Betsy DeVos' visit to Stoneman Douglas High School did not go well

DeVos laid a wreath, "interrupted" a counseling session, and dodged student questions.
March 7, 2018, 7:23pm

PARKLAND, Florida — Education Secretary Betsy DeVos got a frosty reception from students and faculty during a visit to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School early Wednesday, its first full day of classes since the Feb. 14 massacre that left 17 students, teachers, and faculty dead.

DeVos, who arrived in a four-car motorcade with a police escort, toured the school with Broward County Superintendent Robert Runcie, school board members Rosalyn Osgood and Abbie Freedman, and six students. She laid a wreath in front of the school building where the teen gunman fired his AR-15-style assault rifle, “interrupted” a counseling session in the media center, and dodged students' questions.

According to the Department of Education, the purpose of DeVos’ trip was to “connect with students and teachers” in the wake of the shootings, which turned Stoneman Douglas students into activists and started yet another national conversation about gun control.

The tour was closed to the press, but students who were present said DeVos did not answer questions on what her agency can do to help prevent future mass shootings.

READ: Betsy DeVos won’t help trans students access the right bathrooms

“We would love it if you could come back and answer some of our questions,” said Isabelle Robinson, 17, one of the students who accompanied DeVos on her tour. DeVos responded that she would have a sit-down with students “later down the road,” according to Robinson.

When school board member Freedman asked DeVos if she planned to be at the March for Our Lives event on March 24, organized by Parkland students to take place in Washington and other cities across the country, DeVos said she might not be in Washington at that time. “There are marches all over the country and in other countries, so it shouldn’t be a problem,” Robinson replied.

The main entrance to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida was still decorated with thousands of flowers and hundreds of memorial signs when students returned for their first full day of classes on March 7, 2018. (Photo: Kathleen Caulderwood, VICE News)

Kyra Parrow, 18, a student and editor-in-chief of the school yearbook, said DeVos’ entourage “interrupted a counseling session with students in the media center.” Parrow said she asked DeVos what she’d do to prevent future mass school shootings.

“She gave me a BS answer,” Parrow said. “Nothing was informative, nothing about it told me anything about her agenda.”

Last week, DeVos announced that the Department of Education was awarding $1 million in funding to Broward County Public Schools (which encompasses Parkland), known as the Project School Emergency Response to Violence. That money was meant to fund mental health services, overtime pay for teachers, additional security staff, and substitute teachers.

Later, at a press conference at a Marriott Hotel in Coral Springs, DeVos reiterated her support for arming school staff, a proposal the Florida Senate approved in a 20-18 vote on Tuesday. “I was just there to be there, to be with them,” she said. “I heard a variety of things from students I spoke to.”

But some faculty at Stoneman Douglas echoed the students' skepticism.

“Is she coming for a photo op and pretending she cares, and pretending she’s going to do something,” said Greg Pittman, an American history teacher. “Are they bringing additional pay for teachers, funding for security, and training for police officers to be on our campuses?”

Pittman, who said he previously worked for former Republican North Carolina Sen. John P. East and former North Carolina Gov. Jim Martin, said he was concerned that DeVos was just coming to push the Trump administration’s agenda.

“I hope she’s not bringing ideas that the president is advocating for that we arm teachers,” said Pittman. “I’m here to teach, not to kill students.”

Two other students, both juniors, expressed similar thoughts. “She should go home,” said Wiliam, a junior who declined to give his last name. “No one wants her here.”

“We don’t think she should be at our school right now,” said Sebastien, also a junior who also declined to give his last name. “She doesn’t care about us.”

The antipathy toward DeVos before her arrival was also palpable online. Many of the student survivors took to Twitter to share their thoughts about DeVos’ appearance.

“I've decided that I don't think we should walk out, ignore her, or block her from entering. I want to talk to her. I want her to understand what we're feeling,” wrote Carly Novel on Twitter.

“However, I doubt we'll be able to discuss anything with her. She'll probably give us her sympathies and leave.”

The U.S. Department of Education did not respond to VICE News’ request for comment.

Correction: An earlier version of this article misstated the number of votes that the Florida Senate proposal to arm teachers received. The bill passed 20-18.