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Congresswoman Maxine Waters

Representing the 43rd District of California

Rep. Waters Opening Statement at Student Civil Rights Roundtable

November 15, 2018
Press Release

Rep. Waters Opening Statement at Student Civil Rights Roundtable

WASHINGTON – Today, Congresswoman Maxine Waters (CA-43) hosted a Student Civil Rights Roundtable where she was joined by Members of Congress, civil rights advocates, and student leaders to discuss Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ attacks on civil rights protections for students—particularly students of color, students with disabilities, transgender students, and survivors of sexual assault.

During the roundtable, Congresswoman Waters led a lively discussion of the steps policymakers can take to better protect students, including her legislation, H.R. 6537,  the Education Department Civil Rights Transparency Act, which increases transparency in investigations conducted by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights in order to ensure that students’ civil rights are protected.

Her remarks as prepared for delivery are below:

Good afternoon and thank you for joining today’s Student Civil Rights Roundtable. We are gathered here today to sound the alarm on Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ unconscionable attempts to turn back the clock on all of the progress we have made on behalf of students’ rights, and discuss steps policymakers can take to ensure that students’ civil rights are protected under the Trump Administration.

Over the past two years, we have watched in horror as Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has launched a full-on attack on civil rights protections for students -- particularly students of color, students with disabilities, transgender students, and survivors of sexual assault.

DeVos has indicated that she was considering revoking Obama-era guidance on school discipline, which was designed to address the wide disparity in school suspensions and expulsions of people of color, particularly African American students.

DeVos has suggested that states – not the federal government – should enforce the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, and announced a two-year delay on enforcement of an Obama-era rule sought to create a uniform national standard to ensure that students from minority backgrounds are not overrepresented in special education.

DeVos has also withdrawn protections for transgender students in public schools, which allowed students to use restrooms consistent with their gender identity in accordance with basic civil rights law under Title IX of the Education Amendment Act.

Just yesterday, it was reported that DeVos will issue a sweeping overhaul of the rules on how colleges and universities handle sexual assault, which will prioritize the interests of the institutions and the accused, while undermining protections for survivors.

Furthermore, DeVos’ Office for Civil Rights (OCR) has simply refused to properly enforce federal civil rights laws such as the Civil Rights Act, Title IX, and the Americans with Disabilities Act, while also failing to conduct credible investigations of civil rights complaints. Instead, the OCR has reportedly dismissed more than 1,200 civil rights complaints, as a result of a new, sham policy that allows the Education Department to disregard cases that they consider burdensome and eliminate students’ ability to appeal the department’s decision.

As a remedy, I led 21 of my colleagues in introducing H.R. 6537, the Education Department Civil Rights Transparency Act, which requires that the Education Department publish its civil rights related activities. Specifically, my bill would force the Education Department to disclose, among other requirements:

  • Any student complaints dismissed for administrative or procedural reasons;

  • The academic institutions that have been accused of violating students’ civil rights;

  • Any resolution agreement between the Department and an academic institution;

  • Instances in which the Department determines a complaint does not allege a civil rights violation; and, 

  • Any changes made to the manual used by the Department's Office for Civil Rights (OCR) to investigate complaints of civil rights violations.

My bill is supported by a number of the nation’s leading civil rights organizations, including the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, the American Association of University Woman, the Human Rights Campaign, Futures Without Violence, the Feminist Majority Foundation, End Rape on Campus, and Know Your IX. I have circulated flyers that further outline my bill, which I encourage you to take with you and share freely.

This is just one of the many topics that we will cover today. I have assembled a group of experts that have dedicated their careers to these issues. They are:

  • Nicole Dooley, Policy Counsel at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund

  • Jessica Davidson, the Executive Director of the advocacy group, End Rape on Campus

  • Diane Smith Howard, the Legal Services Manager of the National Disability Rights Network

  • Neena Chaudhry, the General Counsel of the National Women’s Law Center

  • Liz King, the Director of Education Policy at the Leadership Conference on Civil & Human Rights

  • David Stacy, the Government Affairs Director at the Human Rights Campaign

Each of the participants will have an opportunity to speak on an important issue related to students’ civil rights, after which the group is welcome to comment and discuss their work and experiences on that issue. We will then reserve time for the students to ask their own questions, and raise concerns about what they’re seeing and experiencing.

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