People across the country today are participating in a national day of action, calling the Department of Education to ask that new Education Secretary Betsy DeVos uphold the civil rights of all students by protecting and enforcing Title IX, the federal law that prohibits sex discrimination in federally-funded education programs.
Despite strong public protest against her nomination, the Senate confirmed DeVos to serve as the Secretary of Education last week, but only after Vice President Mike Pence cast a tie-breaking vote in her favor. Only two Republicans voted against her confirmation: Senators Susan Collins (R-ME) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK).
Advocates for Title IX, including the Feminist Majority Foundation, strongly opposed DeVos’s confirmation, citing her consistent failure to support Title IX and its commitment to providing all students with a safe environment, free from discrimination and violence. Instead, her family foundation has supported Grove City College, an institution notorious for refusing to comply with Title IX, and DeVos herself has given thousands of dollars to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), a group that has actively opposed the Department of Education’s guidance on sexual assault and has sought to make it more difficult for survivors to prove sexual misconduct in school grievance hearings.
When asked in her confirmation hearing whether she intended to uphold the Department’s guidance concerning sexual assault on college campuses, DeVos said an immediate decision on the matter would be “premature.” She went on to voice her support for the Safe Campus Act, a bill that would require sexual assault survivors to file a report with the police if they wanted their school to investigate a sex crime. The bill, supported by FIRE, was so extreme that groups representing fraternities and sororities had to backtrack on their early support of the bill because of student outcry.
Students, parents, educators, and activists today are calling the Department of Education, saying they want Secretary DeVos to know that they want the Department to keep in place Title IX guidance on preventing and addressing sexual harassment and assault as well as guidance on protecting transgender students from discrimination. Activists are also saying they want the Department’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) to continue its strong enforcement of Title IX and to keep publishing the list of schools under investigation for Title IX violations.
The Department of Education can be reached at 202-401-3000 or 1-800-USA-LEARN.
Media Resources: Feminist Newswire 2/7/17; Washington Post 1/18/17; The Atlantic 11/19/15