A Massachusetts congresswoman is calling for US Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to resign, saying she used a purportedly racist study to justify revoking a 2014 policy that aimed to reduce racial disparities in school discipline.
“Secretary DeVos rescinded a policy meant to protect the civil rights of students and cherry-picked racist research to back it up,” Representative Katherine Clark, a Democrat from Melrose, said in a statement Monday. “She has failed to live up to her basic job responsibility: making sure that kids have equitable access to public education. She is unfit to carry on in this job.”
A message left with the Department of Education was not immediately returned Monday evening.
At a congressional hearing last week, Clark pressed DeVos about the research that underpinned the move to revoke the 2014 policy. According to Clark, that research DeVos cited does not acknowledge institutional racism or implicit bias as factors that contribute to racial disparities in school discipline.
“Are you saying here, when you quote this research, that the problem really is that black children are just more of a discipline problem?” Clark asked DeVos during the March 26 hearing. “Because that’s the research you’ve quoted in your report.”
DeVos replied that “No student, no child should be treated or disciplined differently based on their skin color, their race, or their national origin.”
In her statement Monday, Clark said the study found that black children are “disciplined more because of ‘pre-existing behavioral problems of youth that are imported into the classroom, cause classroom disruptions, and that trigger disciplinary measures by teachers and school officials.’ ”
The research stated that “the association between school suspensions and blacks and whites reflects long-standing behavioral differences between youth and that, at least in the aggregate, the use of suspensions may not be racially biased as many have argued,” according to Clark.
Messages left with the lead author of the research, John Paul Wright, were not immediately returned.
According to Clark, DeVos rescinded a policy that addressed racial discrimination in school disciplinary practices last December as part of the School Safety Commission, a group that was created by the White House after the high school shooting in Parkland, Fla., that left 17 dead. The commission was tasked with providing recommendations to reduce violence in schools, Clark said. The policy change was one of the panel’s recommendations.
The change was met with protests, with more than 100 civil rights and education groups calling for the policy to be reinstated, Clark said.
Clark’s call for DeVos to resign came days after DeVos defended a proposal that would have eliminated funding for the Special Olympics. The idea drew widespread condemnation from lawmakers, and President Trump ultimately reversed course on the proposal.