s definition of discrimination. The parts that she changed included narrowing the definition of what constitutes sexual assault, limited universities’ responsibility to only assaults that happened on their campus, and only holding schools accountable if they did not appropriately follow through on formal complaints, not informal ones.
Essentially, the rollback eased the regulations that made schools responsible for investigating claims of assault on campus. It’s a deeply controversial move, one that won’t help victims of assault. What it will do, however, is help the culture of universities sweeping claims of assault under the rug in order to protect two things: mega-donors and reputation.
The Refusal to Allow the School Safety Commission to Research Gun Violence As a School Safety Issue
Following the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High in Parkland, Florida, in which more than a dozen kids and educators were murdered by a lone gunman, Betsy DeVos set up a school safety commission. That commission’s purpose would be to examine the factors that were increasing violence in schools across the country. However, DeVos’s commission then overlooked the major reason kids were dying in schools: guns. When pressed on the issue, she said: “That’s not part of the commission’s charge, per se.” And then added: “Our focus is on rising up successful, proven techniques and approaches to ensuring schools are safe.”
To date, that looks a lot like examining the consumption of violent video games and bolstering mental health services. While some of that might help, to suggest that guns have no major play at all in gun deaths is intellectually disingenuous at best. At worst, it puts the lives of kids at risk of premature death. It already has.
The Rolling Back of Protections for Transgender Students
DeVos rolled back a federal guidance put into place under the Obama administration that helped ensure that transgender kids across the country would be able to use the bathroom that corresponded to their gender identity. DeVos and the DoE argued that the protection of transgender rights did not fall under the purview of a 1972 federal civil rights law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in educational programs or activities. Their flimsy explanation, when further pressed, argued that Title IX prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex, not gender, which suggests that the administration is willing to use the language of those who care about transgender rights, and subvert it for their own political ends.
The Dismissal of More Than 500 Civil Rights Complaints in the Name of Efficiency
Betsy DeVos has shrunk the size of the Department of Education by a whopping 13 percent. It’s no surprise, then, that her department also put forth a protocol to dismiss any civil rights violation claim that was either previously filed with the office, repetitive in nature, stemmed from the same complaint, or placed an ‘unreasonable burden’ on the Office of Civil Rights, despite the fact that it’s their job to investigate these claims, no matter how burdensome. By April of this year that new policy had resulted in more than 500 complaints being tossed out. Some experts and advocates posit that the timing of the new policy was not coincidental, and that it went hand in hand with the department rescinding protections for transgender students, and with an implicit motive to limit the role of civil rights in schools in general.
She Rescinded Obama-Era Discipline Guidelines That Aimed to Help Keep At-Risk Kids In School
As part of the Federal Commission on School Safety, Betsy Devos officially chose to rescind Obama-era DoE guidance that aimed to limit discipline policies like out-of-school suspension. The Obama guidance meant to keep kids in the classroom as much as possible, as even one single suspension decreases a kid’s chances of graduating high school and increases their chances of later being incarcerated. For instance, in the United States, black girls are six times more likely to get suspended than their white counterparts and no more likely to commit offenses in school
When she made the decision, DeVos said that instead of helping keep kids in classrooms, schools should focus on partnering with cops to arm and train school personnel, in a “holistic” view of school safety. It is hard to say that there is anything ‘holistic’ about shifting focus from the student in the classroom to making sure that people are armed in a public school setting. There is little evidence to suggest that armed teachers help keep schools safer and boatloads of evidence that shows the detrimental effects school suspension has on kids of color.