Washington — Minnesota’s most recent teacher of the year boycotted a White House visit with President Donald Trump on Monday to protest administration policies that she said defy her core belief that every student matters.
Kelly Holstine, an English teacher at Shakopee’s Tokata Learning Center, was one of two from a group of 56 award-winning teachers who skipped the Oval Office meeting and photo shoot with Trump.
The group, meeting in Washington this week, is comprised of the most recent teacher of the year award winners from all 50 states, the District of Columbia and several U.S. territories.
“I work with a lot of students who face discrimination and prejudice every day of their lives,” Holstine said Tuesday of her work at the alternative high school. “My frustration with the current administration are the messages and the actions and the policies and the words about the population of students I work with. It impacts them, and it hurts them. It impacts them both in their hearts, and it hurts them in the world because they have to deal with the fallout of all that discrimination.”
Holstine held a news conference in Washington on Tuesday with the other teacher who boycotted the White House visit, Kentucky Teacher of the Year Jessica Dueñas. Both cited their own background as an influence in their decisions: Holstine as a gender-nonconforming lesbian, and Dueñas as the daughter of a Cuban refugee father and a Latina mother who was at one time an undocumented immigrant to the U.S.
“This administration’s treatment of the Latino community has really broken my heart,” Dueñas said.
The White House declined to comment for this story.
Holstine and Dueñas said they did not notify the White House of their boycott but did tell their fellow award-winning teachers. Both said they take no issue with the teachers who did participate in Monday’s White House activities, which included meetings with Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.
Sarahi Monterrey, the Wisconsin Teacher of the Year, decided to participate in the White House meeting despite her own qualms with Trump. An English language teacher at Waukesha North High School and a native of El Salvador who came to the U.S. with her family as a small child, Monterrey said she talked it over with her father and her students.
El Salvador is among the nations that Trump disparaged with an obscenity early last year. He also has recently moved to cut off U.S. foreign assistance to El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala.
“My dad said, ‘I want you to go, and I want him to know you were proud to be born in El Salvador,’ ” Monterrey said. “So I’m in there yesterday, and he gets to me and I said, ‘I’m originally from El Salvador and I’m proud to represent Wisconsin.’ You could tell from his face that he knew what I meant. And he said, ‘Oh, I was just there,’ because he was just in Green Bay for a rally.”
Holstine, who lives in St. Paul, was named Minnesota Teacher of the Year in May 2018. Her successor will be named at a banquet Sunday in St. Paul.
Holstine said she did not make the decision to skip the White House visit lightly or on a whim. She discussed it, she said, with her wife and her students and notified leaders of both her school and district.
“It just feels like we’re not really going to get a lot of opportunities in our lifetime to be able to speak about our kids and have folks who are really interested in our message,” Holstine said. “We have a platform we were given through this program that we will probably never have again.”