“There is fear, pain, anger, disappointment, discouragement and embarrassment across America, and I know, too, here within the Department.”
DeVos called the events in Charlottesville “tragic,” “unthinkable” and “wholly unacceptable,” but she did not mention President Trump or his remarks on the incident in her email.
The Friday night march at U-Va. ended in clashes between white nationalists and student counterprotesters, foreshadowing the chaos and violence that would define the following day in Charlottesville as white nationalists attempted to stage their largest rally in decades. Three people died, including 32-year-old Heather Heyer, who was killed Saturday when a car allegedly driven by a Nazi sympathizer plowed into a crowd of people protesting the display of white supremacy.
On Saturday, DeVos weighed in on the incident without specifically condemning white nationalists or neo-Nazis. “I’m disgusted by the behavior and hate-filled rhetoric displayed near the University of Virginia in #Charlottesville,” she wrote on Twitter. “It is every American’s right to speak their mind, but there is no room for violence or hatred.”
She did not made any other public statements about Charlottesville, even as President Trump cast blame for the violence on “both sides,” seemingly drawing a moral equivalence between the neo-Nazis and counterprotesters who had come to stand against racial hatred.
In her email Thursday, DeVos wrote: “The views of white nationalists, neo-Nazis and other racist bigots are totally abhorrent to the American ideal. We all have a role to play in rejecting views that pit one group of people against another. Such views are cowardly, hateful and just plain wrong.
“This is what makes our work so important. Our Department, and particularly the Office for Civil Rights, exists to ensure all students have equal access to a safe, nurturing, quality learning environment free from discrimination or intimidation,” she wrote.
DeVos, who has worked for decades to promote charter schools and vouchers as alternatives to traditional public schools, describes herself as working on behalf of the most disadvantaged children in America. But critics accuse her of pulling back on the Education Department’s civil rights mission, including by narrowing civil rights investigations and promoting school voucher programs that funnel public dollars into private schools that discriminate against LGBT students.
The education secretary has also stumbled over race, infamously calling historically black colleges and universities “pioneers” of “school choice,” glossing over the fact that HBCUs arose in response to a lack of choice as Jim Crow laws barred black students from attending traditionally white schools. In May, graduating students booed DeVos and turned their backs as she delivered a commencement address at Bethune-Cookman University, an HBCU in Florida.
Last week, DeVos told the Associated Press that she regretted the way she had chosen to speak about that period in U.S. history. “I should have decried much more forcefully the ravages of racism in this country,” she said.
Some education reformers have called on DeVos to resign in protest of Trump’s statements about Charlottesville. “It is not viable to serve all kids under a POTUS who defends and encourages white supremacy,” Kevin Huffman, the former commissioner of education in Tennessee, wrote as part of a long thread on Twitter.
DeVos “continues to sully her once-stellar reputation as an advocate for expanding school choice for poor and minority children by serving as the president’s education czar,” RiShawn Biddle, editor of the online publication Dropout Nation and a proponent of school choice, wrote Wednesday.
The education secretary has given no indication that she is considering resignation.
Here is the full text of DeVos’s email to staff:
Team,I write today with a heavy heart for our country. While we should be anticipating and celebrating students’ returns to campuses across the country, we are engaged in a national discussion that has stirred ugly, hate-filled conversations and reopened hurtful wounds from shameful portions of our nation’s past.There is fear, pain, anger, disappointment, discouragement and embarrassment across America, and I know, too, here within the Department.Last weekend’s tragic and unthinkable events in Charlottesville, which stole three innocent lives and injured many more, were wholly unacceptable. The views of white nationalists, neo-Nazis and other racist bigots are totally abhorrent to the American ideal. We all have a role to play in rejecting views that pit one group of people against another. Such views are cowardly, hateful and just plain wrong.This is what makes our work so important. Our Department, and particularly the Office for Civil Rights, exists to ensure all students have equal access to a safe, nurturing, quality learning environment free from discrimination or intimidation.Our own difficult history reminds us that we must confront, head-on, problems when and where they exist with moral clarity and conviction. Our nation is greater than what it has shown in recent days.Violence and hate will never be the answer. We must engage, debate and educate. We must remind all what it means to be an American, and while far from perfect, we must never lose sight that America still stands as the brightest beacon for freedom in the world.My hope is that we will use this as an opportunity to show that what unites and holds America together is far stronger than what seeks to divide and draw us apart. We can all play a role. Mentor a student. Volunteer at a school. Lend a helping hand and offer a listening ear.Our work is truly the bridge to a stronger future. Let’s recommit ourselves to ensuring the future is brighter for all.Betsy