Back to School Changes with Secretary DeVos’ Department of Education

While students are heading back to school, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has been hard at work advancing an agenda that favors for-profit and charter schools over the interests of many American students. American Oversight’s ongoing investigation of the Department of Education has uncovered detailed calendars for Secretary DeVos’ past year in office. Those calendars give us a window into Secretary DeVos’ priorities, who she and other senior appointees met with, and how they have been managing issues including gun violence, sexual assault on campus, and student lending.

Rolling Back Title IX Regulations:

Title IX is designed to protect students from gender-based discrimination, including sexual assault and harassment, but over the past year and a half, DeVos has worked to roll back those protections. Just last week, the New York Times reported that DeVos would be setting new Title IX regulations that favor the accused over victims and limit liability for colleges and universities.

An entry on DeVos’ calendar from December 2017 shows that the secretary, along with senior political appointees Robert Eitel and Candice Jackson, received a briefing on Title IX. In 2017, The New York Times reported that Jackson, who ran the civil rights office at the Department of Education for several months, had made a series of problematic comments about campus sexual assault.

Eitel, who is one of DeVos’ top policy aides, separately met with groups that advocate to protect those accused of sexual assault. Entries on Eitel’s calendars show that he met with Families Advocating Campus Equality, a group that wants to change rules on how sexual assaults are handled on college campuses.

Eitel also attended a Title IX “Fair Process Listening Session” that didn’t include any victims’ rights groups – just university attorneys and administrators.

DeVos’ Response to Gun Violence:

Following the school shooting in Parkland, FL – and many other instances of gun violence – the Trump administration designated Secretary DeVos to lead a task force to review the issue. Although DeVos’ calendars include meetings with Parkland families and a visit to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, her overall schedule reflects the Trump administration’s general anti-gun-control views.

On March 7, 2018, DeVos attended a meeting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL.

The calendar also shows two March 2018 meetings with different Parkland parents who lost children in the shooting.

But DeVos also met with Kyle Kashuv, an anti-gun-control Parkland survivor who has advocated for teachers to be armed.

DeVos’ Commission on School Safety:

The Department of Education has responded to the school shooting epidemic by setting up a committee to address violence. According to reporting by the New York Times, that committee has instead worked to undo Obama-era guidance on discipline. Secretary DeVos even admitted to a Senate panel that the commission was not taking concrete steps to address gun control

 The Federal Commission on School Safety appeared a few times on DeVos’ calendar, with minimal details released to the public. Her calendars show two organizational meetings and a visit to a Maryland elementary school.

Federal Commission on School Safety held a public field visit at a school in Maryland. Reports stated that the committee focused on school climate and discussed whether or not Obama-era policies were causing school shootings.

For-Profit and Charter School Prioritization:

The public has known since DeVos’ nomination that she’s entered the job with little knowledge of the public school system – and her priorities haven’t changed. DeVos’ calendars from her first year in office show a strong preference toward for-profit, religious, and charter schools.

In one entry, DeVos met with John Fisher, a major charter school donor and the chairman of the Knowledge Is Power Program Foundation (KIPP), a non-profit network of public charter schools. Fisher also runs a charter school growth fund and is involved with the Center for Education reform. 

DeVos also met with the President of the Center for Education Reform–which Fisher is involved with.

Her calendars also included a meeting attended by the President of the Center for Education reform and the CEO of edX, an online course provider.

Calendars reflect an agency’s priorities – and they allow us to see how senior Trump administration appointees at the Department of Education are spending their time. The choices made by Secretary DeVos and her staff have a real impact on schools and students across the country. American Oversight is going to continue to investigate the Department of Education to shine a light on Secretary DeVos’ agenda, priorities, and actions.