Betsy DeVos' Visit to Parkland School Slammed as 'Publicity Stunt' by Shooting Survivors

Betsy DeVos defended Trump's proposal to arm teachers "who are expert in being able to defend and having lots and lots of training to do so"

Betsy Devos spoke at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School during the first full day of classes since the Feb. 14 mass shooting that killed 17 people.

However, the Education Secretary’s visit to the Parkland, Florida, campus on Wednesday was not welcomed by students and survivors, according to the only firsthand account of her appearance.

DeVos’ hour-stay was closed to the press as only a small group of student journalist and yearbook staff were granted access to follow the Trump Cabinet member as she met with Broward County School representatives, a therapy dog, grief counselors and students.

“Instead of choosing to speak in front of all students, she slowly made her way around to different groups of students,” The Eagle Eye, Stoneman Douglas’ student newspaper, reported.

In her speech, DeVos said she wanted to “ensure that the students of our country are able to pursue their learning in a safe environment. I am going to make sure that we bring forward solutions that communities can put in place that will be appropriate for their surroundings and will ensure that they can care for their students.”

Although she offered her condolences, attendees said her words were not enough.

Lynne Sladky/AP/Shutterstock

“She wasn’t informative or helpful at all. It’s nice that she came to give us condolences, but we are so done with thoughts and prayers. We want action,” said senior student Kyra Parrow. “She didn’t come to inform us or talk about how we are going to fix this issue; she just came to say that she came. That disappoints me.”

DeVos spoke with reporters at a nearby hotel following her brief visit, saying, “I was just there to be there, to be with them,” according to USA Today. “I would love to come back sometime, in an appropriate amount of time, and just sit down and talk to them.”

She also defended the president’s proposal to arm teachers, referring to them as those “who are expert in being able to defend and having lots and lots of training to do so.”

English teacher Melissa Falkowski, who advises the student newspaper, also had some choice words about DeVos’ visit, telling TIME: “I’m not really sure what the purpose of her visit was because she didn’t meet formally with any teachers or students. Her being here, I don’t think is going to result in any help or change.”

Courtesy Kyra Parrow

MSD students also expressed outrage over DeVos’ visit on Twitter.

“It was a publicity stunt, really. There was no point to it,” Alyson Sheehy, a yearbook editor who was part of the student press pool, told TIME. “I kind of expected that to happen, but it’s still frustrating that she made the trip out here and made it a big deal but didn’t do anything. [She] didn’t meet specifically with anyone. She was kind of just walking around the school and not talking to anybody. We just kind of followed her around.”

WATCH: Voices of Parkland Survivors

U.S. Department of Education spokeswoman Liz Hill released a statement about DeVos’ Parkland appearance.

“Secretary DeVos’ visit was designed to lend support to the community during a difficult time, but also to minimize disruption on students’ first full day back at school,” the statement said.

Last January, during her confirmation hearing, DeVos infamously answered a question about gun-free zones in Wyoming schools with the response: “I would imagine that there’s probably a gun in the school to protect from potential grizzlies.”

Also on Wednesday, an accidental shooting was reported at Huffman High School in Birmingham, Alabama. Investigators said two 17-year-old students were shot. The female victim died en route to the hospital while the male victim remains in critical condition.

Related Articles