DeVos ‘not familiar’ with affirmative action guidance her agency scrapped

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos told a House panel Wednesday that she is "not familiar" with affirmative action guidance for schools that the Trump administration rescinded last summer, or with a major Supreme Court ruling on which portions of the guidance were based.

The administration in July rescinded several guidance documents issued by the Education and Justice departments under the Obama administration that called on school superintendents and colleges to consider race when trying to diversify their campuses.

They included 2011 guidelines issued by the Obama administration for public schools that detailed a number of ways that school districts can consider diversity without making decisions based on the race of individual students. The Obama guidance stressed that school districts must “use race-neutral approaches only if they are workable.” But when they’re not, “school districts may employ generalized race-based approaches.”

Under questioning on Wednesday from Rep. David Trone (D-Md.) about the move to scrap the guidance, however, DeVos that she is "not familiar with that particular document."

When asked about a 2007 Supreme Court ruling, Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle, that portions of the guidance were based on, DeVos said "I’m not familiar with that particular case."

A majority of the Justices in the ruling recognized that seeking diversity and avoiding racial isolation are compelling interests for school districts, though the court ruled the Seattle School District’s use of race as the second most important tiebreaker in high school admissions was unconstitutional.

Trone told DeVos that the "rescission of that guidance has caused confusion and fear about the intent of the Trump administration."

"So I’d like to give you an opportunity to clarify," he said. "I want to be clear that no matter what your action is, federal law and Supreme Court precedent still stands."

DeVos responded that "It’s valuable for every student to be in a school setting that has great diversity. I think it’s valuable for every student."

"The goal should be to have diversity of every sort," DeVos said. "The Supreme Court has opined in this and has given very clear guidance."

Earlier in the exchange, Trone asked DeVos whether she believes racial segregation "poses a threat to the educational opportunities for children of color," to which DeVos responded that "I’m concerned about every student, no matter where they are and where they go to school …"

Trone pressed her again, saying "that’s an easy one, give me a yes on that one."

"I am concerned with every student," DeVos responded.

Nicole Gaudiano contributed to this report.

Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine

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