Parents Of School Shooting Victims Decry ‘Moronic’ GOP Platitudes

Two parents who lost children to campus gun violence had strong words of criticism on Sunday for the GOP’s continued dismissal of responding with tougher firearm control measures and more emphasis on preventing shootings.  

Fred Guttenberg, whose daughter Jaime was killed in the Marjory Stoneman Douglas school shooting in Parkland, Florida, in February, joined Nicole Hockley, whose son Dylan was killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in 2012, to speak with host George Stephanopoulos on ABC’s “This Week.”

Both parents voiced their disappointment with Republican politicians for ignoring the topic of gun control in the wake of the school shooting in Santa Fe, Texas, on Friday in which 10 people died. 

Guttenberg and Hockley spoke shortly after Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R) appeared on the talk show and blamed the most recent school shooting on American culture, saying that “we have devalued life.” 

“I think those are the most idiotic comments I’ve ever heard regarding gun safety,” Guttenberg said in response to Patrick.

“I’m here this weekend on what was supposed to be my daughter’s dance recital, where they are honoring my daughter’s memory instead of having my daughter dance,” he said. “For that man to be making those moronic comments? Unacceptable.”

“I am raging right now,” Guttenberg, who confronted Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) at a heated CNN town hall after the Parkland shooting, told Stephanopoulos.

Hockley said that focusing on arming teachers and changing the layout of school campuses ― two things Patrick has advocated in response to Friday’s shooting ― avoids the root of the problem. 

″We’re simply focusing on the wrong thing here,” she said. She characterized the measures Patrick has been spotlighting as “mitigation,” not “prevention.” 

“While I disagree with much of what the lieutenant governor said, I do agree that we have a problem where we devalue life. … That this shooting is not receiving a significant amount of action, that’s devaluing life.” 

Both parents agreed that the pervasive issue of campus gun violence isn’t just about guns ― but they argued that firearms, and access to them, has to be a central aspect of the conversation. 

“This is not just about guns. It’s not just about school safety. It’s not just about mental health,” Guttenberg said.

But he added, “The problem is that when these shootings happen, the crowd that does not want to talk about guns wants to talk about everything else but guns.”  

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Oliver North Blames School Shootings On Ritalin

Just two days after a young man opened fire on his classmates and teachers at a high school in Santa Fe, Texas, the National Rifle Association’s incoming president, Oliver North, blamed Ritalin and a “culture of violence.”  

On “Fox News Sunday,” the controversial Iran-Contra figure told host Chris Wallace that the solution for the increasing number of school shootings ― there have been 22 so far in 2018, by one count ― is not gun control.

“We’re trying like the dickens to treat the symptoms without treating the disease,” he said. 

“And the disease in this case isn’t the Second Amendment. The disease is youngsters who are steeped in a culture of violence,” he said. “They’ve been drugged in many cases. Nearly all of these perpetrators are male. … Many of these young boys have been on Ritalin since they were in kindergarten.”

North’s comments on Sunday echoed those made by President Donald Trump after the Sandy Hook shooting in December 2012. Following the shooting, Trump tweeted about violent video games and the “glorification” of violence.

North, a retired Marine whose role in the Iran-Contra affair in the 1980s made him a household name, appeared in ads for the war-centered video game “Call of Duty: Black Ops II” and has also worked as a consultant for the game. 

Other prominent Republicans have blamed violent culture, and not lax gun laws, in the wake of recent shootings, including Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida and Ohio Gov. John Kasich.

North is due to start as NRA president in the coming weeks. 

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Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick Touts Need To Arm Teachers

Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R) on Sunday pushed for arming teachers and reducing the number of entrances into school buildings after the latest mass shooting at a U.S. school afflicted his state.

Patrick, a staunch conservative, appeared on CNN’s “State of the Union” and ABC’s “This Week” to discuss responses after a lone gunman opened fire at Santa Fe High School in Santa Fe, Texas, on Friday, killing eight students and two teachers.

“There was a teacher next door, a (former) Marine, who saw what was going on… Some feel had he been able to carry a gun, he could have stopped that shooter,” he told host Jake Tapper on the CNN program. 

Patrick said that as he visited a hospital on Friday night where some of those wounded in the shooting had been treated, students and parents alike said that teachers should be armed. 

He told “This Week” host Geroge Stephanopoulos that “our teachers are part of that well-run militia” referred to in the Second Amendment that concerns the right to bear firearms.

“It’s guns that also stop crimes,” he added.

Under a school marshal program in Texas that has been cited approvingly by President Donald Trump, teachers can carry guns on campus, with local officials ultimately making the call on whether that is allowed.

Patrick also said that the issue underlying the raft of school shootings plaguing the U.S. isn’t access to guns, but that “it’s about us.”

“We have devalued life, whether it’s through abortion, whether it’s the breakup of families, through violent movies, and particularly violent video games which now outsell movies and music,” he said.

He also reiterated the suggestion he first made Friday immediately after the shooting that school campuses be redesigned to have fewer entrances. 

“We need to get down to one or two entrances to our schools. We have to funnel our students into our schools so we can put eyes on them,” he said. 

Even before Friday’s shooting, several Republican politicians, including Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and Sen. Ted Cruz, have been calling for training teachers to carry firearms. 

Trump repeatedly pushed that idea after the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, in which 17 people were killed.

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These Are The Victims Of The Santa Fe High School Shooting

Students at Santa Fe High School in Texas spent Friday morning in fear as a gunman killed 10 people and injured 10 others at their school.

Law enforcement officials took a male suspect into custody later Friday ― a 17-year old believed to be a student at the school. 

The tragedy marked the 16th school shooting in 2018, according to a count by The Washington Post. It was also the 10th since the February massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, which left 17 dead and sparked a nationwide conversation about gun violence in America.

“Santa Fe High, you didn’t deserve this. You deserve peace all your lives, not just after a tombstone saying that is put over you. You deserve more than Thoughts and Prayers, and after supporting us by walking out we will be there to support you by raising up your voices,” tweeted Emma González, a survivor of the Parkland shooting.

A number of the victims’ identities have not been released, so this story will be updated as we get more information.

Sabika Sheikh

Sabika Sheikh was a YES program exchange student from Pakistan. The program’s manager, Megan Lysaght, confirmed her death via email to all of the YES program participants.

Cynthia Tisdale

Cynthia Tisdale was a substitute teacher at Santa Fe High School. Her brother-in-law, John Tisdale, confirmed her death in a Facebook post on Friday evening, saying she had been teaching an art class when the shooting began.

“Cynthia planned on one day retiring and being a full-time grandmother. It will never happen,” he wrote. She is survived by her husband, Rev. William Recie Tisdale, and four children, he said.

Chris Stone

Chris Stone, 17, was missing for much of Friday while his friends and family frantically called him and checked local hospitals to see if he was among the injured. Multiple outlets confirmed his death on Friday evening.

Photos the teen’s family released showed him smiling as he got ready for the high school prom just a week before he was killed.

Angelique Ramirez  

The family of student Angelique Ramirez confirmed to CBS-affiliate KHOU that she was killed in the shooting.

Araceli Ramirez, who identified Angelique as her “baby sister” in a Facebook post, wrote: “You deserved so much, you had so much planned for yourself and they took that away from you.”

Shana Fisher  

Shana Fisher’s aunt Candi Thurman confirmed on Twitter her niece didn’t survive the shooting. In a tweet earlier Friday, Thurman ― also a student at the school ― said Fisher was in an art class when the gunman opened fire, shooting her in the leg.

“Its hard to believe one of the sweetest kids you would ever meet had a punk kill her,” Tammy Fisher Whalen, who also identifies as Fisher’s aunt on Facebook, wrote in a post. “Shana i love you sweet girl sorry we couldnt help you.”

Kyle McLeod

The family of Kyle McLeod, a student at Santa Fe High School, confirmed to ABC News that the young man was killed during the shooting.

Kim Vaughn

Kim Vaughn’s mother, Rhonda Hart, said in a Facebook post earlier Friday that her daughter was in first-period art class at the time of the shooting. Her family later confirmed to ABC News that she had died.

Later in the day, Hart urged her Facebook friends to contact lawmakers in a post that included a hashtag of her daughter’s name.

“Folks―call your damn senators. Call your congressmen,” Hart wrote. “We need GUN CONTROL. WE NEED TO PROTECT OUR KIDS.”

This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.

Sarah Ruiz-Grossman and Carla Herreria contributed reporting.

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Ten Killed in Texas School Shooting

People embrace outside the Alamo Gym where students and parents wait to reunite following a shooting at Santa Fe High School Friday, May 18, 2018, in Santa Fe, Texas. ( Michael Ciaglo/Houston Chronicle via AP)

Yet another deadly school shooting, this one at Santa Fe High School in Santa Fe, Texas, thirty miles outside Houston, has claimed at least ten lives – nine students and one educator – after the suspected shooter, a 17-year-old student, went on a rampage inside the school this morning before classes began. A second person of interest has been detained and the police are searching the campus for explosive devices.

The shooting comes just three months after the Parkland, Florida, school shooting where a former student killed 17 people, sparking a student-led gun control movement and a series of national protests where thousands demonstrated to end gun violence.

Texas State Teachers Association President Noel Candelaria and National Education Association President Lily Eskelsen García provided the following joint statement in reaction to the shooting:

“Our hearts and prayers go out to the families and loved ones of the victims in today’s shooting at Santa Fe High School. The members and staff of the Texas State Teachers Association and the National Education Association stand ready to assist the Santa Fe community in any way that we can.

“Once again, we are mourning more senseless shooting deaths. But even as we mourn, we redouble our efforts to convince our elected representatives in Washington and Austin to take every necessary step to keep our schools, students, and educators safe from gun violence.

“We don’t know why this attack occurred. But every child has the right to feel safe and be safe at school, and every parent has the right to know their neighborhood schools are safe places to send their children.”

NEA Crisis Guide

NEA maintains a crisis resource page for students, educators, parents, and communities at

The page includes advice for talking to students about violent tragedies, as well as tips for preventing school violence.

Also included is NEA’s School Crisis Guide, which NEA assembled to foster the creation of crisis teams with the ideas, tips, tools, and resources that spur effective leadership and crisis management.

Knowing what to do in a crisis can be the difference between stability and upheaval. This step-by-step resource created by educators for educators can make it easier for union leaders, school district administrators, and principals to keep schools safe—before, during, and after a crisis.

Download NEA’s School Crisis Guide (PDF)


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The Controversial Way Some California Schools Are Handling Students’ Misbehavior

The two 9th-grade girls heard the laughing the minute they walked into their third-period class that December morning at Oakland’s Fremont High School. And they knew why: a video of one of the girls being slapped by a classmate had gone viral among students on social media.

It was one of those moments that could have gone bad in a hurry — like so many others had at Fremont High, a school that had more suspensions last year than any other in the Oakland Unified School District.

Both girls (whose names are being withheld to protect their privacy) acknowledged later that their first instinct was to lash out at their snickering classmates. But they didn’t do that. Instead, they left the classroom and walked down the hall to Tatiana Chaterji’s room.

Chaterji is Fremont High’s restorative justice facilitator and among a growing number of educators in Oakland Unified charged with changing the district’s approach to behavioral issues through restorative practices. This work departs from traditional school discipline in that it focuses less on punishment and more on righting wrongs and building healthy relationships within the school.

During the previous period, the two girls had participated in a community building circle, a cornerstone of restorative justice in which students gather in a circle, talk about the difficulties of their daily lives and work on responding to them in a healthier way.

“What would have happened had you stayed (in the classroom)?” Chaterji asked the girls after they had told her their story.

“They would have said some things, then I would have said some things…then things could have gotten ugly,” said the more assertive of the two, who was wearing an ankle monitor from the Alameda County Juvenile Probation Department.

Had things gotten out of hand, punches might have been thrown. That would’ve led to an office referral and perhaps suspensions. Such an outcome would be an unfortunate but not uncommon occurrence at Fremont, which, according to district data, suspended 151 students during the 2016-17 school year.

Fremont High hired Chaterji last summer as part of a larger effort to improve the school’s climate and cut down on suspensions. The school also employs three case managers who work to alleviate conflicts that crop up in classrooms before they become office referrals.

“People’s trust in the process is growing,” Chaterji said. “The leadership has really shifted to prioritize [restorative justice]…we are at an exciting moment, but it’s just the start.”

A new approach to an old problem

Small victories like the one that morning at Fremont High are being won to varying degrees in schools throughout California. Over the past decade, a mountain of research has shown that the so-called zero-tolerance approach to misbehavior, characterized by stringent rules and harsh punishments, largely doesn’t work.

In particular, studies have shown unequivocally that students of color are suspended and expelled at disproportionately higher rates than their white peers, which has forced a reassessment of school discipline in many places throughout the nation.

Teachers and administrators have come to realize that a student’s range of experiences — their home life, their neighborhood and the overall atmosphere of the school — has an outsized impact on their behavior in class. Research shows that by gaining insight into these experiences and building stronger relationships with students, educators can address a number of behaviors without having to resort to suspensions and other punitive methods of discipline.

This awakening, along with intense pressure on districts from the state in recent years to cut down on suspensions, have spawned a number of behavioral support programs under the umbrella of social/emotional learning, including Positive Behavioral Intervention and Supports (PBIS) and Multi-Tiered Systems of Support (MTSS).

Interwoven in these approaches is the idea of restorative justice, which has both captured the imagination of many youth advocates and educators and generated controversy.

In recent years, some of the state’s largest districts have made significant investments in restorative justice:

  • Oakland Unified budgeted roughly $2.5 million for restorative justice in the 2017-18 school year, which pays for 35 facilitators and a districtwide coordinator.
  • The Los Angeles Unified School District budgets more than $10 million annually for restorative justice and has a goal of implementing the practices in each of its more than 900 schools by 2020.
  • Following the lead of Los Angeles Unified, the San Diego Unified School District board last year approved a “School Climate Bill of Rights” that is centered on restorative practices. The board also approved a nearly $800,000 budget for restorative justice in 2017-18, which pays for a districtwide program manager along with several other staff members.
  • The Santa Ana Unified School District received a multi-year, $3 million federal grant to implement restorative practices in schools throughout the district.

Although the terms restorative justice and restorative practices were largely unheard of in the school setting as recently as a decade ago, the work in many respects builds on conflict mediation strategies that schools have used since the 1990s.

Yet many see restorative justice as groundbreaking because at its core is a repudiation of the punitive model that has been the foundation of school discipline in this country since the days of the one-room schoolhouse.

A community building circle in Tatiana Chaterji's classroom at Fremont High School in the Oakland Unified School District

Because their use in the school setting is so new, there is scant research on the long-term effectiveness of restorative practices. But officials in districts that have devoted significant resources to them say they’ve led directly to fewer suspensions and better school climates.

“We have seen a drastic reduction in suspensions and RJ (a commonly used shorthand for the practices) is a big reason for it,” said Deborah Brandy, Los Angeles Unified’s director of district operations, which oversees restorative justice programs.

“We’ve also seen a reduction in truancy rates…and it goes beyond the data. Parents feel more welcome at their school sites; students remarked (in climate surveys) that their teachers seem more caring.”

While awareness of restorative practices is high among school officials statewide, relatively few districts outside major urban centers have well-established programs, EdSource found through interviews and a survey.

The most common sentiment expressed among nearly a dozen superintendents, principals and other officials interviewed was cautious optimism, with the caveat that finding resources to devote to it is a challenge.

“There is certainly an interest and heightened awareness,” said Tamara Clay, who is director of the El Dorado County Special Education Local Plan Area. “And system change can be easier in small rural areas like ours — but it’s harder in that our superintendents don’t have the capacity.”

While it is difficult to find anyone — administrators, teachers, students or parents — who disagrees with the core principles of restorative justice, a fair number of critics say it’s been oversold as a quick fix. And, in some instances, they say it’s contributed to more chaotic school environments.

Los Angeles Unified’s efforts have drawn criticism from some teachers’ union officials who say the district has launched an aggressive implementation plan without sufficiently taking into account how the timetable is affecting students and teachers at the ground level.

“The LAUSD idea is that in three years’ time we’ll just train all the teachers and we’ll be done,” said Daniel Barnhart, who is vice president of secondary schools for United Teachers of Los Angeles. “It is a recipe for resentment and for teachers to not make a change they may want to make because there is no real support.”

Belia Saavedra, director of restorative justice in schools for the Long Beach-based California Conference for Equality and Justice (CCEJ), said most teachers she works with embrace restorative justice — but she has encountered pockets of resistance in both Long Beach and Los Angeles schools.

“More than a few teachers will tell you that RJ is the removal of punishment without a replacement for accountability,” Saavedra said, referring to concerns that there aren’t sufficient consequences. “If RJ is coming to their school they see it as the wild, wild West.”

LA Unified’s Brandy does not dispute the reports of pushback, but says the concerns fade once teachers and administrators see the district’s commitment to the approach.

“Because the district has been very steadfast we are getting more and more buy-in,” Brandy said. “In the first year, we received a lot of pushback. In the second year, people started calling me, asking me ‘When am I going to get the RJ training?’”

The restorative justice room at Roosevelt High School in the Los Angeles Unified School District.

Brandy’s assertions notwithstanding, the issues being raised are real and indicative of the pendulum swinging too quickly away from traditional discipline, argues Max Eden, a senior fellow specializing in education policy for the Manhattan Institute, a conservative think tank based in New York City.

Eden says his research shows that students report feeling less safe when districts issue mandates to reduce suspensions and in their place offer alternatives like restorative justice and PBIS.

“There is more immediate evidence that the reforms are creating a crisis rather than solving one,” Eden said, pointing to studies done in New York City, Philadelphia and Virginia. “If it were being approached as a complement to traditional discipline I would be bullish, but given that it’s being looked at as a substitute, I’m bearish.”

Daniel Losen, who is director of UCLA’s Center for Civil Rights Remedies, takes issue with Eden’s arguments on a couple of levels.

First, Losen said Eden is cherry-picking indicators to make schools seem more unsafe than they actually are. Secondly, he sees in Eden a failure to acknowledge that there is strong evidence showing that suspensions and other isolating punishments are harmful to students, especially students of color.

“No one wants the reform efforts to yield something worse than before,” Losen said. “But we have to reject the status quo. Schools are doing things that are harmful to kids right now, and we need to stop that — their civil rights are being violated.”

A winding road to progress

It is because of disagreements like the one between Eden and Losen that Sonia Llamas, Santa Ana Unified’s assistant superintendent for school performance and culture, spends a lot of her time documenting her district’s success with restorative practices and showing how they help its bottom line.

Five years ago, Santa Ana Unified had nearly 9,800 days of suspensions, Llamas said, which cost the district about $680,000 because state funding is calculated based on average daily enrollment. Since then, thanks to a grant from the federal Department of Education, the district has invested more than $3 million in restorative justice and related programs and seen its suspensions drop by 75 percent.

“People can talk a good talk, but you need strong data to show what’s working,” Llamas said. “It is really hard to cut something that is showing impact.”

That being said, Llamas and other proponents emphasize that transforming a school’s climate and culture often happens in fits and starts and requires commitment and patience from schools and communities.

“The ability to do RJ is based on where a school and its community are at and start from there,” said David Yusem, Oakland Unified’s restorative justice coordinator. “Right now, there are some schools, just like some communities, that are ready for RJ and it can come in really nicely. Then there are other schools that are fractured and it’s tough to implement it.”

John Jones III recently moved to Oakland from Portland and his son, a 9th-grader at Fremont High, has had trouble adjusting to his new school. Jones, who works for a community group as a restorative justice facilitator, said the school’s handling of altercations his son had with a teacher showed the progress Fremont has made as well as how far it still has to go.

“My biggest critique is that I wasn’t notified of the situation until months afterwards,” Jones said. “Once there is the first inkling of a problem, parents should be brought in…the old proverb is true, it does take a village to raise a child — and it’s important that everyone is on the same page.”

While they acknowledge their progress has not gone in a straight line, the staff at Fremont High feel they are slowly getting on the same page. The school is on track to cut suspensions in half from last year, said Co-Principal Tom Skjervheim.

“Part of the challenge is we have lots of students who need support in any given day,” Skjervheim said. “[But] now that we have a system where RJ can live — it is setting us up for more success.”

When asked whether she learns more from being suspended or going through restorative justice when she gets in trouble for fighting, the 9th-grade girl who had sought Chaterji’s counsel after the problems in her third-period class rolled her eyes. “It’s all a waste of time,” she said.

But when pressed further, she gave a clear-headed comparison of the two approaches.

“I could be getting into a fight with someone and get suspended. Then I come back and it could still be a fight,” she said. “If I don’t get suspended and we talk it out, there is a higher chance of there being no more problems.”

This story is the first of a three-part series on restorative justice in California which originally appeared on

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Teacher Caught On Video Making Students Help Him Drown Raccoons

A Florida high school teacher is under investigation after being caught on video drowning raccoons with students on Monday.

Video taken by one of the students show an agricultural science teacher and a group of students at Forest High School in Ocala lift a raccoon inside a metal trap into a garbage bin, then fill the the garbage bin with water. The student shared the video with his mother, who told local news station WKMG that her son came home crying about the experience. 

The following local newscast, which contains some footage from the incident, may be disturbing to some viewers:

She said the teacher, identified by multiple media outlets as as Dewie Brewton, had students assist in drowning two raccoons, along with a possum.

“When the raccoons tried to come up for air, they had metal rods and they held them down with metal rods and when the raccoon would try to pop its head up they held water hoses in its face to drown it,” the mother told the news station.

The student told WFTV that raccoons had been killing chickens that students and staff members were raising behind the school.

The school placed Brewton on paid administrative leave Tuesday.

“Marion County’s education standards — in fact, Florida’s education standards ― do not include activities for the destruction of live animals, nuisance or not,” read a statement from Marion County Public Schools. “While law enforcement determines whether this teacher’s actions were legal or not, his actions before students are entirely unacceptable and cause us great concern.”

Superintendent Heidi Maier is recommending that Brewton be fired, according to a second statement.

Additionally, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is investigating the incident to determine if charges will be filed. It’s legal in Florida to kill “nuisance” wildlife, but the law stipulates it must be done “humanely.”

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Trump Judicial Nominees Threaten The Legacy of Brown v. Board

In March, Linda Brown, who as a third-grader lent her name to the fight to dismantle school segregation, passed away at age 75. While systemic inequality and racial disparities still exist, the landmark Supreme Court ruling in Brown v. Board of Education changed our entire nation for the better. The 1954 decision not only struck down state-sponsored segregation and became a cornerstone of our justice system; its principles of equality and opportunity are now foundational aspects of our democracy. 

If there was ever a Supreme Court ruling that nominees to federal courts should wholly embrace, it should be Brown. The doctrine of “separate but equal” has no role in today’s society. The case was famously decided by a unanimous Supreme Court. Although the ruling was initially met with massive resistance throughout the South, it was precisely because of federal judges on the lower courts that its mandate was respected. The decision is not about to be revisited by any court anywhere.

Brown is not subject to debate.

Yet today, as we celebrate the 64th anniversary of Brown v. Board, several of President Donald Trump’s judicial nominees have recently dared to challenge it. Wendy Vitter, nominated to a federal district court in Louisiana, was the first, saying at her April confirmation hearing, “I think I get into a difficult area when I start commenting on Supreme Court decisions which are correctly decided and which I may disagree with.” Next came Andrew Oldham, ironically nominated to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit, which was home to the unlikely heroes called upon to enforce Brown throughout the South. Then, four more district court nominees refused to answer the Brown question. 

Clearly, there was another answer, the right answer. All sitting Supreme Court justices endorsed Brown at their own confirmation hearings. Conservative justice Samuel Alito called it “one of the greatest, if not the single greatest thing that the Supreme Court of the United States has ever done.” Clarence Thomas stated, “[Brown] is certainly one of the cases ― even before I knew all of the legal ramifications, it is one that changed my life and changed the South.” 

The refusal to endorse Brown is a powerful symbol of the intensely xenophobic zealotry shared by many Trump judicial nominees that threatens civil rights jurisprudence in particular and the rule of law in general. These are lawyers on the fringes of society who, if confirmed, will willingly depart from widely accepted principles and may harm communities of color.

We know about Brett Talley, the failed nominee to an Alabama federal court, who allegedly praised an early leader of the Ku Klux Klan on a University of Alabama message board. The nation should also know about Thomas Farr, a nominee to a North Carolina federal court who has ties to white supremacists and personally engaged in activities to intimidate black voters in order to help segregationist Sen. Jesse Helms win his 1990 re-election bid. Both Farr and Kyle Duncan, who was recently confirmed to the 5th Circuit, appealed to the Supreme Court to overturn the 4th Circuit’s ruling in 2016 that North Carolina’s voter suppression efforts targeted African-Americans with “almost surgical precision.”

Oldham, the other appellate nominee who refused to support Brown, also refused to answer Sen. Kamala Harris’ question about whether voting discrimination exists today. As deputy solicitor general in Texas, Oldham tried to gut the Voting Rights Act in defending the state’s photo ID laws, which federal courts found to be intentionally discriminatory. But Trump has nominated him to the 5th Circuit, which now covers three states with a large percentage of residents of color.

A key part of making America ‘hate’ again lies in stacking the federal bench with people willing to do Trump’s bidding.

Trump’s apparent efforts to whiten the federal bench are central to reshaping the courts. Black nominees are rarely to be found among the scores of nominees the Senate is rushing through to confirmation. Of some 120 nominees to lifetime seats on the federal bench, only two are African-American. Courts such as the 7th Circuit, which covers Illinois, Wisconsin and Indiana, currently have no judges of color.

This lack of diversity comes at a severe cost to the nation. It could lead to the undermining of laws that have transformed our country and ensure democracy works for all of us. We have seen the direction the president wants to take our nation. A key part of making America “hate” again lies in stacking the federal bench with people willing to do Trump’s bidding ― judges willing to rubber-stamp partisan gerrymandering, voter suppression, inhumane immigration policies and laws that favor corporations over people.

Sixty-four years after the Supreme Court’s watershed decision, our nation still has much work to do to make sure that the promise of Brown is realized. We must never forget that judges who understood their role in maintaining the balance of power among branches of government helped bring about the positive transformation we have seen in our society. We must remain cautious of any who seek to utilize the courts to return us to an era before Brown.

Derrick Johnson is the president and CEO of the NAACP. Follow him @NAACP and @DerrickNAACP.

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Michael Keaton Ends Kent State Commencement Speech With ‘I’m Batman’

Actor Michael Keaton ended his commencement address at Kent State University’s graduation ceremony with two words: “I’m Batman.”

Keaton could have gone the more dramatic route and yelled “Beetlejuice! Beetlejuice! Beetlejuice!” at the Class of 2018 crowd during Saturday’s ceremony. But he went with his memorable line from the 1989 film “Batman,” and 1992′s “Batman Returns.”

“I’ve got two words that I want you all to remember. They’re very important, and if I leave you with anything, I’m going to leave you with these two words,” Keaton said in a clip of the speech that has now gone viral.

“And those two words are: I’m Batman.” 

Many in the crowd (and the internet) celebrated the “I’m Batman” ending.

But some Kent State students were less than thrilled at Keaton’s commencement speech. Some wondered whether he was drunk:

Keaton’s representative didn’t immediately reply to HuffPost’s request for comment. 

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Regardless of Janus Decision, ‘We’re Not Going Anywhere’

(AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

With the U.S. Supreme Court only weeks, perhaps days, away from issuing a  potentially momentous decision in Janus v. AFSCME, what will the fallout be for unions, educators and schools? That was the question before a panel at the 2018 Education Writers Association National Seminar in Los Angeles on May 16.

The panel, moderated by journalist David Washburn of EdSource, featured Lily Eskelsen Garcia, president of the National Education Association, William Messenger, staff attorney for the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, and Julia Koppich, president of J. Koppich & Associates, a San Francisco-based education consulting firm.

The issue before the Court in Janus is whether government employees who are covered by and benefit from a union contract, though not members of the union, should have to contribute to the union’s costs –  by paying an agency or fair share fee for their share of those costs  –  that support strong public sector collective bargaining. The petitioner argues that the First Amendment prohibits fair share fees. If the Court agrees, the rights and freedoms of working people to join together in strong unions will be significantly weakened.

Pressed by moderator Washburn about the actual agenda behind the Janus case (“Is this not just window dressing for union-busting?”), Messenger insisted that the only pertinent issue is the “freedom” to choose whether or not to be in a union. As far as whether or not unions lose members, and the impact on schools, “This is about choice only and I don’t see the connection,” said Messenger. “The case is a few degrees removed from any of those issues.”

Julia Koppich suggested to the audience that anyone who believed Janus was merely about the First Amendment was indulging in “magical thinking.”

“It’s important that we understand the malign intent behind Janus,” Koppich said, namely to severely reduce the bargaining power of public sector unions.

The case is bankrolled by the National Right to Work Foundation, Messenger’s employer, an is part of a well-funded network of corporate billionaires to use the courts to rig the rules against working people.

Eskelsen García told the reporters that NEA has only around 90,000 feepayers members out of 3 million. “I don’t think the National Right to Work Foundation will be satisfied with just that.”

It wouldn’t, she added, because “the case is just a pretext to get union members to drop their membership.”

Eskelsen García also pointed out that groups behind Janus already have launched aggressive drop campaigns seeking to persuade current union members to drop their membership and enjoy the benefits of membership on the dues paid by others. This exposes the true intent behind the case: divide and limit union members’ collective bargaining power and take away the rights and freedom of working people to speak up for themselves and their communities.  

“They want to keep the megaphone as small as possible,” she said. “This is about silencing voices.”

If the Court rules for the plaintiff, Washburn asked, how will unions change how they organize and engage. There’s no question that NEA and others will have to open “a new chapter,” said Koppich. “We don’t know yet what the impact will be on membership but unions will have to be creatively nimble moving forward. I do worry, however, that collaborative relationships in schools districts will be undermined. That can happen when fairness and due process, once embedded in the system, is no longer there.”

Eskelsen Garca agreed that the Janus case could make NEA significantly adjust. “We have to become more and more relevant. What we are doing has to touch the heart and minds of members and potential members. But it’s already happening.”

janus decision

NEA President Lily Eskelsen García (far right) discusses the potential ramifications of Janus v. AFSCME at the 2018 Education Writers Association National Seminar on May 16.

Support for labor unions has risen to its highest level in years and millions of American workers have recommitted to their unions and launched new organizing drives.

“Everyone is looking at what is happening across the country and are saying ‘listen to the teachers.’ ”

Koppich agreed. “Parents see teachers as being unfairly treated,” and schools underfunded.

Through their union, educators in West Virginia, Oklahoma, Kentucky, Colorado, Arizona and North Carolina have been speaking up and advocating for their students. They are speaking out against broken chairs, outdated textbooks that are duct taped together, mold on the ceilings, classrooms with more students than desks, and four-day school weeks.

As Eskelsen García told the journalists in the room, educators in Arizona were quick to reject Gov. Dave Ducey’s initial proposal to end the walkout because it focused on their salaries, not on reversing the chronic underfunding that has plagued the state’s schools.

These red state walkouts, in states without fair share fees many of which have no or very limited state bargaining rights, show the power of educators and their unions as advocates for students, Eskelsen Garcia said.

The question for the Court is whether it would rather see the power of those unions at the bargaining table in a controlled form or in the streets of state capitols.

Regardless of the decision, however, “educators are awake. There will be a new chapter,” said Eskelsen García.

“We’re seeing a greater level of activity now that we ever have before. But we still have to have one-on-one conversations with every educator. They need to know how we can help. The collective voice is all we have…and we’re not going anywhere.”

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Teachers Shouldn’t Have To Hoard Sick Days To Invent Maternity Leave

The subway ad glares at me from above during my morning commute in New York City: a mother kissing a baby boy in a sling, the father standing next to her.

“All parents deserve time to bond with a new child,” it reads. Then, in smaller letters: “Starting January 2018, New York State’s Paid Family Leave Policy makes sure you can get it.”

But each morning I see the ad, I think: Not me. Not us. Because I’m a New York public school teacher. 

If you’re curious about the NYC Department of Education’s current maternity leave policy, I’ll fill you in: We have none. Instead, we have to use our banked sick days if we want to continue receiving pay during leave ― the norm for most maternity leave is six weeks, or eight if a woman has a cesarean section. Many teachers do not have enough available days to cover that time, especially if it’s not a teacher’s first childbirth. So we end up borrowing future sick days from the Department of Education to keep an income, which sends our sick bank into negative numbers. Once we’ve exhausted those borrowed days, we get nothing.

The strain is enough to make many new mothers consider leaving the teaching profession altogether.

Of the 75,000 New York City public school teachers, 76.6 percent are female. We spend our days, afternoons and weekends doing the best we can to educate our city’s youth. We often end up nurturing them and becoming second parents to them. Sometimes, we’re more like first parents.

The maternity leave policies for teachers in Denver, Seattle and Boston resemble New York City’s: unpaid unless you use sick time.

The irony is glaring: We dedicate our lives to taking care of other people’s children, but when it’s time to have our own, we have to fend for ourselves. 

Just ask Meredith Formica, a teacher whose son was born with a congenital heart defect. She had to go off payroll in order to care for him until he was old enough for surgery; she lost almost $20,000 in pay as a result.

Or ask Andrea Cardinali, who was scheduled to return to work before her premature twins’ due date had even passed. She extended her leave for four weeks without pay. 

Rachel Sookram worked through the flu to hoard her sick days so she could afford to stay home for six weeks after her daughter was born.

Saphira Hendrix threw up into the garbage can in front of the school building each morning before teaching high school mathematics for the same reason — she had to save up her sick days for her daughter’s birth.

After my own daughters were born, I taught while dealing with two infected wisdom teeth and strep throat. I had run out of sick days and couldn’t take unpaid leave. I just didn’t have the money to spare.  

Having a baby is not a sickness, and borrowed sick time is not the same as maternity leave ― it’s a loan that many women are never able to pay back. Even after paying the Department of Education hundreds of dollars to try to buy back days, I am still in debt 11 sick days ― and my youngest daughter has just turned 3 years old.

In May 2017, I began a petition on calling for a change to this antiquated policy (or lack thereof). Within months, it had garnered more than 80,000 signatures, and the stories began pouring in.

Having a baby is not a sickness, and borrowed sick time is not the same as maternity leave ― it’s a loan that many women are never able to pay back.

My personal struggle paled in comparison with the hardships others had faced. Women wrote to me about their choice to have only one child because they didn’t have enough sick days saved up to afford going off payroll for a second child. One woman had been working a second job for two years in order to save money, putting off her pregnancy out of financial fear. Several women said they were too scared altogether to start a family, because they knew it would send them into a financial free fall. 

I spoke with women who missed rent payments and feared eviction. With women who had to seek help from local charities to pay their mortgage. With women who went on WIC, SNAP and other government programs to help them through. One adoptive mother wrote that she only got paid for three days after welcoming a new infant into her home, even though she had banked 30, because the current policy doesn’t recognize an adoption at all.

It’s easy to forget for a moment that we are talking about New York City, supposedly one of the most progressive places in the world.

Like the subway ad states, in January 2018, the New York State Paid Family Leave law took effect. Workers under this law are eligible for eight weeks of paid time off ― at 50 percent of their average weekly wage ― to take care of a newborn or ill family member. For unionized employees such as teachers to receive this benefit, however, it has to be negotiated through collective bargaining.

Our union leader, Michael Mulgrew, has held countless bargaining sessions with the city of New York, but as of now, nothing has been done. Mulgrew, who refuses to agree to concessions, told the New York Daily News that Mayor Bill de Blasio is trying to “manipulate a process, to try to create leverage for it, to try to get something else out of those workers.”

This, from a supposedly progressive mayor who has been cited multiple times as a supporter and advocate of paid parental leave, is absurd. Overworked and underpaid teachers shouldn’t have to shoulder the burden in order to attain this basic human right.

“We’re currently in discussion with the [United Federation of Teachers] over this very topic and hope to come to an agreement soon,” a de Blasio spokeswoman responded in the same article.

As of 2016, the U.S. was the only developed country in the world that didn’t have a comprehensive maternity policy.

This issue has become one of gender inequality. Male teachers often retire with extra sick days that they can not only cash in but can also use to calculate higher pension rates. When women retire, if we previously decided to have and raise children (and stay with them as newborns), we have many fewer sick days left over ― and a lower retirement payout and pension as a result.

In the era of Me Too and its emphasis on feminism, it surprises me this issue is not getting more attention.

As of 2016, the U.S. was the only developed country in the world that didn’t have a comprehensive maternity policy, according to The Washington Post. And although some major U.S. cities are doing far better than New York in terms of what they offer their teachers ― Chicago, for example, allows birth mothers to take 90 total days at full or partial pay ― this problem is not specific to just the Big Apple. The maternity leave policies for teachers in Denver, Seattle and Boston resemble New York City’s: unpaid unless you use sick time, under specific and often complicated circumstances. Houston teachers are actually forced to use their sick days when they take leave; they aren’t even given the option to take unpaid leave and save their sick days for an actual illness.

In my classroom, there’s a picture just like the one in the subway ad sitting in a frame on my bookshelf: me, my 1-month-old in a sling, my husband standing nearby. It’s been three years, and I am still trying to rebuild my savings to recover from the time I stayed home to care for and nurse each of my girls.

I know I’ll continue to work through illnesses and emergencies in an attempt to climb out of a negative sick day balance. And when I look at that picture, or into either of my daughters’ eyes, I never doubt the choice was worth it. But I also know I was never given a fair choice to begin with. It’s a choice I hope future mothers and teachers won’t have to make. 

The 84,614 people who signed the petition successfully got our union’s attention ― and gave it the necessary ammunition to fight ― but the stagnancy of negotiations shows that the buck stops at de Blasio. As a community, and as a nation that expects more for our working mothers, we will continue to reach out to the mayor and let him know we are watching and waiting for him to do the right thing.

Emily James is a teacher and writer in NYC.

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Video Shows 8-Year-Old With Autism Taunted, Abused By Bus Driver

The lawyer for the parents of an 8-year-old girl with autism released a disturbing video that shows a California school bus driver taunting and manhandling the child.

“I’ve been doing work on behalf of physically and sexually abused kids for 17 years ― many times against school districts – and it’s beyond disturbing to me,” the attorney, Micha Star Liberty, told HuffPost.

The video, recorded on Feb. 6 by a surveillance camera on a Vacaville Unified School District bus, led to the arrest of Kim Cheryle Klopson, 64. Vacaville police have charged her with felony child abuse, to which she’s pleaded “not guilty.”

Liberty said the family plans to file a lawsuit against the district in the coming months.

Klopson, according to police, was transporting a group of students with special needs to Browns Valley Elementary School when the 8-year-old a second grader was accused of blocking the aisle with her leg.

“If you stick your feet out again… you are going to be on the window,” Klopson can be heard saying on the video.

The incident appears to escalate when the bus arrives at the school. Klopson is seen on the video grabbing the girls backpack and ordering her to remain seated as the other students exit the bus.

When a paraeducator steps up to the bus, the driver is heard taunting the girl as she cries hysterically.

“She’s acting like she’s younger than her baby sister,” Klopson says. “She’s only two, how old are you? One? Oh no, a baby.”

Klopson can then be seen yanking the girl up.

“Okay, so I get to do that again? Help you sit up? Get up,” Klopson says as she throws the girl down. “You wanna crawl, you can crawl.”

The paraeducator does nothing to intervene and after a few minutes Klopson closes the bus door, saying, “Okay, we’ll be right there.”

Klopson can then be seen yanking the young girl around again as she continues to taunt her.

“Nah nah nah nah nah,” the bus driver says. “You done? Nah nah nah nah nah.”

Klopson then tries to force the girl’s backpack on her.

“Please stop it,” the girl cries. “I don’t want to. Stop it.”

Klopson replies, “No, I’m not gonna stop it.”

The video ends with Klopson dragging the young girl off the bus.

“It’s okay, I didn’t hurt her, guys,” Klopson can be heard saying to people outside the bus. “I mean you’re all like ― it’s okay. Bye… I’ll see you after school. That should be interesting.”

Vacaville police have charged Kim Klopson, 64, with "cruelty to child by inflicting injury." She's pleaded "not guilty."

The incident left the girl with scrapes and bruises, according to Liberty.

“Instead of being taken to the principal’s office or nurse, she was taken to her classroom,” the attorney said. “She complained about physical pain and eventually she was taken to the nurse and the nurse reported it to principle.”

Liberty said the family was not notified of the incident until the girl was bac on the bus later in the day and on her way home.

“The parents asked what happened and they were invited down to the school to see portions of the video,” she said. “They were heartbroken, appalled and shocked.”

The Vacaville Unified School District claims they fired Klopson, but court filings indicate Klopson said she quit. The paraeducator who appeared to witness some of the alleged abuse is still employed by the district, according to Liberty.

“I don’t know how you can watch a child go through that and then allow the bus driver to shut the door,” she said. “It’s clearly despicable.”

Liberty said the bus incident has caused the young girl deep and ongoing mental trauma.

“She’s started therapy for the first time at the young age of 8 to try and work through the trauma that she’s experienced,” she said. “She’s having regressive behavior, nightmares and aversions to certain things. This has had a very significant impact on her.”

A phone number for Klopson has been disconnected. In a statement to The Reporter News, the school district said, “Please know that we take this matter very seriously and will continue to be forthcoming and collaborative with our families.”

Liberty called it “heartbreaking” that “this little girl was educated and trained to use her words and to say if she doesn’t want to do something. She was crying and she’s telling the bus driver, ‘I don’t like you’ and ‘I don’t want to’ because she was doing what she was trained to do to help herself. Yet this bus driver clearly wasn’t trained appropriately and didn’t behave in any sort of accordance with norms or standards.”

Send David Lohr an email or follow him on Facebook and Twitter

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North Carolina Teachers Just Closed Schools With A Massive Protest

Thousands of North Carolina teachers poured into downtown Raleigh and marched to the state’s General Assembly on Wednesday morning in the latest in a series of red-state public school teacher uprisings across the country.

The demonstration was believed to be the largest teacher protest in North Carolina’s history, with educators creating a sea of red on Fayetteville Street and inside the assembly galleries as they demanded more public school funding and better salaries for school staffers.

The largest school districts in the state announced closures once it became clear that not enough teachers would be in the classroom. Roughly a million students were out of school as a result, according to the News & Observer, a Raleigh-based paper.  

The North Carolina Association of Educators, the group coordinating the protest, said teachers were marching because the state has cut taxes while public school per-student spending and teacher salaries lag national averages.

Our students deserve better,” the group said in a statement. “They deserve resources to help make them successful. They deserve professionally paid educators. They deserve safe schools and schools that are not crumbling and in disrepair.”

The group laid out a list of demands before the protest, calling on the state to meet the national averages in per-student spending and teacher pay within four years. It also wants the state to institute higher pay for teachers with advanced degrees and long tenures and to hire an additional 500 school nurses and counselors for the current school year. 

Echoing the frustration of teachers who have walked out in other states, the group has also called for a moratorium on new corporate tax cuts until teachers are earning the national average.

The teacher walkouts began in late February in West Virginia, where teachers shut down schools for nine days, leading to 5 percent raises for school staffers and state workers. Buoyed by the success of the West Virginia strike, teachers in Kentucky, Oklahoma and Arizona soon followed suit, closing down schools and flooding their state capitals to call for more funding.

What all these states have in common is flat or falling investment in schools paired with tax cuts that have primarily benefited businesses and the wealthy. The walkouts have largely been a revolt against the austerity of Republican-led statehouses, which has left the states with little money to devote to salaries and textbooks.

North Carolina slashed its corporate income tax rate in 2013, reducing it from 6.9 percent to its current 3.0 percent.

According to the National Education Association, North Carolina ranks 39th in public school teacher pay in the U.S. Teachers received a 4.2 percent pay bump last year, but they still earn less than what they were making a decade ago when adjusted for inflation. Per-student public school spending is down about 8 percent over the same period, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

This is a developing story and will be updated.

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Why #RedforEd Has Caught Fire in North Carolina

There are more than 1.5 million reasons behind Wednesday’s “March for Students and Rally for Respect” in North Carolina, where more than 20,000 educators from 40 or more school districts  traveled to Raleigh to demand the attention of state lawmakers. Those reasons include the 1.5 million public school students who often are learning in crowded classrooms with outdated textbooks and technology.

Here are a few more reasons:

  • State education funding! Last year, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) reported that state funding for North Carolina students had dropped 12 percent since 2008. That means bigger class sizes, cuts to academic programs, and outdated classroom resources. “We have to make sure our schools in North Carolina are fully funded,” says Ronda Mays, president of North Carolina’s Forsyth County Education Association. “The per-pupil spending has to be at least—at least—to the national average.
  • Educators want to send a message to lawmakers: Choose students over corporations. Since 2013, the GOP-controlled North Carolina state legislature has cut the corporate tax rate from 6.9 percent to 3 percent. The revenues lost to these tax cuts—about a half a billion dollars a year—make it impossible to adequately fund public education. And it’s only going to get worse! Corporate and person taxes are scheduled to drop again next year. The North Carolina Association of Educators (NCAE) wants the legislature to cancel these cuts until school funding is improved.
  • They’re sick of seeing their colleagues forced out of the classroom because they can’t afford to stay. Nearly one in 10 North Carolina teachers left the profession last year, and the rates are even higher for new teachers. Months into the school year, some school districts had teacher vacancy rates of more than 10 percent. At least part of the reason is pay: Since 2009, N.C. teacher pay has declined 9.4 percent, when you adjust for inflation. The average salary is $9,600 below the national average. “And they’re still paying out of their pocket to make sure students have what they need,” Mays notes.
  • School support personnel are suffering, which means students are suffering. Nearly 7,500 teachers’ aides in North Carolina have lost their jobs because of budget cuts. Caseloads for counselors have increased. “There are people in our schools who are not classroom teachers, but who are just as vital to students,” says Mays, a school social worker. “It’s important that we have these people to work with students, and it’s important that they be fairly compensated, too.”
  • They just can’t take it anymore. North Carolina’s #RedforEd movement isn’t an overnight sensation. Educators have been watching the situation in their schools get worse for more than a decade. The movement, says NCAE President Mark Jewell, is “the culmination of years of starving our public school system.”

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Meet The First Openly Trans Man To Graduate From Spelman College

It’s fitting that Keo Chaad O’Neal was a history major, because the college graduate is already making it.

O’Neal says he’s the first openly trans man to graduate from Spelman College, America’s first private, liberal arts historically black college for women.

O’Neal shared two smiling snapshots of himself in his graduation attire on Twitter that subsequently went viral. HuffPost talked to the recent graduate about his journey at Spelman and what it’s like to be a trans man at an all-women college.

“My experience was up and down, much how I’d expect any college experience would be,” O’Neal said in an email.

O’Neal said he loved Spelman as a freshman, but he didn’t feel like he could come into himself, so he transferred to a predominantly white institution.

The 21-year-old had started Spelman identifying as non-binary and using they/them pronouns, but “no one could catch on to that so it was kind of hard to exist as myself,” O’Neal said. He added that in his experience, “black folks really only understood the binary.”

It was during the time at the predominantly white school that he “was able to grow and develop” himself the way he wanted to “without the pressures of other black folks telling me I couldn’t do or be something.”

“I came back to Spelman my junior year because although I could flourish in my queerness, I felt like I was denying my blackness and I was nothing more than a body to those folks,” O’Neal said.

Getting through junior and senior years was hard for O’Neal, who said that he received a lot of backlash from “current students, their parents and alum” after he came out during a convocation with author and activist Alice Walker, a Spelman alumna who was visiting as an artist-in-residence.

“Lots of people believed that because I was trans, I didn’t belong at Spelman but there was nowhere else I would rather be,” he said. “People still have their own opinions of me attending Spelman, but it’s because of Spelman why I am who I am.” The college did not immediately return a request for comment.

O’Neal said there were many who supported his decision to come out, which is only emphasized by the explosion of support from friends, family and fans on Twitter after his graduation photos went viral.

Odds are high that O’Neal will not be the only openly trans man to gradute from Spelman.

The school announced in September 2017 that it would revise its admissions and enrollment policy to “consider for admission women students including students who consistently live and self-identify as women, regardless of their gender assignment at birth.” 

“If a woman is admitted and transitions to male while a student at Spelman, the College will permit that student to continue to matriculate at and graduate from Spelman,” read the letter from the college president about the change.

On what’s next for O’Neal, the South Plainfield, New Jersey, native said that he’s been accepted into a Ph.D. program for this fall, but is thinking about “taking some time off to work and establish” himself before going back to school.

“Right now, I’m on the job hunt! Not necessarily looking to stay in my major but I definitely want to do something I love,” he told HuffPost.

The graduate wanted to thank his supporters.

“I could not have made it this far without the encouragement of others,” he said. “It truly takes a village. For everyone who played a part in my successes, this is a win for all of us.”

O’Neal also hopes that his experience will teach others to “never give up, no matter what people tell you.”

“You have to believe in yourself,” he added. “It is so easy to get down and out but it takes a lot of courage to keep fighting and that courage has always been inside of you.”

Cheers to you, Keo. Congratulations! 

This piece was updated to include information about Spelman College’s revision to its admissions policy.

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As States Debate Anti-LGBTQ Bills, Educators Focus on Supporting All Students

(AP Photo/Toby Talbot, File)

This year’s legislative session saw a wave of anti-transgender state bills all across the country. Ten states introduced 21 anti-transgender bills, many of which have been defeated or are pending final votes. In November’s general election, Massachusetts voters will have the power to strike down an anti-transgender ballot initiative. Overall, these bills and ballot measures limit people from accessing health care and updating identity documents, as well as create special exemptions that discriminate against the LGBTQ community. Despite these efforts, the fight for equality remains strong.

In Alaska, voters in Anchorage defeated a ballot measure that would have allowed strangers to demand to check a person’s “sex at birth” before allowing access to certain restrooms and public facilities. On the opposite side of the county, the Maine House of Representatives passed legislation to protect LGBTQ youth from the discredited practice of “conversion therapy.”

While voters and legislatures nationwide continue to push for more LGBTQ-friendly policies, many educators are taking action in different ways.

Lindsay Buck, a special education department chair and teacher for Lawrence High School in Kansas, sponsors the Total Equality Alliance, the school’s version of Gay Sexuality Alliance (GSA) clubs. At Lawrence, educators are creating affirming/welcoming schools by, for example, normalizing gender pronouns. Educators are making it common place to ask and share gender pronouns and to never assume pronouns, explains Buck.

“Just because society says there’s ‘feminine’ and ‘masculine’ pronouns, doesn’t mean they should be used or assumed. Some folks use pronouns other than she/her and he/him, and feel more comfortable in the they/them area,” she says.

Supporting students’ gender pronouns goes along way. “This lets non-binary and transgender students know you’re an ally.”

As a sponsor of Lawrence’s Total Equality Alliance, Buck meets weekly with LGBTQ students and allies. Her goal is to ensure students have access to student resources and support.

This support comes at a critical time for the LGBTQ community. The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) Foundation released on Tue., May 15 the findings of their 2017 LGBTQ Teen Survey, a new survey conducted in partnership with the University of Connecticut of 12,000 LGBTQ teens. The survey explored the experiences, health and wellbeing of LGBTQ teens across the country and underscored high levels of anxiety, fear, and rejection LGBTQ teens face in places that should be safe areas: home, school, social settings, and their communities.

“I’m a member of the LGBTQ community myself,” says the educators of 11 years, “and I know from experience what it’s like to not have a support system in place. I want my students to know that they can be their authentic selves, and that they can be successful and have careers and families.”

Affirming and Welcoming Schools

The effort toward being an affirming/welcoming school has been well received by many at Lawrence. In fact, the school district, after hearing from their own LGBTQ+ advisory committee, took a stance to add gender expression to their non-discriminatory policies, after previously adding sexual orientation and gender identity.

Additionally, the district directed schools to move away from gendering activities, such as designating a “Queen” and “King” at homecoming events. Now, 12 students are selected to court. Of the 12, two are selected “Royalty,” regardless of identity.

“It could be two people who identify as male or it could be a female student and a non-binary student, for example,” says Buck. “Before, non-binary and transgender students felt they weren’t a part of homecoming or that it wasn’t even an option to be on court. Now everyone has an opportunity to participate without the fear of being discriminated against based on identify or expression.”

Thousands of NEA members, like Buck, serve as GSA advisors in their schools.

At Hale-Dale Middle School and High School in Farmingdale, Maine, school counselor Tara Kierstead helped students set up a GSA in 2013 and says, “[S]tudents find it a comfortable space to meet and talk. They do not seem ready yet to become highly visible advocates for LGBT rights, but when they’re ready, I will be right there to support them.”

If students are interested in creating a GSA, Kierstead suggests using the GLSEN start-up kit.

Kansas’s Lindsay Buck says that even if you’re an educator in a conservative area or are grappling with wanting to have a safe and inclusive school, educators can still show support by wearing a button with your gender pronouns or a rainbow flag. Small gestures of support “communicate that you’re a safe person who students can talk to.”

While some teachers feel out of their comfort zone or are not quite there in their understanding of the LGBTQ community, Buck suggests to challenge your beliefs, assumptions, and expectations about the world.

“Research and interact with others who don’t necessarily share your beliefs or your way of thinking,” Buck says. “You can also seek resources, like GLSEN or NEA Ed Justice, to learn how you can be an affirming and inclusive teacher.”

Educators are uniquely positioned to address these issues and work towards creating a safe, supportive and affirming school environment for LGBTQ students.

Educators can start by taking The Pledge to support LGBTQ equality. There’s also Gender Spectrum’s The Gender Inclusive School guide, which looks to expand the approaches educators can take to help all students feel safe within their schools or classrooms.

Additional Resources: Human Rights Campaign Foundation’s 2017 LGBTQ Teen Survey, Schools in transition Guide, What Do You Say?, Legal guidance on transgender students’ rights, GLSEN’s Model Laws and School Policies, and How to Support LGBTQ by starting a GSA.


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Caged Tiger At Florida Prom Prompts Outrage

Critics weren’t captivated by a Florida high school’s use of a caged tiger during a “Welcome to the Jungle”-themed prom.

Christopher Columbus High School in Miami-Dade County invited some wild guests to Friday’s annual dance at the Double Tree Hilton Miami Airport Convention Center ― the caged giant cat, along with a lemur, macaws and an African fennec fox, the Miami Herald reported.

Footage of the tiger pacing in its enclosure amid the bright lights and fire used by some prom performers caught the attention of Ron Magill, an animal expert and ZooMiami spokesman. He told the Herald the animal “was obviously stressed.”

“The tiger is clearly looking for a way to get out of that situation, it’s not difficult to interpret that behavior,” Magill said. “He was surrounded by people, cell phones, lights, jugglers juggling fire. I really don’t know what they were thinking. Exploiting animals for entertainment at parties — that time has passed. We know better; we’ve been educated.”

Marie-Christine Castellanos, whose brother attended the prom, posted clips on Facebook. “This poor tiger was used as an EXOTIC amusement for the mindless teenagers who were present,” she wrote, blaming the high school staff, not the students.

Castellanos’ post was flooded with messages affirming her condemnation of the school’s prom exhibit. However, one person who identified himself as a Columbus student asked others not to bash his school.

School administrators issued a statement defending the wildlife presentation in the Fox 4 segment above. They noted that police officers were present and that providers of the animals were licensed by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

“The tiger, which was displayed for a few minutes in a cage, was never harmed or in danger, was not forced to perform, was always accompanied by his handlers, and for the great majority of the time was lying down in a relaxed state facing away from the audience,” the statement read.

On Monday, however, the school did an about face after the backlash. 

“Upon reflection, we regret the decision to have live animals at our prom,” Principal David Pugh said in a statement to an ABC affiliate. “This decision in no way reflects the Marist values, teachings of the Catholic Church and/or the accomplishments of our young and that of our distinguished alumni. We remain proud of the work we do in our community by raising awareness for pediatric cancer, autism and our homeless veterans, to name a few.”

A HuffPost request for comment was not immediately returned by the school.

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College Costs Are America’s Cruel Graduation Gift

Springtime at the school where I teach is usually a celebration of how far so many of our students have come. After years of hard work, often overcoming massive obstacles — poverty, violence, fractured families, inferior educational opportunities that did not prepare them for demanding and not always sympathetic high school teachers like me — graduation is supposed to be a moment of victory, a launching pad to greater success and a life full of possibility.

But more and more, I find those celebrations are tempered by a sudden cold slap from an indifferent world that cares little about the hard work of impoverished young people.

These past few weeks, with commitment day looming, I’ve often found myself trying to console at least one — often three or four — students crying in my classroom or in the hallway outside. They are frustrated and hurt because they are coming to the conclusion that all that work was for nothing, that no matter their dedication, they cannot figure out how they will ever be able to pay for college.

Sticker Shock

According to the College Board, the average annual tuition for a private university has more than doubled over the last 20 years, from just over $15,000 to almost $35,000. The average tuition for a public university has more than tripled, from just over $3,000 to nearly $10,000 a year.

In more stark terms, the average expense for a year of tuition, fees, room and board at a public university is now more than 80 percent of the median annual wage of an American woman and more than 50 percent of the median annual wage of a man. The cost of college has risen almost three times as fast as wages.

When my wife and I filled out our first FAFSA more than a decade ago, we were surprised to discover that the income of two educators was above the threshold for receiving any need-based financial aid for our college-bound older daughter. It remained the case even a few years later when we had two daughters in college.

At the time, I understood the grim reality of limited resources. If there is only so much money available to subsidize college education, then it probably ought to go to those who need it most. But now, 12 years later, financial aid is covering less and less.

So you end up seeing what I saw last week — the financial statement of a student trying to become first in her family to attend college. Her federal financial aid determination was that her family contribution should be 0.

That’s ZERO. Nada. Not an unreasonable conclusion for a family living on less than $20,000 a year.

But that same student’s financial aid offer from the university she hoped to attend only accounted for about two-thirds of her tuition and expenses. Her family was somehow expected to come up with $5,000. Even the loans she was offered did not cover this.

Yes, some students still come out OK — those few who get a full ride based on merit and/or need and others who patch together enough scholarships and loans to get a degree without initiating a lifetime of debt. But that ought not obscure the very real crisis that is playing out right now, this week, in the halls outside my classroom and in other high schools across the country.

Following The Path, Only To Find It Blocked

Higher education has long been a fundamental element of America’s promise of economic prosperity and social mobility. And since the GI Bill following World War II, we had managed to make it largely attainable for those willing to work hard enough.

I’ve seen it firsthand. In my nearly three decades as a teacher, I’ve watched students defy all the risk factors of South Los Angeles to graduate high school, succeed in college and become engineers, educators, entrepreneurs, journalists, nurses, attorneys and so on.

Now, those dreams are dying amid the grim black ink of financial aid that doesn’t add up. Kids euphoric one day about the colleges that want them, devastated the next when they realize an educational institution has been taunting them, insensitive to the realities of poverty. These are kids whose families, in many cases, subsist on a minimum wage income in the city of Los Angeles where the median rent for a two-bedroom apartment is upwards of $1,700 a month.

They’re being told they are among the elite students qualified for some of the best universities in the world, and they will probably never be able to go.

What a humiliating thing to do to a 17- or 18-year-old who has spent a dull life in a tenement apartment or a converted garage or trailer avoiding the streets, studying every night in dim light only to feel the blunt force of this savage injustice.

Poverty means not having any extra money and sometimes it means not having any money at all.

I’m afraid that privilege is the collective consciousness of universities.

This disconnect has finally begun to get some attention with the Wisconsin Hope Lab’s shocking findings: more than one-third of all college students are “food insecure,” or “housing insecure,” and nearly 10 percent of students are homeless at some point during college.

I had a personal experience with this phenomenon a few years ago when I discovered that a student I’d helped get into college had been de-enrolled after failing to show up for a mandatory orientation. The orientation cost $140 and the student, recently homeless after her father was deported, only had about $20 to her name. She was too embarrassed to ask me or any of her other teachers for help. I called the university about it and was flabbergasted that our state’s largest university system, which serves an incredibly diverse student population, could be so oblivious to the realities of its most economically challenged students.

Poverty means not having any extra money, and sometimes it means not having any money at all. The admissions office of that university was not making exceptions. I finally managed to reach a counselor who was sympathetic, who had, herself, been a first-generation college student. She eventually took the young woman under her wing, got her re-enrolled and looked after her for a while. But it wasn’t in her capacity as a counselor; it was a personal gesture. Reforming the university so that it actually met the needs of impoverished students was beyond her.

Perhaps it is beyond any one person, but that would be tragic and shameful. If we are going to try to reduce poverty through education then we ought to make sure we understand what poverty is and provide a realistic path out of it.

For Now, We Are Going Backwards

I’ve wondered, seeing so many students crushed by the sudden impossibility of their educational aspirations, whether the current president and his administration was to blame. President Donald Trump and Secretary of Education Betty DeVos and Office of Management and Budget Director Budget Mick Mulvaney have called for slashing billions of dollars from financial aid programs. The recent congressional budget didn’t include such cuts, but if the administration gets its way then even those students who can manage college now might find it impossible in a year or two.

Perhaps that’s just the ups and downs of life in Dickensian America, but I have a suggestion for anyone who thinks we ought to cut financial aid or college subsidies. Come to my classroom or stand just outside the door. Listen to the stories of young people who’ve defied the odds, stayed out of trouble and overcome prodigious hardships, and then tell them to their faces that they don’t deserve a chance. Tell them you don’t care about their dreams. That their dreams are an inconvenience. That their dreams offend your ideology.

Help me explain why we’ve put them through this charade – filled them with hopes and dreams and then left them in free fall.

Or better yet, let’s put our money where our hearts are – or should be.

That student of mine for whom I advocated when she got de-enrolled over a $140 orientation had a tuition and housing gap of about $2,500, half of which my wife and I paid, half of which we helped her raise from sympathetic people we knew. She had a successful freshman year, then got bounced to the street because she could locate neither parent in order to file her FAFSA for the following school year. She drifted a few years until my wife and I gave her a room in our house and got her back into school at the local junior college. She’s worked while going to school in order to save a few thousand dollars and is about to transfer to a university.

There are probably thousands of other young people like her – smart, hard-working, a good investment. Find one or two and help them. Perhaps if we can get enough of this next generation educated they will somehow figure out how to fix what we have so spectacularly broken.

Larry Strauss is a veteran high school teacher and basketball coach in Los Angeles and the author of Students First and Other Lies.

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Gay Teacher Suspended For Showing Photo Of ‘Future Wife’ Sues Texas District

Award-winning Texas elementary school teacher Stacy Bailey was suspended and reassigned to teach at a secondary school after showing students last year a photo of the woman who is now her wife.

At a Mansfield Independent School Board meeting, some parents objected, with one accusing Bailey of promoting “the LGBTQ agenda,” according to Texas Values, which says on its website that it stands for “biblical, Judeo-Christian values.”

Now she’s fighting back in court.

Bailey, who teaches art, had worked at the Charlotte Anderson Elementary School near Dallas since 2008. She is a two-time recipient of its teacher of the year award and had been given excellent performance reviews.

She said she believes the school district, along with its superintendent and associate superintendent, discriminated against her because of her sexual orientation.

She filed suit with attorney Jason Smith in the Northern District of Texas federal court on Tuesday, seeking punitive damages, an apology and reinstatement at Charlotte Anderson, according to The Star-Telegram, based in Fort Worth.

“Stacy is filing this lawsuit and taking this action in hopes of pushing Mansfield out of the shadows of discrimination and into the sunshine of equal rights,” Smith told NBC 5, a local TV station.

The trouble began with that photograph.

Bailey included it with pictures of her family members, her closest friends and one of herself as a child in an Aug. 23 introductory PowerPoint presentation she used with new classes. Later in the week, according to the lawsuit, she was “informed by the principal that a parent complained to the school board and superintendent about plaintiff promoting the ‘homosexual agenda’ by discussing her ‘future wife.’”

“I don’t think you did anything wrong, but I don’t know what’s going to happen,” the principal said, according to the suit.

Bailey was suspended in early September. On Oct. 30, the school district asked for her resignation. She refused. 

“The school district suspended me because they were uncomfortable with my sexual orientation,” Bailey wrote in a letter dated April 4 to district superintendent Jim Vaszauskas. It was published by The Star-Telegram. 

In May, days after being notified that her contract would be renewed, Bailey received word that the district planned to transfer her to a secondary school.

“It is shocking and disappointing that Mansfield district officials treated my wife differently when she spoke about her family, just as every teacher does,” Julie Vasquez, whom Bailey married in March, said in a statement to the Star-Telegram.

The district said in a statement to NBC News that it is an “inclusive, supportive” place for LGBTQ teachers.

It said Bailey’s “actions in the classroom changed” last year and “prompted her students to voice concerns to their parents.”

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Cornell Student Delivers Thesis In Underwear After Professor Questions Her Outfit

Cornell University student Letitia Chai stripped down to her underwear while delivering a presentation this week after a professor reportedly told her that her shorts were “too short” just days earlier. About two dozen of Chai’s fellow students joined in.

“This topic transcends all of our social identities and taps right into the heart of who we are,” Chai, a fourth-year student, said to a room of nearly 50 people while presenting her thesis paper on May 5, as seen in a livestream of the event.

Chai began undressing as she held back tears, first removing her shoes, then her pants and, lastly, her shirt.

“I am more than Asian. I am more than a woman. I am more than Letitia Chai. I am a human being,” she said while undressing. “And I ask you to take this leap of faith, to take this next step, or rather this next strip, in our movement and to join me in revealing to each other and to seeing each other for who we truly are — members of the human race.” 

Then 28 of the 44 people in the room also took off their clothes, The Cornell Sun reported. Although Chai’s protest happened last week, her story didn’t hit national news until Thursday.  

The protest came just days after Chai was presenting a trial run of her thesis in her class “Acting in Public: Performance in Everyday Life” on May 2. When Chai went to give her trial run presentation, professor Rebekah Maggor questioned the student’s outfit choice.  

“Is that really what you would wear?” Maggor asked Chai, according to a Facebook post the student wrote later that day.

Chai, who was wearing a long-sleeve button-down shirt and jean cutoff shorts, said she was “shook” by Maggor’s alleged comments. 

“The professor proceeded to tell me, in front of my whole class, that I was inviting the male gaze away from the content of my presentation and onto my body,” she wrote on Facebook, noting that her professor is a white woman. “She said I was making a statement by wearing my outfit. I told her that I sure as hell wouldn’t change my statement to make her or anyone else feel more comfortable.”

According to Chai, a male international student then made a comment that a presenter has a “moral obligation” to the audience to dress conservatively, at which point Chai fled the room in tears. 

“I am not responsible for anyone’s attention because we are capable of thinking for ourselves and we have agency,” Chai told The Cornell Sun, referring to Maggor’s alleged comments that her outfit would invite the wrong type of attention. 

Maggor responded to Chai’s protest in an email to the Sun. 

“I do not tell my students what to wear, nor do I define for them what constitutes appropriate dress,” she said. “I ask them to reflect for themselves and make their own decisions.”

After Chai gathered herself, she came back into the classroom, stripped down to her underwear and gave her full thesis presentation. In a Facebook post, Chai said she would do the same for her actual thesis presentation and encouraged others to attend and do the same.

According to a statement written by 11 of the other 13 students in Maggor’s class that day, the situation may have gone down a bit differently than Chai wrote on Facebook.

They wrote that while Maggor made “an error in phrasing,” she had “apologized on more than one occasion.” The students added that Chai’s post did not “adequately represent [Maggor’s] past and continued advocacy for women and minorities.” 

“Our intention in writing this letter is in no way to invalidate any of Letitia’s experience,” the statement reads. “We strongly support and identify with Letitia’s fight for equality … The majority of us are students of color, from multi-ethnic backgrounds, who very much relate to Letitia’s frustration with systemic oppression that is part of the fabric of this country. We do not want to discredit her narrative. However, we feel it is important and our obligation to share our impression of Wednesday’s events to provide a fair representation of the situation.”

Below is an excerpt from the students’ statement detailing how the conversation in question happened (scroll below to read the letter in full):

Letitia stood up to give her speech. Before she began, our professor asked Letitia if she would wear “those shorts” to her actual presentation on Saturday. Our professor regularly asks all of the students, male and female, such questions to clarify appropriate attire for public speaking. Our professor went on to say that what you wear and how you present yourself make a statement. She noted that if you were to wear jean shorts to your thesis presentation, that is a statement. Her focus on attire was a means of noting the importance of professionalism in certain public speaking situations.

Our professor acknowledged the discomfort of speaking overtly about attire and perception, especially for women, and encouraged us to share our thoughts and opinions. Students began discussing their beliefs on the matter. Letitia became visibly upset by our professor’s earlier comments, and after one male international student’s comment (mentioned in her post), she left the room. From the initial comments to Letitia’s exit, only a few minutes had passed, and many people were speaking at once. Tensions were high, and neither our professor nor Letitia was able to adequately defend her position.

After Letitia left, our professor listened and agreed with many of the student’s comments and criticisms. She wholeheartedly agreed that her initial comment was about professionalism rather than the “male gaze” mentioned in the student discussion. She also apologized for her choice of words, acknowledging that the notion of “short shorts” on women carries a lot of cultural and political baggage. Unfortunately, because Letitia was not in the room, she was not able to hear these comments, and we believe this contributed to the miscommunication.

Maggor was unable to provide additional comment at press time, and Chai has not responded to a request for comment.

In her original Facebook post, Chai wrote why she chose to protest Maggor’s comments and the larger issue of policing people’s bodies. 

“This is for every Asian woman who was told to speak up lest others think she’s submissive,” she wrote. “This is for every POC man who was told to pull his pants to be taken seriously, and every POC woman who was asked to straighten her hair to seem intelligent. This is for every gay friend who was told to dress more ‘straight’ so that others didn’t feel weird around him/her/them. This is for us.”

Read the full statement from 11 of the other 13 students in Chai’s class below. 

Head over to The Cornell Sun to read more about this story. 

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How Many Teachers Are Highly-Stressed? Maybe More Than People Think

Everyone knows that teaching is one of the most demanding and stressful professions. And most are probably aware that a majority of teachers are feeling a high level of stress. Still, we may have been underestimating the magnitude of the problem, according to a new study by the University of Missouri (MU).

Keith Herman and Wendy Reinke, both professors in the MU College of Education, and doctoral student Jal’et Hickmon-Rosa found that 93 percent of elementary school teachers report that they are experiencing a high stress level. The study was recently published in the Journal of Positive Behavior Interventions.

The researchers asked 121 teachers who taught kindergarten through 4th grade in an urban Midwestern school district to complete self-report measures on their levels of burnout, stress, efficacy, and coping. The teachers were asked such questions as “How stressful is your job?” and “How well are you coping with the stress of your job right now?” The researchers then linked the resulting data to the behavioral and academic outcomes of their students. They found that high teacher stress levels were usually associated with poorer student results, such as lower grades and frequent behavior problems.

In the study, educators with low levels of stress and high coping ability were pratically non-existent.

While Herman wasn’t surprised that most teachers feel stressed in their jobs, he didn’t expect that “only 7 percent rated themselves as having both low levels of stress and high levels of coping with their jobs.” (Herman and his colleagues are finding similar results in a yet-to-be-completed follow-up study with middle school teachers.)

The University of Missouri study, while generally corroborating previous research about the job pressures educators face and the potential impact on students, brings something new to the table. “We could find no other study that simultaneously examined teacher stress and coping levels. While stress and coping are related to each other, they are distinct constructs,” Herman says.

Focusing on how educators succeed or fail at “coping” with job pressures can be misconstrued as placing the blame squarely on those individuals. Talking too much about “burnout,” for example, implies that many teachers simply can’t hack it in the classroom and it’s ultimately up to them to make the necessary changes. Doris Santoro of Boiwdon College believes teachers are just as “demoralized” by a changing profession as they are “burned out” by its demands. Schools, communities and policymakers, therefore, are all responsible for restoring what has been stripped from the profession.

I’m surprised that few people seem to connect the dots back to their own children. When I think of my daughter, I know that I don’t want her to spend an entire day with an adult who is feeling overwhelmed, under-appreciated, and mistreated.”

Herman agrees. The stress level felt by educators is a wake-up call to the country about the state of the profession, but supporting their use of effective coping strategies must be part of the solution – and educators recognize this.

Herman recalls the reaction of a group of teachers he was training in classroom management intervention a few years ago. After outlining basic coping principles to stress management on the board, Herman turned around to the class and saw the participants “feverishly taking notes,” he recalls. “I was struck by how many teachers had not been acquainted with this very useful approach to coping with inevitable life stressors.” Herman, with Reinke, co-wrote “Stress Management for Teachers: A Proactive Guide,” published by Guilford Press in 2014.

While individual coping matters, real, sustainable success is unlikely without a comprehensive school-wide commitment to create healthier and productive climates for staff and students.

“Administrators set the tone in their building for how teachers are perceived and supported. Prioritizing teacher well-being and giving higher rates of recognition and positive feedback to teachers versus criticism and judgment helps set a positive tone,” Herman explains.

More broadly, improved workplace conditions, greater autonomy in the classroom, and a voice in decision-making can also go a long way in giving teachers the professional respect that is so pervasive in high-achieving countries.

The recent strikes and walkouts of educators in West Virginia, Oklahoma, Arizona, and Colorado has forced the nation to take a hard look at not only the underfunding of public education, but also how their profession has been denigrated. This kind of national attention, says Herman, can help society acknowledge that undervaluing the teaching profession harms students.

“I’m surprised that few people seem to connect the dots back to their own children. When I think of my daughter, for instance, I know that I don’t want her to spend an entire day with an adult who is feeling overwhelmed, underappreciated, and mistreated,” Herman explains. “That’s a bad setup for everyone. I hope we are calling attention to the fact that teachers need our support, as parents, as community members, as policy makers, and as private citizens. When teachers are neglected, our children are neglected.”

How to Survive Year-End Stress
No matter where you teach, what grade, subject, or school, you will experience this end-of-year insanity. How can you deal with it and stay sane?
Don’t Be Afraid to Say “No”
While taking risks and responsibilities is important for career development, managing yourself and your time is just as crucial. All educators—from new to experienced—are susceptible to burnout.
Lean On Me: How Mentors Help First-Year Teachers
The inability to keep teachers teaching costs districts $7.3 billion a year. Mentors can help.

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Girls, 10 and 11, Accused Of Plotting To Kill Classmate

Officers in Virginia foiled a plot by two pre-teen girls to kill their 11-year-old classmate after a parent discovered a “cryptic” text message exchange, the Prince William County Police Department said.

Police arrested the suspects, ages 10 and 11, on May 3, and they were charged with one count of conspiracy to commit a felony.

The arrests came after someone contacted staff members at Prince William County School on April 25 and alerted them to the alleged plot, police spokesman Jonathan Perok said.

“It was a parent, but not a parent of those involved and the school notified us,” Perok told HuffPost.

While police did not disclose the content of the text messages, the department did report that the girls discussed in detail how they planned to kill the student. The suspects also allegedly encouraged each other to delete message threads related to those plans. A motive in the alleged plot is unclear.

While no threat to harm the victim was carried out, investigators decided to file charges after consulting the district attorney’s office.

“Obviously, we took it seriously,” Perok said. “This is not something we commonly see.”

The young suspects, whose names were not released due to their ages, have been charged as juveniles. Conspiracy to commit a felony in Virginia carries a maximum sentence of up to five years behind bars.

A court date for the girls is pending.

Send David Lohr an email or follow him on Facebook and Twitter

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What If We Loved Real HBCUs As Much As We Love Beyoncé’s?

Fists raised to “Lift Every Voice and Sing” is how my school kicked off football games, basketball games, convocations and graduations — you name it.

It was routine to hear the song right after “The Star-Spangled Banner” at many of these events. But even those who were only visiting Howard University could tell the difference in the posture of students and alumni when someone sang the black national anthem. There’s a sense of pride and belonging that renders a special connection to our history and culture in the lyrics.

The black national anthem always resonated with me more than “The Star-Spangled Banner,” but I took for granted hearing it so regularly. It had been a few years since I’d witnessed this song performed publicly. So when I stood amid a sea of mostly white festivalgoers alongside two fellow Howard grads at Coachella, I was surprised by the tears falling down my cheeks as Beyoncé sang “Lift Every Voice and Sing” not 10 minutes into the show.

I’m not sure if it was because the song was coming from the lips of the greatest performer alive or if it was a combination of the show’s elements incorporating the culture of historically black colleges and universities, but I was overcome with the same emotion I felt when I found myself, unapologetic blackness and all, at the mecca, Howard University.

After one semester at my beloved HBCU, I recognized what I was missing when looking at my identity. Pre-Howard, I was conditioned to always juxtapose my blackness against the concept of whiteness, not fully understanding how powerful it is to appreciate my background outside the context of oppression. That limited me to a very narrow and monolithic view of what blackness can be.

Contrary to popular belief, HBCUs do prepare students for the real world, and they do a damn good job at it.

But black colleges show their students the beauty and expansiveness that blackness already is on its own. For me and others who shared this mindset, Howard, Spelman, Morehouse, NCAT, Hampton, Fisk and any of the more than 100 other HBCUs are pivotal. Not only do they center blackness in academia (even my math classes would turn into black history lessons at times), but they also provide spaces for their students to be fully embraced by faculty and their peers alike, fostering a sense of community and mentorship.

Even outside the classroom at HBCUs, we’re free to unlearn the toxic ideals white supremacy taught us about our blackness. We’re free to embrace the diversity among the African diaspora, debunking the myth that we are monolithic. We’re free to heal from the microaggressive trauma we face in white spaces. And we get to do so while leaving code switching behind and not having to worry about grubby white hands and stereotypes intruding on our hair and lives.

And contrary to popular belief, they do prepare students for the real world, and they do a damn good job at it.

Many folks, both black and nonblack, believe that HBCUs are inferior to predominantly white institutions in academics, size, networking opportunities and career development. This couldn’t be further from the truth. All while defying stereotypes about our blackness, our intelligence and our drive, HBCUs have been community pillars in catering to students with faculty and other staff members who embrace diverse cultural experiences and with stellar degree programs that offer students a chance to get real experience in their field of study. For me and for the vast majority of others, attending an HBCU was never a last resort or back-up plan. It is the top choice for educational, social and cultural experiences you won’t find anywhere else.

HBCUs aren’t perfect, but they are necessary. It is up to us to destigmatize and support these schools to ensure their survival.

These things are no secret to alumni. That’s why homecomings at HBCUs are always a big deal. It’s a pilgrimage back to the schools that nurtured them and reminded them they matter.

So when Beyoncé came out with a drumline and dancers from various black colleges, a Divine Nine–inspired faux Greek organization and the gift of thickness ― accompanied by a swag surf, at that ― it felt like home. Her performance was done in such a sophisticated and artful way that made an important statement about how we should be revering HBCUs. Bey even punctuated her performances by announcing her donation of $100,000 in scholarship funds for eight HBCUs.

Beyoncé’s mom, Tina Knowles Lawson, shared an Instagram post explaining why her daughter decided to make the show so blackety black, despite Lawson’s fears that people wouldn’t get it:

“[Beyonce] said that her hope is that after the show young people would research this culture and see how cool it is, and young people black and white would listen to LIFT EVERY VOICE AND SING and see how amazing the words are for us all and bridge the gap. She also hopes that it will encourage young kids to enroll in our amazing Historically Black Colleges and Universities.”

Beychella wasn’t just a show. This was a record-breaking exhibition to remind us of the gems we already have in our communities that uplift, empower and reaffirm to us that we matter.

We have our own Wakanda. We have our own Beychella. We have our own black utopias in HBCUs.

Despite the love we showed for the fictional HBeyCU, real, beloved black colleges and universities are in danger and need just as much of our love and support. For decades, many of these these schools have been in dire financial trouble. Unequal state funding and student enrollment have led to many schools closing their doors or losing their accreditation. And though the 2018 omnibus spending bill may help current and future students secure more funding and resources and although student enrollment saw a spike in 2017, huge issues ― including low-income students’ securing enough financial aid to continue their studies ― still loom. Like any school, HBCUs aren’t perfect, but they are necessary. It is up to us to destigmatize and support these schools to ensure their survival.

“Lift Every Voice and Sing” will play once more this weekend as Howard University celebrates its 150th commencement ceremony with the king of Wakanda himself (also known as Chadwick Boseman) delivering the keynote address. It’s hard for black folks to make a place for ourselves in the world, and oftentimes, we look to fictional worlds for a place to call home. But we have our own Wakanda. We have our own Beychella. We have our own black utopias in HBCUs.

In a world that consistently tries to tell us that we don’t belong ― at predominantly white institutions, at the workplace, at Starbucks ― the purpose of HBCUs remains relevant. But judging from the societal myths and financial burdens plaguing many of these schools, many of us have forgotten how important these spaces are.

That message shouldn’t be overlooked.

Taryn Finley is the editor of HuffPost Black Voices.

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White Yale Student Calls Cops On Black Schoolmate Napping In Dorm Common Room

Lolade Siyonbola, a black graduate student at Yale University, had been writing a paper in her dorm’s common room when she dozed off. She awoke to a white schoolmate threatening to call the police if she didn’t leave.

Siyonbola, a 34-year-old African studies student, broadcast part of what happened next in two Facebook Live videos around 2 a.m. Tuesday. The first video shows her confronting the white student who ordered her to get out.

“I have every right to call the police,” the student, identified by Siyonbola as philosophy P.hD candidate Sarah Braasch, is heard saying in the video. “You cannot sleep in that room.”

Minutes later, two police officers arrive to begin what would turn into a 17-minute interrogation of Siyonbola, which she captured in her second video.

“I was sleeping in the common room and [Braasch] comes in and turns the lights on and was like, ‘Why are you sleeping here? You’re not supposed to be sleeping here. I’m going to call the police,’” Siyonbola told the officers.

Siyonbola told police the woman had called the cops on a friend a few months earlier, “because he was in the stairwell and he was black.”

Police asked Siyonbola to prove she lived in the building, so she showed the officers to her room and unlocked the door. Police said they needed more proof.

“I really don’t know if there’s a justification for you even actually being in the building,” Siyonbola told officers before reluctantly showing them her student ID. 

“I deserve to be here,” she can be heard saying as she waited for police to verify her ID. “I pay tuition like everybody else. I’m not going to justify my existence here.” 

After two more officers arrived and Siyonbola’s ID was verified ― her name was apparently misspelled in the student database ― police permitted her to leave.

Braasch did not immediately respond to HuffPost’s request for comment.

Siyonbola’s recordings of the incident sparked outrage on social media, with thousands sharing and commenting on the videos. The controversy adds to recent national news stories of white people calling the police to report innocuous encounters with black people.

“This is so infuriating!” one person commented. “I’m so sorry you had to deal with this but you handled it better than I would’ve. She should have been arrested for making a call like that.”

Siyonbola, who did not immediately respond to HuffPost’s request for comment, wrote on Facebook Tuesday that she was “grateful for all the love, kind words and prayers.”

“Black Yale community is beyond incredible and is taking good care of me,
 Siyonbola wrote. “I know this incident is a drop in the bucket of trauma Black folk have endured since Day 1 America, and you all have stories.”

Yale officials addressed the incident in emails to students this week.

“I am deeply troubled by an incident that took place Monday night in the Hall of Graduate Studies,” Kim Goff-Crews, Yale’s vice president for student life, wrote. “One graduate student called the police to report another student in the common area, who had every right to be there.”

She continued: “All of us in senior leadership recognize that incidents such as this one are being framed within a difficult national context. I want to underscore our commitment to carry out our mission as a university in an ethical, interdependent, and diverse community of faculty, staff, students, and alumni, where all are respected.”

Other recent encounters involving police summoned by white people to respond to complaints about people of color include a white woman who this month reported a group of black women who had rented an Airbnb near San Bernardino, California. Last month, two black men were arrested at a Starbucks in Philadelphia while they waited for a friend to arrive.

UPDATE: 4:00 p.m. — Yale Police Chief Ronnell Higgins issued a statement Thursday appearing to confirm Siyonbola’s account of the incident. 

The responding officers “informed the caller that the student who had been in the common room was an authorized resident who had every right to be there,” according to the statement. “They also explained that this was not a police matter and were reporting the incident to the dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.” 

Read Higgins’ full statement below:

Yale Police responded to a call in the early hours of Tuesday, May 8 at 1:40 a.m. The caller reported that she was a student at the Hall of Graduate Studies (HGS) and said that there was a woman sleeping in the common room on the 12th floor, and that she did not know who the person was. Three police officers responded to HGS around 1:45 a.m., where the caller met them at the entrance and showed them her ID. She then let them up in the elevator, which stopped at the fifth floor where another student appeared.   

At this point, the caller pointed to the other student and said, “This is her.”  Protocol is for police to separate the parties involved, so two officers stayed with the woman on the fifth floor and the investigating officer went with the caller to the 12th floor.  

The investigating officer spent over 11 minutes initially with the caller to assess the situation, while the other two officers spent about 15 minutes with the other woman to assess the situation and to confirm her identity.  After reviewing the scene in the 12th floor common room and seeing a computer, books, and notebooks in addition to a blanket and pillow on the couch, the investigating officer determined that the person who had been sleeping in the common room was likely a student, so the officer asked the caller to wait in her room on the 12th floor. 

The investigating officer reported what she found to the other two officers on the fifth floor and to a supervisor who had arrived to assess the situation and determine whether assistance was needed. The officers were having a difficult time confirming the other student’s identification due to the use of the student’s preferred name in the system that was different from the official name on the ID.  The supervisor worked with dispatch and security to clear up the matter, taking down the student’s information and giving her a case number.  The assessment of the ID took about 15 minutes, which is longer than usual.

At that point, the investigating officer, with her supervisor, went to the 12th floor, where they spoke to the caller again for another seven minutes.  Another officer also followed. They informed the caller that the student who had been in the common room was an authorized resident who had every right to be there. They also explained that this was not a police matter and were reporting the incident to the dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.  Officers left HGS Studies at about 2:34 a.m.

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‘Angel Bus Driver’ Turns School Bus into Hair Salon for Students

(Photo: KSL TV)

Along with her school books, 11-year-old Isabella Pieri always packs a sturdy comb and brush for her bus ride to school in the Alpine School District of Salt Lake City, Utah.

She will smile at bus driver Tracy Dean as she boards. She then takes her seat, anxiously anticipating what has become a morning ritual at the end of the ride.

In the school parking lot after the last student has stepped off the bus, Isabella will hand over her comb and brush to Dean, so the driver can begin braiding her hair. Dean says she makes it a point to set apart extra time each morning to help Isabella look her best.

“It just breaks my heart for the little girl and it makes me feel like I’m not just surviving for my husband and my own children, but to also help these kids,” Dean says.

Overcoming Adversity to Help Others
The morning routine started when Dean noticed that Isabella seemed to always have the same bedhead ponytail and somewhat somber attitude.

“I just thought, well, I’m going to talk to her and be her friend, buddy, big sister, or whatever I can be to let her know that I’m here for her,” says Dean, 47.

As fate would have it, Isabella noticed Dean fixing one of her classmate’s braids. She mustered up the courage to ask Dean if she could get her hair done too.

Tracy’s response: “Yes! I would love to. Just make sure it’s okay with your dad. I don’t want to step on any toes.”

Eventually, Dean learned that Isabella’s mother had passed away in 2016 from a rare illness and that her father, Phillip Pieri, has to leave for work early in the morning.

“Originally, I just gave her a crew cut because I didn’t know how to … get the tangles out,” Pieri told a reporter from local station KSL-TV.

Dean herself was coping with her own struggle as a seven-year survivor of breast cancer.

The media learned of Dean’s good deed, and after several television and newspaper reports appeared across Utah, the story went viral. Within days, Dean was receiving letters of appreciation from faraway cities in China, Australia, England, Ireland, and other countries.

“[The international response] just makes me smile from ear to ear,” says Dean, a member of the Alpine Education Support Professionals Association and Utah School Employees Association (USEA). “It has been amazing that [the story] has gone so far.”

Building Trust

While fixing Isabella’s and another student’s hair each morning, Dean and the children share accounts of what they did in class, after school, and even over the weekend.

One of Isabella’s teachers, LeeAnn Freeze, says she has noticed a bigger smile, brighter eyes, and stronger laughter from Isabella since she started getting her hair braided.

One day, when Freeze asked who was braiding her so skillfully, Isabella responded, “My angel bus driver.”

Phillip Pieri also noticed a confidence boost in Isabella.

“I was amazed,” he says. “Tracy didn’t have to step up, but she did.”

Dean has taken it a step further by visiting the Pieri home to show Isabella how to properly wash her hair and maintain good hygiene.

“You just never know what [the students] going through, and you shouldn’t be quick to judge,” Dean says. “It may be their way of reaching out for a friend or for help.”

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Why Is It Called ‘Prom,’ Anyway?

Prom is a classic rite of passage for American teenagers. In recent years, prom culture has inspired news stories about epic “promposals,” repurposed prom dresses, inspiring prom queens and more.  

But where did this tradition come from, and why do we call it “prom,” anyway?

The origin of the word prom is older than the tradition itself. It’s a shortened version of “promenade,” the French word for a walk or stroll, which dates back to the 16th century. Promenade came to refer to a place for strolling, whether on a ship deck or public walkway, and that meaning is still in use by English speakers today. 

By the 19th century, the term promenade was also associated with events. Promenade concerts were European classical music concerts in venues without seating, where guests could walk around while listening to the performance. 

In the U.S., the word promenade became associated with dance, whether as a ballet term or a form of partner dance in Western and country traditions. “Promenade position” refers to a dance position in which partners face the same direction of travel. 

Promenade also came to refer to the parading of guests into a ballroom before formal events. Many point to this use of the word as part of the origin of the American prom tradition ― which, interestingly, apparently began at the university level and drew inspiration from debutante ball culture

The Oxford English Dictionary traces prom to the Ivy League tradition of a “‘presentation week,’ during which formal dress and dancing accompanied a promenade concert.” The dictionary also cites a passage from an 1879 issue of the Harvard Crimson, which criticizes the students’ Yale rivals for being thrifty with their class prom, among other things.  

“Full many a dollar have they, bright and pure and clean, Which neither the Ball Club nor the Boat Club nor the Junior Prom … nor anything under heaven yet discovered, can from their pockets tear,” the passage reads.  

Students dance at the 1958 Mariemont High School prom in Ohio.

Another highly cited early reference to prom is an 1894 diary entry from Dwight Morrow, a student at the then all-male Amherst College who reportedly wrote that he had “been invited over to the Smith Junior Prom” nearby.

After graduation, Morrow went on to become a U.S. senator and U.S. ambassador to Mexico, and his wife, Elizabeth Cutter Morrow, became the first female head of Smith College when she served as acting president from 1939 to 1940. (Their daughter Anne married Charles Lindbergh, with whom she had six children, one of whom was the subject of the infamous Lindbergh kidnapping.)

Prom may have started as an event for students at elite universities, but by the early 20th century, it had expanded to the high school level. Though prom has been described as the “democratic debutante ball,” it often excluded teens of color thanks to Jim Crow-era practices and educational inequality. 

During the 1950s, prom culture thrived (among white students, anyway) in the post-World War II economic boom. Over the ensuing years, prom became so ingrained in the fabric of American culture, it even touched the presidency.

In 1963, President John F. Kennedy intervened to save a California high school’s senior prom after a Democratic Party event booked at the same hotel ― the Beverly Hilton ― threatened to oust the teens from the venue they’d reserved.

Kennedy insisted that the fundraising dinner take place in a different part of the hotel so the students could host their prom in the ballroom. He also paid them a visit during the festivities.  

President John F. Kennedy visits students at the 1963 John Burroughs High School prom.

In 1975, President Gerald Ford’s daughter Susan and her Holton-Arms School classmates attended prom at the White House. The promgoers dined on Swedish meatballs and quiche and danced along to bands called the Sand Castle and the Outer Space.

“I was told that we had to choose a band that didn’t have any kind of drug charge,” the prom committee chair later recalled. “They wanted to keep it squeaky clean, and it was pretty hard to find someone who met the criteria.”

Susan Ford dancing at her prom in the East Room of the White House.

Prom fervor apparently diminished a bit in the 1960s and 1970s, a phenomenon attributed to political turmoil, the counterculture movement and general teenage apathy and irony

However, the prom tradition was apparently back in full swing in the 1980s, as your favorite John Hughes movies might suggest. In fact,“’80s Prom” has even become a popular party theme.

Over time, prom has evolved into more than just a dance for teens. The past three decades have brought prom stories touching on racial segregation and integrationLGBTQ rights, police brutalitydisability inclusion, respect for women, cultural appropriation and more. 

In many ways, prom is an old tradition that feels antiquated, but as youth culture evolves, so too does this rite of passage. There may be fewer formal promenades into ballrooms, but at least there are hilariously awkward photos to keep forever.

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Two Early Career Educators and Those Who Helped Their Practice

Ashley Kincannon, an English teacher from Arkansas, and Arun Puracken, a social studies teacher from Maryland, are early career educators (those within their first 10 years of teaching) who took different paths into the profession. Kincannon went through a college education program, while Puracken first taught provisionally and then earned an alternative certification. Along the way, they each received help in becoming the great teacher/advocates they are today. Here are their stories.

Kincannon is a fifth-year teacher at Lake Hamilton Junior High School in Pearcy, Ark., and she isn’t shy about sharing how her childhood was “unhappy [because of] a dysfunctional family background.” At 17, unable to tolerate her home life, she left and moved in with her boyfriend. When she graduated high school, she was nine months pregnant and married. Today, the couple have two children. Many said Kincannon would never amount to anything. But her teachers believed in her.

“My teachers were always kind,” she says. “They breathed life into me because I wasn’t getting that from anyone else,” says Kincannon, who attended a public high school in Jessieville, Ark.

Her teachers provided more than just emotional support. Like all great teachers, they set her on a path toward success. Two, in particular, encouraged Kincannon to pursue the teaching profession. “To hear someone tell me I could be a teacher and to know these teachers cared about me—because of them, I became a teacher,” she says.

After earning an English degree in secondary education, Kincannon became a teacher in 2013. She immediately connected with mentors who guided, encouraged, and reaffirmed her practice. “I sometimes needed a little support and encouragement. As a young, novice teacher, you’re a minority surrounded by seasoned educators. It’s sometimes scary, but it was helpful to have support from mentors,” Kincannon explains.

To hear someone tell me I could become a teacher and to know these teachers care about me – because of them I became a teacher – Ashley Kincannon, English teacher, Arkansas

The Arkansas Education Association (AEA) supports her, too. Kincannon became a member of her state association last year when she met AEA leaders who recognized her talent and passion, and encouraged her to join.

Kincannon was an AEA student member, but didn’t continue her membership. “I wanted to join AEA because I loved the consistency of community, the support, the education I was receiving, and the wisdom passed on to me about my profession as a student member,” she says. “But, I [thought] I had to pay the full dues amount up front. When I learned I could pay monthly, I decided to join and dove in head first.” She attended district meetings, became a building representative, and started networking with other members.

Kincannon’s experience as a young, first-year teacher, and the support she received, motivated her to support other early career educators. During the 2017 AEA Delegate Assembly she introduced one new business item to support educators who are new to the profession but seasoned in life, and another urging support for educators under the age of 35. Both passed and the work to support these groups is underway.

Kincannon says, “If we don’t create a place where early career and young educators can see themselves in our association, they may not understand the importance of advocacy or the value of being a member of this professional organization.”

Paying it Forward

Support also helped Maryland’s Arun Puracken, a fourth-year teacher at Accokeek Academy in Prince Georges County, to fully embrace his role as an educator and union member.

In 2016, he applied for, and was selected to participate, via his local, in an Early Career Leadership Fellows program. He became part of a cohort of educators who were new to the profession and unfamiliar with the association.

Since that first experience, Puracken has attended numerous trainings and conferences around the country, tackling topics such as school equity, support for early career educators, and political activism.

“These experiences engage early career educators to be the next union leader,” says Puracken, “and they’re investing in me. I get to go to different places and converse with other colleagues in different areas of the country to talk about public education. [“It’s what helped me] learn about what it meant to do union work and why it’s important.”

Like Kincannon, who was encouraged throughout her profession and is now actively engaged in her association, Puracken is paying it forward, too.

“These experiences engage early career educators to be the next union leader …and they’re investing in me.” – Arun Puracken, Social Studies teacher, Maryland

Last fall, there was a vacancy to fill a building representative position. Although he was hesitant to apply, says Puracken, he adds, “I had no choice. I’m being flown out to different places for union work to learn what it takes to be a leader, and here’s an opportunity to be a leader in my building. I had to take ownership.”

But all of that was just the beginning. Puracken is now running for a school board seat, with the support of the Prince Georges County Education Association, the Maryland State Education Association, and NEA. “I’ve been supported with all kinds of association workshops,” he says, “and I’m going to be the example of policy that works for students, educators, and families.”

Together, Kincannon and Puracken are proof of how support can keep new teachers in the classroom, and empower them to make a lasting difference in students’ lives.

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School Got Complaints About Teacher Even Before HuffPost Revealed Her Racial Bias

The Citrus County School District in Florida received two complaints about teacher Dayanna Volitich in the months before a March HuffPost article exposed her as the host of a white nationalist podcast, according to the results of a school district investigation.

One complaint, filed by a parent last August, expressed concerns that Volitich was injecting political bias into her middle school classroom. Another complaint, made anonymously, informed administrators of Volitich’s Twitter alias, Tiana Dalichov, and of her racially incendiary musings online. 

Following those complaints, the district monitored Volitich’s social media, made more visits to her classroom and interviewed students. But at the time, the kids did not substantiate the concerns about her teaching, and administrators did not notice anything out of line. 

Earlier this year, HuffPost informed the district of a podcast in which Volitich brags about bringing her political views into her social studies classes. Following the HuffPost report, Volitich was removed from the classroom and an investigation was begun. In April, Volitich formally resigned from her post. This week the results of the investigation were released and reported by the Citrus County Chronicle

The investigative report said that the inquiry had centered on whether Volitich violated “professional practices by being deceptive in changing her teaching practices when administration enters her classroom and by encouraging her students to go along with the deception.”

Indeed, in a Feb. 26, 2018, podcast, Volitich said that when parents complained about her inserting her white nationalist opinions into her teaching, she lied to school administrators and said it wasn’t true. 

The investigation found probable cause for disciplining Volitich. But because she has already resigned, the district will not be taking further action, according to the report. 

Investigators interviewed 16 students and four other teachers. Most of the interviewed students had positive feelings about Volitich’s class and her ability as an educator. Most also said that she had a habit of discussing her political views in class, but denied that they were told not to inform their parents or encouraged to change the topic when administrators visited. 

But five students said Volitich made them uncomfortable when she discussed topics like immigration, segregation, President Donald Trump and the Democrats.

One student, who is biracial, told administrators that Volitich described the Ku Klux Klan as “a good thing,” called for immigration to be “shut down” and said segregation should be restored in schools. Another student said that Volitich told the class that Democrats believe they need help raising pets or children, whereas Republicans don’t believe they need help with such activities. Another said that Volitich would sometimes talk about how Hillary Clinton should be in jail and claim that Democrats want to raise your taxes.

Of the four teachers interviewed, one expressed concern about Volitich injecting racial bias into her classroom practices and took issue with Volitich allegedly seating black male students together. The educator also described a tense conversation with Volitich about politics, in which the educator expressed fears that Trump would try to get rid of black people. In response, Volitich simply said, “Well,” the educator alleges. 

The parent who had filed the complaint last August told investigators about new comments made to his son. Volitich allegedly told the child that “Google is down because the Democrats were busy helping to delete all Hillary Clinton’s e-mails.” 

District officials did not immediately respond to HuffPost’s request for comment on the results of the investigation. Volitich’s lawyer, Charles E. Moore, also did not immediately respond to HuffPost’s request for comment.

Volitich’s answer to the allegations is included in the investigative report. She took issue with the inquiry’s results, suggesting that media coverage might have primed students to remember more innocuous comments. She also responded to many of the kids’ specific claims. In response to the allegation that she said Democrats need help raising pets and children, Volitich said she was teaching students about the two major political parties. Instead of arguing that Clinton belongs in jail, Volitich claimed that she said Clinton should be in jail if there is proof she committed a crime. Her comment about Google and Clinton’s emails was a joke, she said. 

“Over 85% of the students interviewed stated they learned a lot in my class, felt they were able to express their own opinions and views, denied my telling them not to talk to their parents about material discussed in class,” Volitich wrote.

She also vehemently disagreed with the one former colleague’s recollection of certain discussions. 

The other teacher “admits no one but she and I were present for these conversations, and that she never reported anything to administration or to the district. Everything she claimed is mere hearsay, a terrible warping of the truth designed to smear my character,” Volitich wrote. 

Jenna Amatulli contributed to this report.

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Racial Isolation of Charter School Students Exacerbating Resegregation

At the Milwaukee Math and Science Academy, more than 98 percent of the 335 students are African-American and nearly all qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. (AP Photo/Carrie Antlfinger)

In December 2017, the Associated Press conducted an analysis of charter school enrollment nationwide and found that the schools were among the most racially segregated in the nation.

While only 4 percent of traditional public schools have student bodies that are 99 percent minority (2014-15 school year data), 17 percent of charter schools are 99 percent minority. Furthermore, of the 6,747 charter schools in the country, more than 1,000 had minority enrollment of at least 99 percent.

The numbers were troubling, if not particularly surprising, to anyone who recognizes that high levels of racial and economic segregation is systematically linked to wide gaps in educational opportunity and achievement.

“Desegregation works. Nothing else does,” Daniel Shulman, a Minnesota civil rights attorney told AP. “There is no amount of money you can put into a segregated school that is going to make it equal.”

But for others, the latest bulletin on how segregation is becoming more entrenched in America’s schools warranted little more than a collective shrug of indifference. “I think a lot of people have given up on integrating our schools,” says Dr. Andre Perry of the Brookings Institution.

A national spotlight on the racial isolation of many of its students is just the latest setback for the sector. The more people have learned about poorly managed, unaccountable schools with at best mixed academic records – not to mention the network of anti-union billionaires and for-profit education companies that are fueling much of the expansion – the more charter schools’ popularity has declined.

No surprise then that the AP analysis stung the sector. Charter leaders immediately coordinated a swift and indignant response, arguing that they were being blamed for segregation. Furthermore, critics were not recognizing success stories or acknowledging parents’ right in making these decisions for their children.

In other words, “choice” trumps everything.

charter school segregationNo one is holding charter schools responsible for the the return of Civil Right-era levels of segregation. Clearly, decades of decisions by conservative courts provided legal cover for communities to abandon desegregation efforts that were put in place following Brown v. Board of Education.

At the same time, the racial isolation in many charter schools is undeniable. Because its numbers continue to grow,  the sector is exacerbating the problem nationally.

A 2011 analysis by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania and the University of California found that charter schools are more racially isolated than traditional public schools in virtually every state and large metropolitan areas.

“As charters represent an increasing share of our public schools, they influence the level of segregation experienced by all of our nation’s school-aged children,” the report stated.

No Innocent Bystander

“It’s disheartening that you would have an entire sector say ‘Integrating students – that’s not our business,’” says Perry. “What they don’t realize is that it is all of our business,” he says.

“Business” is the operative term for the charter sector because its expansion is fueled by a very corporate, market-driven approach. Indeed, the schools that are most segregated tend to be those that are run by private companies and those that target specific communities of color.

It didn’t necessarily have to be this way, says Perry. “Charters generally are not bound to geographic zones. So we should have seen cooperation and collaboration between these schools, traditional public schools, and districts in using them to break down segregated systems. Instead, charter schools just go where the students are.”

The result is almost unfettered expansion. While the enrollment numbers are impressive, they can’t disguise middling academic gains, enormous costs to school districts, and highly concentrated segregation. And yet, lawmakers in every state continue to champion charter schools without demanding proper accountability, even as they drain scarce resources from traditional public schools.

The charter sector isn’t merely an innocent bystander as school resegregation worsens. A new report by the UCLA Civil Rights Project, co-written with researchers at the University of North Carolina (UNC), makes the case that charter schools in Charlotte and Mecklenburg County are “directly and indirectly undermining” district efforts to redesign student assignment boundaries to break up high concentrations of racial segregation.

In Mecklenburg County, the majority of charter schools, far from serving students in high-poverty areas, are located in suburban areas. According to the report, many parents are using the schools as a political cudgel to protect the status quo:

“The proliferation of charters in Mecklenburg County served as grist for the political activism of suburban parents who threatened a middle-class exodus from CMS to the charter sector if new assignment boundaries did not honor their current neighborhood school assignments. These threats indirectly undermined policy actors’ initial willingness to act boldly and decisively in revamping pupil assignments to curb segregation.”

Long ago, Charlotte-Mecklenburg schools were the “nation’s bellwether for successful desegregation,” said Roslyn Arlin Mickelson, professor of Sociology at UNC.

“Today, the district exemplifies how charter schools can impede districts’ efforts to resist re-segregation.”

The New ‘Separate But Equal’?

As charter schools exacerbate resegregation trends, their advocates often resort to justifications that, to many ears, echo those heard during the “separate but equal” era – that integration is not necessary to meet the academic needs of children.

Furthermore, the argument goes, if parents choose to send their son or daughter to a charter school that is deeply segregated but academically successful, who are we to question that decision? And what about those high-performing charters in high-poverty areas?

It’s a point that tends to get oversold, says Preston Green, professor of urban education at the University of Connecticut. Several “schools of excellence” emerged during the separate but equal era that were able to overcome the obstacles of segregation and inequitable funding to achieve impressive academic records.

“A significant characteristic of those schools was that schools and communities had a shared sense of duty,” explains Green. “People today think they can overcome these challenegs and create successful schools as well. But we’re not taking seriously the dangers that privatization creates.”

In a new paper looking at the charter sector in California, Green and Joseph Oluwole, associate professor of educational leadership at Montclair State University, examine how the private entities that are fueling charter school expansion in the state are essentially robbing traditional schools in the neighborhood from state funding and resources.

While modern day versions in the form of charter schools are indeed popping up in some black and Latino communities, the lack of regulation and oversight will have devastating consequences.

“If these outside organizations are allowed to develop charter schools without any restrictions, they may create a parallel system of schools that drain the resources from the traditional school systems that serve black and Latino communities, which are already underfunded,” Green explains. “This scenario of dueling school systems could create a situation in these communities that would be even worse than the infamous Plessy v. Ferguson decision.”

In short, separate but equal wasn’t possible more than 60 years ago, and it’s even less possible today.

Ultimately, says Andre Perry, many charter school operators seem content to experiment with students’ lives – instead of helping to break down the segregated state of our schools

“Segregation is the source of inequality in America. To dismiss it is to accept structural inequality and the status quo.”

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Teacher Resigns After Video Shows Her Pulling Black Student’s Locs

A teacher in Anderson, South Carolina, has retired after a video went viral showing her standing on a black student’s desk and pulling on his hair.

Lisa Houston, who is white, taught math for 27 years at Palmetto High School and voluntarily resigned this week after the episode came to light. A video posted on Snapchat showed her, among other things, tapping the student on the face, turning his head, pulling his hair and pushing him in the chest with the bottom of her foot, according to The State newspaper.

She said her actions were simply her way of waking the student in a lighthearted way.

“If you ask any kid I’ve taught, they’ll tell you I kid around with them, make them stay awake and laugh with them,” Houston told local TV station WYFF. “I know the video looks bad. If you don’t know the situation, you don’t know what’s going on, but it was not a malicious act. It was all in fun. I want the public to know that I love the student, and that our rapport with each other was great. I would have never done anything to hurt him.”

Anderson School District One officials said that as soon as they heard about the video, they started investigating but that Houston made the decision to resign on her own.

“The district wishes our community to know that the school administration immediately conducted an inquiry into what occurred,” Jane Harrison, an assistant superintendent for the school district, told The Greenville News in a written statement. “The individual has already separated as an Anderson 1 teacher. Although the district is unable to comment in detail about the matter, the administration took seriously what occurred, and the teacher, who has had an exemplary record of teaching performance, decided of her own accord that she would retire in the best interest of her school.” 

Houston’s attorney Ryan Beasley told reporters the video does not tell the whole story.

“There were many witnesses in the classroom as to what happened and the playful nature of her relationship with her students,” he said. “We are confident that as more facts come to light, her reputation as an excellent and loving teacher will be restored.”

Other students in the classroom can be heard laughing in the video.

Julian Johnson, the father of the student in the video, told Fox Carolina that his family never asked that Houston be disciplined for her actions.

“My son has nothing to do with this. He was tired and went to sleep,” Johnson said. “I didn’t call for her to be fired. I wish it would go away and that it never happened.”

Many other students, parents and officials are protesting Houston’s resignation, saying she’s getting a raw deal.

More than a hundred past and present students marched from the school to the district office to lament her leaving the school.

She is an amazing educator, an amazing woman in this community and Anderson District One lost a great teacher in her,” former student Marcus Coppola told WSPA TV.

On Wednesday, school board member Doug Atkins resigned from the board in response to Houston’s retirement, according to Fox Carolina.

As of Friday afternoon, more than 1,400 people had signed a petition demanding that she be restored as a teacher.

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