U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos plans to visit Mount Pleasant's Laing Middle School of Science and Technology, one of Charleston County's most lauded schools, on Sept. 11.
DeVos' previous public appearances have triggered occasional protests and confrontations.
Since taking office in February 2017, she has closed numerous civil rights investigations that previously were opened by her office; pushed to gut oversight rules designed to prevent predatory lending and recruitment practices at for-profit colleges; and, most recently, floated the idea of letting states use federal grant money to purchase guns for teachers.
Charleston County School District spokeswoman Erica Taylor said Monday that DeVos' office had reached out directly to school administrators to set up visits.
"In our District, principals have the autonomy to organize and plan school-based events; and at this time at least one CCSD school has tentatively accepted the request for Secretary DeVos to visit," Taylor said. "District leadership will support our school leader(s) as appropriate if needed."
DeVos' office routinely omits public appearances and meetings from the secretary's public schedule on the U.S. Department of Education website. As of 3 p.m. Monday, the online schedule only extended as far as Aug. 31 and listed no public events.
School board member Michael Miller said he first heard about DeVos' plans in an email from the district superintendent Thursday.
"To me, it's interesting that they reached out to the school directly," Miller said Monday. "You know they're working an angle; you just never know what that angle may be."
The U.S. Department of Education's public relations office did not respond to an email request for comment.
A spokesman for S.C. Education Superintendent Molly Spearman said that Spearman had invited DeVos to visit South Carolina in the past but that DeVos' office was apparently coordinating this trip directly with schools.
Spearman has visited Laing to highlight the school's approach to STEM (science, technology, engineering and math), which has earned national accolades. Laing is a public school with roots tracing back to a late-19th century Quaker educator. In 2009, it began a transition to become a partial-magnet public school, meaning that some students are admitted because of their attendance zone and others are admitted through a lottery process open to Charleston County residents east of the Cooper River.
In a May 2017 visit, Spearman said she was looking for ways to replicate Laing's success in schools across the state.
Meanwhile, at least one local activist group, the Quality Education Project, is already planning a protest in response to DeVos' visit. The group created a Facebook event for a "Standing Up for Public Education Rally" on Sept. 11 at Laing.
"QEP, Lowcountry Area Teachers Taking Action, and public education advocates seek to communicate a clear message that our public schools are doing well in spite of a lack of support," the event description says. "However, we need much greater financial investment in public education, as opposed to the failed school choice and privatization efforts that DeVos and many school administrators in South Carolina support."
DeVos is a longtime advocate for "school choice" initiatives, including the expansion of charter schools and vouchers that would let parents spend public money on private schools. In an analysis following DeVos' first five months in office, Education Week found that she had visited 22 traditional public schools, 10 private schools, nine charter schools and one school funded by the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
Last week, DeVos paid surprise visits to three traditional public schools in Washington, D.C., bringing cookies to school employees to celebrate improvement on standardized test scores, according to The Washington Post.
DeVos' deputy secretary is former S.C. Education Superintendent Mick Zais.