In her role as secretary of education, Betsy DeVos sets policy and procedure that governs the nation’s public education system. As part of her duties, she is charged with selecting an assistant secretary for civil rights, who in turn runs the Department of Education’s (DOE) Office for Civil Rights (OCR).
In a letter dated February 27, the 60 civil right groups who belong to The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights implored DeVos to hire someone who is experienced in promoting equal education opportunities for all Americans.
Per the DOE’s website, the OCR’s mission is to “ensure equal access to education and to promote educational excellence throughout the nation through vigorous enforcement of civil rights.”
In the letter, the organizations laid out the qualities they think the assistant secretary—who serves as the DOE’s chief legal advisor on civil rights matters—should possess:
The assistant secretary should have a track record of experience with a range of civil rights issues, have experience with and be committed to remedying individual and systemic discrimination, be prepared to follow wherever the law and the facts lead, and believe that every student in kindergarten through 12th grade has the right to be in school every day and be treated with dignity without the burden of discrimination. In addition, OCR should continue to preserve the practice of inviting interest groups on all sides of an issue to weigh in before developing policy guidance and be fully committed to the transparent operation of the office. You and the president have the opportunity in this decision to demonstrate a commitment to core American values of equal opportunity, nondiscrimination and diversity as well as a respect for the rule of law. We hope that you will make a decision guided by those values.
Signing groups include the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc., the National Women’s Law Center and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund.
The letter was released on the same day that DeVos issued a letter that praised historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) as “real pioneers when it comes to school choice”—a policy that many feel effectively dismantles the public education system to the detriment of students of color. The letter, which appears below, was immediately criticized as ignoring the fact that HBCUs were founded because Black people were not allowed to attend institutions of higher education.
As CBS News reports, President Trump is expected to sign an executive order about HBCUs later today (February 28).