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We Are Not ‘Social Justice People,’ Says Top Education Department Official

Education Department officials have been working to change how the agency handles civil rights issues, including racial discrimination.

Previously, under the Obama administration, the Department’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) investigated schools who had a racial disparity in certain outcomes — like punishments for conduct violations — even if the school never intended to discriminate. Now, under the Trump administration, OCR officials are reining in the agency’s reach.

Kenneth Marcus, the new assistant secretary of education for civil rights, told The Washington Post in plain language what he feels the agency’s role should be.

“We enforce the laws that Congress passes as written and in full — no less and no more,” Marcus said. “We are law enforcement officials, not advocates or social justice people.”

Shortly after President Donald Trump assumed office, OCR sent a memo to agency investigators, informing them to stop considering “systemic” bias after they received even just one claim of discrimination. This was intended to help speed up the resolution process which the administration felt had become clogged under President Barack Obama.

“The movement to narrow discrimination enforcement reflects a broader ethos at work in the Education Department under [Education Secretary Betsy] DeVos, who has sought to reduce federal control over schools, saying oversight is best done by local communities and states,” the Post reported.

Racial discrimination is not the only change from OCR. Last September, DeVos also rescinded Obama-era guidelines surrounding campus sexual assault and harassment that sent a message to schools that if they didn’t find in favor of the accuser, they risked a federal investigation for sex-discrimination. And in many cases, investigators seemed determined to fault the school for something.

“The Obama administration was basically saying, ‘Even if there’s no evidence of discrimination or implicit bias, you can still be found guilty of violating kids’ civil rights,’” Michael Petrilli, president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, told the Post. “It would be naive to think we’re not going to see racial differences when the experiences kids are having vary so dramatically.”

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