ReThink School Tour — Day 2

Before giving the rundown of today’s visits, I want to first recognize the tragic events that occurred at Freeman High School in Rockford, Washington. The details are still unfolding, but the reality is that an innocent life was needlessly taken. Every student deserves to learn in a safe environment, and the Department of Education stands ready to assist the Freeman community as they begin returning to a sense of normalcy.

Today, our Rethink School Tour started off in the shade of the majestic Rockies! The first stop was Firefly Autism House, a school in Denver, Colorado that does a great job of meeting the individual needs of each student. Firefly serves publicly placed students with Individualized Education Programs (IEP). These students are entitled to a free appropriate public education as required by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

The debate over that right propelled Firefly to the headlines because one of its students, Endrew, saw his case go to the U.S. Supreme Court. Earlier this year, the Court ruled unanimously that Endrew’s family were right to place their child at Firefly because the local public school district was only setting “de minimis,” or minimal, goals for Endrew in his IEP. Frankly, de minimis is preposterous. Endrew and all students with disabilities deserve better than the minimum.

I joined parents and staff from Firefly Autism House to share their stories and excellent work they do for students.

I was grateful for the opportunity to meet Endrew’s parents at Firefly, where they saw their son flourish in the ways they knew he could. Hearing their story first-hand gave me even greater admiration for their resolve, but no family should have to sue their way to the Supreme Court to get a quality education for their child — no matter his or her disability. Thanks to Endrew’s parents, others won’t have to.

Our next stop was the Air Force Academy’s iconic campus in Colorado Springs. While there, I got to see some exciting and technologically advanced programs that are equipping our servicemen and women with the skills to serve our country and grow their families and careers.

These cadets are among our nation’s best and brightest, and I was impressed by their leadership, academic achievement and character. As they go on to protect our freedoms at home and abroad, we’ll remain committed to honoring their service.

It was an honor to meet so many brave cadets at the Air Force Academy.

It was hard to leave the stunning vistas of Colorado behind, but I was excited to get to Nebraska where I visited Midland University’s Code Academy in Omaha. Midland’s program isn’t in the “traditional” higher education model: that’s because there aren’t as many “traditional” students as there once were. I met students of all ages, and from many different walks of life.

Midland’s student-centric model is exactly what it means to “rethink” education.

One man I met stood out in particular: he runs a successful lawn and landscaping company but could never make a traditional four-year program work for his busy schedule. He found Midland’s flexible courses perfect for his needs, and he’s excited to take his career to the next level by entering the tech space.

I’m grateful to institutions like Midland that are meeting these students’ needs and setting them up for success in the 21st century economy.

The sites I visited today are but a few examples of how we can and must rethink school. I’m only more energized in this mission after meeting with the dedicated innovators, teachers and students in Colorado and Nebraska.

I hope you will continue to follow my blog throughout the week, and check in on all of the unique learning environments we will be highlighting throughout the Rethink School Tour. Our next stops are Omaha and Lincoln Nebraska, then on to Kansas City!

Until tomorrow!


Betsy DeVos is the 11th U.S. Secretary of Education.