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Betsy DeVosHigher EducationK-12

Betsy DeVos needs to fire her top civil rights deputy after sexual assault comments, Sen. Patty Murray says

 (Erik Lesser / European Pressphoto Agency)
(Erik Lesser / European Pressphoto Agency)

A prominent Senate Democrat is calling on Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to fire Candice Jackson, the U.S. Department of Education's top civil rights enforcement official.

Last week, Jackson was quoted as using glib language to classify college students' sexual assault complaints. She told the New York Times that 90% of complaints “fall into the category of ‘we were both drunk,’ ‘we broke up, and six months later I found myself under a Title IX investigation because she just decided that our last sleeping together was not quite right.’”

Jackson subsequently apologized and said she herself was a survivor of assault, according to the New York Times. But the episode, combined with DeVos' focus on due process rights for those accused of sexual assault, brought protesters to the U.S. Department of Education. It prompted DeVos to hold her first official press conference, months into her tenure. 

“In the three months she has been acting head of the Office for Civil Rights, Candice Jackson’s words and actions have made it clear why Secretary DeVos has chosen to shield her from scrutiny by not formally nominating her for the position," Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), the ranking Democrat on the Senate Education Committee, said in a statement. 

“Candice Jackson apologized for her recent comments that reflect neither my position nor the position of the Department," DeVos said in a written statement Monday.  "They also did not reflect Candice’s position and values. Candice is a valuable part of the Administration.”

Murray said Jackson's apology was not enough, and that her comments "crossed a serious line and highlighted her clear biases" in a way that "should disqualify her" from her job. Murray said last week's comments were the final straw.

Jackson's appointment as deputy, then acting assistant secretary in the Education Department's Office for Civil Rights has been controversial from the get-go.

Early on, the nonprofit investigative newsroom ProPublica found that, in the 1990s, Jackson wrote she had been excluded from certain Stanford classes because she was white. She also wrote about her opposition to affirmative action in that school's newspaper. 

Jackson also wrote a memo telling staffers they can scale back their research in civil rights investigations — and don't need to focus as much on cases around transgender students' rights to access bathrooms and locker rooms according to their stated gender identity as they did under the Obama administration.

UPDATES

4:05 p.m.: This post was updated to include DeVos' response.

This article was originally published at 2:14 p.m. 

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