Connecticut Democrats rally around high school after DeVos shares critical story

By Kimberly Hefling

Democratic lawmakers joined parents and students at East Hartford High School Tuesday to rally in support of it several days after Education Secretary Betsy DeVos shared a former student’s description of his alma mater as “adult day care.”

DeVos told the former student’s story during testimony last week before a congressional panel as she pushed for better school options for U.S. students. DeVos said the former student named “Michael” described dangerous conditions at the school and said he only realized after graduating and going to a community college that he was a good student with potential.

“Michael got a diploma, but not an education,” DeVos said.

Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy, a Democrat, said he was at the East Hartford school last year because it achieved the largest increase in its graduation rate of any school in the state. He said urban schools like it have helped drive an increase in the state’s graduation rate for the past six years.

“To tell old stories about educational institutions and to fail to draw a line is really unfair to the great faculty members, principal and students at a school like this,” Malloy said during a press conference inside the school.

Taking an apparent jab at DeVos, Malloy said that to repeat a story without fact checking it doesn’t suggest “doing your homework.”

The Hartford Courant reported that the former student has been identified as a 2000 graduate.

Both Malloy and Rep. John Larson (D-Conn.), used the event to rail against the Trump administration’s budget, which would cut funding to Education Department programs by 13 percent while also encouraging school choice efforts like vouchers and charter schools.

Malloy said he’s not opposed to choice, but “you don’t force choice by underfunding our urban school systems.”

Liz Hill, an Education Department spokeswoman, said DeVos relayed one student’s experience and used his own words to describe the challenging circumstances that he was able to rise above.

“He, like so many other students across the country, needed another option but didn’t have access to one,” Hill said. “For anyone to assert that Michael’s individual story should be generalized to the broader student population is a symptom of the one-size-fits all status quo that too many continue to seek to defend.”

Malloy and Larson encouraged DeVos to visit the school.

“I think it only fitting when you stereotype a community, when you paint with a broad brush and you’re the Secretary of Education you have a responsibility to come out and meet these students,” Larson said.

To view online:

*AFSA has a local in East Hartford, CT and the principal at East Hartford High School is an AFSA member. 

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