Report Finds DeVos Failing to Protect LGBTQ Students

by Sam Cronin

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Wednesday July 31, 2019

Betsy DeVos testifies during a Senate Subcommittee meeting, June 2018
Betsy DeVos testifies during a Senate Subcommittee meeting, June 2018  (Source:AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

A new report by the Center for American Progress (CAP) delves into the job performance of Betsey DeVos in her role as Secretary of Education, sternly condemning her and alleging: "Secretary DeVos is failing her duty to enforce civil rights for all students."

The report, conducted by the liberal-leaning CAP and based on Department of Education data, looks systematically at the conduct of the Office for Civil Rights, (OCR), the branch of the Department of Education that handles Title IX Complaints. It compared the handling of complaints under the Obama and Trump administrations, putting forth two main findings:

1. "Complaints were more than nine times less likely to result in corrective action than they were under the Obama administration. Only 2.4 percent of LGBTQ-related complaints resulted in an agreement with the school or some other action to correct for the alleged discrimination against the student—compared with 22.4 percent under the previous administration.

"2. Fewer complaints proceeded to a formal investigation being opened by the OCR. Some complaints may not merit corrective action per the OCR's case processing standards, but any such decision should be based on fact. The lower rate of investigations raises concerns about whether allegations of discrimination are receiving adequate time and attention prior to the decision not to take corrective action."

Gender identity discrimination was found to be the most common type of complaint lodged, and most of those were cases of alleged harassment.

The report went on to break down the responsibility the Department of Education has to protect the civil liberties of all students, and alleges that DeVos is failing to fulfill that responsibility, especially for LGBTQ students.

The Center also recommended specific actions be taken to correct the failings of the Department of Education, including Congress passing the Equality Act, the Safe Schools Improvement Act, and state legislatures passing student non-discrimination and anti-bullying laws.

According to The New York Times, the Trump administration has "reshaped policy to exclude civil rights protections for transgender people in most areas of government and has scaled back legal protections for gay people.

"In 2017... the Education and Justice Departments rescinded an Obama-era guidance document that informed schools that denying students access to bathrooms that correspond with their gender identity was a violation under Title IX. The Trump administration believed, as many conservatives had long argued, that the Obama administration's guidance amounted to overreach and was inconsistent with federal law."

Since this action was taken, several high profile cases have gone to court alleging that these "bathroom bans" harm transgender student rights.

The CAP report concludes with a statement reading:

"Secretary DeVos has a duty to ensure equal access to education for all students. It is the responsibility of the Department of Education to protect the rights of the youth in its care, including those who are LGBTQ. DeVos' Department of Education is failing in that statutory duty. Rather than rolling back the clock on civil rights, the department should acknowledge the specific needs of LGBTQ students, make clear that they are protected under Title IX, and meaningfully pursue complaints filed by students and families who seek to exercise those rights."

One of the report's authors, Frank J. Bewkes, told the New York Times: "These data really show that Betsy DeVos is not doing her job. Her office just doesn't seem to care about enforcing civil rights for these students."

In contrast with these data, the Department of Education released its own report, citing a 30% increase in Title VI (race/national origin) resolutions requiring corrective action from a school, a 60% increase in the number of disability-related resolutions requiring corrective action, and an 80% increase in Title IX (sex discrimination) case resolutions requiring corrective action.

"We are reorienting OCR to a neutral, impartial law enforcement agency and that is having tremendous, positive impacts on America's students and their families," said Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Kenneth L. Marcus.

"Instead of seeing every case as an opportunity to advance a political agenda, we are focused on the needs of each individual student and on faithfully executing the laws. This is the right thing to do, and the data show it works."

Additionally, Liz Hill, Department of Education spokesperson, told the New York Times "These data were selectively compiled by a left-wing interest group to tell an ideological story. No one should mistake this as unbiased. This department vigorously protects the civil rights of all students and will continue to do so to the fullest extent of the law."

According to the Times, "the Education Department said that its own analysis of the complaint categories showed that it was averaging more resolutions requiring schools to make a change than the previous administration — emphasizing the complaints acted on, not the complaints that went unanswered."

DeVos is the 11th Secretary of Education, serving since 2017. Recently, Elizabeth Warren reportedly pledged to replace her if elected in 2020, according to BuzzFeed News.