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Don’t Forget The Terrible Legacy Of Betsy DeVos

Betsy DeVos' resigned, but her history of sanctioned bigotry and discrimination lingers on.

January 15, 2021

Finley Muratova
// Wikimedia Commons

etsy DeVos, who served as the Education Secretary under now-twice impeached President Trump, resigned last Friday. “There is no mistaking the impact your rhetoric had on the situation,” DeVos wrote in an emotional letter to President Trump following his supporters storming the Capitol on Wednesday, Jan. 6. There’s no doubt resigning must’ve been a hard decision for her to make, taking into consideration her long history with the current administration. Well, shouldn’t we be commending it? I wouldn’t and here’s why. 

Many loyal Republican officials have either stepped down or denounced presidential pro-insurrection rhetoric by now. Of course, we’ll never know if the resignations were a calculated, PR-friendly move or if they were an honest renunciation to the violent attack on America’s already-shot democracy. But as for DeVos? Her inner motives don’t really matter. 

She has caused too much damage to the American education system and its most vulnerable members during her time as the Education Secretary to praise her for doing the right thing this once. While DeVos might have felt sincerely disgusted with the attempted coup, she was a terrible Education Secretary and irreparably damaged myriad lives with her sanctioned bigotry and discrimination. 

In fact, I would argue that DeVos’ actions were so detrimental to our education system that discussing all of them would warrant several articles, so I’ve gone ahead and chosen those legislations and efforts I find to be the most appalling. Her greatest hits if you will.

The Crippling of TITLE IX

Early on in her career, it became apparent DeVos was on a mission to make the lives of minority students and survivors of sexual violence even more unbearable than they already were. 

Title IX built its dark legacy on work DeVos had already begun in 2017, which marked the beginning of her attacks on student sexual assault survivors by weakening protections against on-campus harassment. Under the proposal, fewer cases would constitute as investigation-worthy. Commenting on her decision, DeVos offered this victim-blaming statement: “Any perceived offense can become a full-blown Title IX investigation. But if everything is harassment, then nothing is.” 

DeVos’ most recent scandal involved the finalization of her new Title IX regulations in May 2020, undermining whatever little protections Title IX used to offer school and college attendees. It was meant to go into effect in August of 2020 and it did. This new rule prompted devastating and rippling changes, narrowing the definition of sexual abuse, which allowed schools to respond and act on far fewer complaints. It also lets colleges forgo the investigation of assaults happening off-campus, even if both the assaulter and the victim attend the university in question. 

The rule offered no protections to LGBTQ+ students and gave room for religious universities to be exempt from investigations for identity-related discrimination. It required live hearings with cross-examination by each parties’ advisors in cases of reported sexual violence, which means victims have to now face their assaulter in-person and can potentially be interrogated by them. 

Oh. It’s also noteworthy that opting out of implementing the amended Title IX rule would put institutions at risk of losing federal funding many heavily rely on. 

Thousands of college students and advocacy groups like Know Your IX have stepped up to fight for Title IX as we had it before DeVos’ meddling. There were tens of petitions created and an entire movement called Hands Off IX was formed. While the new Title IX rule did come into effect last August, numerous colleges and college-based organizations across the U.S. expressed their discontent with the policy. 

"Taken together, they will have a significant chilling effect on sexual harassment victims’ ability and willingness to bring forward allegations of sexual harassment,” wrote Eloy Oakley, chancellor of the California Community Colleges system, a letter to the department, insisting that the proposed rule would create “new barriers for victims and “make campuses less safe.”

Betsy DeVos Protects Guns, Not Children 

Minority and survivor students aren’t the only ones DeVos actively endangered during her time as Education Secretary. Over the last decade roughly 356 people have fallen victim to school shootings across America, which DeVos met with advocacy for more guns in classrooms. Starting with her infamous “grizzly” remark in 2017 — when she suggested schools in Wyoming and Montana must have guns on the premises to protect students from bears — DeVos’ record on gun violence has been stupefying at best and perilous at worst.

In 2018 she proposed taking federal funds intended for academics and student wellbeing programs and put them toward purchasing guns for teachers to keep in their classrooms. She gave up on the plan eventually, but her fixation on more guns making students more safe did little to decrease the instances of gun violence in schools. In fact, quite the opposite.

When a school safety commission was set up after the deadliest school shooting in American history took place at Marjory Douglas High School, she became its head and virtually failed to ensure any new school gun safety measures. DeVos also used her newfound position to dismantle students’ civil rights protections, designed to protect racial minority students from being disproportionately punished compared to their white peers. 

In a noble attempt to counter DeVos’ efforts to make American schools more dangerous and intolerant, many citizens stepped up, founding and endorsing gun safety organizations. To name a few, Change the Ref was founded by the parents of Joaquin Oliver, a high school senior shot dead in the Parkland shooting, the National Education Association published a pledge people could take to support firing DeVos, and the Center for American Progress published an in-depth analysis of the ways in which DeVos endangered students across the country.

Funding Private, Not Public Education

DeVos herself had little exposure to public education in America prior to being appointed to this position. Having attended a private Christian school herself, she sent most of her children to private Christian schools, too. Staying true to her alma mater, she’s a private education die-hard and that elitism shows in her policies’ alignment with President Trump’s disdain for public education. (Which is to say nothing about the gross negligence of appointing an individual barely familiar with the public school system that more than 71% of American youth go through. 

During her time with the current administration, DeVos chose to promote privately owned charter schools at the expense of already underfunded public ones. She introduced vouchers for charter schools, which ostensibly allowed at-risk youth to attend schools their families might not have had the money to send them to. But U.S. charter schools are already a controversial topic; they’re privately run and publicly funded, with outcries of segregation across the board. According to a 2009 UCLA study, Black charter school students are attended by more than 90% of minority peers.

Despite these charter school plans not being nearly as terrible as equipping classrooms with guns, there remains a very real danger. Voucher funds stem from the money allocated to public schools that rely on federal funding to provide student engagement and wellness programs, as well as to purchase needed classroom supplies. It would make sense to take away a bit of funding if it was an abundant resource, but the reality is quite the opposite.

Teachers often have to buy supplies for their students with their own money, from paltry salaries barely enough to make ends meet. 

Moreover, the voucher funds DeVos championed would stem directly from taxpayers’ wallets, which is a problem as charter schools’ owners often make profits from students and, therefore, from the average tax-paying American. In most states, charter schools have to be registered as non-profits, but there’s a convenient loophole the schools’ owners can profit from. By entering their school into a contract with a for-profit company they also own they allow for the company to profit and end up with access to those subsequent earnings. 

The TLDR on DeVos’ Terrible Legacy

When a politician needs to be kept in check by non-profit organizations, it’s worrisome enough, but when politicians’ efforts contradict basic humanitarian values of supporting those victimized and marginalized, it’s dangerous. Betsy DeVos’ initiatives damaged the American education system in ways we’ll continue to discover for years to come — from the magnified struggles of public schools and the foundation of basic classroom supplies to sanctioned victim-blaming and continued school shootings. (Curbed only by the majority of students currently going through remote learning due to the COVID-19 pandemic.) 

We’ve yet to discover all the ways in which DeVos’ initiatives have ruined lives and will leave a lasting shadow on students’ futures. To wrap up my argument, I’ll leave you with this perfectly scathing tweet from Cori Bush:

“It’s cowardly to resign in lieu of your moral responsibility to invoke the 25th Amendment,” Cori Bush tweeted on January 7. “You’re trying to save face, but if you actually cared about stopping violence, you wouldn’t have dismantled Title IX protections for sexual assault survivors. We won’t forget that.”

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