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Faith-based education group is calling out Betsy DeVos

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos waits to testify before a House Committee on Appropriation subcommittee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington on March 20, 2018. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

WASHINGTON (RNS) — A faith-based education advocacy group is criticizing Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos for her recent comments regarding race and school discipline and is circulating a petition on the matter that has garnered thousands of signatures.

The controversy surrounds a March 11 appearance by DeVos on the “60 Minutes” television program, where she was asked about the possibility of the Trump administration rescinding Obama-era guidance designed to reduce suspensions and expulsions of minority students. When interviewer Leslie Stahl inquired whether black children being punished more harshly for the same incident compared with white children could be considered institutional racism, DeVos did not directly respond, saying, “We’re studying it carefully.”

Nicole Baker Fulgham, founder and president of The Expectations Project, published an open letter shortly after the segment aired, criticizing the remarks. In the letter, Fulgham identifies as “a fellow person of faith” — a reference to DeVos’ very public Christian faith — and says she is “disappointed” with the secretary’s responses.

“Research from your own Department of Education shows African-American students are three times more likely than their white peers to be expelled or suspended, and that these disparities are not explained by more frequent or serious misbehavior by students of color,” wrote Fulgham, a former public schoolteacher, citing a March 2014 report from the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights.

A screenshot of the letter to Secretary DeVos from The Expectations Project

She added: “Our scripture says we’re all created in the image of God and are, therefore, of equal and immeasurable worth in the eyes of our Creator. So when African-American kids in our schools are treated differently than white kids we should all be able to agree this is wrong.”

In a separate Facebook video, Fulgham says she was “heartbroken” by DeVos’ comments, noting, “Punishing black students and white students differently for the same behavior in a way that’s measurable across the entire system is literally the definition of institutional racism.”

Representatives from The Expectations Project say the letter has accumulated nearly 15,000 online signatures in support.

The day after the “60 Minutes” interview aired, the White House declared that DeVos will lead a school safety commission in the wake of the Parkland high school shooting that will be charged in part with examining the “repeal of the Obama administration’s ‘Rethink School Discipline’ policies” — which appears to include the disciplinary guidance.

Department of Education officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment on this story.

About the author

Jack Jenkins

Jack Jenkins is a national reporter for RNS based in Washington, covering U.S. Catholics and the intersection of religion and politics.

11 Comments

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  • “We’re studying it carefully” is what every politician says when they have no satisfactory answer. Is there anyone alive who doesn’t know that by now?

    The answer to Leslie Stahl’s question should have been an immediate and unequivocal, “Of course punishing black children more harshly than white children for the same incident is institutional racism. It’s obvious.” The fact that DeVos’ impulse was to obfuscate speaks volumes.

  • Not surprising considering she has already told parents of disabled or special education children to drop dead and supports discrimination in public schools against other groups.

    It doesn’t help her much either that her big plan for privatization of education also has an underlying racist tone to it. School vouchers got their start as a de facto form of segregating schools. Their support comes largely from groups which support discrimination in various forms against various classes.

    Her entire plan amounts to using public money to go to schools which can be segregated, or discriminate against other groups.

  • DeVos is just one example of the gross incompetence spread across 45’s cabinet & other members of his administration. She should have never been confirmed and demonstrates yet again just how the Republicans are loyal to party first & foremost ignoring the needs of the country.

  • The Trump philosophy of appointing cabinet officers seems to be to find the hungriest fox available and put it in charge of the nearest chicken coop.

    Still, one wonders why Trump bothers with a cabinet at all, considering how he routinely ignores and undermines those he appoints.

  • This is my 3rd pop-quiz this week @ RNS. I’m loving it!

    (1) TRUE OR FALSE: It’s sister Betsy DeVos’ fault that “black children [are] being punished more harshly for the same incident compared with white children”; and that “African-American students are three times more likely than their white peers to be expelled or suspended”.

    FALSE. No, it’s America’s & everybody’s fault.

    (2) TRUE OR FALSE: Sister “Nicole Baker Fulgham … [is] ‘a fellow person of faith'” to sister Betsy DeVos.

    TRUE. But so what.

    (3) TRUE OR FALSE: “We should all be able to agree [that it] is wrong … when African-American kids in our schools are treated differently than white kids … [because in Genesis] scripture says [they]’re all created in the image of God and are, therefore, of equal and immeasurable worth in the eyes of our Creator.”

    FALSE. Genesis says no such thing. LOOK IT UP YOURSELF. At any rate, it’s old news and obsolete that “we [were] all created in the image of God”. The good news now is that “we’re all [to be] created in the image of [the Son of] God”, because Christ Jesus was the only mere flesh & blood “created in the image of God” who, unlike Adam, resisted every temptation and committed no sin so as to become the perfect Sacrificial Lamb of God.

  • If Ms. Fulgham’s evidentiary statistics are plainly incontrovertible, then her criticism of the Secretary, as “a fellow person of faith” should be lauded. For no other reason than that they were expressed in a temperate manner and tone as befits one person of faith to another.

  • De Vos is not known for learning anything from facts. “We are studying it” is her way of saying, “We are studying it to determine a way to dismiss the laready completed valid studies that clearly point to institutional racism.”

  • Better yet, I have with me the Teacher’s Manual with all the answers to the pop-quizes in it.

    FUN.

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