Dear Betsy DeVos, “Secretary of Education”:
(Use of quotation marks intentional here, because to be honest, what exactly do you do? For what work do you collect a salary? I hear you donate whatever the government pays you, and frankly, I sincerely hope that’s true because you have done nothing but continuously fail the children of the United States—children we expect our Education Secretary to work hard for, advocate for, and protect.)
We knew when the “president” (again, quotes, because hahahahaha we haven’t had a real leader who gives a shit since Obama left the White House) appointed you to this role that it was all for show. That it was one of the many ways he was “draining the swamp”—by just placing his largest, richest donors into positions of power and making the “swamp” more putrid and vile than ever before.
We knew you were the wrong person for the job as you never attended public schools, nor did your children, rendering you incapable of truly understanding what the great majority of American kids, teachers, administrators, and school personnel face daily as they enter their classrooms. In fact, NEA president Lily Eskelsen García stated with dismay upon your appointment that you are “the first secretary of education with zero experience with public schools.”
We knew you’d take this position with no understanding of the budget cuts teachers face, the extra jobs teachers work, the hunger pains they see in their students’ faces, the disciplinary issues they deal with regularly because so many students come from unstable homes or homes where Mom works so much just to pay the bills and put food on the table that she doesn’t have the hours to devote to parenting as well.
We knew that you’d be completely out of touch with the realities of the 51 million kids in public school, only being able to relate to the experience of the 5 1/2 million who receive a private education. And that you’d advocate first and foremost for that second group, as you’d already spent decades of your life undermining and gutting public education in favor of for-profit charter schools and voucher schemes.
We were right.
We were right to be worried. Our nation’s public schools do need help. Our teachers are grossly underpaid, our schools grossly underfunded. Children of poverty are consistently left behind. The achievement gap widens each year as the wealthy and privileged attend schools with the latest technology and endless resources while children in low income areas attend schools that are in a state of physical decay.
As the Secretary of Education, it is your job to care about all of the children of this country and their education, which you’ve proven since day 1 that you do not. Since your disastrous confirmation hearing, during which you were unable to address fundamental questions about the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and refused to say whether or not you believed guns belong in schools, among other disastrous responses to the questions asked of you, you’ve proven your incompetency and lack of regard for the most vulnerable of America’s children.
You’ve supported rolling back protections for trans students. You’ve weakened protections against sexual harassment and assault afforded by Title IX. You supported slashing funding for public schools, including money allocated for children with special needs, teacher training programs, after school programs, and career and technical education, while opening the door for private schools and religious organizations to receive a windfall of taxpayer funding.
It’s clear, Secretary DeVos, whom you care about, and it’s not children from marginalized groups or children who need extra resources. And it’s not our public school teachers either.
We were worried when you barely squeaked by (thanks, Pence!) and were officially confirmed as our nation’s Secretary of Education because our country so desperately needs a leader who cares about our public schools. And what if things got worse, we feared? What if something happens that widens that gap between the haves and the have-nots even more? What will happen when our elected and appointed leaders only care about such a small percentage of our nation?
Then it did. Catastrophe hit this past March. Schools closed their doors while America’s teachers and administrators scrambled to meet the needs of their students via distance learning. We all limped to the end of the school year as best we could, hoping and praying our country would have a handle on this virus by the fall.
But due to the (in)actions and blatant refusal to acknowledge the severity of this virus by the “president” who appointed you, we don’t. We had a complete absence of leadership that brought us to today, mid-summer, of 2020. The return to school is weeks away, we are grossly unprepared for how to handle bringing hundreds of children into buildings in the midst of this pandemic that your administration has blatantly refused to handle. Yet, this is what we hear from you, today, after more than 130,000 U.S. lives have been lost and as hotspots around the nation are clocking their highest amount of new cases per day: “There’s nothing in the data that suggests that kids being in school is in any way dangerous.”
Really? Frantically ripping them out of schools back in March when there were a few thousand cases was all for what then? Since we currently have more than ever and now you’re saying schools are safe?!
When asked if schools should follow the CDC’s guidelines, which clearly state, “If children meet in groups, it can put everyone at risk. Children can pass this virus onto others who have an increased risk of severe illness from COVID-19,” your response was as follows: “The key for education leaders, and these are smart people who can figure things out, they can figure out what is going to be right for their specific situation, because every school building is different. Every school population is different.”
But all schools need to reopen. So which is it? Can they figure out what’s best for their district or not? You’ve literally said not one statement of substantive guidance about education during this pandemic. And you are the Secretary of Education.
As a working mom of three, I sure as hell want my kids back in school. I need to work and so does my husband. My kids desperately miss their friends. They need to physically see their teachers, in person. They need in person instruction for math and writing and they need art and music and P.E. and recess and silly chats with their friends on the bus.
But they also need to be alive and not incapacitated with illness for months on end with the potential for long-term or even permanent damage. As do we, their parents, and their teachers and school staff.
When MLB can’t get a damn season off the ground because COVID-19 continues to spread like wildfire through locker rooms and clubhouses and when our nation suffers a meat shortage because massive meat-packing plants are forced to shut down when two cases quickly turns into hundreds, what the hell do you think is going to happen in schools? Do you think kids are really going to social distance and keep their masks on and hand-wash properly? Do you not think one or two cases is going to manifest within days or weeks and be running rampant through classrooms?
Maybe if you’d recently (or ever) walked the halls of schools throughout our nation as we’d expect our Secretary of Education to do, you’d realize how unrealistic and dangerous this is.
Listen, Secretary DeVos, I do understand the push to get this country moving again. I may not agree with opening every school in America this August and September, but I can at least comprehend the desire to move forward. But where is your plan? Where is your advice for school districts? Where is your guidance as administrators and school boards across the country try to make the best, safest choices for innocent children and the dedicated teachers who already give so much?
You have none. You’ve offered nothing but demands that school reopen and figure it out on their own.
New York’s governor Andrew Cuomo gave a press conference recently that did just what a leader is supposed to do during times of crisis. He laid out a comprehensive plan based on four phases of re-opening and based on scientific data. However, when you’ve been pressed on how schools should go about reopening safely or what, exactly, the current administration plans to do to to support them, or how they’ll handle it if the reopening of schools leads to major spikes in COVID-19 cases, as usual, you have no intelligible answer.
Instead, you robotically repeat that kids “need to be back in school!” over and over. And that’s it.
Are you meeting with any of the massive public school districts throughout our country to discuss their plans? Districts like Chicago that are responsible for the education of hundreds of thousands of kids? Or rural districts in middle America where kids travel from several towns away to attend a regional high school? Are you listening to teachers and administrators and school board members as they state their concerns and needs? It appears not, as Politico reports that you’ve been attending private political meetings unrelated to COVID-19, and that no public meetings are even on your schedule right now.
Great. Thanks for your leadership. For what do you get paid, again? At this time of extreme uncertainty, a time of peril that has such disastrous effects on our nation’s schools, why aren’t you, as our Secretary of Education, holding public discourse with other leaders in education and laying out plans and guidance for U.S. schools?
There’s a reason, Secretary DeVos, you’re getting called out so harshly. There’s a reason leaders like Rep. Ayanna Pressley, who hear your demands, but notice your refusal to help schools meet those demands, say “I wouldn’t trust you to care for a house plant let alone my child.”
You can keep hiding under the vapid statement that “the goal of our nation is to get kids back into school” because of fucking course it is. Do you know anyone who doesn’t want that? I don’t. But your rich, white, privileged, private school attending circle of politicians spewing that rhetoric with zero ideas on how to do it safely isn’t on the ground in communities that are ravaged by COVID-19. Communities where people can’t get tested. Or if they do, they have to wait for eight hours. Is that what happens to you or your family if you fall ill? Do you have to wait in line somewhere in your hot car for eight hours? Or be denied a test altogether? What happens if you get sick? You probably have enough money to cover whatever medical care you need. We all know you’ll get plenty of sick leave since we aren’t sure what “work” you do anyway.
But how about our teachers? Does the Trump administration plan on covering the sick leave of a teacher who is unable to work for months after being infected? A teacher who makes $40,000 a year and is granted 12 days of sick leave that they already used up for their kids’ illnesses? What is your plan for them? Or when the cafeteria worker or custodian who makes minimum wage falls ill and can’t get a test or can’t afford their medical bills? What then?
I know it’s probably easy to forget about all of this when you hop from palace to palace and yacht to yacht and don’t know a damn thing about the day to day struggles of public schools.
But it’s your fucking job to know. That’s literally what you were appointed to do. To care that all of America’s children safely receive a fair education. To care that all of America’s teachers can safely teach in their classrooms and have the resources they need to do their best for our kids. This isn’t the damn Hunger Games. Our kids and teachers aren’t a control experiment for your amusement.
So do your job, or STFU and let our teachers and principals and superintendents do what they need to do because guess what—they actually care about this country’s children.
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