Education Department: ‘We Are Law Enforcement Officials, Not … Social Justice People’

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Rob Shimshock Education Reporter
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A top Department of Education official described his office’s duty as one of “law enforcement” and not “social justice” on Monday.

The Education Department’s assistant secretary for civil rights Kenneth L. Marcus made the distinction when discussing the department’s approach to discrimination in schools, reported The Washington Post.

“We enforce the laws that Congress passes as written and in full — no less and no more,” Marcus told WaPo. “We are law enforcement officials, not advocates or social justice people.”

“Justice delayed is justice denied,” Marcus said, describing the department’s transition to deliberating individual cases instead of investigating “systemic” bias on campuses, a more time-intensive process.

The Education Department placed a two-year delay on an initiative aimed at stopping schools from disproportionately funneling black students into special education programs in June. Marcus and the Department of Justice then teamed up to rescind guidelines advising colleges on how to legally implement affirmative action in their admission programs in early July. (RELATED: Justice, Education Departments Tag-Team To Take Out Seven Race-Based Admission Documents)

Marcus and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos are also now thinking about repealing guidelines advising school districts to inspect whether they are more harshly punishing black students, according to WaPo. The Education Department did not respond immediately to a request for comment on this decision, or the special education one.

“The Obama administration was basically saying, ‘Even if there’s no evidence of discrimination or implicit bias, you can still be found guilty of violating kids’ civil rights,'” conservative nonprofit Thomas B. Fordham Institute president Michael Petrilli told WaPo. “It would be naive to think we’re not going to see racial differences when the experiences kids are having vary so dramatically.”

But Marcus’s Obama-era counterpart, former office for civil rights head Catherine Lhamon, disagreed with the department’s approach. (RELATED: Civil Rights Groups Furious With Pro-Israel Education Appointee)

“If you don’t look [for discrimination], you won’t find it,” she said. “Their goal is to have fewer people do less work, be less involved — which will mean, as a practical matter, less justice.”

The Education Department has cut the volume of its discrimination case backlog from 9,275 cases on President Donald Trump’s inauguration to 6,026 on Friday.

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