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The U.S. Department of Education launched a civil rights investigation of an Iowa school district after Black students complained of being discriminated against. Many in the civil rights community were concerned that this, and other cases, will get only a cursory investigation considering the signals on civil rights from the Trump administration.

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Multiple Black high school students in Cedar Rapids accused a teacher of harassment and creating a “hostile environment” in the classroom during the 2017 fall semester, according a letter from the Education Department to the school district that the Cedar Rapids Gazette obtained. The teacher allegedly retaliated against one of the students who tried to defend the others. Although the school district was aware of the students’ complaints, it failed to act.

A school district spokeswoman confirmed the investigation to the Gazette but declined to comment on the case, citing “confidential student and personnel records.”

This comes amid growing fears that Education Secretary Betsy DeVos plans to reverse the civil rights advances made under President Barack Obama‘s administration. DeVos held a meeting in November with educators to discuss a 2014 Obama-era directive that called on school officials to end the disproportionate discipline of students of color. She’s widely expected to rescind that order.

In addition to signals from DeVos, President Donald Trump’s nominee to head the Education Department’s Office of Civil Rights, Kenneth L. Marcus, is coming under fire from the civil rights community. As former staff director for the Bush-era U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, Marcus urged the American Bar Association to remove a requirement that law schools demonstrate a commitment to diversity. The commission also disregarded reports that Black neighborhoods in Ohio failed to receive enough voting machines in the 2004 election.

“The nation’s children and families deserve an assistant secretary for civil rights with a demonstrated record of support for all of our civil rights laws and marginalized communities,” a letter from a coalition of more than 200 civil rights groups stated to the Senate committee considering Marcus’ nomination.

This is the second civil rights probe of the school district in four years. In 2014, a complaint alleged that Washington High School enforced its dress codes only on African American students and ignored a Black student’s reports of being bullied at school.


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