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Hundreds Of High School Students Protest Appointment Of DeVos As Education Secretary

Sarah Kovash
90.5 WESA
CAPA High School students (L-R) Serena Zetts, 16; Nia Arrington, 17; and Christian Carter, 17, demonstrate in Market Square, protesting the appointment of Betsy DeVos as U.S. Education Secretary.

*UPDATED: Feb. 8, 2016 at 2:17 p.m.

As many as 300 local high school students gathered Downtown and marched to Sen. Pat Toomey's Station Square office Wednesday to voice their displeasure over Department of Education Secretary pick Betsy DeVos.

The students, primarily from CAPA High School located downtown, met at 7:30 a.m. in Market Square, then headed to Toomey's office, where some people met with staff members, before marching back.

Protesters also gathered outside of Toomey's office Tuesday afternoon after the confirmation of DeVos, an advocate of school vouchers, as well as charter and private schools. DeVos' family reportedly donated more than $60,000 to Toomey and gave $150,000 to a super PAC that supported the Pennsylvania senator's 2016 re-election campaign.

CAPA student Christian Carter, 17, of Highland Park, helped organize the demonstration. He said students started spreading the word on social media 15 minutes after DeVos’ confirmation Tuesday.

“We started rallying together,” he said.

Fellow CAPA student Nia Arrington, 17, of Greentree said the future of the education department is important to her family, since her mother works in education. She said her father took her to the store Tuesday night to pick out construction paper and materials to make signs for the rally.

Credit Sarah Kovash / 90.5 WESA
90.5 WESA
Students wrap up their demonstration, which started at 7:30 a.m. outside of Sen. Pat Toomey's Station Square office and ended at Market Square, before students headed back to school.

Before returning to class Wednesday morning, Arrington said she thought her teachers would be proud that she took action, especially in solidarity with them.

Pittsburgh Public Schools spokeswoman Ebony Pugh said, while the district supports the students’ rights to free speech, normal attendance protocols would be enforced for students who showed up late or skipped school altogether.

Serena Zetts, 16, of Greenfield, said the demonstration was important, especially since most of the participants aren’t old enough to vote. She called out Sen. Pat Toomey for voting in favor of DeVos and said he didn’t represent what his constituents wanted.  

“We’re students and our rights matter,” she said, “our education matters.” 

Toomey's office responded via email: “I welcome the input of these young people and all of my constituents. I support everyone’s right to protest peacefully, but students should not skip school to do so.”  

Sarah Kovash previously worked as a web producer for KDKA-TV, as a freelance journalist for the Valley News Dispatch covering local government throughout the Alle-Kiski Valley and at NPR station KPBS in San Diego.
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