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Protesters to descend on Bellevue during visit by Secretary of Education Betsy Devos

Protesters to descend on Bellevue during visit by Secretary of Education Betsy Devos
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by: Ranji Sinha, KIRO 7 News Staff

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BELLEVUE, Wash. – The City of Bellevue is bracing for a wild Friday evening as hundreds, maybe thousands of protesters swarm the streets to demonstrate a planned appearance by Trump administration cabinet member, Secretary of Education Betsy Devos.

Devos is slated to be one of the key speakers at the Washington Policy Center’s Annual 2017 dinner that also functions as a fundraiser.

Why people are protesting 

Sharonne Navas is the founder and Executive Director of the Equity in Education Coalition. She is one of the main organizers for the protest against Devos and made it clear what she thinks about the top education official in the Federal government.

“Betsy Devos doesn’t know anything about education,” said Navas.

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Navas has been working with Collin Jergens of Fuse Washington to sign people up for the protest in Bellevue.

Jergens says Devos — in a certain sense — is a surrogate for the president, making her protest subject, “resisting the Trump administration, thousands of people getting together to say we want to keep our public schools public.”

KIRO 7 talked to people preparing to protest Devos.

At the offices of the Equity in Education, coalition protesters have been writing up signs and getting hundreds organized to protest Devos and make sure she does not feel welcome in Bellevue.

Seth Tyler says they’re ready for up to 5,000 protesters. He said the street closures from 4 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. on Friday will cause a major traffic concern at the height of rush hour Friday,

“This is a planned rally. There are several organizations that have asked for and granted a permit,” Tyler says.

Devos has had some protests drive her from speaking engagements but Navas says not this time.

“Our main goal tomorrow is not to force her to leave,” Navas says.

How the city is preparing 

The Bellevue Police Department has dedicated resources and will be closing roads to manage the protests. Bellevue Police Department Public Info Officer Seth Tyler says the intersection of Northeast 8th and Bellevue Way is an area many people should avoid during the rush hour Friday, which can start at 4 p.m.

Friday afternoon, the police will close down the area as protesters descend on the streets around the Hyatt Regency, where the Washington Policy Center is having its dinner. The center did invite  Devos for its event.

Why Washington Policy Center invited Devos

Even the research director for the Washington Policy Center, Paul Guppy, admits that their speaker this year has struck a nerve.

“Devos is attracting controversy and debate over her ideas.”

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.
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Guppy added that his group welcomes any debate, including from protesters. In an opinion piece to the Bellevue Reporter, Washington Policy Center gave several reasons for inviting Devos.

“First, as U.S. Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos is one of the top policy leaders in the country,” Director of the Center for Education at Washington Policy Center, Liv Finne wrote in part. 

“Second, she oversees the Department of Education Office for Civil Rights, which protects equal opportunity for all students. Third, Betsy DeVos is recognized as the nation’s leading proponent of school choice, to give families the ability to find a school that fits best for their children.” 

Guppy says hearing from Devos was the main reason for inviting her to Washington.

“As a think tank, we’re definitely interested in hearing from her.”

Guppy added that while his group didn’t agree with everything Devos has proposed, they do think some ideas could work for Washington State.

“We’re excited to hear from her about education choice charter schools, policy initiatives that create choice for parents and empower families…have we seen protests of this magnitude? This is the first time.”

The controversy around Devos 

Ever since Betsy Devos was sworn in, controversy has followed the education Secretary.  She has no experience in public schools, did not send her children to public schools, and no experience in running a government department. 

Only days after her swearing in, Devos was blocked from entering a Washington DC public school by protesters.

In May, students at an historically black college booed her at their graduation, and many of them also turned their backs to her commencement speech.

Devos also rolled back President Obama’s directives to colleges and universities on sexual assault on college campuses.

Devos spent years lobbying for changes to education in her home state of Michigan. She favors school choice for all parents whether its public, private or charter schools.

What Devos may talk about 

Devos did lay out some of her policy goals in a document uploaded to the Federal Register Thursday. It is possible she could touch on some of these themes during her Bellevue Speech:

Guppy says he does not know exactly what Devos will talk about, but he has little concern over the protests. In fact, he seemed ready for them.

“We very much support the ability of people to express their ideas. We strongly support freedom of speech,” says Guppy.

The Washington Policy Center says the guest list for its dinner — people who want to see Devos speak — is roughly 1,500.

The group has also invited Fox Business Anchor Neil Cavuto to speak at the dinner.

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