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Protesters Try to Bar US Education Chief From Entering a School

Protesters gather outside Jefferson Middle School in Washington, Feb. 10, 2017, where Betsy DeVos paid her first visit as U.S. education secretary in a bid to mend fences with educators after a bruising confirmation battle.

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos made her first visit to a public school Friday, and was met by dozens of protesters who tried to keep her from entering the building.

At least two protesters blocked DeVos' entrance to the Jefferson Middle School Academy in Washington, slightly more than one kilometer from her new office at the U.S. Department of Education.

Betsy DeVos addresses Education Department staff on her first day on the job as secretary of education, Feb. 8, 2017.
Betsy DeVos addresses Education Department staff on her first day on the job as secretary of education, Feb. 8, 2017.

DeVos remained inside her sport utility vehicle for a few minutes, dodging the most aggressive demonstrators, but eventually found another way into the building. Police said they arrested one man for assaulting a police officer.

City education officials criticized the protesters, saying that DeVos, a wealthy education activist who has never been a teacher, a school administrator or even attended any public school, needs to understand what goes on in the U.S. system of public education. The mayor of Washington, Muriel Bowser, tweeted: “We welcome Betsy DeVos and anyone who wants to learn more about our schools.”

Jefferson Middle School Academy is considered one of the most outstanding schools in the nation's capital.

Former secretary offers support

Former Education Secretary Arne Duncan, who served during the administration of former President Barack Obama, added his voice to the debate on Twitter: “Let's all agree [DeVos] really needs to be in public schools. Please let her in.”

DeVos' opponents said they plan to continue protesting her appointment at every opportunity.

DeVos herself told reporters her visit was “awesome.”

“It was really wonderful to visit this school, and I look forward to many visits of many great public schools, both in D.C. and around the country,” she said. “Thanks very much.”

Controversial choice

DeVos, a 59-year-old billionaire philanthropist and political activist, was a highly controversial choice for education secretary because of her lack of experience in public schools and her past activism supporting school voucher programs — a government program in many areas of the country that provides financial assistance to parents who do not want their children to attend public schools. Critics say school vouchers drain funding from public schools and divert it to fee-paid private schools that in many cases can support themselves financially.

During hearings in the U.S. Senate before the vote that confirmed her nomination by President Donald Trump, DeVos attracted attention and derision when she was asked why she would not support rules prohibiting firearms in all school buildings. DeVos said some schools in rural areas might need to be protected against attacks by grizzly bears.

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