January 30, 2017
WASHINGTON, DC – The American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD) joins with other disability and civil rights organizations in opposing the nomination of Ms. Elizabeth “Betsy” DeVos for Secretary of Education. The mission of the Department of Education must be to advance a national system of quality public education and protect the rights of all children, including children with disabilities, within that system. Ms. DeVos’ testimony during her confirmation hearing and her written submissions, together with her lengthy record of supporting the diversion of public tax dollars to private schools that limit the rights of students with disabilities, indicate that as Secretary she would undermine that critical mission.
AAPD has signed-on to the following letters of opposition:
During her hearing, Ms. DeVos demonstrated a troubling lack of commitment to enforcing the IDEA. Initially, Ms. DeVos disagreed with the premise that all schools that receive federal special education funding should be subject to the requirements of the IDEA, instead arguing that this issue is “best left to the states.” Later, when asked if she was aware that the IDEA was a federal civil rights law, Ms. DeVos admitted that she “may have confused it.” Ms. DeVos either opposes federal enforcement of the federal educational rights of students with disabilities, or is unfamiliar with a critical federal law protecting these rights. Either circumstance makes her unqualified for confirmation as Secretary of Education.
Although she describes herself as an advocate for choice, Ms. DeVos will not commit to continuing the Department’s implementation of the ESSA [Every Student Succeeds Act] accountability provisions. In her hearing, Ms. DeVos also would not commit to holding all schools that receive federal funding equally accountable. When specifically asked whether all schools that receive federal funding should be held to the same accountability standards and should be required to report instances of discipline, harassment, and bullying on an equal basis, Ms. DeVos demurred. Students with disabilities, and particularly students of color with disabilities, regularly face incidents of bullying, inappropriate use of seclusion and restraint as punishment for behavior, and discriminatory school discipline practices. Without transparency and accountability, the “choice” facing all students and families, including students with disabilities, is a hollow one.
Betsy DeVos’ deference to state flexibility, even with regard to compliance with federal civil rights laws such as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA); her claim that demonstrating support for Title IX enforcement guidance would be “premature;” and her lack of support for accountability for all schools receiving federal funds only serve to reinforce our conclusion that her inadequate previous experience and missing record of support for students’ civil rights make her unfit to serve as Secretary of Education.