DACA anxiety

Teachers protected by DACA launch a new school year under a threatening cloud

Teach For America's DACAmented corps at its 2016 convening.

The morning after Donald Trump was elected president, a few teachers within Teach For America stayed home.

The educators had secured the right to work through DACA, the Obama administration program that allows young adults who came to this country illegally as children to temporarily live and work without fear of deportation.

Trump had campaigned on a promise of ending the program, and the teachers didn’t know what to tell their students, according to Viridiana Carrizales, the Teach For America official who leads the “DACA-mented” group, which now includes 190 members working with more than 10,000 students.

But as it became clear that Trump planned to follow through on the promise, the teachers made a different decision this week, she said Tuesday.

“Many of our teachers if not all showed up to school this morning because they know they have a responsibility to their students,” Carrizales said. “That’s what so remarkable about this group of people who are doing so much for our community.”

It was a moment of confidence at the start of a school year that will be characterized by uncertainty for the unknown number of teachers across the country who are part of the DACA program, and for the countless students whose loved ones count on the program.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions said Tuesday that the program, which includes about 800,000 people, would “wind down” and urged Congress to develop an alternative.

On Tuesday, Carrizales hosted a phone call for DACA teachers. But like the rest of America, she had little information about how the program’s end would be implemented. One source of comfort, she said: TFA had encouraged DACA teachers to renew their status after Trump was elected, so most teachers will be protected legally until 2019.

“They have been creating plans since November about what this would mean for them,” she said. “It’s very difficult now that we know that it is a reality. We’re working even harder.”

Teach For America is joining many other education organizations in continuing to lobby Congress to pass the DREAM Act, which would create a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as children.

“They are so passionate about their work and are worried about their ability to keep doing the work that they care so much about,” Carrizales said.

DeVos in Detroit

Betsy DeVos’s first Detroit visit featured Girl Scouts, robots, and talk of beluga whales

PHOTO: Kimberly Hayes Taylor
U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos takes pictures on her phone during the FIRST Robotics World Championship, held in Detroit on April 27, 2018.

Betsy DeVos was all smiles on Friday as she toured the world’s largest robotics competition and congratulated student contestants.

The event was her first visit to Detroit as education secretary. DeVos, a Michigan-based philanthropist before joining the cabinet, has a long history of involvement with the city’s education policies.

It was a friendly environment for the secretary, who has often faced protesters who disagree with her stance on private school vouchers or changes to civil rights guidance at public events. (Even her security protection appeared to be in a good mood on Friday.)

Here are four things we noticed about DeVos’s visit to downtown and the FIRST Robotics World Championship.

1. She got to talk to some local students after all.

DeVos didn’t visit any Detroit schools, and didn’t answer any questions from reporters about education in Michigan. But as she toured the junior LEGO competition, she did stop to talk to a handful of Girl Scouts from the east side of the city.

PHOTO: Kimberly Hayes Taylor

2. She knows a thing or two about beluga whales.

She also stopped to stop to chat with students from Ann Arbor who called themselves the Beluga Builders and designed a water park that economizes water. DeVos asked how they came up with their name, and they told her how much they love the whales. “They have big humps on their heads, right?” DeVos said. “Yes,” they answered in unison.

3. She is an amateur shutterbug.

She stopped often during her tour to shoot photos and videos with her own cell phone. She took photos of the elementary and middle school students’ LEGO exhibits and photos of the robotics competition.

PHOTO: Kimberly Hayes Taylor

4. She was eager to put forth a friendly face.

As she stopped by students’ booths, she often knelt down to children’s eye level. When she posed for group pictures, she directed students into position. And she shook lots of hands, asking kids questions about their projects.

next stop

Robotics is bringing Betsy DeVos to Detroit for the first time as education secretary

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. (U.S. Department of Education)

Betsy DeVos is set to appear in Detroit for the first time as education secretary on Friday, though she’s unlikely to encounter local students when she’s there.

DeVos is scheduled to attend a student robotics competition being held downtown in a bid to promote science and math education. The event is also likely to again highlight DeVos’s past influence over education policy in the city, which has been heavily scrutinized.

Before becoming President Trump’s education chief, DeVos, a prominent Michigan philanthropist, was a key architect of policies that many blame for the dire state of Detroit’s schools.

We’ve outlined that debate in full, but the key points are that the state’s charter law puts no restrictions on where or how many charter schools can open, which has created school deserts in some neighborhoods, and far too many schools in others. Both district and charter schools struggle financially with less-than-full enrollments, while student performance suffers across the board.

DeVos’ critics say she has blocked attempts to bring order and oversight to Detroit schools. Defenders note that parents now have more options and that charter school students in the city do slightly better on state exams than their peers in district schools.

DeVos also had a tense exchange with Lesley Stahl of “60 Minutes” about Michigan schools back in March.

“Michigan schools need to do better. There is no doubt about it,” she said.

DeVos’s announcement says she plans to meet with students on Friday. But while the event is happening in Detroit, the students DeVos encounters at the FIRST Robotics World Championship on Friday will almost surely hail from elsewhere. Earlier this week, Chalkbeat noted that just one city high school in Detroit qualified to send a team.