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Teachers of the World, Unite! - By Stephen Jackson - April 26, 2017 - SF Weekly
SF Weekly

Teachers of the World, Unite!

SFUSD supporters rally outside the school administration building at 555 Franklin Street during a rally Monday, April 11, 2017 (Photo by Jessica Christian)

When President Donald Trump proclaimed his crusade against sanctuary cities near the end of January, the San Francisco Unified School District was quick to announce that, along with the city at large, its schools were considered sanctuaries for undocumented immigrants. They did so in order to allay the fears of students and families in the district who were terrified that attending school could put their ability to stay in the United States at risk.

Next Monday, the United Educators of San Francisco will hold a rally in Civic Center Plaza to reiterate the importance of sanctuary schools, and to show solidarity for all immigrant workers and the myriad labor unions participating in demonstrations on International Workers’ Day — also known as May Day.

The fight for workers’ rights goes back for centuries in the U.S. The earliest recorded strike occurred in New York in 1768, when journeymen tailors walked out in protest of wage reductions. May 1 has been recognized as International Worker’s Day since the 1886 Haymarket Square Riot in Chicago, when a peaceful rally for an eight-hour workday was bombed, resulting in a bloody conflict between citizens and police.

“May 1 has historically become a day where workers and immigrants stand up and come together to take a public stand for our community,” says UESF Communication Director Matthew Hardy. “I think this May 1 is going to be incredible. I think that folks are energized like they haven’t been in years. … We hope that folks will see that this is one struggle — the struggle for workers, the struggle for immigrants, the struggle for our communities — are all part of the same fight, and that teachers are right in the middle of it.”

A General Strike has been called for the entire country, and its effects are rippling toward the City by the Bay. In addition, a massive Un Día Sin Inmigrantes (Day Without An Immigrant) march will begin at 11 a.m. in Justin Herman Plaza, traveling up Market Street to Civic Center Plaza. UESF is not officially calling for teachers to strike or walk out, although they will provide “contractual, professional, and legal support” for union members who engage in walkouts and demonstrations beyond the 4 p.m. rally.

At Buena Vista Horace Mann in the Mission (where nearly 78 percent of students identify as Hispanic), fourth-grade bilingual education teacher Frank Lara says that nearly 60 people — pretty much the entire staff — have opted to take a personal day in order to participate in Un Día Sin Inmigrantes and demonstrate their commitment to sanctuary schools in S.F. Several staff members will stay behind to provide services for those who cannot afford to participate in the rally itself, although Lara tells SF Weekly that they are asking the vast majority of the community to show solidarity in the streets on May Day.

“At our school site, we’ve encountered trauma in the community, and initially, just fear,” he says. “It’s important for the families to see that we don’t just say that we’re a sanctuary school, but that we defend it. That means our posters, that means our projects, that means the actions that our educators take are visibly in support of our families and against the politics of Trump.”

Although the UESF and the SFUSD have had no shortage of disagreements in the past over everything from contractual duties to battles for higher wages, Hardy says that the two groups have found common ground in the fight to protect immigrants from discrimination and deportation.  

“Educators throughout San Francisco have done an incredible job, and the district has done an incredible job in making sure that our schools are sanctuaries for our communities, and that children who are immigrants, both undocumented or otherwise, feel safe in their schools and their communities so they get the education and peace of mind they deserve,” Hardy says.

According to a statement released on its website on Jan. 31, the SFUSD does not “ask for students’ immigration status when they enroll, and there are existing laws that help keep your children safe while at school regardless of their immigration status.” It continues, “SFUSD staff will not cooperate with any official seeking information about your children absent a court order.”

For another teacher, the sense of apprehension among students born outside the U.S. is palpable.

“All my students are immigrants, so I just feel this unrest — especially with anyone that’s Latino,” says Kathleen Golata, department chair of English Language Development at Galileo High School. “The climate in general is just this uneasiness, like nobody knows what going to happen next.

“Truancy is worse than ever, because I think there’s this sense of ‘I don’t think I’ll be able to stay in the country, anyway,’ ” Golata contiues. “Students also stay home because they hear ICE is out, so they don’t leave the house. It’s not like they’re cutting school to go out and have fun, they’re cutting school because they’re afraid.”

The UESF Rally
takes place in Civic Center Plaza at 4 p.m. on Monday, May 1, and the Un Dia Sin Inmigrantes rally begins at 11 a.m. in Justin Herman Plaza. A protest against ICE will also occur on Monday at 8 a.m. in front of the USCIS office at 630 Sansome St.