‘A nice idea’
She hasn’t issued an Educational Degree No. 24, but US Department of Education Sec. Betsy DeVos is not a fan favorite in the LGBT community. Her consistent push to introduce school voucher programs is seen by many as discriminatory, as is her refusal to condemn private schools that discriminate against LGBT students.
“Pressed by Democrats on how she would protect the rights of LGBT students, DeVos said in areas where the law is ‘unsettled,’ which she said included areas of bias against gay people, her department would not be ‘issuing decrees,’” according to a recent piece in the publication Inside Higher Ed. “Even if the law is unclear, that doesn’t remove the obligation of the department to offer guidance and enforce the law.”
Harper Jean Tobin, director of policy for the National Center for Transgender Equality, told Inside Higher Ed that there was hope DeVos would “clarify that she believes all schools that accept federal funds must follow federal law.”
“Now that we finally have that clarification from her, it’s apparent that we should put an asterisk on it,” Tobin said.
In the few short months since taking office, DeVos already rolled back protections on LGBT students. In February, she rescinded guidance documents related to bathroom usage for transgender youths. Just last week, her department’s Office for Civil Rights closed a discrimination case involving an elementary school student in Ohio.
Candice Jackson, who is head of that office, told Washington Post that the findings of discrimination were withdrawn because those findings were based on the rescinded bathroom guidance documents.
But arguably the greatest concern about LGBT discrimination in schools comes
June 23, 2017
from the voucher program that both DeVos and Vice President Mike Pence are big proponents of.
“It’s always surprising to me that you should be able to choose your college and be able to pursue the academics and social environment that you want, but you shouldn’t be able to be around those people when you’re in K through 12,” said Christian Zsilavetz, founder of the private, LGBT-affirming Pride School Atlanta. “If you are a right-wing, fundamentalist Christian, you would probably like to be around people who are largely rightwing fundamentalist Christians when you go to college. Go for it. Just like many people go to liberal universities because they want to be places where they’re not a target.”
He said new private schools open up regularly for that reason: to provide an environment that fills a specific need, such as a safe space for LGBT students.
Indiana’s had a school voucher program for a number of years. It sounds simple: Each year, a certain amount of taxpayer dollars, per child in attendance, is allocated to public schools. Under a school voucher program, those dollars could be transferred to a private school if that child’s family would prefer her not attend a public school, but otherwise could not afford the private school’s tuition.
“I think I agree with the idea of being able to go to a private school with public funding,
By DALLAS ANNE DUNCAN
because the schools that are available to many students are not necessarily the best schools to be had, just by virtue of where you live,” said Zsilavetz, who called school vouchers “a nice idea.” “But this idea of being able to go to a school that discriminates, like the religious schools, that’s a challenge for me. … It’s another thing to allow schools that discriminate, especially in this day and age, on the basis of LGBT identity of the child or the family, I think that’s ridiculous to allow them to receive public funding.”
For example, he said, Pride School would not be allowed to receive funding if it discriminated against students on something like race. And even Catholic schools don’t dis- CONTINUES ON PAGE 7