Education Week - May 8, 2019 - 15
Trump Meets With Teacher Honorees, Even as Two Boycott
Two award-winning teachers boycotted last week's White House ceremony honoring the 2019 national
and state teachers of the year, saying that they wouldn't support an
administration whose policies they
feel have harmed their immigrant,
refugee, and LGBT students.
The boycott added another twist
and element of controversy to an
already unusual set of circumstances surrounding the annual
The Council of Chief State School
Officers, the organization that administers the Teacher of the Year
program, had announced the previous week that the president would
not be attending the April 29 ceremony. But President Trump, in
an apparent last-minute change of
plan, did end up meeting with the
55 teachers in the Oval Office.
"The entire day was an exciting
surprise," Kelly Harper, the 2019
District of Columbia State Teacher
of the Year and one of the four finalists for the national award,
said in a press call with reporters
after the event. (The ceremony was
closed to the press.)
But Jessica Dueñas, the 2019
Kentucky State Teacher of the
Year, and Kelly D. Holstine, the
2019 Minnesota Teacher of the
Year, did not attend-they boycotted the event on political grounds.
"It's uncomfortable for me right
now to not be with my peers, but
it's the right choice," Dueñas, a 6th
grade special education teacher at
W.E.B. DuBois Academy in Louisville, Ky., said in an interview with
Education Week the day of the ceremony. "When I'm gone someday
from this earth, I feel like I'm going
to be on the right side of history, for
speaking up for my students and my
state in this manner."
The teachers who did attend the
event also met with Vice President
Mike Pence and Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. And they participated in a panel discussion with
Education Department officials.
Rodney Robinson, the 2019 National Teacher of the Year, who
teaches social studies at the Virgie
Binford Education Center, a school
inside a juvenile detention facility
in Richmond, Va., said that Trump
congratulated him on winning the
award. "He was happy that I was
giving the kids a second chance,"
Trump also said that teachers
have the hardest job in the world,
according to Danielle Riha, the
2019 Alaska State Teacher of the
Year and a finalist for the national
Pence took a minutes to speak
with each teacher individually, the
teachers said on the press call. "He
was extremely cordial. He told us
a few jokes-he was funny," said
Donna Gradel, the 2019 Oklahoma
Teacher of the Year and another
Before meeting with Trump and
Official White House Photo by Joyce N. Boghosian
By Sarah Schwartz
President Donald Trump welcomes the 2019 National Teacher of the Year Rodney Robinson and State Teacher of the Year winners to the Oval Office.
Two honorees, Jessica Dueñas of Kentucky and Kelly D. Holstine of Minnesota, boycotted the event on political grounds.
Pence, Robinson delivered a speech
to the teachers, and they heard remarks from Secretary of Education
Betsy DeVos. The secretary presented Robinson with his award,
"Today wasn't about policy or
funding," he said. "It was just
to honor the teachers and the
I would rather give up
opportunity than go
against the things that
I firmly believe are
best for students ..."
2019 Kentucky State Teacher of the Year
profession and give us the respect
Still, DeVos used her address to
highlight several Trump administration education policy priorities.
"Rodney, you were recently asked
whether your students are 'different'
simply because of where they learn,"
DeVos said, according to prepared
remarks. "I loved your answer. You
said, 'America is a country of second
chances, and in order for them to
achieve and get that second chance,'
you said, 'they deserve a quality education like everybody else.' "
DeVos said that she and Trump
also "believe in the power of re-
demption," highlighting the administration's efforts to support
incarcerated individuals: the First
Step Act, a prison-reform bill that
Trump signed into law earlier this
year, and the Second Chance Pell
program, an Obama-administration initiative that the Trump
administration has continued, allowing incarcerated students to
qualify for Pell Grants.
The secretary also said that
teachers "should be trusted with
more autonomy, honored with more
flexibility, and lifted up as professionals," according to prepared
remarks. She said that the professional development "vouchers"
that Trump included in his 2020
budget proposal could provide this
The $200 million stipend program would allow teachers to select training programs tailored
to their needs. However, the
president's spending plan, which
is not likely to pass as originally
proposed, would also cut the $2.1
billion Title II grant program that
funds teacher and principal professional development.
'Damaging and Hurtful'
The two teachers who boycotted, Holstine and Dueñas, said
they would have refused to attend
the ceremony regardless of which
Trump administration official was
"I'm an out, gender-nonconforming
lesbian, and I'm the first Minnesota
Teacher of the Year to be an out
LGBTQ person," said Holstine, an
English teacher at Tokata Learning Center in Shakopee, Minn. "I
feel that the policies of this administration, and the homophobia and
the transphobia and the demonizing
of the LGBTQ people, is so damaging and hurtful. And it creates an
environment where other folks feel
emboldened to also feel that hatred."
Holstine teaches a diverse population of students at Tokata, an alternative learning center. Many of
her students are undocumented immigrants, or have relatives who are
undocumented. She also works with
Somali refugee students.
She says the Trump administration's immigration policies and
rhetoric have directly harmed her
students and their families. Her
Somali students have experienced
more bullying and discrimination,
she said, and another student of
hers was separated from a parent
when his father was taken into custody by Immigration and Customs
"I cannot in good conscience even
implicitly support an administration
that does not support my students,"
said Holstine in her interview with
Dueñas, the daughter of a parent
who was formerly undocumented,
cited the administration's family
separation policy as a major factor
in her decision to boycott the event.
The Trump administration has said
that it has stopped the practice of
widespread family separations at
the border, though they have not
yet identified all of the children who
were separated from their parents.
She also pointed to a recent
roundtable discussion in her state
with Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin and
DeVos, which high school student
journalists were barred from at-
tending because they were unaware
they needed to RSVP for the event.
"I would rather give up the oncein-a-lifetime opportunity than go
against the things that I firmly believe are best for students, across
the country and in my state," said
Holstine and Dueñas held a press
conference the day after the event at
the American Federation of Teachers headquarters in Washington to
speak on creating inclusive schools
and funding public education.
The two teachers said during the
press conference that while they
didn't go to the White House, they
respected their fellow educators'
decision to meet with members of
the Trump administration. "We all
participate in freedom of speech in
different ways," said Holstine.
National Winner's Role
As the National Teacher of the
Year, Robinson will focus on issues
of "economic and cultural equity," he
said in an interview with Education
Week after his win last month week.
"Throughout my schooling, I only
had one black male teacher the
entire time," Robinson said. That
teacher led band class, which Robinson took from 5th to 12th grade.
Having a black teacher was one of
the main reasons he stuck with the
class for so many years. "It meant so
much to see someone like me in the
classroom," he said.
Robinson is the first black man to
win National Teacher of the Year in
more than 25 years. The last black
male teacher to receive the national
honor was Thomas Fleming from
Michigan in 1992.
EDUCATION WEEK | May 8, 2019 | www.edweek.org | 15
Education Week - May 8, 2019
Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Education Week - May 8, 2019
Education Week - May 8, 2019
CITIZEN Z: How Schools Undercut Their Own Civics Lessons
A Slow Build for Reporting On ESSA Data
The Battle Over Who Gets Into Elite Public Schools
News in Brief
Girls Outshine Boys on Test of Tech, Engineering Skills
Career-Tech Ed Drawing Higher Achievers, College Goers
House Democrats Seek $4.4 Billion Ed. Dept. Increase
Trump Meets With Teacher Honorees, Even as Two Boycott
Lindsay J. Friedman: The Enduring Relevance of Holocaust Education
Kathy Liu Sun: How to Solve Our Math Worksheet Problem
TopSchoolJobs Recruitment Marketplace
Education Week - May 8, 2019 - The Battle Over Who Gets Into Elite Public Schools
Education Week - May 8, 2019 - 2
Education Week - May 8, 2019 - 3
Education Week - May 8, 2019 - Report Roundup
Education Week - May 8, 2019 - 5
Education Week - May 8, 2019 - Girls Outshine Boys on Test of Tech, Engineering Skills
Education Week - May 8, 2019 - Career-Tech Ed Drawing Higher Achievers, College Goers
Education Week - May 8, 2019 - 8
Education Week - May 8, 2019 - 9
Education Week - May 8, 2019 - 10
Education Week - May 8, 2019 - 11
Education Week - May 8, 2019 - 12
Education Week - May 8, 2019 - 13
Education Week - May 8, 2019 - House Democrats Seek $4.4 Billion Ed. Dept. Increase
Education Week - May 8, 2019 - Trump Meets With Teacher Honorees, Even as Two Boycott
Education Week - May 8, 2019 - 16
Education Week - May 8, 2019 - 17
Education Week - May 8, 2019 - Lindsay J. Friedman: The Enduring Relevance of Holocaust Education
Education Week - May 8, 2019 - 19
Education Week - May 8, 2019 - Letters
Education Week - May 8, 2019 - TopSchoolJobs Recruitment Marketplace
Education Week - May 8, 2019 - 22
Education Week - May 8, 2019 - 23
Education Week - May 8, 2019 - 24
Education Week - May 8, 2019 - CW1
Education Week - May 8, 2019 - CW2
Education Week - May 8, 2019 - CW3
Education Week - May 8, 2019 - CW4