Across California, school and university officials voiced their outrage at the violence that erupted in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday, when supporters of President Donald Trump stormed the Capitol building and disrupted the congressional certification of Joe Biden’s presidential victory.
Education officials, including U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, a Trump appointee, slammed the attack on the U.S. Constitution and said it set a dangerous example for children — and anyone — studying democracy. Gov. Gavin Newsom described it as an “outright assault to our democratic institutions.”
Some districts offered to provide counseling services to students who might be feeling anxious or unsafe about the state of the country. At least one district, San Francisco Unified, canceled board meetings due to the attack. Other districts noted that Wednesday’s events underscored the importance of a robust education system in a healthy democracy.
Here’s a sampling of what education officials said:
Betsy DeVos, U.S. secretary of education:
“The eyes of America’s children and students — the rising generation who will inherit the republic we leave them — are watching what is unfolding in Washington today. We must set a better example for them, and we must teach them the solemn obligations and duties that come with the title ‘American.’ The peaceful transfer of power is what separates American representative democracy from banana republics. Congress assembled today to fulfill its constitutional duty to certify the election of the next president of the United States, the same Constitution I swore an oath to support and defend. An angry mob cannot be allowed to attack our Capitol and impede this process. The disruptions and violence must end, the law must be upheld, the work of the people must go on.”
Eloy Ortiz Oakley, California Community Colleges chancellor:
“The actions of violent rioters who have trampled our nation’s Capitol and our sacred democratic process must be condemned in the strongest possible terms. Our thoughts are with our state’s congressional delegation, some of whom are graduates of our colleges, as they seek to carry out their constitutional duties. Community colleges are among the most democratizing institutions in our nation. As educators, these events reinforce the need to advance work of diversity, equity and inclusion in our colleges as we help build up communities and strengthen civic life.”
Kim A. Wilcox, UC Riverside chancellor:
“On behalf of the UC Riverside community, I condemn in the strongest possible terms the horrific mob attack — which is tantamount to terrorism — on the U.S. Capitol earlier today. The attacks were a grotesque assault on the values of this nation. Our country has experienced dark moments before and has persevered, and we will again.”
Tony Thurmond, California state superintendent of public instruction:
“Like so many, I am struggling to process today’s violent attack on democracy at the U.S. Capitol while celebrating an inspiring display of democracy in Georgia. We can choose which future we want for our youth, and today must reinforce our commitment to using the power of education to end hate and bigotry, and to empower communities that have been made vulnerable by systemic inequity. History will show our students that until today the peaceful transfer of power has been a bedrock tradition in the nation every election since its founding. As we approach our next president’s inauguration, I implore all Americans to move forward peacefully & respectfully. Our students and children are watching closely, and they deserve the absolute best from us.”
Kelly Gonez, Los Angeles Unified School District board president:
“There is nothing more fundamental to our democracy than the will of the people. Trump’s rejection of the 2020 election not only betrays his oath to defend the Constitution, but his actions brought us directly to today’s assault on the Capitol. The actions of these terrorists are nothing less than an attack on American democracy itself, fueled by white supremacist violence and hatred. The muted police response to armed insurrectionists stands in stark contrast to the force used against peaceful Black and brown protesters seeking racial justice over the summer & in years past, & highlights the racism embedded in our criminal justice & law enforcement systems. As our children look on, I am reminded today of the fragility of our democratic institutions and of the charge to urgently dismantle white supremacy wherever it exists.”
Nick Melvoin, Los Angeles Unified School District board member:
“Our children are watching. They’re watching as hate and ignorance manifest in the ugliest ways in our nation’s capital. They see the vast disparity between the peaceful treatment of this seditious, violent mob & the violent treatment of peaceful, righteous protesters this summer. But as they are watching these treasonous gasps of a racist would-be authoritarian regime, they are also seeing the culmination of years of organizing by communities of color, particularly women of color, result in two historic victories in Georgia. They are observing the duality of America’s long struggle for justice — living through an inflection point in that journey. They’re seeing the fragility of our Republic and yet the strength of our Democracy.
I wish that we could welcome students into physical classrooms next week so teachers can help them process what has happened over winter break. Until then, I know that they will — and we all must — continue to cultivate virtual communities of support for students and families. Much will be written about these still unfolding events, and it gives me some modicum of hope to know that our schools will help the next generation sort through and learn from this time to keep bending that long arc of justice.”
California Gov. Gavin Newsom:
“Peaceful protest is an important mechanism of our democracy but what we are witnessing in our nation’s Capitol building is reprehensible and an outright assault to our democracy and Democratic institutions.
The people of California have spoken, and our congressional delegation should never have to fear for their lives to represent Californians. We are concerned for the safety for California’s congressional delegation and U.S. Capitol staff, and are reaching out to offer support in every way possible.
President Trump must call for an end to this escalating situation, acknowledge the will of the people to bring President-Elect Biden to the White House and move immediately to a peaceful transition of power.”
Carol Christ, UC Berkeley chancellor and Paul Alivisatos, executive vice chancellor and provost:
“We are today witnessing disturbing and dangerous events unfold in Washington, D.C. While we are heartened by the quick condemnations of the reckless violence that have come from Republicans and Democrats alike, we also perceive a significant threat to our democracy. We now, as a campus community, and as a country, must come together and make clear in no uncertain terms that we cannot tolerate violence, we will not accept disregard for our Constitution, and we must not allow the results of a free and fair election to be overturned.
Let us continue to support our university’s mission that honors and advances truth, justice and the greater good. Never have these values and aspirations been more important.”
Pasquale Scuderi, superintendent, Alameda Unified School District:
“We are thinking about the questions that students may have over the next several days about the discord we are witnessing in our nation’s capitol. As such, our leadership team is working with our principals this afternoon to help teachers prepare for these discussions and the emotions that may accompany them. We are thinking about the questions you, as parents/guardians, might have about how to talk to students about today’s events in D.C., and our democracy’s protocols and ideals. We will provide resources to help you with these at-home conversations shortly.
And we are thinking about the crucial role that public education plays in developing an informed and compassionate citizenry. The truth is, however hobbled we are by current conditions, public education holds the potential to counter the chaos and discord that we are witnessing today — chaos that seeks to undermine the very concepts of democracy civility, unity and inclusion we work towards every day. I hope that as today’s events unfold, we can all derive strength from the fact that in our roles — be it parent/guardian or other public education employee — we support the enlightening, educating and empowering of kids. That work, in turn, is crucial to our stemming the tide of intolerance and violent immaturity that we and, unfortunately, our children, are watching today.”
Gary S. May, UC Davis chancellor:
“The images we’ve seen of Washington, D.C., today are difficult to reconcile. We all denounce the abhorrent behavior of the insurrectionists who breached our nation’s Capitol. The inexplicable leniency shown by law enforcement toward these seditionists was not lost on me as well and stood in stark contrast to the treatment of peaceful protesters in Lafayette Square just weeks ago.
Our democracy is a 244-year-old institution that we build upon daily by participation, debate, peaceful protest and advocating for the initiatives and change we believe in. Sometimes our views will prevail, sometimes they will not. Yet violence is never the answer to address our grievances. We must rely on our shared values and the principles of democracy that we hold dear.
While it is indeed a sad day, we’re reminded today of how important it is to recommit to these ideals and to peacefully pursue solutions to our nation’s challenges. At UC Davis, we value a culture of mutual respect. Let’s continue to take care of one another, knowing that, as always, we will get through this — together.”
Kyla Johnson-Trammell, superintendent, Oakland Unified School District:
“I am heartbroken for our country. What is happening in Washington, D.C., is outrageous and criminal. And I am holding our students, families and staff in my heart.
Not surprisingly, these events in the nation’s capitol have some members of our community, especially our students, upset and scared. Of course, Oakland is one of the most diverse cities in the world, and many residents come from countries that have experienced exactly this kind of uprising but with much more tragic and life-altering outcomes. I know some of our students and families are expressing concerns about their own safety and the security of our nation.
I hear you, and I share your concerns. This is an upsetting time for our country. But please consider that this activity is happening 3000 miles away and that the distance protects us from this threat to our democracy. The District, the City of Oakland and the State of California will do everything possible to protect all residents from any infringement of their rights or threat to their safety.
January 6 is historically a day of celebration when a joint session of Congress counts and confirms the electoral college vote for president, formalizing the next president’s path to inauguration on January 20. It is a ceremonial part of the peaceful transfer of power from one administration to another. But what is happening in the nation’s capitol is anything but a peaceful transfer of power.
Some people who disagree with the results of a free and fair election in which Joe Biden and Kamala Harris won the White House have decided to try to damage, if not tear down, our democracy. It’s clear that they have been motivated by the words of the current president who refuses to accept his defeat. The people who support the president have broken into the capitol building, damaged property, clashed with police, and they overtook the floors of the House and the Senate.
This is not what our country is about. Protest, yes. Insurrection, no. The U.S. is a democracy, and I join the chorus of voices calling for this anti-democratic behavior in Washington to end immediately. I hope we can all recommit ourselves to what President-elect Biden described today as, “The renewal of a politics that’s about solving problems, looking out for one another, not stoking the flames of hate and chaos.”
Also, I must address one more thing of critical importance in our community and our country. In response to the events of today and how the police treated the rioters, the NAACP tweeted, “They’ve killed us for less!” The police response to this insurrection has obviously been measured, and the rioters have been treated very differently from protesters during months of Black Lives Matter demonstrations. It’s impossible to look at this as anything but a product of white supremacy. Honestly, can you imagine what would have happened if BLM demonstrators had done the same thing at the capitol? It saddens me and reinforces why OUSD must continue to stand proud and strong in our work towards becoming an anti-racist district.
To students expressing fear or distress about what they’re witnessing, we encourage you to reach out to your teacher, principal or counselor, reach out to our behavioral health team, and if need be, access the Alameda County Crisis Hotline at 1-800-309-2131. Also, our teachers will prepare in the days to come to provide support in class, and help students understand what it all means in their lives and in our country.
It may be a shocking scene but it will pass, and sometime in the not too distant future, our students will be studying what happened this week in their civics, history and government classes. Let’s band together and support one another as we work through this challenging time. As a nation and as a community, we will get past this episode united, with a new opportunity to continue to perfect our union with new leadership, representing the most diverse cabinet in American history.”
Carol L. Folt, president, University of Southern California:
“The violence at the U.S. Capitol today is a direct threat to the peaceful transition of power which has defined our democracy for more than 240 years. Violent actions will not bridge the divide in this country. Civil discourse, the free exchange of ideas and an engaged citizenry are needed now more than ever.”
Joseph I. Castro, chancellor, California State University system:
“Today’s violence in Washington, DC, is a reminder that ethical leadership is more important than ever before. The CSU — the country’s largest public university system — is preparing a new generation of diverse and ethical leaders who will help to strengthen our state and nation in the years to come.”