A Teachable Moment for DeVos

At my children’s school here in Grand Rapids, Michigan, (hometown of Sec. of Education, Betsy DeVos) the nation-wide “Day Without Immigrants” chalked up a barely 50% attendance rate, as immigrant families chose to keep their children home.

Other schools in the district with large immigrant enrollments forced the district to declare a “non-academic” day, lacking the required 75% overall attendance daily report. This may require an extra day added to the school calendar, if, more “snow days” come our way before Spring.

What this act of solidarity should teach us and our new “Head Administrator”, Mrs. DeVos, is that immigrant families depend on public schools, and school districts depend on the immigrant population to keep neighborhood schools viable, and open, for everyone.

So, this begs many questions, among them, “What impact with Trump’s new immigration policies, which are really repatriation orders, on public education as we know it?”

Another question for DeVos is, “Considering the role public schools play providing English as Second Language (ESL) services, adult education and non-traditional student high school completion courses, how will the diversion of public school funds to a voucher program, impact the ability of the district to continue to conduct these much needed resources for immigrant students and their parents?”

In addition, public schools are often the only support system for families with children who have special needs, be they immigrant children or not. How will DeVos square these high-cost, per-child services with what many school officials see as being in danger of severe cut-backs or elimination under a voucher system?

One champion of these and other questions for DeVos is the president of the National Education Association, Lily Eskelsen García.

Nearly three weeks ago, she received a voice mail from Sec. DeVos, suggesting they meet.

Before agreeing to the meeting, Garcia asked that DeVos come with some answers to direct questions posed by Garcia, in the wake of the Senate confirmation hearing, during which DeVos gave vague or non-answers.

As of this blog’s writing, DeVos has not responded to the request.

Here is an open letter written by Garcia to DeVos while waiting for her reply. Note the specific numbered questions below.

 

Dear Secretary DeVos:

I am writing in response to your voice mail. I’m an elementary teacher from Utah. I’ve taught in middle-class suburbs. I’ve taught homeless children and hard-to-place foster kids in a residential home. I know how important it is for my students to have education leaders who understand their lives and the support they need. As president of the 3-million-member National Education Association, I look for partners to stand with us as we protect the rights of all our students.

We will continue to fight for students, educators, and public schools. We will make sure the voices of educators are heard and that policymakers understand that investing in public schools is an investment in the next generation of teachers, scientists, welders, and even politicians.

It’s important for educators, parents, and communities to know where you stand on some of the most critical work of the federal Department of Education. We must ask you to give us the substantive answers that we did not hear you give to the senators at your hearing on issues critical to our students:

  1. Do you agree that all schools receiving public dollars must be held to the sameaccountability and transparency standards?
    2. Will you agree not to privatize funding for Special Education of Title I?
    3. Will you stand with educators and protect our most vulnerable students from discrimination, including LGBT students, immigrant students, students of color, girls and English language learners?
    4. Will you focus, as educators are focused, on the civil rights of all children, regardless of their ZIP code, by challenging the inequities so many face in equal access to programs, services and support?

For us, there is a wrong answer to these questions. Privatizing and profiting from public education has not moved us toward equity, equal access, non-discrimination, and opportunity for all students. Educators will never waver in our determination to create a system that works for ALL children. Educators, students, and parents deserve to know that the U.S. Secretary of Education will do the same.

We look forward to your response.

Sincerely,
Lily Eskelsen García
1989 Utah Teacher of the Year
President, National Education Association

So, Secretary DeVos, not only is the NEA interested in your answers, but all of us parents of immigrant children, special needs students, and all who are public school supporters, await your honest, open and direct response.

This IS a timed test! Not a pop quiz!

The Unlikely Student