Protesters say they’re prepared for Betsy DeVos visit in Kansas City

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos speaks Thursday, Sept. 7, 2017, at George Mason University Arlington, Va., campus. DeVos will visit JCCC on Thursday, Sept 14. and Kansas City Academy on Friday, Sept 15. (APPhoto/Jacquelyn Martin)
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos speaks Thursday, Sept. 7, 2017, at George Mason University Arlington, Va., campus. DeVos will visit JCCC on Thursday, Sept 14. and Kansas City Academy on Friday, Sept 15. (APPhoto/Jacquelyn Martin)

Kansas City Academy staff and parents learned last week that Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos’ would visit their school.

It took only a few hours for the word to spread.

“Anybody who is a progressive or does social justice and racial justice work started coming together quickly,” said Lora McDonald, executive director of More2, the Metropolitan Organization for Racial and Economic Equity.

Six local political and social advocacy organizations have put their names behind a rally Friday morning “in support of a strong, well-funded, and inclusive public education system,” according to a social media page for the “Rally for Education Rights.”

At least 150 people are expected to gather across from the Kansas City Academy when DeVos is expected to visit the private middle and high school in Waldo as part of her “Rethink School” tour.

The tour, which includes school visits in Wyoming, Colorado, Nebraska and Indiana, in addition to Kansas and Missouri, is intended to highlight innovative learning as the department advocates for an update to the educational system.

After making appearances in Omaha early Thursday, DeVos is also expected to make a 4 p.m. visit Thursday to Johnson County Community College, 12345 College Blvd, Overland Park.

Greg Musil, who chairs the JCCC Board of Trustees said the DeVos visit would “give us a great chance to show case our students who can show her what can be provided by a community college, and how we can help develop the workforce.”

If the projections of organizers are correct, the Kansas City rallies could be some of the larger protests DeVos has experienced on her “Rethink School” tour this week.

On Wednesday evening, Indivisible KC, a grassroots group focused on civic issues and engagement, announced a protest starting at 3:30 p.m. Thursday at the college.

"Our Education Secretary, Betsy DeVos, has embraced for-profit schools and colleges," a statement read. "For schools, she backs private school tax credit scholarships, which allows corporations to receive tax credits when they donate money for tuition. This same money would otherwise go into a general fund that would be used for all public K-12 education."

The secretary seemed to temper larger protest presences earlier in the week by visiting small schools, including a school on a Native American reservation, and not immediately announcing the school sites in which she would visit.

Roughly 30 protesters gathered Tuesday outside the Woods Learning Center in central Casper, Wyo. A small group of opposition attended her visit to Firefly Autism School in Denver.

And while Kansas City Academy confirmed DeVos’ visit last week, neither the U.S. Department of Education or JCCC officials would say where on campus DeVos planned to visit.

JCCC spokesman Chris Gray said anyone wanting to protest at the college will be permitted on campus, but unruly or disruptive protesters “will be redirected to a protest area.” That could change, Gray said, if the marshals providing security for DeVos opt to close the campus.

As of Wednesday evening, 160 people had indicated in a Facebook event that they would attend the Kansas City Academy rally. Participants were instructed to gather at the Crossroads Church’s parking lot on E. 79th Terrace, across from the school.

Organizers — listed as the American Federation of Teachers Local 691, Heartland Alliance for Progress, Our Revolution KC, MORE2, Indivisible KC and the Missouri Democratic Party Progressive Caucus — said speakers would “offer alternatives to the abrupt and draconian policy changes proposed by Ms. DeVos.”

Rodney E. Williams, the president of the Kansas City, Missouri chapter of the NAACP and pastor at the Swope Parkway United Christian Church, is also expected to speak at the rally.

Protests have dogged DeVos, a Republican who has championed school vouchers and charter schools.

Her decision to rescind protections for transgender students at school, one of her first actions in office, was widely criticized, though DeVos had reportedly unsuccessfully pushed back against the action.

Critics have also said a recent decision to revamp Obama-era guidelines on campus sexual assault will harm survivors and make reporting assault more difficult. Others who feel current policies don’t allow enough due process for the accused praised the announcement.

Katy Bergen: 816-234-4120, @KatyBergen

Mará Rose Williams: 816-234-4419, @marawilliamskc

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