Katherine Clark says Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos should resign

"She has failed to live up to her basic job responsibilities making sure our kids have fair and equitable access to a great public education and to keep them safe," the Massachusetts Democrat said.

Rep. Katherine Clark. Aram Boghosian for The Boston Globe

Rep. Katherine Clark called for Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos to resign Monday over her decision to rollback Obama-era guidelines intended to curb disproportionally high discipline rates for students of color that Clark claims she made citing “racist research.”

The 5th District Democrat’s calls came days after she questioned DeVos over the rescinded policy, put in place as an attempt to reduce the number of suspensions and expulsions in schools that contribute to a school-to-prison pipeline.

Of approximately 2.6 million students suspended every year, black boys are at a rate three times higher than their white peers; black girls are six times as likely as their peers; and students with disabilities are at least twice as likely, according to the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights.

DeVos has said that despite the guidelines’ intentions, educators told her that they are now not discipling students as frequently as before out of fear of federal action, including the potential they could see their funding slashed.

Her exchange last week with Clark during a House Appropriations Subcommittee hearing centered on a 2014 study cited in the department’s Commission on School Safety report.

The study, published in the Journal of Criminal Justice by John Paul Wright, a professor at the School of Criminal Justice at the University of Cincinnati, argues discrepancies between discipline rates are likely because of “pre-existing behavioral problems of youth that are imported into the classroom, that cause classroom disruptions, and that trigger disciplinary measures by teachers and school officials,” according to U.S. News & World Report.


Clark, during an interview Monday on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” called it “cherry-picked racist research.”

“[DeVos] backed [the decision] up with research that says this isn’t because of institutional racism, this isn’t because of any of that. It’s because of who these children are — that black children are just temperamentally different, they come to school with behavioral problems, and they import them into the classroom,” she said. “Her fundamental failure to stick up for children as secretary of education makes her unfit to carry on this job, and this is just one glaring and appalling example of many where she has eroded civil rights, sided against students, and a history of conflicts of interest.”

During last week’s hearing, DeVos confirmed the Obama administration’s guidance “suggested” educators would have to discipline with quotas in mind — that students of different races should be disciplined at similar rates.

“The Guidance sent the unfortunate message that the federal government, rather than teachers and local administrators, best handles school discipline,” the Commission on School Safety report, filed in December, says. “As a result, fearful of potential investigations, some school districts may have driven their discipline policies and practices more by numbers than by teacher input. School discipline is a complex issue that is affected by local circumstances.”

The report recommended the federal government rescind the guidance. DeVos formally followed through on that proposal a week later.

“I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: No student, no child should be treated or disciplined differently based on their skin color, their race, or their national origin,” she told Clark on March 28.


Asked Monday how Congress could respond, Clark said lawmakers can focus on counter-actions in the budget appropriations process.

“She needs to resign — we need to be crystal clear about that,” she said. “But if she won’t and President Trump won’t fire her, then we need to put these protections back into our budget. We need to put the guidelines that Obama had just in guideline form into law because we need to understand that it is our time to stick up for families at home, to work on the issues that they care about that we see every single day this administration undermining.”

Watch the full interview: