The students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas were not impressed with Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, who visited the high school in the wake of a mass shooting that killed 17 students and staff members last month.
Ms DeVos visited the school on the first full day of classes since the massacre, saying she wanted to hear from students about improving school safety. But the secretary clashed with a number of the student survivors, who have mobilised in support of stricter gun control measures since the shooting.
Aly Sheehy, a senior at the high school, said Ms DeVos spoke little to the students, aside from offering her condolences.
“We were kind of following her around and asking her questions, but she kind of just circumvented the actual point that we were trying to ask here,” she told The Independent. “That was very, very frustrating.”
The students wanted to know how the Education Department would prevent school shootings in the future, Ms Sheehy said, but the secretary was not forthcoming.
“She kinda just said that it wasn’t the time to ask these kinds of questions to her, and that [the issue] was very important and that she was working on it hard,” she said. “That wasn’t what we were asking her to do. We were asking her what her ideas were.”
Ms DeVos offered little more in the way of details at a press conference after the visit, where she answered just five questions from reporters. Asked if she had any specific ideas for improving school safety, she responded: “The President has advanced a number of issues that Congress will have to consider.”
“There is an opportunity to take practical steps that many, many people agree on to continue pushing forward on things that have broad support,” she added.
Ms DeVos also dodged a question about President Donald Trump’s proposal to arm teachers, calling the question an “oversimplification”. She suggested arming only “highly trained” school officials, and noted that the policy was not something that should be required for every community.
Asked if she had made any promises to the students, Ms DeVos said only that she told school newspaper reporters that she would return at a later date. Ms Sheehy, the Marjory Stoneman Douglas senior, said she would welcome another visit from the secretary, but didn’t think it would happen.
“If it does happen, we’ll have more questions, we’ll be more prepared, we’ll have done our research,” she said. “And if she continues to answer questions in the way that she did, we’ll probably walk out.”
Other students had proposed boycotting Ms DeVos’s initial visit in the days beforehand. The students have already helped organise several national demonstrations, including a school walkout on 14 March and a gun-control march for 24 March.
The suggestion to boycott Ms DeVos’s visit provoked a spirited debate between students on Twitter. One student who ultimately decided to attend the event later tweeted her disappointment.
“I thought [Ms DeVos] would at least give us her ‘thoughts and prayers’, but she refused to even meet/speak with students,” wrote student Carly Novell. “I don’t understand the point of her being here.”
Ms DeVos announced shortly after her visit that the Education Department would award a $1m grant to Broward County Schools – the district where the shooting occurred. The grant, known as a Project School Emergency Response to Violence (Project SERV) grant, is intended to bolster services for grieving members of the community.
“I have had the honour to meet several members of the Parkland community over the past days,” Ms DeVos said in a statement announcing the grant. “The strength shown by these students, family members and educators is an inspiration to us all.”