This Florida mom won’t meet Trump on Friday at a Catholic school. Her son will

A family divded
From left, Myrna Saint-Juste and her children, Marcus Millen and Mikaili Millen.
(Myrna Saint-Juste)

Myrna Saint-Juste saved, scrimped and worked longer hours as an optician so she could afford the $500 a month to send her two children to Catholic school.

Saint-Juste, of Orlando, Fla., voted for Hillary Clinton for president and disapproves of almost everything about President Trump except his goal of making private and parochial schools more affordable for other families.

She said she chose St. Andrew Catholic School, which goes up to eighth grade, because she wanted to give her children a place where they could talk freely about God and develop into well-rounded adults. “I’m a single parent, so I had to work harder to be able to afford the school,” she said.

Trump is planning to visit St. Andrew on Friday, which has caused a small political divide. Sainte-Juste, who immigrated from Haiti, and her son, Marcus Millen, who graduated from the school, both were asked to speak to the president. Sainte-Juste said no, but Marcus, who is 16,  said yes. 

Trump is visiting St. Andrew in the Pine Hills neighborhood to promote school choice. He campaigned on the idea of creating a $20-billion national school voucher program, and during his joint address to Congress on Wednesday, he pressed a “school choice” bill that would give children private-school options. In choosing Denisha Merriweather, a Florida student, as his guest at the speech, he hinted that Florida’s tax credit program might be the model.

Saint-Juste likes that idea, even though she didn’t benefit from the state program. She thinks the money would be helpful to single moms with bigger families. “I have a lot of friends who got the tax credit,” she said.

Aside from that idea though, Saint-Juste wants nothing to do with Donald Trump. 

The school asked her to come to Trump’s listening session, but she said no. “One, I didn’t want to miss a day at work,” she said. “Two, I disagree with him on a lot of things.” 

She doesn’t approve of his immigration policies or the way he has talked about women. “I don’t like his ideas,” she said.

Her son is a different story. Marcus is now in high school, but when a priest from St. Andrew asked him on Wednesday to talk to Trump, he accepted the invitation. Marcus said he doesn’t care much about politics.

Marcus and his mother both love St. Andrew. The school previously earned a Blue Ribbon award. But according to a recent study, the students who used the state’s tax-credit scholarship to pay for St. Andrew performed slightly worse on reading and math scores in the 2014-2015 school year than they did two years later.

Marcus, who wants to go to college and maybe study medicine, says he lives in a house divided. “My mom is an avid follower of politics,” he said. “I joke about telling her I’m going to stop letting her watch CNN.”

I hear from my mom all the time, the disapproval, and from my sister. It’s not that I don’t agree, I’m just not involved in politics.
Marcus Millen, 16

Marcus doesn’t quite consider himself pro-Trump, he said. But unlike his mom and sister, he’s not against Trump. “I don’t really have any positive or negative thoughts,” he said. “I hear from my mom all the time, the disapproval, and from my sister. It’s not that I don’t agree, I’m just not involved in politics.” In his free time, Marcus plays sports and video games, is a Boy Scout, and does community service with his church.

St. Andrew gave him some talking points for the meeting with the president — about how the school helped him and about the importance of Catholic education. He agrees with the points, and describes his former school as a “tight-knit family.” 

For his part, he said, “I would ask that [Trump] be more positive and work to unify people.”

Marcus was speaking by phone from the family car. His mom interrupted him. His sister, she said, wanted to talk to Trump, too, because she has strong feelings — but she wasn’t asked. 

Asked to weigh in during the phone conversation, Mikaili, a sophomore, demurred. When her mom coaxed her to speak, she said, “I just want to see where [Trump’s] head is at.”

Trump’s St. Andrew visit stirred up feelings for Shawnda Thomas Faveau, a commercial and voiceover actress who has been living in Los Angeles for 21 years. She grew up in Pine Hills and went to school at St. Andrew. Since moving away, she said, she has watched with sadness as her neighborhood declined. 

She was the only black student in her grade, she said. There  were other black kids, but none stuck around until graduation. “It was a culture shock,” she recalls. “There were racial slurs. There was violence.”  

According to the Orlando Sentinel, 1,175 students received the tax credit scholarship in the ZIP code where St. Andrew is located, and 295 of those students attend St. Andrew. Now, according to the Sentinel, the school serves more minority and low-income students.

When Thomas Faveau heard about Trump’s visit, she “kind of had a panic attack,” she said. “We’re all surprised that he’s coming to our tiny school.”

To read the article in Spanish, click here



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9:33 a.m.: This article was update with the detail that Saint-Juste immigrated from Haiti.

This article was originally published at 7:00 a.m.