Dear Betsy Devos
By Kate Ratner
Photo Credits: Drew Angerer/Getty
Dear Betsy Devos,
I am writing you this letter as a student and an advocate for the betterment of the Philadelphia School District. Your lackadaisical service as the Secretary of Education coupled with your dedication to President Trump’s administration concerns me. America’s education system requires a representative to mend its corruption with empathy, understanding, and acceptance. Instead, we are expected to thrive under the leadership of a woman who, despite having political and business experience, has not spent a day teaching in a public school system. Perhaps you are too busy tending to your Bahamas resort, yachts, and billionaire status to recognize that inner-city districts are struggling. Our teachers are underpaid, asbestos is crawling in our ceilings, and our students are met with police officers rather than guidance counselors in the hallways.
Since the start of your political career, you have advocated for “choice of education.” While I, too, believe that students should be able to attend the school of their choice, I wish that you would instead encourage Americans to support and serve their local public schools. I am so grateful to my public school for giving me a community where I can learn with children from all across Philadelphia while receiving a quality education that has prepared me for college the same as an elite suburban private school would. Though my school still struggles with dirty bathrooms, a shortage of counseling staff, and underfunded athletic organizations, Philadelphia non-magnet schools are not provided with the resources to give their students the education and guidance they deserve.
I worry about your intolerance and your tendency to allow your religious beliefs to interfere with your political positions. According to a 2016 POLITICO article, your family has a history of donating to “Focus on the Family,” an organization that provides “Christian guidance,” including “Counseling for Sexual Identity Concerns.” Your homophobia is apparent in both your donations and your stance on mandated LGBTQ+ inclusivity in American schools. In a 2017 House Appropriations subcommittee hearing, Congresswoman Katherine Clark (D-Mass) asked you if schools should be allowed to discriminate against students who identify with the LGBTQ+ community. Congresswoman Clark asked this question in regards to a recent scandal at Lighthouse Christian Academy, a school in Indiana that receives state voucher funds but denies admission to students of the LGBTQ+ community. To Congresswoman Clark’s question, you responded, “for states who have programs that allow for parents to make choices, they set up the rules around that…'' Your non-answer answer blatantly invalidates educational equality for LGBTQ+ students and claims that the federal government must not interfere with “state flexibility” and parents’ decisions to outwardly discriminate against children based on their sexual and/or gender identities. Later in this exchange, you stated, “... the bottom line is that parents are the best equipped to make choices for the children’s schooling and education decisions and too many children today are trapped in schools that don’t work for them.” Your choice, in this instance, is to hold states’ rights with the highest regard at the expense of the infringement of LGBTQ+ youth.
My frustration with your questionable beliefs and approach for managing nationwide education brings me to today: a critical pandemic that requires us to wear face masks and maintain safe distances from large gatherings. In a recent interview with CNN, you stated that “[t]here is nothing in the [Center for Disease Control] data that would suggest that kids being back in school is dangerous to them.” Your statement disregards the severity of COVID-19 and its dangerous possible effects on educators, faculty members, and elderly or immuno-compromised family members of students. You later added, "where there are little flare-ups or hotspots, that can be dealt with on a school-by-school or a case-by-case basis.” Your use of the term “little flare-ups” minimizes the very real danger to public health of sending children back to school during a deadly pandemic that has killed over 140,000 Americans in the last six months. Though President Trump’s and your threats to revoke federal funding from schools that don’t fully reopen are invalid, as American public schools are majority funded by state and local governments, your apathy towards the health and wellbeing of American people is reflected in this decision. As the Scott Braband, superintendent of Fairfax County, Virginia, schools said in response to your criticisms of his choice not to reopen his school system, “It's not about political games. It's not about budget fights. It's about what's doing best for America in a time of crisis.”
I hope that one day you will understand the backlash you receive. I hope that you will recognize that there must be a separation between church and state. Education is not about wealth and frustrating tax-payers. Education is not about discrimination and intolerance towards those who don’t look like you, live like you, or love like you. Education is about understanding, acceptance, and a singular focus on the growth and protection of our country’s youth.
A student of the Philadelphia School District