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Online opposition to Betsy DeVos grows

President Donald Trump's nominee for Secretary of the Education Betsy DeVos appears before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee for her confirmation hearing. (Getty Images/Melina Mara)

As a mother of two daughters, Cassandra Rogers strives to set a good example of standing up for one's beliefs.

The mother of a young daughter with special needs, Rogers decided to take action to ensure her daughters' schooling wouldn't suffer under a new education secretary.

Rogers began a now-viral petition calling on the U.S. Senate not to confirm President Donald Trump's pick to lead the Department of Education, billionaire philanthropist Betsy DeVos. People who signed the petition say they take issue with DeVos' stance during her confirmation hearing last week on programs for students with disabilities.

The petition states:

Ms. DeVos does not support the equal rights of students with disabilities to receive a Free and Appropriate Public Education as outlined in IDEA.  In fact, she has stated that she believes that the responsibility for the education of students with disabilities should be determined at the state level.

The impact of such an action would be profound and according to the National Center for Education Statistics would impact roughly 13 percent of the student population. The students receiving special education services are among the most vulnerable citizens of this country and are worthy of the same opportunities for receiving an education that every other American citizen has.  Without the provisions outlined in IDEA, many of those students would be under-served or lose their opportunity for an education altogether.

Just one week after its start, Rogers' petition now has more than 284,000 signatures — and it's still climbing.

Rogers told TheBlaze in an interview that she did her research on DeVos and tuned in to watch the confirmation hearing. But DeVos' approach to programs for students with disabilities — particularly her comments on the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act — troubled her.

"I realized that her confirmation has the potential to very, very negatively affect my daughter directly as well as all of the other students receiving special education services," Rogers said. "That's 13 percent of the student population. It's not like it's a little sliver; that's a very significant percent of students."

"I just couldn't sit back and watch this happen. I felt I had to do something," said Rogers, whose daughter is 10.

While the key law has been revised multiple times over the years, IDEA ensures that children with disabilities are able to receive free public education — just like other children. It also determines how states and other services provide for students with disabilities.

During her confirmation hearing, DeVos was asked by Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) if she believed that all schools that receive federal funding should adhere to the guidelines in IDEA.

"I think they already are," DeVos answered, then was pressed to elaborate.

"I think that is a matter that's best left to the states," she continued.

As Kaine countered with the assumption that some states could be better to students with disabilities than others, DeVos doubled down on her opinion that IDEA is better left to the states.

"What about the federal requirement?" Kaine asked. "It's a federal law, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act."

DeVos then began to discuss a controversial Florida voucher program that has students with disabilities sign away their IDEA rights in order to attend certain private schools. According to the Education Department's Office of Civil Rights, parents who use voucher programs can waive their children's rights under IDEA.

"I think all schools that receive federal funding — public, public charter, private — should be required to meet the conditions [of IDEA]," Kaine said.

DeVos then replied that she would be open to a further discussion on the matter.

Due to DeVos' comments on IDEA and voucher programs for students with disabilities, the American Association of People with Disabilities asserted that DeVos is too "unfamiliar" with the federal law.

AAPD said in a statement:

AAPD is very concerned that Ms. DeVos seems unfamiliar with the IDEA and the protections it provides to students with disabilities. Should Ms. DeVos be confirmed as Secretary of Education, she must become more familiar with the law and commit to ensuring that it is fully-funded and enforced.

The National Education Association, the nation's largest labor union, announced Thursday that more than 1 million people have used its online form to voice their opposition to DeVos to their senators. In addition, more than 40,000 have called their senators through a hotline NEA set up, the union said.

The union told the Washington Post that this campaign has garnered the largest response of any campaign in the past.

"It's just amazing," NEA President Lily Eskelsen Garcia said. "We couldn't generate this if it weren't authentic, if it weren't something legitimately and authentically viral."

Rogers told TheBlaze that it seemed as though DeVos was not thoroughly prepared for her confirmation hearing — although Rogers did say that she felt empathy for DeVos if she was nervous during the questioning.

DeVos was certainly not the person Rogers hoped Trump would pick to lead the Education Department. The Colorado mother said she was was hoping he would pick an educator or someone with a stronger background in education.

And Rogers certainly isn't alone. Many of the people who left comments on Rogers' first petition have expressed concern that DeVos lacks the experience to lead the department.

"I do not believe that Betsy DeVos is qualified and her beliefs and leadership will have devastating results," Elisabeth Hakanson of Sarasota, California, wrote.

"I am a teacher. I love my students as if they were my own children," Jennifer Tyree of Lugoff, South Carolina, wrote. "This woman doesn't even know what she is saying at any given time. She is not fit to serve the children of the U.S."

Stephanee Rivera of Conroe, Texas, wrote that she has a child with an IEP — a legal document that lists a child's special needs — and worries that DeVos would take limit the services her child needs.

Rogers said that she is excited about how the petition has taken off since its conception as she uses it as an example for her children, including her daughter who is a freshman in college.

"After the election she had expressed to me that she had a feeling of being afraid, being uncertain about what the future was going to hold," Rogers said. "I just told her, 'Do something. Don't sit here and feel this way. Do something.'"

"I'm just very excited that because of the support this petition has, I can set a good example for them and what that means," she said.

DeVos' planned committee vote was delayed a week by Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) after Democrats argued that they did not have enough time to review her financial holdings or have their questions answered.

The vote is now planned for Jan. 31.

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