Teachers and allies march for public education on the eve of the Trump era

Educators nationwide are not happy that a privatization advocate may be the next education secretary.

CREDIT: @MTEAUnion
CREDIT: @MTEAUnion

Educators and their allies are mobilizing nationwide to oppose what they consider to be a major threat to public education from the incoming Trump administration. On Thursday morning, the day before Donald Trump’s presidential inauguration, parents, teachers, and students gathered in front of schools in over 200 cities to oppose school privatization and support safe and inclusive spaces for all students.

The coalition that helped organize these protests, the Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools (AROS) — a coalition that includes teachers unions such as the National Education Association and American Federation of Teachers — has held national protests before. Last October, teachers, parents, and students protested school budget cuts in over 200 cities; last February, an estimated 40,000 people in more than 30 cities staged “walk-ins” at more than 830 schools.

Thursday’s protests were held in urban, suburban, and rural school districts across the country, from Los Angeles to Upstate New York. AROS is demanding that the Senate reject Trump’s nominee for education secretary, Betsy DeVos, and that policymakers invest more in public schools and protect Title I funding, which helps support schools with low-income students. AROS also advocates for safe spaces for students of color and students facing deportation.

DeVos — a philanthropist who has supported the expansion of for-profit charter schools and vouchers for students to attend private schools — avoided many of the key questions put to her during a Senate confirmation hearing earlier this week. She also did not appear to be knowledgeable on federal laws and basic education policy debates.

Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) asked DeVos, “Can you commit to us tonight that you will not work to privatize public schools or cut a single penny for public education?”

DeVos avoided the question.

The education secretary-designate has never attended a public school; neither have her children. In a speech at a 2015 SXSWedu convention in Austin, Texas, DeVos said the “education delivery system” in the U.S. is “frankly embarrassing” and that the public education system must either innovate or fail.

But DeVos isn’t AROS’ only target. President-elect Donald Trump’s racist and anti-immigrant rhetoric is also a major focus for the coalition. NEA President Lily Eskelsen García gave a speech at Grand View Elementary School in Los Angeles on Thursday morning where she said educators should fight against the bullying of marginalized students.

“Trump and Betsy DeVos must hear that this means we will not tolerate bullying rhetoric toward Muslim students, sexism towards our young women, racial attacks on our students of color, isolation of our LGBTQ learners, or threats of deportation towards our immigrant students,” Eskelsen García said.

Days after Trump’s victory in the 2016 presidential election, students began spreading racist and xenophobic messages at schools across the country. In one widely circulated incident, students at Royal Oak Middle School in Royal Oak, Michigan, chanted, “Build the wall! Build the wall!”

A few weeks after the election, the Southern Poverty Law Center released a report detailing incidents of harassment against students of color, Muslims, immigrants, and LGBTQ students. Four out of 10 educators said they had heard derogatory language directed at these groups, and the same share of teachers said they didn’t think their schools had plans to address incidents of hate and bias. A Minnesota teacher said she witnessed an incident where a male student grabbed a female student’s crotch and said it’s “legal for him to do that to her now.”