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Oct-11-2017 23:55printcommentsVideo

Protesters Line up to Greet Betsy DeVos at McMinnville High School

The most controversial education secretary in recent history visits rural Oregon high school.

young protester
This young peaceful protester is looking forward to a great education at his local public school.
Photo: Bonnie King

(McMINNVILLE, Ore.) - A crowd of over one hundred people gathered on the streets next to McMinnville High School today, to give Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos a hearty Oregon reception. There were protesters and supporters, though her supporters were outnumbered by the score.

Well known as a billionaire philanthropist, DeVos’ “out of touch” policies directly threaten federal funding for public schools, according to teachers we spoke with.

“A champion of charter schools”, DeVos has a history in Michigan of supporting schools run by for-profit operators as well as school-choice systems (vouchers) that allow students to use public money to attend private schools. What she’s done for Michigan, she seems to have in mind for the whole Country.

That’s frightful to many Americans who see vouchers and charter schools as steps toward privatizing (and monetizing) the nation’s public school system.

In addition, the very controversial changes she has made to federal policy that weakened LGBTQ rights and even relaxed sexual assault investigation rules on college campuses have caused intense responses from coast to coast.

Her popularity took another dive as she lifted protections for student borrowers by rolling back or rewriting financial aid regulations that were put in place by the Obama administration.

Yesterday, the McMinnville School District’s website announced that Betsy DeVos “requested a visit of McMinnville Schools to learn about the excellent instructional practices making a difference for students.”

The public responded by initiating a campaign for a peaceful protest near the school grounds, where they hoped DeVos would see them, and in full view of the news media, which were “all” there.

According to the Washington Post, DeVos receives special protection from the U.S. Marshals Service, at an average cost so far this year of $1 million a month, because she is protested everywhere she goes.

The same was true in McMinnville, Oregon. Protesters chanted, “Public Funds for Public Schools!” and held signs with slogans like: “Stop Devostating Public Education”, “All Students Welcome”, “Our Kids Are Not for Sale” and “DeVoid of concern for the common good”, just to name a few.

Her supporters stood on the opposite corner with a huge TRUMP flag and signs thanking Betsy DeVos. Many anti-DeVos protesters stood with them, and periodically were seen striking up what looked to be awkward conversations.

Still, there were no heated moments between the two sides. Well, there was one guy. A pickup flying a big American flag drove by twice, the second time, the passenger yelled "white power!" toward the anti-DeVos protesters. Otherwise, a very peaceful event.

The sky darkened with seeming trepidation and the rain began before DeVos arrived. Some said she brought the storm. That may be a bit romantic for the situation, but it did rain.

DeVos did not plan to speak at the high school. She arrived with entourage in two black SUVs, and carefully entered the school out of sight of the awaiting public.

She met with her supporters, staff and select students inside, then visited three classrooms, AP U.S. History taught by Erin Brisbin, an 11th grade AVID class taught by Darcy Houston, and AP Literature and Composition taught by Matthew Brisbin. The classrooms modeled the critical thinking strategies that were part of the staff development session.

After about an hour, she lit out just as she'd arrived.

Oregon Rep. Suzanne Bonamici released a statement in response to DeVos' visit.

“I welcome Secretary DeVos to Oregon,” said Bonamici. “It is my hope that the Secretary’s visit to McMinnville High School will demonstrate the potential of public education and inspire her to work with Congress to pass and implement policies that will lead to all our country’s public schools getting the funding and support they need to help every student succeed.”

“McMinnville’s career and technical education programs – including the Engineering & Aerospace Science Academy – are engaging students and preparing them for success in and after high school, regardless of what path they take. The District works hard to make sure its teachers are highly skilled and have the tools they need to focus on every student.

“Strengthening public education was the primary reason I got involved in public service, and remains one of my top priorities. As a relative newcomer to the world of public education, Secretary DeVos would do well to educate herself about the strengths and challenges of our diverse public education system.

“Unfortunately, in her short tenure as head of the Education Department she has been focused on undermining our public schools, not strengthening them. She continues to advocate for privatizing public education, cutting education funding, and rolling back civil rights protections for students.

“And although I’m glad that Secretary DeVos is going to visit a thriving public school in the district I’m honored to represent, I also wish she would visit Congress. It’s been eight months since she was sworn in as Secretary of Education, but she has yet to appear before the House Education Committee.

"As a leader on the Committee, I’m eager to hear directly from the Secretary about her plans to strengthen public education and provide equal access and opportunity for all students regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, or zip code,” wrote Oregon Rep. Suzanne Bonamici.

After the high school tour, Secretary DeVos traveled to the Evergreen Space Museum, where the high school conducts its Engineering & Aerospace Sciences Academy (EASA) pathway classes.

At the museum, she observed the robotics program and attended two roundtables that featured student and staff discussions. The students talked about college and career readiness and opportunities offered by the high school. The students represented a range of the high school's Career Pathway programs.

The staff roundtable, which featured a mix of teachers and administrators, covered initiatives like the Science Experiences that provide STEM learning for every grade in every school. The staff also discussed the robust professional development that provides consistent instruction across the district.

"We're proud of the accomplishments of our students, our staff and our community," said Dr. Maryalice Russell, superintendent of the McMinnville School District.

"As educators, we look for teachable moments, and we see this visit as a way to engage in open dialogue about good teaching strategies and good instructional practices in public education.

"If others can learn from our successes, we're happy to share our experiences with the secretary and her staff."

Sources:; McMinnville School District; Washington Post; others


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