Students protest new U.S. education secretary
More than 100 Brattleboro Union High School students and staffers chant “power of the people” during a Feb. 17 protest against new U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.

Students protest new U.S. education secretary

More than 100 Brattleboro Union High School students, staffers rally against Betsy DeVos

BRATTLEBORO — Some students complain about too much homework. Brattleboro Union High School junior Lucia Morey, in contrast, arrived before the start of classes on Feb. 17 to take on another assignment: leading a protest against new U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.

“As passionate and united members of the school community,” Morey told a crowd of more than 100 students and staffers, “we are coming together and saying that we will not accept the decisions being made by our secretary of education, and we will not be silent.”

Morey, a self-described “politically active member of this community,” is the kind of teenager who spent an entire Saturday talking and listening to nearly 300 local activists, lawmakers and business leaders at the recent Vermont Community Energy and Climate Action Conference, as Christopher Bray - chairman of the state Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Energy and one of the attendees she cornered - can attest.

So it didn't surprise friends when Morey emailed each and every one of her high school's 850 students and 135 staffers inviting them to last Friday's protest against DeVos, a Republican donor with little experience in public education who won congressional confirmation after a historic tie-breaking vote from Vice President Mike Pence.

“Call to action: Come to school early!” the email said. “Staff and student alike will be uniting against DeVos and her toxic agenda.”

Morey elaborated by reading a statement through a megaphone.

“Betsy DeVos is unqualified for the position to which she has been appointed,” the student said. “As teachers, staff and students alike, we are standing up for our education and our livelihoods.”

Morey questioned both DeVos' lack of credentials and her advocacy for school choice.

“This alone doesn't sound like it would negatively impact schools like BUHS,” the student said of the latter point, “but she plans to do this by withdrawing funds from our already underfunded public schools and putting them towards charter schools and private schools.”

Foreign-born adults in many American cities didn't attend work on Feb. 16 during a national “Day Without Immigrants” protest of President Donald Trump's policies toward them. But Friday's school demonstration, rather than disrupt classes, drew from them.

Morey is taking the school's “United States in the World” history course, which this month is focused on the civil rights movement and its use of nonviolent protests.

“The lessons aren't lost on students,” teacher Bill Holiday said as he watched teenagers distribute signs with such slogans as “Stand Up for Your Education” and “Fight for Your Future.” “They've decided to be a part of history rather than just read about it.”

Organizers met with school administrators prior to the event to arrange a time and place (20 minutes before the opening bell on the public sidewalk) agreeable to everyone.

“I do not believe that missing more school and creating a divide between the students and the faculty will be constructive in protesting DeVos,” Morey said in a statement to the press, “so I am proposing a more proactive and united course of action.”

To foster warm relations, organizers also wheeled out an airplane-style refreshment cart and offered hot beverages to administrators monitoring the event.

“One of the things we teach our students is they should be active,” Principal Steve Perrin said. “I think it's great they feel strongly to express themselves on any issue.”

The school rally is just the latest in a series of local protests that, sparked by emails and social media, have generated crowds in a town where Trump received just 15 percent of the vote.

“I think the student voice is important,” sophomore Eliza Price said. “We're standing up now.”

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