U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos tendered her resignation letter to President Donald Trump on Thursday evening, citing Trump's rhetoric around the Wednesday afternoon storming of the U.S. Capitol by a mob of his supporters that temporarily delayed the certification of presidential election results.
In her letter, she wrote what should have been a time to highlight and celebrate the administration’s accomplishments was instead marred by “the mess caused by violent protestors overrunning the U.S. Capitol in an attempt to undermine the people's business.” She continued, “There is no mistaking the impact your rhetoric had on the situation, and it is the inflection point for me."
DeVos also cited the administration's education achievements during her tenure, including expansions of school choice and “education freedom” in several states, returning decision-making power to local levels, and having “defended the First Amendment rights of students and teachers."
DeVos' exit is the latest in a string of White House departures — including Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, Deputy National Security Advisor Matthew Pottinger and Stephanie Grisham, who served as chief of staff and press secretary to first lady Melania Trump — following the violent unrest, which left five people dead.
In a statement posted on Twitter Wednesday, DeVos condemned the insurrection.
The post garnered a slew of criticism, with some commenters taking aim at DeVos' reported rhetoric encouraging career Education Department staff to "be the resistance" during the new administration (a detail the department has denied), along with a farewell letter to Congress calling for a rejection of President-elect Joe Biden's education policies.
You told your staff to “be the resistance “ when Biden staff comes in...... what you gonna tell them now....you were as much a part of Wednesday’s anarchy as anyone.— Cindy Ponder (@csponder55) January 8, 2021
Others noted the challenges educators now faced in explaining the riot to students and alleviating their anxiety and uncertainty.
Every teacher in America is worrying about how to address a violent insurrection with their students tomorrow because of a man you enabled. Forgive us if we don’t want to hear from you right now.— Anne Lutz Fernandez (@lutzfernandez) January 7, 2021
Following Transportation Secretary Chao’s earlier resignation, DeVos was one of seven remaining cabinet members from the start of the administration.
Even during her confirmation hearing, in which Vice President Mike Pence had to cast a tie-breaking vote, DeVos was a polarizing figure within the Trump cabinet. Pushes to expand school choice were a core focus of her tenure, thought the biggest legislative proposal on that front — a voucher program for "Education Freedom Scholarships" — lacked the support needed to pass in Congress despite having more than 120 cosponsors.
Her approach to pushing for school choice often proved divisive, having been regularly coupled with rhetoric decrying what she saw as the failures of the public education system and annual proposals for a stripped down federal education budget. Those budgets were never embraced by Congress, where she also faced pushback from both sides of the aisle on issues such as the rollout of the Every Student Succeeds Act and the distribution of COVID-19 relief funds.
Still, her Education Department was able to accomplish some pieces of its K-12 agenda by issuing guidance changes in areas like Title IX and the department's Civil Rights Data Collection, while rolling back Obama-era guidance that aimed to curb discriminatory discipline practices and allow students to use bathrooms and facilities aligned to their gender identities. It is expected the Biden administration will roll back many of these changes.
As The 74 reported in October, much of her agenda was also heavily litigated, with at least 455 lawsuits against her Education Department. Some of those lawsuits concerned higher ed policies, however.
Naaz Modan contributed to this story.