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Report: Trump nominee Betsy DeVos may have plagiarized in Senate questionnaire

Betsy DeVos, President Trump’s nominee for U.S. Secretary of Education

Breaking news from The Washington Post: The paper is reporting this morning that President Trump’s nominee for U.S. education secretary, Michigan school choice advocate Betsy DeVos, may have lifted passages without attribution in her written responses to a senator’s questions this week.

The news comes as members of a key Senate committee are expected to vote on DeVos’ confirmation Tuesday.

From The Washington Post:

The responses from nominee Betsy DeVos were submitted Monday to the top Democrat on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, which is voting Tuesday morning on her confirmation.

In answering a set of questions from Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) on how she would address bullying of LGBTQ students, DeVos wrote: “Every child deserves to attend school in a safe, supportive environment where they can learn, thrive, and grow.”

Betsy DeVos, Donald Trump’s nominee for education secretary, appeared before senators at her confirmation hearing on Jan. 17, but some of her responses created more questions than they answered. (Jenny Starrs/The Washington Post)

“Every child deserves to attend school in a safe, supportive environment that allows them to thrive and grow,” Gupta said in the May 2016 release.

Trump transition officials who have handled DeVos’s nomination did not respond to questions sent Tuesday morning about the questionnaire.

The revelation comes as Democrats are making an all-out push against key Trump nominees — including DeVos, attorney general nominee Jeff Sessions, treasury secretary nominee Steven Mnuchin, and others. But Democrats cannot block those confirmations unless they can convince a handful of Republicans to break with the new president.

Public school advocates and Democrats have been bitingly critical of DeVos since her nomination, pointing to a lack of experience in public schools and her sometimes bizarre responses to Senate questioning this month.

Yet most still expect the Republican-controlled Senate to confirm DeVos to the nation’s top education post. Policy Watch reported Monday that GOP support for DeVos is likely to include North Carolina’s senior senator, Republican Richard Burr, whose campaign received numerous financial contributions from the Michigan billionaire and her extended family in recent years.

The Post report this morning continues:

In a set of questions about her views on lesbian, gay and bisexual students, including about whether transgender students should be able to use bathrooms that match their gender identity, DeVos answered: “Every student deserves to attend school in a safe, supportive environment where they can learn, achieve and thrive and are not discriminated against. Period.”

That language is similar to language appearing in an article in a magazine published by ASCD, an organization devoted to education leadership.

The article outlines what educators can do to create schools that are supportive of transgender students, and concludes: “You — as an educator and an ally — can dramatically shift the school climate to one that is safe, supportive, and inclusive: a place where all students can learn, achieve, and thrive.”

In other instances, answers that DeVos submitted in Murray in her 62-page response used text verbatim from federal statutes and Education Department materials without direct quotation.

In one response, to a question about whether she would continue the practice of publishing a list of schools under Title IX civil rights investigations, DeVos said, “Opening a complaint for investigation in no way implies that the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) has made a determination about the merits of the complaint.”

That language mirrors an Education Department website: “Opening a complaint for investigation in no way implies that OCR has made a determination with regard to the merits of the complaint.”

Other responses refer to a requirement that the department’s assistant secretary for civil rights “make an annual report to the Secretary, the President, and the Congress summarizing the compliance and enforcement activities” of the department’s Office of Civil Rights and that the assistant secretary is authorized “to collect or coordinate the collection of data necessary to ensure compliance with civil rights laws within the jurisdiction” of the civil rights office.

Those are verbatim excerpts of a 1979 federal statute, but the law is not quoted or cited.

It’s unclear whether the report will have any impact on DeVos’ confirmation, but we’ll keep you posted.

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