Betsy DeVos, the controversial new secretary of education under President Donald Trump, started her job last week after barely squeaking through her confirmation vote. Anyone thinking that things would get easier for her once she actually got to work, though, is in for an uncomfortable, if not slightly predictable surprise. Because Betsy DeVos' first week as education secretary was slightly disastrous, and it seems like the fight may only get rougher from here on out.
To start her new position off on a low note, when DeVos tried to visit a public school in Washington, D.C., she couldn't even get inside the building. Protestors blocked DeVos from entering Jefferson Middle School Academy, demonstrating against DeVos' platform of "school choice," which many believe disadvantages public schools in favor of privately-run (and even for-profit) schools.
Then, in the wake of that incident, a cartoon in an Illinois newspaper compared DeVos to Ruby Bridges, the Civil Rights icon who had to be escorted by federal marshals when she integrated public schools in the South at the age of 6. Needless to say, a lot of people were not happy, pointing out that a billionaire who wanted to implement policies that might hurt needy children bore very little resemblance to Bridges.
But that's not all.
Even after DeVos managed to get inside Jefferson Middle School Academy to take a tour, she told conservative outlet Townhall that she had some complaints about the teachers, saying,
I visited a school on Friday and met with some wonderful, genuine, sincere teachers who pour their heart and soul into their classrooms and their students. But I can tell the attitude is more of a "receive mode." They’re waiting to be told what they have to do, and that’s not going to bring success to an individual child.
Obviously, the teachers at Jefferson didn't take too kindly to her comments, especially given that those comments came from someone with no experience working in public schools. The school's Twitter account posted a flurry of tweets responding to DeVos' criticism, pointing out the incredible hard work that teachers regularly put in, and the initiative they'd taken to help the children they worked with succeed.
Various heavyweights on the D.C. scene, from Mayor Muriel Bowser to former chancellor of D.C. Public Schools Kaya Henderson weighed in with their support for Jefferson. (According to The Washington Post, Jefferson is one of the fastest-improving schools in D.C.'s public school system.)
DeVos responded to the tweet storm by calling the teachers "awesome", and reiterating what she's going to be fighting for on the job — a decrease in government influence.
Public school advocates are not taking kindly to DeVos, and they're likely only getting started on their fight against her. But hey, at least she hasn't had to deal with any grizzly bears yet, despite the fact that they're supposedly a big presence at public schools.