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Booker, Richmond, Lujan Grisham, Chu Lead CBC, CHC, CAPAC in Voicing Concerns About Student Civil Rights

In letter to Education Secretary DeVos, 64 lawmakers urge greater commitment to civil rights

July 7, 2017
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WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ), in coordination with Representatives Cedric Richmond, Michelle Lujan Grisham, and Judy Chu, today led the Congressional Black Caucus, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, and the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus in voicing serious concerns about the Trump Administration’s lack of commitment to protecting the civil rights of the nation’s students.

 

In a letter sent to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos today, the group of 64 lawmakers wrote: “This Administration’s proposed budget and staffing cuts for the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR), and the repeal of important civil rights policy guidance, signals, at best, a troubling hands off approach to protecting the civil rights of students across the country and, at worse, a complete undermining of the equal protections guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution.”

 

“We urge your administration to not just commit to protecting the civil rights of all students in this country but to also do so proactively and with the utmost urgency.”

 

The Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights is the main agency by which students can seek justice when a school or state has failed to ensure equal protection of the law. The Office exists to ensure that all students have access to an education free from discrimination, harassment, and violence.

 

Specifically, the lawmakers cited reduced funding for the Office for Civil Rights in Trump’s budget request, the rollback of guidance clarifying protections for transgender students, and noncommittal answers offered to members of Congress as evidence that DeVos is failing to protect students and fulfill the mission of the agency she leads.

 

Full text of the letter is below.  In addition to Booker, Richmond, Lujan Grisham, and Chu, the following lawmakers also signed onto the letter:

 

Senator Kamala D. Harris

Senator Mazie K. Hirono                                                             

Senator Catherine Cortez Masto

Senator Brian Schatz                                                                      

Senator Robert Menendez 

Senator Tammy Duckworth                                                        

Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham  

Rep. Judy Chu                                                                                   

Rep. Cedric L. Richmond

Rep. Donald M. Payne, Jr.                                                            

Rep. Jackie Speier 

Rep. Tony Cárdenas                                                         

Rep. Mark Takano  

Rep. Jerry McNerney                                                     

Rep. Ben Ray Luján   

Rep. Raúl Grijalva                                                                       

Rep. Grace Napolitano   

Rep. Norma Torres                                                                      

Rep. Albio Sires   

Rep. Ruben Kihuen                                                          

Rep. José E. Serrano

Rep. Juan Vargas                                                                          

Rep. Nydia M. Velázquez

Rep. Colleen Hanabusa                                                                  

Rep. Joaquin Castro

Rep. Marcia L. Fudge                                                       

Rep. Dwight Evans 

Rep. Barbara Lee                                                               

Rep. Val Butler Demings 

Rep. G.K. Butterfield                                                      

Rep. Robin Kelly 

Rep. Alcee L. Hastings                                                                   

Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman 

Rep. Joyce Beatty                                                             

Rep. William. Lacy Clay Jr. 

Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton                                          

Rep. Karen Bass 

Rep. Anthony Brown                                                      

Rep. John Conyers Jr.  

Rep. Zoe Lofgren                                                             

Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard    

Rep. Brenda Lawrence                                                                  

Rep. Gregory W. Meeks     

Rep. Frederica S. Wilson                                                   

Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, II     

Rep. A. Donald McEachin                                                   

Rep. Alma Adams     

Rep. Adam Smith                                                             

Rep. Ted W. Lieu     

Rep. Pramila Jayapal                                                                       

Rep. Danny K. Davis     

Rep. Susan A. Davis                                                        

Rep. Ro Khanna     

Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester                                                

Rep. Gwen S. Moore      

Rep. J. Luis Correa                                                                                

Rep. Yvette D. Clarke  

Rep. John Lewis                                                                                     

Rep. Jerrold Nadler   

Rep. Hakeem Jeffries                                                              

Rep. Al Green  

Rep. Sanford D. Bishop Jr.                                                                       

Rep. David Scott                             

 

 

July 5, 2017

 

The Honorable Elizabeth DeVos

Secretary

United States Department of Education

400 Maryland Avenue, SW

Washington, D.C 20202

 

Dear Secretary DeVos,

 

We write to you today deeply concerned about the Trump Administration’s lack of commitment to protecting the civil rights of the nation’s students. This Administration’s proposed budget and staffing cuts for the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR), and the repeal of important civil rights policy guidance, signals, at best, a troubling hands off approach to protecting the civil rights of students across the country and, at worse, a complete undermining of the equal protections guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution. We urge your administration to not just commit to protecting the civil rights of all students in this country but to also do so proactively and with the utmost urgency.

 

The Fourteenth Amendment guarantees all people in the United States equal protection under the law and Congress has enacted civil rights laws to provide for the enforcement of that protection and ensure intervention by the federal government when that right is violated. In 2017, 60 years after the enactment of the Civil Rights Act of 1957, we find ourselves still seeking to make the promise of the Constitution real. Through the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Education Amendments of 1972, the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, Congress has worked to protect students from discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex and disability. The Office for Civil Rights in the Department of Education has been tasked under the Education Organization Act of 1979 with carrying out Congress’ intent in this regard. In addition, the United States Supreme Court has held that all children, regardless of immigration status, are guaranteed access to a free public education from kindergarten through 12th grade.

 

As an extension of Congressional authority, OCR is the vehicle through which students can seek justice when the school or the state has failed to ensure equal protection. Its mission is to “ensure equal access to education and to promote educational excellence through vigorous enforcement of civil rights in our nation’s schools.”[1] This enforcement has helped to ensure that all students have access to an education free from discrimination, harassment, and violence. These functions must not only be protected but allowed to operate to their fullest capacity to guarantee all students equal protection under the law.

 

Although it is the job of OCR to step in and enforce the federal protections within the Constitution, it is the responsibility of the President’s Administration to support the work of OCR. This is done through the nomination of an official to lead the office that has a demonstrated record of active support for federal civil rights law and marginalized communities, robust funding for OCR in the President’s budget request, and continuation of policy guidance that clarifies schools’ obligations to ensure all students have equal access to education regardless of their race, ethnicity, immigration status, first language, sex, disability, age, sexual orientation, or gender identity.

           

The Trump Administration has failed to provide the support necessary for the OCR to meet its enforcement obligations the reduced funding for OCR proposed in the President’s FY2018 education budget, the rollback of guidance clarifying protections for transgender students, and noncommittal answers offered to Members of the House of Representatives and Senate signal your lack of commitment to protecting all students and fulfilling the mission of the agency you lead.

           

Although you stated affirmatively in your testimony before the Senate Labor, Health, and Human Services, and Education Appropriations Subcommittee that recipients of federal funds must follow federal law, we urge you to turn these words into action. You have authority as the Secretary of Education to make sure that every school receiving federal funds follows our nation’s civil rights laws and protects students from discrimination.

 

We urge you to reconsider recent guidance issued to OCR that rescinds mandates requiring investigators to address systemic school climate issues and also to alert officials of urgent complaints on issues such as the disproportionate disciplining of minority students and the mishandling of sexual assaults on college campuses. OCR has played a critical role in investigating school discipline policies, which disproportionately affects African-American boys and girls. It is impossible to address justice on a case by case basis, as this recent guidance urges the OCR to do. The OCR’s work gets to the heart of systemic issues affecting students across the country, and this work needs to be allowed to continue. Secondly, we urge you to preserve the scope, frequency, and public accessibility of the data collected through the Civil Rights Data Collection. This tool allows policymakers, parents, educators, and the public greater insight into a number of equity and accessibility issues, such as the use of exclusionary school discipline. Lastly, we urge you to maintain the current policy guidance issued by OCR, especially with regard to campus sexual assault, the rights of undocumented students, and schools’ obligations to students with disabilities.

           

Every student deserves a chance to learn, explore their talents, and be successful regardless of their race, ethnicity, immigration status, first language, sex, disability, age, sexual orientation, or gender identity. OCR has done important work to ensure that this is a reality—and this work needs to continue. We respectfully urge you to act on our requests, to indicate not only to Congress but to students and families across the country that the administration takes their civil rights and protections seriously. The Department must proactively support schools to prevent discrimination and intervene when the law is broken. Our students need and deserve action.