WASHINGTON — A crowd of teachers, parents and children gathered Sunday near the U.S. Capitol to protest the nomination of Betsy DeVos as education secretary, calling the Michigan billionaire a threat to public education and urging the Senate to reject her.

Using drums and noisemakers, the group of protesters chanted “Toss DeVos!” “Betsy is a threat-sy” and “A, B, C, D, E, F, G, Betsy DeVos is not for me.”

Similar protests took place over the weekend in Portland, Oregon, Nashville and Holland, Michigan, DeVos’ hometown.

The protests came ahead of the Senate education committee’s vote on DeVos’ confirmation, which is scheduled for Tuesday morning. DeVos has spent most of the past three decades using her wealth to advocate for the expansion of taxpayer-funded voucher programs and charter schools. She has characterized public schools as a “dead end,” drawing a passionate opposition from teacher unions and public school advocates.

DeVos has become one of President Trump’s most controversial Cabinet picks, in large part because of her stumbles on basic education policy during her Jan. 17 confirmation hearing.

Under questioning from Democratic senators, DeVos declined to say that she wouldn’t privatize public schools, declined to commit to aggressively pursuing sexual assault cases at colleges, appeared confused about federal law protecting students with disabilities, and said she opposes a ban on guns in schools, citing an example of a rural school that might need a gun to protect against “potential grizzlies” – a comment that has elicited scorn and late-night television show ridicule.

Although Jennifer Zwelling, 48 of Bladensburg, Maryland, is an art teacher at a private school – the National Cathedral School – she said she is opposed to DeVos’ support for vouchers that would let students take public money to pay tuition and private or parochial schools.

“Vouchers are wrong because they take money from the public education system and put it in private schools. The systems need to be separate,” Zwelling said. “Our public schools desperately need the funding.”

DeVos’ supporters – including Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., the chairman of the education committee and a former education secretary – say she is a bold reformer who is willing to take on unions and the education establishment to give more children, especially those from low-income households, access to good schools. They say her views on vouchers and charters align with the mainstream and that her desire for local control over education matches what Congress did with the recent federal education law.

Zwelling and others said they believe DeVos likely will be confirmed, but they wanted to have a public voice on the matter ahead of the vote.

Two kindergarten teachers from Alexandria, Althea Goldberg and Katie Keier, organized the protest in Washington on Sunday. They said they met on Tuesday to review their students’ academic progress, but spent much of their time lamenting that DeVos could soon be the nation’s top education official.

“I remember disliking certain nominations, but never have I felt the fear that I feel about DeVos,” Keier said. “I know it’s probable that she will be confirmed, but let’s have our voices heard.”

Keier, who has taught for 25 years, said she especially wants the voices of her kindergartners to be represented. During school last week she asked them what message they want to send the person who might be the next education secretary.

The kindergartners wrote their words down on posters that she brought with her to the protest. One, in red marker read: “Care about teachers and kids!” Another wrote “Let us play,” and drew what appeared to be a person playing with a toy car.

Goldberg, who is in her fifth year of teaching, said she has many concerns about DeVos’ fitness for the job.

“She has no experience in public education. Her children never went to public school. She has no experience with student loans,” Goldberg said. “Everything about her concerns me.”

Jocelyn Nieva’s son Ben – who is now 24 and in college – spent his entire time in public school needing special education services, but Nieva said she had to fight to get him the right resources. When Nieva heard DeVos say that federal protections for special education students should be left up to the states, she was outraged.

“She is either ignorant or dismissing federal mandates,” Nieva, of D.C., said Sunday during the protest. “I have no senator and this is an issue I am passionate about. “I have to speak with my body and my sign.”

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.