The Education Secretary is working from her home in Michigan and hasn’t talked to a national school superintendents group all year.
One Trump Administration official has been noticeably absent from discussions over how to open schools safely this fall: Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.
In recent months, DeVos has been working remotely from her large Michigan home, while continuing to tout President Donald Trump’s demands that schools across the country reopen for in-person instruction this fall. Reopening schools, even with coronavirus mitigation measures in place, could place students, teachers and school staff at an elevated risk of contracting the virus.
DeVos has also been attending events that are not listed on her public calendar, while school administration groups have been left to wait for guidance from the Department of Education. According to NBC News, DeVos attended several events sponsored by the conservative Federalist Society, and events related to private schools.
But officials at a national school superintendents association (AASA) said their organization has not heard from DeVos at all this year.
At the state level, officials have also been begging for financial help and guidance from the Department of Education, but say they haven’t received any.
In Michigan, state officials have come up with their own plans to reopen schools safely, but those plans require federal funding to work. So far, Courier sister publication The ‘Gander reports that money has yet to appear.
Some of the critical underfunding could be attributed to DeVos’ own move to divert funds from coronavirus relief legislation from public schools to private and religious schools. An investigation from Cardinal & Pine, which is part of the Courier network, found that for-profit cosmetology schools in North Carolina got almost twice as much money per student as the state’s public universities, and more than three times what community colleges took in.
Following President Trump’s lead, DeVos threatened to cut funds to schools that don’t resume in-person instruction this fall. She also pushed aside responsibility for providing guidance to states and local school districts during a press event with Vice President Mike Pence in July, saying she “isn’t the nation’s superintendent.”
Now, with the clock running out before the school year begins in most districts, education groups are calling out DeVos’ absence. Michigan nonprofit Protect Our Schools built a mobile billboard to bring to DeVos’ summer mansion in Holland, Michigan, to deliver this message: “How many of our lives will you and your boss risk by forcing schools to reopen?”
Ellen Offen, who serves as the vice president of Protect Our Public Schools, told The ‘Gander that DeVos has not provided information on protective equipment, school nursing staff, or other resources schools will need to reopen safely.
“We are talking about children, teachers, and families getting sick or even dying,” Offen said. “We can’t make rash decisions like forcing all schools to reopen without a plan for safely doing so when it could mean thousands more dead.”