cutting for a cause

Here’s what three student protesters had to say about immigration, education and Betsy DeVos

PHOTO: Christina Veiga
New York City high school students protest on Tuesday in Foley Square in Manhattan.

Hundreds of New York City high school students walked out of class on Tuesday to protest President Donald Trump, filling Manhattan’s Foley Square with chants of “No hate! No fear! Refugees are welcome here!” and “We love public school! Betsy DeVos is a fool!”

The new U.S. education secretary, who was confirmed as students amassed, was not the teens’ only target. Many said they had ventured into the cold rain to stand in support of immigrants and against Islamophobia.

“School is very important to most of us. And skipping something that is required just shows that we care about this protest a lot,” said Samira Mautushi, 16, a junior at NYC iSchool in Manhattan.

It was the second walkout that Beacon School senior Hebh Jamal, 17, helped organize since Election Day.

“Even at our age, we should be able to demand things,” she told Chalkbeat ahead of the rally. “Students, collectively, care.”

Here is what the young protesters had to say about the president’s recent immigration orders, federal education policy and what it’s like to be Muslim in Trump’s America.

PHOTO: Christina Veiga
Samira Mautushi

Samira Mautushi was concerned about Trump’s recent executive order suspending the country’s refugee program and blocking travel from seven majority-Muslim nations. (The order has been temporarily halted as it makes its way through the courts.)

“My family is Muslim. Most of the people I know are Muslim. Because of the Muslim ban, a lot of my family members and friends have been getting scared. It’s causing a lot of emotion among people I know, and it just felt right for me to come here and protest against what Trump’s been trying to do.

“Sometimes I’ll see people, on social media especially, I see people who are against people of my color and people of my religion … They need to learn about equality. Just because we look different than you and we come from different countries doesn’t mean we’re worse than you.”

PHOTO: Christina Veiga
Galen Oettel (center)

Galen Oettel, 18, is a senior at NYC iSchool. He decided to join the walkout to show support for his classmates.

“We have a lot of friends at school who are undocumented immigrants and Trump puts them at risk. We want to stand up for their rights as citizens, and we have a lot of Muslim friends who we also want to stand up for.

“All his policies affect us in so many ways that he wouldn’t understand as a rich, white male. All his policies are so wrong to so many people. And he’s not supported by a majority of the population.

“I think it’s really important to stay angry at everything that’s going on. And it’s be really easy to not be angry because it might not affect me personally as a white male. But I realize that it affects a lot of other people.”

PHOTO: Christina Veiga
Omer Rondel

Omer Rondel, 14, is a freshman at Brooklyn Latin School. He called Betsy DeVos an “elitist” and was generally worried about Trump’s cabinet picks.

DeVos is “super unqualified for the job: Never been to a public school. Never sent her kids to public school. Wants to funnel money into private, Christian and Catholic schools. Just a horrible, horrible choice.

“Millions and millions of kids get their education from public schools. It’s the future of America, it’s the future of the world and you’re destroying people’s lives.”


Trump administration says DACA protections will stay for now — a temporary win for undocumented educators, students

Teach For America's DACAmented corps at its 2016 convening

The Trump administration said “Dreamers,” undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children, will remain protected for now — a short-term win for educators who had entered the classroom thanks to the new protections and for students worried about deportation and losing a path into the workforce.

Although the ultimate fate of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, also known as DACA, is unclear, a fact sheet posted by Department of Homeland Security says recipients of the program will “continue to be eligible” for renewal and that “no work permits will be terminated prior to their current expiration dates.”

Nearly 1.5 million people had requested to participate in DACA by the end of 2016, according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

The decision to keep DACA comes after multiple petitions from schools chiefs and education leaders across the country asking for the protections established during the Obama administration to continue. The program has allowed some undocumented people to become educators, including through Teach for America, which has developed a support program for them. (Read more about that program here.) Some teachers who earned work permits under the program now have a path to citizenship, too.

In Colorado, one of TFA’s “DACAmented” teachers said the program put her in position to help other Hispanic students and families.

“This is the first time in a classroom where I can have a conversation about race and immigration without feeling sick to my stomach,” one student told her.

The decision also comes alongside news that the Trump administration is rescinding another Obama-era program granting citizenship to parents whose children are citizens or residents of the U.S., commonly referred to as DAPA. A 2014 report estimated that up to 3.6 million unauthorized immigrants were eligible for protections from deportation and entry into the workforce under DAPA.

Seeking distance

Aurora school board: Judge us by our actions, not one board member’s words

Students at Aurora's Boston K-8 school in spring 2015. (Photo by Helen H. Richardson/The Denver Post).

The Aurora school board sought to convey Thursday that the controversial statements of one of its members should not overshadow the board’s actions to support immigrant and refugee families.

Board president Amber Drevon sent a statement to reporters trying to shift attention back to a board resolution last month that underscored district policies about responding to immigration enforcement actions and emphasized “inclusive practices.”

The resolution was meant to allay fears in immigrant communities. Although the vote for the resolution was unanimous, board member Cathy Wildman’s remarks during the board’s deliberations continue to cause challenges for the school district.

Widlman at that meeting called the resolution unnecessary and argued that it singled out a group of students she called rule-breakers. After being criticized by education reform groups and speakers at this week’s school board meeting, Wildman read a lengthy statement that emphasized the importance of following rules and included an assurance that she wants students to feel safe. She declined to answer questions from Chalkbeat at the meeting.

Here is the full text of the statement Drevon shared, which she said in an email was on behalf of the board:

“The Aurora Public Schools Board of Education values holding open conversations with our community. The Board is comprised of individual members who are entitled to voice their own opinions. We voted unanimously on May 16, 2017 to pass ‘A Resolution to Reaffirm Aurora Public Schools’ Inclusive Practices and Beliefs for all Students Regardless of Documentation Status.’ The vote and text of the resolution, not the comments of any one member, speak to the Board’s commitment to upholding the policies, core beliefs and practices already in place to support our immigrant and refugee families. Our focus remains on providing the best educational opportunities for every APS student.”