On February 7th, 2017, Senator Joni Ernst of Iowa voted to confirm the least qualified person to ever hold a cabinet position in our country. Betsy DeVos wasn’t an unknown quantity who people thought might “grow into the position”. No, she was a fully formed member of the SWAMP of profiteers who have been looking to make a few bucks on America’s public schools for quite some time. At the time of her nomination I reached out to Senator Grassley (thinking he was my “reasonable” senator…oops…my mistake). I sent him this message (https://www.huffpost.com/entry/a-letter-to-my-senator-regarding-betsy-devos_b_5840b07ae4b04587de5de88b). It was obviously ineffective as he, along with Senator Ernst and 48 other senators who clearly didn’t care about the future of public education, voted to confirm a person who had never attended a public school, sent her children to a public school, never studied education, never taught in a public school, never led a public school, and had in fact spent her adult lifetime (aside from enjoying the trappings of being a billionaire heiress) doing all she could to dismantle public education.
So, we now find ourselves in the midst of a global pandemic. People in all professions all over the world are facing unprecedented challenges. Schools, teachers, and students are among those who are facing incredible challenges in order to continue to provide learning for our young people. In any other era, teachers and school leaders would be looking for guidance from the Secretary of Education, but right now, not a chance. There is no chance that Ms. DeVos has the slightest idea how to help our public schools in this moment and not a single thoughtful teacher or school leader is looking to her for leadership, because we know there will be none.
It would be one thing if Ms. DeVos sat in her mansion, wherever it is that she is quarantining herself, and simply stayed quiet. It would, in many ways, be smart for her to simply step aside and let people who know something about teaching and learning go about the business of trying to make sure young people continue to have opportunities to grow during this unprecedented moment in history. And yet, she felt the need to “lead.” So, what has she been doing during the pandemic? Maybe she has led an initiative to provide technology to young people who don’t have access. Maybe she is at the forefront of being sure that we make sure our most vulnerable children have meals, given that public school is often the only place they get a solid meal.
If you guessed that Ms. DeVos was dedicating her energy into supporting the needs of our most vulnerable young people, you’d be wrong. Instead of focusing on the needs of public school students, Ms. DeVos has used this moment in history to increase protections for those who commit sexual assaults on college campuses (https://sports.yahoo.com/new-title-ix-regulations-no-longer-require-coaches-to-report-sexual-misconduct-150637906.html ). In new regulations regarding Title IX, coaches and athletic trainers are no longer mandatory reporters of sexual misconduct and sexual discrimination. Her changes also include a new definition of sexual harassment that is much more rigid, and a change that schools are now only responsible for incidents that occur on campus or locations related to a school activity. In essence, she has made it likely that many fewer college students will report sexual assault or harassment and she has created significant protections for not only those who commit sexual assault and harassment, but for the institutions that will benefit from covering up these crimes.
If you know young women who have attended college (sexual harassment does also occur to young men as well, but in much lower numbers) you surely know someone who has been the victim of sexual assault or sexual harassment. Most assault and harassment victims don’t report it (https://www.projectknow.com/discover/sexual-assaults-on-campus/). Administrators of colleges and universities are already inclined to be unwelcoming to victims. Schools don’t want the unwelcome publicity that comes with reports of assault and harassment. Ms. DeVos’s most recent changes to Title IX make it so that far fewer victims will choose to come forward and it certainly means that school leaders will no longer choose to protect the students they support by reporting criminal behaviors.
This is what Betsy DeVos has chosen to care about during the pandemic. Protecting giant educational institutions and granting more rights to those who commit sexual assault and harassment. That’s what she cares about RIGHT NOW. And you know what’s crazy? It’s entirely predictable. This is exactly who she is. Just as importantly it is exactly who Joni Ernst knew she was voting for on February 7, 2017. If we return Joni Ernst to the senate in November, we will get more of the SWAMP. Senator Ernst will continue to vote for nominees whose interests are not to look out for the common good, but their interest is to protect the wealthy, to protect the powerful, and to brush aside the concerns of those who are vulnerable.
There are a lot of reasons to vote against Senator Ernst, but the fact that she voted to confirm the most unqualified cabinet secretary of all time should surely be an important one. Senator Ernst won’t be calling for any hearing to determine why Ms. DeVos feels it necessary to empower those who are trying to hide sexual assault and harassment on college campuses. She will simply stay silent, which is exactly what Ms. DeVos and President Trump want her to do. The swamp is real and Senator Ernst is protecting it every day she is in the senate. Vote her out in November.