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Hundreds of Advocates Tell Betsy DeVos: Don't Toss Civil Rights Regulations

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Which federal regulations, rules, and guidance should U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos tweak, overhaul, or throw out the window?

Nearly 15,000 people and organizations had ideas for the department on this question—and hundreds of them were worried that scrapping or rewriting federal regulations could mean a serious weakening of students' civil rights. 

Some quick background: In at least two different executive orders, President Donald Trump has tasked DeVos and her team with slimming down the Education Department and getting rid of "burdensome" regulations and guidance. The agency earlier this year put together a task force to start reviewing guidance and regulations, and asked the public for feedback. Wednesday was the deadline for submitting comments.

Among them were those who essentially told DeVos not to touch a single regulation, especially rules that help protect children's civil rights.

Those comments ranged from long and legalistic ... 

The U.S. Department of Education is a civil rights agency and, together with the Department of Justice, is responsible for protecting students from discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, and disability," wrote 43 civil rights and education groups, including the Leadership Conference of Civil and Human Rights. The group named just about every civil rights and education statute on the books, including Title IX and the Every Student Succeeds Act, and said all of them are necessary to protect historically disadvantaged kids. "We reject any effort to undermine the protections and supports these laws provide through the rescission or modification of the regulations and guidances used to ensure compliance and to inform all parties of their rights and obligations under the law ...

To short and snappy:

"Do not remove, change or replace Civil Rights regulations and guidance. I can't believe at this day in time I'm having to write this," wrote Renee Hart of Tacoma. (She didn't say which state she lived in.) 

Hundreds of commenters turned in a form letter which reads, in part:

All Department of Education civil rights regulations and guidance documents are important and necessary. Far from being burdensome, current civil rights rules and regulations benefit schools and students by providing a clear framework that, when followed, allow all students an equal opportunity to learn in a safe and welcoming environment regardless of sex, race, color, national origin, disability status, English proficiency, sexual orientation, or gender identity. 

Other commenters asked DeVos to leave regulations under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, the main special education law, alone, including Pam Mueller, an educational consultant from Contoocook, N.H.

"As a teacher, educational consultant, and parent I'm wondering why you want to take away the rights of our disabled population," she wrote. "When I first started teaching a half century ago these children had no rights at all; they were kept in closets in the back halls of schools if in fact they were included in the student population at all. It has taken decades to insure them an equal education. Please do not return us to the 'good old days' of the '50s and '60s." 

The Parent Educational Advocacy Training Center, a nonprofit in Springfield, Va., also weighed in on IDEA:

Through its statutory and regulatory provisions, IDEA provides the basis for millions of children with disabilities to receive special education and related services. The requirements in the law and regulations ensure the foundation of each child's access to a free appropriate public education (FAPE). Since 1978, this has meant students in our country have had the opportunity to succeed academically, just like their non-disabled peers. This has opened the doors of success for students with disabilities to attend postsecondary education and prepare for employment.

There were also comments aimed at specific populations, including letters from parents and relatives of kids with ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyper Activity Disorder) asking the department to leave in place guidance put out last year aimed at strengthening protections for students with the condition.  

"Tremendous effort and scientific research went into writing this guidance," wrote Shawnee Albero of Northport, N.Y. "Shame on you if you remove it." 

DeVos said recently she'd like to revise the Obama administration's guidance on Title IX and sexual assault on college campuses. (All the background you need here.) That triggered tons of comments, both from supporters of victims and the accused.

"Do not turn your back on survivors of sexual assault," wrote Joyce Aubrey of Colardo Springs, Colo. "Protecting the offenders in case of rape on campus will embolden rapists and intimidate victims who spend a lifetime trying to recover their dignity after the humiliation of rape." 

Harry Power, who did not say where he was writing from, was on the other side of the issue. "If DOE does not correct its own misconduct, I will be among those who will help to finance an all-out war against the witch-hunters using any and all legal methods necessary to make an example of what happens to those who defy the Constitution and show contempt for the rule of law itself," he wrote.

To be sure, there were other commenters who had wonky suggestions of regulations the department might want to tweak or change. 

  • The National Association of Charter School Authorizers, had a list of suggested revisions to regulations dealing with charter schools. For instance, it wants more flexibility for states to give grants to help charter schools replicate and expand.
  • The National Governors Association suggested the department revise ESSA guidance to make it clear that state chiefs must reach out to governors, state board members, school administrators, parents, and others, in building their ESSA plans. (The Trump administration scaled back requirements on this point.) 

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