January 20, 2017

DAY OF ACTION: Western New York activists call for resistance to any anti-public education policy

Author: Ned Hoskin
Source:  NYSUT Communications
Caption: Jason Cooney, president of the Greece TA and the Monroe County FT, addresses activists. Photo by Ned Hoskin.

Nearly 100 people representing at least a dozen NYSUT local unions, parents, students, labor leaders, religious leaders, civic leaders and community members huddled together in the cold evening air outside Rochester’s School Without Walls Thursday.

In chants and speeches, and on signs and shields, they called for access to a high-quality public education for every student and stood up against the Trump-DeVos political agenda. They sent a clear message to the new Trump administration that any attempt to privatize, demonize, supplant or divest in public education will be met with resistance.

The event promoted three specific national demands:

  • Schools and campuses must be safe spaces from the threat of deportation, racism and bullying.
  • The U.S. Senate must support public education by rejecting education secretary nominee Betsy DeVos, who has spent millions of her family fortune to destroy public education.
  • Policymakers must increase investment in public schools, make the billionaires and Wall Street pay their fair share, and protect Title I funds.

“We are here today to inclusively stand up for all our students and loudly oppose the nomination of Betsy Devos to be the Secretary of Education,” said Jason Cooney, president of the Greece TA and the Monroe County FT. “We, as educators, parents and students, represent the fight for the soul of American public education. Together, we must stand up and demand that New York Senators Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand reject and oppose the nomination of Betsy DeVos.”

Jolene DiBrango, president of the Pittsford District TA, said she was “horrified” watching the DeVos confirmation hearing.

“We need to stand up, we need to show up, and we need to let our elected officials know we will not stand for this. Our kids’ futures depend on us shouting from the rooftops that this woman is not qualified for this position!” she said.

Beth Gizzi, president of the Monroe CCFA, is a parent in the city school district. She said the new agenda in Washington, D.C., creates new challenges for institutions that will have to fight to meet their responsibilities to offer “affordable, accessible public higher education that ensures academic freedom” for all.

Assemblyman Harry Bronson, D-Rochester, told the crowd, “All students deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. But DeVos’ favored policies could have grave consequences for vulnerable students, including students with special needs, English language learners, LGBT kids and religious minorities.”

About the same time, down the thruway in Williamsville, another 100 education and civic activists gathered outside the office of U.S. Rep. Chris Collins, who was named congressional liaison to the Trump transition team by House Speaker Paul Ryan.

“He wasn’t there, of course, and his staff wasn’t there,” said NYSUT Regional Political Organizer Louisa Pacheco, “but they’ll know we were.”

BTF members Eve Shippens and Sophia Howard-Johnson at the "End of the World" networking event. Photo by Ned Hoskin.

Later in the evening, activists from Citizen Action, Planned Parenthood and the Buffalo Teachers Federation gathered for some sustenance and networking in a space near the University at Buffalo.

“Public education is the cornerstone of our democracy,” said Eve Shippens, a BTF member and Citizen Action leader. “It has been under attack for decades, and now Trump wants to speed that up with his nomination of Betsy DeVos to his cabinet.”

Shippens also called for an end to the racism and hate in schools, not just in classrooms.

She said Carl Paladino, whose public racist comments have embarrassed the school board, must be removed. “We cannot have a person like that in a leadership position,” she said.