It’s official: U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos will visit Nebraska this week, though the U.S. Department of Education has not yet said whether that trip will include a stop at Lincoln Public Schools’ science focus program.
A Department of Education release announced DeVos will be in Nebraska, Colorado, Kansas, Missouri and Indiana as part of her first back-to-school tour dubbed "Rethink School."
DeVos said in a statement the tour's goal is to highlight what's working.
“We want to encourage local education leaders to continue to be creative, to empower parents with options and to expand students-centered education opportunities,” she said.
The only specifics of her trip released so far are plans to visit two Wyoming schools Tuesday.
She will visit Woods Learning Center, a small, public elementary and middle school in Casper, Wyoming, led by a collaborative team of teachers with no principal; and St. Stephens Indian School on the Wind River Reservation.
LPS officials confirmed Friday they'd been contacted by DeVos' office about a possible visit to the district's science focus program — known as zoo school because it’s located at the Lincoln Children’s Zoo — and were working out details.
The Lincoln Children’s Zoo sent out a notification Friday that it would be closed Thursday for a Lincoln Public Schools event. The notification did not elaborate.
There was no additional information provided by LPS on Monday.
The Education Department also inquired about DeVos visiting schools in Omaha, including Bryan High, an OPS school, and Nelson Mandela Elementary School.
Mandela Elementary is funded by the Lozier Foundation and the William and Ruth Scott Family Foundation, and offers free tuition and year-round schooling primarily to children living in poverty in north Omaha.
Nebraska Department of Education Commissioner Matthew Blomstedt said in a statement he welcomes DeVos and the opportunity to highlight the state's quality education.
“We have a lot to be proud of in Nebraska,” he said. “Every day teachers are creatively engaging students in increasingly innovative ways.”
Katie Linehan, executive director of the school choice group Educate Nebraska, also welcomed DeVos’ visit.
“We’re thrilled the secretary will highlight the great things happening in our state and bring attention to the need for every family to have access to a school that works best for their child.”
DeVos, who was narrowly approved as President Trump’s education secretary, is a former Republican Party chairwoman in Michigan. She's a longtime supporter of school choice and a force behind the spread of charter schools in her home state.
Teachers unions vigorously opposed her nomination, and her speeches as education secretary have drawn protests. The prospect of her visiting schools in Omaha last month was greeted with some concern by the Omaha Education Association.
Lincoln Education Association President Rita Bennett said Friday the news about a possible DeVos visit had been trickling out slowly and she'd not yet gotten any feedback from teachers.
"A lot of our concerns about Betsy DeVos is her limited-to-no experience with the public school realm," she said. "So I tend to think the best way to learn is to visit a great public school."
Nebraska is one of six states that don't authorize charter schools, but school choice advocates have gained ground in pushing for them, and Gov. Pete Ricketts supports school choice.
Zoo school was the first focus program created for LPS high school students and remains one of the most successful. The district also offers an arts and humanities focus program, and folded two other focus programs into the new Career Academy, which offers dual credit courses in conjunction with Southeast Community College.
According to an Education Week tracker, DeVos has visited 19 schools, including 10 traditional public schools, four charter schools and five private schools this year.