These student journalists were barred from a Betsy DeVos 'school choice' event — and now they're firing back

These student journalists were barred from a Betsy DeVos 'school choice' event — and now they're firing back
PBS NewsHour

Secretary Betsy DeVos does not have a reputation for being friendly to public schools, and her latest dustup with a group of student journalists isn't helping her case.

The editorial board at the newspaper for Paul Laurence Dunbar High School in Lexington, Kentucky, was excited to cover a roundtable discussion hosted by the state's Gov. Matt Bevin and U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos on April 17. Having a Cabinet official in driving distance for a public event is a big deal for a student journalist in Kentucky to cover, and they were excited to attend. The event focused on DeVos' most prominent and controversial priorities: Her promotion of school choice programs, which critics say harm public schools.

But, as they document in an editorial about their experience for their paper, the PLD Lamplighter, the student journalists were turned away by staff at Bluegrass Community Technical College where the event was held.

"It was heartbreaking to us, as young journalists fired up to cover an event regarding the future of education, to leave empty-handed," the board, composed of three students, wrote.

It turned out, they were told, that they needed an "invitation" to attend the event. But the event has been listed as open to the press, and none of the public information they had reviewed about it indicated that they would need such an invitation. After they were turned away, they discovered that the Education Department's website had said the event required an RSVP. Other professional journalists had received press releases that provided information about the RSVP, but the students had not.

"We are student journalists who wanted to cover an event in our community featuring the Secretary of Education, but ironically, we couldn’t get in without an invitation," they wrote. "We can’t help but suspect that the intention was to prevent people from attending. Also, it was held at 11 a.m. on a Wednesday. What student or educator is free at that time?"

The department put out a statement in response to the backlash: “No one from the Secretary’s staff was made aware that student journalists were attempting to attend the roundtable. We welcome student journalists and would have been happy for them to be in attendance. We are looking into what, if any, miscommunication might have happened between other staff on site for the event.”

The PLD Lamplight editorial board found that one student was invited to the event: a scholarship recipient from a private school. Another event the secretary held appears to have welcomed student journalists, the editorial board wrote, but it was not on a controversial issue like school choice.

The board concluded:

We wonder if the topic of school choice at the roundtable in Lexington is what kept public school students from being able to attend. Don’t they want student input? After all, Secretary DeVos once said at a town hall meeting that “It is easy to be nasty hiding behind screens and Twitter handles,” she said. “It’s not so easy face-to-face.”

I guess we won’t get that face-to-face opportunity.


The bottom line is that we do not think that it is fair to have a closed roundtable about education when it affects thousands of Kentucky teachers, students, and parents.

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