U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos on Wednesday will visit a Denver private autism center that played a key role in a historic U.S. Supreme Court case over how public schools should care for students with special needs.
The new details announced by the U.S. Department of Education come one day after the department announced DeVos’s trip through six Western and Midwestern states. The aim of the tour, the first of its kind for the Michigan billionaire since her confirmation, is to highlight schools that are rethinking education.
The nonprofit center DeVos will visit, Firefly Autism, was founded in 2002. According to the center’s website it has helped more than 400 students since then.
One of those students, known as Endrew F., was the plaintiff in a recent lawsuit that challenged how the Douglas County School District educates its students with special needs.
The U.S. Supreme Court sided with Endrew’s family. In a March decision, the court set a higher standard for how public schools must educate students with disabilities.
Public school districts often pay Firefly to educate students they cannot accommodate. Firefly has also consulted more than 17 school districts in four countries to train teachers on specific autism programs.
The U.S. Department of Education said DeVos’s tour of the center will be closed to the press at the request of the school, citing federal health privacy law. DeVos will host a roundtable with Firefly educators, then make brief statements and take questions from the press, the department said.
After her visit at Firefly, DeVos will tour the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs.
DeVos kicked off her multistate swing Tuesday in Wyoming, where she laid out her vision of school choice and put in a plug for personalized learning.
That vision is all about parents having lots of options for where to send their students — and for many of those options to serve one slice of students well, rather than trying to educate students with different needs.
DeVos’s tenure as education secretary has been controversial since her nomination by President Donald Trump. DeVos, who used her personal wealth to advocate for more charter schools and private school vouchers, has particularly drawn the ire of teachers unions.
Wednesday’s trip won’t be DeVos’s first trip to Colorado.
This summer DeVos spoke at a conference of conservative state lawmakers. During her speech she championed private school vouchers, something the Colorado Supreme Court has twice ruled unconstitutional. Opponents staged a rally at the Capitol in advance of her visit.