Report: Betsy DeVos Hides In Secure Compound While Pushing For School Reopenings

Official White House Photo by Stephanie Chasez / Public Domain

JakeThomas

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos reportedly has been holed up in her Michigan mansion as schools struggle with reopening.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is facing criticism for reportedly isolating herself in her expansive Michigan estate while school systems across the U.S. struggle to mount reopening plans that will keep American children safe amid the pandemic.

  • Salon’s Roger Sollenberger reported that “public attitudes about reopening have soured as schools experimenting with in-person learning report nearly immediate outbreaks of COVID-19,” with a recent Politico/Morning Consult poll showing “almost 60% of Americans rejected fully in-person learning.”
  • Meanwhile, “DeVos has apparently distanced herself from population centers while the pandemic's effects impact new parts of the country” as “she has simultaneously pushed for the nation's public schools to put teachers and students back in the classroom full-time,” Sollenberger noted.
  • NBC News reported on Tuesday that DeVos’ public schedule “ has been mostly empty for the past several weeks, including no events on her public schedule for this week.”
  • And “Noelle Ellerson Ng, the associate executive director for advocacy at the School Superintendents Association, told the outlet that the group had not heard from DeVos at all this year,” Sollenberger noted.
  • He also reported that “DeVos told the Washington Examiner in June that she would work mostly from her Michigan estate as the school year approached, and the Detroit Free Press reported that she had made good on the promise in July.”

Dubbed the "McMansion from hell" by BuzzFeed, the education secretary's 22,000-square-foot estate on the shore of Lake Macatawa commands a 24-hour, taxpayer-funded security detail courtesy of the U.S. Marshals Service when she is present.

  • Sollenberger reported that DeVos did appear for one event this week, “the "Kids FIRST: Getting America's Children Safely Back to School" forum, featuring education officials, teachers and parents, at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building.”

DeVos was, in fact, present at the event, seated onstage without a mask along with President Donald Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and counselor to the president Kellyanne Conway. The education secretary spoke for one minute and fifteen seconds at the top of the 40-minute session before sitting silently for the duration.

  • Though she has remained largely out of the public eye, DeVos “reportedly participated in recent events related to school voucher advocacy and private schools.”
  • Sollenberger noted that DeVos “has admitted to using the pandemic as a way to further her private school agenda” and “has diverted millions of dollars in coronavirus relief to private schools, resulting in a lawsuit.”
  • Liz Hill, the Education Department’s communications director, told NBC News: “The Secretary was among the first cabinet heads to establish a coronavirus working group at the Department.”

“Everything she’s done over the last 5 months has been in a effort to help all students, including public school students,” said Hill, citing $30 billion in federal funding under the CARES Act made available in less than 30 days “to ensure that K-12 education leaders and governors could use the money in the ways that would best support their students.”

  • A department spokesperson told Salon via email: "Secretary DeVos has held 9 roundtables, 4 briefings, 30 calls with governors, 62 calls with state superintendents, 28 interviews and 13 conference calls about this pandemic. She provided 7 major flexibilities, took 5 steps to protect students' rights, and made $30B for schools available in 30 days."
  • However, Chris Lu, a Cabinet secretary under President Barack Obama, told NBC News that DeVos could have taken further measures to address the challenges America’s schools face amid the pandemic.

"You have a secretary who has expressed, philosophically, little interest in public schools and in terms of her travel has visited very few public schools," Lu said. "So the idea of her actually convening an interagency task force on public schools is so antithetical to everything she's done or believes."

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