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Betsy DeVos Rebukes ‘Racist Bigots’ After Recent Violence, But Not Trump’s Rhetoric

By Alyson Klein — August 17, 2017 1 min read

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos sent a letter to agency staff Thursday decrying racist, anti-Semitic demonstrators in Charlottesville, Va., in the wake of last weekend’s violent protests.

“The views of white nationalists, neo-Nazis and other racist bigots are totally abhorrent to the American ideal.” DeVos wrote to department employees. “We all have a role to play in rejecting views that pit one group of people against another. Such views are cowardly, hateful and just plain wrong."

She said the Education Department and, in particular, its office for civil rights, “exists to ensure all students have equal access to a safe, nurturing, quality learning environment free from discrimination or intimidation.”

DeVos, who did not release her statement publicly, was silent on President Donald Trump’s own rhetoric about Charlottesville, even though numerous groups and individuals in the education community have sharply criticized the president’s response as a failure to denounce racist views. Groups condemning Trump include Success Academy school founder Eva Moskowitz, a DeVos supporter, and 50CAN, a state advocacy organization where acting assistant secretary Jason Botel once worked.

The president said Tuesday that both the participants in the Unite the Right rally, which on descended on Charlottesville to protest the planned removal of a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee, and counterprotestors were to blame for the ensuing violence that resulted in at least three deaths and dozens of injuries.

Trump also said there were a number of “fine people” among a crowd of torch-wielding protestors, who chanted slogans like “Jews will not replace us.”

Kevin Huffman, the former Tennessee state chief, called on Twitter Thursday for DeVos to resign rather than serve a president who made such remarks.

Here’s DeVos’ full memo to her staff:

I write today with a heavy heart for our country. While we should be anticipating and celebrating students' returns to campuses across the country, we are engaged in a national discussion that has stirred ugly, hate-filled conversations and reopened hurtful wounds from shameful portions of our nation's past. There is fear, pain, anger, disappointment, discouragement and embarrassment across America, and I know, too, here within the Department. Last weekend's tragic and unthinkable events in Charlottesville, which stole three innocent lives and injured many more, were wholly unacceptable. The views of white nationalists, neo-Nazis and other racist bigots are totally abhorrent to the American ideal. We all have a role to play in rejecting views that pit one group of people against another. Such views are cowardly, hateful and just plain wrong. This is what makes our work so important. Our Department, and particularly the Office for Civil Rights, exists to ensure all students have equal access to a safe, nurturing, quality learning environment free from discrimination or intimidation. Our own difficult history reminds us that we must confront, head-on, problems when and where they exist with moral clarity and conviction. Our nation is greater than what it has shown in recent days. Violence and hate will never be the answer. We must engage, debate and educate. We must remind all what it means to be an American, and while far from perfect, we must never lose sight that America still stands as the brightest beacon for freedom in the world. My hope is that we will use this as an opportunity to show that what unites and holds America together is far stronger than what seeks to divide and draw us apart. We can all play a role. Mentor a student. Volunteer at a school. Lend a helping hand and offer a listening ear. Our work is truly the bridge to a stronger future. Let's recommit ourselves to ensuring the future is brighter for all. Betsy

A white nationalist demonstrator with a helmet and shield walks into Lee Park in Charlottesville, Va., on Aug. 12.

--Steve Helber/AP


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