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Rallying for public schools as sanctuaries for their students

Sanctuary school districts are safe havens for students. Now is the time to take our beliefs and turn them into actions.

After the presidential election, students in one school in St. Paul asked their teacher if anyone who is not white would be forced to leave the country if Donald Trump won the presidency. At another, teachers had to escort a student to the nurse’s office because she was having a panic attack thinking about her own future. It isn’t just our students, though. Members of the St. Paul Federation of Teachers are fearful for their families, colleagues, and their students. In these turbulent days, public schools are one of the few safe places for youth and their families. They are places of learning, where students can get a hot meal and spend time with their friends. Public schools are sanctuaries, and the Trump administration wants to take that away.

Denise Rodriguez

Today our public schools, teachers, and our students are under attack like never before. The incoming Trump administration has threatened to deport millions of our friends and neighbors. The president-elect’s vitriol has created an environment that marginalizes and threatens the livelihoods of Muslim, African-American, Latino, and differently abled students and their families. Millions of Americans are concerned about the future of our country’s promise of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

President-elect Trump began his campaign to undermine public education when he nominated Betsy DeVos to be the secretary of education. DeVos has spent her life and her fortune actively seeking to destroy public education. In her home state of Michigan, she championed a voucher and charter school system that reinforced pre-existing racial segregation. While the public schools fell into disrepair, corporate executives raked in profits through tax breaks. In the name of school choice, she advocated for charter schools, which routinely push students with behavior issues and learning disabilities out of the classroom.

This doesn’t have to be our future. Our kids deserve better.

At the heart of democracy

Public education is at the heart of our democracy, and we must act to protect it. Increased funding for our schools is critical. Standardized testing and zero-tolerance policies have created environments of distrust and isolation, contributing to the racial education gap. Smaller class sizes, restorative practices for addressing conflict, and deeper family engagement will help us to better prepare all students to take on the challenges of an uncertain future. We must demand that our elected officials prioritize public dollars to support public education – our kids are counting on us.

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That is why we are rallying today at LEAP High School the day before the presidential inauguration. We believe in our community. We believe in public education. And we whole-heartedly believe that all of our students and their families are important and valuable. The issue is not whether our state or our school district has enough money; it is about whether we have the will to make the best choices for our kids. Now is the time to take our beliefs and turn them into actions.

Today, as a first step in strengthening our schools and standing up for our students, we are partnering with St. Paul Public Schools to unapologetically declare our schools to be sanctuaries. Sanctuary school districts are safe havens for students. They protect students from immigration raids in schools, which traumatize children and disrupt learning, and they refuse to share student information with immigration officials. Most important of all, sanctuary schools proudly declare themselves as defenders of their students.

Working with all students

Teaching is an inherently political act. What and how we teach our children will impact our society for years to come. We encourage and support each and every student who comes into our schools to reach their full potential. We work with students no matter their race, gender identity, sexual orientation, ability, or immigration status. By doing this, we fight back against messages of division and hate.

It is only going to become more important in the weeks and months ahead for us to unite for a public education system that all kids need and deserve. We must redouble our efforts to strengthen our schools and our profession. The St. Paul Federation of Teachers will fight for our schools and our communities to be safe, racially equitable spaces for learning and growth.

Together, we will take a stand against hatred. Together, we will take a stand against vitriol and division. Together, we will fight for the world our children deserve. Will you join us?

Denise Rodriguez is a Spanish teacher and St. Paul resident serving as the president of the St. Paul Federation of Teachers.

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