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Protesters march in Betsy DeVos’ hometown ahead of confirmation vote

Lindsey Smith
Michigan Radio
People marched in downtown Holland Saturday afternoon to oppose Betsy DeVos' nomination as U.S. Education Secretary.

About a thousand people marched in Betsy DeVos’ hometown Saturday afternoon, to protest her nomination as U.S. Education Secretary.

“I was expecting maybe 500 people,” Cadence Morton of Caledonia says of Saturday’s march in Holland. She helped publicize the rally, which began as a private facebook event among friends.

For more than an hour protestors with handmade signs wrapped around the perimeter of Centennial Park; about the size of a football field in downtown Holland.

“That is just incredible," Morton says. "I’m floored by that."

Some pushed strollers or pulled wagons with small kids, bundled in blankets. Others sang protest songs and encouraged passing cars to “honk for public schools!”

“I’m just four blocks from my house and I am so happy to see this many people – mostly local but from all over this part of the state coming out to protest this nomination,” Monica Donnelly said.  

Donnelly worries DeVos will continue to push for more charter schools, religious schools and vouchers; diverting tax dollars from public schools.

“I think it’s really fascinating that theCalvin alumni and students have shown up the way they havebecause her mom’s on their board of trustees and [DeVos] is a Calvin alumnus. They’re not buying the Kool-aide, so, yay for them,” Donnelly says. 

Lindsey Kloeckner’s biggest fear about DeVos becoming secretary is that she won’t enforce the federal law that guarantees students with disabilities access to a free and appropriate education.

During her confirmation hearing earlier this month, DeVos said regulations related to Common Core state academic standards, gun-free school zones, and students with disabilities should be left to state and local leaders to decide.

“I was very alarmed that she did not know it was a federal law. She wasn’t even aware of it,” Kloeckner says. Kloeckner’s youngest daughter has Down syndrome.

“I think she just needs to be prepared for moms and parents to fight for their kids. We’re not going to go silently and I will fight and shout my daughter’s worth from the rooftops,” Kloeckner says.

Credit Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio
Michigan Radio
Protestors in Holland Saturday afternoon.

Some worried DeVos will institute policies hostile to LQBTQ youth. Many expressed concerns over DeVos’ lengthy political history, and her longstanding support of charter schools and vouchers.

“It’s going to be a free-for-all, that’s what I’m worried about; just an open free-for-all,” Holland resident Nancy Reynolds says. 

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“I’m a taxpayer and my money should be going to public schools and not going to some person’s pocket,” Michelle Bryson says. Michigan’s charter school community has the highest percentage of for-profit education companies. But Bryson is not convinced charters have proven they can get better results.

The protest comes as a U.S. Senate committee is set to vote on her confirmation Tuesday. After that vote, DeVos would need a simple majority of the Senate for confirmation.

Lindsey Smith helps lead the station's Amplify Team. She previously served as Michigan Radio’s Morning News Editor, Investigative Reporter and West Michigan Reporter.
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