The U.S. Education Department locked the front doors of its headquarters in Washington on Thursday when two union presidents appeared to deliver “report cards” on Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’s first year in office.
Randi Weingarten, leader of the American Federation of Teachers, said she and Lily Eskelsen García, president of the National Education Association, went to the department with large boxes containing more than 80,000 report cards filled out by teachers and paraprofessionals.
“We were locked out,” said Weingarten, who said they gave the department notice they were coming. “We asked for an appointment, but they locked us out instead.”
Capt. Sheila Newby, an officer in the Security Office of the Education Department, said the doors, which are normally opened 24 hours a day, were indeed locked for about 1 1/2 hours on Thursday.
“They were closed from about 2 to 3:30 because of the protesters,” she said.
DeVos’s press secretary, Elizabeth Hill, did not respond to requests for comment.
The union leaders and colleagues were there representing a coalition of education and civil rights groups called the Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools, which had used the report card initiative to highlight their opposition to DeVos’s policies. Those policies, they say, have undermined traditional public education. On Wednesday, Eskelsen García had called for DeVos to resign, saying:
Her actions during her first year in office have betrayed and undermined the fundamental mission public schools have to provide opportunity for every student who walks through the door.
The report cards grade DeVos on issues including promoting equitable schools, protecting students’ civil rights, and using federal resources to supplement state and local resources for schools and districts that need help serving low-income and students of color. Teachers and others who filled out the report cards put individual suggestions and comments on their forms.
The union leaders left with the boxes, deciding not to leave them at the building entrance. “They don’t even have the respect to actually take the petitions, and the comments, and what people have said in a respectful way and deliver it to the secretary,” Weingarten said.
DeVos marked her first year as education secretary Wednesday by meeting with journalists for a conversation about her accomplishments and experiences. She said she was proudest of shrinking the role of the federal department, eliminating regulations she said were outdated and rolling back initiatives undertaken by the Obama administration.
DeVos has been the most controversial member of President Trump’s Cabinet, and was confirmed by the Senate a year ago only after Mike Pence became the first vice president in history to break a tie for a Cabinet nominee. Her critics charge she does not support public education and seeks to privatize the public education system. Her supporters say she is a strong advocate for providing alternatives to traditional public schools.