WASHINGTON — The newly minted education secretary, Betsy DeVos, fled a small group of protesters outside a middle school here on Friday, at one point hiding in her sport utility vehicle as a man wielded a cardboard sign, before she finally entered.
Video of the odd episode at Jefferson Middle School Academy from a local television station showed a handful of people heckling and following Ms. DeVos as she tried to enter the school. She turned away with a man escorting her as one demonstrator shouted, “Go back! Shame, shame.”
The exchange could be the beginning of many such encounters as protesters and opponents of Ms. DeVos say they plan to remind her of the fierce opposition she faced throughout her nomination process and continues to face as she weighs sweeping policies, such as encouraging private school vouchers. Activists have said they would protest her at every opportunity, including during school visits.
Her response to the protesters on Friday could encourage more.
“We will unleash our activists in a way that I don’t think any secretary of education has ever experienced,” said Heidi Hess, a campaign manager for Credo, a mobile phone company with a liberal activist arm. “If she holds field hearings, we will make sure we pack them with activists. If she travels for meetings or if she visits schools, we will confront her with protesters and have people lined up to ask her questions.”
As word spread that Ms. DeVos, a wealthy Republican donor with almost no experience in public education, had been blocked from entering the school, Arne Duncan, a former education secretary under President Barack Obama, weighed in.
Ms. DeVos eventually made it into the school and later told reporters the school was “awesome.”
“It was really wonderful to visit this school, and I look forward to many visits of many great public schools, both in D.C. and around the country,” Ms. DeVos said. “Thanks very much.”
Mayor Muriel Bowser of Washington also said that the city wants Ms. DeVos to visit its schools.
Democrats have expressed concern about contributions by Ms. DeVos’s family to groups that support so-called conversion therapy for gay people; her donations to Republicans and their causes, which she agreed have totaled about $200 million over the years; and her past statements that government “sucks” and that public schools are a “dead end.”
Education unions and activists flooded senators with emails and phone calls urging them to vote against Ms. DeVos. Two Republican senators, Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, joined Democrats in voting against her. Vice President Mike Pence had to cast a tiebreaking vote to get Ms. DeVos confirmed.
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