A Democratic congresswoman is demanding that Education Secretary Betsy DeVos step down, accusing her of supporting race-based punishment of students in light of her push to end an Obama administration policy on fair treatment for minorities in the classroom.
“I am calling for her resignation because she has failed to live up to her basic job responsibilities of making sure that our kids have fair and equitable access to a great public education and to keep them safe,” Rep. Katherine Clark (D-Mass.) told MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” on Monday. “What Betsy DeVos did that I so object to and find disgusting is she rescinded civil rights policy and cherry-picked racist research to back it up.”
In December, the Trump administration scrapped guidance intended to shield students from racist discipline at school shortly after DeVos recommended the move.
In doing so, DeVos cited a Journal of Criminal Justice study that argued that “the use of suspensions by teachers and administrators may not have been as racially biased as some scholars have argued.”
The study also claimed that “the racial gap in suspensions was completely accounted for by a measure of the prior problem behavior of the student.”
According to U.S. News & World Report, the findings stated that differences in suspension rates across racial groups “appear to be a function of differences in problem behaviors that emerge early in life, that remain relatively stable over time, and that materialize in the classroom.”
Clark called out DeVos’ use of the research as an indication that she had failed “to stick up for children” and was therefore “unfit to carry on this job.”
The congresswoman denounced DeVos’ use of the research, which she contended was an effort to portray behavioral issues as a matter of “who these children are” in terms of race.
Responding to Clark’s criticisms, Department of Education press secretary Liz Hill emailed the following statement on Tuesday:
The Secretary rescinded this guidance months ago because she heard repeatedly that it wasn’t working for students or for teachers. For the Congresswoman to show up and try to grab headlines is nothing more than political opportunism at its worst. Secretary DeVos always has and always will fight to make sure every student is treated like an individual and has the opportunity to learn and grow in an environment that is safe and nurturing.
DeVos came under fire last month for advocating for the end of federal funding for the Special Olympics, but her proposal was later dismissed by President Donald Trump, who said he told his “people” to keep it in the administration’s budget proposal.
This story has been updated with a statement from the Department of Education.