Several students, teachers and parents rallied outside East Hartford High School Tuesday to protest after the U.S. Education Secretary criticized the school and quoted a former student who used the phrase "dangerous daycare" to describe it.
"Betsy DeVos has never even seen our school," an East Hartford High School junior Tasnim Islam said in an interview Monday.
That's why Islam and several other students found it shocking that she spoke so negatively about their high school.
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DeVos told a congressional committee last week that East Hartford High School neglected and failed to help a former student she called "Michael".
"He described the school he was assigned to, and I quote, 'Nothing more than adult daycare. A dangerous daycare,'" said DeVos.
DeVos continued and said that the former student received a diploma but not an education.
"Even though he was failing his classes, the school simply passed him along from year to year giving him Ds and sending the not-so-subtle message that they didn't think Michael would amount to much," DeVos said.
The education secretary said that later in the former student's life, with a push from his wife, Michael eventually attended college in another state and has thrived there.
Current East Hartford High School student Michael Lachnicht said hearing those words from the head of the U.S. Department of Education felt like an attack, not just on the school, but on its students.
"To be good students at a daycare, what does that say about us?" Lachnicht asked.
"I personally thought to myself, 'Wow. I really want to respond to her'," East Hartford High School student Jadah Daley said.
Daley, Lachnicht, Islam and two other students crafted a letter to DeVos. Each wrote about their own experiences. They titled it, The Truth About East Hartford High School.
"The idea was to show that there were numerous students who did not agree with Betsy DeVos," said Lachnicht.
"The most upsetting thing about it is I don't believe Betsy DeVos has seen our school. I would really like for her to come and see exactly what East Hartford High School is like," said Daley.
She went on to add, "I really hope she does because I would love to meet her."
Later in the day after the rally on Tuesday,Governor Dan Malloy and Lt. Governor Nancy Wyman will hold a news conference inside the high school at 10:15 a.m. to discuss DeVos' comments.
NBC Connecticut reached out to DeVos' office and received a response on Tuesday.
"The Secretary’s focus is on individual students and ensuring they each have access to a high quality education that meets their needs. In her remarks, she relayed one student's experience and used his own words to describe the challenging circumstances he faced in high school," DeVos' press secretary, Elizabeth Hill, said in a statement.
"He, like so many other students across the country, needed another option but didn’t have access to one. For anyone to assert that Michael’s individual story should be generalized to the broader student population is a symptom of the one-size-fits all status quo that too many continue to seek to defend. Michael is an individual student with an individual story to tell. He was able to rise above what he considered challenging circumstances and go on to excel academically. We should be applauding students like him," Hill's statement says.
To read the letter the students wrote, go to this website.