The Round Table

Protest Organizers Reflect on the DeVos Protest

Emma Sharma, Staff Writer

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On February 23, 2017, Stamford High School students, along with thousands of other public school students across the country, rushed out of classrooms and took to the streets to protest against President Trump’s newly appointed Secretary of Education, Betsy Devos. Students of all backgrounds came together in unison on the front steps of SHS,  holding up picket signs with raging remarks like: “Listen to the people” and “DeVos is hurting our future,” as well as ones that poked fun at some of the obscure remarks DeVos had made during her confirmation hearing back in 2016, such as:“DeVos is unBEARable,” which derives from the discussion she had at the hearing as to why she believes guns belong in our schools, claiming that they are imperative in order to protect students from potential grizzly bear attacks in classrooms.

DeVos has spent much of the last twelve months she’s been in office advocating for an increase in charter school accessibility to American schoolchildren, a platform that she has stuck with since Trump nominated her in 2016 for the position. The perception that DeVos was, and in fact still continues to be, immensely neglectful towards the public school system enraged students like Jared Barrientos (SHS Class of 2017) and Samantha Heller (SHS Class of 2019), who decided to speak their minds and join the DeVos protest revolution that was occurring in schools on the other side of the city, like Westhill High School and those on the other side of the country.

In honor of the upcoming anniversary of the protest at SHS, I sat down with Barrientos and Heller to reflect back on the rally, what they felt they could’ve done better, and also how they feel DeVos has done in her first year in office:

Round Table: So, if you guys could go “back in time” to the weeks leading up to the protest, what, if anything would you have done differently and why?

Samantha Heller: Overall, I think the rally was effective in getting the overall message across. I feel like at the end of the day, that’s all that matters: we informed people about the overarching issue that we were rallying against and we were able to get students to participate.

Jared Barrientos: I agree, but I do feel like there are steps we could have taken in order to have made it even better and more successful than it already was; like planning out the walk-out beyond just standing in the front lot and holding up signs.

Samantha Heller: We also could have better educated people about DeVos’ policies and genuinely inform them as to why they were bad rather than just having angry people come outside and yell over something they’re angry at, however aren’t entirely sure as to why they are angry, like how she isn’t a genuine supporter of the public school system.

Round Table: You know, I think many of us can agree that we haven’t heard much about DeVos lately, but do you guys think that she’s the powerhouse behind all of these budget cuts that Stamford High, along with other schools across the state, have encountered during this current school year?

Jared Barrientos: No. That’s all Hartford and Governor Malloy that have resulted in the defunding of Connecticut schools. That’s not DeVos’ agenda.

Samantha Heller: Exactly. Initially I also thought that these cuts, and the elimination of educational programs like the number of paramedia educators in our school libraries, was the work of DeVos. I’m sure if you had told me back in February, at the time of the protest, that these cuts would happen, I would have definitely blamed them on DeVos. But now I know that it’s all Hartford.

Jared Barrientos: Yeah, which again reiterates that we should have known, at the time of organizing the protest, what’s in DeVos’ control and what isn’t.

Round Table: Going forward, what do you guys expect to see from DeVos in terms of helping and hurting the public school system?

Jared Barrientos: I think only hurting is what we’re expected to see out of DeVos. I mean we’re talking about someone who completely undermines and opposes a public school education. And that’s the problem right there: regardless of whether or not she personally supports the public school system, it’s not the Secretary of Education’s job to be openly opinionated and allow these opinions to influence her decision-making. The Secretary of Education needs to be someone that is willing to put their thoughts and opinions aside in order to improve the education system/curriculum in our nation’s schools.

Samantha Heller: But it is critical that the Secretary of Education be a supporter in of our public schools, given that her main objective is to improve the PUBLIC school system, not to have the mindset that public schools are failing our students and therefore we should be going to charter schools and putting our nation’s revenue into the construction of more charter schools.

Jared Barrientos: Yeah, Education is struggling as it is, and she’s only going to make it worse.

Samantha Heller: Overall, I’m just glad that we did something.

Jared Barrientos: I agree. At the end of the day, all that matters is that we did something, rather than just staying silent, and by doing the protest we also showed the SHS community that everyone has a voice in society, and that everyone has the opportunity to let their voices be heard.

#PublicSchoolProud

 

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Protest Organizers Reflect on the DeVos Protest