Betsy DeVos at CPAC
U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

US Education Secretary Betsy DeVos defended the decision to rescind Obama-era protections for transgender students by the Trump administration.

Appearing at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), DeVos said that the protections had been "a very huge example of the Obama administration's overreach", calling them an attempt at a "one-size fits all" policy and arguing that the decision should be made at state and community levels.

The education secretary took the chance to highlight and push her belief that choice should be top of the agenda for the education department, while proclaiming that the federal government should take a step back on education policy.

"We have a unique window of opportunity to make school choice a reality," DeVos said.

"I want to return power to education back where to belongs: to parents, communities and state," she told a supportive audience.

She noted her thoughts that the department should mainly have a role with special-needs students and civil rights issues. DeVos also spoke about an issue loudly hailed by many in the conservative movement: academic freedom.

DeVos said that many conservatives felt "bullied" when expressing their views at universities in America, telling students to "keep talking, keep making your arguments" but to "do so respectfully".

The comments came after the former businesswoman began her appearance in abrasive fashion, suggesting that the media had "had its fun" with her, sentiment firmly echoed by her administration colleague, White House Chief Strategist, Steve Bannon.

Bannon, a former executive chair of Breitbart News, made a rare appearance at CPAC, and wasted little time in continuing his criticism of the media, which he continually referred to as "the opposition party".

DeVos's confirmation as education secretary was one of the most fraught in an series of contentious cabinet picks. Vice President Mike Pence, as president of the Senate, had to step in to cast a deciding vote to confirm DeVos after two Republican senators refused to vote for her, leaving the vote tied.

It was the first time in history that a vice president has had to intervene to make sure a cabinet confirmation went through. She was also blocked from entering a public school by protesters in Washington, DC during the first days of her tenure — a school she then criticised, saying teachers were in "receive mode".

Ashley Carter, a member of the DC Board of Education, attending CPAC as part of the Independent Women's Forum, told IBTimes UK earlier in the day that DeVos is "new in this role and her observations were one person's observations... we'd love to have her back and see if she can see those classes down the road and see if her opinion changes."