Education policy was MIA in Betsy DeVos’ first speech as Education Secretary

She also made a bear joke.

President-elect Donald Trump shakes hands with his pick for Education Secretary Betsy DeVos during a rally, in Grand Rapids, Mich., Friday, Dec. 9, 2016 CREDIT: Paul Sancya
President-elect Donald Trump shakes hands with his pick for Education Secretary Betsy DeVos during a rally, in Grand Rapids, Mich., Friday, Dec. 9, 2016 CREDIT: Paul Sancya

On Wednesday, Betsy DeVos — who was confirmed as education secretary the day before — gave a speech before the U.S. Department of Education staff that did not clarify how she would guide the agency when it comes to issues such as civil rights protections and vouchers for private schools. Instead, she said that the election was “divisive” and called for unity.

DeVos told department employees that she would “pledge to listen” and serve “every child.” She also called for unity and an openness to new ideas — but first, she had to make a grizzly bear joke.

“Let’s turn to recent headlines. No need to pull any punches. For me personally this press conference and the drama it has engendered has been a bit of a bear,” DeVos said.

Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT), who used to represent the district where the 2012 Sandy Hook elementary school massacre took place, asked DeVos in her confirmation hearing whether she thought guns belonged in schools. Her answer was that schools sometimes need guns to protect students from bears.

On Wednesday, she did not clarify her position on guns in schools or shed further light on her vision for the department. Instead, she acknowledged the opposition to her nomination — thousands of people called their senators to tell them to vote against her — and said that she is open to working with anyone “from any walk of life, any background.”

“Let’s acknowledge that we just came from one of most bruising, divisive elections in modern times … Often, the morning and evening news cycles make it hard to unite our nation. The animosity often seems unending. People are passionate and moved by deeply held views,” Devos said. “…Let’s make this deal. I will challenge all on how and why we have done things a certain way, but I will listen to all of you.”

The opposition hasn’t gone away. A few protesters stood outside the department at noon to oppose her agenda as education secretary.

DeVos did not discuss any of the issues that led to that passionate opposition , such as her push against charter school regulations, advocacy for private school vouchers, and her unwillingness to commit to upholding certain civil rights protections.

The closest she came to acknowledging these issues was when she referred to “protecting students who deserve learning environments that foster innovation and curiosity and are also free from harm.” But she did not acknowledge what this harm would be or how she would protect students from it.

She also mentioned bringing in teams that embrace “diversity” and “inclusion,” “including people different from ourselves.” It’s unclear what she meant by diversity, since she never expanded on that statement.