Kentucky, Minnesota teachers of the year skip White House ceremony in protest of Trump

Kentucky, Minnesota teachers of the year skip White House ceremony in protest of Trump
© Greg Nash

Two Teacher of the Year winners skipped the White House ceremony this week recognizing them and other honorees, citing disapproval of President TrumpDonald John TrumpFeinstein, Iranian foreign minister had dinner amid tensions: report The Hill's Morning Report - Trump says no legislation until Dems end probes Harris readies a Phase 2 as she seeks to rejuvenate campaign MORE's rhetoric and policies toward immigrants, the LGBTQ community and other groups.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVosElizabeth (Betsy) Dee DeVosDeVos family of Michigan ends support for Amash The Hill's Morning Report - White House, Congress: Urgency of now around budget Watchdog: DeVos used personal emails for work in 'limited' cases MORE presented the National Teacher of the Year Award on Monday at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building during a ceremony which dozens of finalists attended. The president has traditionally given out the award, but Trump did not attend the ceremony this year, instead meeting privately with National Teacher of the Year winner Rodney Robinson of Virginia. 

Kelly Holstine and Jessica Dueñas, the Teacher of the Year winners in Minnesota and Kentucky, respectively, were not present during Monday's festivities.

"The words and practices and policies of this administration have been filled with a lot of hate toward the LGBTQ community, so I didn't feel comfortable in that environment," Holstine, who is gay, told The Hill.

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Holstine teaches at an alternative high school in Minnesota, where she said her students include Somali refugees, students who identify as trans and others who are impacted by the administration's rhetoric and policies.

"I thought long and hard about what I felt was right to do in my heart," she said. "My students deserved to be stood up for."

Dueñas, a teacher for Jefferson County Public Schools in Kentucky, said her mother came to the country illegally decades ago and has since gained legal status. Her father is a Cuban refugee. 

"I couldn’t in good faith come and smile and accept an award based on that one part," she said, adding that the administration's policies on public school funding also played a role in her decision.

Trump has made cracking down on illegal immigration a cornerstone of his agenda in office. He has described migrants as "criminals" and "thugs" and suggested they are exploiting the asylum system.

On Monday night, Trump issued a memo calling for an overhaul of the asylum processing system, including adding a fee to file an asylum application.

Holstine said she had organized the planned boycott of the event days in advance, but was careful not to go public ahead of the ceremony. She said she did not want to overshadow honorees who opted to attend Monday's celebration.

Both Holstine and Dueñas said they have received positive initial responses to their decision not to attend the ceremony.

The White House declined to comment.

Last year's National Teacher of the Year winner, Mandy Manning, is an educator who teaches immigrant and refugee students. Manning said she personally delivered to the president hand-written letters from her students, explaining who the letters were from.

Manning also wore six political badges on her black dress and declined to clap for Trump as he entered the White House ceremony at last year's Teacher of the Year awards presentation. 

According to a pool report at the time, one pin included a photo of the Women’s March poster, another badge read “Trans Equality Now” and another pin was the shape of an apple with a rainbow.