WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump’s nominee for education secretary, in written responses to questions from senators, appears to have used several sentences and phrases from other sources without attribution – including from a top Obama administration civil rights official.
The responses from nominee Betsy DeVos were submitted Monday to the top Democrat on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, which is voting Tuesday morning on her confirmation.
In answering a set of questions from Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., on how she would address bullying of LGBTQ students, DeVos wrote: “Every child deserves to attend school in a safe, supportive environment where they can learn, thrive, and grow.”
That sentence is almost identical to language used by Vanita Gupta, head of the Justice Department’s civil rights division under Obama, in a press release announcing the administration’s controversial guidance to schools on how to accommodate transgender students.
“Every child deserves to attend school in a safe, supportive environment that allows them to thrive and grow,” Gupta said in the May 2016 release.
Trump transition officials who have handled DeVos’ nomination did not respond to questions sent Tuesday morning about the questionnaire.
The revelation comes as Democrats are making an all-out push against key Trump nominees – including DeVos, Attorney General nominee Jeff Sessions, Treasury Secretary nominee Steven Mnuchin, and others. But Democrats cannot block those confirmations unless they can convince a handful of Republicans to break with the new president.
DeVos has come under withering scrutiny from Democrats who have raised concerns about her advocacy for school privatization initiatives, her financial ties to the education industry and the seemingly weak grasp of federal civil rights laws she demonstrated at her confirmation hearing this month.
Murray, D-Wash., declined to say whether she was aware of the issue or otherwise comment in a brief interview Tuesday morning.
In a set of questions about her views on LGBTQ students, including about whether transgender students should be able to use bathrooms that match their gender identity, DeVos answered: “Every student deserves to attend school in a safe, supportive environment where they can learn, achieve and thrive and are not discriminated against. Period.”
That language is similar to language appearing in an article in a magazine published by ASCD, an organization devoted to education leadership.
The article outlines what educators can do to create schools that are supportive of transgender students, and concludes: “You – as an educator and an ally – can dramatically shift the school climate to one that is safe, supportive, and inclusive: a place where all students can learn, achieve, and thrive.”
In other instances, answers that DeVos submitted to Murray in her 62-page response used text verbatim from federal statutes and Education Department materials without direct quotation.
In one response, to a question about whether she would continue the practice of publishing a list of schools under Title IX civil-rights investigations, DeVos said, “Opening a complaint for investigation in no way implies that the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) has made a determination about the merits of the complaint.”
That language mirrors an Education Department website: “Opening a complaint for investigation in no way implies that OCR has made a determination with regard to the merits of the complaint.”
Other responses refer to a requirement that the department’s assistant secretary for civil rights “make an annual report to the Secretary, the President, and the Congress summarizing the compliance and enforcement activities” of the department’s Office of Civil Rights and that the assistant secretary is authorized “to collect or coordinate the collection of data necessary to ensure compliance with civil rights laws within the jurisdiction” of the civil rights office.
Those are verbatim excerpts of a 1979 federal statute, but the law is not quoted or cited.
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