As the nation’s highest ranking education official toured a northwest Ohio career center on Monday, a small contingent of protesters gathered outside to voice their frustration with her policies.
U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos couldn’t hear the protesters’ chants nor see their signs — a few read “Protect Public Schools,” “#TossDeVos,” and “DeVos is unqualified, uninformed, and unfit to serve” — while she toured Penta Career Center in Perrsyburg Township.
Such controversy has followed Ms. DeVos at some of her education visits. Known to be a staunch advocate for charter schools and use of public money for vouchers to pay for private schools, she began her visit to northwest Ohio Monday with a tour of the Lucas County Correctional Treatment program at the county jail in Toledo, where she observed high school equivalency classes that Penta provides to inmates.
She met with men studying for their high school equivalency test.
“Hi, what’s your name?” she asked a student.
“Hi Jared, I’m Betsy. It’s nice to meet you.”
Ms. DeVos repeated this process for every student.
She talked with students about their coursework, including fractions, reading preferences, and photosynthesis.
After visiting the jail program, she toured Penta, where she visited the facility’s advanced manufacturing, sophomore manufacturing exploratory, and computer-aided design and junior culinary labs. She also met with school administration, teachers, and students.
Ms. DeVos is a proponent of exposing students to different career options after high school other than pursuing four-year university degrees.
She also has described herself as a proponent of giving parents and students access to a wide range of educational opportunities, a philosophy she characterized as “school choice” in an op-ed piece written for the Plain Dealer newspaper in Cleveland in 2017.
That piece — written on the eve of her visit to Van Wert City Schools in April, 2017 — said school choice isn’t “anti-public school.”
“Many students attend great public schools, and even if given the choice to send their kids elsewhere, many parents will choose to keep their child in a public school,” she wrote. “If the school is meeting their needs, they should. School choice isn’t about elevating one type of school over another — it’s about trusting parents to choose the best fit for their child.”
U.S. Department of Education press secretary Elizabeth Hill said in a statement following Ms. DeVos’ visit: “The Secretary has and will continue to visit all types of schools that are innovating on behalf of students and offering education options that meet their needs and the needs of the local community.”
Ed Ewers, assistant superintendent of Penta Career Center, said school officials were happy to have Ms. DeVos visit.
“It’s a great opportunity for us to showcase what we do here at Penta and highlight what career-tech means,” he said.
During her time at Penta, Ms. DeVos visited with aspiring chefs in Penta’s public high school program as they prepared food for a roundtable lunch discussion among Ms. DeVos, Penta staff and students, and business and community leaders.
The lunch was closed to the media. Ms. DeVos did not take any questions from media members during her appearances here, and did not make any general statements to the media.
Outside Penta, a small group of protestors, including state representative and former teacher Teresa Fedor (D., Toledo), chanted, “Hey hey, ho, ho, Betsy DeVos has got to go.”
Patricia Carmean, a retired teacher from Washington Local Schools and former Washington Local board member, and Kari Hildreth, a teacher at Eastwood Schools, criticized Ms. DeVos’ lack of experience in public education — neither Ms. DeVos nor her children attended public schools and she never worked in schools — and her lack of commitment to public schools.
“Betsy DeVos and her family have been systematically dismantling public education. The effects are seen in Michigan, and now she is using her position to do the same nationwide,” Ms. Hildreth said. “It’s damaging and bad for our students, and I’m sick of it. I’m ready to stand up to it.”
Kevin Dalton, president of the Toledo Federation of Teachers, said he was disappointed that neither the union nor Toledo Public Schools was notified about Ms. DeVos’ visit or invited to meet with Ms. DeVos.
“Some people want to protest, but I’m more interested in having a conversation and having a commitment from her to supporting public education,” Mr. Dalton said.
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