Michigan AFT President David Hecker.
Michigan AFT President David Hecker.

These Michigan teachers say “chaotic leadership” has worsened the crisis schools are facing as educators attempt to teach through a pandemic.

MICHIGAN — The first night of the Republican National Convention didn’t address the concerns of Michigan’s top educators. They say they were looking for leadership on the crisis facing schools in Michigan and across the nation.

“While our educators and support staff want nothing more than to reopen schools, it’s hard to do with an administration with no interest in containing a pandemic,” said David Hecker, president of Michigan’s American Federation of Teachers. “Instead of real plans, we got dictates by tweet.”

It’ll be hard to win over Hecker, even when the Republican National Convention addresses education. He’s deeply skeptical of the leadership President Donald Trump can provide, and of the ability of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to make good on policies educators need. 

How the Biden Plan Reaches Out to Educators

Education took center stage at last week’s Democratic National Convention. 

Dr. Jill Biden spoke from a classroom about her commitment to education. She’s been a teacher at community colleges for since 1993 and plans to continue teaching if serving as First Lady, shaping how Democratic nominee Joe Biden shaped his education plan. 

RELATED: Trump, Michigan Republicans Want Young Kids Back in Schools — No Matter What

“She knows exactly what we’re going through because Jill Biden is experiencing the crisis herself. When she stood in that empty classroom last week during the Democratic convention, I saw a teacher who wants to get back to doing what she loves so dearly, but knows that this president’s erratic leadership prevents that.”

David Hecker, President of Michigan’s AFT

Biden proposes a plan to allow individual school districts to make decisions about reopening in accordance with science regarding the pandemic and federal guidelines designed to protect the lives of students and teachers. Biden has also called for emergency funding for schools and child care to help them adapt to the challenges posed by the coronavirus. 

That stands in stark contrast to Trump, Hecker said. 

The Crisis Schools Are Facing

Current policies have left schools underfunded and have aggressively pushed for everything to return to normal and in-person instruction to resume. The federal response to the disease, where it existed at all, has made the situation schools face now woese, not better, said Hecker.

“His chaotic leadership is putting our educators, our support staff, school administrators, students, and families in an impossible situation,” Hecker said. “He stuck his head in the sand and ignored the severity of the pandemic, attacking social distancing measures and forcing front-line health care workers to treat sick patients without the proper [personal protective equipment]. Now, six months later, our teachers, our students, our parents are facing the consequences.”

And months of federal inaction, attempts to push unproven medical treatments, and dismissal of the severity of the virus have left teachers unsure of how to safely proceed with a new semester. Trump’s insistence on resuming in-person instruction is fuel on that fire, Hecker said, ignoring consequences threatened by a global pandemic. 

“We can’t count on a miracle. We can’t pretend this thing is just going to disappear. We can’t say ‘it is what it is’ while Michiganders die.” 

David Hecker, president of Michigan’s AFT

READ MORE: UPDATED: This Map Shows Where and Who Coronavirus Has Hit the Hardest In Michigan

How the Trump Plan Leaves Educators Behind

As Trump has pushed to reopen schools, his Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has exacerbated a historic trend of underfunding education by diverting coronavirus relief funds intended for public education to private, for-profit charter schools. 

“Our schools face the biggest challenge in history, and we have a U.S. Education Secretary in Betsy DeVos who is apathetic at best, but really seems to only care about undermining public schools,” said Ellen Offen, a former Detroit Public Schools teacher.

Offen serves as the vice president for the nonprofit Protect Our Public Schools, which recently drove a billboard across Michigan calling out DeVos’ lacking leadership during this academic crisis. 

In contrast to DeVos, Hecker said he’s confident Biden will appoint an actual educator as Secretary of Education.

And instead of addressing the issues Hecker and Offen face trying to teach students in a time of global pandemic, night one of the Republican National Convention touted the same leadership on the pandemic that Hecker called chaotic, while barely acknowledging schools struggling to teach in an age of pandemic.