DALLAS - Education secretary Betsy DeVos is known for attracting protests and publicity. That was the case on Thursday with a visit to North Texas that seemed to come out of nowhere.
Many Dallas ISD board members say they did not know she was planning to visit Dade Middle School until last night. It was one of two North Texas public schools DeVos visited.
There were protesters at both locations for DeVos, who has criticized failing school systems but then admitted on national TV she's never visited a struggling public school. About 100 people peacefully protested outside DISD’s Dade Middle School.
"Funding for public education is short and for somebody to come out here and promote that they are for public education is a false impression,” protestor George Rangel said.
“She's pro-vouchers. I'm very much against vouchers,” said protestor Mary Thomas. “And that's just going to take money away from public education.”
DeVos avoided the protestors by coming in a back entrance. Inside the school, the reception was much warmer. She was greeted by the school band and cheerleaders. She toured the campus and then sat down for a conversation with the principal.
When DeVos was questioned, she insisted her department is not trying to privatize schools. Instead, she says she wants to give equal opportunity to all students and parents who want their kids to have a great education.
“We don't have any kind of effort to privatize any kind of school. What we do want to do is ensure that parents have the opportunity and the power to find the right educational environment for their child,” she said. “I view education as an investment in individual students and children. If we keep oriented to making sure every student has an equal opportunity to pursue a good education. If we stay focused on that, I think we will all be able to arrive at good solutions.”
DeVos also visited Urban Specialists, a nonprofit safe space for teens across from Lincoln High School. The conversation there focused on violence in communities and schools after the Florida school shooting
Pastor Omar Jahwar, who created the group, said he’s taken gun violence seriously for more than 20 years
"And sometimes we wonder why they are not performing – it’s because they are living in a survival mindset so someones got to turn it on - turn off this survival - and turn citizenship and civility and spirituality,” Jahwar said.
Some of the students in attendance told DeVos that stricter gun laws would make students feel safer on campus. Others said students engaging with each other would help create a more welcoming campus environment.
Several Dallas ISD trustees voiced their displeasure with DeVos' visit. They weren't informed until late Wednesday.
“I am disgusted with the idea of her showing up at a school that has struggled when just last month on 60 Minutes she said she had not visited any of those schools,” trustee Joyce Foreman wrote on Facebook. “Why now? Why Dallas? Why Billy Earl Dade?”
Trustee Miguel Solis, who heavily criticized DeVos during her hearing in 2017, said on Twitter his views hadn't changed of her.
But trustee Bernadette Nutall said she wanted DeVos to see the work being done to improve troubled Dallas schools.
"She is our secretary of education whether you like it or not she is the secretary of education that is overall our public schools and so we must engage in conversation with her for real authentic change,” Nutall said.