DACA anxiety

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

PHOTO: TFA
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.

tribute

Betsy DeVos laments death of Memphis civil rights leader Dwight Montgomery

PHOTO: Yalonda M. James/The Commercial Appeal
Pastor Dwight Montgomery, president of the Memphis chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, prays with Kellogg workers who filed race-based discrimination complaints in 2014. Montgomery died on Sept. 13 at the age of 67.

The death of a prominent Memphis pastor drew condolences Thursday from U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, who praised the Rev. Dwight Montgomery for his education advocacy work.

PHOTO: U.S. Department of Education
Betsy DeVos

DeVos issued her statement a day after the death of Montgomery, 67, one of few prominent black civil rights leaders to back the divisive education chief:

“Rev. Montgomery was a steadfast advocate for equality and opportunity for all, especially for students and parents. He knew neither income nor address should determine the quality of education a child receives. Through his work in Memphis and with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, many students and families benefitted from opportunities, both educational and spiritual, they would otherwise have been denied.

We in the education community mourn the loss of his leadership, but most who knew him mourn the loss of their pastor. My prayers are with the faithful of Annesdale Cherokee Baptist Church as they will be the legacy of their shepherd.”

Since 2004, Montgomery had been president of the Memphis chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the civil rights organization founded in 1957 to extend the momentum of the bus boycott in Montgomery, Alabama, that vaulted Martin Luther King Jr. to national prominence.

In that role, Montgomery backed efforts that would support local Christian schools — including tuition vouchers, which set aside public money for children to attend private schools. Voucher legislation has failed to pass in Tennessee for at least a dozen years, with the hottest bed of opposition in Memphis, where recent bills would have launched a pilot program.

DeVos is a staunch advocate of the policy and has said she would like to incentivize states to create voucher programs, although it is unclear what the Trump administration might do to make that happen.

PHOTO: Tennessee Federation for Children
Dwight Montgomery (second from right) rallied pastors to present a petition in support of vouchers to the Tennessee legislature in 2015.

After DeVos’ confirmation hearings in January, Montgomery wrote a commentary for The Commercial Appeal calling her “a wonderful woman” and “the reform-minded Education Secretary our country needs.”

In Tennessee and Florida, chapters of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference have frequently partnered with the American Federation for Children, an organization that DeVos once chaired, to push vouchers as a civil rights issue. In 2015, Montgomery led a group of pastors affiliated with SCLC to the state Capitol to present a petition of 25,000 signatures supporting vouchers.

Montgomery also served as the chairman of the education committee for the Memphis Baptist Ministerial Association.

Most recently, he has supported an effort that DeVos’ boss does not endorse: to relocate a statue of Confederate Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest from a Memphis park in the wake of racism and violence in Charlottesville, Virginia. This week, Montgomery was among more than 150 Memphis religious leaders who signed a letter asking for support from the Tennessee Historical Commission.

devos on tour

The tiny Nebraska private school Betsy DeVos visited today offered some quiet protest

PHOTO: U.S. Department of Education
Betsy DeVos

Talk about an awkward reception.

Nelson Mandela Elementary School is the kind of tiny private school that might benefit from school choice policies that U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos supports.

But when DeVos stopped by the Omaha school Thursday as part of her “Rethink School” tour, she encountered a bit of resistance.

From the Omaha World-Herald:

Several teachers and students wore “NE (Heart) Public Schools” stickers.

While Mandela is a private school funded by the Lozier Foundation and William and Ruth Scott Family Foundation, Lozier said in a release that school officials do not support charter schools, which DeVos has championed. The school has a strong cooperative relationship with [Omaha Public Schools], she said.

But make no mistake, Mandela, housed in the former Blessed Sacrament church, is not a charter school. (Nebraska does not allow charter schools.)

“We’re not a charter school and that’s the message we want to hit home today,” she said at a press briefing after DeVos’ visit. “We’re not setting up a conflict or competition between the school systems – public, private, Catholic. We’re all in the business of helping kids learn.”

DeVos, along with her predecessors in the Obama administration, supports charter schools, which are privately operated but publicly funded. When charter schools are allowed, they can put a squeeze on private school enrollment by giving families a free alternative to local public schools.

What DeVos didn’t find at Mandela were active protesters. She got one at her next stop — dressed like a bear.

No protesters were seen before the visit at Mandela. At St. Mary’s, Donna Roller, a former Montessori teacher, showed up to protest in a bear mask. The mask was in reference to DeVos’ statements that guns should be allowed in schools in case of a bear attack.

DeVos headed back to friendlier terrain for her next stop of the day. Hope Academy, a charter school that serves students in recovery from addiction, is in Indianapolis — a city that DeVos has repeatedly praised, in a state whose choice policies reflect her priorities.