We're So Done With DeVos — Here's What We Need From Our New Secretary Of Education

by Elizabeth Broadbent
Originally Published: 
Scary Mommy and Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

We’re getting a lot of great things along with the new Biden-Harris administration: a coherent plan to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, the first Black, South Asian, and female Vice-President, and a president with a strong record of supporting unions. But we’re also getting rid of Betsy DeVos, arguably the worst Secretary of Education the United States has ever had. America is done with DeVos, and educators couldn’t be happier.

Her track record was abysmal from the beginning. DeVos had never worked in public education as a teacher, administrator, or staff member, reports the National Education Association. She didn’t even send her kids to public schools. Instead, she and her family dropped millions promoting school privatization plans. She supported pro-voucher candidates and chaired pro-voucher associations. She also helped organize Detroit’s charter school system, which the NEA says “downplays regulation and accountability while draining resources from public schools.”

It’s been called “one of the biggest school reform disasters in the country.”

Done with DeVos? We never should have dealt with DeVos. Hiring her only showed that Trump was out to dismantle public education as we know it.

DeVos Rolled Back Progress For Transgender Students

The Obama Administration had protected transgender students under Title IX, saying that they were allowed to use the bathroom that corresponded to their gender identity. DeVos rolled back those protections, says The Hill.

As if that isn’t troubling enough (and it is, trust me), DeVos’s Department of Education actively threatened to withhold federal funds from three Connecticut school districts which allowed students to participate on the sports team that corresponded to their gender identity, says Outsports. They claimed that allowing transgender female athletes to compete against cis women was a violation of Title IX protections.

Moreover, DeVos forced Franklin Pierce University in New Hampshire to reverse its definition of what constituted a “female athlete” after a lawsuit over runner Cecé Telfer, a trans woman, who won the NCAA Division II 400-meter hurdles. No matter that she was the first transgender athlete to win an NCAA individual track and field event. De Vos hammered the university with a Title IX violation, and a threat of denying federal funds.

Franklin Pierce caved.

DeVos Tried To Dismantle Protections For Disabled Students

Any special needs parent knows about IDEA: the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, which guarantees all children with disabilities the right to attend public school. It’s where IEPs (individualized education plans) and the right to an education in the least restrictive environment come from.

DeVos didn’t know it was federal law… or pretended not to, reports Vox, claiming it was a “matter best left to states.”

It gets ickier. DeVos is into privatizing education, and lots of states have used special education vouchers as a way of siphoning public money into private school… except when they use those vouchers to attend private school, they waive their rights under IDEA. So no guarantees their kid has any rights to a decent education in the least restrictive environment. Vox reports that one school participating in the Florida voucher program had a class called “business management” in which children were shaking cans on street corners for coins. There was also “widespread use of corporal punishment.”

She Ditched Civil Rights Probes

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DeVos made it an almost agency-wide policy to dismiss all civil rights claims that involved claims of systemic issues in school systems, reports ProPublica. It went like this: suppose one student complained that their civil rights had been violated. The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights investigated and may or may not have found merit. But a large-scale ProPublica study found that if a group of students claimed their civil rights had been violated, the OCR was much, much less likely to find in their favor.

For example, Black schoolchildren in DeSoto, Mississippi were far more likely to undergo corporal punishment for the same infractions as their white counterparts. DeVos’s people inherited the months-long investigation from the Obama administration. They closed it quickly and found no wrongdoing, despite obvious violations.

And She Used Racist Studies To Defend Policies

In 2014, Obama issued federal policy requiring schools to use “restorative justice” rather than expulsion, suspension, or police reporting whenever possible, keeping kids in the classroom, says the AP. This would help mitigate racial disparities in school discipline and included rules to punish schools if racial disparities in discipline exceeded a certain number, even if they weren’t intentional.

DeVos and her department rolled it back in the name of school safety in the wake of the Parkland shooting, and said they “wouldn’t interfere with school discipline as long as it doesn’t violate federal law.” But one of the studies DeVos used to defend her actions, says The Progressive, was a notoriously racist study that claims “prior problem behavior” black kids brought to the classroom caused disparities in classroom discipline— not, as every other study has found, “institutional racism, implicit bias, and the lack of teachers of color.”

DeVos Supported Scamming For-Profit Colleges

DeVos scrapped an Obama-era rule that made for-profit colleges post “debt-to-earning ratios,” says CNN, proving their graduates were making money, or lose their federal funding. 100% of students could drop out of a degree program or make no money after leaving it, reports The Brookings Institute, and the federal money supporting that program would keep coming. In fact, eliminating the rule that for-profit colleges had to prove their graduates made money or lose funding cost taxpayers over 5 billion dollars. And it saddled students with huge sums of debt that could take decades to pay back.

DeVos appointed, to head investigations into wrongdoing and accountability in for-profit colleges, “key executives and lobbyists from the for-profit sector itself.”

Here’s What We Need, Biden and Harris

Listen up. We need a serious revamp of our education department demolished by DeVos. You’ve committed to protecting vulnerable populations in your coronavirus plan: awesome. Protect them in your education plans too. We need special protections for students who need it the most— namely, for students of color, for transgender students, and for those who suffer from inequalities of all kinds, from crumbling inner-city schools to poor rural ones.

We especially need you to eliminate race-based discipline issues in our country DeVos brought back. Bring back restorative justice rather than school suspensions and threats of legal action.

Oh, and eliminate corporal punishment. No child should be beaten in any school, public or private. End of discussion.

You’ve got to protect the rights of disabled students and give teachers the tools they need to teach them. That means more aides, more access, and more help on the ground, in the classroom, to get them access to a full and fair education in the least restrictive environment possible.

And when it comes to for-profit colleges: forgive those student loans. Crack down on the programs that aren’t performing. In fact, help all of us swamped by student loan debt (hello, most of us Millennials).

We know we’re asking for a lot. We’re asking for you to erase four years of mismanagement under DeVos. It’s a huge task. But we elected you and Harris to do it. We believe in both of you. We believe in your wife, Jill, a community college English teacher.

Get it done.

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