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Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos visits school with anti-transgender policy

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has embarked on her third annual "back-to-school" tour, and on Thursday, she stopped by Harrisburg Catholic Elementary School — a school with a strict policy on transgender students.

DeVos has been traveling the country visiting various schools to highlight "learning environments where local educators and elected leaders are rethinking education," according to a press release from the Department of Education.

Thursday, she had two more schools on her itinerary: Great Lakes Maritime Academy in Traverse City, Michigan, and Harrisburg Catholic Elementary School in Pennsylvania.

DeVos' stop in Pennsylvania raised some eyebrows, as Harrisburg Catholic Elementary School is not inclusive of transgender students and staff and has a strict policy against sex reassignment. 

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos Testifies To House Appropriations Committee On Education Dept. Budget
Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos Alex Wong / Getty

The school is part of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Harrisburg. "Catholic educators as well as all other members of the school staff and community are called to be witnesses to Jesus Christ and His Church," the school's policy on gender identity reads. "When parents enroll a child in a Catholic school in the diocese they agree that they will not publically [sic] act in opposition to Catholic teaching."

The 2015 policy addresses those who have a "clear biological determination of" their sex and want to "chemically and/or surgically alter the given biology."

"This is understood in Catholic moral terms as self-mutilation and therefore immoral," according to the policy. "To attempt to make accommodations for such persons would be to cooperate in the immoral action and impose an unacceptable burden on others in the school community."

DeVos' visit to the school was met with some criticism online. "Secretary @BetsyDeVosED, let's try this again:  The Department of Education is responsible for ALL students. Why are you on a constant crusade against our #LGBTQ students & teachers?" Massachusetts Congresswoman Katherine Clark tweeted.

"Education Secretary Betsy DeVos hit the road this week for what her department calls a '2019 Back-to-School tour.' Her itinerary includes a school that bans transgender students and staff," the transgender advocacy group "Trans Lash Media" tweeted.

LGBTQ groups protested DeVos when she first became President Trump's pick for education secretary, because of her support for some conservative religious groups that promote what they consider to be traditional family values — including one organization that supports conversion therapy. DeVos said she never supported conversion therapy, a widely discredited approach to counseling gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender people with the aim of changing their sexual orientation.

DeVos has also stirred up criticism for proposing cuts to public education funding, with an aim of shifting billions of dollars to private, parochial and charter schools. She promotes the concept of "school choice" — offering parents options other than traditional public schools, where 90 percent of kids go.

During her visit to Harrisburg Catholic Elementary, DeVos attended what was billed as an "Education Freedom roundtable" with Pennsylvania Speaker of the House Mike Turzai. The event was cohosted by the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference and the Diocese of Harrisburg, according to the press release.

The focus of the roundtable was not on gender identity, but rather a vetoed bill that would have provided 52,000 low-income students in the state with tuition-free private school. 

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