Critics Fear Ohio Bill May Allow Students’ Religious Beliefs To Trump Scientific Facts



Ohio’s state House of Representatives has passed a bill that some critics fear could require teachers to accept faith-based answers on school assignments ― even if those responses are contradicted by scientific facts.  

The Ohio Student Religious Liberties Act of 2019, which passed the state House 61-31 on Wednesday, generally seeks to protect public school students’ right to express their faith on school grounds. But one controversial aspect of the proposed legislation is receiving scrutiny for dictating that schools can’t “penalize or reward a student based on the religious content of a student’s work.”

The bill states that Ohio public schools must allow students to engage in religious expression while completing homework, artwork and other assignments. It also says that student’s grades for these assignments will be calculated “using ordinary academic standards of substance and relevance, including any legitimate pedagogical concerns.”

How exactly this grading standard will be applied remains open to interpretation, experts say, which has set off significant debate among Ohio lawmakers and advocacy groups.

Ohio House Minority Leader Emilia Strong Sykes claims the bill would technically allow students in social studies or science classes to refer to Bible stories (such as Noah and the Ark) as true historical events, or to characters from scripture (such as Adam and Eve) as real, historical figures. The bill mandates that educators must not penalize “religious responses that fly in the face of science and accepted facts,” Sykes said.

“As the bill is currently written, it requires teachers to accept answers that could be scientifically inaccurate so long as religious doctrine says they are true,” Sykes told HuffPost in a statement. “A K-12 public school education is intended to open minds and allow free thought, however we are wading in dangerous territory if we refuse to accept facts and science in educational settings.”

The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio’s chief lobbyist, Gary Daniels, said that his organization fully supports protecting public school students’ religious liberty. But he believes that this particular bill is unnecessary since these rights are already protected by the First Amendment and Ohio’s constitution.

Daniels said he is also concerned about another part of the bill that mandates that public school students may engage in religious expression “in the same manner and to the same extent” that students are permitted to engage in secular expression.

Hypothetically, Daniels said, this could mean that if one set of students organizes a school assembly about suicide prevention that focuses on best practices from a clinical perspective, the school would also need to allow religious students to hold an assembly that teaches the answer to suicide prevention is getting right with God.  

“At minimum, this bill is going to confuse administrators and students and in the worst case, it’s going to cause constitutional violations,” Daniels said.

But the bill’s Republican sponsor, Rep. Timothy Ginter, is insisting that the criticism his proposal is getting stems from overblown “urban myths.” In a statement sent to HuffPost, Ginter said that his bill will not allow students to submit inaccurate classwork in the name of religion. 

At minimum, this bill is going to confuse administrators and students and in the worst case, it’s going to cause constitutional violations.
Gary Daniels, American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio

For example, he said that if a class is being tested on the theory of evolution, all students must show that they understand the subject as it was taught. 

“A student would still not be allowed to say, “My religion tells me that the world was created and is only 6,000 years old, therefore I don’t have to answer this question,’” Ginter said. 

On the other hand, if students are asked to write a book report on any book of their choosing, the bill would make sure students aren’t penalized for choosing to write a book report on the Bible’s Book of Job, Ginter said.

HuffPost requested examples of situations in which the bill would create greater religious freedom for students in science or in history classes but did not receive a response from Ginter’s office.

Ginter said that his bill is necessary because of increased pressure on schools from groups that he claims are “biased against Ohio students’ religious freedoms.”

“Many school officials are confused and frankly, intimidated by the threat of litigation from these well-funded groups,” Ginter said. 

Yet whatever Ginter’s intentions with the legislation, “the plain language of the bill is what a court is going to look at,” Daniels said. “Taken alone in that context, the language is too broad and too vague.”

As written, the statute could protect a student’s right to discuss creationism in a science assignment on evolution, according to Caroline Mala Corbin, a law professor at the University of Miami who specializes in the First Amendment’s speech and religion clauses. But it could also allow a biology teacher to refuse to credit a creationism-based answer to a question about evolution — not because the answer is religious, but because under “ordinary academic standards,” the answer is wrong, and under “ordinary academic standards,” teachers do not give points for wrong answers. 

How the bill will be interpreted in courts ultimately hinges on what counts as “ordinary academic standards of substance and relevance” and what counts as “legitimate pedagogical concerns.”

“And, of course, how these key parts of the statute are interpreted will depend on who is interpreting them,” Corbin said. 

The bill is being sent to Ohio’s Republican-controlled Senate for consideration.



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Racist Graffiti At Syracuse University Spurs Outrage, State Investigation



Four cases of racist or anti-Semitic graffiti have been discovered on or near Syracuse University’s campus over the last two weeks, prompting outrage among students, the city’s mayor and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

The school’s Department of Public Safety on Thursday reported the latest incident ― anti-Asian messages scrawled on the third floor of Day Hall, a mostly freshman residence building.

The same day, a swastika was found drawn in the snow on Comstock Avenue, which runs parallel to school grounds, spurring an investigation by the Syracuse Police Department.

The day before, derogatory language targeting Asians was found inside a bathroom stall of the Physics Building.

Last week, racial slurs aimed at Black and Asian people were seen on the fourth and sixth floors of Day Hall.

It’s not yet clear who’s behind the vandalism or how many people may be involved.

Cuomo said on Monday he was “disgusted by the recent rash of hateful language,” and directed the state police’s hate crimes task force and the state Division of Human Rights to launch a probe of the matter.

“These types of hateful and bigoted actions seek to splinter and segregate our communities, and they have no place in New York ― period,” he said in a press release. “We will do everything in our power to prosecute those responsible to the fullest extent of the law.”

Mayor Ben Walsh echoed Cuomo’s remarks on Friday, calling the acts “vile and appalling.”

“They violate everything our City stands for and all that we are working to be ― a city that embraces diversity and creates opportunity for all,” he said in a statement. “I reject them and direct city resources to do all that we can to stop them.”

The Daily Orange, SU’s student newspaper, was the first to report on the vandalism, which began on Nov. 6. The university was alerted on Nov. 7, but it wasn’t until four days later ― after the paper highlighted the issue ― that the university issued a public statement condemning the acts.

“We regret not communicating more broadly,” said Robert Hradsky, the school’s vice president for the student experience. “We remain focused on being a welcoming and inclusive campus environment, free of intolerance, bigotry and prejudice.”

For many students, the mea culpa doesn’t cut it.

Otto’s Army, the student fan group for the school’s athletics, named after its mascot, Otto the Orange, boycotted a basketball game against rival Colgate University on Wednesday.

In a Twitter post, the group urged others to take part in the protest “in light of how the university has handled recent hate crimes that have occurred on campus.”

Now, some students are calling for the resignations of university Chancellor Kent Syverud and Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer Keith Alford if a list of demands is not met by Nov. 20, the Orange reported. On Thursday, more than 200 students gathered to call for the expulsion of anyone found guilty of the vandalism, as well as a forum for students and increased diversity among staff.





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A High School Teacher Scrapped Homework. Here’s What Happened Next.


Regardless of where you stand on the issue, there’s no doubt that the anti-homework movement has been picking up steam. Homework is still a staple in most classrooms, but even teachers who believe it has some value are scaling back. Others, convinced homework is a waste of time and even counterproductive, are phasing it out — a decision that is becoming less and less controversial with parents, school leaders, and researchers.

The scrutiny stems not only from homework’s questionable academic value, but also its role as a stressor in students’ lives. In particular, the practice of assigning homework to elementary students has been widely criticized.

While most researchers agree that homework in elementary grades has no benefit, many believe it can be useful, in moderation, in high school, particularly in preparing students for college workloads.

But some high school educators are taking a second look. Christopher Bronke, an English teacher at North High School just outside of Chicago recently scrapped homework in his 9th grade class. To Bronke, it “just made sense.”

“I got sick of a wide range of factors: overly stressed students, poor-quality homework,” he explains. “They didn’t have time for it, and very little actual learning was happening. I made a very simple decision: I would rather get through less material at a higher quality with less stress than keep giving homework.

“The results have been great.  My kids are happy, healthy, and learning!”

Scott Anderson, a math teacher in Juda, Wisconsin, believes a teacher doesn’t necessarily have to be “anti-homework” to take the class in a new direction.

“In certain circumstances, I guess homework can be good,” says Anderson. “But I prefer to skip good and do great.”

‘It Wasn’t Working’

Anderson came into teaching as a second career in 2006. In his first couple of years in the classroom, he was a self-described “strict traditionalist.”  Anderson assigned homework — up to 30 Geometry and Algebra problems a night – because…well, that’s what teachers did.

“That was me, standing in front of the class, lecturing, handing out homework. That’s how I was trained,” he says.

But gradually Anderson became convinced that something was wrong. Too many graduating seniors weren’t ready for college-level math.

Scott Anderson (Photo: Channel 3000)

“It wasn’t working. The kids weren’t learning; they were doing the problems wrong. Something had to change.”

Another concern was the “homework gap.” Juda is a small, rural school district (student population: 310) and some students don’t have adequate access to the Internet, impairing their ability to wade through too much homework. Believing all students have this access, says Anderson, is a “gigantic assumption.”

Anderson gradually scaled back the amount of homework. He started out by reducing the number of math problems from 30 to around 12 and continued from there. By 2016, homework went from 25 percent of a student’s grade to only 1 percent.

As he proceeded, Anderson looked through the existing research on homework. He understood that assigning some can have benefits, but he concluded that homework was not adding enough value to justify the time students — and Anderson — put into it.

A no-homework policy was just the beginning. “I took a butcher knife to the curriculum. I thinned it something fierce,” he said.

More Time to Work the Problems

With homework becoming more scarce, more time was freed up in the classroom for practice. No time in Anderson’s class is wasted. “Even before the second bell rings, we’re working the problems,” he says. “I try not to lecture much more than 8-10 minutes each class.”

Because homework used to be such a large part of the grade, Anderson contacted parents to inform them of the changes in policy. Initially, there was a bit of grumbling because the number of A’s in his classes declined about 20 percent. All of a sudden, doing well in his class was based on what students had learned, not how many assignments they had cranked out.

In certain circumstances, I guess homework can be good. But I prefer to skip good and do great.” – Scott Anderson, Juda High School

Grades in Anderson’s class are now based on tests and quizzes. If students struggle, Anderson allows them to take them as often as needed to master the material.

According to standardized test scores, the results of the no-homework policy have been positive.

“We have been able to document the improvement of our student body moving roughly from 30 percent not ready for college math to almost 100 percent being ready,” Anderson said.

Anderson acknowledges that teaching in a small district grants him significantly more flexibility in phasing out homework (let alone taking a “hatchet to the curriculum”) than many other educators may be used to. Anderson isn’t just a member of the Juda High Math department; he is the math department. The school’s principal, Judi Davis, is also the district superintendent, and a supporter of Anderson’s new policies.

Less red-tape aside, Anderson believes that his approach can work in larger classrooms in larger districts. He gives a presentation at math conferences around the country called “Minutes Matter: Moving Away From Daily Homework.” The reaction is generally positive, although the skepticism can be palpable. The main concern centers around a belief — supported by some researchers — that without homework at the high school level, students go onto college underprepared for the rigor that awaits them.

“Our job in high school is to guarantee that students pick up these skills. That’s my mandate, which is different from a college professor’s in my opinion,” says Anderson.  “I believe strongly that my students are much better at math now than they were a decade ago.”

no homeworkShould Schools Be Done With Homework?
Across the country, parents, educators, and students are  voicing their opinions in the homework debate.

If Elementary Schools Say ‘No’ to Homework, What Takes its Place?
No homework policies are popular, but educators are working with parents on stress-free ways to keep learning going.



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Gay Teen Who Punched Classmate Opens Up About Bullying He Says Prompted Viral Incident



The Indiana teenager seen on video punching another student who had taunted him with anti-LGBTQ slurs is now urging his social media supporters not to direct their anger at his classmate. 

Jordan Steffy, a junior at LaPorte High School in LaPorte, Indiana, opened up about the viral incident in a Thursday appearance on “The Tamron Hall Show.” He told the host that he confronted his classmate, who he didn’t know personally, after discovering that student had posted a Snapchat photo of him with a homophobic message.

“I didn’t know his name,” Steffy said. “I kind of saw [him] as a familiar face, kind of blended into the crowd … I had walked into the class, and I had the post already on my phone because I was going to ask him why he posted it.” 

Acknowledging that he was the one who shoved his classmate first, Steffy said the fight was his breaking point after having been repeatedly bullied for being gay. 

“It was years and years over, built up,” he said.  

The video, which Steffy posted to his Twitter account Nov. 8, has been viewed more than 3 million times. In it, he can be seen repeatedly punching the student he says created the homophobic Snapchat image in a classroom as classmates look on from their desks. 

Watch the video below. WARNING: Contains graphic language. 

Although the alleged Snapchat image is not shown, Steffy’s classmate can be repeatedly heard calling Steffy a “faggot” throughout the clip. 

Both Steffy and the other student were suspended from school over the incident. Steffy’s mother, Angie Bush, said her son will now be home schooled

LaPorte High School officials did not respond to HuffPost’s request for comment on the video. The school posted a Nov. 11 letter sent by Principal Ben Tonagel to parents that said “the matter was addressed immediately” and that an investigation was continuing. 

“Getting all the facts associated with the concern is important,” Tonagel added

After Steffy posted the video, he was praised on social media by “Pose” star Billy Porter and drag icon Miss Coco Peru, among others. 

“I am def always against violence of any kind, but this video felt cathartic,” fashion designer Prabal Gurung wrote on Facebook. “I too should have been like this dude who fought back and slapped the shit out of those homophobic demons back when I was growing up.”

“This baby slapped him with the hands of Harvey Milk and EVERY ancestor at Stone Wall,” another person wrote on Twitter.  

Others, however, were more critical.

“These brawling students were both white and male,” author Richard Morgan wrote Tuesday in a Washington Post op-ed. “Who knows what Twitter would’ve made of the same fight playing out across other permutations of race and gender?”

Speaking to Hall, however, Steffy urged his supporters to lay off the “negativity and negative comments” directed at his classmate. 

“I have no idea what’s going on in his life, as he has no idea what’s going on in mine,” Steffy said. “I can’t hold what he said accountable against him, because I don’t know how he was raised. …  I don’t know if it was a heat-of-the-moment thing. I don’t know if it was what he truly believes in.”  





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Peer Programs Helping Schools Attack Student Depression, Anxiety


According to new data released last month by the Centers for Disease Control, the suicide rate for young people age 10-24 soared by a staggering 56% between 2007 and 2017.

In the absence of comprehensive mental health supports in schools, signs that the stifling pressure, anxiety or trauma have become too much for a student can be hazy, often undetectable. How and when do suicidal thoughts or ideation lead to suicide attempts?

In California, the number of high school students who are thinking about suicide is alarming: one in five, according to the 2019 School Climate, Health, and Learning Survey.

“We’re racing against the clock with a lot of our students,” says Gavin Santillan. “It doesn’t take much before they decide to take that step, that sudden act. And the masks they wear obscure what they’re really feeling inside. It’s fortunate that we have a space at our school where many students feel safe and can talk.”

That space is Room 401, the Peer Counselor Center at Garey High School in Pomona, California. Any time during the school day, a student who is struggling can walk into this comfortable, uncluttered suite and sit with a fellow student who is there to empathize, ask questions –  most importantly, to listen.

Although no student has committed suicide over the past five years, the school’s student population is far from immune to the stifling pressures and anxieties that have plagued U.S. teenagers across the nation, says Santillan, Garey’s peer counselor advisor. “Too many of our kids are in crisis.”

Roughly one-third of the 1800 student body has used the program over the past school year. For some, peer counseling became the last line of defense.

“A couple of students have told us that they were on their way off campus to take their own life,” Santillan recalls. “But they stopped into the office on their way out, just curious enough to see if this was a place where they would hear something different.

“Luckily, it was.”

Just Talk to Someone

Leveraging students as sources of support for other students is hardly a new idea. The increasing suicide rate and emerging focus on student anxiety and trauma, however, has sparked new interest in peer-to-peer programs. Furthermore, budget cuts, a lack of trained counselors and other mental health professionals – along with lingering stigmas around mental health – has districts scrambling to close the “treatment gap.”

teens thinking about suicide

That’s a burden students shouldn’t be taking on, says Margo Ross of the Center for Supportive Schools.  Where students can and should make an important difference, however, is closing the “mentoring gap.”

“Peer mentoring helps schools create safer and more nurturing school environments to help support students’ social and emotional needs and general well-being,” Ross explains.

Santillan makes sure students interested in participating in the program understand the boundaries of their role. It’s not the peer counselor’s job to fix the students’ problems; it’s to listen, ask questions, and, if necessary, refer them to an adult who can help.

“They don’t dispense advice, or offer solutions,” Santillan says. “That’s not our business. We drill that into the students on day one.”

Students do have a way, however, of creating trust and putting at ease their colleagues who may be struggling.   “We’ve had students that refuse to talk to anyone else – parents, adults. They want to talk to us. So we take time with them to make sure trust is established,” said Garey peer counselor Lyann.

Garey has a formidable team of between 80 and 90 peer counselors, each one handling ten clients. Each undergoes training in empathy, active listening and basic social and emotional skills. The school invites Pomona County mental health agencies to speak to the students, and local parent groups are brought in to talk about red flags and warning signs that can be easy to miss. “We do a lot of role-playing,” Santillan says.

A peer team often includes students who have struggled with anxiety or depression themselves, but who have since overcome their problems.  “I went through a lot early in high school and I wanted to make sure that other student goes through it alone,” says Lyann.

student peer counseling

During the school year, between 80-90 students at Garey High School serve as peer counselors.

When Red Flags Appear

The students who need peer counseling don’t fit one particular profile. “They come from different social groups, different academic backgrounds and have different issues,” says Santillan. “Sometimes it’s just student who is having a bad day, just needs a time-out. But then it can move into darker territory and we’re dealing with self-harm, suicide ideation.”

Students who need help come to the program through referrals from teachers, counselors, or they just walk into the office asking for help.

“Walk-ins have increased dramatically,” Santillan reports. “We do everything we can – posters, flyers, word-of-mouth –  to let every student know that we are here, and they can come in anytime.”

In 2019, the National Council of State Education Associations partnered with the NEA Center for Great Public Schools to help build a framework for trauma awareness and trauma-informed approaches. (Click on the image to read the report)

“This is invaluable resource for our students because they often have an easier time talking to their peers,” says Liliana Fasting, one of Garey’s four school counselors.  “But conversations can get tricky. If red flags appear, then a staff member gets involved.”

Santillan sees himself as the “air traffic controller” when additional support and resources are required. Should a counselor be brought in? Should the district mental health office or a county program be contacted?

Psychology interns from nearby Claremont Colleges volunteer their time every week. “They take some of our tougher cases, students who have  just returned from hospitalization,” says Santillan.

Being alert and responsive to individual student needs doesn’t prevent more strategic approaches to ongoing challenges.

Last year, Santillan distributed students who had at least 3 F’s among the peer counselors to help identify what was going outside of school that was disrupting their schoolwork.

The failing grades were a symptom of ” the bad things that were happening in their lives,” says Ashley, a peer counselor.

What comes next may involve interventions that don’t involve the peer counselor, but the importance of the work in helping colleagues open up can’t be overstated, adds Santillan.

“That’s where it can start: students just talking to students.”

Breaking the Silence

Student leadership was instrumental in getting a peer-to-peer program off the ground at Brusnwick High School in Brunswick, Maine. Junior Nicco Bartone brought the idea to his guidance counselor, who then reached out to Sources of Strength, a suicide prevention program that trains “peer leaders” to work with adult advisors in schools to help students deal with difficult issues, or as founder and executive director Mark LoMurray says, “the rough stuff.”

In 2018-19, Sources of Strength trained 30 Brunswick students to serve not only as resources for their peers, but to design school awareness campaigns around trauma, mental health, and suicide prevention.

student peer counseling

At Brunswick High School in Maine, peer leaders create mental health awareness campaigns. (Photo: Maine Public)

The idea, explains Brunswick counselor Mary Kunhardt, is to help create a positive school culture that breaks the silence around these issues and “recognizes that everyone has ups and downs. Peer leaders listen, connect to adults and spread hope.”

The Sources of Strength program identifies potential student leaders from every school social group. “We know that students most likely talk with their friends before talking with adults,” Kunhardt says. “So, if at least one friend from each group has ears on their peer group, they will be the first to hear if a person is struggling.”

Sometimes students are more peer “advocates” than peer “counselors.” That’s the  focus of the program designed by the Depression Center at the University of Michigan.

In 2009, staff members teamed up with Ann Arbor public schools to launch the Peer-to-Peer Depression Awareness Campaign.

Every year, ten to 20 students from participating schools attend an all-day group training session led by social workers and psychiatrists. In addition to learning about mental health, coping skills, and active listening skills, the students are also trained in social marketing and communication strategies.

Students team up with mental health professionals to create publicity campaigns, which are presented and displayed throughout the school. The goal, says program manager Stephanie Salazar, is to find “creative ways to convey their knowledge about these issues throughout the school and help reduce stigma and remove barriers to help-seeking.”

After a campaign, says Salazar, schools have seen noticeable shifts in school climate and students’ comfort level in talking about mental health with their peers. “Year after year, their knowledge about these issues improves and students say they are more likely to seek help.”

“We Will Always Need This Program”

Some peer programs – an outreach campaign to students, for example – can be implemented at a relatively low-cost and with minimal hassle, says Salazar. Challenges inevitably arise, however, around creating the infrastructure necessary to sustain them long-term. Are staff members trained? Are they committed to the program? Are the resources that started the program always available?

Gavin Santillan taught English and Drama for 23 years before becoming Garey High School’s peer counselor advisor in 2017.

A lack of program advisors and scheduling obstacles can make prevent schools from “providing the appropriate frequency and dosage of program activities to see a significant impact,” says Margo Ross at the Center for Supportive Schools.

“Effective student peer counseling programs, while cost effective, do require a deep investment by schools into training both the mentors and the adults who support them.”

Still a relatively new resource, Garey’s peer counseling program is bolstered by deep support inside the school and in the community. Parents in particular have been encouraged by positive changes they have seen in their children.

Encouraged by the program’s impact, Santillan flinches a bit when he hears the word “success.”

“It’s just sobering to think about,” he says. “I wish they didn’t need to, but more and more students are using peer counseling. We’ve seen an increase in walk-ins.  We had more hospitalizations in the last school year.  The wheels are turning. So we’re helping catch them.”

“It would be great if we could double or triple the number of psychologists and counselors in our school,” Santillan adds. “But if we want to reach all our kids who are in crisis, we will always need this program.”

secondary traumatic stress educators‘I Didn’t Know It Had a Name’: Secondary Traumatic Stress and Educators
Whether you’re a teacher, paraprofessional, counselor, or school resource officer, every staff member cares deeply about students. And that means being exposed to the traumas students bring into school every day, including poverty, grief, family problems, racism, drug abuse. The emotional and physical toll is often severe.

student mental health daysThe Epidemic of Anxiety Among Today’s Students
By high school and college, many students have run out of steam. Anxiety—the mental-health tsunami of their generation—has caught up with them.

Stigma Buster: Schools Look at Mental Health Days for Students
By making mental health an “excusable absence,” schools can help bring conversations about student mental and behavioral health into the open.



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2 Dead, Several Injured In Shooting At Saugus High School In Santa Clarita


A teen wielding a semi-automatic gun opened fire at a Southern California school on Thursday morning, killing two of his fellow students and injuring several others before attempting to take his own life.

Police said they responded to a report of an active shooter situation at Saugus High School in Santa Clarita at 7:38 a.m. local time. Police arrived on the scene two minutes later and found six people shot, including 14-, 15- and 16-year-old girls, and two 14-year-old boys, Capt. Kent Wegener of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Homicide Bureau said at a news conference.

One of the 14-year-old males and the 16-year-old female have died. 

The suspect, a 16-year-old male, is being treated at a hospital, Wegener said. Security footage from the school showed the suspect take a pistol from his backpack and shoot five students on the quad before shooting himself in the head.

A motive has not been determined. Police said it was the suspect’s birthday.



A parent waits outside of Saugus High School in Santa Clarita, California, on Thursday, after an active shooter was reported at the school around 7:30 a.m.

The sheriff’s department initially said the suspect, described as an Asian male student in dark clothing, was on the loose. About 90 minutes later, law enforcement officials reported that the suspect was in custody. 

Earlier, live video showed officers surrounding a home in a residential neighborhood near the school. The sheriff’s department told HuffPost that the residence was an “area of interest.”

Henry Mayo Hospital in Valencia, California, has been treating victims of the shooting. Three males are still being treated. Two are in critical condition.

Students and others wait outside a reunification center after the shooting. 



Students and others wait outside a reunification center after the shooting. 

A resident who declined to give her name said she and her neighbors had been ordered to lock their doors and stay inside.

“I was shocked when I looked out and saw all the police,” the woman told HuffPost. “We don’t normally see stuff like this.”

The woman said police were searching the backyard of a home across the street from her.

The high school, located about 40 miles north of Los Angeles, was evacuated and nearby Highlands Elementary and Rosedale Elementary schools were placed on lockdown as police searched for the suspect. 

Students were seen on video leaving the school with their hands in the air, escorted by authorities. In the same video, several people were seen being loaded onto gurneys and into ambulances.

Saugus High School student Mason Peters described how his teacher and classmates jumped into action to lock down their classroom after hearing gunfire.

“All of a sudden, we hear this distinctive sound outside so my teacher quickly sprang to his feet, got up, locked the door, asking the students to get the keys,” he told CBS Los Angeles. “Then we turned off all the lights … and reinforced the doors and we all just stayed hidden.”

Saugus High School serves about 2,500 students in grades nine through 12. Authorities have set up a reunification point for parents and students at Central Park in Santa Clarita, roughly one mile away from the high school.

“It’s one of my worst nightmares as sheriff,” Villanueva said. “We all embrace our kids in the morning and send them off to school … but you never know what someone is plotting.”

Last year, Saugus students participated in a nationwide walkout to protest gun violence following the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida that left 17 people dead. Weeks later, Saugus students hosted a town hall to demand elected officials pass stricter gun legislation.

“I’m so sick and tired of seeing students die because politicians and people in positions of power won’t do anything,” Saugus High School sophomore Olivia Hurst told a local radio station at the time.

Authorities will review the suspect’s “digital footprint” as the investigation unfolds, Villanueva told CBS Los Angeles. He said he has not heard reports that the suspect posted threatening social media posts prior to the incident.

Former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, herself a victim of gun violence, said in a statement that new legislation that would strengthen the background check system needs to be passed immediately.

“It’s been 260 days since the House of Representatives passed the Bipartisan Background Checks Act,” Giffords said. “How many more deaths will happen before they sign that lifesaving legislation into law?”

Former Rep. Katie Hill, a graduate of Saugus High School, was reportedly in her backyard in the Saugus neighborhood of Santa Clarita when she saw helicopters overhead.

“I’m absolutely horrified that it’s happening at my school,” she told The Los Angeles Times.

“This gun violence epidemic is not beyond our control,” Giffords said. “We can take action to change this fate so horrific acts of violence don’t dominate our lives.”

President Donald Trump has so far not commented on the shooting.

Students are comforted as they wait to be reunited with their parents following the shooting at Saugus High School.



Students are comforted as they wait to be reunited with their parents following the shooting at Saugus High School.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

Andy Campbell, Sara Boboltz and Ja’han Jones contributed reporting.





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Minnesota School Apologizes After Taking And Tossing Indebted Kids’ Meals


A Minnesota school district is apologizing after video captured high school students’ hot lunches being taken from them and thrown away because they owed more than $15 in lunch debt.

The Richfield Public School District, in a statement on Monday, said its lunch debt policy was poorly enforced when the food was confiscated and replaced with a designated cold lunch.

According to local station KARE 11, as many as 40 students had their lunches thrown away at Richfield High School on Monday. A Facebook video obtained by the station shows one girl’s meal being replaced with an unidentified item and sheet of paper before she slinks away.

“Our nutrition staff inaccurately and inappropriately implemented alternate lunch,” Richfield Public Schools Superintendent Steven Unowsky told the station.

The district also issued an apology on its Facebook page for “the embarrassment that it caused several of our students.” 

“We have met with some of the students involved and apologized to them. High school administration will also be meeting with student government this week to talk about the situation and listen to what students have to say,” the post read.

Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) was among those who vented anger over the school lunch incident, which she called “shameful.”

“No student should be denied food PERIOD,” she said on Twitter, before promoting a bill she sponsors that would end school lunch shaming and another with Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders that would make school lunches free.

Richfield School District’s current lunch policy, which is posted on its website, states that middle school and high school students with more than $15 in lunch debt ― or $25 for elementary students ― are designated cold meals. If they somehow obtain a hot lunch while in the lunch line, they are allowed to keep and eat it, KARE reported.

The cost of the hot meal should be noted in the student’s account balance and their parents should be notified in a phone call, school leaders told the TV station. The student should also be notified, privately, before they enter the lunch line again and they could be privately approached by a social worker or guidance counselor to discuss what needs they may have.



Students at a Minnesota high school who owed more than $15 in lunch debt had their lunches taken away and replaced with a cold meal on Monday. The school district has apologized for what happened.

Lunch for high school and middle school students costs $2.95, while elementary school lunches are $2.70. Parents do have the ability to apply for free or reduced meals online, according to the district’s website.

The school district said it currently has more than $19,669 in outstanding lunch account balances. That amount includes last year’s deficit. It is accepting donations from those wanting to help pay it off. 

Such lunch debt issues are unfortunately nothing new.

A New Jersey school district found itself in hot water last month after it said students who owe more than $75 in lunch debt could be banned from participating in extracurricular activities, including purchasing a yearbook.

The district was previously criticized for suggesting that students with a certain amount of lunch debt will be designated tuna fish sandwiches, which some likened to a “badge of shame.”

In July, a Pennsylvania school district warned that its students could end up in foster care if they didn’t pay their overdue lunch bills, suggesting that it could lead to dependency hearings.

In 2016, a Pittsburgh school district cafeteria worker quit her job after being told to deny children hot meals if they owed $25 or more. The following year, the state passed legislation that banned “lunch shaming,” but this policy was reversed this summer due to ballooning debt, WHYY reported.



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Cherokee Picture Book Shares Lessons of Gratitude for Thanksgiving and All Year Long


Every day, every season, we are grateful, writes Traci Sorell, a citizen of the Cherokee Nation and author of We Are Grateful, a colorful picture book illustrated by Frane Lessac. The picture book takes readers on a journey through the year with a Cherokee family and their tribal nation as they express thanks for celebrations and moments big and small. Sorrell, who was born and raised in the Cherokee Nation, began writing for children when she noticed a lack of books that feature contemporary Native Americans.

NEA Today spoke to Sorrell about We Are Grateful and the lessons it contains.

Why are lessons of gratitude important for young people? Why are they important for all people?

Traci Sorell: For young readers we are cultivating newer humans, newer citizens of communities and of the world and it is important for them to recognize that gratitude is a universal value. It may manifest in different ways and be expressed differently, but gratitude is central to maintaining hope, kindness, and connectivity to each other.

It’s important for people of any age to cultivate a practice of gratitude because as you get older, gratitude not only helps maintain hope, it staves off depression, which in the United States is a huge problem. Being grateful is as simple as waking up in the morning and having another day to try again.

How is gratitude taught and demonstrated in the Cherokee culture?

TS: The Cherokee culture puts value on balance. We aren’t taught just to be grateful for the wonderful things in life but also the things that challenge us and make us struggle – through struggle we learn about balance and we learn how to restore balance. We know there are seasons for everything and a life cycle for humans and our animal and plant relatives. Losing a loved one is hard and part of our struggle in life, but we also learn to be grateful for the time we had with them and cherish their memories. Sending a relative off to serve in the  military is a challenge, but we learn to be grateful for their service. I appreciate that about our culture – it helps me keep perspective and create and sustain balance in my own life.

We Are Grateful is an excellent choice for educators and parents to read to children during the Thanksgiving season. Did you have that holiday in mind when writing this story?

TS: Not at all, actually. The Cherokee New Year starts in the fall and goes through four seasons to summer. We celebrate our Cherokee National Holiday over Labor Day weekend. In 1839 after the Trail of Tears — the forced removal of our people from the East to the West — we had to reform our government and create new leadership because we lost so many people along the way. We signed a new constitution, bringing our people back together under our new government, on September 6, 1839. But my hope is that in sharing this story at Thanksgiving time readers will see it as a way to kick off a year round practice of gratitude. The book is about being grateful for all things, big and small, throughout the year.

Children have long been taught about the “first Thanksgiving” with Native Americans and Pilgrims in Plymouth. How does celebrating current Native American culture and people with books like We Are Grateful help students develop a broader understanding of America and the Thanksgiving tradition?

TS: There’s a myth that Thanksgiving was this kumbaya moment with the happy Indians and smiling Pilgrims. We would all be in a much better place as a society if we could acknowledge what truly happened during that first Thanksgiving and and come together on the holiday to celebrate the gifts that a variety of diverse people can bring to our lives and to be grateful for that.

Traci Sorell

Books about contemporary native culture help children learn that we are still here. Too often books are about native people reflected in the past. “What did they do then? What were their houses like? How did they live?” Even in textbooks and curriculum we’re spoken of only in historical contexts, and by 1900, we’re gone. Books like We Are Grateful bring the reader to the present day, showing how we live now. The Wampanoag, the native people who ate with the Pilgrims during Thanksgiving, are still here in 2019, raising families, making contributions, providing services, governing.

I am so heartened that more and more native authors and illustrators are telling their own stories and there now an opportunity for teachers and librarians to bring these books to children and present the reality that native people and culture is still very much here and they are making contributions every day. That gives me hope and it is the whole reason I got writing. When my son was in preschool in 2014, I couldn’t find a contemporary picture book about the Cherokee, even though we’re over 300,000 people worldwide. When we exclude voices, we don’t learn the true nature of what it means to be American, and we’re all impoverished by it.

The celebration of nature and the Cherokee’s connection to the Earth reminds us to be grateful and respectful of the planet. What else can we learn from the Cherokee people about respecting the planet? What lessons do indigenous people have for the world as we experience climate change?

TS: Again, it’s about balance. For everything in life there is a season. There is a season of planting, a season of growing, a season of harvesting and a season of dormancy. Our country’s dominant worldview is one of continuous growth and consumption and that is completely out of whack with nature and balance. There are seasons and times when we must save and conserve. The lifecycle of the planet, animals, plants and humans does not support constant consumption.

In native culture, we learned about over-fishing or hunting and how that leads to extinction. We learned to vary what we consumed. Another tenet of the native culture is to never take more than you need. Always leave more for others and always leave enough for the resources to reproduce. This earth provides everything we need and our lack of respect for it is our greatest struggle.

What other lessons do you hope students will learn from the book?

TS: I’d like students to recognize how we are all much more alike than we are different. We may grow up in different areas and speak different languages or have different accents, but there are universal truths to our shared humanity. During the Thanksgiving holiday and other times of celebration, we all come together around food, story and song. We all want and deserve to be live and be treated with dignity.

What are you grateful for this Thanksgiving season?

TS: As always, my family. I’ve been away from them a lot this past year with events related to this book. I’m also very grateful that the book has been so well received. I’m grateful that we moved home back within the Cherokee Nation and that beginning after Thanksgiving, I will have time to settle in, write and enjoy my family.



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‘Enraged’ Parents Say Catholic School Made Gay Teen Undergo Conversion Therapy


The parents of a gay teenager say her former Catholic high school in the Los Angeles area subjected her to over two years of deeply detrimental conversion therapy ― without ever asking for parental approval.

Magali Rodriguez’s parents say they would have never allowed the 17-year-old  high school senior to continue attending Bishop Amat Memorial High School in La Puente if they’d known she was being pulled out of class to attend the counseling sessions.

Based on what their daughter has told them about the sessions, both parents independently told HuffPost they believe the teen was exposed to conversion therapy at Bishop Amat ― something they wouldn’t have wanted if they’d had the choice.

“They wanted to talk her out of being gay, out of feeling this way,” her mother, Martha A. Tapia-Rodriguez, said of the sessions. “They wanted to convince her that this was something bad.”

“I’m just so enraged at the fact that it went on for such a long time and we didn’t know anything about it,” Tapia-Rodriguez added. 

The parents learned about the source of their daughter’s deepening distress only after she wrote them a letter in late September. They pulled Magali out of the Catholic school a few days later.

Tapia-Rodriguez said her heart races and her hands start shaking when she thinks about what her child secretly endured. She said she is speaking up now to warn other parents of queer kids at Catholic schools to remain alert.

“I don’t want this to happen to any other child or any other parent,” she said. “[Heartbroken] doesn’t even begin to touch the surface of how I feel.” 



Magali Rodriguez is a 17-year-old high school senior.

Bishop Amat is the biggest private school in Los Angeles County. It is part of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, whose leader, Archbishop José Gómez, is the newly elected president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. The school has a good academic reputation, Tapia-Rodriguez said, which is mainly why Magali decided to enroll as a freshman. Some of the teen’s family members, including her father, had also attended the school.

Asked to respond to the parents’ allegation that their daughter was exposed to conversion therapy at Bishop Amat, a spokeswoman for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles told HuffPost that it was not able to discuss specifics of this matter out of respect for the student’s privacy.

“We do not believe that statements made by the student and her parent are entirely accurate, but we are not at liberty to discuss the student’s status or share her personal information,” spokeswoman Adrian Alarcon told HuffPost.

Bishop Amat issued a statement on Friday as about 200 students staged a walkout in support of Magali. The school said that it was committed to providing a “supportive and inclusive” learning environment for students irrespective of their sexual orientation. 

“Any student who is involved in a relationship may socialize appropriately on campus,” the statement read. “However, as stated in the Parent/Student handbook, engaging in excessive displays of affection on campus is not permitted.” 

Tapia-Rodriguez insists that her daughter did not engage in excessive public displays of affection at school, especially compared with her straight peers. The mother also faulted the school for failing to publicly address what she thinks is a much bigger issue: that they exposed Magali to counseling to alter her sexual orientation without parental consent.

Conversion therapy, also referred to as reparative therapy or sexual orientation change efforts, encompasses a range of widely discredited tactics used to try to change someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity. Researchers say the  practice is ineffective and potentially harmful for children. Even non-aversive forms of the practice, such as talk therapy, can be dangerous, experts say, since patients have reported suicidal thoughts, hopelessness and an increase in depression and anxiety.

Catholic doctrine teaches that same-sex relationships are “intrinsically disordered.” The church has tried to distinguish between being gay and being in a same-sex relationship ― claiming that it’s only the latter that is sinful. The only church-sanctioned options for lesbian or gay Catholics are lifelong celibacy or eventually marrying someone of the opposite sex.

At the same time, American Catholics have gradually become more accepting of queer love. Most Catholics (61%) now say that they support same-sex marriage, according to the Pew Research Center

Magali Rodriguez's parents say she was exposed to conversion therapy at Bishop Amat Memorial High School in Los Angeles Count



Magali Rodriguez’s parents say she was exposed to conversion therapy at Bishop Amat Memorial High School in Los Angeles County.

Tapia-Rodriguez said employees at Bishop Amat High School noticed her daughter’s close friendship with an older female student and singled her out for counseling before the two students officially began dating ― and before Magali had properly come out to herself. The employees allegedly coaxed Magali into acknowledging that she was gay and then promised that they wouldn’t inform her parents if she attended counseling sessions and followed a set of strict rules, such as not sitting close to her girlfriend at lunch. 

Members of Bishop Amat’s staff were on high alert to call out and shut down any signs of affection between Magali and her girlfriend, Tapia-Rodriguez said. The mother believes Magali was regularly called in to be berated by a dean of discipline for hanging out with her girlfriend.

In addition, Magali’s parents say that from the end of the teen’s freshman year to the end of her junior year, she attended about 20 private counseling sessions. Most were with a counselor on the school’s staff, while a few were with a faith-based psychologist they claim was specifically brought in to counsel Magali. During the sessions, the mother said, the counselors discussed Catholic theology about same-sex relationships and tried to apply this theology to what the teen was going through. The counselors allegedly asked the teen why she thought she was gay and tried to convince her that her relationship with her girlfriend was not what God wanted for her. 

Magali’s father, Nicolas Rodriguez, said that from what his daughter has told him so far, the sessions sound like conversion therapy. 

“The goal there was pretty much to shame her to stop or to change her,” the father told HuffPost. 

California was the first state to ban licensed therapists, including credentialed school psychologists, from practicing conversion therapy on minors. The state’s law defines conversion therapy as practices that seek to change an individual’s sexual orientation, including efforts “to eliminate or reduce sexual or romantic attractions or feelings toward individuals of the same sex.” The law does not apply to unlicensed individuals, according to the LGBTQ advocacy group Equality California. 

Bishop Amat’s counseling sessions and the allegedly hostile attitude of some staff members had a profoundly negative effect on the girl, the parents said. The formerly straight-A student’s grades started to slip, and she became increasingly anxious and depressed, they said. 

Tapia-Rodriguez said that Magali referred to Bishop Amat as “hell.” When asked why, the teen said, “God doesn’t live there,” her mother said.

Her parents tried to press her for more details about why she hated the school but said she wouldn’t elaborate.

Looking back, Tapia-Rodriguez said she believes her daughter learned to equate being in a same-sex relationship with being in trouble.

“She’s never been the kind of girl who got in trouble,” Tapia-Rodriguez said. “She thought that my parents work hard to put her through this school and she didn’t want to be in trouble, didn’t want to let [us] down.”

Tapia-Rodriguez said that Magali came out to her parents during her sophomore year. The family embraced her, her mother said, and ensured her that she was loved. After that, the teen slowly started pushing back against the counseling she was receiving at school, her mom said.

Then Magali’s girlfriend graduated, which meant she didn’t have that support system anymore. Things came to a head this September, when Magali wrote her parents a letter describing how miserable she was at school. The parents were alarmed at the tone of the letter.

“My heart dropped,” Nicolas Rodriguez said. “It unfortunately sounded like a suicide letter, a serious cry for help.” 

The letter prompted a discussion with Magali in which she opened up about her experiences at Bishop Amat. Rodriguez said he was “furious” when he learned about the counseling sessions.

“How the school could do something like that, refer some kind of psychiatric care without our knowledge, I just couldn’t understand that,” he said.

Magali is now finishing her senior year at another local high school.



Magali is now finishing her senior year at another local high school.

Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director of the LGBTQ Catholic group DignityUSA, told HuffPost that what Magali’s parents say happened to their daughter violates their parental rights. She also said it shows how conversion therapy continues to be imposed on minors in an irresponsible way.

U.S. Catholic schools have developed a wide array of tactics for handling LGBTQ identity among students, Duddy-Burke said. Some have allowed student clubs that work on making school culture inclusive to the extent that the administration feels comfortable. Other Catholic schools actively discourage students from expressing LGBTQ identity, she said. Duddy-Burke said she’s heard of school officials recommending conversion therapists to parents but hasn’t heard of students being subjected to conversion therapy at the school itself.

Overall, it’s nearly impossible for a Catholic school to be completely affirming, she said, and she believes students “sense that conditional acceptance.” 

“Many Catholic institutions have no idea how to address LGBTQ issues, among students or employees, given the tensions that exist in our church and society on this,” Duddy-Burke said. “They have a lot to learn, and we hope they will see this crisis as an opportunity to hear from students, parents and people who have expertise in LGBTQ Catholic issues.”

Samuel Garrett-Pate, a spokesperson for Equality California, told HuffPost that Magali’s story shows that too many Californians are still subjected to psychological abuse by those who are supposed to be caring for their emotional and psychological well-being. 

“So-called ‘conversion therapy’ doesn’t work, isn’t needed and causes lifelong psychological damage,” Garrett-Pate said. “It’s a harmful, ineffective solution in search of a problem that doesn’t exist.”

Magali is now finishing her senior year at another high school. Her parents say they’ve placed the teen in therapy and are actively trying to counter some of the negative messaging she received at Bishop Amat about her sexual orientation. 

Tapia-Rodriguez said she understands that, as a private school, Bishop Amat can set its own standards about same-sex relationships among students. But she said she wishes the school had called her and said, “Your daughter’s views and beliefs are different than what we believe here.”

Instead, she said, “they kept her, they kept taking our money and took it upon themselves to counsel her and make her feel like shit.”



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When a Bake Sale Isn’t Enough: Crowdfunding for School Projects


From international food festivals and popcorn sales to fun runs and penny wars, many educators are taking matters into their own hands to raise much-needed funds. With nearly half of public school funding nationwide coming from local taxes, annual budgets vary drastically from one school district to another. According to the National Center for Education, funding can range from less than $4,000 per student in the least affluent areas to more than $15,000 per student in the wealthiest districts.

In Oakland, Calif., where Ashley Wallace teaches humanities and theater arts, the city faced a $23-million budget deficit in 2018, and millions more in cuts are expected in the 2019-2020 school year. “Funding doesn’t often come to our school,” Wallace says. “I need to get things for my students as quickly as I can.”

With few options, Wallace turns to crowdfunding to find resources for her students. In the last three years, Wallace has raised more than $35,000 for her school on Donors Choose. org, a crowdfunding site that connects teachers in high-need communities with donors (corporations, foundations, and/or individuals) who want to help fund classroom projects.

“The economic problems we have in Oakland don’t allow for our kids to participate in traditional school fundraising events,” Wallace says. “This is not an area where kids are walking around selling candy bars—and there’s only so much candy you can sell teachers.”

How Does Crowdfunding for School Work?

DonorsChoose.orgcrowdfunding for school, DigitalWish.com, and Fundly.com are all popular crowdfunding sites. While each site is a little different, educators follow the same basic steps: Create a description of a fundraising project; fill the online cart with items from the listed businesses or make special requests for items not found on the site; and wait.

The sites vet the requests and cost for each item and then track donations as they arrive. Sometimes sites offer dollar-for-dollar matches for donations—some offer even more! When the project is fully funded, the site orders the requested items and ships them to the teacher’s school.

Wallace’s crowdfunding efforts have landed supplies for the parent and student hygiene pantry as well as a washer and dryer for students to wash their uniforms.

Extreme Makeover-Classroom Edition

In summer 2019, Wallace listed three projects needed for a classroom redesign. “I wanted to create a space that reflected a welcoming, home environment,” she says. “Our students are better equipped and ready to learn when they feel relaxed, happy, and safe.” Some weeks later, a company funded every project in Oakland.

Wallace scored a $6,000 classroom makeover that included ergonomic stand-up tables and comfortable couches, among other items. The funds helped create more comfortable spaces where students can sit on the floor and work at coffee tables. A “Rainbow Lounge” now showcases student art highlighting their diverse Latino, African American, and Southeast Asian communities. The lounge is peppered with rainbow colors to help all students feel at home.

Wallace involved her students in the planning and build-out for the makeover, which took place over the summer. She taught a class, called Project Renovation, in which her students first researched and designed their own perfect classroom, complete with a budget, and then spent the remainder of the time cleaning and painting the room, building the furniture, and hanging pictures.

“It was an amazing experience,” Wallace says. “I still can’t believe it happened.”

Fast-Food Fundraisers

A flyer advertising McDonald’s “McTeacher’s Night”

Many families can’t afford the time or expense required to participate in school fundraisers. Add school funding disinvestments to the mix, and you’ll get many school officials and educators turning to less practical measures, such as inviting corporations to hawk its products. McDonald’s “McTeacher’s Night” is a prime example.

“McTeacher’s Night” is an event at which educators work behind the counter at a local McDonald’s franchise and serve up hamburgers, french fries, and soda to their students. McDonald’s bills the event as a “popular and successful school fundraiser,” but only a small percentage of nightly proceeds go to participating schools. NEA has long opposed and rejected “McTeacher’s Nights” for exploiting public schools, educators, and workers to market junk food to students.



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Betsy DeVos Might Outlast Them All


Betsy DeVos’ confirmation hearing in January 2017 made her a universal punchline. When asked about her thoughts on guns in school, she famously pointed to the need to protect students from grizzly bears. When asked about her opinions on exams that measure proficiency versus those that measure growth, she could barely stammer out an answer. In a Republican-majority Senate, the billionaire mega-donor was barely confirmed to her position, a humiliating turn that required Vice President Mike Pence to cast the tie-breaking vote.

Two years later, DeVos remains among the least popular Cabinet members in a historically unpopular administration. Yet, somehow, even as her peers dropped like flies — former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson — the education secretary has remained standing. 

HuffPost spoke with over a dozen people about DeVos’ longevity, including former colleagues at the Department of Education, former co-workers in the advocacy space, and several political opponents who continue to root for her downfall.

For the most part, despite her wild unpopularity, they chalk up DeVos’ success to President Donald Trump’s relative disinterest in education, her comparative lack of ethical conflicts and scandal, and her connections to the evangelical community, a group that serves as an important voting bloc for the president. 

But they also point to her wholehearted belief in the righteousness of her agenda and persistence in seeing it through. Many of both her supporters and opponents say they’re not surprised she’s lasted this long, describing her in similar terms ― determined, dedicated, resolute — though vehemently disagreeing on what these traits mean for students. 

Her boosters and detractors seem to agree: Whether people hate or love what she’s doing, she’s doing it because she truly believes in it.  



Kate McKinnon plays Betsy DeVos on “Saturday Night Live” on March 17, 2018.

A Confirmation Hearing Disaster And Troubles In Trumpland

DeVos’ confirmation hearing earned her a portrayal by Kate McKinnon on “Saturday Night Live” — and a message from the White House detailing the inadequacy of her performance, according to a former administration official. 

But since then, Trump has mostly stayed out of her way, whether out of disinterest or distraction. DeVos has similarly worked to avoid conflict with Trump and the pitfalls of self-promotion, quietly pressing forward with her education agenda. 

She has unsuccessfully worked to drum up interest in a federal school choice program and she’s slashed guidance that promotes civil rights in schools. She has moved to give colleges — especially for-profit ones with sometimes fraudulent practices — more freedom from oversight, despite a litany of judicial challenges.  

“She keeps doing what she said she was gonna do, what she’s always done and what she was hired to do,” said Jeanne Allen, CEO of the Center for Education Reform, who has crossed paths with DeVos over the years as an advocate for school choice.

Her clashes with the president have generally been infrequent and insignificant: DeVos heard from the White House early on when she issued a botched statement calling HBCUs — historically black colleges and universities formed in response to systemic discrimination ― pioneers in school choice. When she flubbed a “60 Minutes interview in March 2018, she also heard from her boss, said a former staffer.

DeVos has mostly navigated her way through the bumps, though — even when it comes to larger issues of policy and communication — publicly carrying the president’s water. 

She keeps doing what she said she was gonna do, what she’s always done and what she was hired to do.
Jeanne Allen, CEO of the Center for Education Reform

When Trump charged DeVos with running the Federal School Safety Commission after the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, he made her the face of an initiative she had relatively little say over, sources told HuffPost.

To DeVos’ dismay, the White House used the commission to emphasize schools’ ability to arm personnel. DeVos didn’t necessarily disagree with such proposals ― she is dedicated to the idea of local control and allowing districts to make such choices for themselves ― but she didn’t see the need to highlight such an option. And then, as the president waffled on whether the commission should look at potential age restrictions on firearms, she was left to look foolish, at one point describing the commission as a group that would study school shootings but not guns. 

The Education Department pushed back on any characterization of conflict between the secretary and the White House, emphasizing that the secretary believes “every school and community has its own unique needs, one size does not fit all, and the people closest to the problem must be empowered to solve it,” according to spokeswoman Angela Morabito. 

DeVos most publicly pushed back against the president in March after he took credit for saving proposed cuts to the Special Olympics. Until that point, DeVos had toed the administration’s line over the cuts, even amid widespread public outrage. The cuts had been proposed every year — and were most recently pushed by Mick Mulvaney, the director of the Office of Management and Budget and acting White House chief of staff  — despite DeVos’ opposition.

“I am pleased and grateful the president and I see eye-to-eye on this issue, and that he has decided to fund our Special Olympics grant,” DeVos said in a statement at the time. “This is funding I have fought for behind the scenes over the last several years.”

DeVos’ office emphasized her “strong working relationship with President Trump.”

“It’s evident in their collaborative efforts to protect First Amendment rights on college campuses, make American STEM education (and the future STEM workforce) the envy of the world, their work on school safety, and most of all, their partnership on the Education Freedom Scholarships Proposal,” said Morabito. 

DeVos’ Determination

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, left, accompanied by Education Department Budget Service Director Erica Navarro, testify at



Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, left, accompanied by Education Department Budget Service Director Erica Navarro, testify at a hearing on the Education Department’s fiscal 2018 budget on May 24, 2017.

Eliza Byard, president of LGBTQ civil rights group GLSEN, recalls DeVos painfully pushing school choice during a meeting with advocates of transgender youth, right after the Education Department rescinded guidance designed to protect these students. Amid a discussion about safety concerns for these children, DeVos awkwardly promoted school choice, despite the fact that private schools in voucher programs are in fact legally allowed to ban LGBTQ students — and many of them do

“The thing that is painful and alarming and infuriating about that is there were already things in place solving those problems and they were ripped apart,” Byard said. 

Indeed, Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, uses harsh words to describe DeVos. But there’s one word Weingarten won’t use: chameleon.

“She is who she is. She doesn’t pretend to be pro-public education, she doesn’t pretend to be pro-student. She is pro-privatization, she is pro-big business, she is pro-the student lender industry,” said Weingarten, who leads a teachers’ union of about 1.7 million members that recently sued DeVos over alleged mismanagement of a student loan forgiveness program

But those who have worked with DeVos both inside and outside the Education Department maintain that while she might have tunnel vision, her motives on this issue are pure. They describe her as driven by altruism rather than opportunism, a trait that may separate her from her peers in the Trump administration. Whether misguided or not, she truly sees choice as a prerequisite for meaningful educational improvement that could especially benefit low-income children of color. 

“I think Betsy DeVos has the best of intentions. Her desire to expand choice, especially for poor kids and kids of color, comes from a big heart and interest in seeing kids in America do better,” said Michael Petrilli, president of the right-leaning Thomas B. Fordham Institute. 

“To the degree she’s been cast as some kind of villain, that’s not who she is. You might think she has bad ideas, but she doesn’t have bad intentions.”

Deliberate and Methodical  

Former employees and associates say they understand why it’s easy to see DeVos as a villain. But they work to rationalize her actions, painting her motivations and personality in plain terms. 

When she takes steps to protect at times predatory for-profit colleges ― well, she thought the Obama administration treated these institutions unduly harshly and that the free market should be left to work its magic unencumbered, regardless of the casualties. (Courts have consistently ruled against DeVos in several of her attempts to roll back protections for victims in these cases, in one instance calling her actions “arbitrary and capricious.”) 

She is who she is. She doesn’t pretend to be pro-public education, she doesn’t pretend to be pro-student. She is pro-privatization, she is pro-big business, she is pro-the student lender industry.
Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers

“She’s not an outwardly warm and fuzzy type person ― that doesn’t mean she’s cold and distant ― but it certainly doesn’t mean she approaches her job or issues that come across her desk as: How can we screw up students’ lives today?” said one former education staffer.

And, according to a former employee, her most recent wave of scandals — which resulted in her being held in contempt of court after the Department of Education continued to collect money from defrauded students despite a ban on doing so — was more of an accidental snafu in a cumbersome system than any type of sinister DeVos-led plot. (The judge in that case previously said she was “astounded, really, just really astounded” at the department’s “sheer scale of violations.”)

“Pretty simply, it was nothing more complicated than an operational glitch,” said A. Wayne Johnson, who was the Department of Education’s chief strategy and transformation officer before resigning in October and endorsing a mass cancellation of student debt. Wayne described DeVos as an “inspirational leader,” and “the best example of what a committed public servant is about.”

Her decisions are characteristically deliberate and methodical. Early in the administration, when DeVos sparred with Trump and Sessions over the decision to repeal joint Department of Education and Department of Justice guidance designed to protect transgender students, it was less out of concern for those students than concern for a lack of process.

While former employees suspect that DeVos may have ultimately decided to rescind the guidance — which called on schools to allow transgender students to use the bathroom that aligned with their gender identity — she would have preferred to have engaged with a wide range of stakeholders first. 

Protesters demonstrate during a speech by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Governmen



Protesters demonstrate during a speech by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government on Sept. 28, 2017. Asked about protections for transgender students, DeVos said she was committed to making sure all students are safe. But she rescinded guidance that allowed transgender students to use bathrooms that matched their gender identity.

They maintain that she’s not personally homophobic or racist — despite slashing a number of pieces of guidance designed to protect vulnerable groups — just disdainful of federal overreach. When a group of Harvard students unfurled a sign calling her a white supremacist during a September 2017 speech, she was particularly hurt, they said. (Education Department spokeswoman Morabito said DeVos wants to focus on students, “not on herself, and certainly not on personal attacks that have no basis in truth.”)

But these depictions are a far cry from how her detractors describe her and the impact of her actions.

“She never pretended she knew anything about schools or public schools,” said Weingarten. “[The Department] hasn’t dealt with the student loan crisis. Instead, they’ve just walked away from obligations to students, or they’ve made it worse.”

Others wonder if, when it comes to school choice, DeVos is actively hurting the cause she most wants to promote. There’s scant expectation she will succeed in pushing any type of federal program ― an initiative at odds with her love of small government. Using her bully pulpit as education secretary to promote school choice seems like her greatest hope for expanding programs around the country, but DeVos is an unpopular Cabinet member in a historically unpopular administration. School choice once drummed up bipartisan support, but DeVos has helped make the issue radioactive for centrists and Democrats, Petrilli says.  

After writing a letter of support to Congress upon DeVos’ nomination, he now wishes she would just step down. 

“She seems like someone who is determined to show grit and perseverance and demonstrate she was going to follow through [with the job.] I think she deserves a lot of credit for that,” he said. “My only argument is two years is plenty to demonstrate that. She could have stepped down after the midterm election and felt quite good.”

DeVos’ office vehemently denies that the issue of school choice has been in any way harmed by her tenure, saying that it continues to gain popularity across states.

“The only vocal national opponents of education freedom are seeking the endorsement of the teachers union,” said Morabito. “They are the ones who ought to be asked to explain why the issue has suddenly become divisive.”

“Secretary DeVos is dedicated to advancing Education Freedom,” Morabito continued. “She has worked tirelessly to keep the focus on the cause ― allowing every student in America to access a high-quality education that’s right for them.”

But her last day also can’t come soon enough for advocates like Byard, who says DeVos has already perpetuated so much harm in the everyday lives of vulnerable students.

“I wish something would get through to her,” Byard said. “We’re parents and we’re people who care deeply about children. And we’re scared.”



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Student Performers Explore Impact of School Segregation


What is the purpose of school? What does separate but equal mean? Who benefits from school segregation? How did we get here?

These were questions posed by five high school actors in a performance titled Nothing About Us at NEA headquarters on November 2. The performance, cosponsored by the National Coalition on School Diversity and NEA’s Education and Policy Practice department, was an exploration of educational segregation written and performed by EPIC Next, a group of New York City public high school students – those who attend segregated schools but are rarely asked about its impact on them.

New York City, home to 8 million people and 800 languages, is renowned for its culture and diversity. Yet more than 60 years after Brown vs. Board of Education, it has one of the most segregated school systems in America.

“Integration has risen to the top of city politics. Now we even have presidential candidates talking about it. But it’s not about busing. It’s going to take more than moving bodies around to confront modern day segregation,” said Matt Gonzalez, New York University Metro Center director of Integration and Innovation Initiative (i3) who addressed the audience after the EPIC performance. “Every school needs to reflect the diversity of its surrounding community.”

According to Gonzalez,  young people must be included in the process and help shape the policy. When speaking at meetings, town halls, panels and community discussions, he brings the EPIC Next ensemble to break the ice and bring people directly to the most volatile issues, “because young people help ease the tensions surrounding the tough topics of race and segregation and inequality,” he said. “They amplify the conversation.”

EPIC Next is a program of New York’s Epic Theater Ensemble, a collective of theater professionals and Teaching Artists that aims to build bridges between school classrooms, professional stages, and civic centers.

The Epic NEXT program pairs Epic’s professional artists with selected students from Epic’s partner schools beginning in a summer lab and extending throughout the school year. Each Epic ensemble artist mentors two or three students a year in the theater-making process as well as in leadership development, civic engagement, and college readiness. As the culmination of their work in the summer intensive, the students integrate the ideas and concepts explored in the program to create a full-length theater piece, like Nothing About Us.

Epic believes that theater is an art form uniquely capable of fostering social change when it challenges an audience’s expectations and inspires them to talk about what they experienced and learned with their community.

Matt Gonzalez at the National Education Association.

Each performance begins with a single question. In Nothing About Us, it is “What is the purpose of school.”

One by one the student performers, scattered throughout the audience, each wearing a black t-shirt that says “I Am Epic,” rises to answer the question.

Kayla Villanueva, 16, a high school senior from the Bronx, says her answer is both facetious and serious: “School is a way of warehousing troublesome younger members of society.”

To many high schoolers who must pass by uniformed police officers and through metal detectors on their way into school, the building feels more like a prison or “warehouse” than an institution of learning. The students who attend those schools are almost entirely children of color.

The EPIC Next ensemble then gathers in the front of the room and creates a mock town hall about diversifying schools. One one side, students portray parents concerned about low test scores. On the other, the parents of students accused of bringing down test scores.

“Our children are smart and caring and creative,” says a parent. “They could be friends with your children.”

Another, angrier parent: “I see you as taking!”

“We are not taking,” a parent on the opposite side shouts back. “We are earning! This is a meritocracy.”

More shouts: “I’m not racist! I have a lot of black friends! I saw Black Panther three times! I am not racist. I don’t see color! All lives matter!”

The group then morphs into a mock episode of the 90’s sitcom “Friends” where students talk about race at their local coffee shop. It’s humorous but revelatory as some of the “friends” realize hard truths about the challenges of talking about race and white privilege with their white friends.

They pose another question: Who benefits from educational segregation? The powers that be? People with money?  The fortunate few who get plucked out of poverty and placed into a better school with mostly white students?

Or, they ask, is it the system that benefits? The answer, they say, is clear. The system has a life of its own and the system is doing exactly what it is designed to do. It not only benefits from segregation, its survival depends on it.

Nothing About Us is thorough in its exploration of segregation of schools and it challenges the audience to rethink what’s at the root of the problem. It concludes with a simple message – whatever the cause, the problem of education segregation cannot be solved without students.

In the closing scene, the five-member ensemble chanted a phrase that underscored the meaning of the play’s title, “Nothing about us without us is for us!”

Find out more about how NYC Metro Center and New York City high school students are advocating for sustainable integration with the Five R’s: race and enrollment, resources, relationships, restorative justice, and representation.



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Kamala Harris Wants To Extend The School Day To Help Working Parents



California Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) introduced a bill on Tuesday seeking to have schools extend programming for students from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekdays so that parents don’t have to scramble to find childcare they can afford during those traditional work hours.  

The “Family Friendly Schools Act” would create a pilot program distributing up to $5 million in funding to 500 elementary schools over five years to provide “enrichment” activities to students that extend past the normal school hours. It would prioritize schools with “the greatest need,” including those whose students have high numbers of single parents who work, have two working parents or parents working irregular schedules.

The bill offered by the presidential candidate would also provide an additional $1.3 billion in funding to states to divvy among local groups that provide summer programs for low-income students. 

After the five-year pilot period, the Department of Education would publish a report on lessons learned from the program. 

“The misalignment between school and work schedules puts working families through unnecessary financial stress ― a burden we know is disproportionately shouldered by Black and Latinx families and families with low incomes,” Catherine Brown, an education expert at liberal think tank Center for American Progress, said in a release from Harris’ office.

The bill is also backed by the American Federation of Teachers union and the National Women’s Law Center.

Most public schools close around 3 p.m. in the U.S. — hours before the standard workday ends. Meanwhile, about 44% of public elementary schools had no formal after-school program available for students, according to a 2009 Department of Education report.

Last month, the senator’s home state of California became the first to mandate later school start times in an effort to support teen students, who perform better when they can get more sleep, research has shown. 





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University Accepts Peanut Butter And Jelly As Payment For Parking Tickets



ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — What a lip-smacking offer!

Anyone with unpaid parking fines at the University of Alaska Anchorage campus has the option to reduce or cover the cost of their tickets with peanut butter and jelly.

KTUU-TV reported the university would take donations for their annual payment tradition until Nov. 8 to help combat student hunger.

Officials say the food goes to students in need.

University officials say each person could use PB&J payments for two citations issued within the past 45 days.

Officials say two 16-ounce (454-gram) jars offer a $10 credit, three jars offer a $35 credit and five jars offer a $60 credit.

Officials say any unopened commercially produced nut butter-almond, cashew, peanut butter or any flavor jam, jelly, marmalade or preserves would be accepted.

Information from: KTUU-TV, http://www.ktuu.com



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Florida Sheriff’s Deputy Arrested After Throwing Girl To Floor By Her Neck


A Florida sheriff’s deputy assigned to a school was arrested and charged with felony child abuse after he was caught on video grabbing a 15-year-old girl by the neck and slamming her to the floor.

Broward County Sheriff’s Deputy Willard Miller, 38, surrendered to authorities on Tuesday and was released on $5,000 bond to await trial. If convicted, he faces up to five years in prison.

Miller was working as a school resource officer for Cross Creek School in Pompano Beach on Sept. 25 when surveillance video captured his violent interaction with the female student. The school, about 35 miles north of Miami, serves emotionally and behaviorally disabled students from kindergarten through 12th grade.



A judge allowed Willard Miller to be freed on a $5,000 bond to await trial on a felony child abuse charge. 

In the video, released by the sheriff’s office, the girl can be seen tapping Miller’s leg with her foot moments before he grabs her by the neck with both his hands and throws her to the floor. 

Then he’s seen flipping her over, putting his knee in her back and handcuffing her. The video shows him then pushing her through a doorway, causing her to hit a wall.

The student doesn’t appear to have been seriously hurt. Miller was charged under a child abuse law that specifies “without great bodily harm.”

Miller was removed from his position at the school and placed on administrative leave on Sept. 27. He was suspended without pay on Oct. 28.

Broward County Sheriff Gregory Tony called Miller’s actions “deplorable” during a news conference Tuesday. He applauded school district officials for alerting the sheriff’s office to the deputy’s misconduct.

“It’s embarrassing, OK, when we have one individual that acts outside the confines of the oath that they take, it goes on every news channel, it spreads across the country,” Tony said.

“I’m tired of it,” he continued. “I’m going to fix it and I’m going to hold people accountable.”

Miller’s arrest follows several accusations against the Broward County Sheriff’s Office related to excessive force. A deputy was fired last week for punching a handcuffed man in a hospital bed in January.

Two other deputies are awaiting trial on misdemeanor charges of battery and falsifying police reports after a teen was pepper-sprayed and his head was slammed into the ground outside a McDonald’s in April.





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Italy Is Making Climate Change Lessons Compulsory In Schools


Children studying in Italy’s public schools will soon have climate change lessons on their weekly schedules. 

Italy’s education minister, Lorenzo Fioramonti, announced on Tuesday that climate change and sustainability will be a mandatory part of education for students ages 6 to 19. The new law will make Italy the first country in the world to introduce compulsory climate change education at all levels. 

Teachers will start training in the new year and the school module will be rolled out in September 2020. 

Initially, the classes will amount to 33 hours a year ― about an hour a week ― but the aim is also to thread the topic through traditional subjects such as geography and math. The syllabus will center around the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, a collection of 17 goals focused on tackling poverty, inequality and climate change.

Fioramonti is a member of the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement in Italy and a key advocate of environmental policies. Previously a professor of political economy, he has written about the need to move beyond traditional measures of economic success, such as gross domestic product, and toward better ways of measuring our well-being.   

As a government minister, he has voiced support for taxes on flying, sugar-sweetened drinks and plastics. And in September, he encouraged students in Italy to skip school to join the global climate strikes, saying on Facebook that schools should consider absences as justified because children’s lives are “threatened by environmental devastation and an unsustainable economic development.”

His green policies have made him a target of Italy’s popular, far-right Lega party whose leader, Matteo Salvini, has cast doubt on climate change. 



Students demonstrate during a worldwide protest demanding action on climate change in Milan in September.

But Fioramonti is confident there is broad support among Italians for his policy, especially young people. “They are yearning to understand how the knowledge can be applied to foster sustainable development,” he told HuffPost. “And they yearn for scientific education that can give meaning to their lives.”

Some environmental experts have embraced the news with caution. Edoardo Zanchini, vice president of Legambiente, a big environmental group in Italy, told The New York Times that there isn’t time to pin all of our hopes on young people. “Science tells us the next 10 years are crucial. We cannot wait for the next generation,” he said.

A paper released Tuesday, supported by 11,000 scientists all over the world, said that we could expect “untold human suffering” if the world did not take immediate and drastic action. 

Fioramonti said, however, that he wants to bolster intergenerational understanding, rather than pin all hopes on young people. He aims, he said, to “build a strong bridge between old and new generations around sustainable development as a social glue.”

The chance of the U.S. government implementing anything similar in American public schools is currently incredibly remote. Italy’s announcement comes the same week that President Donald Trump officially started the process to pull the U.S. out of the Paris climate agreement, which commits countries to reducing emissions in an attempt to keep global temperature rises to 1.5 degrees Celsius. 

Still, Fioramonti remains positive. “I have no doubt that more and more countries will join,” he said. “We need to join forces among progressive societies, against this wave of denial and conservative policies.”

If it matters to you, it matters to us. Support HuffPost’s journalism here. For more content and to be part of the “This New World” community, follow our Facebook page.

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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Building Relationships With Colleagues and Students in a High-Tech World


I recently conducted a teacher engagement survey, and some of the most telling findings are that 42 percent of teachers say they are most engaged through face-to-face learning, while more than a quarter (27.1%) of the respondents said they prefer to learn from home.

Technology can be used to help bridge these two requests in a way that nurtures relationships between teachers and builds community among colleagues.

It is no coincidence that many of the strategies that engage teachers also engage students as well. In my earlier research on student engagement, many students cited technology as  a preferred way to build knowledge and skills and develop relationships with teachers. So how can we combine technology and one-on-one interactions in a way that engages us and our students? Consider these possibilities:

For Teacher Learning

Throw a learning potluck party. Invite a colleague who specializes in a certain teaching tool or pedagogical strategy to speak at your home on a weekend. Invite some other educators over and ask everyone to bring food to share. Everyone will benefit from the learning and conversation that follows. It’s kind of like a TED Talk in your living room!

Have a “hallway” chat on Twitter. Thousands of educators have taken to Twitter to exchange ideas about important topics—from Project Based Learning (#pblchat) to Postive Behavioral Interventions & Supports (#pbischat), and more. And educators are one of the fastest growing groups on Twitter. According to Brett Baker, an account executive at Twitter. com, “Out of the half billion tweets that post every day, 4.2 million are related to education … To put this in perspective, while you read this sentence, over 3,000 edu-related tweets have flown across the Twitterverse. So join in the conversation!

For Student Learning

Use video chat. This gives students an opportunity to experience synchronous learning from their living rooms. That could mean attending office hours, asking questions, bouncing ideas around, or listening to live group discussions, rather than pre-recorded screencasts or webinars,

Arrange online intervention classes for after school. In my experience, some kids function more bravely online than in the classroom. If we are asking our students to think deeply and critically, maybe allowing them to do so from the comfort of home will give their brains more freedom to process.

Think about the methods of engagement that help you learn and ask yourself if they might work for your students too. After all, we are all learners.

Heather Wolpert-Gawron is a teacher at Jefferson Middle School in San Gabriel,
Calif., and the author of Just Ask Us: Kids Speak Out on Student Engagement.



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Principal, Teacher Suspended After Student Dresses As Hitler In Halloween Parade



A Utah elementary school principal and teacher have been suspended after a student wore a Nazi costume during the school’s Halloween parade last week.

Parents were shocked and horrified when the boy, who has not been publicly identified, donned a fake Adolf Hitler-esque mustache and a red armband emblazoned with a swastika during the event Thursday at Creekside Elementary School in Kaysville, according to local news reports.

Two parents told local Fox affiliate KSTU that the student was doing a Nazi salute during the parade. Both parents, who wished to remain anonymous, are questioning why school officials allowed him to participate in the parade dressed as a Nazi in the first place.

One of the parents said they called the school to complain the day after the parade and were told the student had been removed from the parade, ordered to change his clothes and that his parents were notified. But the mother said she felt the behavior had been excused by administrators.

“I was told that [the school] thought he was Charlie Chaplin,” she told KSTU. “And like, he has a whole swastika on his arm. … He had to have been seen by his teacher, by multiple people.”

Video and images of the student’s costume gained attention after being posted to a Facebook page for local mothers, reported Deseret News. The woman who shared the photo called the costume as “ridiculous and distasteful as one could get” and said the boy was “Hailing Hitler” in the face of the “few minority children who attend the school.”

The Davis School District apologized for the incident in a statement sent to HuffPost on Monday and said it was investigating “every aspect of the situation.”

The school district “does not tolerate speech, images or conduct that portray or promote hate in any form,” according to the statement. “The district is taking the matter very seriously and is investigating every aspect of the situation.”

The principal and teacher have been placed on paid administrative leave during the investigation, the school district said in its statement. A representative for the school district declined to confirm the identity of the staff members.

Creekside Elementary School, located about 20 miles north of Salt Lake City, serves more than 750 students from preschool to sixth grade.

In a statement Saturday, the United Jewish Federation of Utah said it’s “appalled” that the student was allowed to participate in the parade apparently dressed as Hitler.

“Almost all Jews and Americans regard Hitler and Nazi symbols as signifiers of the worst hatred, racism, and crimes against humanity that the world has known,” the organization said in its statement. “Dressing a child as Hitler is intolerably offensive and should never be suggested, permitted, or condoned.”

Anti-Semitic incidents have been on the rise nationwide in recent years. The Anti-Defamation League reported in April that assaults against Jewish people in 2018 were more than double the number reported in 2017.



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Jobs Threatened By Privatization, Educators and Their Allies Strike Back


Nancy Cogland really didn’t think it would happen again. But in early 2019, there she stood facing the possibility that her job—and those of the other 166 paraprofessionals in Old Bridge Township, New Jersey—could be outsourced to a private company.

The last time they faced this threat, the district’s paraeprofessionals were, “caught a little off-guard,” Cogland says. That was eight years earlier, when the school board of this 10,000-student district—saddled with new cuts in state aid and a large budget gap—announced they were considering privatizing paraprofessionals. With a quick vote scheduled, the board left it up the paraprofessionals — lose your jobs or give up your family and medical benefits.

“We had no real choice and no warning,” Cogland recalls. “We obviously didn’t want to lose our jobs to a private company, so we agreed to surrender our benefits.”

Luckily, those benefits were reinstituted in the next round of bargaining. But after announcing another round of state cuts in 2018, the school board looked again for savings. Again, the paraprofessionals’ jobs were on the chopping block.

Many districts already outsource other education support professionals (ESP), such as bus drivers, school custodians, and cafeteria workers. The focus on paraprofessionals, says Tim Barchak, senior policy analyst with the National Education Association, opens up a relatively new front in the privatization fight.

“Everyone is vulnerable now,” he says. “The key is to change the environment in districts to make it more difficult for privatizers to thrive.”

Penny Wise and Pound Foolish

Mapping the march of school privatization across the United States reveals significant expansion of charter schools and, to a lesser extent, private school voucher programs. Zoom in closer, and you’ll see a concentration of privatization inside public schools: the outsourcing of school staff. That is, after all, what privatization is—turning a public good over to a private entity.

Everyone is vulnerable now. The key is to change the environment in districts to make it more difficult for privatizers to thrive.” – Timothy Barchak, National Education Association

Many school districts insist such a move is necessary because they can’t afford pension obligations and health care costs. Or it could also be “plain old opposition of taxpayers to paying more than they would like,” says Samuel Abrams, director of the National Center for the Study of Privatization in Educationat Columbia University in New York City.

ESPs are frequently the easiest targets. “Often the specific service they provide is not viewed as core to the mission of educating our students,” Barchak explains. “And these workers are not usually allied with stakeholders in the community,” making it a challenge to build alliances when these threats materialize.

Although not ESPs, substitute teachers are viewed the same way and are also contracted out to private firms. Substitutes usually don’t need to be licensed educators, and are more deeply embedded in the gig economy than any other school job category.

Whoever the specific target, says Abrams, “ultimately, such privatization is penny wise and pound foolish. Privatizing these jobs will mean hiring people with less experience and generating more turnover. This is the opposite of what schools need.”

nancy cogland

School board members say they needed to look for savings, but “it was our job to explain to them what our value is to the students we serve,” said paraeducator Nancy Cogland.

On the Chopping Block

Many flush with venture capital funds, companies are deploying aggressive marketing campaigns, ready to swoop in and privatize school services in any district looking to cut costs. Kelly Staffing Services, Swing Education, SPUR, and EduStaff offer enticing—although short-sighted and often misleading— offers of savings, quality, and streamlined efficiency. As for the individual workers, some companies hope to usher them into the flexible world of the “gig economy.”

The pitch: Agree to self-privatize and get a hefty one-time boost in salary. Left out of the pitch: Say goodbye to adequate health insurance and pension security.

Flipping a School Board Can Make All the Difference
Transferring the work of public school employees to the private sector leads to inferior services and fewer connections to students and their education. A successful campaign by a Pennsylvania local association struck a blow against privatization that is having a lasting impact.

Substitute teachers are a lucrative market. With growing teacher shortages, schools need quality substitute teachers more than ever. But in many states, subs work without any employee protections or access to health and retirement benefits.

Some substitute teachers, like Greg Burrill, like the flexibility but he belongs to a union and works in Oregon—a state that requires certification. He knows he’s lucky. “Substitutes need protection, especially as more districts farm the service out to private companies,” Burrill says.

Kelly Educational Services has a foothold in many districts, including Shawnee Mission, Kansas, where Laura Holland teaches. She has often complained about the quality of the substitutes being sent to her school. “Generally, they don’t belong in the classroom,” Holland says. “They’re not licensed or prepared. These companies view them as temp workers. That’s a disservice to students.”

‘We Weren’t Going to Stand For It’

Fortunately, the paraprofessionals in Old Bridge Township had critical structure and relationships in place, and persuaded the school board to drop its outsourcing plan. They made sure the district knew that any short-term savings were not worth the inevitable decline in quality and accountability.

“The fact is, you get what you pay for,” Cogland says. “We weren’t going to stand for it, and the parents weren’t going to stand for it.”

After the 2011 cutbacks, Cogland had become more involved in her local union, Old Bridge Education Association, and participated in workshops and leadership trainings sponsored by the New Jersey Education Association. By the time the privatization threat re-emerged in 2019, Cogland and her colleagues were ready to organize and mobilize the community.

All the paraprofessionals in the district work with special education students. Their parents are organized and very vocal in protecting their students, and they immediately went to bat for the paraprofessionals. Strengthening those relationships was front and center in the campaign to ward off privatization.

The school board got the message. In May 2019, the board took the proposal off the table before any bids from companies had been solicited.

“It’s the board’s job to find ways to save money,” Cogland says, “but it was our job to explain to them what our value is to the students we serve.”

Hillsborough County school custodians rally against district proposal to outsource their jobs.

It’s Hard to Privatize Names

The 1,500 school custodians in Hillsborough County, Florida—the eighth-largest school district in the country—also tapped into a reservoir of goodwill in 2019, when they turned back an attempt to outsource their services to a private contractor.

“We were able to use the media and our public protests to talk about what our custodians do for our schools and students,” said Iran Alicea, a school security officer and president of the Hillsborough School Employee Federation (HSEF). “You’re talking about replacements entering our school buildings. These are workers who have no real connection to the school. Would they really always be there for the students?

Including when disaster strikes—literally.

Civics teacher Scott Hottenstein recalled the critical role his school’s custodians played during Hurricane Irma in September 2017, when the school became an emergency shelter. The custodians worked around the clock to keep the shelter clean. “Our entire custodial staff moved their families to the school for 48 straight hours to serve the community. Are you going to get that with privatized janitorial services?” Hottenstein asked the Hillsborough school board in May 2019, as it debated privatizing their jobs.

In October, the board scrapped the proposal.

That is, until it’s back on the table—or the board tries to outsource another job category. As long as school boards are looking for savings, and private companies see public schools as profit centers, the threat of privatization looms.

“Unfortunately, that’s the world we live in,” Barchak says. “But kids don’t just drop into a classroom ready to learn,” he adds. “Every school has a network of caring adults who have to do their job professionally every day to make that happen. ESPs need to tell their stories about what they do and develop relationships with stakeholders. It’s relatively easy to privatize the ‘bus drivers’ or the ‘custodians.’ It’s a lot harder to privatize the individuals who have names that know and take care of your kids.”

NEA resources on fighting ESP privatization in your community



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Chicago Teachers Union Reaches Deal To End 11-Day Strike



The Chicago Teachers Union reached a tentative deal with the city’s mayor on Thursday to end an 11-day strike in the nation’s third-largest school district.

The union’s 700-member governing body voted to approve the terms set with Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, telling 25,000 teachers and more than 300,000 students to return to the classrooms Friday morning amid a prolonged negotiation period. 

The five-year deal hinged on Lightfoot agreeing to demands that would allow schools to make up the 11 missed days. The mayor had consistently refused to compromise on the makeup days, but on Thursday said Chicago Public Schools can make up five of the missed days at the end of the year.

“This has been a hard and difficult journey,” Lightfoot said at a press conference Thursday alongside CPS CEO Janice Jackson. “I want to thank the House of Delegates for ratifying this historic contract for CTU.”

That compromise means striking teachers will only be paid for five of the days spent on the picket lines, and will be out six days of pay. CTU Vice President Stacy Davis Gates told reporters Thursday that while the contract will make the school district a better place for students, Lightfoot “has taken out her anger on our members” by only giving teachers five days’ pay in a return-to-work agreement.

“We want a partner who will appreciate that and respect that” teachers are giving up six days of pay for the contract agreement, Davis Gates said. “We are teachers. It is about Black and brown children in the city of Chicago.”

Before Lightfoot’s announcement, CTU President Jesse Sharkey said the mayor was making it clear that she was more concerned about politics than actually putting children back in school.

“Our members are tired, frustrated and miss their students … we want to return to the classroom,” Sharkey said in a statement.

Lightfoot’s announcement came after Sharkey met with the mayor to discuss the deal. The union president did not appear with her at the press conference Thursday, explaining to reporters that it’s “not a day for photo ops or victory laps.” 

The mayor was initially opposed to CTU’s return-to-work terms, even after the union overwhelmingly voted to agree to the specifics of the deal late Wednesday. 

“I’ve learned a lot,” she said at her press conference Thursday. “I think I need a moment to reflect. I’m grateful it’s over. It’s time to move on and focus on our kids.”

The last day on the Chicago public school system calendar was initially set as June 16. It will now be moved to June 30.

CTU had been without a contract since July 1. The union had demanded a wage increase but also more funding for overcrowded classrooms and the hiring of social workers, school nurses and about 1,000 teaching assistants.

The changes add about $500 million a year to the union’s previous $2.6 billion contract.

Classes had been canceled for hundreds of thousands of students every day since the strike began on Oct. 17. The school buildings remained open throughout the strike to provide hot meals and a safe place for students.

“This deal will move us closer to ensuring that our most vulnerable students receive the instruction, resources and wraparound services they need to thrive,” Sharkey said. “No educator wants to leave their classroom, but our [strike] was the only option we had to enshrine, ensure and enforce real change for our students and school communities.”

Details of the tentative agreement include a fast-track process for grievances related to contract disputes; enforceable staffing increases in nursing and social work; a plan to reduce K-12 class sizes; better resources for homeless students; and more protection for both special education teachers and school clerk assistants. Education news nonprofit Chalkbeat Chicago first obtained a copy of the deal Wednesday.

All CTU members still have to vote on the agreement before it gets ratified. After the contract is finalized, the union plans to work with state legislators and Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D) to make sure students, families and school faculty get an elected representative school board instead of one appointed by the mayor.

“The Governor has long expressed his support for an elected school board and changes to the collective bargaining process,” Pritzker’s office told WTTW Chicago. “He looks forward to reviewing the specifics when these bills reach his desk.”

A separate strike for the Chicago union representing school support staff also ended Wednesday after that union, SEIU Local 73, agreed to terms that included raises ranging from 17% to 40% over a five-year stretch. The strike continued after the bargain was struck in solidarity with the Chicago Teachers Union.





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Contempt Citation and Possible Subpoenas


(Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call via AP Images)

It’s the season for goblins and ghouls. And yet, in one federal courtroom last week, a judge unmasked Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, holding her in civil contempt and ordering her department to pay $100,000 in damages to student borrowers.

The judge found DeVos and her department had violated a 2018 order to stop collecting on the debt of students who borrowed to attend a now-defunct for-profit college. In September, the Education Department (ED) admitted that it continued to haunt 16,000 borrowers for payments, going so far as to garnish the wages of 1,800 people and adversely affect the credit ratings of more than 800.

“I feel like there have to be some consequences for the violation of my order 16,000 times,” said U.S. Magistrate Judge Sallie Kim, according to CNN. “I’m not sending anyone to jail yet, but it’s good to know I have that ability.”

For DeVos, the scary season didn’t end there. In a letter sent last week, House Democrats also threatened to subpoena the secretary to force her cooperation in a House investigation. Their earlier, repeated requests for answers and information relating to ED’s alleged efforts to prop up another failing for-profit college have gone ignored for too long, wrote U.S. Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA), chair of the House’s education committee.

“If the Department continues to refuse to respond, the Committee will then be forced to conclude that the Department is purposefully frustrating Congressional oversight for reasons that are not in the best interest of the American taxpaying public,” wrote Scott. “Therefore, the Committee is left to consider utilizing the full powers at Congress’ disposal to obtain these critical documents.”

All of this adds up to a tricky month for DeVos and her pro-privatization education agenda. On the one hand, a federal court is referring to jail time. On the other, a powerful Congressional committee is threatening subpoena. Between them, advocates say it may be more difficult for DeVos and her associates to continue their dark art of dismantling financial protections for students.

(And the list goes on! On Tuesday, 23 U.S. Senators also called on the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to investigate FedLoan, a major loan servicer contracted by ED to manage the federal Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program, which, despite Congressional attention, has worked for less than 1 percent of applicants.)

Since taking office, the DeVos administration has worked to dismantle previous rules that protect students from the predatory practices of some for-profit colleges, and to expand the privatization of higher education. However, with the introduction of the College Affordability Act this month, House Democrats are aiming to restore investment in public institutions, fix Public Service Loan Forgiveness, and make for-profit colleges responsible to their students.

To support the College Affordability Act, go here.

Behind the Curtain

Last week’s civil contempt order stems from the ED’s relationship with Corinthian College, a massive for-profit operation that collapsed in 2014, after defrauding more than 60,000 students who borrowed from the federal government to pay their tuition.

Corinthian had been found to lure students based on false claims, including fake job placement rates. According to the rules at the time, which were put into place by the Obama administration and known as the “borrower defense to repayment” rules, the ED is obligated to refund Corinthians’ students. Before Obama left office, about 12,000 students did get relief. But when DeVos entered the picture, the department invented a new system, saying that if students earned a living wage, they wouldn’t get a refund. In 2017, former Corinthian students filed a class-action lawsuit. They won, and the court ordered DeVos’ administration to stop collecting money. While the ED currently appeals, it still is bound by the judge’s order.

Instead, it kept collecting. According to the Project on Predatory Lending, more than 3,000 borrowers made payments that they were not required to make; more than 800 had their credit reports tarnished; and 1,800 had their wages garnished or tax refunds seized, the New York Times reported.

Meanwhile, the ED also is in hot water for its lengthy efforts to prop up another set of for-profit colleges, owned by Dream Center Education Holdings, a subsidiary of a Los Angeles megachurch. In 2018, its chair told DeVos that, despite a total lack of educational experience, Dream Center wanted to take over a failing chain of for-profits, including Argosy University and Art Institutes chain.

They got that approval—and not even a year later, Dream Center was forced to close dozens of campuses, leaving thousands of students, who had spent or borrowed tens of thousands of dollars, without degrees.

Company emails, which Scott’s House committee has acquired, show that one of the reasons that Dream Center kept going, even after some of its campuses lost accreditation—a fact that they hid from students—is that they were counting on support from the Trump/DeVos administration.

In a July letter to DeVos, which was supported by 80 pages of documents obtained by his committee, including internal Dream Center emails, Scott wrote, “The actions of Dream Center and the Department of Education’s execution of its responsibility to protect students raise grave concerns. As you can see…documents obtained by the Committee raise questions about the extent to which the Department met its responsibility to protect student interests.”

The ED did not respond, and now Scott is ratcheting up the pressure. All of it adds up to a very terrifying season for DeVos and company – but one that may bring relief for students and borrowers.



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Principal Who Said He Couldn’t Confirm The Holocaust Was Real Is Fired


A Florida principal who told a parent that he couldn’t say that the Holocaust happened has been fired, four months after his comments drew national outcry.

William Latson of Boca Raton’s Spanish River Community High School was fired by county school board members on Wednesday after they voted 5-2 to have him removed, The Palm Beach Post reported.

Latson’s termination was on the grounds of “ethical misconduct” and “failure to carry out job responsibilities.”



William Latson (right) of Boca Raton’s Spanish River Community High School was fired on Wednesday following a vote by county school board members.

Though it was his emailed comments to a parent back in 2018 that launched public furor after they were published by The Palm Beach Post in July, it was reportedly his failure to respond to district officials’ messages in the days after the outcry that led to his firing.

In his email to the parent who was inquiring about the school’s Holocaust curriculum, Latson said the school’s one-day lesson to 10th graders is not mandatory because some parents “don’t want their children to participate.”

“The Holocaust is a factual, historical event,” the mother, who asked not to be named by the Post, responded to him. “It is not a right or a belief.”

“Not everyone believes the Holocaust happened and you have your thoughts but we are a public school and not all of our parents have the same beliefs so they will react differently,” he replied. “I can’t say the Holocaust is a factual, historical event because I am not in a position to do so as a school district employee.”

Latson said he takes the same stance when it comes to slavery.

He later defended his remarks in an email to school staff members, telling them that his comments were not “accurately relayed” when shared with the local newspaper.

“It is unfortunate that someone can make a false statement and do so anonymously and it holds credibility but that is the world we live in,” he said.

Latson has until Nov. 21, when his termination takes effect, to file an appeal, according to local station WPTV.



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Reading Proficiency Among U.S. Students Declines, Nation’s Report Card Reveals



The reading proficiency of fourth-graders and eighth-graders has declined in more than half of U.S. states since 2017, according to the results of a national student achievement test released Wednesday.

The National Assessment of Educational Progress, known as the Nation’s Report Card, also showed students failed to make significant gains in mathematics.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos lamented the generally abysmal results, which she said reflected a “student achievement crisis.”   

“This must be America’s wake-up call. We cannot abide these poor results any longer,” DeVos said in a statement.

The NAEP is taken every two years by a sample of fourth- and eighth-graders in reading and math. This year’s results, based on the test scores of about 600,000 students in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, showed a decline in performance in almost all categories.

Average scores were on par with those from about a decade earlier, but lower-performing students fared even worse this year than they did in 2009. 

“Over the past decade, there has been no progress in either mathematics or reading performance, and the lowest performing students are doing worse,” Peggy Carr of the National Center for Education Statistics, which administers the test, told The Wall Street Journal

“Compared to a decade ago, we see that lower achieving students made score declines in all of the assessments, while higher achieving students made score gains,” Carr added. 

Eighth-graders’ reading and math scores both decreased from 2017. Fourth-graders saw a drop in just their reading scores. The average math score for fourth-graders was 1 point higher this year than in 2017. 

DeVos expressed alarm at the low level of reading proficiency among students nationally. 

Only 35% of fourth-graders were considered proficient in reading, according to the 2019 test results, a drop of 2 percentage points from 2017. Among eighth-graders, only 34% were proficient in reading ― also a decline of 2 percent.  

“Our Nation’s Report Card shows that two thirds of American students can’t read at grade level. Two out of three!” the education chief decried, noting that 31 states had seen a decline in their eighth-grade reading scores since 2017, while fourth-grade reading scores had fallen in 17 states. 

“Think about the mom or dad who cannot read, and so does not read to their own children at bedtime. Think about what that portends for their lifelong learning journeys. Think about what it means if they are passed along, grade to grade, not reading as they should,” DeVos said. 

As the AP noted, most states saw stagnating or worsening test scores, but there were a couple of “bright spots.” 

Mississippi and Washington, D.C., were the only two jurisdictions that improved in at least three of four categories. 

“Our achievement is at an all-time high in Mississippi,” celebrated state Superintendent Carey Wright. 

Some education experts suggested students’ worsening performance could be linked to spending cuts. 

In a pointed critique of DeVos, who has sought to slash education funding, Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), who chairs the House subcommittee that oversees federal spending on education, urged the education secretary this week to “join House Democrats and families across our nation by supporting increased investments in our public education system,” The New York Times reported

DeVos shrugged off such suggestions, however, and used the test results to push her argument for expanding alternatives to traditional public schools, including religious schools and privately run charter schools.

“Government has never made anything better or cheaper, more effective or more efficient. And nowhere is that more true than in education,” DeVos said. 





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Trump-Appointed Board Targets Graduate Assistant Unions


Members of the Graduate Assistants United at the University of Rhode Island rally during the March for Science in Washington, DC in April 2017.

Bobby Mermer teaches political science at the University of Florida (UF). In an online review, a UF student writes, “Mermer is a good guy, the class was difficult but rewarding.” Another says, “Great lectures and genuinely cares about his students.”

To any observer, including his students, Mermer is an employee of UF. Even as he completes his Ph.D., he teaches classes, grades student papers, holds office hours in an on-campus office building, and gets paid for this work.

And yet, despite the obvious nature of work like Mermer’s—he works, he gets paid—the Trump-appointed National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) said this month that it would seek to permanently forbid graduate employees, such as Mermer, from unionizing at private institutions. If approved, the new rule would supersede a 2016 NLRB ruling involving Columbia University that says graduate employees are, in fact, employees with collective bargaining rights, and that has inspired new unions on campuses across the nation.

“It’s pretty clear that some people didn’t like the 2016 decision and so, here we are, in a pretty bad situation, where people’s work may not be recognized for what it is. Unfortunately, it doesn’t surprise me, but it’s really, really not right,” says Danielle DiRocco, executive director of the Graduate Assistants United (GAU) at University of Rhode Island, a NEA-affiliated union.

As part of its rule-making process, the NLRB is required to invite and accept public comments about the rule. [To submit an online comment in support of graduate employees, click here.] Comments are due December 16, and more than 1,500 already have been submitted.

At the heart of the issue is this question: Do graduate employees work? Are they employees of their institutions? In previous legal briefs, NEA attorneys have illustrated that graduate employees, also known as research and teaching assistants, meet the common-law definition of “employees” and, as employees, have a right to unionize and collectively bargain.

“Work is work,” says DiRocco.

Consider Leah Delaney, vice president of the GAU at Florida State University, an affiliate of the United Faculty of Florida (UFF). As the instructor of record for “Genre, Research, and Context: At Play with Composition,” a 2000-level writing course, and for “Intro to English Studies,” Delaney is teaching multiple times a week this semester, using a syllabus of her design. Additionally, she maintains office hours and takes her red pen to mountains of papers written by her roughly 35 students.

“It’s definitely work,” she says.

How Unions Help GAs, How GAs Help You

Some of Mermer’s students call him “professor,” but he prefers “mister.” His official title at UF is instructor. His colleagues in UF’s GAU, of which he is president, also teach classes, run research labs, and more. “Instructors, graduate assistants, research assistants, teaching assistants—they do exactly what faculty members do,” he says.

Among the 600 graduate employees represented by the union at the University of Rhode Island are deep-water researchers, studying the effects of underwater implosions on submarines for the purposes of national security. There also are cancer researchers, who are trying to save lives, and climate change researchers—also trying to save lives—and even oyster researchers, seeking to protect shellfish from disease.

“They’re crunching data, writing white papers and academic articles, supervising lab work—all of these things that people do as full-time jobs,” says DiRocco. “These people are working their tails off—for you, for the world.”

In 2018, U.S. colleges and universities employed about 126,000 graduate assistants to teach classes, or do other teaching-related duties, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. They were, according to the 2019 NEA Special Salary Issue, paid an average of $17,261 annually.

Unionizing helps. Typically, when graduate employees sit down together at the bargaining table, they win increased wages, access to medical and dental benefits, as well as sick leave and parental leave, and reasonable working conditions, such as limits on the number of hours worked weekly. At UF, for example, per their collectively bargained contract, all graduate employees earn a minimum of $14,000 a year (compared to $10,000 at the comparable, but non-unionized University of Georgia) and work a maximum of 20 hours a week.

Unions also prevent exploitation by supervisors, notes DiRocco. On campuses without unions, she says, “you’ll consistently find grads in positions where their intellectual property is compromised, their working hours are out of control, and it’s often because of how a particular supervisor was treated in graduate school. It’s kind of a hazing thing.”

She adds, “There also are fantastic supervisors who need guidance and support to help their departments to more effectively support and help their grads.”

Currently, the Coalition of Graduate Employees Union counts 32 unions of graduate employees in the U.S., including more than a half-dozen NEA affiliates in Florida, Montana, Missouri, Illinois, and Rhode Island that represent more than 10,000 employees. It also points to about two dozen unrecognized, or currently organizing grad unions, including many at private institutions. Several of these incipient unions, including Yale and the University of Chicago, recently have withdrawn their petitions for recognition from the NLRB.

The current NLRB is not the same as the board that ruled in favor of graduate-employee unions in 2016. Since then, the Trump administration has appointed three board members. A fourth, the only remaining Obama-appointee, is serving a term that expires in December. The fifth seat is vacant.



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Educators Rack Up Wins with Student-Centered Advocacy


Something remarkable is happening. It happened recently: more than 35,000 members of the Chicago Teachers Union and SEIU Local 73 went on an 11-day strike for the schools Chicago students deserve. Sound familiar? It should.

More and more educators across the country are organizing around issues that extend beyond wages, hours, and professional working conditions and are unifying around a set of demands that benefit students and the wider community. It’s called student-centered bargaining and advocacy.

We’ve seen it in California where member of the United Teachers of Los Angeles included in its bargaining demands a stop on the so-called random wanding of students, which has resulted in racial profiling in schools.

And it happened in Minnesota, where members of the St. Paul Federation of Educators put a proposal on the table to forbid the school district from doing business with banks or other financial institutions that foreclose on the homes of school-age children during a school year, do not pay their employees a $15 an hour minimum wage, and do not offer paid sick leave to their employees.

Efforts like these have increased, and many local unions have launched impressive bargaining campaigns that elevate educators, advocate for students, and advance the common good. Columbus, Ohio, home to the largest school district in the state with over 56,000 students, is one such place.

The Tipping Point

In 2018, after years of neglect by the Columbus City Schools, frustration reached a tipping point. Class sizes were high, art and music were taken out of classrooms and put on a cart, and teachers were tired of being blamed for bad test scores and their student’s behavior.

When bargaining talks surfaced, Columbus Education Association (CEA) members were asked what they wanted; they didn’t hold back.

 These are no brainer issues that weren’t being addressed by the district. I always laughed when people asked ‘is there anything in the contract for kids?’ It’s all for kids.” – John Coneglio, Columbus Education Association

“Through a survey, members listed their priorities, and we took those priorities to the table,” says John Coneglio, a high school social studies teacher of 19 years and head of the 4,000-member CEA.

From there, CEA put together an impressive bargaining campaign dubbed, “Schools Columbus Students Deserve.”

The campaign was built on a platform of six major components: reduced class sizes and caseloads; adequate staffing of student support professionals; dedicated space for art, music, and P.E.; expanding alternative programs for discipline; reducing turnover by compensating educators as professionals and funding schools; and saving taxpayers money by ending handouts for wealthy corporations that don’t need them.

“These are no brainer issues that weren’t being addressed by the district,” Coneglio explains. “I always laughed when people asked ‘is there anything in the contract for kids?’ It’s all for kids.”

With that, members took action for Columbus students.

‘Quiet People Get Nothing’

Most of the work that went into CEA’s campaign wasn’t new to the world of organizing or bargaining, like asking members for input, developing a common platform that members could support, and having a solid building rep structure. What was different was how members were engaged throughout the entire 7-month campaign.

“The energy around this campaign was great,” says Regina Fuentes, a high school English teacher of 21 years and an active CEA member. “We felt united and informed at all times. We were involved and we had a say, and CEA’s message was clear: CEA is not leadership versus members. CEA is all of us.”

During picket-prep week, CEA held an open house, sign-making party for members to come, any time of the day, to make sign for the Columbus Schools Students Deserve rally. All week, CEA had hundreds of members making signs.

No stone was left unturned in making negotiations as transparent as possible.

A Member Action Team was formed for internal and community organizing, which was instrumental in gathering signatures in support of the campaign. CEA hosted sign-making parties and organized phone banks. Members spoke and community events and festivals.

Social media was a major driver of information sharing. CEA pushed the hashtag #columbusstudentsdeserve for members and the community to connected with the campaign. Additionally, bargaining updates were given in real time by way of Facebook Live.

CEA kept pressure on the city council, the business community, and school board. And when push came to shove, members and the community showed up—and they took to the streets.

Two massive marches took place during negotiations. The first brought out more than 1,000 members of the CEA, labor allies, and community members while the second was double in size, with 2,000 people. The message: “fund the schools Columbus students deserve, not tax breaks for wealthy corporations that don’t need them.”

“They weren’t expecting teachers to be so vocal,” says Coneglio. “Quiet people get nothing.”

CEA for the Win!

After 17 hours of negotiations, CEA signed an agreement and in early morning hours (1:45am) of August 2, 2019 that made progress in nearly every one of its six priorities.

Columbus educators saw the first reductions in class size cap for grades K-3 in 25 years; 60 additional CEA student support professional positions, such as school nurses, social workers, and social emotional learning practitioners; new language requiring educator input before an art or music room is repurposed; a commitment for each building with any combination of grades 7 through 12 to provide space and staffing for a trauma-informed in-school discipline program as an alternative to out-of-school suspension; and raises for all of the educators in each year of the contract, as well as the first ever parental leave for non-birth parents.

“The agreement represented a huge, tangible step forward for our students, educators, and community,” says Coneglio. “However, our fight for the Schools Columbus Students Deserve continues.”

Tax abatements weren’t resolved at the table. However, CEA’s campaign put a spotlight on the corporate handouts that steal millions of dollars from students.

“I got to find out a lot about tax abatements and how much money is taken from our schools and district—and how hush, hush it is,” shares Fuentes. “Even though we didn’t get this issue in the contract, our efforts succeeded in creating such an awareness, that it opened the publics’ eyes to tax abatements and what they’re doing to our community.”

With a strong structure in place, CEA plans to take this fight to the political arena.

__________________________________________________________________________

Lessons Learned

Community Engagement
Engage community allies early on and work toward building long-term authentic relationships. Strong partnerships between parents and the wider community help educators respond more effectively to the health, well-being, and learning of all students. Like in Columbus, these partnerships also help secure wins for students, educators, and the greater common good.

Unlikely Allies
CEA was transparent about their allies. Of course, there were organizations that naturally aligned with the union’s core values, such as the Central Ohio Labor Council and parent organizations. CEA, however, also looked toward unlikely allies, such as conservative taxpayer groups who oppose the huge payouts of tax money to developers in the form of tax abatements. Despite opposing views on certain topics, CEA worked to find common ground to build support for the Columbus Schools Students Deserve campaign.

Take Risks
Getting thousands of members and community allies to march on the streets of Columbus was a risk worth taking. This type of action was historically not a part of CEA’s repertoire, but the level of outreach and actions taken prior to the rallies helped to build trust and inspired, more than 3,000 people to march with CEA.

Some Members Will Disagree—and You’ll Still Want and Need Them
In spite of major wins at the table and ratification by about three-quarters of members, a vocal minority was unhappy with the final agreement. After decades of disinvestments, some educators wanted to continue to fight for more. These voices were a crucial part of the organizing efforts and “obviously we’ll continue to engage them,” shares John Coneglio, president of the CEA. Though CEA channeled educators’ anger and frustration over the state of education to galvanize its members around its student-centered bargaining demands, Coneglio noted, with some irony, that “it’s ridiculous to have to go to the table to negotiate for smaller class sizes, for more nurses and more psychologists.”

The Work Goes On
“Just because the contract is over doesn’t mean we go quietly behind the scenes,” says Coneglio. “We’re going to continue to fight. We’re going to win on some things and we’re going to lose on others. But we’re going to constantly go back and advocate for our members and students.”

NEA’s Collective Bargaining and Member Advocacy department provides local and state associations with student-centered bargaining and advocacy grants, which helped fuel CEA’s campaign. The grants are more than a funding source for state and local initiatives. They’re an opportunity to learn from and support one another, and they help the association in the collective struggle for professional dignity and respect and in the fight for what is best for our children. NEA CBMA is currently accepting applications. Deadline to submit is November 15, 2019. For more information, visit nea.org/scba-grants.





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Chicago Reaches Tentative Deal With School Support Staff, But Not With Teachers Union



Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said Sunday night that the city has reached a tentative deal with striking public school support staff, but that there is no agreement with the teachers union.

The lack of a deal between Chicago Public Schools and the Chicago Teachers Union led to the cancellation of classes on Monday, making this walkout Chicago’s longest teachers strike in more than 30 years. More than 300,000 students will have missed eight days of school on Monday due to the strike, which is now entering its third week.

Lightfoot and schools CEO Janice Jackson said at a news conference Sunday that the city had reached a tentative agreement with SEIU Local 73, the union representing 7,500 school support staff who had been striking alongside CTU members. School support staff include bus aides, special education aides, custodial workers and security officers.

The tentative agreement with SEIU reportedly includes a 16% pay increase; more dollars an hour extra for bus aides, security and custodians after a certain number of years; more input from bus aides on routes; and better working conditions for special education aides, according to Chalkbeat Chicago.

“This is a victory for working people in Chicago and shows what is possible when we unite and take action,” SEIU Local 73 President Dian Palmer said in a statement. “The lowest paid support workers who are the backbone of our schools are going to see raises that mean their families won’t have to struggle living in an expensive city where costs keep going up.”

The support staff union’s bargaining team still needs to review and finalize the deal before the contract would end the strike. Palmer said that SEIU will be “on picket lines in solidarity” with CTU on Monday.

At her press conference, Lightfoot expressed frustration at the union’s failure to agree to her proposals. The mayor said she offered average teacher pay rising to $100,000 over the contract’s duration; no health insurance increases for three years; a full-time nurse and social worker in every school; and compromises on the large class sizes that teachers have been dealing with.

“This is by any estimation an incredible offer. Despite all of this, the CTU has not accepted it,” Lightfoot said. “We are enormously disappointed that CTU simply cannot take yes for an answer.”

The union responded to Lightfoot’s complaints on Twitter, stressing that it took Jackson 10 months and a strike to come to the bargaining table, and alleging that the mayor is pretending there isn’t enough money to fund the union’s demands. The union has asked for smaller class sizes, better pay and benefits, fully staffed support systems and restorative justice programs for students.

“Let’s just cut through the spin from City Hall and get to it: The money our schools need is there. The mayor isn’t bailing out CPS. She’s raiding her CPS piggy bank to avoid taxing the wealthy donors who put her in office,” the union tweeted.

CTU said that negotiations are now down to “some of the most important and thorny issues,” like pay for veteran teachers, salary increases for paraprofessionals and prep time. The union said that there’s a $38 million total in cost difference between its proposals and the district’s proposals, which it said amounts to about half of 1% of the annual CPS budget.

The city has pushed back against the notion that the cost difference is $38 million, alleging the union is asking for closer to $100 million in changes.

“She’s shifting nearly $100 million out of the Chicago Public Schools budget ― money that should go to students and classrooms ― and using it to plug the budget hole for the city,” CTU tweeted, citing the $60 million in a pension cost shift and the $33 million increase for the police department cited in Lightfoot’s new city budget proposal.

“A fraction of 1 percent of the annual CPS budget stands between us and an agreement. A number of demands would cost the district virtually nothing,” the union continued. “At this point, everyone is suffering but the person who could actually make a difference: the mayor.”

CTU got a positive boost of national spotlight over the weekend when Chicago native Chance the Rapper sported a CTU sweatshirt while hosting “Saturday Night Live.” The rapper said he fully supports the teachers union in their negotiations and mentioned that he donated $1 million last year to Chicago’s public schools.





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Felicity Huffman Released From Prison Three Days Early



Actor Felicity Huffman was released from federal prison on Friday after 11 days of a 14-day sentence for her role in a massive college admissions scandal.

The 56-year-old actor was set to be released Sunday from the Federal Correctional Institution, Dublin, a low-security facility for women near San Francisco. 

Instead, Huffman was released Friday morning, which Inside Edition said is prison policy for inmates who are scheduled to be released on weekend days.

Huffman pleaded guilty to honest services fraud in May in connection with a massive college admissions scandal that involved more than 30 parents including fellow actress Lori Loughlin.

Huffman admitted paying someone $15,000 to take the SATs for her daughter and earn a higher score.

Besides the jail time, Huffman will have to pay a $30,000 fine and perform 250 hours of community service, according to NBC News. 

Both Huffman’s husband, actor William H. Macy, and their daughter visited the actress during her short prison stint.



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Betsy DeVos Held In Contempt For Violating Order On Student Loans



Education Secretary Betsy DeVos was held in contempt of court by a federal judge on Thursday and ordered to pay a $100,000 fine after wrongly trying to collect on student loans taken out to attend a chain of now-shuttered for-profit colleges.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Sallie Kim wrote in her order that there was “no question” that DeVos’ Education Department “harmed individual borrowers who were forced to repay loans either through voluntary actions or involuntary methods.”

Around 16,000 people were affected by the department’s continued efforts to collect on the loans, even after the judge ordered it to stop. Of those, 1,808 faced wage garnishment or offsets from their tax refunds, and 847 saw their credit scores negatively impacted. The borrowers have since been reimbursed, according to the department.

Kim wrote that “the evidence shows” the department made “only minimal efforts to comply with the preliminary injunction.” 

The judge had ordered DeVos’ Education Department to stop collecting on the loans in May 2018. After discovering her order had not been followed, Kim issued a sharp rebuke of the department earlier this month.

“I’m not sending anyone to jail yet, but it’s good to know I have that ability,” the judge said at the time, Politico reported.

It is extremely rare for a court to hold a Cabinet secretary in contempt of court, and DeVos is facing fresh calls for her resignation over the issue. 

Because DeVos is named in the lawsuit in her official capacity as education secretary, the billionaire school-choice activist will not be personally responsible for paying the fine. The $100,000 will go toward debt relief promised to former students of Corinthian Colleges, who former President Barack Obama’s administration found were defrauded by the company.

Corinthian Colleges, which closed in 2015, was found to have inflated job-placement rates of graduates by counting students who were employed prior to enrollment as successfully placed, and by paying temporary employment agencies to hire graduates. 

“We’re disappointed in the court’s ruling,” the Education Department said in a tweet. “We acknowledged that servicers made unacceptable mistakes.”





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Why I Dropped Out Of An Ivy League College Just 3 Weeks Into Freshman Year



At the end of August, I packed my bags and said goodbye to the University of Pennsylvania after having moved into my new dorm as a first-year student only a couple weeks prior. I came home to Medford, Massachusetts, to shocked family and friends, everyone wondering where I had gone wrong, including myself.

I immigrated to the United States from China at the age of 6 with my mother and a much older brother more than a decade ago, with the primary purpose of me having access to an American education and job opportunities. From kindergarten through 12th grade, I buried my head in textbooks and homework, constantly working to be the best student I could be. My elementary and middle school teachers called me “exceptionally bright.” My high school teachers told my mother that I had a promising future. I was ranked number four in my class of more than 300 students; I was the president of the biggest community service program at the school; I had an amazing SAT score.

I was the “model minority.” Here and in China, I have always been the success story that my mother’s friends told their children. “You should be like Jenny,” they said, “she gets good grades and will go to a good college and will get a good job and will make lots of money.” That is the Chinese definition of success. So when I was accepted on a full scholarship to the University of Pennsylvania last December, everyone thought that it couldn’t get any better for me. 

But what people saw was an illusion that couldn’t be further from reality. Many nights were sleepless and when I did have time to sleep, I needed medication to help with insomnia. I was not the only one. I saw the cloud of pressure about grades and college loom over others, particularly within the top students in our grade, many of whom I am close with. I believe it is that pressure that has driven students like me to become as academically successful as we are, but it is also a pressure that constantly overwhelms us. It comes from the parents, the system and within ourselves as well.

I knew deep down that I was only following the path designated to me through expectations. I was following the promise of fortune and success as defined by my parents.

After being accepted into university, I put on a facade and submitted to the hype and excitement that others felt for me. Inside, however, the coming fall filled me with a sense of dread because I knew deep down that I was only following the path designated to me through expectations. I was following the promise of fortune and success as defined by my parents. Although I wasn’t sure what my own path and dreams were, I knew I would never find out if I kept following somebody else’s.

It seems like we have become so desensitized as a society that the depression and exhaustion that students face is treated as something that is completely normal. As the college application process becomes increasingly competitive, parents place more pressure on their children to work harder with the goal of getting into an elite school.

I believe that this is especially prevalent in Chinese and Asian families. When I scored lower than expected on my first SAT exam, my family pushed me to take an intensive course to improve my score. Hiring tutors is very common among our family friends and in Chinese households in general — not just for the SATs but for homework, essay writing, college interview prepping and just about anything else that could help their children get ahead. Looking outside of my bubble, I felt a pang of jealousy seeing how lenient non-Asian families and parents were with their children’s education. Pressures surrounding school and college exist within every culture, but it feels like it’s particularly extreme in many Asian families.

I never communicated the pressure and stress that I felt. Mental health was not recognized or discussed in my household. In fact, I’m not even sure how to say “mental health” in Chinese. I was conditioned to internalize these types of emotions, to deal with them alone. The problem is that these struggles are not dealt with. They are bottled up, and many of my Asian American friends have confessed the same. 

I’m not even sure how to say ‘mental health’ in Chinese. I was conditioned to internalize these types of emotions, to deal with them alone.

It took me being physically at Penn — there in the dorm, in classes and on campus — to really know that it was not for me. As I went through the motions of the first few days of classes and navigated through dining halls, recreational spaces, and even the city of Philadelphia, I couldn’t picture myself there for another day, let alone the next four years. With my state of mind at an all time low, I made the decision to leave with the help of my academic advisor at the university, who supported me and gave me the courage to tell my mother the truth. The three of us had a meeting where, for the first time in many years, my mom and I communicated how we felt.

I told my mom that I wasn’t going to be happy or fulfilled at Penn, and that I needed a break from the pressures of academia. She told me that as an immigrant, this path that she pushed me to stay on was the only one that she has known, and that she only wanted the best for me. With the help of my advisor, my mom opened up to the possibilities outside of the Ivy League, whether it meant a different school, a gap year or something else. It was a hard, emotional conversation, but it reassured me that beneath my mom’s expectations lie love and good intentions. Knowing that I had my mother’s support even in her disappointment drove me to keep moving forward despite this setback. 

In the weeks that I have been at home, I have been working, volunteering, spending time with people I love, and doing some serious reevaluating of where I want to be and what I would like to do. There are no clear answers to either question yet, though I do know now where I don’t want to be and what I don’t want to do. More importantly, I no longer feel an extreme sense of urgency to have it “all figured out.”

This is not to say that I have no ambition. I will be applying to university again, either for spring or fall of next year, but this time will be different. Though it might not be from one of my family’s first choice schools, I know that I will graduate in a field that I enjoy, and make my family proud nonetheless. I want students to know that whether you are applying to schools or feel unhappy at your current one, you are never stuck with only one option. And if you have no idea if college is for you or what career you’d like to pursue, take a break.

I know I made the right decision for me. I am only 18 years old. I have enough time. 

Have a compelling first-person story or experience you want to share? Send your story description to pitch@huffpost.com.



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Parenting Book Author Gets Prison For U.S. College Admissions Scam



BOSTON, Oct 23 (Reuters) – A marketing executive who authored a parenting advice book was sentenced on Wednesday to three weeks in prison for taking part in a vast U.S. college admissions cheating and fraud scheme in order to help her son gain an unfair advantage.

Jane Buckingham, 51, received less than the six-month prison term that federal prosecutors in Boston sought after she admitted to paying $50,000 to have a corrupt test proctor secretly take the ACT college entrance exam on her son’s behalf.

U.S. District Judge Indira Talwani rejected a request by defense lawyers to sentence the author of “The Modern Girl’sGuide to Motherhood” to probation after noting other wealthy parents also received prison time for their roles in the scheme.

“It’s a serious crime,” said Talwani, who also ordered Buckingham to pay a $40,000 fine.

Buckingham is among 52 people charged with participating in a scheme in which wealthy parents conspired with a California college admissions consultant to use bribery and other forms of fraud to secure the admission of their children to top schools.

William “Rick” Singer, the consultant, pleaded guilty inMarch to charges he facilitated cheating on college entrance exams and helped bribe sports coaches at universities to present his clients’ children as fake athletic recruits.

The 35 parents charged since March include “DesperateHousewives” star Felicity Huffman, who last week began serving a14-day prison term after pleading guilty, and “Full House” star Lori Loughlin, who is fighting the charges.

Prosecutors said Buckingham, the founder of a successful marking firm in California, in 2018 paid Singer $50,000 to have an associate take the ACT entrance exam in place of her son in order to inflate the score.

The associate was Mark Riddell, a counselor at a Florida private school who has pleaded guilty to taking SAT and ACT college entrance exams in place of Singer’s clients’ children or correcting their answers while acting as a test proctor.

In court, Buckingham apologized for her conduct, saying”nothing will ever make up for what I’ve done.”

“I really want to apologize to the families and children who didn’t have the advantages we did,” she said. “It was wrong, and it was unfair.”



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