Tens of thousands of school staff, families and other community members took action in more than 200 cities and towns across the country in January as part of the #ReclaimOurSchools National Day of Action. The AFT is a partner in the Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools (AROS), which spearheaded the events. The huge collection of actions was the first salvo in what will be a long fight to resist the worst elements of President Trump's agenda.
More than 250 AFT affiliates took action at thousands of schools and colleges on Jan. 19, the eve of Trump's inauguration, to draw a contrast between his agenda to undermine public schools and our increasingly vocal movement to fulfill the promise of public education.
AFT President Randi Weingarten, Secretary-Treasurer Lorretta Johnson and Executive Vice President Mary Cathryn Ricker participated in events. Here's just a sampling of highlights from the day.
After school, the community gathered on the football field of City Springs Elementary/Middle School in southeast Baltimore to join hands and demonstrate that, in the words of a community liaison, "we're committed to protecting and defending our public schools."
Paraprofessionals, school secretaries, teachers, IT specialists and district-level administrative employees came together to send one message: We are united for our students.
The crowd also heard from Johnson, a Baltimore native and former PSRP, as well as students, parents, faith leaders, elected officials and others, about how public education is under attack. "Together, we must stand up and say: Education justice is racial and social justice," she said. "And that justice is what we are fighting for today. We are fighting to ensure that our schools get the investments necessary to meet the social and emotional needs of our students."
PSRP members of the United Educators of San Francisco helped organize events at 25 schools throughout the city, using the day of action as an opportunity for communities to take a stand for safe and welcoming schools for all students. Many of the actions featured members locking arms in front of their schools and pledging to ensure that their schools are safe spaces.
Paraprofessional Willie Brown whipped up participation at his middle school, while a coalition of community groups created an electronic map of actions, and PSRPs across the city sported buttons in English, Spanish and Chinese.
More than 100 New York State United Teachers affiliates took part in actions, making for the largest state participation in the country. In many locations, NYSUT members carried signs bearing shields that said "We will shield against … ," with customized messages targeting everything from the privatization of education to bullying and ignorance.
The roots of January's day of action began last fall in Springfield with an enormous—and victorious—push to beat back a referendum (Ballot Question 2) that would have lifted the state cap on private charter schools. These charters enroll only half the percentage of disadvantaged students and less than a fifth of the percentage of English language learners that public schools do—not to mention that they accept only the students with disabilities who require the fewest services.
"No on 2" became the centerpiece of AROS walk-ins across Massachusetts in October, says Catherine Mastronardi, president of the Springfield Federation of Paraprofessionals. And on Election Day, public schools won decisively, "which just shows that if you get the community behind you and tell them the facts, you'll be successful," she says. "That's what's hopeful about it. You can do it, you really can. If we didn't have hope, where would we be?"
With wind under their wings, the paraprofessionals launched their January AROS action by premiering a student-made film on inclusiveness at their union's membership meeting. Created by seniors at Springfield Central High School as a research project for AP English, the video presents a short history of Islam and interviews students on how to help Muslim students feel included and safe. That first public viewing already is generating members' interest in screening the film at their schools, houses of worship and community centers.
Together with a colorful sticker campaign using the theme "We love all our students," the paras drew hundreds of participants for their day of action, Mastronardi says, adding, "This is just the beginning."
[Staff and media reports]