DeVos’ Pick to Lead Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights Sparks Controversy

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Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos announced the appointment of Candice Jackson as the new deputy assistant secretary of the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) last week — a move that has many education and human rights officials worried. Jackson will oversee the OCR until DeVos selects an official candidate to fill the role — an appointment that will require U.S. Senate approval.

Jackson is best known for arranging for several women who had accused Bill Clinton of sexual assault to attend a presidential debate between Hilary Clinton and now President Donald Trump last October. She sat with the women in the front row at the debate and later spoke at a press conference with them and Trump. A private industry attorney, Jackson lacks experience in education and civil rights issues, leading many to criticize DeVos’ appointment as being politically motivated.

The temporary appointment of Jackson as head of the OCR has also raised concerns about the future direction of the Education Department due to her background as a critic of affirmative action and similar college admission policies. As a student at Stanford University, Jackson wrote articles for a conservative campus newspaper accusing the university’s affirmative action policies of causing her to experience reverse racism. Her published works in praise of deceased economist Murray N. Rothbard — whose controversial viewpoints included calling for the abolishment of compulsory schooling and the Civil Rights Act of 1964 — have caused alarm among those in the education community and with human rights organizations like the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

Jackson’s appointment may also be indicative of the Trump administration’s intentions to reduce OCR oversight on issues of discrimination in America’s K-12 schools and colleges. After the administration reversed Obama-era legislation allowing transgender students to use restrooms corresponding to their gender identity in February, the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights — representing 60 education and human rights groups — sent a letter to DeVos urging her to choose an OCR assistant secretary with a proven track record of advocating for student rights.

Although it is unclear whom DeVos will choose to officially fill the post, one ACLU spokesperson told NBC News that Jackson’s temporary appointment is “a demonstrated disregard for civil rights.”