Federal changes in education are far‑reaching and quiet
Monday, October 16, 2017
When Betsy DeVos was appointed as Secretary of Education, there was an immediate backlash across the U.S. about the future of public education. In the months since then, our attention has shifted to topics like horrifying hurricanes, immigration policies, travel bans and, of course, North Korea.
In the meantime, some disturbing changes have been quietly taking place in the country's education system. The distractions have proved to be successful for the policymakers, but it's now high time to make note of these changes:
- Transgender students may no longer expect adequate support or protection for on-campus harassment and segregation
- School nutrition standards have been lowered
- Survivors of sexual assault on college campuses will find it harder to secure justice
- Now recent graduates of for-profit colleges will find it harder to have their student loans forgiven
- For-profit colleges are looking at a brighter future
DeVos started her political career in Michigan with the bold proclamation of enabling school choice with the aid of government-funded vouchers. While these claims haven't seen much fruition on the national stage, her quieter actions have set the nation back by decades.
Under the Obama administration, schools were asked to exercise a systematic, two-pronged approach with on-campus harassment. These included investigations of sexual harassment, assault allegations and discrimination against students who are transgender, gay or disabled.
DeVos' policies have reduced funding in this area, and staff cuts are going to make proper resolution of these cases next to impossible. In these regressive times, we need to be proactive when it comes to helping victims and crushing age-old stereotypes.
Instead, we now have severe rollbacks on transgender rights that are going to make life in school difficult for these students. Per the 1964 Civil Rights Act in public schools, the Education Department's Office for Civil Rights will ensure that harassment doesn't interfere with any student's right to learn.
However, many schools and students worry that by simultaneously closing out investigations and rescinding guidance, the federal government is endangering student civil rights and encouraging discrimination against LGBT students. Their only hope lies in the local-level support, the policies implemented by individual schools and finally with the courts.
It took schools years to find a balance between cost and nutrition in their cafeteria offers. In the last few years, there have positive reports of progress in this sphere.
Federal nutrition guidelines warranted that kids eat balanced meals, much to the relief of their concerned parents. Now the Obama-era Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 has been halted. School lunch nutrition standards have been suddenly relaxed, despite parents, doctors and nutritionists protesting and pointing out to the alarming rise in obesity in our kids.
With severe budget cuts proposed by the Trump administration, school districts are also uncertain about professional teacher development funding. Without these, training teachers on current and future programs, new technologies and class planning will become even harder. The nation is already experiencing a severe teacher shortage, cutting funds further is hardly a solution.
The Education Department's announcement that it would rescind the Obama-era response and action guidelines for allegations of campus sexual assault is disturbing. Colleges now have an indefinite amount of time to conduct their investigations and may put a greater burden of proof on the accusers and victims of assault.
The Obama administration implemented strict guidelines for sexual assault cases in 2011. While threats of rescinding federal funding for failure to handle these situations raised an outcry, the former administration won the support of many sexual assault victims and advocates.
Now, students are confused and alarmed that they are no longer protected under federal law — a sorry state of mind for our future generation.
But not all are unhappy with DeVos. For-profit colleges, which came under severe scrutiny for their high student debts, are now looking at a much friendlier climate. The regulation called the Gainful Employment Rule warranted that students who graduated from these colleges need to earn enough afterward to pay back their loans. Failure in this sphere could see these institutions have their federal grants cut.
Now, of course, these regulations have been halted so these for-profit colleges may have nothing to worry about. This will also cause a rollback on loan forgiveness policies, leaving millions of students in limbo.
All these changes are alarming, yet our attention is focused elsewhere. They are characterized by a remarkable lack of protests and increasing detachment. Perhaps the Dalai Lama was right when he said America has become too "selfish."
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