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Toronto TDSB asked for cancellation of Betsy DeVos visit

U.S. President Donald Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos make ‘U’ symbols while posing with the Utah skiing team at the White House earlier this month. DeVos announced a trip to Ontario to tour schools back in October, but it was cancelled.

JOSHUA ROBERTS/REUTERS

When news first leaked out that U.S. President Donald Trump's Education Secretary had scheduled a tour of Ontario schools last month, officials kept the details under wraps. No one would say when or even where she would visit.

Then, abruptly, Betsy DeVos cancelled her trip.

Now e-mails obtained through a Freedom of Information request reveal the behind-the-scenes battle over her scheduled visit.

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In an e-mail marked "Confidential Information" and sent the week before her expected visit, Ontario's Ministry of Education sent an itinerary to the Toronto District School Board's director and an executive superintendent that included Ms. DeVos visiting two Toronto schools – Western Technical Commercial School and Heydon Park Secondary School – on Oct. 5 for a "learning tour."

But about an hour later, the head of the TDSB intervened. John Malloy, director of education, fired off an e-mail response to deputy minister of education Bruce Rodrigues asking that the tour be cancelled.

"As we discussed on the phone, I asked that the visit below not happen in TDSB. The political climate in my Board may not be conducive for this visit," Mr. Malloy wrote. "Further, this visit cannot happen without the full knowledge of my Board in light of the obvious sensitivities, if you still insist that it must happen."

He added: "I am not trying to be difficult; however, I am feeling frustrated that the e-mail below was sent from Shawn [a ministry official] without even contacting me back to give a rationale why I should reconsider my initial position. We try to co-operate, but the load needs to be shared across GTA boards for politically sensitive visits like this."

Mr. Rodrigues wrote back: "I fully understand and will look somewhere else."

At the time, The Globe and Mail had contacted several school boards, including in York and Peel. All said that there were no plans for Ms. DeVos to visit their schools.

Asked what he meant by the political climate at the board, Mr. Malloy said on Friday that his e-mail was referencing two concerns. He said it would not have been appropriate for Ms. DeVos to visit given that the TDSB had stopped all new school trips to the United States as a result of controversial border restrictions and that a political visit of this level should have been first discussed by the Minister of Education and chair of the school board.

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There had been a reluctance among public-school officials in Ontario to welcome Ms. DeVos, a polarizing figure whom many in education circles see as the centre of a movement to use public dollars to pay for tuition at private and religious schools.

News of Ms. DeVos's planned visit, first reported in The Globe, drew protests from teacher unions who say she favours private schools over a publicly funded education system.

The day before she planned to be in Toronto, Ms. DeVos cancelled her trip.

A spokesman for Education Minister Mitzie Hunter said that the government received word from Ms. DeVos's office in Washington that she was cancelling her trip because of "scheduling conflicts." Ms. DeVos's itinerary had her coming to Ontario on a "study visit" on Oct. 5 and 6.

The U.S. Department of Education said in a statement that the trip had been postponed because of "last-minute scheduling issues that arose on both sides."

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