Betsy DeVos is leading the Department of Education away from the work of the Obama administration by “returning” the Office for Civil Rights to its “neutral, impartial, investigative” state. In a letter written by DeVos earlier this month, the Education Secretary outlined a more lenient approach to civil rights in line with her other policy shifts watering down protections for women, people of color and trans folks within her department.
DeVos criticized parameters provided to schools under Obama’s guidance in her letter, claiming that her department “had descended into a pattern of overreaching, of setting out to punish and embarrass institutions rather than work with them to correct civil rights violations and of ignoring public input prior to issuing new rules.” She also criticized the Obama administration for spotlighting institutional inequities in their work, claiming that doing so went “dramatically beyond the facts alleged” in complaints.
DeVos argued in her letter that the Department of Education was unable to make any significant difference because previously outlined guidelines led to “unprecedented processing times and significant backlogs” that she claimed hurt students more than doing any good.
This strongly worded document was a slap-back to a letter sent to DeVos by 34 Senate Democrats last month accusing her of having “diminished” civil rights enforcement in her department. Those lawmakers demanded DeVos hand in a list of closed or dismissed civil rights investigations since Trump’s inauguration. DeVos unveiled none of the information in her response.
This isn’t the first time DeVos sought to peel back civil rights protections and victories put in place for students during Obama’s tenure. Earlier this month, DeVos hinted there might be a roll back of federal protections for rape survivors and met with alleged rapists about campus sexual assault policies, in line with the 2016 GOP platform seeking to water down Title IX protections for students raped on campus. DeVos also signed off on Trump’s transphobic attack on Title IX protections for LGBTQ students earlier this year—completely erasing protections created for transgender students during Obama’s term.
“At my direction, the department will no longer mask new regulations as Dear Colleague letters,” DeVos said—taking aim at the Obama-era letter from her department which made clear that title IX required schools to act on issues of sexual violence—”and will issue new regulations only after appropriate notice and public comment.”