BOISE -- Hundreds of local students staged a walk-out at area schools Thursday, gathering on the Statehouse steps as part of a protest against the nomination of Betsy DeVos, the new U.S. Secretary of Education.
Many of the demonstrators chanted and carried signs denouncing DeVos and underscoring their support for a public school system.
A group called Idaho People For Unity organized the rally, saying they want to spread the message that Idaho does not support DeVos’ vision for the future of public education in the U.S. They feel it will create segregation in the school system based on things such as race, gender, sexuality and economic status.
Critics say DeVos does not have the right experience for the job. She has come under fire because she did not attend public school, nor did any of her children.
DeVos has expressed her support for charter and private schools and school vouchers. Critics say vouchers will take taxpayer money away from public schools.
Anna McClain-Sims, 18, said she decided attending the rally was worth missing a day of school. Thursday is not an official school holiday, meaning most of the students who participate will receive an unexcused absence.
"Even though I care so much about being a good student - I take the hardest courseloads available, it's very important to me - I decided to miss one day of school was worth nothing compared to what it's worth to make our voices heard and to fight for the education of the future," she said.
Students rally at the Idaho Statehouse
Although McClain-Sims is a high school senior, she said she was worried about how changes to the school system would affect the Idaho kids that come after her, pointing to the necessity of a solid K-12 education in order to get into college and secure a spot in the workforce.
"We care about our education because it is vital to our future and it's going to be vital to the next generation's future," she said.
Not everyone on the Capitol steps was a teenager.
Ingrid Brudenell, a retired Boise State professor, said she wanted to lend the students her support after a 30-year career in education.
Like others at the rally, she expressed disappointment in DeVos' nomination.
"We've been part of the calls to our senators about her confirmation and have not ever received a really good response about why they supported an unqualified person to take on this important job," she said.
Brian Stutzman, who was watching the rally, disagreed, saying he felt it was too early to protest the new Secretary of Education.
"I'm really kind of surprised at it because Betsy DeVos has only been in office for what, seven days now, less than that?" he asked. "I think the community here, these people, are really prejudging her. She hasn't done anything yet."
Stutzman said that as a parent, he appreciated the school choice options championed by DeVos.
"I've got four sons, they've all gone to public education," he said. "I was blessed to have the opportunity to send two of them to a charter school for a couple of years. I was really blessed to have that choice as a parent."
The protest garnered attention from those inside the Statehouse as well.
Boise Rep. Melissa Wintrow said she stepped outside to see what was going on, and was delighted with what she found.
"I heard all this ruckus outside the Statehouse and came out to see this powerful group of students exercising their First Amendment rights," she said "I am so proud to this amount of civic engagement and interest in their own education."
She called the protest a "hands-on application" of the civil rights they learned about in class, and called on other lawmakers no to disregard the students' voices.
"As a state representative, this is a powerful moment for us to listen to," she said.