Public school teachers scared shitless by the prospect of Betsy DeVos becoming Secretary of Education filled the Internet with bear memes and rallied in Minneapolis, St. Paul, Brooklyn Park, and Eyota on Thursday as part of the national “Reclaim our Schools” protests.
DeVos is seen as a threat to public education because she’s a billionaire lobbyist whose career was built on expanding charter schools (typically underachieving and union busting) and routing taxpayer money to private schools (not subject to uniform standards of student performance). She has never attended or worked in a public school.
Her Senate confirmation hearing on Tuesday also revealed some monster gaps in her knowledge of how schools work. Two telling snafus in particular made teachers suffer minor cardiac arrest.
First, DeVos said she would allow guns in schools because the rural ones might need to fight off grizzly bears. She also wants states to decide whether they should abide by civil rights law protecting the right of disabled students to be educated, prompting a promise from Sen. Al Franken that he would vote against her confirmation.
Before-school protests were held at Washington Technology High School and American Indian Magnet School in St. Paul, as well as Green Central Park School in Minneapolis.
In the afternoon, the St. Paul teachers union gathered at LEAP High School, which enrolls recent immigrant kids up to age 20. As school let out, teachers formed a cheer tunnel and applauded students on their way to the buses. Several students carried homemade banners thanking their teachers.
Among them were Nathanael Valera from Mexico, Lah Lah from Myanmar, and Anta Thosaengsiri from Thailand, who spoke to the crowd about the opportunities LEAP gave them.
"I remember my first year at LEAP, I knew only, 'Yes' and 'No,'" said Thosaengsiri. "I knew if I can't speak English and write, how can I catch my goal? But the teachers at LEAP try really hard to help students. ... They tell you that no matter what, if you open your mind and listen to your teacher, try your best to learn new things, you can be successful."
LEAP is also the home turf of 2016 Minnesota Teacher of the Year Amy Hewett-Olatunde, who's also a Minneapolis schools parent. The day after Donald Trump won the election was the worst day of her career because her students were afraid he'd be hostile to them and their families.
"When they come into our schools, we know they are protected, we know they are loved, we know they're cared for, we know they're educated the way they deserve to be educated, the way we know their parents want them to be educated," Hewett-Olatunde said. "Now we're waiting. We don't know if our school will survive. We don't know what it'll be like through the next four years."