Trump is not the first to say that education is the “civil rights issue of our time.” George W. Bush said it when he worked to pass No Child Left Behind, and it was almost a refrain for President Obama and his longtime education secretary, Arne Duncan.
Obama and Duncan injected new energy into the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights, which investigates discrimination complaints in schools and colleges. Under Obama, OCR encouraged schools to reform discipline policies to disrupt the school-to-prison pipeline. It also led the administration’s charge to overhaul how schools handle complaints of campus sexual assault, and it laid out how schools should accommodate transgender students.
Critics argued that Obama and Duncan overreached their federal authority, creating rules and regulations that had no basis in law. Civil rights advocates cheered the administration for its efforts to protect vulnerable youth.
Those same advocates now fear that the Trump administration will roll back civil rights protections for students in schools, including by potentially starving the Office for Civil Rights of money or authority.
Those fears were stoked last week when Education Secretary Betsy DeVos — in her first major policy move since taking office — joined with Attorney General Jeff Sessions to withdraw the Obama administration’s guidance on transgender students. White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said that it was a “states’ rights issue” that the federal government should not be involved in, a position cheered by many on the right who agreed.