CPS educators gather outside of Blunt’s office to protest DeVos nomination


Don’t Hang Up: Greg Soden, an English teacher at Battle High School calls Sen. Roy Blunt at his office in Washington D.C. while Rock Bridge High School teacher Shawnna Matteson chants with other teachers. Columbia Public Schools teachers took their lunch period to oppose the appointment of Betsy Devos as Secretary of Education. Approximately 65 teachers, as well as a few students, gathered outside of Sen. Roy Blunt’s office in Columbia, Missouri Feb. 6. Photo by Yousuf El-Jayyousi

Rochita Ghosh

[dropcap style=”flat”]O[/dropcap]n a cold and rainy teacher work day today, Feb. 6, faculty members across the Columbia Public Schools (CPS) district took their lunch hour and went downtown after their meetings to protest outside of Sen. Roy Blunt’s Columbia office, 1001 Cherry St. No. 104. They were protesting against President Donald Trump’s choice for Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos.
DeVos has become a figure of controversy following her televised senate hearing, where senators questioned the nominee on education issues and policy, as well as conflicts of interest she may have because of family’s financial contributions to the Republican party as well as companies she has invested in.
The information that came as a result of her hearing led some Columbia Public Schools’ educators to protest DeVos’s appointment as secretary, said Hickman High School history teacher Mackenzie Everett-Kennedy, who organized the protest through a post on Facebook.
“We’re mostly concerned that she has zero qualifications in the world of education. She’s never been a teacher; she doesn’t have formal education as an educator. She attended private school as did her own children. She has bankrolled the entire Republican party so it’s pay-to-play politics,” Everett-Kennedy said. “I personally am afraid of her view on guns in the classroom. I don’t want my students having access to guns in a school building. She lacks little awareness about education policy, like the difference between proficiency and growth, which is kind of the foundation of assessment development. She doesn’t understand the concept of IDEA, which is the policy that protects our students with special needs. She is totally unqualified, and every educator I’ve ever met feels like that.”
[heading size=”18″ margin=”0″]Working against the clock[/heading] Currently, DeVos faces a precarious situation in her appointment. All Democrat senators and two Republican senators have said they will vote against approving her, leaving the appointment vote in a complete tie. If this were to remain, Vice President Mike Pence would cast the deciding vote.
CPS employees took to Blunt’s office to ask him to vote against DeVos although some remain pessimistic. RBHS Japanese teacher Shawn Beatty, who attended the rally during his lunch break, said he fears that if DeVos’s is appointed secretary of education, she may cut funding from public schools and hurt teachers and students in the process.
“For [public and private] schools, you gotta make the most money, and how do you make the money? You cut things,” Beatty said. “You have fewer teachers, so larger class sizes … there’s lots of ways to save money at the expense of the student.”
Kathy Steinhoff, Columbia Missouri National Education Association president, worries Blunt will not oppose DeVos because of potential conflicts of interest, as she claims that Sen. Blunt has received $33,000 from her. Steinhoff is supported by USAToday, which reported that Sen. Blunt had gained money from DeVos, “as recently as a $2,700 donation in September.” 
“We’re just hoping he will reconsider his support of DeVos …. We’re just one vote away [from not approving DeVos], and that one vote could make a big difference,” Steinhoff said. “The reason we’re not in front of Sen. McCaskill’s office is because she’s already publicly stated she is going to oppose the nomination.”
Greg Soden, an English teacher at Battle High School, said Blunt sent out a standard letter saying he “takes the confirmation process very seriously,” but still heard that Blunt would support DeVos’s appointment. As a result, Soden has been calling the senator’s office and leaving letters throughout the past couple of weeks against DeVos.
“The way that offices for representatives and senators [work] is whenever there’s an issue that the [person] will vote on, they put all phone calls and letters into a yes or a no category…” Soden said. “They tally all the phone calls and all the letters, and they document which side of the issue that one’s on. Every phone call matters. Every letter matters. Every person matters.”
To that end, Steinhoff said other teachers have also dropped off letters addressed to Blunt inside the building.
“A lot of people – myself included – have been calling this office, and we haven’t really had a chance to be recorded on what our thoughts are or what our reasons are for opposition,” Steinhoff said. “We’ve been able to record that in letters, and we’ve all been going in and dropping them off.”

Every phone call matters. Every letter matters. Every person matters. – Greg Soden, BHS English teacher”

At any one time during the lunch hour, approximately 60 CPS educators came to Blunt’s building. Everett-Kennedy said such numbers inspire her, even if DeVos were to be appointed.
“Matters are usually a partisan value. It’s a Republican issue; it’s a Democrat issue. With Betsy DeVos, this is really a bipartisan position,” Everett-Kennedy said. “Everyone I know, whether they’re Democrat or Republican, opposes her—whether they teach in a public school or private school, whether they teach in a suburban or rural school. Everybody who’s in the world of education opposes her. The fact that Sen. Blunt does not oppose her means that he is going against the will of his constituents. That’s concerning to us.”
Regardless of how Blunt votes, Soden said protesting outside of his building was the least he could do, even if the senator’s vote doesn’t change, in order to make his and others’ voices heard. Beatty shares in this sentiment, saying people have to at least try to change things.
“If you don’t do anything, you have no right to complain. If you actually come out, at least you did your part. The people that are upset and didn’t do anything, you can’t really complain,” Beatty said. “Like the people who didn’t vote and complain now, it’s a little late; you’ve got to vote. You exercise your right to assembly, then at least you did what you could. It might not fall your way, but at least you did something.” 
[youtube url=”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s09UsZILHiE”]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=93ASUImTedo[/youtube] What is your stance on Betsy DeVos? Let us know below.