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DeVos grilled on civil rights for students
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos struggled in the hot seat before a House committee Tuesday to answer questions from Democrats about the Education Department's Office of Civil Rights and how it plans to protect LGBT students from discrimination and harassment in schools.
Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio) said she's concerned about the office's low performance and asked DeVos to recite its mission.
"The Office for Civil Rights is committed to protecting the civil rights as determined under the law of this land and we do so proudly and with great focus each day," DeVos said, while testifying for the first time before the House Education and the Workforce Committee.
"That's not the mission," Fudge said, before asking DeVos if she knows what it is.
"I have not memorized the mission statement," DeVos said.
The New York Times reported in April that the office has begun dismissing hundreds of civil rights complaints, as part of a new efficiency protocol, if the complaint is part of a serial filing or the complaint is overly burdensome.
Colorado Rep. Jared Polis (D) later quizzed DeVos on current court precedent on transgender civil rights.
Polis asked DeVos if she had heard of Whitaker v. Kenosha, in which the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled it is sex-based discrimination when a school does not allow a transgender student to use the bathroom that conforms with their gender identity.
In one of her first acts in office, DeVos and Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded Obama-era guidance that directed schools to let transgender students use the bathroom that corresponds with their gender identity.
Polis then asked DeVos if she had heard of Glenn v. Brumby, in which the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals held that discriminating against someone based on their gender nonconformity violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution.
DeVos said she's committed to protecting civil rights as stated by the civil rights law and the office has continued to do so.
"I think part of what your have referred to, with regard to transgender students, is courts have been mixed on that and this body has not opined or updated or addressed that," she said.
Polis shot back.
"Those are two precedents that stand," Polis argued.
"They stand as current interpretations of U.S. civil rights law and I want to know how you'll instruct Acting Secretary [Candice] Jackson and the Department of Education to adhere to the law and the precedents and actually begin proactively protecting transgender students from discrimination."
DeVos said the office is committed to ensuring the law is followed and protecting students' rights as written in the law.
"Until the Supreme Court opines or until this body takes action, I'm not going to make up law from the Department of Education," she said.