Notre Dame To Cover Up Christopher Columbus Murals


The University of Notre Dame will cover up a series of murals depicting Christopher Columbus amid backlash over the paintings’ stereotypical and inaccurate portrayal of Native Americans and their relationship with white European explorers, the school announced.

The 12 murals, painted by Luigi Gregori in the 1880s, adorn the entrance of the university’s Main Building, a busy throughway that houses administration offices and some classrooms, in South Bend, Indiana. 

At the time of their creation, the paintings were intended to empower Catholic immigrants in America, but their message whitewashes the catastrophic impact European explorers had on native peoples, Notre Dame President John Jenkins wrote in a letter to members of the school’s community on Saturday.

“They reflect the attitudes of the time and were intended as a didactic presentation, responding to cultural challenges for the school’s largely immigrant, Catholic population,” Jenkins wrote. “In recent years, however, many have come to see the murals as at best blind to the consequences of Columbus’s voyage for the indigenous peoples who inhabited this ‘new’ world and at worst demeaning toward them.”


Robert Franklin/South Bend Tribune/AP

In this Nov. 29, 2017, photo Kristin Fabian walks by a mural of Christopher Columbus at Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana.

In an effort to preserve the murals, which Gregori painted directly onto the building’s plaster walls, woven covers will be mounted over them, which allow the paintings to be viewed on occasion, Jenkins said. The school intends to create a permanent display featuring high-resolution images of the murals alongside proper historical context in a different location on campus.

“Gregori’s murals focused on the popular image of Columbus as an American hero, who was also an immigrant and a devout Catholic,” Jenkins wrote. “The message to the Notre Dame community was that they too, though largely immigrants and Catholics, could be fully and proudly American.”

“For the native peoples of this ‘new’ land, however, Columbus’s arrival was nothing short of a catastrophe,” he continued. “Whatever else Columbus’s arrival brought, for these peoples it led to exploitation, expropriation of land, repression of vibrant cultures, enslavement, and new diseases causing epidemics that killed millions … The murals’ depiction of Columbus as beneficent explorer and friend of the native peoples hides from view the darker side of this story, a side we must acknowledge.”

This Nov. 29, 2017 photo shows a murals of Christopher Columbus at Notre Dame.


Robert Franklin/South Bend Tribune/AP

This Nov. 29, 2017 photo shows a murals of Christopher Columbus at Notre Dame.

Notre Dame’s pledge to conceal the murals follows mounting backlash from students and faculty. In 2017, hundreds of people signed a letter penned by a Notre Dame Ph.D. candidate calling on Jenkins to remove the paintings.

“Columbus’ fortune, fame, and wealth came from the destruction, mutilation, and transaction of Native American and African persons,” John Slattery wrote in the letter. “In this era of political divisiveness and a renewed rise of dangerous nationalism, it is time for Notre Dame to remove its own version of a Confederate Monument.”

The Native American Student Association of Notre Dame applauded Jenkins’ “thoughtful and wise decision” in a Facebook post Saturday.

“This is a good step towards acknowledging the full humanity of those Native people who have come before us,” the group wrote. “We sincerely hope that Father Jenkins and his administration will continue to prioritize Native issues on our campus in the coming weeks and months as there is still work to be done.”



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Why Social Justice in School Matters


Social justice is about distributing resources fairly and treating all students equitably so that they feel safe and secure—physically and psychologically. Sadly, a look at schools across the nation makes it clear that fair distribution of resources and equitable treatment don’t always happen. Students in poorly-funded schools don’t have the technology, new books, or art and music programs that create a well-rounded education, while students in affluent areas have the latest academic resources, school counselors, librarians, and more to help them succeed. Bringing social justice into schools shines a spotlight on all sorts of important societal issues—from the myriad reasons that lie beneath the deep disparity between the suspension rates of black and white students to how current U.S. immigration policy separates families and violates student rights. Meet five educators who determined to make a difference in the lives of their students and within their profession by ensuring social justice is a topic that is addressed in their schools.

Audrey Murph-Brown
Springfield, Massachusetts

Audrey Murph-Brown is a member of the Springfield Education Association (SEA) in Massachusetts. She has been a school social worker for 26 years. She describes events that happened during the 2017 – 2018 school year as “a perfect storm at the perfect time.”  The storm swirled with nepotism, favoritism, and institutional biases that prevented highly qualified educators of color from becoming lead teachers or being offered lateral promotions. “Rarely were those opportunities given to educators of color,” says Murph-Brown. The Massachusetts Teachers Association offered training that led to the establishment of ALANA (African American, Latino, Asian, and Native American) Educators and Allies, an arm of SEA. The group focused on building a diverse and culturally proficient environment for educators of color, and when the opportunity arose to speak to school board members during a public meeting, they did.

“They’ve never had a collective raised voice before and we were bold,” recalls Murph-Brown, referring to the school committee. Educators and their allies filled a school board meeting with signs that read, “Fair Hiring for Everyone” and “No More Nepotism.” After powerful testimony from Murph-Brown and other educators, the door to communication was cracked open, and efforts have been made to level the playing field. For example, principals must add an applicant’s ethnicity to the hiring application as a way to keep track of who’s applying for teaching positions. The school committee’s human resource department is looking into better practices within its hiring process, too. It’s been slow going, “but it’s more than what’s ever happened before,” says Murph-Brown.

Jesse Hagopian
Seattle, Washington

Jesse Hagopian teaches ethnic studies and is the adviser to the Black Student Union at Garfield High School in Seattle. Hagopian established the Black Education Matters Student Activist Award after he sued the City of Seattle for being pepper sprayed in the face by a police officer on Martin Luther King Jr. Day in 2015. Recipients of the award demonstrate exceptional leadership in struggles against racism—especially with an understanding of the intersections between sexism, homophobia, transphobia, Islamophobia, class exploitation, and other forms of oppression—within their school or community. Since 2015, nine Seattle Public Schools students and one youth organization have been honored with the award.

“The bold and courageous work of standing up to racism is hard, and this award gives recognition for those with the courage to do it,” says Hagopian. “I wanted to create a space and an awareness that if you step forward for social justice, you will be lifted up in the community and by mentors who will support your work.”

Activism is at the heart of this award, Hagopian says, and “the examples are breathtaking.”

He points to seven black Seattle high school students who formed “New Generation,” a school activist group that led a walkout at Garfield High School to raise awareness about Charleena Lyles, a pregnant 30-year-old black woman who was fatally shot by two white Seattle police officers at home as her three young children looked on. One student organized a city-wide movement to get free bus passes for students from low-income families.

Another student started an Islamophobia global awareness day. One group got the Seattle School Board to endorse “Black Lives Matters at School,” which included a week of action. The movement has spread to other cities and districts. Another group of students fought for the addition of an Ethnic Studies program that is transforming Seattle’s schools.

“None of this would have been possible without student activism,” says Hagopian. “I wanted to find a way to recognize this critical work of young people who see that they are the changemakers—the ones who will have to bring about the changes they want to see.”

Angie Powers
Olathe, Kansas

Angie Powers, a high school English teacher in Olathe, Kan., says she defines success according to her ability to make school a place where students feel welcome and receive the tools that will help them navigate the complexities of the world with compassion and empathy. That’s why Powers sponsors the Olathe Northwest High School Gender Sexuality Alliance and mentors students in the areas of civic engagement, social justice, and advocacy. The latter draws on her training from the NEA, GLSEN, and the Human Rights Campaign. As co-chair of the Kansas NEA Social Justice Taskforce, and the Olathe NEA Social Justice Cadre, Powers leads her state affiliate’s social justice efforts. She has spoken to pre-service teachers in every college in Kansas about the challenges LGBTQ+ students face and how new educators can create welcoming schools for their future students. Powers also serves on THRIVE, an organization in the Kansas City area that creates LGBTQ+-specific policy recommendations for local districts.

Powers is committed to ensuring that every student has equitable access to a quality public school, and says, “Education and equity are inseparable. One cannot exist without the other. When inequity plagues the educational system, [the system] fails to serve the needs of each child. It is our most important work to battle inequity in each classroom across the nation, [and within] our educational institutions as a whole. Our children are worth this fight.”

Elizabeth Villanueva
Sacramento, California

With that goal in mind, Villanueva began an after-school class for Latina students when she was in her second year as a teacher. The goal of the effort was gang prevention, and most of the students enrolled in the class had some affiliation with gangs. But by the time the second cohort had enrolled, the group changed its name to New Age Latinas—NAL, for short—and focused on leadership skills, college readiness, community service, personal growth, and networking with other Latina college students and professionals.

With today’s uncertainty over immigration policy, NAL participants and many students in Villanueva’s classes share their fears and anxieties about the increase in ICE raids and deportations in their communities. To create a safe haven for her students, Villanueva reached out to the community, colleagues, and other students and started a group called the Luther Burbank High School DREAMers. The group meets weekly and features guest speakers, such as immigration lawyers, who provide “Know Your Rights” workshops, and college counselors, who share information on how to enroll in college and access financial resources.

“Providing good quality, transformative education to the underserved and underrepresented is an essential component of social justice. Every student is part of our collective society, and part of that which makes us all who we are,” says Villanueva. “Each one deserves the dignity, respect, and opportunity that is provided for every other member of our collective society. Education has the power to transform our collective consciousness and improve the well-being of us all.”

Erica Viray Santos
San Leandro, California

About a decade ago, educator and activist Erica Viray Santos drew upon her personal experiences—growing up in a poor working class, immigrant household, where her mother worked multiple jobs and her father turned to substance abuse and was in and out of the criminal justice system—to help develop San Leandro High School’s Social Justice Academy, a cohort that gives students the opportunity to explore their identities and cultural strengths and use them to transform their communities for a more socially just world.

As a teacher and program director for the academy, Viray Santos serves more than a hundred sophomores, juniors, and seniors with a team of teachers. Student projects and actions range from supporting undocumented students to challenging the rape culture. All of the projects, events, pieces of writing, and the curriculum reflect topics that interest and impact the students.

“I think it is essential that we not only give our students content knowledge and hard skills, but we also instill compassion and a sense of accountability to their local and global communities. As educators, we have the responsibility to help young people realize their value and power. It is our responsibility to teach them how to look at the world critically, challenge systems of oppression and discrimination, understand how they can be agents of transformation, and inspire them to take action.”

Last year, students addressed the gun violence in school. Viray Santos explains that they developed a new comprehensive discipline plan based on restorative and transformative justice. The goal was to improve relationships between marginalized students and the wider school community. The plan runs counter to the trend of discipline that punishes and pushes young people out of school. Ultimately, students presented their plan to the San Leandro School Board. “These types of lessons and experiences grant students the ability to navigate a landscape that places underserved youth at a disadvantage within the education system,” Viray Santos says.



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How To Talk To Your Kids About Sexual Abuse



This article is the fifth installment of “One Year Later: Larry Nassar And The Women Who Made Us Listen,” a seven-part series that commemorates the seven days women stood in a Lansing, Michigan, courtroom last year and faced their abuser, former USA Gymnastics and Michigan State trainer Larry Nassar. Read more: Day 1Day 2, Day 3, and Day 4

On Jan. 16, 2018, the world witnessed the gut-wrenching statements of 169 women and family members whose lives were affected by the criminal sexual abuse of former USA Gymnastics and Michigan State University trainer Larry Nassar.

Stories like the Nassar scandal reinforce parents’ and caregivers’ desire to protect their children from a horror that is all too common.

Child sexual abuse may be scary to think about, but it’s an important topic to address with kids of all ages. Fortunately, there are age-appropriate ways to lay the foundation and build on concepts that will help keep children safe and empower them to speak out if their boundaries are violated.

HuffPost spoke to sex educators about how to talk to kids about sexual abuse from infancy to the teen years, and how to recognize and respond to troubling situations if they arise.

Start Early By Establishing Body Autonomy, Privacy And More

Parents can build the foundation of safety from sexual abuse as early as infancy, sex educator Melissa Carnagey said. Using the proper terms for genitals, instead of cutesy nicknames, empowers children to communicate clearly about themselves and their bodies.

“By doing this, parents are creating a shame-free and open home culture around talking about the body,” Carnagey told HuffPost in an email. “Then as the child moves into toddlerhood and preschool ages, parents can help them understand body boundaries and consent by listening to a child’s ‘no’ or ‘stop’ and reinforcing the importance of the child respecting other people’s limits as well.”

“Preventative conversations with young children around sexual abuse aren’t usually about sexual abuse in specificity,” sex education teacher Kim Cavill said. She encouraged parents to talk instead about the proper names for body parts, as well as body autonomy, body privacy, environmental privacy, how to say “no” and the difference between secrets and surprises.

“Body autonomy means acknowledging each person is the boss of their own body and they get to decide what they want to do with it, as long as they don’t use it to hurt someone else or themselves,” Cavill told HuffPost in an email. “Body privacy means teaching children that some parts of their bodies are private and other people shouldn’t look at them or touch them. Doctors should ask permission before examining private parts and a trusted grown up should be present.“

“Environmental privacy” means teaching kids about the social norms and expectations around different behaviors, like how to change into swimsuits at the community pool, how to behave in public restrooms, how to change clothes at school, and so on.

Teaching kids how to say “no” is also powerful.

“Children don’t always assume it’s OK to say ‘no,’ especially to adults, because they’re often taught to be obedient,” Cavill said. “We have to explicitly teach children how to set boundaries for themselves and support them when they do, even if it puts us into uncomfortable situations, like refusing to give hugs at a birthday party.”

Talk About Feelings

When children can name their emotions, and recognize emotional responses in others, it gives them the ability to express their needs, empathize with others and to listen to the signals their body gives them, especially when something or someone feels uncomfortable,” Carnagey said.

“We have to be talking about what feels good and what doesn’t in everyday conversations,” sex educator Lydia Bowers told HuffPost. “‘I like when you give me a hug, it makes me feel warm,’ and ‘I don’t like when he took my doll, I felt angry,’ give children the language to describe their feelings, which can be critical in recognizing if they’re feeling unsafe, scared or worried.”

When children can name their emotions, and recognize emotional responses in others, it gives them the ability to express their needs, empathize with others and to listen to the signals their body gives them.
Melissa Carnagey, sex educator

It’s meaningful to help kids practice identifying feelings like fear, anxiety, confusion, sadness and discomfort, and adults should try not to dismiss or minimize those emotions when a child expresses them.

Parents can also teach children about the ways bodies can give warning signs in relation to feelings (like sweaty palms, wanting to cry or feeling the sudden need to urinate) that are important to listen to.

Explain ‘Unsafe Touch’

Sex educators generally consider the terms “safe touch” and “unsafe touch” to be better than “good” and “bad” touch. It may be easy to classify being touched around your private parts as an example of “bad touch,” but sometimes there are natural physiological responses that could feel good, which may seem confusing to young people.

“Unsafe touch” can also cover certain forms of contact that might be “good” in other contexts. “A hug is a ‘good’ touch, but if it is coming from someone that shouldn’t be hugging you, then it is ‘unsafe,’” Bowers said.  

“People can also seem ‘good’ but can make unsafe choices,” Carnagey said. “So it’s best to use the terms ‘safe’ and ‘unsafe,’ and base your conversations around the child recognizing the circumstances that affect safety.”

Don’t Just Focus On ‘Stranger Danger’

“Children used to be taught the concept of ‘stranger danger,’ but the Nassar case is a good example of the flaw in that concept,” Carnagey said. “An abuser is more often someone that a child knows or has some kind of prior connection with, so we must talk to children in terms of ‘tricky people,’ a term coined by Pattie Fitzgerald.”

This approach encourages parents to help their children recognize “tricky” or unsafe behavior versus trustworthy behavior.

“People who are trustworthy tell the truth, respect privacy, don’t ask children to keep secrets, ask grown-ups for help (not children), give you a safe feeling (not a scary ‘uh-oh’ feeling), follow family rules, and ask you to check with parents to get permission,” said Cavill, who created a podcast episode and a worksheet to help parents facilitate conversations about trust. “Tricky people don’t do those things, or they do the opposite of those things.”

Emphasize They Can Always Come To You

It’s important for parents to “keep the conversation door open,” Cavill said. “Kids will walk through that door to talk with you, but only if it’s open all of the time.” Parents can create that kind of environment by consistently welcoming questions and conversations about sex and relationships.

In a lot of ways, actions speak louder than words. The phrase “You can tell me anything” loses its meaning if parents respond to honest questions or information from children with punishments, aggressive reactions, elevated emotional responses or dismissiveness. Parents should be aware of their verbal and nonverbal responses, even when the conversation is difficult ― or children may start to feel uncomfortable sharing information out of fear of the adult’s reaction.

The phrase “You can tell me anything” loses its meaning if parents respond to honest questions or information from children with punishments, aggressive reactions, elevated emotional responses or dismissiveness.

“If children disclose abuse, it’s important to remember to center the child in the conversation, not the abuser or our reaction to the disclosure,” Cavill said. “This can be very difficult to do, but it’s important because reacting to disclosures of abuse with anger, disgust, shame, or denial violates our children’s trust, shuts down further conversations, and makes a vulnerable child more vulnerable.”

“The first time I was molested, I was 9. I disclosed that abuse, but was met with denial and a cover-up,” she continued. “When I was subjected to further abuse, I didn’t bother telling anyone because I’d been conditioned to expect protection for my abuser and none for myself. This contributed to an overall sense that, deep down, I deserved it.”

Identify Trusted Adults

As kids get older, parents should help them identify the trusted adults in their lives, like other family members, teachers and school counselors.

“Instead of assigning the label of ‘trusted adult’ to people in their world, ask the child, ‘Who do you feel you could trust if you needed help?’ or ‘Who would you feel comfortable talking to if you ever felt hurt and needed help?’” Carnagey said.

“Having more than one is ideal to ensure they have available supports when needed,” she added. Abusers are sometimes seen as trusted adults (as Nassar was for many families), so it’s helpful for kids to have a variety of people they can turn to. 

Identifying multiple trusted adults can also help ease the challenges parents face. Just as kids need to know they can be honest about their experiences without being punished, parents need to be honest in turn. That can mean admitting when they feel vulnerable, when they make mistakes, when they don’t know things and when they need to seek additional support.   

Make It Clear It’s Never Their Fault

Kids need to know they aren’t responsible for the adults around them, including their parents. 

“Because children are dependent on adults to various degrees, they can feel responsible for the feelings and behaviors of the adults around them, especially those in formal positions of authority and those they care about deeply,” Cavill said. “Unfortunately, most sexual abuse happens within the context of close, familiar relationships and the #MeToo movement speaks to how common it is for people in positions of authority to abuse people they have power over.”

Cavill said she reaffirms to her young children that they are responsible for themselves, not the people around them, by telling them: “Mommy’s feelings are mommy’s job. You don’t have to fix them, they aren’t your responsibility.”

Mommy’s feelings are mommy’s job. You don’t have to fix them, they aren’t your responsibility.
Kim Cavill, sex education teacher

Parents can build on these messages as kids mature by talking about examples of healthy and unhealthy relationships and family expectations about behavior in romantic relationships. The website Talk With Your Kids offers resources to help guide these discussions.

Just as it’s important for children to know it’s not their fault if they experience unsafe touch, it’s also necessary to talk about respecting the boundaries and consent of others.

It’s “not uncommon for young children to experiment with initiating touch that could be unsafe to other children around the same age,” Carnagey said. “Even if that occurs, a child feeling safe to talk about it without fear of punishment, is integral in the process of redirecting the behavior toward safer interactions with others.”

Pay Attention To The Signs

Parents know what is typical behavior for their children, so they can be on the lookout for changes that may be a sign of something problematic. 

“I want to make it very clear that there is no minimum threshold for seeking the services of a therapist, or calling RAINN. When in doubt, ask for help,” Cavill said. “That being said, there are some general signs parents should watch out for: sexual knowledge or behavior that is inappropriate for the child’s age, regressive bed wetting, a sudden refusal to change clothing or undress, sudden fear of being alone or away from primary caregivers, and an increase in anxiety.”

The Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network publishes a list of warning signs to help determine if an adult is molesting or grooming children. These possible indicators of sexual abuse can be physical (unexplained bruising, bleeding or irritation to a child’s genital areas, for instance), behavioral (such as talking about sexual acts, as Cavill noted, or suddenly becoming shy about undressing), or emotional (like an increase in worrying, nightmares or fear of being alone). 

As kids get older, they start to have more interactions outside the presence of their parents ― at school, in extracurriculars and during play dates. Carnagey encourages parents to set up a routine, uninterrupted time each day to check in with their children so they can stay connected to their kids’ experiences and feelings.

“This is great for noticing any subtle or big shifts in their mood or behaviors that can result from unsafe or challenging experiences,” she said. “Keeping an open, shame-free space for talks, no matter the topic, can increase the chance that a child will share with a trusted adult if something troubling is going on in their world.”

Know What To Do If Something Happens

If a child reports unsafe touch, it’s crucial to tell them that you believe them, that they did the right thing by coming to you, that they are not in trouble and that the incident was not their fault. Responding with love, compassion and acceptance is very important.

“Children often feel that they caused abuse, and perpetrators sometimes put the blame on the child,” Bowers said. “Reassure a child that they are not to blame, that they are loved and safe.”

If a child reports unsafe touch, it’s crucial to tell them that you believe them, that they did the right thing by coming to you, that they are not in trouble and that the incident was not their fault.

There are many helpful resources to help guide survivors and the trusted adults they tell about the abuse. RAINN and the organization 1in6 run hotlines and online chat services. Other organizations focus specifically on child sexual abuse, like Childhelp, National Children’s Alliance and Stop It Now! Cavill noted that if you feel a child is in immediate danger, you should call emergency services. 

“Honest communication is important to maintaining trust and openness after a disclosure, so this can mean letting the child know that you may have to share the information with other adults whose job is to help keep them safe, like a medical provider if an exam is needed, a police officer, counselor or other trusted support,” Carnagey said. “Keeping a listening ear, without judgment or harsh reaction, will help the child feel more comfortable opening up.”

Carnagey also recommended that parents and caregivers seek out their own support, since disclosures can bring up a range of difficult emotions and even trigger past traumas. A parent or caregiver may feel tempted to turn inward, isolate themselves and allow feelings of shame or failure to take over. 

“Parents should keep in mind that what another person may have done to their child was the unsafe decision of that person. It is not the parent’s fault,” Carnagey said. “A child who experiences unsafe touch is not ‘damaged.’ With support, the child and their family absolutely have an opportunity to thrive.”

“One Year Later: Larry Nassar And The Women Who Made Us Listen” is a seven-part series that commemorates the seven days women stood in Judge Rosemarie Aquilina’s Lansing, Michigan, courtroom last January and read powerful victim impact statements to former USA Gymnastics and Michigan State trainer Larry Nassar. Their words made history, forcing the country to finally listen and confront the abuse Nassar perpetrated. This series highlights the people who helped take Nassar down, as well as those he hurt for so long.



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Christian Schools Like Karen Pence’s Are The Real Threat To Academic Freedom


Last week, the “second lady” of the United States, Karen Pence, went to work as an art teacher at Immanuel Christian School in Northern Virginia. Immanuel Christian is one of the many American religious institutions, as Rebecca Klein reported for HuffPost, that discriminates both in its hiring and its admissions. The school requires “moral purity” from its staff, meaning they can’t be queer, have sex outside marriage or watch porn, and must “respect the unique roles of men and women.” The school also reserves the right to expel students for being queer. 

Immanuel Christian is not unusual. Too many religious schools at all levels regulate the personal conduct of their employees and students, restrict the books teachers can assign or students can read, and demand fealty to narrow constructions of religious identity, while enshrining bigotry into their bylaws.

Vice President Mike Pence says that criticizing institutions that discriminate like this is anti-Christian. I say that these schools are not only anti-American, in that they exclude so many Americans, but are also not in the best educational interests of the students who attend them.

For too many other institutions, faith provides the material to build a defensive wall rather than a strong foundation.

There are about 27,000 religious private K-12 schools in the United States and over 1,000 religious colleges and universities. Many of these institutions are inclusive, welcome, places. I should know, as I taught at Dominican University, a Catholic institution in the Chicago area, for over 10 years. I only left so I could raise my kids in Minnesota. For Dominican, and for thousands of institutions like it, faith traditions provide a rock of identity on which to stand and welcome the world with confidence.

As a secular Jew, I felt at home at Dominican. As an institution, it knew what it was and hoped I would share in the mission to make a “more just and humane world.” My Muslim and queer colleagues reported similar feelings of inclusion, and I don’t think Dominican is atypical in this regard. From kindergarten to graduate school, it’s possible to attend or work at a religious institution of learning that takes faith seriously without endorsing exclusion or bigotry.

Alas, for too many other institutions, faith provides the material to build a defensive wall rather than a strong foundation. Karen Pence’s new employer, Immanuel Christian, is one of many examples at the secondary level. I’ve been tracking similar issues at the collegiate level.


ASSOCIATED PRESS

Vice President Mike Pence and his wife, Karen Pence, appeared at events for the anti-abortion March for Life in Washington, D.D., on Friday.

There are 139 colleges that exempt themselves from following Title IX rules against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, marital status, pregnancy or receipt of abortion. Yet these schools continue to receive federal funding. Many require explicit professions of faith from faculty. Not only must teachers avoid acting in a way that is immoral in their personal lives, but every aspect of the educational experience is policed to make sure students only receive limited viewpoints and are never challenged on their core beliefs.

Here are just a few examples. Catholic schools love to fire queer teachers, especially when they get married or pregnant. Recently, Franciscan University of Steubenville removed the chair of the English department from his position as punishment for teaching Emmanuel Carrère’s The Kingdom, despite there being no question about the professor’s own commitment to Catholicism. In 2016, St. Mary’s, a small school in Minnesota, fired a popular professor for using phallus props in his production of Medea.

Wheaton College, an elite school sometimes styled the “Harvard of Christian Schools,” began termination procedures against professor Larycia Hawkins (the first tenured African-American professor in the school’s history) because she posted on Facebook that she stands “in religious solidarity with Muslims because they, like me, a Christian, are people of the book. And as Pope Francis stated last week, we worship the same God.” According to Wheaton’s provost, the idea that two of the three Abrahamic religions might venerate the same deity violates the school’s “doctrinal convictions.” Hawkins and Wheaton eventually “parted ways.” No one questioned whether Hawkins was a Christian, but whether her theological understanding of the nature of divinity narrowly clung to Wheaton’s ideological mandate.

At another elite Christian school, Ozark College, students are required to venerate the U.S. flag as well as maintain a Christian life. For Ozark, Christianity excludes “touching, caressing, and other physical conduct of a sexual nature with a person of the same sex,” all of which is grounds for being fired or expelled.

Imagine what it’s like to be a student or professor at Wheaton today and to know that it’s not just required to be a Christian, but to be exactly the right type of Christian. Will the next professor at Franciscan who wants to challenge students with a complex, possibly offensive, book hold back in order to preserve their professional status? And no one, anywhere, ever, should risk employment because of who they love or what consensual activities they choose to engage in with other adults. 

And what about the quality of education? Since at least 2014, a significant cohort of writers and public figures have argued passionately that higher education requires mandatory, regular exposure to “intellectual diversity.” The conversation, as led by people like University of Chicago President Robert Zimmer, the FIRE organization on faculty rights, and elite (mostly white male) writers like Jonathan Chait, Conor Friedersdorf, Bret Stephens, Bari Weiss, Frank Bruni and Jonathan Haidt, has joined more explicitly partisan voices to condemn elite liberal universities.

According to them, the modern practices of overprotective parenting and oversolicitous educators have created a generation of “snowflakes,” students unequipped for the real world, locked in ideological bubbles, and prone to mental health struggles. But these concerns for educational rigor always seem to apply in the same direction. We hear more about sandwich diversity in the Oberlin cafe then we do about the experience of students at religious schools.

I agree that intellectual diversity is important to a true education. But if there are students who are being turned into snowflakes by their education, by mollycoddling parents and by teachers, then surely it’s the millions of students who are attending schools that mandate limited viewpoints, adherence to ideology, and no exposure to true diversity.

As this essay went to press, a video of young white men from Covington Catholic High School harassing a group of indigenous people went viral. The students had traveled from Kentucky to D.C. to attend the March for Life, but paused to surround elder Nathan Phillips as he was playing a drum and chanting. One slid close, grinning, thrilled with his racist provocation, a Hazel Massery of his generation. Maybe if Karen and Mike Pence are worried about saving Christian education in this country, they are going to have to break down the walls of bigotry that cocoon such institutions. Alas, all they seem to care about is keeping queer people out.

Aren’t they the real snowflakes?

David Perry is a historian and journalist. He works at the University of Minnesota. Follow him on Twitter: @lollardfish.





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Georgia School Suspends Honor Student Over Counterfeit $20 Bill


UPDATE: 5:15 p.m. – In a statement obtained by HuffPost, the Henry County School District in Georgia said superintendent Mary Elizabeth Davis reviewed the facts in the case and conferred with local authorities – who do not believe the student was aware the bill was counterfeit – and has decided to reverse the disciplinary board’s decision to suspend the student. Davis also will review “the entire Code of Conduct and the process for assigning consequences for student infractions.”

“We are in the business of educating students,” the superintendent said in a statement. “And while it is our responsibility to ensure our expectations uphold a safe learning environment, we must never omit sound judgement in matters so closely impacting our students’ lives and their education. The student has returned to class.” 

A Georgia school district is punishing a 12-year-old honor student after he used counterfeit money to pay for his lunch. The boy and his parents claim they had no idea the bill was fake and even filed a police report. Still, school administrators say they won’t lift the 10 days of in-school suspension the boy received.

“The whole process has been unfair,” Christian Philon told Atlanta’s WSB-TV.

A straight-A student and athlete at Austin Road Middle School in Stockbridge, Christian said he was sent to the assistant principal’s office on Jan. 10, after using a $20 bill his father gave him to pay for lunch. Christian said the school told him the bill was counterfeit and gave him an in-school suspension.

“They said, ‘You possessed it, so you’re going to have to pay for it,’” he told WSB-TV.


Christian’s father, Earvin Philon, told the news station he’d handed his son the money when he received it back in change after a purchase at a fast-food restaurant.

“I’ve never handled counterfeit money,” Philon said. “I don’t know what it looks like. … There was no way when I gave it to my son that he knew it was counterfeit.”

When the boy’s parents discovered what happened they filed a police report about the counterfeit bill. They took a copy of that report to a Wednesday disciplinary hearing at the school, but school administrators refused to budge on the boy’s punishment.

When the lunch lady marked the bill with a counterfeit pen it turned out to be fake, the boy's parents said.

The panel, according to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, maintained that regardless of the circumstance, Christian violated the school’s code of conduct, which prohibits the possession of counterfeit currency.

Christian’s parents said they plan to appeal. But as The Root reported, if the school upholds its punishment of the honor roll student, “Christian will be part of a disturbing and longstanding trend of American schools handing down suspensions at disproportionate rates to black students—in particular, black boys.”  

Across Georgia last year, authorities reported that thousands of dollars in counterfeit money were being spent in the state, ending up in the hands of consumers who are unwittingly recirculating the bogus cash.



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What Happens When Teachers Leave Mid-Year?


With the second half of the school year underway, it’s likely some students don’t have the same teacher they had in the fall. Mid-year teacher turnover doesn’t occur as frequently as end-of-year turnover, but it’s likely more prevalent than most people think.

U.S. teachers leave the profession at higher rate than other countries, but the debate and discussion over teacher attrition – reflected in  research and in the media – focuses on educators exiting the profession before the beginning of a school year,  based on the assumption that’s when turnover occurs. Little is known about teachers leaving mid-year.

It’s a knowledge gap that Christopher Redding of the University of Florida and Gary Henry of Vanderbilt University want to close.

“Teachers leaving mid-year is not looked at in the way end-of-year turnover is,” says Redding. “So we wanted to investigate when it occurs and the impact it has on students and schools.”

In a series of recent studies, Redding and Henry found that mid-year exits tend to be more disruptive and consequential to student learning.

Redding and Henry looked at teacher data in North Carolina and were able to distinguish the effect of turnover that occurred before the school year begins and turnover that happens during the school year. The researchers identified more than 13,600 first-year teachers who entered North Carolina classrooms from 2010 to 2012, and tracked them monthly during their first three years in the profession.

They found that while 4.6 percent of teachers in the state departed mid-year, that number jumped to 6 percent for new educators. Mid-year exits accounted for 25 percent of teacher turnover overall and occurred most often in high-poverty schools.

Drilling down into the question of achievement, Redding and Henry found that many math and English scores suffered, as well as a drop in learning. Losing a teacher mid-year was linked to a loss of anywhere between 32 and 72 instructional days during the school year, the study found.

Redding and Henry point to three pivotal factors to explain this outcome: classroom disruption, school instability and less-qualified replacement teachers.

Mid-year teacher turnover, Redding says, can sever the “social capital between the students and their family members, undercutting the child’s support system.”

Furthermore, these departures can make it challenging for educators to create and maintain a collaborative work environment within the school. When the school is forced to hire replacements, staff will likely be assigned to help get that new teacher up to speed, which cuts into their own increasingly scarce and valuable time.

Lean On Me: How Mentors Help First-Year Teachers
Mentors can make a huge difference. According to a 2015 federal study, 92 percent of first-year teachers assigned a mentor returned to their classroom. With a three-year, $600,000 grant from the NEA Great Public Schools fund, educators in Florida invested in a teacher-led, union-run orientation program and created meaningful mentorships between new and veteran teachers.

Teachers leaving mid-year only makes staffing a school with qualified educators more difficult. “When teacher turnover occurs during the school year, administrators choose replacement teachers from a diminished applicant pool comprised mainly of teachers not previously hired to work elsewhere, which is likely to yield less effective replacements,” the researchers write.

Indeed, one of the effects of the national teacher shortage – fueled by underfunded schools, low salaries and a scarcity of support and professional working conditions – is the widespread practice of turning to emergency or short-term licensure to put more teachers in the classroom.

According to the Learning Policy Institute, at the beginning of the 2017-18 school year, more than 100,000 classrooms across the nation were staffed by instructors not fully qualified to teach. In Oklahoma, for example, more than 2100 emergency teaching certificates were issued last fall to fill the state’s classrooms. Seven year earlier, the state only issued 32.

Redding and Henry also found that preparation through an alternative pathway also made teachers much more likely to leave the profession during and after the school year. Those educators who attended traditional, in-state teacher preparation programs, on the other hand, were more likely to transfer to another school but less likely to leave the classroom altogether.

Supporting new teachers – either through mentoring or support from their principal – would likely steer many new teachers away from the exits. According to LPI, “strong mentoring and induction for novice teachers can be a valuable strategy to retain new teachers and improve their effectiveness. Well-mentored beginning teachers are twice as likely to stay in teaching as those who do not receive mentoring.”

Mentoring programs and more support from school leaders is a critical piece of the teacher retention puzzle. For any policy or intervention to be successful, however, Redding says we need to have a very careful understanding of when and why teachers leave.

“We have a general idea obviously, but teacher turnover is a diverse phenomenon, so we need more specificity if we’re now getting serious and talking about ways to remedy it.”

Want to Reduce the Teacher Shortage? Treat Teachers Like Professionals
Focusing on recruitment over retention, says one expert, is like “pouring water in a bucket that has holes at the bottom.” We should always recruit new teachers but the real issue is, how attractive a job is teaching? Do people want to work in the school and, more importantly, do they want to stay there?



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A Message From The Los Angeles Teachers Strike Picket Line


As I marched through the soggy streets of downtown Los Angeles earlier this week, I was remembering my first year as a teacher, 27 years ago.

I was young and idealistic. Not all that good at teaching, but I worked really hard and helped students in ways far beyond the job description. I fed hungry kids, tutored for hours after school for no pay, drove students home to spare them the perils of rival gang territory, helped them apply for college and wrote their letters of recommendation. The work offered profound gratification until I’d receive my paycheck each month and feel the insult.

My principal used to brag about me and the other teachers who went above and beyond, and it was always nice to be appreciated. But then one time I heard another school’s administrator complain that his staff wouldn’t do any extra work unless they were paid for it ― and I realized the financial peril of caring so much about our students. It makes you easily exploited.

We might be the only striking workers who don’t entirely stop working ― who really can’t stop working.

I saw that peril again on the long march through downtown L.A. to the Los Angeles Unified School District headquarters ― I saw teachers enduring the downpour, holding up their laminated signs demanding reasonable pay and working conditions and support, chanting for justice but also talking with each other about students in crisis and lesson plans they would get back to as soon as this ordeal was over. We might be the only striking workers who don’t entirely stop working ― who really can’t stop working. I’m still receiving requests from students for letters of recommendation to colleges and scholarship programs. Some deadlines are the end of this week.

In another field, that would be leverage. Give us a reasonable contract offer or these customers won’t be served. But we teachers could never make that threat, and it would only be effective if the superintendent and the board of education members cared as much about our students as we did.


Larry Strauss

Author Larry Strauss, center in red hat, joins colleagues on the streets earlier this week.

Everyone appreciates selfless teachers, but expecting selflessness is offensive and unsustainable. How much we pay our teachers is an expression of how much we respect them. The conditions in which we place teachers and their students are an expression of how much we respect students and teachers. These expressions are played out in every district in every state in our country, but ultimately it is about our self-respect as a self-governing free society.

While my colleagues and I stand outside our schools and march through the streets of our city, we are doing so in a country with an unfunded dysfunctional government, a government out of touch with its constituents and elected by a citizenry that struggles to differentiate investigative journalism from fake news. The future of our democracy ― not to mention our economy ― depends upon educating the next generation, and we don’t have enough money for that?

How much we pay our teachers is an expression of how much we respect them.

Our principal and assistant principal brought coffee and doughnuts to our picket line amid the downpour. They reminded us that they are teachers, too. They both started in the classroom years ago, and they will, they said, always be teachers at heart. They understand what we are striking for. Not just for our own financial survival in an economy with a shrinking middle class.

Most of us are going to be retiring in the next five or 10 or 20 years. Who will replace us? Who will want to teach overcrowded classes in a city in which they most likely will never be able to afford a house ― or even a condo? How many who try will make it past the first year or two?

After this week, I am actually hopeful. I am hopeful because of all the teachers ― young and old and in between ― out there in our ponchos with our picket signs undeterred by nasty weather or superintendents who seek to devalue us and our students. Undaunted by the financial uncertainty of what could be a protracted strike. Passionate educators rooted in this community determined to get what we and our students deserve.

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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What Happens When Teachers Can’t Afford To Live In Their Own Cities


A few years ago, Sarah was living in a drafty garage belonging to one of her friends. Despite being a smart, highly qualified teacher to sixth- and seventh-graders at a public middle school not far from San Francisco’s international airport, she simply could not afford to live anywhere else in the city.

San Francisco is facing an unprecedented housing affordability crisis. That was the conclusion of an analysis published in July by the city’s planning department documenting the huge challenge facing the city and the wider Bay Area. Rapidly rising rents and soaring property values, combined with high construction costs and prohibitive zoning policies, have stymied the “missing middle” housing options needed for public sector employees like Sarah, who earn too much to qualify for low-income housing, but not enough to afford the Bay Area’s often outlandish market rates.

While teachers may be invaluable to society, their pay and working conditions are deteriorating as housing costs rise. On Monday, Los Angeles public school teachers began their first strike in 30 years after more than a year of failed negotiations over issues that include pay. 

“It’s so important for our public servants to be able to live in their communities,” says Kristy Wang, community planning policy director at the nonprofit San Francisco Bay Area Planning and Urban Research Association, or SPUR. “But we live in such a high-cost housing market that it’s really difficult for them to do that because they just don’t make enough.”


ROBYN BECK via Getty Images

Striking teachers and their supporters rally in downtown Los Angeles on Jan. 15, 2019, the second day of the teachers strike.

Sarah (who asked that her real name not be published to protect her privacy) is a 32-year-old originally from the East Coast who moved to the Bay Area after gaining her master’s degree and teaching credential in Southern California. In 2011, she was living with her boyfriend and their young daughter on the outskirts of San Francisco in a one-bedroom apartment that cost around $1,500 a month. When she and her boyfriend split up four years later, the market rate for a similar apartment was at least $2,400. As a newly qualified teacher earning $2,700 a month, she just couldn’t make her budget stretch that much.

“Basically, we had nowhere to live,” she says. Then her best friend, also a single mom and struggling to afford her duplex rent, suggested that Sarah move in. “My daughter shared a room with my friend’s son — they’re the same age, went to preschool together and know each other well,” Sarah says. “And I lived in her garage for a year.”

Listening to Sarah’s matter-of-fact account of how she bought carpet and space heaters to make her new sleeping quarters more comfortable, the rationale is compelling. Her rent was now $1,300 a month, and sharing grocery shopping with her friend also cut costs.

But, she says, the situation was ridiculous. The poorly insulated garage was stifling hot in summer, uncomfortably cold in winter, and lacked direct access to the duplex, which meant going outside at night to reach the bathroom. The move added up to 40 minutes each way to her daily commute. And she had to buy a baby monitor so that her daughter could hear her mom’s voice before she fell asleep.

These are the people that the city needs to survive.
Sonja Trauss, founder of the San Francisco Bay Area Renters’ Federation

“It’s really upsetting to be a working adult who can’t even afford a one-bedroom apartment by myself,” she says. “That makes me very angry.”

She criticizes tech companies — whose presence in the Bay Area has been blamed for rocketing rents and house prices — for not helping to manage the problems they’ve created.

The Bay Area’s affordable housing crisis has made stories like Sarah’s shockingly common. Assuming a household spends no more than 30 percent of income on rent, it would need to earn $180,000 a year to be able to afford the median rent in the city, according to the planning department’s analysis published last summer. In San Francisco, the starting salary for a credentialed teacher is $55,461.

Two-thirds of teachers spend more than 30 percent of their income on rent, according to a 2018 survey by Stanford University for San Francisco Unified School District. Of those, 14.7 percent say rent accounts for more than half their income. Annual teacher turnover is around 12 percent, which translates to the district having to fill an average of 400 classroom vacancies each school year. 

The Victorian houses known as the Painted Ladies in San Francisco. Assuming a household spends no more than 30 percent o


Andia via Getty Images

The Victorian houses known as the Painted Ladies in San Francisco. Assuming a household spends no more than 30 percent of its income on rent, it would need to make $180,000 a year to afford the median rent in the city.

Housing affordability is the biggest reason given for teachers leaving, according to Daniel Menezes, SFUSD’s chief human resources officer.

“Educator turnover hurts a school because children need to experience safety and stability,” says Elaine Merriweather, executive vice president of the United Educators of San Francisco union. “Educators develop relationships with students that really help to support their growth and learning.” 

Collective bargaining and the parcel tax approved last June ― which will provide teachers with a 7 percent wage rise over the next two decades funded by a $298 annual tax on San Francisco property owners ― have increased basic teacher salaries by over a third since 2014, according to SFUSD’s Menezes. But, he says, the costly housing market means these pay increases aren’t enough to attract and retain educators, particularly those just starting out or who have a family.

“Every year, it is getting harder and harder to go out to national universities and convince a teacher to come to San Francisco because of the affordability issue,” Menezes says.

To address the crisis, SFUSD has partnered with the city and the teachers union to build its first teacher housing complex, with occupancy expected in 2022. The Francis Scott Key development in San Francisco’s Outer Sunset neighborhood in the west of the city will convert a surplus school district site into 130 apartments, costing from around $1,600 for a studio to $2,300 for a three-bedroom.

An artist's impression of the Francis Scott Key development in the Outer Sunset neighborhood of San Francisco.


BAR Architects for MidPen Housing

An artist’s impression of the Francis Scott Key development in the Outer Sunset neighborhood of San Francisco.

“We’ll have teachers at the higher end of that scale and we’ll have para-educators — special needs teachers and assistants in the classroom — who earn less,” says Kate Hartley, director of the Mayor’s Office of Housing and Community Development. “We’re really excited about being able to serve that wide range of school employees.”

While Sarah welcomes the idea of dedicated housing for teachers, she says she wouldn’t be able to save any money or afford a house if she stayed in the Bay Area and had to pay those kind of rents.

To genuinely address the teacher housing crisis, the Bay Area needs protections for existing tenants and a deluge of new housing units, says Sonja Trauss, founder of the San Francisco Bay Area Renters’ Federation. 

Trauss, who was a high school math teacher in the East Bay, quit her job a few years back when housing and commuting costs became too much for her to afford. Since then, she has campaigned for higher-density zoning.

“Too much of the city is zoned for low-density housing in a place that is incredibly in demand,” Trauss told HuffPost. “It’s not just San Francisco, but all over the Bay Area.”

Trauss has also fought against homeowners who block development to preserve neighborhood character. “The situation we have now is that people who already have their homes really don’t care if there’s a [housing] shortage”, she says. “Their feeling is that allowing the city to grow would change neighborhood character … But these are the people that the city needs to survive.”

In a recent example of the kind of Bay Area nimbyism Trauss has called out, more than 6,500 people signed a petition against proposals to build low-cost teacher housing in the wealthy Almaden Valley neighborhood of San Jose. San Jose Unified, the largest school district in the South Bay and a good one-hour drive from San Francisco, is considering converting eight schools with aging buildings or declining enrollment into affordable teacher housing. The plans, however, have attracted criticism from residents.

Meanwhile, Jefferson Union High School District just outside San Francisco plans to use a $33 million voter-approved bond to fund 116 low-cost apartments for teachers and other staff, due to break ground this year. Teacher pay in the district is reportedly among the lowest in the county — $49,500 to $87,300 a year.

“The plan will definitely be a game changer for a lot of people and would really help me out because housing will be low market rate, which would allow me to have more of a long-term outlook in the district,” says Mike Rodriguez, a 12th-grade math and economics teacher at Jefferson Union’s Thornton High School.

Rodriguez, 30, has a master’s degree and has been teaching for four years. He makes $50,000 a year and has $100,000 of student debt. He drives for Uber for at least two hours each day to boost his income, lives with three others and looks forward to the day when he might not need to rent a room in a shared apartment.

Alt-Erlaa municipal housing in Vienna. The Austrian capital's affordable social housing model could provide San Francisco wit


Rafael_Wiedenmeier via Getty Images

Alt-Erlaa municipal housing in Vienna. The Austrian capital’s affordable social housing model could provide San Francisco with one potential solution for teacher housing.

The region’s teacher housing crisis needs both investment and political will, says Wang from SPUR. While there is no magic bullet, she adds, European models such as Germany’s baugruppen co-housing communities and Vienna’s affordable social housing, which offer city-based, lower-cost accommodation with shared facilities, could provide solutions for middle-income earners such as teachers and other public-sector workers.

For Sarah, change isn’t coming quickly enough. For the last two years, she has been living with her parents and her daughter in Redwood City, a 30-minute commute to her current school. Once the school year ends, she plans to move to a more affordable city like Sacramento.

“It would have been nice if there had been rent control and better salaries,” she says. “I do love teaching here, but I am being driven out.”

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HuffPost’s “This New World” series is funded by Partners for a New Economy and the Kendeda Fund. All content is editorially independent, with no influence or input from the foundations. If you have an idea or tip for the editorial series, send an email to thisnewworld@huffpost.com



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ESP National Award Seeks Congressional Approval


A bill introduced during the first week of the new Congress directs the Secretary of Education to establish an award that acknowledges the role education support professionals (ESP) play in promoting student achievement, ensuring student safety, and helping to establish a healthy school climate in grades preK-12.

Although the RISE (Recognizing Inspiring School Employees) Award Program bill (H.R. 276) arrives on Capitol Hill amid intense gridlock, strong support from the bill’s sponsor, Democrat Rep. Dina Titus of Nevada, and 21 co-sponsors gives many ESPs hope they will finally receive a type of national recognition on par with teachers.

“There are almost 3 million ESPs working in our nation’s public schools and colleges who make a difference every day in the lives of their students,” says Sherry Shaw, 2018 NEA ESP of the Year. “They need to be recognized for their above-and-beyond acts of heroism.”

One of every three public school employees is an ESP with more than 75 percent ensuring student and school safety. According to NEA research, almost 50 percent of ESPs have an associate’s, bachelor’s, or more advanced college degree. In addition, more than 60 percent have taken college courses, while others (51 percent) have taken job-related classes, or have earned education-related certificates and licenses.

“ESPs choose public education as their career,” says Dan Kivett, a security officer at Citrus Valley High School in Redlands, Calif., and president of the Redlands Education Support Professionals Association (RESPA). “They have to train and attend school in order to maintain a high skill and knowledge level just like those in other professions.”

Above and Beyond the Call

Kivett says many ESPs are also student mentors, athletic coaches, community volunteers and organizers. According to NEA, 35 percent of ESPs volunteer to read books to students while 70 percent assist children in their communities with clothing, food and other necessities.

“And all of this is done without much recognition,” says Kivett, a member of the NEA board of directors with 19 years of public education experience. “They are the gears that keep school operations moving.”

More than 65 percent of ESPs donate money out of their own pockets to help students purchase classroom materials, field trip tickets, and materials for science and other class projects. The average ESP donation: $217 per year.

“The RISE award would draw some attention to the level of our professional training, mentoring, volunteerism, and how much we love our kids,” says Shaw, a special education paraeducator, coach and mentor at Tanaina Elementary School in Wasilla, Alaska. “Some parents know that ESPs go the extra mile for their kids, but not all administrators acknowledge it for some reason.”

Of NEA’s 3 million members, almost 500,000 are ESPs represented in the following nine career categories:

  • Child nutrition services
  • Clerical services
  • Custodial and maintenance services
  • Health and student services
  • Paraeducators
  • Security services
  • Skilled trades
  • Technical services
  • Transportation services

“We don’t necessarily need an award for the work we do, but it would be nice to be recognized for all of the extra effort we put forth on behalf of students,” says Mary Ann Rivera, a paraeducator at Lyons Township High School in Western Springs, Ill.

When Rivera goes shopping, it is a given she will buy gloves, socks, hats and other items for students in need. It is also normal operating procedure in her school district for ESPs to organize dozens of care packages for students from low-income families.

“Thanks goodness for discount stores,” says Rivera, an NEA board member.

“ESPs work just as hard as all educators, side by side with teachers,” she adds. “In classrooms, paraeducators are an extra set of eyes, trained to help students learn their lessons well. We are not volunteers as in decades past. This is our career.”

Rise and Shine

In Kentucky, Lakilia Bedeau is director of the Tornado Alley Youth Services Center at Paducah Tilghman High School. She says Congress can acknowledge the hard work and dedication of ESPs by approving the bill.

“The award is long overdue,” says Bedeau, an executive committee member of the National Council for ESPs (NCESP), which advocates for ESPs from within NEA assuring that specific ESP issues and interests are integrated in NEA programs.

Like youth services staff across the nation, Bedeau helps students with everything from medical and other referrals for social, physical and mental health services to intervening during family crisis situations and providing hygiene products, school supplies and other daily necessities.

More than 65 percent of ESPs donate money out of their own pockets to help students purchase classroom materials, field trip tickets, and materials for science and other class projects. The average ESP donation: $217 per year.

“Like the majority of ESPs, my team is on the front-line assisting students with everyday needs,” says Bedeau, who has worked in education for 10 years.

By working one-on-one with students, Bedeau says a level of trust and confidence can develop which helps keep students interested enough in school so as not to drop-out.

“We empower students by removing non-academic barriers, encouraging them to explore career opportunities and reach their full potential,” she says. “We build critical relationships that ensure students are safe and successful regardless of their socio-economic status.”

Rivera says it takes time to gain the trust of students.

“When they first meet you, they might hate you,” says Rivera, an NCESP executive committee member. “But it’s not personal. You encourage them to do well by showing and telling them that they are valued and smart, and by the end of the year they love you.”

After more than 30 years of working for public schools as a paraeducator and school bus driver, Ernest Jameel Williams is encouraged by the proposed bill despite the divisive state of national politics and past failures by Congress to pass legislation that would acknowledge ESPs as their colleagues are with the National Teacher of the Year Award.

“People have worked hard over the years advocating for an award like this,” says Williams, the 2011 NEA ESP of the Year. “Congress should once and for all pass this bill that acknowledges the hard work, dedication, skills, and expertise of ESPs.”

Williams, who is a Reach Associate at Zeb Vance Elementary School in Kittrell, N.C., says ESPs not only help to teach students but “we are in the trenches when an emotional crisis occurs involving a student or their family.”

Different Award, Same Name

In May of 2018, Sherry Shaw and four other ESPs received a national award in a ceremony at the U.S. House of Representatives. The ESP award was created by the National Coalition of Classified Education Support Employee Unions and currently goes by the same name proposed in H.R. 276: Recognizing Inspiring School Employees (RISE).

That may change if the current bill is passed in Congress, according to NCCESEU officials.

The NCCESEU is a coalition of state and national unions that together represent a million school support employees including clerical and administrative staff, custodians, food service workers, health and student services workers, paraeducators, technology services employees, transportation workers, and security and skilled trades staff.

Along with NEA, coalition members include the California School Employees Association, Minnesota School Employees Association, SEIU 284 (Service Employees International Union), and Public School Employees of Washington/SEIU 1948.

Sign up at the NEA Legislative Action Center to support the RISE Award Program bill.



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Karen Pence’s Anti-LGBTQ School To Receive 100 Copies Of LGBTQ Children’s Book



Karen Pence, wife of Vice President Mike Pence, started teaching art this week at Immanuel Christian School, a Northern Virginia establishment where LGBTQ staff and kids are not welcome.

Soon, the school will receive a large pile of books with a very different, and accepting, message. 

The Trevor Project, an LGBTQ advocacy organization, announced Thursday that it has sent Immanuel Christian 100 copies of A Day in the Life of Marlon Bundo, a children’s book about a boy bunny who falls in love with another boy bunny. Included with the books is “a heartfelt note that encourages the school’s leaders to accept LGBTQ young people,” the group said.  

A Day in the Life of Marlon Bundo debuted last year as comedian John Oliver’s response to Marlon Bundo’s Day in the Life of the Vice President, a book written by Pence’s daughter, Charlotte, and illustrated by Karen Pence that depicts the family’s pet rabbit, Marlon Bundo.

Mike Pence is notoriously hostile to LGBTQ rights, once opining that marriage equality could lead to “societal collapse.” Perhaps unsurprisingly, the queer version of the bunny book has sold much better. Proceeds benefit The Trevor Project, which works specifically to prevent suicide by LGBTQ youth, and AIDS United, which is dedicated to stopping AIDS in the U.S.  

An alumnus of Immanuel Christian voiced support for the donation in the group’s statement, saying that he is “a living example that intolerance, both in policy and rhetoric, are harmful to the mental wellness and development of LGBTQ students, who are desperately looking for ways to fit in.” 

The former student, Luke Hartman, an out gay man, continued by explaining that “silent and spoken messages of rejection” felt by LGBTQ youth “directly impact the relationship they have with their faith, education, and relationships with family and friends,” ultimately damaging their sense of self-worth. 

As first reported by HuffPost, Immanuel Christian says it can refuse to admit students who participate in or condone homosexual activity, per a “parent agreement” posted online. Employees of the school are made to sign a statement saying they will not engage in homosexual activity or violate the “unique roles of male and female.”  



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Los Angeles Parents Are Scrambling For Child Care As Teachers Strike


LOS ANGELES ― After three days at home with her kids amid the Los Angeles teachers strike, Cindy Goodale has to have a sense of humor about her upended routine.

“I’m ready to get them back to school,” laughed Goodale, who works from home and has found her usual flow interrupted this week by the sounds and needs of young children. 

Yet Goodale is one of the lucky ones. She is able to care for her children in a safe setting. For many other families around the city, the teachers strike has meant scrambling last minute for child care or sending their kids to a school where instruction is minimal.

Teachers from the Los Angeles Unified School District have been on strike since Monday in hopes of securing a contract that guarantees smaller class sizes and more support staff. The strike impacts about half a million students in 900 schools and over 30,000 teachers.

Schools have stayed open this week, staffed with around 400 non-unionized substitutes to cover the work of tens of thousands of teachers. Administrative and central office staff are also being dispersed across schools to supervise. Students describe being huddled in auditoriums, watching movies, playing games or doing busy work. But for many kids, the services offered by their school are a necessity, including the free or reduced-price meals.

On the first day of the strike, the district reported that around 144,000 students went to school. On the second day, that number rose to about 170,000. And on Wednesday, it dropped back down to around 130,000 students. 

Thousands of children are home with parents and caretakers or gathered at various locations around the city, rallying with their teachers and visiting museums that are offering free admission during the strike. 

Goodale decided to keep her kids home this week in solidarity with the teachers. For others hoping to do the same, it has been a challenge.


ROBYN BECK via Getty Images

Some students are walking the picket lines with their teachers.

Sage Wells, a mother of two elementary students, has been scrambling all week to find child care. On Monday, she had planned to send her kids to school wearing red, just like the teachers on strike. (Red, the color of the national Red for Ed movement, signifies solidarity with striking educators.) That morning, Wells stopped by her children’s school to picket with the teachers, with plans to have a babysitter drop the kids off later.

But after protesting with the teachers, she couldn’t bear the idea of her children crossing the picket line. It’s been a daily struggle to find child care since then. Wells and her husband both work full time.

“After being out there and seeing the teachers, and seeing that their hearts were breaking each time a child went to school, I was like, I can’t stand out here and picket with them and then send our kids to school. It felt hypocritical,” said Wells, whose children attend Mountain View Elementary School.

On Thursday, if the strike continues, Stephanie Levinson and other teachers from San Fernando Elementary School are going to reach out to parents directly to see how they’re doing and offer more information about the strike.

“We’ve had some parents say they didn’t understand teachers weren’t getting paid,” said Levinson, who has been picketing every morning outside the school with her colleagues. “Seeing kids come in the morning has been hard. They give us hugs; they don’t understand.”

Some kids have been going to school not out of necessary, but out of choice. Liza Valenzuela’s elementary-aged son asked her if he could go to school, she told HuffPost on Monday. She didn’t want to deny him, even though she was unsure how productive it would be. 

“He was adamant about coming,” she said standing outside Marianna Elementary School.



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The Ultimate Handbook To Help Children Start The New Year Right



We tell our kids that everyone makes mistakes and we mean it but if the last year was a rough one, it can be hard to bounce back. Past struggles with grades, organization and friends are easy to carry over into the new year. Even determined kids may find themselves playing out the same patterns, engaging in the same old conflicts or stuck in last year’s situations.

While there’s rarely one answer to a kid’s struggles and there’s no substitute for open communication sometimes media can offer a fresh approach to old problems. And if your kids really want to change course, finding what works for them can be a real self-esteem booster.

These books, apps, and websites can help kids gain perspective, as well as practice positive habits around communication, time management, self-regulation, and organization. Check out our Homework Help Apps, Time Management Apps, and Note-Taking Apps for Tweens and Teens for even more ideas.

Get organized

Do you need a hazmat suit to explore your kid’s backpack? Does note taking mean scribbling three sentences across a page? Does “I’ll do it tomorrow” really mean, “I already forgot what you said”? Use some tools to create a new routine.

  • Choiceworks Calendar (Age 8+) With lots of visuals to choose from, this planner empowers kids to organize their time.

  • 30/30 (Age 10+) Use this timer to help kids break larger tasks into smaller ones.

  • SoundNote (Age 14+) Because kids can sync audio with written notes, this app can help kids get information in multiple ways and keep them organized.

Study smarter

Press the reset button on study habits with some tools that might help build necessary skills.

Communicate clearly

Smooth out the rough edges with some social-skills practice that will help make a fresh start.

  • The Social Express II (Age 8+) This game helps kids understand the “hidden rules” of social communication and includes a social network.

  • LikeSo (Age 11+) When kids need to tone down teen-speak for formal presentations, this app tracks words and phrases they’d rather omit.

  • ConversationBuilder Teen (Age 13+) Through scripts and situations, kids can practice their communication choices.

Forge positive friendships

Leave the drama behind with social networks that encourage positive interaction.

  • Yoursphere (Age 9+) This social network is a safer starting place for younger users who want to practice their digital citizenship skills.

  • Kidzworld (Age 11+) Short articles, social networking, and self expression come together on this kid-friendly site.

  • Sit With Us (Age 13+) Created by a teen, this app helps kids find friends (and a place at a lunch table) without the risk of public humiliation.

Reflect and reframe ​

Put things in perspective and remind kids they aren’t alone through the pages of these books.

  • About Average (Age 8+) This anti-bullying book can help empower kids to seek solutions.

  • Addie on the Inside (Age 11+) Told through poetry, Addie’s story covers a lot of emotional ground and features a brave female protagonist.

  • King Dork (Age 15+) This realistic coming-of-age book is a relatable read for teens who don’t love high school.

Boost self esteem

Widen kids’ focus to helping others and creating a purpose outside of school.



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The Los Angeles Teachers Strike Puts Charter Schools Under The Microscope


LOS ANGELES ― Tuesday, on the second day of the Los Angeles teachers strike, tens of thousands of educators protested in front of the California Charter Schools Association building at a rally so crowded that participants were standing shoulder to shoulder.

Among the crowd of protesters were teachers from Accelerated Charter Schools, who started their own strike Tuesday morning, along with members of the United Teachers Los Angeles union.

As the Los Angeles Unified School District strike heads into its third day ― affecting half a million students and over 30,000 teachers ― with no immediate end in sight, charter schools are in the spotlight. Teachers are asking the district for smaller class sizes and more support staff, and in the backdrop are larger issues about charter school growth and how it affects district finances.

And educators from the Accelerated Charter Schools ― a network of three schools ― are standing in solidarity while fighting for their own needs.  

A strike of charter school educators is unprecedented in California and nearly unprecedented in the nation ― the vast majority of charter school educators are not unionized, unlike those from Accelerated Charter Schools. On Tuesday these educators joined the thousands of traditional public school teachers on strike, notably rallying outside the building of an organization that works to advance charter schools’ interests.

A strike involving charter school employees ― who are deeply critical of the system in which their schools operate ― only invites more criticism and is symbolic of the microscope that charters are currently under. The educators at Accelerated Charters are fighting for more job security, binding arbitration and health care benefits.


Al Seib via Getty Images

Educators picket outside the Accelerated Charter Schools building. Among the protesters were teachers from the network’s schools, who started their own strike on Jan. 15.

“A lot of the things [LAUSD teachers are] asking for are things that we need but can’t ask for because we don’t have job security,” said Julia Weinrott, a fourth-grade teacher at an Accelerated school who protested on Tuesday morning with nearly all her colleagues.

The CEO of Accelerated Charter Schools has expressed disappointment with the move, saying it puts “our students and families in the middle of contract demands, according to the Los Angeles Times.

A lot of the things [LAUSD teachers are] asking for are things that we need but can’t ask for because we don’t have job security.
Julia Weinrott, fourth-grade teacher at an Accelerated charter school

LAUSD union leaders have framed their strike as a fight for the future of public education, one in which the creeping influence of charter schools is kept at bay. Union leaders have connected the district’s vast financial problems ― resulting in chronically understaffed and underresourced schools — with the growth of charter schools.

The first charter school in the country opened only in 1992, and since then, their numbers have grown at a rapid clip, especially in Los Angeles. Charter schools are publicly funded and privately run and therefore are not subject to all the same regulations and red tape as traditional public schools.

LAUSD educators who are on strike this week say that the system is unfair ― that when students transfer to charter schools, they take with them their per-pupil funding, leaving behind fixed infrastructure costs and draining a system that is designed to educate all students.

But painting charter schools as at the root of the LAUSD’s fiscal issues might be misleading, said Robin Lake, the director of the Center on Reinventing Public Education.

She has studied an independent financial review of the district from 2015. It’s true that the district’s traditional public schools are losing students at an alarming rate, but only half those kids are leaving for charters. The other shifts are due to demographic changes or students leaving the district for any number of other reasons. 

“I understand people being angry and confused, because it is complicated. But once you dig into the facts, charters didn’t cause this problem,” said Lake.

And much of the district’s financial woes can be attributed to mounting employee-related costs, like retiree benefits, amid an aging workforce. At the same time, the district receives comparatively little funding compared with others of its size around the country.

Still, there’s evidence that students in Los Angeles charter schools are outperforming their peers at traditional public schools. One study found that students in L.A. charter schools receive the equivalent of 50 more days in reading instruction and 79 days in math than their counterparts in traditional public schools.

But from an optics perspective, the reputational damage to charters may already be taking a toll. Throughout the week, a number of high-profile Democrats, some of whom are likely looking to run for president in 2020, tweeted their support for striking teachers.

And on Tuesday, when tens of thousands of teachers gathered to protest charter schools, the enthusiasm was conspicuous. Speakers and performers gave emotional accounts of the lot public school students have been handed.

The scene looked like an ocean of red-clad educators, who wore the color in solidarity with the national Red for Ed movement, as they danced with tambourines and chanted in unison, “The world is watching.” Speakers bashed Los Angeles Schools Superintendent Austin Beutner ― referred to as “billionaire Beutner” ― who is supportive of charter schools, as well as the major donors who have funneled money to pro-charter candidates on the district school board.

The crowd, including parents and students, was roaring.

“The politics around charter schools are going to really shift in California. And the union senses it. They are really vulnerable now,” said Pedro Noguera, a distinguished professor of education at UCLA, noting the election of union-backed candidates like Gov. Gavin Newsom and State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond.

But for students, the issue may feel far more nuanced. Carla Rodriguez, a senior at the Edward R. Roybal Learning Center, a traditional public school, rallied at City Hall in support of her teachers Monday. Her younger brother, though, attends a charter school and was in class.

She said that he’s really happy at his school, that it’s competitive and that he wouldn’t change his situation.

But she added that the whole dynamic has left a bad taste in her mouth.

“I guess in a way it’s not fair — the fact that they pay a lot of attention to them and not us,” said Rodriguez.





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Using Meditation to Mitigate Stress


It’s news to exactly no one that being an educator is stressful. Long
hours are spent in an environment that churns with mental, visual, and emotional stimulation. And when what should be the end of the work day finally arrives, there is still more to do.

For educators, the list of stress and anxiety-inducing triggers is endless—and potentially dangerous to your career and health. Whether you’re nearing burnout’s precipice, or already staring into the abyss, meditation can help. In this first installment of a two-part series about mindfulness, learn what meditation is (and what it isn’t) and how to create a practice.

Why Meditate? In a world filled with inputs, meditation gives your
mind a rest. It also can help you to learn how your mind works. Instead of paying attention to your swirling thoughts— “I’ll never get these papers graded in time.” “I always knew that parent didn’t like me.”—you will attend to your breath and train your mind to bring similar focus to day-to-day life. That’s all “mindfulness” means: It’s having the ability to direct the mind to pay attention to one thing.

Will Meditation Make Me Happy? Nope. But focusing on your breath in meditation helps your mind learn to focus on the present moment. And it’s that ability to keep your mind in the present moment—not ruminating over something in the past, or worrying about something in the future—that lays the groundwork for the calm, happiness, and increased efficiency that often are attributed to meditation.

Where Do I Begin? Insert small pauses into your day. Sit silently in your home or your car before heading into school, or on your bed when you wake up or before you go to sleep.

How Do I Create a Practice? Select a time of day and a location. Sit upright in a comfortable chair with your feet flat on the floor and your hands palms down on your legs. You may also sit cross-legged on a floor cushion. You’ll benefit more from a quick two-minute daily practice than a 30-minute practice that only happens once a week. Think of your mind as a muscle and meditation as its gym. Like your body, your mind will respond better to regular sessions.

It’s the ability to return to the breath in meditation that enables us to return to a task, a conversation, or a lesson in everydaylife, and not be totally sidetracked by worries and thoughts.

Now What? Set your timer. Five minutes is a great place to start.
Close your eyes, or cast your gaze toward the floor, and begin to notice your body. If you feel areas of tension—the most common are abdomen and shoulders, where many of us hold stress—imagine directing your breath to those areas and encouraging them to relax. Next—and without losing the sense of relaxation—sit up tall and straight. Many of us also hold tension in our jaws, so relax that area by closing your mouth and keeping your lips and teeth slightly parted.

Do I Breathe in a Special Way? No. Focus on the flow of your natural breath. Take a moment to notice where you feel your breath the most. Is it the air entering your nostrils, or exiting? Your breath may be most noticeable in the rise and fall of your chest, or the movement of your abdomen. Place your attention there.

How Do I Stop Thinking? You won’t. Just as it’s not possible to ask
your skin to stop feeling, you can’t tell your mind to stop making thoughts. That’s its J-O-B. Thoughts will come and go. Just keep your attention on your breath, and when you realize a thought has distracted you, return your attention to your breath. It’s the ability to return to the breath in meditation that enables us to return to a task, a conversation, or a lesson in everyday life, and not be totally sidetracked by worries and thoughts.

What If I Miss A Day? That’s fine. The most important thing to remember is that the reason we meditate is so that we can approach others with patience and compassion. What better place to start than with ourselves?

Lisa Leigh is the editor of NEA Today and NEA Today for NEA-Retired Members. She is a 200-hour registered yoga teacher and a certified meditation instructor.



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Indiana State Senator Wants To Require ‘In God We Trust’ Posters In Classrooms


An Indiana state senator is pushing a bill that advances Christian beliefs in the state’s public and charter schools. 

Republican state Sen. Dennis Kruse’s bill, introduced last Thursday, seeks to place a poster reading “In God We Trust” in every public and charter school classroom in Indiana.

The bill, titled “Education Matters,” specifies that the phrase should appear on a “durable poster or framed picture” that is at least 11 by 17 inches, and that the display could potentially be purchased with school funds.

The bill would also allow public schools to teach creationism and offer a survey course on world religions. Curriculum for the survey course must be “neutral, objective and balanced” and not “promote acceptance of any particular religion,” according to the legislation, but it only lists the Bible as a specific text to be studied.


Thomas Trutschel via Getty Images

The phrase “In God We Trust,” seen on a U.S. dollar bill, became the national motto in 1956.

Kruse, who represents portions of Allen and DeKalb counties, has a long history of proposing legislation that supports Christian beliefs. In 2013, he pushed a bill that would have required Indiana schools to begin each day by reciting the Lord’s Prayer, a foundational Christian prayer. 

Kruse has introduced a total of six creationism-related bills since 2000, CBS-affiliate WSBT reports. His previous five attempts failed. 

This year, Alaska, Kentucky, Missouri and South Carolina have already introduced “In God We Trust” bills that would allow the phrase to be placed on public buildings and vehicles, The Guardian reports.

Americans United for Separation of Church and State, a national advocacy organization, claims that the slew of bills is part of a larger campaign by Christian nationalist groups to enshrine America’s Judeo-Christian heritage in law. 

The phrase “In God We Trust” started appearing on U.S. coins during the Civil War, a period of heightened religious sentiment in the country. It re-emerged during the Cold War as a religious response to the atheism espoused by communist countries. The phrase became America’s national motto in 1956 and started appearing on paper money one year later.  



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Karen Pence Is Working At A School That Bans Gay Employees



Karen Pence started at a job this week, teaching art at Immanuel Christian School in Northern Virginia. It’s not a school where very everyone is welcome. The 2018 employment application, posted online, makes candidates sign a pledge not to engage in homosexual activity or violate the “unique roles of male and female.” 

“Moral misconduct which violates the bona fide occupational qualifications for employees includes, but is not limited to, such behaviors as the following: heterosexual activity outside of marriage (e.g., premarital sex, cohabitation, extramarital sex), homosexual or lesbian sexual activity, polygamy, transgender identity, any other violation of the unique roles of male and female, sexual harassment, use or viewing of pornographic material or websites,” says the application. 

The application says that the school believes “marriage unites one man and one woman” and that “a wife is commanded to submit to her husband as the church submits to Christ.” The application asks potential employees to explain their view of the “creation/evolution debate.” 

Karen Pence has been married to now–Vice President Mike Pence since 1985. His office did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the school’s discriminatory hiring practices. Karen Pence previously worked at the school for 12 years while her husband was in Congress, according to USA Today. The couple’s daughter Charlotte Pence attended the school, according to the school’s website. 

Immanuel Christian School, which is private, also did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Karen Pence will reportedly teach at the school twice a week until May. 

In Virginia and dozens of other states, it is legal for private employers to discriminate on the basis of sexual and gender identity.

“I am excited to be back in the classroom and doing what I love to do,” Pence said in a statement, the paper reported. “I have missed teaching art.” 



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I’m Only 9, And I’m Already In College. Here’s What Life Is Like For Me.



I was a 3-year-old preschooler when I corrected my teacher’s knowledge of the constitutional requirements to be U.S. president. In kindergarten, I learned that telling my friends that Bashar al-Assad was using chemical weapons against his own people would cause kids to cry on the playground. My parents received a call from an unhappy principal that day. And telling my third-grade science teacher that her knowledge of gravity lacked depth earned me a spot on her naughty list for the rest of the year.

Adults are constantly telling me how to think and what to say. But mostly what not to say! After my doctors tested my IQ to be above the 99.9th percentile in third grade and said my EQ (emotional intelligence) was also surprisingly high, everything changed and adults started taking me more seriously ― I finally felt that I was being heard. The tests showed that I was something called “profoundly gifted.” I was admitted into Mensa International, a program for individuals with a high IQ, and became a Davidson Institute Young Scholar. My parents started getting professional advice in order to learn more about the needs of profoundly-gifted kids, and they moved me to a specialized elementary school. Today we live in the San Francisco Bay Area suburb of Pleasanton, and I attend both fourth grade and college. I am having an awesome time.

People always ask if I am a “genius,” but my parents explain that genius is an action ― it requires solving big problems that have a human impact. Right now I am a 9-year-old boy with very strong skills in some areas. Mom says she’s the only genius in the house because it takes one to keep this house from falling apart! I roll my eyes! Mom also claims that IQ comes from the “X” chromosome. Dad rolls his eyes! My family is very funny.  

You probably have an image of ‘gifted’ kids as weird bookworms with no social skills. But I think of myself as any other normal, happy kid.

You probably have an image of “gifted” kids as weird bookworms with no social skills. But I think of myself as any other normal, happy kid. I collect Pokémon cards and know all the dance moves in Fortnite. I have a lot of friends, and we make naughty jokes and play basketball and games. I don’t always get A’s on tests; my family does not believe that grades are that important. I sneak in video games when my parents aren’t looking. And I get grounded for breaking rules. Actually, I am grounded right now from using the iPad. My parents lecture me all the time that I am failing something called a marshmallow test. But I think my parents are failing the patience test. Let’s just say I am glad to be too old for timeouts.

It’s true that there are some things that I am weirdly good at. The doctors call it “asynchronous learning.” That means I can learn academic subjects at an accelerated speed and even out of sequence. For example, I learned linear algebra concepts before I ever took a formal algebra class. My parents like to say that I literally “Khan Academy’ed” my way into college. But there are other areas where my brain is still catching up, like handwriting, spelling and taking notes. I am using spellcheck a lot for this essay! Also, I am just OK on piano, and I don’t learn foreign languages easily. I am trying to challenge myself by learning Bengali from my family and Mandarin from my very patient tutor Ms. Vienna. Please wish me luck!  

But I do have a knack for computer languages. I started Python programming at YoungWonks coding academy at just 7 years old. Today I am among the academy’s most advanced Python students, and I used my Python background to teach myself more than a dozen coding languages and interfaces. I am also taking an open-source masterclass on machine learning.

I am also obsessed with books. A good book makes me forget to finish my meals and get ready on time for school. This causes my parents to yell a lot. Wait, isn’t reading supposed to be a good thing? A few of my favorite books from 2018 were: Neil deGrasse Tyson’s Astrophysics for People in a Hurry, George Orwell’s 1984 and the Game of Thrones series. I tried reading Carl Sagan’s Cosmos, but the writing was dry and boring. But I also like reading books that many of my friends are reading, such as Captain Underpants, the Harry Potter series (I read all eight books in the eight weeks of summer break after first grade), The Percy Jackson series and Diary of a Wimpy Kid.

I learned linear algebra concepts before I ever took a formal algebra class. But there are other areas where my brain is still catching up, like handwriting, spelling and taking notes. I am using spellcheck a lot for this essay!

More than anything else, I am famous in our social circle for being a political junkie. I have watched every presidential debate since I was 3 years old, starting with Barack Obama’s re-election campaign. My favorite news sources are HuffPost, NPR and MSNBC. I am obsessed with Rachel Maddow. Maybe because she grew up in the same Bay Area city where I was born. I even had a chance to ask my congressman, Eric Swalwell, at a recent community meeting about the Democrats’ Supreme Court strategy. But I think he was more focused on my age instead of my question. By the way, he is 1 of 1,000 Democrats thinking about running for president!

In the daytime, I attend fourth grade at a specialized gifted school called Helios in Sunnyvale. Even though I am new to the school this year, I finally feel that I have teachers and friends who understand me and don’t try to change me. We sit on rocking chairs to help with our fidgetiness, and we can even go for a quick run or do jumping jacks during class if that helps us think better. They encourage us to be autonomous and accountable learners while working in groups. We don’t get homework, and the subjects are taught to fit the way our brains work. We learn mostly by researching and completing complex projects, and the subjects are integrated so that we understand real-life connections between math, science, economics and humanities. The best part is that I have not been sent to the principal’s office even once this semester! I even got elected to the Student Council, and my friends are so proud of me and brag to everyone that I attend college.

After day school, I attend Las Positas College, where I am working on my associate degrees in chemistry and math. Did you know that Sir Isaac Newton and Stephen Hawking were Lucasian Professors of mathematics at Cambridge University? I had to go through interviews and assessments to prove to the administration that I had both the scholastic aptitude and the executive functions to attend college. Now the administration and professors treat me like any other student. I follow the same rules, and the classes cannot be modified for me.

Being an extrovert has helped me make a lot of friends in college ― they even ask me to tutor them. Whenever I start a new class, other students give me curious looks, and I can see some people secretly taking photos and videos of me. I hear them whispering, “He’s so cute!” or “He’s so smart!” but I try to break the ice by introducing myself so they can see that it’s OK to talk to me and be my friend. I also send my professors an email before the first day of class so that they are not confused when I walk in.          

Before I started college, my parents used to let me try anything I wanted as long as I showed interest and commitment. But now my parents worry that I might get overwhelmed, and they encourage me to slow down. For my first college course, they forced me to enroll in baby math (aka algebra I) because they wanted me to develop soft skills and get used to being in a college setting. It was so boring that I spent a lot of time playing video games during class. Then I convinced my parents to let me take an assessment test so that I could take harder classes. My college assessment test showed that I was ready for calculus – that’s four levels above baby math! I think my parents are starting to believe that I actually do know what I’m doing. 

Being an extrovert has helped me make a lot of friends in college – they even ask me to tutor them.

So far, the content of the college classes has not really been a challenge since I process information easily. I don’t study much at all. I feel that my professors and classmates respect my abilities. But I have other types of challenges as a college student. Because of the asynchronous development, I do not have good time-management skills or strong note-taking skills, and sometimes I have trouble reading my own handwriting! My parents help me by typing out study notes from my textbooks, even though they might not understand the content.

Also, I do whine a lot over homework because it is boring and long. I think this worries my parents because they keep reminding me that work ethic and ethos are more important than IQ. They were concerned when I spent only one hour to study all 14 chapters for my chemistry final, but then I got a 101 percent. Remember their obsession with the marshmallow test? I hope to transfer to MIT in two to three years. Hopefully, MIT will disagree with my parents’ definition of work ethic.

My biggest challenge during class (and during this essay) is to train my brain to stay focused and keep from wandering off to random thoughts. At any time, I could be thinking about anything from the Yemen famine to how do get out of piano practice that day.

My parents always had an open and transparent philosophy with me. That means our family does not have any questions that are off-limits, though I do sometimes get low-quality answers on controversial subjects. I think they regret their open philosophy after being forced to explain to me some words and concepts from the Game of Thrones books. I have a provocative personality. So my parents “remind me” (more like, threaten me) that I have to respect the boundaries other parents might have and I should not share controversial knowledge with my friends.

I am excited that I will be interning next summer in the artificial intelligence division of one of the largest technology companies in the world. I used my charm offensive in the interview! My boss is a famous female scientist who worked with Stephen Hawking. For my fourth-grade spring research paper, my Helios teachers will allow me to choose a topic that is related to my internship. I have a big support system of parents, relatives, family friends, mentors, teachers and doctors who are happy to help me. But I also know that I am very lucky to have this kind of community because most kids with “special needs” have to struggle to find resources. Well, I wrote a lot, so thanks for reading!

You can follow me on Twitter and Instagram, but please remember to be nice!





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The Day Tens Of Thousands Of Teachers Took Los Angeles


LOS ANGELES ― Decked out in rain boots, ponchos and umbrellas, tens of thousands of teachers took to the streets of Los Angeles on Monday in a fight for the future of the city’s schools.

Groups of teachers, wearing red in solidarity with the Red for Ed movement, could be seen all over the city, taking shelter under storefronts as heavy rain poured down or congregating on street corners and getting supplies for the day’s events. In the morning, educators picketed in front of their schools with megaphones, cheering when passing cars honked in support. In the early afternoon, tens of thousands marched on City Hall, sometimes alongside parents, students and friendly community members. The march was a sea of red enthusiasm, complete with deafening cheers, topical costumes and damp signs.

It was day one of the first teachers strike in Los Angeles in 30 years. And it was big, wet and loud.


ASSOCIATED PRESS

Teachers and supporters hold signs in the rain during a rally on Jan. 14, 2019, in Los Angeles.

The strike comes after 21 months of failed negotiations between the Los Angeles Unified School District and the teachers union, United Teachers Los Angeles, which is battling for smaller class sizes, increased support staff and pay raises. It comes only months after statewide teacher strikes in red states like Kansas, Oklahoma and West Virginia. But action in the second-largest school district in the country could be equally influential.

Los Angeles public schools have nearly half a million students and over 30,000 teachers. By comparison, there are only around 20,000 public school teachers in all of West Virginia.

Union leaders have framed the fight as one for the future of public education. But for teachers on the ground, it’s about getting day-to-day help so they might be able to pay more individual attention to their students.  

Teachers rallied at City Hall in Los Angeles on Monday.


ASSOCIATED PRESS

Teachers rallied at City Hall in Los Angeles on Monday.

Sandra Marin-Lares is a psychiatric social worker for the district. Just several years ago, she was assigned to a single school, allowing her to build a sustained rapport with students and families. But last year, she covered three schools. Now she spends her week shuttling between four of them.

“A lot of the kids, when we get to the school, they’re like, ‘We needed to talk to you the other day but you weren’t here,’” said Marin-Lares, who has worked in the district for 10 years. “It’s not enough.”

Just last Friday, she met with an elementary school student she believes may be suicidal. But on Monday, Marin-Lares went on strike. The school leaders, who are not specifically trained to deal with such issues, are now in charge of making sure students, including that child, get the help they need.

Marin-Lares says she’s striking for that child and for others in similar situations.

Other teachers who have their own children in the district are striking as both educators and parents.

Laura Mazur teachers four-year-old students in the district. While she and her co-workers describe their workplace, Third Street School, as relatively affluent compared to many others, it still only employs a nurse for half of a single school day. Sick children are sent to an office staffed by secretaries, who split their time between supervising kids and doing their jobs.

Mazur’s child once spent an hour throwing up alone in the office at school. Office staff were present but occupied with other matters.

It’s not their job and it should not be their job,” said Mazur while taking shelter from the rain in a cafe with colleagues after marching on City Hall.

Union leaders have framed the strike as a fight for the future of public education. But for teachers, it’s about gettin


Associated Press

Union leaders have framed the strike as a fight for the future of public education. But for teachers, it’s about getting day-to-day help so they might be able to pay more individual attention to their students.

The district has kept schools open during the strike and encouraged parents to send their students to school. In a statement, officials said that at least around 141,000 students showed up Monday, although not all schools reported attendance numbers. School buses saw nearly 40 percent of average daily ridership, according to officials.

The district hired around 400 non-unionized substitute teachers to replace the more than 30,000 striking teachers. Some parents sent their kids to school by way of necessity. After Monday, some won’t be going back.

Liza Valenzuela sent her fourth-grader to school at Marianna Elementary on Monday because he asked to go. Valenzuela takes classes at night and has the ability to stay home with her son, but he was under the impression that you should only stay home if you’re very sick ― and she didn’t want to disabuse him of such a notion.

They’re going to discuss tonight whether he’ll be going back.

“He was adamant about coming,” she said, recalling apologetically passing his teacher on the picket line.

Yeraldy Jackson also sent her son to school at Marianna, even though she is a school aide and has been striking. She wanted to see what it would be like for him ― whether or not there would be any learning happening.

Instead, she found out that he spent most of the day in the auditorium with other students. He won’t be going back.

“I was like wow, for LA Unified to allow this. To not have people to teach them, and still ask us to bring them to school? So they could collect their money. There’s no point,” Jackson said.



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These Are The Democrats Supporting The LA Teachers Strike



Los Angeles public school teachers went on strike on Monday after 20 months of failed negotiations for higher pay, greater school funding and more support staff.

Unlike many of the teacher strikes that gripped red states in 2018, the LA strike pits the massive United Teachers Los Angeles union against the Los Angeles Unified School District, which runs public schools in the city of Los Angeles and many surrounding communities. The labor dispute reflects a bitter Democratic Party rift on education policy that splits unions and their allies from proponents of charter schools, whose influence on the LA school board has helped precipitate the strike.

A number of high-profile Democratic elected officials have nonetheless come out on the side of Los Angeles teachers, including Sen. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.), who announced her 2020 presidential campaign on Dec. 31, and Sens. Kamala Harris (Calif.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who are expected to announce presidential bids soon.

Some of the U.S. House’s biggest progressive stars have also declared their support for the city’s teachers union, with Congressional Progressive Caucus co-chairs Pramila Jayapal (Wash.) and Mark Pocan (Wis.), as well as Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (N.Y.) and Ro Khanna (Calif.) tweeting their solidarity.

Even Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez, a former secretary of labor, released a statement saying he stands with the striking teachers “fighting for the children they teach to have the resources they need to achieve and flourish.”

But other Democratic elected officials have been less eager to comment on the strike. In fact, some Democrats who want to diminish the clout of teachers unions, like former Education Secretary Arne Duncan, actually back the city’s school district against the union.

Of the 10 Democrats representing parts of the city of Los Angeles, Reps. Jimmy Gomez, Brad Sherman, Adam Schiff, Nanette Barragán, Ted Lieu and Tony Cárdenas have announced unequivocal support for the teachers union. 

“For the first time in 30 years, teachers from the LA Unified School District are on strike, fighting for fair pay, smaller class sizes, and better resourced schools for our kids,” Schiff said in a statement to HuffPost. “When we fail to support our public school teachers, we fail our students too. I stand with our teachers every step of the way.”

“To every teacher on strike today, I am with you,” he added. “I urge both LA Unified and United Teachers Los Angeles to negotiate and reach a comprehensive agreement to end the strike for the benefit of families, children, and our teachers.”  

Barragán cited the importance of her own education in LA public schools in explaining why she stood with teachers.

“It is crucial that we listen and acknowledge their concerns and pleas to address the inequalities and deficiencies that prevent members of [United Teachers Los Angeles] from serving our children to their fullest abilities,” she said in a statement to HuffPost.

Cárdenas also said his own attendance at LA public schools, as well as his children’s, informed his decision to back the strike.  

“I stand with the teachers during their strike to improve the education of our children,” he said in a statement to HuffPost, noting the need for smaller class sizes and better pay for teachers. “I hope that both sides can resolve these issues so that our dedicated teachers can be back where they want to be: Educating our children.”

Rep. Judy Chu (D-Calif.), who represents communities in Los Angeles County with students in the affected school district, said that as a former teacher, she knows the importance of “proper resources.”

“I am so disappointed that there could not be an agreement reached before this strike,” Chu said in a statement to HuffPost.

“But as a former teacher myself, I know how critical it is to have the proper resources that will give every student the ability to succeed in their education,” she added, noting the need for smaller class sizes, more nurses and mental health counselors for students, and fair wages for teachers.

Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard, another Democratic representative of the nation’s second-largest city, encouraged the two sides in the strike to “find common ground” that accommodates students, their families and teachers. 

Other prominent California Democrats likewise urged conciliation. 

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti (D), who is rumored to be considering a presidential run, expressed his disappointment that talks had broken down between teachers and the school district. 

“I strongly urge both parties to consider returning to the negotiating table for talks over the weekend for the sake of our children, our teachers, and our schools,” he said on Friday as a strike loomed.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) issued a similar statement on Monday, lamenting that the “impasse is disrupting the lives of too many kids and their families.” 

Former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa (D), an outspoken supporter of public charter schools, which are a point of contention in ongoing labor talks, declared that “both sides need to come together,” and argued that the state had resources the city lacked to improve school funding.

HuffPost reached out to the remaining three House members from LA, as well as Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro (D) and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii). Castro and Gabbard have announced plans to run for president. Thus far, none of them has commented publicly on the matter.

Kevin de León, the former California state Senate president who unsuccessfully challenged Feinstein from the left in November, met with striking teachers to express solidarity. Prior to entering politics, de León served as a teachers union organizer.

This article has been updated with statements from Perez and Cárdenas. 





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Family To Sue School After Teen Charged For Defending Self Against Bullying



The family of a teen who was criminally charged after fighting back against an alleged bully is planning to sue a Georgia school district.

“Where are we going to be as a society if we allow this to continue?” the teen’s father, Jorge Santa, asked the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Santa’s son, 15-year-old Jorge Santa-Hernandez, was suspended from Harrison High School in Kennesaw last year and faced five criminal charges, including felony aggravated battery and felony aggravated assault, before the charges were eventually dismissed.

The victim is victimized twice, once by the bully and then by the school system.
Jorge Santa, father of 15-year-old Jorge Santa-Hernandez

Police filed the charges after the teen, then 14, fought with one of two students who allegedly bullied him on the last day of the 2017-2018 school year.

“It was clear my son had been bullied,” Santa told Atlanta’s WXIA-TV. “He was called some racial slurs, they had stolen food from his backpack and pretty much ate it all in front of him, mocking him.”

The breaking point, Santa said, was when one of the alleged bullies pulled out a can of silly string.

“He gets sprayed in the face with it and immediately jumps up and strikes the bully,” Santa told WXIA-TV. “He held him in a headlock until help arrived.”

Harrison High School employs school resource officers, but it’s not clear if they arrested Jorge, the only student who was criminally charged. In November, the Cobb County District Attorney’s Office dismissed the charges against him. Because the case involved a juvenile, the office gave no official explanation and authorities cannot comment on the case.

However, the school accused Jorge of violating the student code of conduct, according to the Journal-Constitution.

“Jorge had options [and] he chose not to take those options,” assistant principal Art O’Neill told Santa during a meeting Santa recorded on his cellphone. “Your son had every opportunity to make the teacher aware of the harassing situation. Jorge could have wiped the Silly String off of him and gone to the teacher and said, ‘This needs to stop.’”

O’Neill did not refer to the alleged incidents leading up to the fight as bullying. He told Santa the older teens had been “picking at Jorge.”

Santa, an Atlanta police officer, disagreed. He said his son’s actions amounted to justifiable self-defense and he hired Marietta attorney Mitch Skandalakis to represent the family.

Skandalakis told Atlanta’s WGCL-TV that Jorge had no way of knowing what the other students might do after they sprayed him with silly string, and was not in the wrong when he chose to defend himself.

“That is the definition of a reasonable man put in fear for his safety for purposes of standing your own ground,” the attorney said.

The school, Skandalakis alleges, ignored state law, which requires school administrators to consider the possibility of self-defense.

“Many of the student witnesses … stated that the student who bullied and assaulted Jorge was a well-known bully throughout the school,” Skandalakis told WXIA-TV.

Skandalakis says the school district sought the “malicious prosecution” of Jorge. The attorney further alleges that the school district’s discipline records show that bullying incidents are minimized and students who fight back often receive the same punishment as the student who starts the fight.

“They just want to suspend everybody,” Santa told the Journal-Constitution of Skandalakis’ findings. “The victim is victimized twice, once by the bully and then by the school system.”

In a statement to WGCL-TV, the district said it takes bullying seriously:

“We strictly adhere to state and district guidelines concerning these issues.”

It will ultimately be up to the courts to determine who was in the right.  

Santa told WGCL-TV that his son still attends the school.

“He said to me, ‘Dad, that kid already bullied me [and] I’m not going to allow the school system to bully me too,’” Santa said.

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





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Teaching the Children of the Opioid Crisis


‘We Take Them As They Are’

Educators here, as in all public schools, must attend to state standards and the next big test. But they must also keep track of which parents have restraining orders against them and when students need to be released to make their counseling appointments. They keep an eye out for hungry kids so they can slip extra snacks into their backpacks.

Both Jackson County, W.Va., and Lawrence County, Ohio, have faltered and rallied as industries have come and gone. Their once-proud downtowns and neighborhoods are riddled with structures half-fallen, boarded up, or piled with debris.

But their schools are inviting and colorful, filled with student photos and projects, marking their school as a place where each and every one of them belongs.

“Our kids don’t come with a label that says, ‘My mom is an addict,’ or ‘My dad just got out of prison,’ or ‘My family is going through the recovery process,’” Sturgill says calmly. “We just take them as they are and try to figure out what’s best for them.”

There is no part of Julie Sturgill’s life that is untouched by addiction. She has lived the nightmare of seeing her own daughter become addicted to drugs. Now, she is raising her granddaughter.

Madison, who has white blond hair and a whisper of a voice, was exposed to drugs before she was born. Sturgill says her daughter worked hard to get clean, but has since relapsed, so for the past two years, Madison has lived with Julie and her husband, Rick. They are now Madison’s legal guardians.

After a day in the classroom facing more challenging behaviors among 8- and 9-year-olds than she’s ever known in her 20 years of teaching, Sturgill runs a book club as part of a new grant-funded aftercare program for at-risk kids. Not all of those children have families struggling with addiction, but many of them do.

Some evenings and every weekend, Sturgill can be found at church where she and her husband are growing a ministry designed to help people in treatment or long-term recovery and their supporters build a community. Pastor Rick, as his congregants call him, lost his own son to heroin addiction years ago.

As much as her own family has suffered, Julie Sturgill says she is lucky.

“I can do this homework with my granddaughter, I have the ideal schedule, I have the financial means, whereas many grandparents don’t have good health and might be living on very limited means in retirement,” she says.

Every educator we spoke with said that the growing number of children being raised by someone other than their parents is one of the most obvious shifts among their students.

Across the country, 2.6 million children are being raised by family members who are not their birth parents. These “grandfamilies” are most often formed outside of the foster care system, which leaves grandparents or other adult kin to figure out how to nurture children who may be shouldering multiple adverse childhood experiences. Decades of research shows that chronic stress can disrupt neurodevelopment in children and lead to negative coping mechanisms—substance abuse, risky behaviors, and self-harm—in adolescence.

Given the shortage of mental health supports in the community and the difficulty many families have accessing those services, schools are the best place to provide all the supports these children need. But years of insufficient funding have undercut schools’ ability to respond when crisis hits.

So educators do the best they can every day, with every student, even when it comes at a personal cost.



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I’m An LAUSD Teacher. This Is Why We’re Striking.


My pregnant wife coughed and wheezed on Saturday as she fed strike signs into the laminator while fighting off a cold. I punched holes in our signs, handed them to her and trimmed each one as they came out of the machine. Behind us, a line of teachers from all over the city waited to do the same; The teaching supply store was providing free lamination for Los Angeles teachers in preparation for the Los Angeles Unified School District teacher strike, which began this morning.

I’m a 2018-19 Los Angeles County Teacher of the Year, and I love my job. I love it so much I spent my rainy Saturday laminating 40 signs and making a dozen strike-related phone calls. I love it so much I spent my Sunday sending out more than a dozen college recommendation letters for my graduating seniors. I’m also the United Teachers Los Angeles chapter chair for my school. This means I’ve been in charge of preparing and motivating our school’s teachers and health and human service workers to strike.

When people talk about the LAUSD strike, they should consider the fact that 98 percent of us voted to give our union permission to call the strike. This isn’t a battle between one union leader and a school superintendent. It’s a battle between 33,000 UTLA members, the vast majority of LA teachers and other school staff, who spend every day teaching and caring for our students, and the district leaders who are unwilling to work with us to meet their needs. We’re walking out because we feel like we’re part of a rigged game set up to undermine public education. And we’ve decided enough is enough.

We’re walking out because we feel like we’re part of a rigged game set up to undermine public education.

When the media discusses this strike, most reports focus on salary-related issues. But that’s not our sticking point. We are striking first and foremost for our students. One of my English classes has 38 students in it (I know many teachers with classes in the 40s). That means if I wanted to give my students a 15-minute read-and-response to the essay they spent two weeks on (a common practice for an English teacher), it would take me 9.5 hours. To grade one set of essays. I spent 11 hours over winter break overseeing optional writer’s conferences with my AP English Literature seniors, another full day facilitating a practice test, and yet I still don’t have time to give my students the attention they deserve.

Class size matters, both so our students can get the education they deserve, and also the care and attention they need. I spent a decade teaching in South Central Los Angeles, where so many of my students suffered from trauma. I’ve had students experiencing homelessness, students who struggled with suicidality, students who’ve survived molestation and physical and emotional abuse, and students with friends or relatives who have experienced gun violence or been incarcerated. I asked my school at the time to fund additional social workers for our kids. It took teachers and administrators three years to get funding for the additional support.

In LAUSD, the district allows schools to choose how to spend their allocation of money, but schools don’t have enough to buy everything students need. Does a school pay for a librarian to teach students to love reading, or for a full-time nurse in case our students get sick or injured? Does a school hire social workers for students who suffer trauma every day? In my district, schools can afford a few of those things, but not all of them. Seventy-six percent of our students are socioeconomically disadvantaged, but we have to choose which vital supports they get and which they don’t. How are nurses, librarians, counselors, psychologists and social workers considered luxury items in the richest state in the nation and the fifth-largest economy in the world?

This is what we’re fighting for, along with many other important demands to improve the lives of students.


Joseph Zeccola

A major teaching supply store provided free lamination to Los Angeles teachers last weekend in preparation for the Los Angeles Unified School District teacher strike.

LAUSD Superintendent Austin Beutner, an investment banker with no experience whatsoever in education, says the district cannot afford to meet our demands, yet the neutral fact-finder in our dispute confirmed that there is a $1.8 billion budget reserve. Still, the district claims it is in danger of becoming insolvent.

Pedro Noguera, a professor of education at UCLA, wrote a balanced op-ed last weekend in which he said that our demands were “important and legitimate,” that the district must invest in its schools, and that there was indeed a $1.8-billion reserve. He also said that without new money, the district would eventually face insolvency and suggested the district investigate a parcel tax, along with additional state funding.

Apparently, Noguera didn’t realize that both UTLA and two members of the school board already tried to do this. Scott Schmerelson and George McKenna introduced a motion to put a parcel tax on the 2018 ballot last June. Polling suggested it would’ve passed, and similar ballot measures statewide did indeed pass. But the motion was voted down by the very same school board members who voted to hire Austin Beutner. Why didn’t the school board vote to pursue new money from the voters if their financial situation was so dire?

It feels like district leaders want to use this “crisis” to implement austerity measures, which would allow them to break our union and privatize our district. It feels like disaster capitalism.

We’re risking our livelihoods to save public education while our district’s leaders pretend there’s no money to be had.

The Schools and Communities First Act, a ballot measure for 2020, would bring $5 billion in new money to California public schools every year. UTLA, almost every other major state union, the California Parent Teacher Association, and even LAUSD have endorsed this proposal. With a massive state budget surplus of nearly $30 billion, a willingness of newly elected state leaders to invest in public education, this promising ballot measure to bring even more funding, and a current budget reserve of more than $1.8 billion, it’s clear the LAUSD leaders could end this strike now if they really wanted to. Yet our students languish at the bottom of our nation in class size and per-pupil funding. Why doesn’t the LAUSD meet our demands and work together with us to get more funding for our schools?

Until this question is answered, more than 30,000 teachers will spend our days on the picket line instead of in the classroom, where we want to be. We’re risking our livelihoods to save public education while our district’s leaders pretend there’s no money to be had.

The results of the LAUSD teachers’ strike will affect public education in California and the U.S. for years to come. Will we fund it adequately, or will classrooms continue to be overcrowded? Will schools continue to be forced to choose between a nurse and a librarian, or a social worker and a counselor? I shudder at the thought of my son entering kindergarten in 2024 if we don’t stop the abuse and neglect of public education in the LAUSD and the United States before it’s too late.

Joseph Zeccola is a national board certified English teacher, a 2018-19 Los Angeles County Teacher of the Year, and soon-to-be father.  He teaches at Sherman Oaks Center for Enriched Studies, where he is also the UTLA chapter chair.



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Los Angeles Teachers Begin Huge Strike


LOS ANGELES — Los Angeles public school teachers are on the picket line instead of in their classrooms Monday as they begin their first strike in 30 years.

The massive action, which comes after 20 months of failed negotiations between United Teachers Los Angeles and the school district, impacts nearly a half-million students at more than 900 schools.

Schools are open during the strike, but with a bare-bones staff that some parents say can’t adequately supervise their children. To replace more than 30,000 striking teachers and staff members, the district has hired about 400 nonunion substitute teachers and has dispersed 2,000 credentialed central office staff members to classrooms. School administrators and school police officers also will be working, according to the Los Angeles Times.

The union’s demand for reduced class sizes (some classes have more than 40 students) and more support staff are at the heart of the negotiations. The union also seeks a 6.5-percent raise, but union leaders say salary is only one piece of a puzzle. They also point to such shortfalls as elementary schools only having a school nurse one or two days a week, which the union says risks children’s safety.


Associated Press

Thousands of teachers rally against the nation’s second-largest school district in downtown Los Angeles.

On Friday, the district presented the union with an offer that included a 6-percent raise over two years, a commitment to hire 1,200 new positions for one year, and a pledge to reduce class sizes. Union leaders quickly rebuffed the offer, saying it did not go far enough.

The walkout is sure to impact all corners of the nation’s second-largest school district.

“We’re in a battle for the soul of public education,” union president Alex Caputo-Pearl said at a press conference Sunday.

Some parents are keeping their children home in solidarity with teachers, or taking them to join their teachers on the picket line. Others don’t have such options as they head off to work.

Cindy Goodale works from home in software support, and is keeping her two elementary-aged kids home with her. She’s offered to watch her children’s classmates during the strike.  

Goodale said she supports the teacher’s demands. Her kids have been injured several times at school without a nurse present, she said.

“The office staff are the ones that have to take care of your kid’s injury and that’s not really fair to them, either,” Goodale told HuffPost.

Cheyanne, a high school senior whose last name isn’t being published to protect her privacy, said she will be protesting with her teachers during the strike, even though the district says absences will be unexcused.

“I feel like it’s not just about the teachers, it’s about everyone,” Cheyanne said.

The strike follows months of teacher-led protests in red states like Kansas, Arizona and West Virginia. This strike, though, hits a deep-blue state with Democratic leadership. The Oakland Unified School District in northern California also is bracing for a potential strike

In the backdrop of the LA strike are tensions around the growth of charter schools, which are publicly funded but often privately operated. The walkout spotlights long-simmering conflicts within the Democratic Party about the role of charter schools.

“This conflict is forcing the issue of school privatization and charter schools in the Democratic Party,” Lois Weiner, an independent researcher and consultant who has studied teachers unions, previously told HuffPost.

Still, schools superintendent Austin Beutner maintains he has repeatedly presented the union with fair offers.

“This represents the best we can do, recognizing that it is our obligation to provide as much resources as possible to support out students in each and every one of our schools,″ Beutner said on Friday.  



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Renting College Textbooks Can Be An Even Bigger Ripoff Than Buying Them


George Washington University graduate Alison Oksner learned her lesson. After she failed to return a rented textbook on time to Amazon, Oksner said she was fined $87.61.

That was more than she earned in a week as a resident dormitory adviser. All told, she spent $118.24 in rental and late fees — more than if she had bought the book new.

In theory, that might have been fair: When Oksner rented the book, she agreed to pay an additional fee if she returned it late. But in practice, consumer advocates argue, what happened to her — and to thousands of other students on college campuses across the country — could be against the law.

Even in the digital age, textbook rentals — which can run much less than the price of new or used books — are a big business. About 30 percent of college students are projected to rent at least one textbook this year, according to McKinsey & Co.

About 10 percent of the students who rent a textbook will fail to return it on time, according to spokespeople for Barnes & Noble College and the college textbook program at Shakespeare & Co. Bookseller. That’s where the big retailers get them: Most of these companies — including Amazon, Barnes & Noble College and Follett Higher Education Group — don’t charge late fees on a per-day or per-week basis. Instead, they levy a flat percentage no matter how late the materials are returned.

They are simply preying on students, who as a group can ill afford to pay excessive fees.
Arthur Levy, a consumer class action attorney

That kind of late fee may violate a basic premise of contract law, which holds that when someone breaches a contract — say, by returning a book late — they can’t be forced to pay penalties higher than the actual damage they caused. That suggests retailers can’t seek compensation that exceeds the value of what they actually lost from the late return of their books.

“They’re exploiting late fees as a profit center,” said Arthur Levy, a San Francisco consumer class action attorney. “A flat late fee is not based on any reasonable calculation of the rental company’s loss from having a book returned late. They are simply preying on students, who as a group can ill afford to pay excessive fees.”

Amazon said the company strives to provide students with affordable textbook options and offers them a 15-day extension on their rental deadlines — for an additional fee.

Read ’Em And Weep

Catholic University of America graduate Matthew Suhosky said he was stunned when he received a $315 bill from a collection agency last fall after he failed to return a rented Italian-language textbook on time to Cengage, an online provider of education materials. It took him about 25 hours of bartending at an on-campus restaurant to repay that charge.

Suhosky had already forked out $136 to rent the book and while he was entitled to keep it after paying those late fees, that was little consolation. “It was incredibly expensive and not worth it at all,” he said.

A book that expensive is an outlier, according to Todd Markson, chief strategy officer for Cengage. On average, he said the company’s textbooks cost $35 to rent and $160 to buy.

Markson also noted that while the company rents and sells books to students who prefer a hard copy, Cengage’s focus is now on its digital library, which students can access in its entirety for less than what Suhosky spent to rent one book.

In fact, one-third of college students no longer buy or rent hard-copy books, according to James Koch, an economics professor and president emeritus at Old Dominion University, who has advised the U.S. Department of Education on textbook pricing. But for the two-thirds who still do, textbook retailers set prices and fees that often have little to do with actual production costs, Koch said, adding, “This is classic profit-maximizing behavior.”


AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews

Student textbooks for rent sit on the shelves at the City College Bookstore in New York in 2010.

That’s the problem, according to Florencia Marotta-Wurgler, a contracts professor at New York University School of Law and co-author of Does Anyone Read the Fine Print? Consumer Attention to Standard Form Contracts.

Late fees that are “over-compensatory” can be seen as penalties, Marotta-Wurgler explained. And penalties, otherwise known as punitive damages, are generally rejected by courts in breach-of-contract cases, she said.

Under most state laws, Levy said, an across-the-board penalty for the late return of rented materials would be valid only if the rental company could demonstrate both that its damages from a late return could not be reasonably calculated and that the late fee was a reasonable estimate of the loss, Levy said. In the case of rented books, he argued, “neither seems to be true.”

Fees Upon Fees Upon Fees

The threat of late fees is not the same across the rental book industry. Companies have different policies on how much to charge for the delayed return of textbooks, and those differences come with financial consequences for students.

At LaGuardia Community College in New York, students can rent textbooks from the school’s bookstore, which is operated by Barnes & Noble College. That’s a valuable service given that more than 67 percent of LaGuardia undergraduates come from families with an annual income of less than $25,000.

But if students don’t bring those texts back by the due date, Barnes & Noble College will charge them 75 percent of what a new book would have cost, plus a processing fee equal to 7.5 percent of that new book price, according to the company website. That amounts to 82.5 percent of the new book price, plus the rental fee the student already paid.

People shop at a newly opened Barnes & Noble College bookstore at The College of New Jersey in Ewing Township in 2015.


AP Photo/Mel Evans

People shop at a newly opened Barnes & Noble College bookstore at The College of New Jersey in Ewing Township in 2015.

The tardy student might have paid less, however, by renting the same book from a competitor, such as the retail book chain Barnes & Noble. (Barnes & Noble Education, which operates nearly 800 campus stores nationwide under the Barnes & Noble College name, is a separate corporate entity from Barnes & Noble.)

A student who returns a book more than 15 days late to Barnes & Noble will be charged a fee that equals 100 percent of what a new book would have cost, minus the rental fee and the 15-day extension fee, according to the company website.

That’s a better deal, but some lawyers contend it still may not be legal.

“This is the kind of stuff Blockbuster did before it became history,” said Brian Bromberg, a consumer protection attorney in New York. The now-defunct video rental company faced dozens of lawsuits for charging customers late fees that bore no relationship to the actual damages that it incurred from the tardy return of movies.

In Barnes & Noble College’s defense, Lisa Malat, chief marketing officer and vice president of operations, said the company takes pains to make sure students do bring the books back on time.

“Through our extensive outreach, which includes multiple emails directly to students, we remind students of rental due dates and encourage them to return their books before they leave campus for the semester,” Malat said.

Additionally, students can be reimbursed for any late fee paid if they eventually bring those books back, she said, adding that the managers at the individual college stores have the discretion to waive the processing fee as well.

Barnes & Noble College did not respond to questions about whether it notifies students that it will reimburse late fees regardless of when they return the book.

‘The Book Is The Object’

Like Barnes & Noble College, Follett will also accept a late book back and reimburse students for charges incurred in the interim. Those charges, according to the company website, are 75 percent of the cost of a new book, plus an administrative fee equal to 7.5 percent of that new book price. The fees are in addition to the rental cost.

“The fee is not the object here. The book is the object,” said Thomas Kline, a spokesman for Follett, which serves more than 5 million students nationwide through its virtual and college-based bookstores. “The deadline is more important to us from a purely operational standpoint.”

But if getting the books back is the goal, Follett did not explain why it doesn’t directly notify students that they can bring rented books back after the due date for a full reimbursement of the late charges.

This is the kind of stuff Blockbuster did before it became history.
Brian Bromberg, a consumer protection attorney

When Hunter College graduate Don Kelly tried to return the used book he’d rented from Follett after the deadline, he said he was rebuffed.

According to Kelly, the Follett-employed store manager refused to accept the book on the premise that she could not find evidence of the rental transaction in the computer, even though Kelly said he had with him the original receipt from the transaction. That receipt indicated when and where he’d rented the book, how much he’d paid for it and when it was due. A few weeks later, he said, he received a bill in the mail from a debt collector that claimed he was responsible for Follett’s charges plus the debt collector’s own fees.

Kelly returned to the store. This time, the manager accepted the book but also charged him the late fee. Kelly said he ended up paying the full purchase price for a book that the store got back.

Mistakes can happen, Follett spokesman Kline said, urging students to contact the company’s customer service department if they have concerns about their rentals.

To Sue Or Not To Sue

Twenty million students were expected to attend college in the U.S. this academic year. If 30 percent rent at least one textbook and 10 percent of them fail to return it on time, that means some 600,000 students could be hit by late fees.

If they wanted to challenge the enforceability of those fees in court, many of them would have to go it alone. Of course, suing a large company in hopes of recovering, say, $87.61 is not likely to be a good financial gamble.

The legal system has an answer to this problem: class action lawsuits, in which consumers with small individual claims can band together in court.

Without a class action mechanism, no one is going to test the issue.
Brian Bromberg

To prevent such suits, the rental contracts from Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Follett have clauses mandating that customer disputes be handled through arbitration. Chegg, another well-known online retailer of education materials, has an arbitration clause that bars such suits unless students specifically opt out of the clause within a specified time frame. (Cengage and Barnes & Noble College do not have mandatory arbitration clauses or class action preclusions.)

Consumer protection advocates have long pushed to eliminate mandatory arbitration clauses, and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau struck a blow against them for a brief period in 2017. But the then Republican-controlled Congress killed the agency’s effort with President Donald Trump’s support.

And without the threat of a class action lawsuit challenging their fees, book rental companies have no incentive to reconsider their ways.

“Given a chance, a court might decide that these practices are illegal,” said Bromberg, the consumer protection lawyer, “but without a class action mechanism, no one is going to test the issue.”



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Los Angeles Teachers Set To Begin Massive Strike On Monday



Los Angeles teachers are set to strike on Monday, a plan that will impact about a half million students in the nation’s second-largest school district.

The move, which follows 20 months of failed negotiations, will involve more than 30,000 teachers at 900 schools.

The strike comes after a “red state teacher revolt” that rolled through places like Arizona, Kansas and West Virginia last spring. But this time, the teachers are fighting against Democratic leaders in a deeply blue state with union-friendly policies.

On the union side, United Teachers Los Angeles is fighting for pay raises, smaller class sizes and additional support staff. On the opposing side is the Los Angeles Unified School District, which says it simply doesn’t have the funds for such changes. On Friday, the union rejected the district’s latest offer, which involved pay raises, smaller class sizes and increased support staff, but did not meet all the union’s specific requests.

In the background is tension over the expansion of charter schools and questions over who gets to control the direction of the district. Its 2017 school board election was the most expensive in U.S. history, with outside groups ― including unions ― spending nearly $15 million.

Nearly every leader in this fight is a Democrat, with the two sides representing larger fissures within the Democratic Party about the future of public education. What happens with this teachers strike could set the stage for how these issues play out in the 2020 election and beyond.

“This conflict is forcing the issue of school privatization and charter schools in the Democratic Party,” said Lois Weiner, an independent researcher and consultant who has studied teachers unions.

Los Angeles teacher Gillian Claycomb argues that even though the superintendent of schools, Austin Beutner, is a Democrat, his approach to education makes him “just as bad as [Education Secretary] Betsy DeVos and [President] Donald Trump.”

“He is a billionaire. He spends a lot of time with other billionaires and people with very deep pockets who are really invested in privatizing public education,” said Claycomb, a high school history teacher and a chapter leader with the local teachers union.

At the heart of the strike is the issue of resource distribution. The state of California spends comparatively little on education per pupil. While United Teachers Los Angeles points to $2 billion that the school district keeps in a reserve fund as a way to pay for changes, Beutner contends that the district needs to maintain that cushion.

“A strike will worsen the culture and climate in our schools. What it won’t do is provide more money to reduce class sizes and hire more nurses, counselors and librarians,” wrote Beutner in a Los Angeles Times op-ed this week.

Los Angeles teachers complain of class sizes of up to more than 40 people, inadequate “wraparound” services for needy students and a severe shortage of school nurses. Many elementary schools only have a nurse for one day a week.

Beyond the specifics of the debate lie the larger philosophical questions of how Democrats think public funds should be distributed and what a large, diverse, public school district should look like.

“Trump has been defeated in California. There is no Trump constituency. They were defeated, but that doesn’t mean everything is hunky-dory. We have other battles,” said labor historian Nelson Lichtenstein, a professor at the University of California Santa Barbara.

Charter schools, in particular, have long been a contentious issue within the Democratic Party, pitting teachers unions against education reform groups. Staff at charter schools, which are publicly funded but often privately run, are rarely unionized.

To the dismay of some progressive groups and politicians, President Barack Obama’s two secretaries of education, Arne Duncan and John King, championed the growth of charter schools. In 2017, the NAACP called for a moratorium on these schools ― a stance that complicated the idea that so-called school choice is a civil rights issue, as education reform groups often argue.

Some groups like Democrats for Education Reform have pushed back against the portrayal of school choice as anything but liberal. The group only supports nonprofit public charter schools and is opposed to other forms of school choice, like voucher programs.

“We’re very clear about the legacy in which we operate. We operate within the legacy of Barack Obama. His agenda is our agenda, and it’s an agenda that hundreds of Democrats across the country support,” Shavar Jeffries, leader of Democrats for Education Reform, told BuzzFeed in February 2018.

But the election of President Trump and his selection of the pro-charter DeVos to be secretary of education have put these Democrats in a tricky spot. Charter schools quickly became associated with DeVos, whom many see as public education’s No. 1 enemy. The issue was suddenly a partisan one, with polls showing liberal support for charter schools dropping. In the 2018 elections, a new crop of liberal candidates criticized charter schools with zeal.

Last spring’s wave of teacher walkouts centered in right-to-work states, where unions have relatively little power. In Los Angeles, the local union is flexing its muscle, with 98 percent of voting members supporting a strike.

How the city’s Democratic mayor, California’s governor and its state superintendent for public instruction react to the strike will be watched closely.

“In the red-state rebellion, people were standing up and fighting against the pro-corporate policies of the GOP. In LA, people are going to be standing up and fighting against the pro-corporate policies of the Democrats,” said Claycomb, who has been teaching for nine years.

Lichtenstein sees the conflict as a sign of what’s to come if Democrats make greater gains in 2020.

“These are the kind of fights we’re going to have, over charter schools and raising taxes,” he said.



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L.A. Teachers Ready to Strike


Photo: Joe Brusky

Anyone who may have been under the impression that the #RedforEd movement was just a “2018 story” better brace themselves. Thirty-three thousand teachers in Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) – the second largest district in the country –  are on the verge of striking to halt years of budget cuts. ballooning class size, and the expansion of unaccountable charter schools. Six hours north in the Bay Area, Oakland educators are also gearing up for a possible walk-out.

United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA) and LAUSD have been mired in negotiations since April 2017, and teachers have been working without a contract for almost one year.  Educators made a good faith effort in mediation to reach an agreement, but district officials did not do the same, failing to offer any substantial proposals to reinvest in the city’s schools. In August, UTLA voted overwhelmingly (98% of the membership voted yes) to authorize a strike if talks continued to stall.

Unless a last-minute bargaining round produces substantial progress,  UTLA will go on strike on Monday, January 14, the first walkout since 1989.

The district has tried to present the impasse as a squabble over numbers and teacher salaries, a characterization UTLA President Alex Caputo-Pearl says is absolutely false and a disservice to students.

“This is a standoff over the future of public education,” Caputo-Pearl explains. “We will not agree on salary only or salary and a few other things.  What we are fighting for is a program of investment in our neighborhood public schools that will create a thriving school district and the education our students deserve.”

Despite LAUSD’s repeated denials, the money to reinvigorate the city’s schools is in fact there – in the form of $1.8 billion (yes, billion) in unrestricted reserves. The state of California  requires only a 1% reserve, yet the district holds 26.5%, predicated on a fiscal disaster that never occurs but is nevertheless used to justify continued draconian cuts.

UTLA is demanding that these reserves be used to reduce class size (LAUSD has among the largest class sizes in the state), hire more counselors, librarians and nurses (40% of schools have a nurse only one day a week), and fund key programs such as early childhood education and special education.

Educators are also calling for a halt to the expansion of charter schools (there are currently 200 in Los Angeles) that are siphoning off $600 million every year from public school.  In addition, they demand an end to the continued toxic over-testing of students (the district spends $8.6 million on tests not required by state or federal government).

“We don’t want our schools to be starved out skeletons, we want them to be vibrant hubs of learning for our kids,” says teacher Julie Van Winkle.

A ‘Portfolio’ for Privatization

The appointment last May of Austin Beutner as district superintendent only strengthened UTLA’s resolve.

la teacher strike

(Photo: UTLA)

A billionaire former investment banker and CEO and publisher of the Los Angeles Times, Beutner has zero experience in school or district leadership. He is, however, eager to bring to LAUSD what like-minded billionaires and school privatization champions brought to New Orleans and other cities: the “portfolio model.”

Under this competition-based strategy, LAUSD would be decentralized and carved up into 32 smaller, individual “portfolios” that would be “diversified” with more options – charter and private schools mostly – for parents and students.

In other words, the “portfolio model” is just school privatization running amok.

“Getting rid of central oversight and accountability would allow the unchecked spread of the worst of the charter sector abuses: not serving all students, financial scandals, misuse of public funds, and conflict-of-interest charges,” UTLA wrote in a statement last November.

Halting this threat and protecting the city’s public schools, says Caputo-Pearl, is why Los Angeles educators “won’t be brought off with a pay raise.”

“We will not agree on salary only…. What we are fighting for is a program of investment in our neighborhood public schools that will create a thriving school district and the education our students deserve.” – UTLA President Alex Caputo-Pearl

During negotiations, coalition-building has been a key tenet of UTLA’s campaign. Community organizations and parents have joined UTLA at the bargaining table. On December 15th, more than 50,000 parents, educators, students and community members took to the streets in a massive march in downtown Los Angeles to demand a reinvestment in the city’s schools.

A week earlier, hundreds gathered at the  Social and Public Art Resource Center in Venice at a two-day ArtBuild event to create protest art for the march and possible strike.

For elementary school teacher Maria Miranda, engaging the community city-wide has helped demonstrate to the public that the chronic underfunding of schools wasn’t isolated in one particular area.

“When we come together with the community, we show that our challenges are the same. In my school, we don’t have nurses every day or librarians. But it’s not just in my neighborhood. This is a problem for schools across the city,” Miranda said.

#StrikeReady

#RedforEd is also thriving 400 miles north in Oakland, where educators have been working without a contract since July 2017.  The district has a serious teacher turnover and class size problem, which the Oakland Education Association (OEA) says isn’t being addressed in the district’s proposals.

“Teachers are fed up with the poor working conditions and salaries, and with the learning conditions that our students are having to endure,” OEA President Keith Brown said. “We are fighting to end Oakland’s teacher turnover crisis and to bring stability for our students.”

On January 12, Oakland educators will be joined East Bay parents and students for the March and Rally to Fund Public Education Now. One week later, on January 18-20, OEA will be hosting its own community ArtBuild.

If mediation and fact-finding doesn’t move the needle on negotiations, Oakland educators, like their colleagues in Los Angeles, are #Strikeready and could take action next month.

A strike is always a last resort, says Caputo-Pearl, but it’s time is now turn the tables and stand up to an austerity and privatization agenda that has debased the teaching profession and starved public education.

“We have watched underfunding and the actions of privatizers undermine our schools for too long. No more. Our students and families are worth the investment, and the civic institution of public education in Los Angeles is worth saving.”





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YouTube’s Cool With Monetized Videos Promoting A Gambling Scam To Kids


YouTube’s top influencers have cashed in on highly lucrative sponsorship deals to promote an online gambling company to their young fans, and YouTube doesn’t have a problem with it.

In recent weeks, celebrity YouTubers Jake Paul, Bryan “RiceGum” Le and others have faced fierce backlash after uploading videos to their wildly popular channels featuring MysteryBrand.net, a website that lets users pay for a chance to win a variety of prizes.

People who are 13 or older can sign up on MysteryBrand.net to buy virtual “mystery boxes,” which range in price from $1.99 to more than $1,299.99, and are marketed to contain an item from brands including Apple, Ralph Lauren, Xbox, Gucci, Supreme, Nike and Rolex. After paying for a box, users can open it on-screen to reveal their prize, then either order the item for delivery or sell it back (typically at a much lower price than the cost of the box) to receive online credit and try again. They can also select prizes to create their own box with customized odds, which tend to be far more expensive. Little information about Mystery Brand is publicly available, though the website states its terms and conditions are subject to Polish laws.

“You could get a pile of shit or you could get a Rolls-Royce,” 21-year-old Paul, YouTube’s second-highest-paid star, told his 17.7 million subscribers in a recent video sponsored by Mystery Brand. “I want you guys to go to MysteryBrand.net right now and play this game and tell me or tweet me or something if you guys win this, OK?” urged Paul, who said in 2018 that his YouTube audience is primarily comprised of 8- to 16-year-old kids.


MysteryBrand.net

Top prizes listed on MysteryBrand.net include a $173,691.36 Louis Vuitton trunk.

‘It’s Just A Scam’

MysteryBrand.net, which is riddled with grammatical errors, quietly removed its top prizes ― including beach vacations, premium California real estate and luxury vehicles ― following a maelstrom of scam accusations on social media in the wake of Paul and Le’s viral videos. Its now-deleted photo of a $250 million “Most Expensive Los Angeles Realty” mansion was actually an image of a $188 million Bel Air home, The Daily Beast and others reported. And until recently, Mystery Brand’s prize list included a 2018 Lamborghini Centenarió ― only 40 of which have ever been produced (all prior to 2018). The same goes for its “Real Car Rolls-Royce Phantom 2018” ― no such car was made last year.

After people called the website out on Twitter, it took down a section of its terms and conditions that stipulated it could refuse to issue prizes to users who don’t claim them within one hour. Angry reviews on Reddit and Mystery Brand’s Facebook page claim some users received fake merchandise or never got their prize items at all. Critics, including controversial Swedish YouTube influencer PewDiePie, who has stoked outrage over his anti-Semitic videos in the past, have raised another issue: In their promotional posts, Paul and Le curiously won items of far higher value than unsponsored users did in their Mystery Brand videos. Le quickly won an $11,000 Chanel purse which, according to odds listed on MysteryBrand.net, he had a less than 0.17 percent chance of doing.

Mystery Brand is like gambling. It was very addictive.
Ian Yael, 21, a YouTuber and former Mystery Brand user

Ian Yael, a 21-year-old university student from Mexico City, spent hundreds of dollars and opened nearly 20 boxes on MysteryBrand.net before winning a $1,100 Louis Vuitton pocket knife and ordering it for delivery in mid-October. But three months later, the item has not even been processed for shipping, his account shows.

“Mystery Brand is like gambling. It was very addictive,” Yael said. “But it’s just a scam.” In messages viewed by HuffPost, he contacted the website several times to request an update or refund. A representative who goes by the name Tim Perk repeatedly assured Yael, month after month, “Everything regarding your order is fine,” and “[it] should be coming soon!”

Ian Yael ordered his Mystery Brand prize for delivery on Oct. 14, as shown above. It still hasn't shipped.


MysteryBrand.net courtesy of Ian Yael

Ian Yael ordered his Mystery Brand prize for delivery on Oct. 14, as shown above. It still hasn’t shipped.

In the U.S., gambling is generally defined as paying to place a bet or wager to win a lottery or other prize, and is restricted for minors. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit has ruled that internet gambling on a game of chance is not prohibited by law, however the Justice Department maintains that all internet gambling by parties in the U.S. is illegal. Within the European Union, there is no broad policy on gambling regulation, so each member state enforces its own laws.

Perk claimed in an emailed statement to HuffPost that the site isn’t a scam and its service is not equatable to gambling because other companies sell packages with unknown contents, too.

“Mystery Brand is not much different from those projects, except for the fact that we make the whole process of buying and receiving items from a Mystery Box fast and transparent in real time,” said Perk. He added: “Sometimes, shipping may take up to a couple of weeks since we mostly use the [online marketplace] StockX platform for purchasing and delivering prizes.”

StockX was completely unaware of MysteryBrand.net, a representative told The Verge, adding that no formal partnership between the companies exists. Digital marketplace G2A cut ties with the website last week amid the scam and gambling allegations.

Mystery Brand videos have gone viral on YouTube.


Marco and Alvin/YouTube

Mystery Brand videos have gone viral on YouTube.

YouTube Unbothered

Yael, who spends several hours per day on YouTube, said he learned about MysteryBrand.net from trending videos on “Marco and Alvin,” a popular YouTube channel that has featured the website dozens of times since early October. The videos are supposedly unsponsored, but still profit from ad revenue through YouTube’s general monetization program.

YouTube’s community guidelines claim the Google-owned company is “constantly working to keep YouTube free of spam, scams, and other deceptive practices that attempt to take advantage of the YouTube community.” But the video giant declined to answer why it allows monetized videos promoting a shady gambling website on channels geared to kids and teens.

“Creators should be transparent with their audiences if their content includes paid promotion of any kind,” a Google spokesperson told HuffPost, without addressing specific questions about Mystery Brand videos.

HuffPost confirmed that YouTube’s algorithm has promoted Mystery Brand videos, giving them traction and potentially increasing ad revenue for both Google and the content creators. As the hosts of “Marco and Alvin” explained in a recent post, mystery box content helped them go viral and earn money: “We were nothing before Mystery Brand. We were at 1,700 subscribers before we actually did our first Mystery Brand video,” they said. “Through Mystery Brand’s name we have been able to grow … and actually start doing YouTube for a living.” They now have nearly 70,000 subscribers, and recently apologized for pushing a scam.

Paul and Le respectively pulled in around 2 million and 2.6 million views on their promotional Mystery Brand YouTube videos in one week. Content creators can earn an estimated rate of up to $5 per 1,000 views on the platform from ads. After coming under fire, Paul addressed the controversy in a pair of snarky tweets last week before reminding children not to gamble. Le filmed a subsequent video acknowledging he was “somewhat in the wrong” for doing business with Mystery Brand, lamenting other YouTubers had done the same in the past without major scrutiny, and complaining the ordeal had been blown out of proportion. Neither Paul nor Le responded to HuffPost’s requests for comment.

Bryan "RiceGum" Le posted the Mystery Brand-sponsored video "How I Got AirPods For $4" on his channel.


RiceGum/YouTube

Bryan “RiceGum” Le posted the Mystery Brand-sponsored video “How I Got AirPods For $4” on his channel.

‘Imagine How Much They Offered Me’

YouTube stars have made big money directly through Mystery Brand sponsorship deals. Daniel “Keemstar” Keem, a YouTuber with 4.7 million subscribers, claimed he declined a $100,000 offer from a similar company to promote its service on his channel. Le, who has 10.8 million subscribers, suggested Mystery Brand paid him well above that amount for his sponsored video.

“Apparently they only offered Keemstar $100K. My [subscriber] numbers are higher, so imagine how much they offered me,” Le said in his apparent apology post, attempting to explain why he had agreed to do the promotion. “The money was on the table and if I wanted the money I just had to open up a few Supreme boxes and shoe boxes and boom, I get the money. So I’m like, ‘Yo, that sounds easy enough.’”

Yeezy Busta, a YouTube influencer with 448,000 subscribers who asked not to use his real name for privacy reasons, confirmed to HuffPost that Perk from Mystery Brand offered him a sponsorship deal for tens of thousands of dollars in July. After doing some research into the website and deciding it was a scam, he turned it down.

“It was hard to say no to the money, but I felt like in my position it was better for me to save hundreds if not thousands of people from losing hundreds if not thousands of dollars,” he said. “It really hurts me to see so many kids losing their money. A hundred dollars to me or to other creators isn’t a whole lot, but to these kids it might be their savings or their holiday money.”

Content creators should do their due diligence and take responsibility for what they promote, he added. “Every YouTube creator wants to influence their fans in a positive way, but sometimes a check can change people’s minds.”





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How To Talk To Your Kids About Masturbation In A Healthy Way


Talking to your child about masturbation may feel a little awkward, embarrassing or even deeply uncomfortable. But these are necessary conversations for parents who want to raise kids with a healthy understanding of sex and their bodies.

“Masturbation is a really important part of human sexuality. It informs our individual conceptions of autonomy, pleasure, identity and intimacy,” sex education teacher Kim Cavill told HuffPost. “Trying to discourage, shame or eliminate it does young people a tremendous disservice. Instead of seeing it as a problem to solve, think of it as an opportunity to teach skills and concepts that empower young people to grow into sexually healthy adults.”

To help inform these conversations, HuffPost spoke to Cavill and two other sex educators about the best ways to talk to kids about masturbation, or self-touching. Here are their expert-backed guidelines and tips for parents and caregivers to keep in mind.

Start Early

Parents can lay the foundation for their children’s understanding of their bodies by fostering open discussions from a young age. These talks can encompass a number of topics, including masturbation.

“As with all conversations about sexuality, it should be something that’s addressed early and in gradual stages, not one big talk,” sex educator Lydia M. Bowers said. “We should also be talking about pleasure in nonsexual ways ― ‘I like how the wind feels on my face,’ ‘The color purple makes me feel happy’ ― so children develop both language and the knowledge that feeling good isn’t something to be ashamed of.”

Cavill recommended talking to children about self-touching before the onset of puberty, which typically starts at 9 to 16 years old. For many parents, the conversation arises much earlier on because their children start to explore their bodies at a very young age.

“Though we associate masturbation most commonly with teenagers, infantile masturbation is also very common for children between the ages of 1 to 5,” said Cavill. Many small children touch their genitals as a form of self-soothing, much like thumb sucking. This behavior is prompted not by erotic thoughts but by the fact that touching those areas simply feels good due to the large number of nerve endings.

“Masturbation at any age is not dirty, shameful or illicit,” Cavill said. “In fact, it’s a perfectly normal and healthy behavior for people to engage in.”

sot via Getty Images

Parents can normalize self-touching early on. 

Emphasize That It’s Normal

It’s crucial for parents and caregivers to normalize masturbation by talking about it in a shame-free way, particularly if their child has already started exploring self-touch.

“Disgust, scolding and rejection do not help children learn lessons and, in fact, can grow into internalized shame and self-loathing later in life,” said Cavill. “Communicating acceptance is simple and sounds like this: ‘I see you’re touching your penis/vulva/anus. That feels good, doesn’t it? Touching those body parts feels really different than touching other parts, like elbows or knees. I’m glad you’re getting to know your body, because bodies are really cool.’”

It’s also perfectly normal if a child or teen does not masturbate. Either way, opening up talks promotes a more positive understanding of self-touch, which can be beneficial for children as they get to know their bodies. These conversations can also be opportunities to discuss hygiene, the proper terms for genitals and how to address unsafe touch.

“When children are free to explore their own bodies, they develop a self-awareness that can keep them safer and more prepared to recognize unsafe touch if it ever occurs.”

– Melissa Carnagey, sex educator

“When children are free to explore their own bodies, they develop a self-awareness that can keep them safer and more prepared to recognize unsafe touch if it ever occurs,” sex educator Melissa Carnagey explained. “When young people are more informed and confident about their bodies, they are better positioned to advocate for consensual, safer and more pleasurable sex as an adult.”

Explain That It’s Private

After parents have communicated that self-touch is normal and natural, they can establish that it’s also private. This is particularly important for young children, who may rub against objects like pillows, furniture or toys.

“You can define privacy as something or somewhere other people can’t see, and public as something or somewhere other people can see,” Cavill said. “Teaching privacy sounds like this: ‘I’m so glad you’re enjoying your body by touching your penis/vulva/anus. That’s usually something people do in private, or in a space other people can’t see,’ then offer to take the child to their nearest private space and say, ‘Here’s a private space for you to touch your penis/vulva/anus. You can be private in here anytime you want.’”

For families who use augmentative and alternative communication because of disabilities or other factors, Cavill noted that picture symbols labeling public and private areas of the house can express these concepts as well.

Young children don’t always have the strongest awareness of what’s happening around them, so it’s up to parents to use reminders and gentle redirection to note when and where self-touching is appropriate. Bowers and Carnagey suggested statements like “I know touching your body feels good. Since your penis is one of your private parts, that’s something to do in private in your room instead of at the dinner table.” Or simply “Hands out of your pants while we’re in public.”

Use Books And Videos

There are many helpful resources that promote a healthy understanding of masturbation. Bowers, Carnagey and Cavill are fans of Amaze, which produces educational videos like “Masturbation: Totally Normal.”

Her Sex Positive Families reading list features over 100 books for children and parents to support sexual health talks, and she also likes the American Academy of Pediatrics’ child development resource at healthychildren.org.

“Cory Silverberg’s Sex Is a Funny Word book has some great explanations about masturbation,” Bowers said. She also recommended Scarleteen’s website as a resource for health and safety information about masturbation.

Don’t Worry Too Much

It’s common for parents to have concerns about how often their children are touching themselves. Cavill said that it’s only an issue if masturbation is causing bodily harm or interfering with daily life.

“If someone avoids school, activities, eating food and other aspects of day-to-day life in order to masturbate or repeatedly injures themselves, then it’s time to seek support from a professional, like a doctor or therapist,” she advised. “If masturbation isn’t interfering with daily life, isn’t causing injury and is done in private, then it’s not happening too often.”

If it’s interfering with daily life, Bowers suggested addressing the concern with your child in a shame-free way. “Acknowledge that bodies feel good but that things like homework, chores and even hanging out with friends shouldn’t be neglected,” she said. “Can masturbation happen during a daily shower? Before bed?”

Additionally, parents sometimes worry that masturbation may be a sign of sexual abuse. “Unless there are other concerns or red flags involved, it is often not a cause,” Carnagey said. “Parents should follow up with the child’s pediatrician if they ever feel concerned about their child’s sexual health or behaviors.”

Tetra Images via Getty Images

Parents may need to confront their upbringing and feelings about masturbation in order to have healthy conversations with their children.

Let Go Of Your Own Shame

Having parents or caregivers who speak openly about topics like masturbation and make it clear that no question is off-limits helps children stay safe and informed when it comes to their sexual health. For many parents, fostering this kind of environment requires some self-reflection.

“It’s important to think about how our feelings about masturbation are affecting our responses to our children. Many of us grew up without conversations about masturbation, so they’re uncomfortable to have with our children. For some with religious backgrounds, there is a level of shame when we talk about touching genitals,” Bowers explained. “Taking a moment to evaluate our own feelings allows us to acknowledge them, then decide what messages we want to share with our children instead.”

Cavill emphasized the importance of seeking help as a parent if you’ve internalized shame or experienced trauma that makes it difficult to communicate acceptance in conversations with children about masturbation. Working through these issues will benefit everyone in the family.

“Many of us bring shame to this conversation because of the way we were raised, because of past experiences, our relationships with our own bodies or because of trauma.”

– Kim Cavill, sex education teacher

“Many of us bring shame to this conversation because of the way we were raised, because of past experiences, our relationships with our own bodies, or because of trauma,” said Cavill. “Those feelings can make talking about this in a shame-free way seem almost impossible, but we don’t have to suffer those feelings in silence.”

“We, as parents, deserve support,” she continued. “Parenting is a really hard job, and kids have a way of forcing us to confront the parts of ourselves we’d rather ignore. We need to give ourselves permission to seek help when we need it, to know that we don’t have to have all the answers, and we don’t have to do this alone.”



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30,000 Los Angeles Teachers Are On The Cusp Of Going On Strike



More than half a million public school students in Los Angeles could soon be impacted by a massive teacher strike as a bargaining impasse continues between the city’s school district and teachers union over class sizes, salaries and other issues.

More than 30,000 members of United Teachers Los Angeles had been slated to walk out of classrooms as soon as Thursday, NPR reported.

On Wednesday, the union said it would postpone the strike until Monday due to a disagreement over when and whether it had filed the right paperwork giving formal notice of its intent to strike. 

If the walkout takes place, it’ll be the first teacher strike in the Los Angeles Unified School District — the nation’s second largest — in nearly 30 years. More than 600,000 public school students in 900 schools will be affected by the strike.

Negotiations have been dragging on for over a year between the teacher’s union and the LAUSD. Among the union’s demands include higher salaries, smaller class sizes and more support staff like librarians, nurses, counselors and social workers. 

“We want an agreement that works for our kids ― that gets to a place where we’re not dealing with 50 kids in a classroom, where we’re not dealing with 40 percent of our schools having a nurse for only one day a week,” union president Alex Caputo-Pearl told CNN.

The two sides have struggled to reach an agreement. District officials say they don’t have sufficient funds to meet all the teachers’ demands — an assertion that union leaders have refuted. 

“We have been in negotiations with LAUSD since April 2017. We have been working without a contract for almost one year,” the union said in a statement. “Even with $1.86 billion in reserves, LAUSD says it does not have the money to improve our schools.”

According to the district, schools will remain open, classes will continue and meal services will not be interrupted even if the strike occurs. 

More than 2,000 reassigned administrators and about 400 substitute teachers will take the place of the striking teachers, the district said. It remains unclear, however, how effectively this plan can be executed.

“It’s case by case, school by school,” Shannon Haber, an LAUSD spokeswoman, told CNN of the district’s plan. “We’re going to have to troubleshoot on the day of.”

This story has been updated with news that the strike was postponed.





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Video Shows Kentucky Teacher Dragging 9-Year-Old With Autism Through School



A Kentucky teacher, under investigation after a video appeared to show her dragging a 9-year-old student with autism down a hallway by his wrists, has been terminated and ordered to appear in court.

Trina Abrams is facing a charge of fourth-degree assault of a victim under 12 years old, Kentucky State Police Senior Trooper David Boarman confirmed to HuffPost on Tuesday.

The former special needs teacher has also been fired by the Greenup County School District, according to a statement obtained by WSAZ-TV.

The incident ― recorded by security cameras ― reportedly occurred at Wurtland Elementary School in October.

Disturbing video footage, uploaded Dec. 6 to Facebook, purports to show Abrams dragging the student down multiple school hallways. Police reportedly measured the distance and estimated that she dragged him approximately 160 feet.

Abrams recently defended herself before a three-member review board, saying the boy was being disruptive and had threatened another student and refused to walk, CNN reported. She also reportedly said he was “enjoying sliding down the hall and being the center of attention.”

The boy’s mother, Angel Nelson, wrote on Facebook that her son has been diagnosed with “autism, ADHD, PTSD, anxiety and depression.” She said his speech is limited and that he’s prone to “experiencing a meltdown.”

Nelson said her son sustained injuries to his wrist during the dragging incident and has to go through “more intense occupational therapy to regain his skills that took so long to grasp.”

The boy’s stepfather, Calep Nelson, told WSAZ-TV that he and his wife had previously met with Abrams and discussed the child’s needs.

“This is the same lady that looked us in the eye and said, ‘Your son is safe with me,’” he said.

The Kentucky Education Standards Board has been notified of the incident. It’s not yet known if they will seek to revoke Abram’s teaching license.

Abrams has not been arrested. She is scheduled to appear in court on Wednesday.

HuffPost’s attempts to reach Abrams for comment were unsuccessful. It’s not clear whether she is being represented by an attorney.

“I think she should possibly face the inside of a jail,” Calep Nelson told WSAZ-TV. “She didn’t beat him to a bloody pulp, but she did abuse a child. Anybody that does that to a child should go to jail.”

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