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Betsy DeVos’ Second Visit to a Public School Sparks Protests

By Alyson Klein — March 24, 2017 3 min read
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U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos’ second visit to a public school was met the same way as her first visit, with protests, as dozens of parents and community members sang, chanted, and held up signs criticizing the Trump administration’s push for vouchers and pitch to cut funding for K-12 programs.

The protestors lined the streets outside Carderock Elementary School in Bethesda, Md., a wealthy woodsy suburb. (Bethesda also happens to be home to Education Week’s world headquarters.) Inside, DeVos, along with Gov. Larry Hogan, a Maryland Republican who started a small school choice program in the Old Line State, a traditionally Democratic bastion, read “Oh the Places You’ll Go” by Dr. Seuss to second-graders. DeVos said the book is a favorite of hers, and that she’s read it to her children and grandchildren. The event was intended to celebrate national reading month.

Ahead of the visit, DeVos put out a statement on an alleged sexual assault that occurred at Rockville High School, another school located in Maryland’s Montgomery County district. Two students who are undocumented immigrants and arrived as unaccompanied minors are accused of the crime.

“As a mother of two daughters and grandmother of four young girls, my heart aches for the young woman and her family at the center of these terrible circumstances,” DeVos said. “We all have a common responsibility to ensure every student has access to a safe and nurturing learning environment.”

After the event, DeVos had warm words for Hogan. “He knows that when we empower parents, students benefit,” DeVos said in a statement. “Under my leadership, the U.S. Department of Education will continue to look to give state leaders more freedom and flexibility to deliver a world-class education to every student.”

During her first visit to a public school last month Jefferson Middle School Academy in Washington, D.C., DeVos was initially blocked from entering by other demonstrators, and later angered some of the teachers by telling a conservative columnist that they appeared to be in “receive mode.” This time around, though, she didn’t appear to have trouble entering, although protestors yelled at her car as it left the premises.

Jennifer Gold, a Montgomery County parent, showed up the protest wearing a borrowed bear costume--a reference to DeVos’ contention during her Senate confirmation hearing that some schools in isolated areas might need guns to ward off “potential grizzlies.”

Gold is angry that the Trump administration has proposed cuts to public education programs, while seeking to boost spending on private school vouchers. That would divert resources from public education, she argued.

“The answer is for all public schools to be excellent,” she said. (The costume, she added, is a “one-time thing. I don’t even wear them for Halloween.”)More on the Trump administration’s budget proposal here.

And Anh Lyjordo, a lawyer whose children attend another school in the district, was angry that DeVos chose a school in a particularly well-heeled corner of a district with increasing socio-economic and racial diversity.

“I think that it’s bull**t that she comes to a school where the idea of choice is .. to buy a house in this neighborhood to send your kids to this school,” she said. “And that means you need to be able to buy a house that’s at least $900,000 or more. You cannot get into this neighborhood and go to this school otherwise. And so this is not choice.”

Another protestor, Hollie Goral, whose kids, now grown, went to Carderock, said she’s really upset that Trump’s budget would cut the National Endowment for the Arts, which helps finance some K-12 schools. “I’m terrified for arts education” under this administration,” she said.

The protest was organized over the last day or so, both on social media and through a neighborhood list serve, demonstrators said. Goral said she wants protests to follow DeVos at every school she visits.

You can track the secretary’s school visits here.

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