DeVos Won’t Answer Whether Federally Funded Schools Can Discriminate

Susan Walsh/AP

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos refused to say Tuesday whether schools receiving federal dollars were required to protect students from discrimination on the basis of their sexual orientation.

DeVos’ dodging the issue further angered Democrats, who say her lifelong advocacy for funneling public money to private and charter schools carries with it an acceptance that such schools can discriminate against LGBT students.

“Schools that receive federal funds must follow federal law,” DeVos told Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) during testimony to the Senate Appropriations subcommittee, responding to his question on whether the White House’s proposed expansion of federal funds for private schools would carry with it discrimination protections.

“And I just said federal law is foggy,” Merkley replied. “So in your understanding of federal law, will such discrimination be allowed?”

“On areas where the law is unsettled, this department is not going to be issuing decrees,” she said, the closest Merkley got to an answer. “That is a matter for Congress and the courts to settle.”

DeVos has dodged questions on protections against discrimination since her nomination as education secretary.

In her confirmation hearing, DeVos answered, “I think that is a matter that is best left to the states” when asked if all schools nationwide should comply with the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act, which is federal law. “I may have confused it,” she said later.

On May 24, DeVos refused to give one example of where her department would step in on behalf of certain students subject to discrimination at the state level.

Correction: A previous version of this post misidentified the senator questioning DeVos Tuesday. It was Jeff Merkley (D-OR), not Ed Markey (D-MA)

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