National Harbor, Md. — Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos expressed her support for President Donald Trump’s decision to overturn Obama-era transgender bathroom rules Thursday, before a cheering crowd, on the Conservative Political Action Conference’s mainstage.
Trump’s executive order, signed Wednesday, removed a statute put in place by President Barack Obama that recommended public schools to allow transgender children at school to use the bathroom with which they identify. Under the Obama-era guidance, noncompliant schools would lose federal funding.
DeVos said the Obama laws were federal overreach.
“The way this issue was handled was typical of the Obama administration — a one-size-fits-all solution to a problem that should be solved on a personal level,” DeVos said.
DeVos did not elaborate further on how schools should address transgender students but instead spoke about how the new Education Department seeks to minimize the effect the federal government can have on what happens in the classroom.
“I took this job because I want to return education power to where it belongs: parents, communities, and states,” she said.
In addition, DeVos said she aims to help students with special needs and those in poverty, because she believes education will be “the great equalizer” for the next generation of Americans.
“I share the president’s view that we must work to give all students an equal opportunity to have a better education,” DeVos said.
DeVos also noted the controversy that surrounded her appointment and said she is open to bipartisan solutions for problems with the public education system.
“This is not a left or right issue,” she said. “This is an American issue. We need to make education work for every child.”
Emily Hall, a Fairfield University student present at DeVos’ speech, said she thinks DeVos and Trump are right to focus on educational issues rather than political ones in public schools.
“Personally, I’m uncomfortable with a male being in the same bathroom as me,” she said.
Hall and her friends said that they hope DeVos will focus her efforts on issues like charter schools and vouchers.
Some, however, said DeVos’ speech was unimpressive.
Jon Schweppe, communications director for the American Principles Project, said DeVos was not strong enough on solutions to the bigger issues facing American education.
“She fed the crowd a lot of generic lines about local control but made no mention of Common Core or the transgender stuff,” he said.
Despite objections to her approach, DeVos said she hopes her colleagues will work with her to help increase the quality of American schooling.
“I think it’s imperative that we work together to find common ground,” she said.