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Under DeVos, Ed. Dept. Has Abandoned Vulnerable Students, Principals' Group Director Says

The executive director of the National Association of Secondary School Principals called on Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to "recommit" the department to student equity, saying that the department is signaling to vulnerable students through its actions that it does not intend to defend their rights.

JoAnn Bartoletti urged principals and assistant principals attending the group's annual conference in Chicago to stand up for public education because "public education no longer has an ally" in the education department.

Bartoletti's charge that public education did not have a friend in the department extends beyond the secretary's "misguided push to privatize education and commoditize our children," according to her prepared remarks.

The department "has rejected its commitment to educational equity," she said.

"From rescinding transgender rights guidance, to summarily dismissing numerous civil right cases without review, to endorsing local leaders who call ICE on students in flagrant violation of federal law, to Title [IX] decisions that restrict the rights of rape victims and LGBT students, to the most recent threat to rescind discipline guidance NASSP helped create to protect minority students, this administration sends a clear message to our most vulnerable kids," she said. "The message being sent is: 'We have no intention of defending your rights.' "

Under DeVos, the department has rolled back several Obama administration policies, including guidance that said under federal law schools must allow transgender students to access restrooms, locker rooms, and sex-segregated classes that align with their gender identity.

And while DeVos was being questioned at a House education committee meeting in May, she said, in answer to a question, that it was a school or local community's decision whether to notify Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, about students' immigration status.

The secretary later said that schools were not immigration enforcement zones, and at a later Senate hearing she said that students should be protected at school and she doesn't think that a principal can call ICE on a student.

Bartoletti urged the secretary to show how she would protect students.

"The equity challenges our students face are too pervasive to ignore," Bartoletti said. "Your canned responses of 'the states should consider it' or 'whatever the problem, private school vouchers will fix it' are insufficient to the point of insulting. Our kids deserve better. Our leaders deserve better."

The speech was one of the bluntest to date from Bartoletti on DeVos' education department and its policies. The NASSP and its counterpart, the National Association of Elementary School Principals, have pushed back against many of the department's proposals, including a proposed budget that strips Title II—funds for teacher and principal training and class-size reduction. But the secondary and middle school group has been more forceful than its elementary counterpart in publicly responding to department proposals and policies.

Bartoletti referenced the school shootings during the year that claimed the lives of several students and educators. (Through the end of May, an Education Week tracker had documented 14 school shootings with injuries or deaths.) Two of the principals in schools where shootings  occurred this school year, Ty Thompson, from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., and Warman Hall, from Aztec High School in Aztec, N.M., led sessions at the conference on Wednesday.

And while Bartoletti spoke of gun violence in schools, she turned her attention to the students who have thrust school safety to the forefront of a national conversation.

Their experience in public education helped prepare them to use their voice, she said. 

"Their voices are loud and strong because of their public schools," she said. "Their public schools taught them crucial knowledge and skills, then empowered them to use their knowledge and skills in the "realest" of real-world settings.  We need to repeat that loud enough for everyone to hear it back in Washington. But just as important, those students should remind us of our shared call to cultivate student voice. "

NASSP has been involved in elevating student voice long before it became trendy, she said. The National Honor Society and the National Student Council are housed at the Virginia-based organization.

She said the group will release a guide, Raising Student Voice and Participation, or RSVP, to help principals foster student voice.

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