An appearance from Education Secretary Betsy DeVos at a sold-out dinner for a conservative think tank in Bellevue drew hundreds of protesters.
DeVos spoke at the Washington Policy Center's annual fundraiser in Bellevue Friday evening.
People participating in the anti-DeVos demonstration held signs saying "Fully Fund Education" and "Make American Think Again."
Many of those taking part in the demonstration were educators from across Western Washington.
"We're teachers. We actually teach freedom of speech and assembly, so we know everyone has the right to say what they want to say. In this case, we just oppose the message Betsy DeVos and the Trump administration's agenda are bringing to our state," said Shannon McCann, a teacher in Federal Way. "And to her we will say your values don't fit into our state values that voters have approved time and time again for public schools. And those values don't fit into our classrooms where we serve every single student."
Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson, King County Executive Dow Constantine and the Bellevue mayor, along with several public school teachers, spoke at the protest.
"You know, this is about national policy and the toxic politics of Washington, D.C. but for me and my family and millions of others, this is personal," Constantine told the crowd.
The protesters also included some parents who say they object to DeVos' school voucher policies. DeVos is a strong supporter of charter schools. Protesters view that as a threat to public education.
About a dozen counterprotesters showed up at Friday's event, to make their case for school choice. They knew they were outnumbered, but felt it was important to share their message. They demonstrated holding signs that said "Choose Your School" and "Get the Fed Out of Ed."
"We're for choice. We're for parental choice in education. That means a voucher. Or I prefer the term opportunity scholarship," said Jeff Jared. "Parents pick their child's doctor, dentist, their home and their religion. Why shouldn't they choose their child's school?"
Bellevue Police brought in Seattle Police officers and several other law enforcement agencies to make sure they were ready for the crowd.
At about 6:30 p.m., a group of protesters briefly blocked the entrance to the hotel where Devos was set to speak. The group left on their own about 20 minutes later. Beyond that, Bellevue Police say there were no major issues, no arrests, and everything was peaceful.
As a longtime proponent of schools vouchers and charter school education, DeVos' appointment to President’s Trump's cabinet has been controversial.
Washington Policy Center, a conservative education think tank in the state, asked her to speak at their annual fundraiser dinner at the Hyatt in Bellevue. They expected 1,500 to attend the sold-out gala.
“What we want people to take away from DeVos’ visit is to hear new ideas about gaining access to choices in education and exciting new ways that families can make choices that will give their kids a better life,” said Paul Guppy, vice president of research at the Washington Policy Center.
“What we’re interested in is how her agenda, I guess, promotes school choice, especially in states like Washington that don’t have a lot of school choice now,” said Guppy.
In the last couple of years, Washington state has welcomed 10 charter schools. The process has been met with some resistance from those who say the state should concentrate on supporting public education.
“Public education needs to be funded, and it needs to be fully and equitably funded so that each and every child gets the programs support and backing that they need to be really successful in Washington state,” said Sharonne Navas, the founder of Equity in Education, which plans to protest Education Secretary Betsy DeVos at the Hyatt in Bellevue.
“Secretary DeVos has made it very clear that her priority is not the student of color, it’s not an immigrant refugee or native student. Her priorities are to privatize education so that for-profit management systems can take over and create more wealth for the 1 percent,” she said.
Those with the policy center hoped people in attendance would be open to DeVos’ message Friday night.
“We’re seeing a lot of hateful, mean-spirited comments directed at her. There’s a lot of anger against her which to us seems unreasonable and closed-minded, so least hear what she had to say, and she is the highest ranking officials in education, and that’s just important,” said Guppy.
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