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NEA President Says Meeting With Betsy DeVos Would Make Her 'Complicit'

Lily-Eskelsen-Garcia-blog dc.jpg

Washington

The president of the largest national teachers' union repeatedly condemned the Trump administration for pushing policies that "hurt" children in a speech Friday at the National Press Club.

"We are facing a reckless and irresponsible administration that creates chaos and confusion—which is bad—but [President Trump] does something worse—he creates fear in children, and that is unforgivable," Lily Eskelsen García said at the luncheon. 

In particular, García pointed to what she called the "cruel, senseless, unnecessary ending of DACA." The president has said he will repeal the Obama administration program that gives people who came to the United States illegally as children work permits and temporary reprieves from deportation. About 800,000 immigrants, including tens of thousands of school-age students, are protected under the program.

The union leader has been persistent in saying that there's "no reason to trust" Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, and that she won't meet with the secretary until DeVos answers questions on whether she'll protect all students from discrimination and hold privately managed charters to the same accountability standards as public schools. DeVos did extend an invitation at one point, which García said she refused. 

When asked in an interview after the speech today what might sway her to engage with DeVos, García said, "I don't see it." 

"This is a woman that has ideas, positions, that hurt children," said García, pointing to recent Education Department decisions to rescind Obama-era civil rights guidance on transgender students and change Obama administration rules on how colleges and universities respond to allegations of sexual assault on campus.  "Anything that gives this administration credibility ends up being complicit."

She went on to say that DeVos "has sought the demise of public education. ... I can't imagine what we'd have to talk about."

Interestingly, DeVos has used some similar language in defending her approach to civil rights enforcement, saying Obama-era policies expanding the scope of investigations "harmed students." She has vowed to consider cases individually rather than looking for systemic violations of civil rights, which she said leads to longer processing times and backlogs. 

Last week, Randi Weingarten, the president of the other large national teachers' union, the American Federation of Teachers, criticized the education secretary in a C-SPAN interview for not bringing the education community together after the white nationalist rally in Charlottesville that left a woman dead and the horrific storm in Houston

She also said DeVos has not gained much ground on her efforts to expand voucher programs and privately managed charter schools. 

"DeVos has given oxygen to this movement to privatize," Weingarten said. "On the flip side, I've seen more energy and focus on saving and protecting public schools than I've seen before. What she's actually done is moved parents and teachers who were never active before to say, wait a second, this is what supports our democracy, to save public education."

Weingarten and DeVos did visit schools in Ohio together in April, but the experience from settled their differences. 

See the full C-SPAN interview with Weingarten (and Ed Week Associate Editor Stephen Sawchuk) below: 

Image: National Education Association President Lily Eskelsen Garcia answers questions during a 2014 interview with The Associated Press in her office at NEA headquarters in Washington.—J. David Ake/AP-File


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