Washington, DC USA – U.S. Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) delivered floor remarks this morning outlining his opposition to the nomination of Kenneth Marcus to serve as Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Education. At a time when the Department of Education under Secretary Betsy DeVos and the Trump Administration is rolling back civil rights protections for students, Booker laid out why Kenneth Marcus is the wrong choice to head the Office for Civil Rights, and why the office must be led by someone who is committed above all else to protecting the rights of all of our students and closing persistent gaps in access to opportunity.
“The confirmation of Kenneth Marcus would be another blow to the civil rights of our students,” Booker said. “Mr. Marcus is someone who in his record and in his testimony to my colleagues on the Senate HELP Committee has demonstrated that he possesses, at best, a disturbing apathy and, at worst, a wanton disregard to the importance, if not urgency, of protecting the rights of our kids in school.”In February of 2017, Booker spoke on the Senate floor in opposition to the DeVos nomination and her disturbing record on protecting students’ civil rights. In July 2017, Booker, the Congressional Black Caucus, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, and the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus sent a letter to DeVos outlining their serious concerns with her lack of commitment to protecting students’ civil rights. Video of Booker’s remarks can be viewed here, and excerpts of Booker’s remarks are available below:
On Marcus’s record and testimony on disparities in school discipline: The confirmation of Kenneth Marcus would be another blow to the civil rights of our students.Mr. Marcus is someone who in his record and in his testimony to my colleagues on the Senate HELP Committee has demonstrated that he possesses, at best, a disturbing apathy and, at worst, a wanton disregard to the importance, if not urgency, of protecting the rights of our kids in school. When Mr. Marcus was asked by Senator Murphy to name an example of something, anything, Donald Trump has said when it comes to discrimination or civil rights that he disagrees with, Mr. Marcus could not name any area of disagreement.He couldn’t find a single disagreement in the way that Donald Trump demeaned Americans with disabilities or about how the president has spoken about Mexicans or even the way the president has issued policies that attack the rights of Muslims or the rights of LGBTQ Americans. There was no disagreement mentioned whatsoever. And when he was asked during his confirmation hearing if, as assistant secretary, he would intervene in an instance where black students in a school district were receiving lower quality teachers, fewer books, fewer AP classes, and fewer educational resources than white students, one would expect his answer to have been “yes, I would intervene. Yes, I would stand up for equality.” But instead, Mr. Marcus refused to say that he would step in in such a hypothetical circumstance. And when Mr. — when Senator Murphy — asked about disparities in school districts that were suspending or expelling five times as many black students for the same set of behaviors compared to white students, instead of just saying the obvious thing, that this is wrong, the same behavior necessitates the same disciplinary action, instead of saying something as simple as that,
Mr. Marcus went on to say this:
“I believe that the disparities of that size are grounds for concern, but my experience says that one needs to approach each complaint with an open mind and a sense of fairness to find out what the answers are. I will tell you that I have seen what appears to be inexcusable disparities that were the result of paperwork errors that just got the numbers wrong.” I don’t know on this issue of disciplinary inequality in America, I don’t know how much of the data Mr. Marcus has seen, but it is abundantly clear for someone who wants to be in this position that they should understand the crisis we have with discipline in this country.
On Marcus’s record on LGBTQ students:
I don’t understand when you have children that are literally under attack, we face a crisis in this country when it comes to LGBTQ. This is not an argument over facts. The facts are clear. LGBTQ youth face a stunning level of prejudice and discrimination inside and outside of schools starting at a young age. We know that LGBTQ youth are twice as likely, two times more likely as their heterosexual peers to be physically assaulted in school. LGBTQ youth are four times as likely to attempt suicide. And according to the youth risk behavior survey, 34% of gay and lesbian youth students were bullied on school property, And 13% report not going to school because of fear for their safety. This kind of harassment has no place in our classrooms, our schools, or anywhere in the United States. It is far too common, whether from discriminating disciplinary practice to physical violence against our kids, that we have work to do in this country to keep all children safe, to treat all children equally, to give every kid a fair shot in schools to make it and thrive. And yet, we are trying to elevate someone to one of the more significant positions in our land to protect children who has a disregard and an apathy towards the compelling and continuing problems in our schools.
On the role of the Federal government in civil rights protections for students:
And so, look, the federal government alone is not enough to educate our kids. It’s about local communities to keep them safe. It’s about the soccer coaches. It’s about the drama teacher. It’s about the English teacher. It’s about the love and the kindness and the nurturing environments that is the common standard in all of our schools in America in every state. But we have seen from history that there is a role for us to play in keeping folks safe, that there are aberrations in our country where hatred still thrives, where discrimination still exists, where there is a role for us to play, and we can’t surrender that role. We can’t retreat from our vigilance in protecting every child in America, and that’s why the Office of Civil Rights and the Department of Education is so critical and must be led why someone who understands our history and understands the urgent work that still needs to be done. We need a person in this role that’s committed to every single child, no matter who they are, and sees within that child their truth, their divinity, their limitless potential, their promise on how we as a nation need them to succeed. We have a long way to go. There is work still to do. Children in this country who are hurting now need champions in positions of high office. That’s why I oppose the nomination of Mr. Marcus. He is not the person, by his own testimony, who could — who sees our children, who could protect our children, understands their crisis and hears their cries. I will be voting against his nomination.