In response to a FOIA request, the Department of Education released 425 pages on the 2018 trip. Most of the pages are redacted.
The full explanation for why Betsy Devos visited Erie nearly a year ago remains a puzzle.
The mystery persisted early this month, when I received a compact disc from the U.S. Department of Education.
The CD contains 425 pages of documents released in response to my request, under the Freedom of Information Act, for information on the secretary of education's two-and-half-hour stop in Erie on July 16, when she observed summer programs at Pfeiffer-Burleigh Elementary School.
The documents on the CD are mostly emails. They are highly redacted and yield no firm reasons for what led DeVos to visit Erie in particular.
About 100 pages, or about 24 percent of the 425, contain no redactions. Of the other approximately 325 pages that were redacted, most of them were blanked out in full.
On July 16, a Department of Education spokeswoman said DeVos traveled to Erie to see how the Erie School District — which did not request her visit — partners with community organizations on programs during the summer and the school year. But DeVos did not talk to the news media during her stop, and no one explained why she settled on Erie, where protestors greeted her outside Pfeiffer-Burleigh.
I filed my FOIA request the day after Devos' visit and I got my first set of responses in September and October. One response included DeVos' daily briefing schedule for July 16, with five of the 14 pages blacked out.
The CD represents the Department of Education's final response to my FOIA. The department said most of the records on the CD are exempt from disclosure under the FOIA's deliberative process privilege, meant to promote free deliberations among government agencies.
The redactions make the full picture behind DeVos' visit elusive. One unredacted Department of Education internal email, sent on July 13, states that DeVos was traveling to Erie "at the invitation of Congressman Mike Kelly," a fellow Republican who at the time was running for reelection.
But other unredacted emails indicate that the Department of Education initiated the visit and that Kelly's office only helped coordinate it, as Kelly told me as he accompanied DeVos on July 16.
"Thanks for all of your help on making this visit happen. We are thrilled the Congressman will be able to join the Secretary for this," a Department of Education official emailed a top Kelly staffer on July 11.
DeVos' visit was a big event. The nation's highest-ranking education official came to town.
But the visit also provided another lesson in how the government can be less than transparent.
Erie Times-News staff writers share their views from behind the scenes, stories and bylines. Ed Palattella can be reached at 870-1813. Send email to email@example.com.