Talk about an awkward reception.
Nelson Mandela Elementary School is the kind of tiny private school that might benefit from school choice policies that U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos supports.
But when DeVos stopped by the Omaha school Thursday as part of her “Rethink School” tour, she encountered a bit of resistance.
From the Omaha World-Herald:
Several teachers and students wore “NE (Heart) Public Schools” stickers.
While Mandela is a private school funded by the Lozier Foundation and William and Ruth Scott Family Foundation, Lozier said in a release that school officials do not support charter schools, which DeVos has championed. The school has a strong cooperative relationship with [Omaha Public Schools], she said.
But make no mistake, Mandela, housed in the former Blessed Sacrament church, is not a charter school. (Nebraska does not allow charter schools.)
“We’re not a charter school and that’s the message we want to hit home today,” she said at a press briefing after DeVos’ visit. “We’re not setting up a conflict or competition between the school systems – public, private, Catholic. We’re all in the business of helping kids learn.”
DeVos, along with her predecessors in the Obama administration, supports charter schools, which are privately operated but publicly funded. When charter schools are allowed, they can put a squeeze on private school enrollment by giving families a free alternative to local public schools.
What DeVos didn’t find at Mandela were active protesters. She got one at her next stop — dressed like a bear.
No protesters were seen before the visit at Mandela. At St. Mary’s, Donna Roller, a former Montessori teacher, showed up to protest in a bear mask. The mask was in reference to DeVos’ statements that guns should be allowed in schools in case of a bear attack.
DeVos headed back to friendlier terrain for her next stop of the day. Hope Academy, a charter school that serves students in recovery from addiction, is in Indianapolis — a city that DeVos has repeatedly praised, in a state whose choice policies reflect her priorities.