Newly sworn-in U.S. Education Department Secretary Betsy DeVos told her staff members that, despite disagreements with others, she would be working to “find common ground” so that the department’s overriding focus would be students and their success in school.
Following her controversial confirmation process, DeVos appeared to be reaching out to teachers, administrators, students with disabilities and their parents, and minority students. She referred to the unprecedented debate over her nomination as “drama.”
“For many, the events of the last few weeks have likely raised questions and spawned more confusion than they have brought light and clarity,” she said.
During her confirmation hearing and in the days that followed, Democrats expressed alarm that the Trump administration may cut back on the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights.
DeVos said to her staff:
In building strong teams, embracing diversity and inclusion are key elements for success. Diversity may be viewed as cliché, but I believe that getting to know, working with, befriending, including people who are different from ourselves is enriching and expanding. And if we model it ourselves, how much easier will it be to encourage students to do the same?
In addition to modeling inclusion and a love of life-long learning, the department also has a unique role in protecting students. We believe students deserve learning environments that foster innovation and curiosity, and are also free from harm. I’m committed to working with you to make this the case.
Democrats also hotly criticized DeVos over her responses to questions in the area of students with disabilities and the federal IDEA law.
“From students who may be struggling, to hard-working teachers who feel stifled, special needs students and families to whom we owe our full support, and leaders and administrators seeking clarity and evidence-based solutions, the Department has a complex population to champion,” DeVos told her staff Wednesday.
DeVos asked educators, parents, and her staff to “set aside any pre-conceived notions, and let’s recognize that while we may have disagreement, we can and must come together, find common ground, and put the needs of students first.”
The secretary said that when disagreements occur, “Let’s set an example of being sincere and honest, passionate, but civil.”
“Think big, be bold, and act to serve students,” she said would be her challenge to her staff. “Together we will find new ways in which we can positively transform education.”