‘I March for Public Education and the American Dream’
Connecticut teachers were among 10,000 participants in a women’s march on the State Capitol on Saturday, one day after President Donald Trump took the oath of office.
Hartford’s marchers were part of massive, peaceful rally across the nation calling for continued support for public education, the environment, healthcare, women’s rights, and a broad range of issues seen as under attack by the new administration.
Teachers and parents, in particular, expressed deep concerns about Betsy DeVos, Trump’s pick to lead the U.S. Department of Education. DeVos, an outspoken critic of public education, has vowed to spearhead privatization efforts that would defund public schools in favor of private and religious institutions. DeVos’s confirmation hearing last week sparked intense criticism over her lack of commitment to holding non-public schools equally accountable when they receive taxpayer dollars; her unfamiliarity with well-known education policies and issues, such as the difference between growth and proficiency or the fact that the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is a federal law; and questionable or vague positions on matters such as guns in schools.
“She lacks the qualifications for the job,” said Coleytown Elementary School literacy coach Faith Sweeney, of Westport, who carried a homemade sign that read, in part, “I march for public education and the American dream.”
Farmington Board of Education member Liz Fitzsimmons said, “I’m here for so many reasons. My concerns about Betsy DeVos are that she wants to dismantle public education. She wants to privatize it. She has a serious lack of understanding about public education, which is the overwhelming majority of school systems in the United States. I was unhappy with her answers to questions at her confirmation hearing and her lack of basic knowledge in an area where she is going to lead. She is unqualified for the job.”
Hartford County CEA-Retired Director Lisa Bress agreed. “This is an assault on public education. A great public education is the way to a great future.” She added, “I stand for the rights of people who are disenfranchised. I stand for my fellow teachers and students.”
“I love my kids,” said Tolland special education teacher Maggie Hogan. “If the secretary of education doesn’t know what IDEA is, we’re all in trouble.”
CEA members represent in D.C.
Meanwhile, Connecticut also had strong representation in Washington, D.C., where an estimated million or more gathered to send a message to the new administration.
“I can’t even accurately describe what it was like to march today,” said Annie Irvine, East Hartford Education Association president and Langford Elementary School teacher, who made the 350-mile trip to the nation’s capital. “People everywhere, in every direction, as far as the eye could see.”
“It was a great experience,” said Sam Rosenberg, a teacher at Franklin Elementary School in Stratford who was grateful not only for the company of her fellow marchers—including Connecticut educators and U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal—but also the outpouring of support from those who were there in spirit. “Thanks for cheering us on from where you are. Our voices need to be heard no matter if we can or cannot march. Every little bit of noise counts!”