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CPAC 2017: Education Secretary Betsy DeVos says Obama transgender protections example of ‘overreach’

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos slammed former President Barack Obama’s guidelines protecting transgender students from discrimination at public schools as government “overreach”.

Speaking at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, Ms DeVos said she supported President Donald Trump’s action this week rescinding Mr Obama’s anti-discrimination directive.

“This issue was a very huge example of the Obama administration’s overreach to suggest a one-size-fits-all, federal-government approach, top-down approach to issues best dealt with at a personal level, at a local level,” she said.

The Trump administration announced Wednesday evening their directive that orders US public schools to disregard the Obama administration’s guidelines, which said that preventing transgender students from using bathrooms that aligned with their gender identities violated the Title IX anti-discrimination law.

Earlier reports indicated that the billionaire Republican-party donor was at odds with Attorney General Jeff Sessions. She later issued a statement in support of the Trump administration’s directive.

“This is an issue best solved at the state and local level,” she said. “Schools, communities, and families can find – and in many cases have found – solutions that protect all students.”

At CPAC, she echoed that sentiment.

“It’s our job to protect students and to do that to the fullest extent that we can – and also provide students, parents, and teachers with more flexibility about how education is delivered and how education is experienced; and to protect and preserve personal freedoms,” she said.

Marisa Keisling, the executive director of the National Centre for Transgender Equality, condemned the Trump administration’s actions as a “mean-spirited attack on hundreds of thousands of” transgender students.

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“This administrations action sends a harmful message to transgender young people – that their government does not support them, and that it is fine to single out those who are different,” Ms Keisling said.

“That message is sure to empower bullies. But it does not change the legal and moral duty of schools to support all students.”

Ms DeVos, 59, has worked for more than two decades promoting charter schools and school voucher programmes in Michigan and other states.

She has earned criticism from LGBTQ groups for donations made to the conservative Christian group, Focus on the Family, which has pushed efforts to change sexual orientation or gender identity – commonly referred to as “conversion therapy”.

“I have never believed in that,” Ms DeVos said during her confirmation testimony. She added that she “fully embrace[s] equality … and that all students, no matter their age, should be able to attend a school and feel safe, and be free of discrimination”.

She faced intense opposition during the Senate confirmation process, barely earning enough votes to make it to President Trump’s Cabinet. Two Republican senators broke with their party and voted against Ms DeVos. With the Senate deadlocked at 50-50, Vice President Mike Pence had to cast the tie-breaking vote.

Despite her historically narrow confirmation to serve in the President’s Cabinet, she managed to take a jab at the press for portraying her as unqualified for her role in charge of the education department.

“The media has had its fun with me, and that’s OK,” she said. “My job isn’t to win a popularity contest with the media or the education establishment here in Washington.

“My job as Secretary of Education is to make education work for students.”

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