Betsy DeVos held a “roundtable” with Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin at a public community college in Lexington, Kentucky.

When student journalists at Paul Laurence Dunbar High School heard that they were meeting, they went to the event, presented their press credentials, and were barred from covering it.

The only student invited to speak at the roundtable attends a religious school. The other participants represented Kentucky organizations that support privatization of public funds. That is, supporters of Betsy DeVos’s anti-public school agenda.

The students were on deadline, and they were on a mission.

They piled into a car last Wednesday and pulled away from Paul Laurence Dunbar High School, their public school in Lexington, Ky. With permission, they drove across town to a community college where their Republican governor, Matt Bevin, was hosting a roundtable discussion on education featuring Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.

The high schoolers — writers and editors for their school paper, the PLD Lamplighter — believed they were following the advice offered by DeVos last fall when she counseled, “It is easy to be nasty hiding behind screens and Twitter handles. It’s not so easy face to face.”

So the student journalists turned away from their screens and social media apps. They went in pursuit, they would later say, of “that face-to-face opportunity.”

But DeVos had no intention of admitting anyone who did not agree with her “freedom” agenda. In her view, “freedom” means her freedom only to hear what she already believes and freedom from anyone who disagrees with her. She was there to promote her agenda of defunding public schools, the schools that 90% of children in Kentucky attend. Why would she want students to hear her explain why she wants to force budget cuts on their schools?

The students discovered that the open roundtable was only open to those who were invited, and they were not invited.

So they wrote this editorial.

“No Seat at the Roundtable.”

The students were trapped in a Catch 22. They couldn’t attend the event because they were not invited. They presented their press credentials but they were still denied entry to what was billed as a public discussion.

We presented our school identification badges and showed him our press credentials. He nodded as if that would be enough, but then asked us if we had an invitation. We looked at each other, eyes wide with surprise. Invitation? For a roundtable discussion on education?

“Yes, this event is invitation only,” he said and then waved us away.

Carson Sweeney
Unable to even leave our car, we settled for a picture of the campus taken through the window.

At that point, we pulled over and contacted our adviser, Mrs. Wendy Turner. She instructed us to try again and to explain that we were there as press to cover the event for our school newspaper. We at least needed to understand why we were not allowed in, and why it was never publicized as “invitation only.”

We watched as the same man waved other drivers through without stopping them, but he stopped us again. Instead of listening to our questions, he just repeated “Sorry. It’s invitation only.”

Disappointed, we called Mrs. Turner again and explained the situation. We were missing school for this event which had been reported as a “public” event on a public college campus. Unable to ask questions, we settled for a picture from our car.

It was then that our story turned from news coverage to editorial.

After leaving campus, we started looking through social media, seeking information from other journalists’ accounts, and trying to find a live stream.

We scrambled to get ourselves together because we were caught off guard, and we were in a hurry to produce anything we could to cover the event and to meet our deadline. We called our newsroom to get assistance from our other editors. Since we were out on location, we had little to work with.

After more research, we found mentioned on the government website that the meeting needed an RSVP, but there was no mention of an invitation. How do you RSVP when there is no invitation?

On the web site, it also stated that the roundtable was an “open press event.” Doesn’t open press imply open to ALL press including students?

We are student journalists who wanted to cover an event in our community featuring the Secretary of Education, but ironically, we couldn’t get in without an invitation.

The students checked and discovered that: Of the 173 school districts in Kentucky that deal directly with students, none were represented at the table. Zero. This is interesting because the supposed intention of the event was to include stakeholders–educators, students, and parents.

They didn’t understand that DeVos does not care about the educators, students or parents at public schools. She cares only about her radical agenda of charters and vouchers.

When the meeting was over, Governor Bevin said, with no hint of irony, that the discussion was all about “the children.”

But the children were not invited nor were they allowed to watch the event or even to cover it as journalists.

What hypocrites those leaders are!

How heroic the students are!

I am putting them on the blog’s honor roll, which is reserved for heroes of public education.