on the schedule

In her first months as education secretary, Betsy DeVos met with lawmakers, pollsters, and Peter Thiel

U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos in March.

Betsy DeVos spent a trip to California this summer having breakfast with Peter Thiel and visiting start-ups aimed at reshaping education.

That’s according to the detailed schedule of the U.S. Education Secretary’s first months on the job, obtained through a records request and posted online this week by the website AltGov2. (The education department did not respond to questions about the schedule, which aligns with the secretary’s public events for those months.)

The schedule, which runs to more than 300 pages, includes calls and meetings with education power brokers, including Republican lawmakers, heads of foundations, charter school leaders, and state schools chiefs.

Some of the meetings reveal more about how DeVos is trying to push her school-choice agenda. Here are a few items of note from the schedule, which ends on July 19:

  • DeVos may not have called Arne Duncan after taking the job, but she did talk to other former education secretaries. She had calls or meetings with Bill Bennett, who served under President Reagan, and with Margaret Spellings and Rod Paige, who served under President George W. Bush.
  • She’s heard from some opposing voices … The topic for a call with the National Alliance of Black School Educators, an organization that opposed DeVos’s appointment, was noted as “introduction to areas of concern.”
  • … and made time for prominent conservative thinkers. Those include Jim DeMint, then of the Heritage Foundation, and Professor Robert P. George of Princeton, who the New York Times Magazine once called “The Conservative-Christian Big Thinker.”
  • She met with conservative pollster Frank Luntz, who is noted as having a “60 slide deck of the words to use and the words to lose” on education issues. He pushes for Republicans to call private-school vouchers “opportunity scholarships.”
  • Her trip to the Bay Area in July included breakfast with Peter Thiel, the billionaire PayPal founder who helped take down Gawker and has drawn attention for his support for President Trump, at the “Thiel residence.” (On education, Thiel has been a longtime critic of traditional colleges.) DeVos also visited the Minerva Project, a for-profit attempt to restructure college learning, and what appears to be Horizons School of Technology, which describes itself online as a “12-16 week immersive program” for undergraduates.
  • She’s staying connected to her home state. The topic noted for a call to former Michigan Governor John Engler: “Catching up.” She recently tapped Engler to chair the board that helps oversee the National Assessment of Educational Progress.
  • JD Vance, author of “Hillbilly Elegy,” also got a call. Politico explored the education angle of his book here.

Tell us what else you find: see a searchable version of the document here.

devos watch

Asked again about school staff referring students to ICE, DeVos says ‘I don’t think they can’

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos testifies during a Senate Appropriations Subcommittee hearing on Capitol Hill, June 5, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

Pressed to clarify her stance on whether school staff could report undocumented students to immigration authorities, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos avoided giving a clear answer before eventually saying, “I don’t think they can.”

It was an odd exchange before the U.S. Senate Appropriations Subcommittee, during a hearing that was meant to focus on budget issues but offered a prime opportunity for Senate Democrats to grill DeVos on other topics.

Chris Murphy, a Democratic senator from Connecticut, focused on DeVos’s comments a few weeks ago at House hearing where she said that it was “a school decision” whether to report undocumented students to Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Civil rights groups responded sharply, calling it an inaccurate description of the department’s own rules and the Supreme Court case, Plyler v. Doe, that says schools must educate undocumented students.

In a statement after that hearing, DeVos seemed to walk back her comments, saying, “Schools are not, and should never become, immigration enforcement zones.” DeVos also referenced the Plyler case on Tuesday, while initially avoiding multiple chances to offer a yes or no response to whether school officials could call ICE on a student.

In response to DeVos’s latest remarks, her spokesperson Liz Hill said, “She did not avoid the question and was very clear schools are not, and should not ever become, immigration enforcement zones. Every child should feel safe going to school.”

Here’s the full exchange between DeVos and Murphy:

Murphy: Let me ask you about a question that you were presented with in a House hearing around the question of whether teachers should refer undocumented students to ICE for immigration enforcement. In the hearing I think you stated that that should be up to each individual state or school district. And then you released a follow-up statement in which you said that, ‘our nation has both a legal and moral obligation to educate every child,’ and is well-established under the Supreme Court’s ruling in Plyler and has been in my consistent position since day one. I’m worried that that statement is still not clear on this very important question of whether or not a teacher or a principal is allowed to call ICE to report an undocumented student under federal law. Can a teacher or principal call ICE to report an undocumented student under current federal law?

DeVos: I will refer back again to the settled case in Plyler vs. Doe in 1982, which says students that are not documented have the right to an education. I think it’s incumbent on us to ensure that those students have a safe and secure environment to attend school, to learn, and I maintain that.

Murphy: Let me ask the question again: Is it OK – you’re the secretary of education, there are a lot of schools that want guidance, and want to understand what the law is — is it OK for a teacher or principal to call ICE to report an undocumented student?

DeVos: I think a school is a sacrosanct place for student to be able to learn and they should be protected there.

Murphy: You seem to be very purposefully not giving a yes or no answer. I think there’s a lot of educators that want to know whether this is permissible.

DeVos: I think educators know in their hearts that they need to ensure that students have a safe place to learn.

Murphy: Why are you so — why are you not answering the question?

DeVos: I think I am answering the question.

Murphy: The question is yes or no. Can a principal call ICE on a student? Is that allowed under federal law? You’re the secretary of education.

DeVos: In a school setting, a student has the right to be there and the right to learn, and so everything surrounding that should protect that and enhance that student’s opportunity and that student’s environment.

Murphy: So they can’t call ICE?

DeVos: I don’t think they can.

Murphy: OK, thank you.

DeVos in Detroit

Betsy DeVos’s first Detroit visit featured Girl Scouts, robots, and talk of beluga whales

PHOTO: Kimberly Hayes Taylor
U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos takes pictures on her phone during the FIRST Robotics World Championship, held in Detroit on April 27, 2018.

Betsy DeVos was all smiles on Friday as she toured the world’s largest robotics competition and congratulated student contestants.

The event was her first visit to Detroit as education secretary. DeVos, a Michigan-based philanthropist before joining the cabinet, has a long history of involvement with the city’s education policies.

It was a friendly environment for the secretary, who has often faced protesters who disagree with her stance on private school vouchers or changes to civil rights guidance at public events. (Even her security protection appeared to be in a good mood on Friday.)

Here are four things we noticed about DeVos’s visit to downtown and the FIRST Robotics World Championship.

1. She got to talk to some local students after all.

DeVos didn’t visit any Detroit schools, and didn’t answer any questions from reporters about education in Michigan. But as she toured the junior LEGO competition, she did stop to talk to a handful of Girl Scouts from the east side of the city.

PHOTO: Kimberly Hayes Taylor

2. She knows a thing or two about beluga whales.

She also stopped to stop to chat with students from Ann Arbor who called themselves the Beluga Builders and designed a water park that economizes water. DeVos asked how they came up with their name, and they told her how much they love the whales. “They have big humps on their heads, right?” DeVos said. “Yes,” they answered in unison.

3. She is an amateur shutterbug.

She stopped often during her tour to shoot photos and videos with her own cell phone. She took photos of the elementary and middle school students’ LEGO exhibits and photos of the robotics competition.

PHOTO: Kimberly Hayes Taylor

4. She was eager to put forth a friendly face.

As she stopped by students’ booths, she often knelt down to children’s eye level. When she posed for group pictures, she directed students into position. And she shook lots of hands, asking kids questions about their projects.