Catherine Lhamon will make our schools better, fairer, and more just

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I am confident that the United States is on the move toward a stronger and fairer nation, in part because of a new generation striving to make discrimination a relic of the past and justice and equality the promise for a brighter future. But the aspirations and dreams of Gen X and millennials have often been at odds with a brutal four years of Donald Trump, a traumatic racial reckoning, and a deadly pandemic that reminded us of pervasive injustice and inequity in the United States, particularly when it comes to our schools.

Under the Trump administration, we experienced a roll back on efforts to end campus sexual assault at same time that 1 in 5 young women and more than 1 in 20 men reported sexual assault.

Transgender students were denied the most basic levels of fairness and, indeed, kindness.

The Trump administration eliminated efforts to keep students in the classroom, instead subjecting them to disproportionate punishments and discipline, such as expulsions, that feed the school-to-prison pipeline.

In my seven years as Secretary of Education, I repeatedly witnessed the way that our Department’s Office for Civil Rights protected students from discrimination on the basis of race, sex, and disability. I relied heavily on the Office to not only to protect the rights of students, but also to bring inclusivity to the policy decisions we made at the Department.

I was incredibly lucky to have Catherine Lhamon run the Office for Civil Rights as our Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights and I’m thrilled President Biden nominated her to head the Office again.

Catherine is one of the most dedicated civil rights leaders in the nation. With a 25-year career devoted to fighting discrimination, she is the most experienced nominee in the history of the Office. She brings an unparalleled depth of knowledge about the issues the Office faces, coupled with a deep understanding of how educational institutions work, from kindergarten playrooms to university lecture halls.

She’s also the mom of two teenagers, so fairness in education isn’t just a job for Catherine; it’s personal.

Equally importantly, she treats colleagues, partners, students, and educators with empathy and respect, even those with whom she disagrees.

The issues the Office for Civil Rights face are among the most difficult the Department of Education have to address, including racial, sex, and disability discrimination. In an office that receives about 10,000 complaints a year concerning issues of discrimination, it is unrealistic to expect that everyone will come away happy — but everyone should come away feeling heard.

What I saw in Catherine was someone who listens to all sides, works closely with the staff and experts who bring decades of experience to the work at hand, and then takes action. At a time when our country is having a national conversation about the effects race has on our society, from the pandemic to quality learning in every classroom, there is no better person to lead the Office for Civil Rights than Catherine Lhamon. If she’s confirmed, the civil rights dreams and aspirations of tens of millions of students will move closer to fulfillment.

Arne Duncan is the former U.S. secretary of Education under President Obama (2009-2015). He is now the managing partner at Emerson Collective, a social impact organization focused on creating a more equal and just America. Duncan also directs Chicago CRED, an initiative to end systemic gun violence.

Tags Arne Duncan Discrimination Donald Trump Joe Biden Office for Civil Rights

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