Steve Ciprani felt inspired after attending the Women’s March in Washington in January, and soon wondered if similar energy could be mustered in support of public schools.
The result, on Saturday, was another march, co-chaired by the Latin and social studies teacher at West Chester’s Henderson High School.
The March for Public Education was far smaller than the women’s event, on a steamy day when Ciprani’s students were probably more occupied with summer jobs and swimming pools. But the participants nevertheless were fervent, rallying against the Trump administration’s support for vouchers and its proposed cuts in federal funding for public schools, among other issues.
“It was hot, but we were pretty fired up anyway,” Ciprani said.
Ciprani estimated that as many as 1,500 people joined him in a one-mile walk from the Washington Monument to the U.S. Department of Education headquarters. Satellite marches took place in more than a dozen other cities, including Miami and Detroit.
The effort began when Ciprani and Henderson High colleague Wiaan De Beer, a film teacher, started a Facebook group that garnered 5,000 members within a week. It now has more than 10,000 members.
In addition to opposing proposed cuts to the U.S. Department of Education budget, the group takes a strong stance against vouchers — the idea of allowing parents to use public funds toward tuition for private schools — which it argues will weaken public education.
In testimony on Capitol Hill in May, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos defended the concept.
“We believe parents are the best equipped to make choices for their children’s schooling and education decisions, and too many children are trapped in schools that don’t work for them,” she said.
Though many participants in Saturday’s march had Trump and DeVos on their minds, Ciprani stressed that public education is a universal issue, and the group would work with politicians of all stripes in the future. He said a big focus in the coming year will be on excessive testing.
“We feel kids are being burned out by weeks and weeks of tests,” he said.
Along with Ciprani, the group is co-chaired by Pavithra Nagarajan, a Ph.D. candidate at Teachers College, Columbia University.