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School & District Management

San Diego School Board Pulls Resolution to Invite Ed. Secretary DeVos to Visit

By Denisa R. Superville — February 14, 2017 3 min read
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The San Diego school board president withdrew a resolution to invite new education secretary Betsy DeVos to visit the district’s schools.

The resolution, which would have been considered at the board’s Tuesday meeting, was pulled on Monday.

“Given the polarizing nature of the DeVos nomination and confirmation vote, however, it is clear this would be the wrong time to engage the Secretary in dialogue,” Richard Barrera, the board president, said in a statement released by the district. “Now is the time for those of us who believe in public education to stand together and confront the threat clearly posed by the DeVos ideology.

“Therefore, I have decided to withdraw my co-sponsorship for this resolution, which effectively kills the measure. I apologize to all of those we excluded from the conversation by moving forward so quickly. Our intention was not to exclude anyone from the process, and so I hope we can now all move forward together to create a genuine conversation about the future of our schools with the public we serve.”

Barrera said in the statement that he initially believed in inviting DeVos to visit San Diego Unified to learn what public schools were doing well and challenge her views on public schools.

The San Diego Union-Tribune reported on Monday that the resolution, which was co-sponsored by another board member, John Lee Evans, was pulled amid complaints from the teachers’ union.

But Lindsay Burningham, the president of the San Diego Education Association, which represents about 7,000 teachers, counselors, school psychologists, and other certificated school staff, said the pushback was not just from the teachers’ union but from other stakeholders, including parents, who were not consulted prior to the proposal to invite DeVos.

“There is a lot of concern [about] her stances on public education, her history in public education, and her goals in Michigan to dismantle their public education system,” said Burningham.

“Her past experience does not give me the confidence in one visit changing who she is and what she stands for,” she added. “I think she needs to prove herself—that she actually supports public education before we open our doors to a visit from her.”

When asked what DeVos would have to do to prove herself, Burningham—referencing DeVos’ answers at her senate hearing in response to questions about guns in schools, IDEA, and the use of growth versus proficiency—said she was not sure.

“She really needs to show us that she actually knows what she is talking about and that she is not just going to be here to dismantle [public education] and do what she did in Michigan.”

Burningham said there were more pressing issues facing the district right now, including the district’s budget and “ensuring that our educators and students have everything they need to be to be successful.”

If and when a visit happens, the community should be consulted first, Burningham said.

DeVos, a Michigan education advocate and strong supporter of school choice and vouchers, with little experience in traditional public schools, was confirmed by the Senate last week after Vice President Mike Pence broke a 50-50 tie.

DeVos will be tasked with leading a department that will have significantly less power than it did under the Obama administration. Her boss, President Donald Trump, proposed a $20 billion school choice plan on the campaign trail.

The nation’s two largest teachers’ unions actively campaigned against DeVos’ nomination. The National Association of Secondary Schools Principals said that it could not support her nomination. Responses to her confirmation were mixed, ranging from elation to disappointment.

In her first speech to the education department after her confirmation, DeVos called for finding common ground and putting students first.

She also said she was at the department to serve.

“I am here to serve—with you,” she said, according to her prepared remarks. “I am committed to working with everyone and anyone—from every corner of the country, from every walk of life, from every background, and with those who supported my nomination and those who did not—to protect, strengthen and create new world-class education opportunities for America’s students.”

DeVos’ first official school visit was to Howard University, the historically black college in Washington, D.C. On Friday, she visited Jefferson Middle School Academy in Washington, D.C., but was initially blocked from entering by protestors. The secretary entered through another door.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the District Dossier blog.