Federal

Betsy DeVos Resigns a Day After Pro-Trump Mob Storms U.S. Capitol

By Andrew Ujifusa & Evie Blad — January 07, 2021 4 min read
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos speaks at the U.S. Department of Education building on July 8, 2020. DeVos resigned her position Thursday.

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos submitted her resignation Thursday, just a day after a violent insurrection in Washington that attempted to stop Congress’ certification of President-elect Joe Biden’s victory.

Her departure from President Donald Trump’s administration followed a string of resignations from the upper ranks of the executive branch following the violence at the U.S. Capitol, including another Cabinet official, Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao.

In a letter to Trump announcing her resignation, effective Jan. 8, DeVos told the president that he was culpable for the violence at the Capitol, telling him that “there is no mistaking the impact your rhetoric had on the situation” and called his actions “the inflection point for me.”

“We should be highlighting and celebrating your Administration’s many accomplishments on behalf of the American people,” DeVos told Trump in the letter. “Instead, we are left to clean up the mess caused by violent protestors overrunning the U.S. Capitol in an attempt to undermine the people’s business.”

DeVos also highlighted her work as education secretary, saying among other things that “we have sparked a national conversation about putting parents and students in charge of education.” But she stressed that “impressionable children are watching all of this, and they are learning from us. I believe we each have a moral obligation to exercise good judgment and model the behavior we hope they would emulate.”

Deputy Secretary of Education Mick Zais will replace DeVos and serve as acting secretary of education, a U.S. Department of Education spokeswoman said.

There is no mistaking the impact your rhetoric had on the situation, and that is the inflection point for me.

Late on Jan. 6, DeVos issued a statement denouncing the riot on Capitol Hill that occurred earlier that day, declaring that an “angry mob” must not be allowed to halt the democratic process.

“The eyes of America’s children and students—the rising generation who will inherit the republic we leave them—are watching what is unfolding in Washington today,” DeVos said in the statement. “We must set an example for them, and we must teach them the solemn obligations and duties that come with the title ‘American.’”

DeVos took over as the head of the Education Department in February 2017, and is one of Trump’s longest-serving and most controversial Cabinet members. Indeed, she is one of a handful of original cabinet members in a Trump administration known for high turnover in key roles.

DeVos has frequently criticized teachers’ unions, arguing that they preserve the status quo in struggling schools. In response to her resignation, American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten issued a two-word statement Thursday night: “Good riddance.”

Resigning 13 days before the end of Trump’s term “does nothing to erase the harm” DeVos has done “to this country’s students, their families and educators,” National Education Association President Becky Pringle said in a statement.

Tensions with the President

DeVos largely avoided public conflict with the president, but the two have had some tension during her tenure.

In 2019, she sat in the hottest of hot seats when a Congressional committee sharply questioned her over a Trump administration proposal to cut $17.6 million in federal funding for the Special Olympics, part of an overall administration plan to lower budgets across agencies.

After she spent hours defending him, Trump later said he had “overridden” officials in his administration and stated that the Special Olympics would be funded. That about-face prompted Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Wis., to ask in a statement, “Can someone pull Betsy from under the bus?”

See Also

Image of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos visits a classroom at the Edward Hynes Charter School in New Orleans, Friday, Oct. 5, 2018.
U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos visits a classroom at the Edward Hynes Charter School in New Orleans in October 2018.
AP Photo/Gerald Herbert

Not long before Trump formally accepted the Republican Party’s presidential nomination in 2016, DeVos, a billionaire political donor, said she wasn’t prepared to back him.

“There have clearly been a lot of things that have been said that give me serious pause for thought. But on the other hand, when I consider the alternative, that is not attractive either,” she told the Detroit News.

She later joined the administration after Trump selected Vice President Mike Pence, a school choice advocate, as his running mate.

DeVos’ signature issue, school choice, became a major talking point for Trump on the 2020 campaign trail. And despite their previous differences and her divisive public profile, she appeared at some campaign events and was part of his aggressive push to reopen schools amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

DeVos stopped short of directly criticizing Trump following another major scandal. In 2017, Trump said there were “very fine people on both sides” of a conflict at a white supremacist gathering in Charlottesville, Va., where a counter-protester died when a demonstrator intentionally hit her with a car.

“The views of white nationalists, neo-Nazis and other racist bigots are totally abhorrent to the American ideal,” DeVos wrote in a letter to Education Department employees that was silent on Trump’s comments. “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.”

During the violence on Capitol Hill this week, DeVos’ former chief of staff, Josh Venable, called on Trump’s Cabinet to prepare to invoke the U.S. Constitution’s 25th Amendment, which could lead to the president’s removal from office.

A version of this article appeared in the January 13, 2021 edition of Education Week as Betsy DeVos Resigns A Day After Pro-Trump Mob Storms U.S. Capitol

Events

Jobs The EdWeek Top School Jobs Virtual Career Fair
Find teaching jobs and other jobs in K-12 education at the EdWeek Top School Jobs virtual career fair.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Mathematics Webinar
Engaging Young Students to Accelerate Math Learning
Join learning scientists and inspiring district leaders, for a timely panel discussion addressing a school district’s approach to doubling and tripling Math gains during Covid. What started as a goal to address learning gaps in
Content provided by Age of Learning & Digital Promise, Harlingen CISD
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Curriculum Webinar
How to Power Your Curriculum With Digital Books
Register for this can’t miss session looking at best practices for utilizing digital books to support their curriculum.
Content provided by OverDrive

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Federal Opinion Education Outlets Owe Readers More Than the Narratives They Want to Hear
It's vital that serious news organizations challenge runaway narratives and help readers avoid going down ideological rabbit holes.
4 min read
Image shows a multi-tailed arrow hitting the bullseye of a target.
DigitalVision Vectors/Getty
Federal As GOP Leaves K-12 Out of Its Infrastructure Plan, Advocates Look For Alternatives
The GOP is proposing $1 trillion in federal dollars for the nation's infrastructure, but school buildings aren't part of their proposal.
6 min read
A trash can and pink kiddie pool are used to collect water that leaks from the roof into the media center at Green County High School in Snow Hill, N.C..
A trash can and pink kiddie pool are used to collect water that leaks from the roof into the media center at Green County High School in Snow Hill, N.C.
Alex Boerner for Education Week
Federal Biden Pick for Education Civil Rights Office Has History With Racial Equity, LGBTQ Issues
Biden selected Catherine Lhamon to lead the Education Department's civil rights work, a role she also held in the Obama administration.
2 min read
Flags decorate a space outside the office of the Education Secretary at the Education Department in Washington on Aug. 9, 2017.
Flags decorate a space outside the office of the Education Secretary at the Education Department in Washington on Aug. 9, 2017.
Jacquelyn Martin/AP
Federal Lawmakers Press CDC About Teachers' Union Influence on School Reopening Guidance
Republican senators asked CDC Director Rochelle Walensky about reports a teachers' union had input on guidance for schools on COVID-19.
3 min read
Dr. Rochelle Walensky speaks during an event in Wilmington, Del., to announce President-elect Joe Biden's health care team on Dec. 8, 2020.
Dr. Rochelle Walensky, CDC director, speaks during an event in Wilmington, Del., to announce then-President-elect Joe Biden's health care team on Dec. 8, 2020.
Susan Walsh/AP