Beautiful generic school hallway. Photo by Greta Diaz

There’s loads of evidence to suggest Dallas ISD supporters have mixed feelings about Donald Trump’s education secretary — they run the gamut from ‘underwhelmed’ to ‘enemy of public education’ and, basically, The Worst. So why’s she making a sudden stop at a South Dallas school today?

Illustration by Ashley Drake

To say that supporters of Dallas ISD are underwhelmed by U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos would be an understatement.

So when news broke Wednesday night that DeVos would be making a visit this afternoon to Billy Earle Dade Middle School in South Dallas, it caught most everyone by surprise.

It surprised the Next Generation Action Network and the Texas Organizing Project, who immediately organized a protest to “[make] it clear to the people of North Texas that Secretary DeVos’ only agenda is to destroy our school system and make it private.”

It surprised Dallas ISD Superintendent Michael Hinojosa and Far East Dallas Trustee Dan Micciche, who told the Dallas Morning News that the visit was arranged by District 9 Trustee Bernadette Nutall, whose district includes Dade as well as portions of East Dallas.

It surprised the entire DISD board, which wasn’t notified of the visit until they received a U.S. Department of Education email Wednesday afternoon. District 8 Trustee Miguel Solis noted that his critical views of DeVos “haven’t changed” since her appointment by President Donald Trump. District 6 Trustee Joyce Foreman commented, “I am disgusted with the idea of her showing up at a school that has struggled when just last month on ’60 Minutes’ she said she had not visited any of those schools. Why now? Why Dallas? Why Billy Earl Dade?”

It also was a surprise to Dade’s principal, and might even have been a surprise to DeVos herself, as the visit wasn’t on her public calendar.

The only Dallas ISD supporter who wasn’t surprised was District 9 Trustee Bernadette Nutall, who noted on her Facebook page that while she and DeVos have “different ideas, viewpoints and politics … I am utilizing this as an opportunity to highlight how DISD is responding to challenges with viable solutions.”

And this left two of her opponents in the current District 9 race, Hollywood-Santa Monica resident Justin Henry and South Dallas resident Ed Turner, questioning Nutall’s motivations. Henry asked invited “a clear and present danger to public education” into DISD schools, and Turner called it “a slap in the face to the students, parents, and teachers in District 9.”

What’s still unclear is how and why the visit was arranged. We’ve reached out to Nutall to find out more.

It is clear, however, that the visit will play a role in the District 9 election coming up on May 5 — a tense race whose winner will have a big impact on future DISD policy and politics, one way or another. Henry and Turner are being supported by the Dallas education reform community, while Nutall is “in the outhouse,” as she says. Yet Nutall is the one who made the arrangements for the visit with DeVos, who is a poster child in the “the fight to boldly reform America’s broken education system.”

Last month on “60 Minutes,” DeVos told interviewer Lesley Stahl that she hadn’t visited any underperforming public schools, adding, “Maybe I should.”

When she later testified before a House appropriations subcommittee about her 2019 budget proposal, she was asked why she hadn’t visited any such schools.

“I think it would be important to visit some poor-performing schools,” DeVos responded. “I think the question is, ‘Will they let me in?’ ”

Three days after her confirmation, when DeVos tried to visit an urban public school in Washington, D.C., she was not well-received.

Will the situation be any different today in Dallas? —Keri Mitchell