Hundreds protest DeVos nomination in Holland

Protesters gather in Holland to protest the nomination of Betsy DeVos as secretary of Education on Saturday, Jan. 28, 2017.


HOLLAND, Mich. (WOOD) — In just days, a U.S. Senate committee is expected to vote on whether or not to confirm Betsy DeVos as the next secretary of education.

But people in West Michigan who oppose her nomination are hoping their voice reaches Washington D.C. before then.

Hundreds of people marched Saturday in DeVos’ hometown of Holland to protest President Trump’s pick for education secretary. The group wrapped all the way around Centennial Park.

“It’s like putting Cruella De Vil in charge of the humane society,” special education teacher Liam Battjes said of the DeVos nomination at Saturday’s protest.

Among the protesters was retired Saugatuck Public Schools teacher Joan Lamb.

Lamb said she’s concerned with DeVos’ lack of experience in public education and with her qualifications as a whole, and pointed to statements DeVos made at the confirmation hearing.

“Her comment on not understanding proficiency versus growth shows a lack of knowledge. I just don’t think she’s ready for the job,” Lamb said.

DeVos has been a longtime advocate of school choice and charter schools, but protesters in Holland said they question the effectiveness — and inclusion — of those programs.

“She has advocated a voucher system for private education and has given those charter schools permission to not be held to the same standards as our public education,” Battjes said. “Also, to be selective about what students they welcome and not welcome into their classrooms.”

In that at-times contentious confirmation hearing, DeVos insisted she won’t dismantle public education.

She has also resigned from school choice advocacy groups to avoid potential conflicts of interest.

And despite the large crowd in Holland — DeVos does have strong support. Some of her backers argue that the U.S. education system has needed reform for quite some time.

With the committee and full Senate both controlled by Republicans — DeVos is expected to be confirmed. But protesters said that won’t stop them from urging lawmakers against it.

“We do need some Republicans to say, ‘wait a minute, we need qualified people who are supportive of the missions of those departments to lead those departments,’” Battjes said.