WASHINGTON – Teachers and parents gathered outside the Department of Education Saturday before the Women’s March on Washington to criticize Betsy DeVos’s designation as the Trump administration’s secretary of education.
“I have been here in front this building before to protest,” said Denisha Jones, a professor of education at Trinity Washington University. “We are really fearful of this Betsy DeVos person.”
Jones, a former Washington, DC public school teacher, is currently a professor of education at Trinity University Washington and works with the advocacy organization Save Our Schools.
“It’s not what most of the people wanted,” said Jones, referring to DeVos’s nomination.
Members of the organization were chanting “public education is a civil right,” drawing cheers and thumbs up from passers-by.
DeVos, a Michigan billionaire, has made a career out of her support for charter schools and has been criticized in Senate hearings for not having a background in public education.
That criticism was evident later at the Women’s March rally, where filmmaker Michael Moore singled her out as a focus of protest. “Call your representative and your two Senators, and number one we do not accept Betsy DeVos as our secretary of education,” Moore said.
Multiple signs, and even a man in a full bear costume, mocked a notable moment from DeVos’s confirmation hearing, when she suggested that guns might be necessary in some schools to guard against potential grizzly bear attacks.
Elementary school teacher George Meili drove to Washington from Rehoboth Beach, Delaware and carried a sign that read, “Delaware Teachers Give DeVos an F-.”
Meili supports Common Core, the initiative that established consistent federal education standards. Meili says that Common Core has helped improve the state of public education, but DeVos promised to abolish the initiative in a speech shortly after Trump announced her nomination.
“We have 82 percent graduating right now from high school,” Meili said. “It’s the highest it has ever been in our country’s history. We were on the right track, let’s not go back.”
Some parents said they were using the rally as an educational opportunity for their children. Anna Petosky, an attorney, came from Minneapolis with her two children, five and eight years old.
“I think it is important to teach them what it means to be in a democracy,” said Petosky.
She too expressed concerns about DeVos and the other members of Trump’s cabinet. “They do not seem to understand what the positions they are being appointed to are actually in charge.”
Despite the concerns about the future of education under President Trump, many of the teachers and parents gathered at the Department of Education said they were encouraged by the large turnout at the Women’s March.
“I’m here for the children, the future, the hope of the country,” said Karan Merry, a retired school administrator. She said she was especially happy to see so many young people in the crowd. “This is the beginning, it’s the beginning of a new hope for our country.”