Asked at a hearing about discrimination in private schools, she said ‘they must follow federal law.’

WASHINGTON — Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said Tuesday that schools receiving federal money should follow federal law, but she would not commit to banning discrimination against LGBT students in private schools.

The Trump administration’s budget proposal significantly cuts funding for teacher training and after-school programs and student financial aid, while boosting funding for charter schools and vouchers that parents can use to send children to private schools. Critics fear that private religious schools may discriminate against students based on sexual orientation, gender identity, religion or disability.

DeVos was asked during a Senate subcommittee hearing on Tuesday whether such discrimination would be allowed. DeVos said: “Schools that receive federal funds must follow federal law, period.”

But when Sen. Jeff Merkley, a Democrat from Oregon, said federal law is unsettled on LGBT discrimination and pressed DeVos to elaborate, she indicated that was not her call to make: “On areas where law is unsettled, this department is not going to be issuing decrees; that is a matter for Congress and the courts to settle.”

“I don’t support discrimination in any form,” DeVos added.


Similarly, DeVos was asked by Sen. Jack Reed, a Democrat from Rhode Island, whether non-traditional public schools receiving federal funding will be required to accept all students, including students with disabilities, DeVos would not directly answer the question, saying only that schools accepting federal money should follow federal law.

LGBTQ advocates slammed DeVos.

“By once again turning a blind eye to LGBTQ students who experience discrimination in school, Secretary DeVos continues to prove why she was the wrong choice to lead our nation’s education system,” said Sarah Kate Ellis, president and CEO of GLAAD, a leading advocacy group. “If she wants to be known as more than an anti-LGBTQ activist, the time is now to reverse course.”

Mike Petrilli, president of the conservative Thomas B. Fordham Institute, said DeVos was right when she said there are currently no federal civil rights protections with regard to LGBTQ students. But he added that DeVos should have been more clear when talking about the $240 million school choice initiative included in the budget.

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