In what appears to be yet another move to roll back the Obama era precedent of cabinet level “guidance memos” having the force of law, the Department of Education Civil Rights division will be transitioning back to being a “neutral” office rather than an activist force in the social justice movement. This is according to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. (Politico)
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said she is “returning” the Office for Civil Rights “to its role as a neutral, impartial, investigative agency.”
In a July 11 letter to Democratic Sen. Patty Murray, DeVos asserted that the department’s civil rights arm under the Obama administration “had descended into a pattern of overreaching, of setting out to punish and embarrass institutions rather than work with them to correct civil rights violations and of ignoring public input prior to issuing new rules.”
As part of the changes she is implementing, the civil rights office would no longer issue “new regulations via administrative fiat,” as the Obama administration did, she wrote.
One might imagine that the idea of ensuring that a government oversight agency remained a “neutral, impartial investigative” entity wouldn’t be a controversial idea, but one would be wrong. It’s obviously plenty controversial in the eyes of many Democrats who had grown used to having their way on such matters under the presidency of Barack Obama. DeVos gave an apt description of many of the agency’s tactics when she described them as regulations issued via administrative fiat.
One of the most high profile of those cases was the “guidance” issued under Title IX concerning bathroom use by “transgender students.” It was never debated by Congress nor codified anywhere except in an executive memo, but it may as well have carried the force of law since Washington was threatening schools’ federal funding if they failed to comply.
But the more far reaching aspect of the way the Office of Civil Rights was operating concerned the repeated pattern of choosing to launch lengthy studies looking for “patterns of abuse” to affect overarching polic y changes at schools rather than addressing the individual complaints of students or teachers under established law. This led to lengthy delays for those filing complaints, as DeVos correctly points out.
Getting back to the business of investigating individual complaints based on their merit under existing law (not guidance memos) sounds like a big upgrade in customer service. Liberals are going to scream about it, as they do with anything involving Betsy DeVos, but this seems like a long overdue change.