Maxine Waters
From left: Rep. Maxine Waters speaks to Neena Chaudhry and Liz King, participants in the Students Civil Rights roundtable about the Department of Education’s new policies concerning students’ rights in the Cannon Office Building on Nov. 15. (Roy Lewis/The Washington Informer

A group of student leaders recently gathered to address their civil rights concerns to congressional and civil rights leaders in a roundtable led by Rep. Maxine Waters.

The event gave the students an opportunity to address issues that Waters (D-Calif.) claims have been undermined during the tenure of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.

The roundtable was timed to coincide with The Department of Education’s announcement of a proposal to that would affect the way sexual assault cases are handled by federally funded schools through Title IX, the 1972 law that prevents discrimination on the basis of gender.

Waters says the new policy will adversely affect victims of sexual assault by reducing liability for universities, tightening the definition of sexual harassment, and elevating the standard used in evaluating claims of sexual harassment and assault.

“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,” Waters said.

The roundtable featured experts from several leading civil rights organization including Nicole Dooley of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, Neena Chaudhry of the National Women’s Law Center, David Stacy of the Human Rights Campaign, and Liz King, of the Leadership Conference on Civil & Human Rights.

Dooley was similarly critical of the Department of Education.

“There are actions that [The Department of Education leaders] have taken since they’ve come into the administration in the last year in order to really pull back on diversity and signal that they don’t think diversity is a positive for K-12, and college campuses,” Dooley said.

The event was also attended by congresspersons Mark Takano of California and Yvette D. Clarke of New York both of whom were extremely laudatory of Waters’ work in civil rights over the course of her storied career.

Much of the event’s discussion centered on the rights of sexual assault victims, challenges that affect LGBTQ youth in education, and discrimination against students of color — particularly black males.

Prior to Devos’ announcement Rep. Waters introduced a bill, the Education Department Civil Rights Transparency Act which proposes to amend the Department of Education Organization Act to require the Office for Civil Rights of the Department of Education to include in an annual report to the President and Congress specified information regarding federal civil rights violations by educational institutions.

“I think [the bill] will provide a great opportunity for Congress and for the public to see exactly how [the Department of Education] is investigating cases,” Dooley said.

Stacy concurred.

“I’ve reached out to the department and we can’t understand what their policy is around investigating [civil rights] cases especially around transgendered kids,” he said. “We know there are complaints going in but we have no sense in how they’re processing them.”

Students attending the roundtable also felt that continued vigilance was critical. Janelle Gray, 19, of American University works with the campus NAACP chapter and felt that many current civil rights issues echo those of the past.

“I think that on the surface level a lot of action has been taken but it hasn’t produced long-lasting impact and affects for us and we’re still dealing with a lot of the same issues of racism and prejudice against students of color in the education system,” Gray said.

The Washington Informer will provide updates about this situation as it evolves.

WI Guest Author

This correspondent is a guest contributor to The Washington Informer.

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