Tens of thousands of parents, teachers, students and community members took action in more than 200 cities and towns across the country Jan. 19 as part of the #ReclaimOurSchools National Day of Action. The AFT is a partner in the Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools, which spearheaded the events. The huge collection of actions was a first salvo in what will be a long-term fight to resist the worst elements of President Donald Trump's agenda.
Community and union members from more than 250 AFT affiliates took to the streets on the eve of Trump's inauguration to draw a stark contrast between his destructive agenda to undermine public education and the growing movement to fulfill the promise of public education. AFT President Randi Weingarten and U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) participated in the historic day of action at an event in Washington, D.C., and Weingarten also joined community members in Newark, N.J., earlier in the day.
"This is really a tale of two movements." Weingarten said. "We are a movement of educators, parents, students and neighbors, standing up to make sure every child has access to a great neighborhood public school—a school that is safe and welcoming, that is focused on the well-being of kids, and where there is powerful learning. That's the opposite of the agenda being pushed by Donald Trump and his inexperienced and unqualified education nominee, Betsy DeVos, who simply want to privatize, defund and destabilize public education."
The Jan. 19 mobilization took place at thousands of sites, from Plattsburgh, N.Y., to San Francisco to Volusia County, Fla., to Detroit—with locals large and small, and urban, suburban and rural communities taking part. The events included rallies, marches, demonstrations, "walk-ins" and community forums, and were held at schools, hospitals, college campuses and government buildings. Participants mobilized around three national demands:
- That all schools and campuses be named "sanctuary spaces" free from the threat of deportation, racism and bullying.
- That the U.S. Senate support public education and reject Betsy DeVos as the secretary of education.
- That policymakers invest in high-quality public schools; make billionaires and Wall Street pay their fair share; and protect Title I, Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and other federal funds directed to at-risk students.
In Washington, D.C., hundreds of community members were joined by Ellison and Weingarten at Anne Beers Elementary School, where they held hands around the school—a symbolic action to show the community's commitment to protecting and promoting public education and the well-being of all the district's students. Beers Elementary is a thriving public school with deep community ties that has suffered funding cuts due to the unregulated expansion of charters and a congressionally mandated voucher program that has siphoned off the limited educational resources in the District of Columbia.
"Day after day, public schools help educate our children and prepare them for a brighter future. And so, the work that AROS and the AFT are doing could not be more important," said Ellison. "Through 'walk-ins' and days of action, they're getting parents, community members and students to voice their support for public schools and a high-quality education. That's exactly the approach we'll need to fight back against Donald Trump and his secretary of education nominee, Betsy DeVos, a notorious anti-public schools crusader."
AFT Secretary-Treasurer Lorretta Johnson and Executive Vice President Mary Cathryn Ricker also participated in events. Johnson stood with Baltimore educators and parents in their struggle to increase the number of community schools and fight back against Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan's attempt to open more charter schools. In St. Paul, Minn., Ricker joined community members in their fight to ensure that all students, no matter their race, religion or neighborhood, have access to safe, high-quality public schools, free from discrimination.
Here's just a sampling of other highlights from the day.
Fueled by the threat of new education cuts and furloughs, scores of neighborhoods across Chicago stood with their public schools to demand full, equitable K-12 public school funding. Spearheaded by the AFT affiliates and their members, the events also pressed policymakers to save the state's public universities, to reject DeVos and her failed privatization schemes, to restore elected school boards to Chicago schools, and to make all CPS schools sanctuary schools, while rejecting destructive practices like "stop and frisk" policing and steps to deport or criminalize students and their families.
"No hate, no fear—all students are welcome here" was the chant taken up by parents, students, teachers and staff at Chicago's Whitney M. Young Magnet High School. And students joined staff at Instituto Justice and Leadership Academy to protest layoffs at the school. "I want to applaud the students for taking a stand today! I want to applaud the teachers," said Chicago Alderman Carlos Ramirez-Rosa, who joined Illinois Federation of Teachers President and AFT Vice President Daniel Montgomery at IJLA.
Educators in Los Angeles generated a #schooltrump Twitter storm and took part in pre-class gatherings at more than 400 schools, where the aim was to stand firm in a show of support for high-quality education that serves all students. At Buchanan Street Elementary School, students started the day by leading adults in chants of "Say it loud! Say it clear! Immigrants are welcome here," and events across the district called for campuses to be designated as "safe spaces," open and inviting to immigrants, women, minorities, LGBTQ students and others who have become political targets. The events also stood firm against DeVos-backed efforts to privatize and dismantle public schools and to divide communities through reckless expansion of charter schools.
"We stand with our students, parents and community members to say that no matter where you come from, rich or poor, when you walk through the door of a public school, you will have equal opportunities for success and a quality education," Alex Caputo-Pearl, president of United Teachers Los Angeles and an AFT vice president, told reporters.
Volusia County, Fla.
Volusia's day of action saw a strong turnout in morning walk-ins at most of the district's schools. The union also held a community event with the district superintendent, members of the school board, state representatives and the county sheriff, who joined school staff to discuss creating the schools Volusia County deserves. "I see tonight as a first step in a plan to move a positive agenda for public schools to ensure we have everything they need to be successful," says Andrew Spar, president of Volusia United Educators.
New York state
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 DeVos and the privatization of education to bullying and ignorance.
DeVos was an especially popular target of the participants' signs, rallies and other activities, including a large rally in the North Country town of Plattsburgh. Ralliers there united under the motto of "A Force for Good," complete with Star Wars-style light sabers "We're here fighting for what's right and good," says Saranac Lake Teachers Association Co-President Don Carlisto, who is an AFT vice president. "We're redoubling our efforts to stand up for public education." Teacher Elizabeth Gibbs says she attended the rally "to show our support for education in general, for the children, for teachers, and for what's important, which is a quality education for everyone."
Minnesota's Twin Cities
Nearly 20 schools in St. Paul held events during the day, which culminated in a citywide rally at LEAP High School. "Say it loud, say it clear, all our students are welcome here," and "Love, not hate, makes our schools great," were among the popular rally chants. "We believe in our community. We believe in public education. We believe in our union," Saint Paul Federation of Teachers President Denise Rodriguez wrote in a local op-ed. "And we wholeheartedly believe that all of our students and their families are important and valuable. The issue is not whether our state or our school district has enough money; it is about whether we have the will to make the best choices for our kids. Now is the time to take our beliefs and turn them into actions."
AFT members in Minneapolis were also out in force in virtually every school in the city, with morning walk-ins. Members were out welcoming parents and students and holding signs about the importance of public education, in some locations before the sun was even up on a frosty Minneapolis morning. Minneapolis Federation of Teachers President Michelle Wiese spoke at a well-attended press conference in the evening that generated widespread local news coverage. "Today we stand together against all attacks on public education," she said.
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 Lorretta Johnson, a Baltimore native, 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."
The Springfield Federation of Paraprofessionals geared up for their day of action by premiering a student-made film on inclusiveness at their union's membership meeting. The video, created by seniors at Springfield Central High School as a research project for AP English, 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, local President Catherine Mastronardi says, adding, "This is just the beginning."
Educators joined with Pittsburgh students, parents and neighbors for a rally at Concord Elementary School calling for strong, well-supported public education and urging elected officials to make Pittsburgh Public Schools the state's first K-12 school district to declare itself a "sanctuary" system. Hundreds of citizens attended the rally, held a day after the sanctuary resolution was introduced at a school board meeting. The event also highlighted the need for strong investments in schools, including federal Title I funding, and rejection of the school privatization agenda pushed by DeVos and her allies. The rally, which received media attention, was organized by the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers and the Great Public Schools-Pittsburgh community coalition.
The members of the United Educators of San Francisco organized events at 25 schools throughout the city, using the day of action as an opportunity for school communities to take a stand for safe and welcoming schools for all students. Many of the actions featured teachers locking arms in front of their schools and pledging to ensure that their schools are safe spaces for all students.
A Cincinnati rally captured media attention and sent a strong message that the city was standing behind strong public education and against the destructive expansion of the for-profit schools movement that would accelerate under a U.S. Education Department headed by DeVos. The rally, organized by the Cincinnati Federation of Teachers and the Cincinnati Educational Justice Coalition, put a spotlight on the need for well-funded schools that are safe spaces, free from the threat of deportation, racism and bullying. It also called to reject the DeVos appointment. Local President Julie Sellers told reporters that DeVos has spent 30 years pushing for vouchers and for-profit charters, which have not worked. "We have a different vision of education in this city. We want it to include all children."
The Boston Teachers Union held a town hall meeting titled "Love Our Students, Cherish Our Schools: A Vision Forward to Create the Schools Our Communities Deserve in 2017." The event attracted students, parents, BTU members and community members, who discussed strategies to prevent school closures, build revenue sources for schools and the community, and protect students from hate.
Many of the AFT's higher education affiliates focused on establishing sanctuary campuses, not only for undocumented immigrants but for all people who are threatened by discrimination, violence and hate. About 50 members of United College Employees of FIT held up "shields" at the entrance of their school, the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City, indicating that they will protect their students regardless of what policies are adopted by the new president's administration. Not far away, Professional Staff Congress members from City University of New York carried signs—among them, "Raise Consciousness, Not Tuition," "Trump: Public Schools Aren't for Profit" and "Tax Corporations to Fund Education"—and joined other demonstrators in front of Goldman Sachs. They highlighted the influence that Trump's billionaire Cabinet appointments like Betsy DeVos could have on equity in public schools. "Every school should be a good school, every college should be a good college," said PSC President Barbara Bowen, who is an AFT vice president.
Across the country, Local 2121 rallied and built a "wall of solidarity" with immigrant students at City College of San Francisco, to protect them from "hateful attacks by billionaire bullies." United Faculty of Miami Dade College organized a breakfast event with live music from the civil rights era and a teach-in about sanctuary schools, and they chalked messages for social justice. United Academics of Philadelphia joined the Temple Association of University Professionals members to create a "safe space" at the Temple Tower and shared what safe space means to them, describing it in one instance as "a place where adjuncts have the same academic freedom as other faculty." The day of action there was not a one-off event, says TAUP President Art Hochner: "This is just the beginning of our fight."
Indeed, many higher ed locals are already circulating resolutions to designate sanctuary campuses. Among them are some of AFT-Washington's community college unions; Henry Ford Community College Federation of Teachers in Dearborn, Mich.; the PSC; Rutgers AAUP-AFT; TAUP; the University of Wisconsin United Faculty and Academic Staff; UAP; and United University Professions (State University of New York). As a result, administrators are beginning to implement policies that prevent immigration enforcement from taking place on campus and establish safe spaces for all students.
[Mike Rose, Adrienne Coles, Annette Licitra, Virginia Myers, Dan Gursky, AFT press release, media reports]