Former Pimco Chief To Plead Guilty In College Admissions Scandal

BOSTON (Reuters) – Douglas Hodge, the former chief executive of the investment firm Pimco, has agreed to plead guilty to participating in what prosecutors say is the largest college admissions scam uncovered in the United States, according to a court filing on Thursday.

Hodge is scheduled to appear in federal court in Boston on Monday to enter the plea after being charged with engaging in a bribery scheme in order to facilitate the admission of two of his children to the University of Southern California as fake athletic recruits.

The specific counts to which Hodge will plead were not clear. He was previously indicted on charges of conspiring to commit fraud and money laundering. Brien O’Connor, a lawyer for Hodge, declined to comment.

Hodge was CEO of Pimco, the world’s largest bond manager, from 2014 to 2016.

Hodge is among 52 people charged with participating in a vast 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 in March 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 in the investigation include executives and celebrities, such as “Desperate Housewives” star Felicity Huffman and “Full House” actress Lori Loughlin.

Huffman reported to prison on Tuesday after she admitted to engaging in the college exam cheating scheme and was sentenced to a 14-day term. Loughlin has pleaded not guilty.

Prosecutors alleged that beginning in 2012, Hodge agreed to pay Singer $200,000 to facilitate through bribery his daughter’s admission to USC as a purported soccer recruit.

He later agreed to pay Singer another $325,000, beginning in 2014, to similarly facilitate his son’s admission to USC as a football recruit using falsified athletic profiles.

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School District Rescinds Transgender Inclusive Bathroom Policy Amid Death Threats

A Georgia school district has reversed course on its transgender inclusive bathroom policy after administrators say they received death threats over the new guidelines. 

The Pickens County School District cited “many serious safety concerns” in a Wednesday statement that explained its decision to stop permitting trans students to use facilities that aligned with their gender identity.  

Transgender students in the district, which is located about 60 miles north of Atlanta, will now be allowed to use single-stall private bathrooms formerly reserved for teachers and other staff. 

“There have been death threats, student harassment, and vandalism of school property,” school officials wrote in the statement. “The District understands and acknowledges that it has the responsibility to protect its staff and students. However, the District has concerns that it may not be able to meet these recently increased demands.”

The announcement came two days after a heated school board meeting about the bathroom policy reportedly drew almost 600 people, a sizable showing given that Pickens County has just over 30,000 residents.

Those who spoke out during the three-hour meeting were fiercely divided on the issue.

“I would never in my life use a restroom in which a female is in,” Nathan Barfield, a father of two, told WXIA, an Atlanta-based NBC affiliate. “No person’s rights are more important than anyone else. My son has a huge heart and he doesn’t want to say anything for fear that he is going to be labeled a bully.”

Kayla Hollyfield, however, felt differently.

“You should be able to use any restroom that you want to use,” she said. “This is not about left or right. It’s about equal rights. It’s not an agenda.”

The Pickens County School District began allowing trans students to use bathrooms that aligned with their gender identity at the start of this school year. 

The policy, Superintendent Carlton Wilson has said, was implemented after a federal court ruled in 2018 that 16-year-old Drew Adams, who is transgender, should be allowed to use the men’s room at his school in St. Johns County, Florida. 

The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which decided the case, also has jurisdiction over Georgia and Alabama. St. Johns County, however, has since appealed that ruling. According to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the appeal hearing is scheduled for December.

Wilson told WSB-TV that he was disappointed by the anti-LGBTQ sentiment that was expressed by many parents at Monday’s meeting. 

“The way some called names has been embarrassing and disappointing to me, and that’s hard to get over,” he said. “They’re kids. They are all kids and none deserved to be treated the way some of them have been treated.” 

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Trump Administration Rule May Mean 1 Million Kids Lose Automatic Free Lunch

NEW YORK (AP) — Nearly a million children could lose their automatic eligibility for free school lunches under a Trump administration proposal that would reduce the number of people who get food stamps.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has released an analysis that says as many as 982,000 children could be affected by the change. About half would have to pay a reduced price of 40 cents for school lunch and 30 cents for breakfast. Around 40,000 would need to pay the full price, which varies depending on the district.

The rest — 445,000 — would remain eligible for free meals, but their families would have to apply to qualify. 

Children automatically qualify for free lunches if their families receive food stamps, but the Trump administration has proposed tightening eligibility for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, which was once known as food stamps. The USDA is not proposing changes to the income rules for the program. It says it is addressing a loophole that gives eligibility to people who would not have otherwise qualified.

The agency said the vast majority of affected children would still be eligible for either free or reduced-price meals.

But Lisa Davis of the advocacy group No Kid Hungry said the application to qualify could be a barrier.

“We hear from schools all the time about the challenge they have with getting families to understand the paperwork or to get it back,” Davis said.

The National School Lunch Program serves roughly 30 million students, including about 20 million free meals daily. For those who don’t qualify for free or reduced price meals, the average price of lunch was $2.48 for elementary school students in the 2016-17 school year, according to the School Nutrition Association, which represents cafeteria employees and vendors.

The group says about three-quarters of school districts have students with unpaid meal charges.

The prevalence of school lunch debt shows even small amounts of money can add up over time and become a burden to struggling families, said Giridhar Mallya, senior policy officer at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Earlier this year, a Rhode Island district at the center of a controversy around “lunch shaming ” — singling out students who owe lunch money — said $12,000 of its $77,000 in unpaid meal charges were owed by children who qualified for free lunches. The district said the charges were incurred before the families’ applications were approved.

In details released late Monday, the USDA said its proposal could cut $90 million a year from the cost of its school lunch and breakfast programs, which last year was more than $18 billion. It noted the actual number of children who could lose automatic access to free lunch could be less, since some schools offer free lunches to all students regardless of their eligibility.

But those schools do so under a program that requires 40% of students to be eligible for free meals, and the rule change could mean some schools no longer meet that threshold, Mallya said.

The USDA released the details of its analysis after it was criticized for failing to report the impact its SNAP rule change could have on children’s access to free school meals. The agency has said the change is intended to make eligibility rules more consistent across the country, since states can grant people eligibility if they were enrolled in other assistance programs.

The USDA said it would reopen the public comment period on the rule for two weeks to allow feedback on the estimated impact to school meals.

The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

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Chicago Teachers Are Going On Strike

About 25,000 Chicago teachers are officially going on strike, the union announced Wednesday evening, after months of failed negotiations with the city and district. 

The district is the third-largest in the country and serves about 300,000 students. Chicago Public Schools CEO Janice Jackson canceled school hours in advance of the announcement, though buildings will stay open to provide meals and safe places for students. The district has developed a contingency plan in which students will be supervised by non-unionized staff, although there will be no academic instruction or after-school programming. The district’s over 100 charter schools will continue to operate as scheduled. 

Hundreds of teachers and supporters march in Chicago on Monday, days before the teachers union was set to go on strike if a contract settlement was not reached.

The strike is the latest in a wave of teacher protests that have been sweeping the nation since 2018. But in many ways, this strike is a continuation of what Chicago teachers started in 2012, when they went on strike for seven days after making a range of demands that pushed back on education reform efforts and sought to improve conditions for vulnerable students. 

This time, Chicago teachers are primarily pushing for lower class sizes and increases in the numbers of special education teachers, nurses and social workers. By Wednesday, the two sides had not been able to reach an agreement. 

The city’s latest proposal involved investing $1 million to decrease classroom overcrowding, but union leaders said the amount fell far too short. The city’s offer also failed to include language on enforcing class size caps ― a sticking point for CTU.

The city offered $2 million over five years to expand the pipeline of support staff, such as nurses and social workers. CTU referred to the amount offered in the proposal as “laughable.” 

On the issue of pay, the city has offered a 16% raise over five years. Union leaders said they want a raise over three years. 

But the union is also fighting to improve broader conditions outside the classroom. Affordable housing has become a sticking point, with teachers fighting for city funding for more affordable housing units and support for new teachers. They are also pushing for new in-school support staff to work with homeless families and those who are in danger of losing housing, with the union estimating that 17,000 district students are homeless.  

The city’s new mayor, Lori Lightfoot, has pushed back on such demands, saying the teachers’ contract “is not the appropriate place for the city to legislate its affordable housing policy,” according to the Chicago Tribune. She has also questioned whether the union was bargaining in good faith, suggesting that they seemed to be putting more effort into preparing for a strike than in negotiating. 

Teachers’ demands are simply too expensive, Lightfoot has said, especially for a city facing a budget shortfall. 

“I also must be responsible for the taxpayers who pay for everything that goes on,” said Lightfoot, according to the Chicago Sun-Times

CTU leaders have framed the fight as one of social and racial justice for their students and larger communities, building on their tactics from 2012. 

“It should be expected to have a social worker and nurse in a school community. [Lightfoot] mocked us when we talked about the 20,000 homeless students in the system,” CTU Vice President Stacy Davis Gates told HuffPost. “The CPS has a history of segregation, and it has a history of inequity.”

A point of particular frustration, according to union leaders, is that Lightfoot ― who was inaugurated in March, campaigned on promises that align with the teachers’ demands. 

I just don’t know why we’re fighting over something we agree on. It defies logic and good sense,” Davis Gates said.

Thousands of striking Los Angeles Unified teachers gather in front of Los Angeles City Hall on Jan. 22.

Thousands of striking Los Angeles Unified teachers gather in front of Los Angeles City Hall on Jan. 22.

Teachers came close to striking with park workers who belong to Service Employees International Union Local 73. However, at the last minute, the union reached a deal with the city. This same union also represents more than 7,000 school support staff employees, who also plan to go on strike. 

The Chicago Teachers Union has been cited as an inspiration for the recent wave of teacher protests since its strike in 2012, which framed negotiations as a matter of social and racial justice. Since then, teachers striking in other places, like West Virginia and Los Angeles, have applied the same model. 

“I think you’re seeing the movement building here that at its core is a fight for justice. Because teachers want what students need,” Randi Weingarten, president of the national American Federation of Teachers, told HuffPost on Wednesday. 

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Chicago Teachers Are About To Go On Strike. Their Goals Are Radical.

Chicago teachers are set to strike Thursday, after months of failed negotiations with the city. Teachers are primarily fighting for more support staff in schools, smaller class sizes and increased pay. 

If no deal is made by Thursday, about 25,000 teachers will go on strike in the nation’s third largest district, impacting about 300,000 students. Another union, Service Employees International Union Local 73, which represents park workers and school support staff, may also strike on Thursday, adding an additional 10,000 people to the picket lines. By Wednesday morning, Chicago Public Schools CEO Janice Jackson had already announced that schools will be closed on Thursday, though buildings will stay open to provide a place of safety and meals, albeit without instruction. 

This strike is more than just the latest example in a wave of teacher strikes. Experts credit the Chicago Teachers Union with creating the playbook that has driven educator protests around the country, from West Virginia to Los Angeles. Now, with their latest action, these teachers are expected to advance the movement they helped to create.

In 2012, for the first time in 25 years, Chicago teachers went on strike for seven days. At the heart of the strike were issues of racial justice and controversial reforms pushed by then-mayor Rahm Emmanuel. Teachers, led by a group of progressive educators within the union, fought against evaluations tied to student test scores and the effects of school closures.

Their demands weren’t just about making life better for teachers; partnering with community groups and creating a long-term vision to uplift vulnerable student populations was central to their efforts. During negotiations, leaders released a detailed, and since updated, document outlining hopes for a dramatic transformation of district schools and calling for a more diverse teacher workforce and school desegregation. 

“It named racism openly, describing Chicago as an apartheid system of education. No urban teachers union had been willing to do that,” said Lois Weiner, an independent researcher and consultant who has studied teachers unions.

In the end, the district and teachers came to an agreement that would still tie teacher evaluations to student test scores, but to a lesser degree than initially proposed. Teachers also secured increased protections for those who could lose their jobs through school closures

“They reinvigorated the idea of a social democratic alternative to neoliberalism in making sure some of the poorest kids in the city had access to some of the materials they needed — which is still part of this fight — and taking on racism,” said Jon Shelton, associate professor of democracy and justice studies at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay.

This time around, teachers are building on that legacy. Negotiations are based on fights to lower the cap on class sizes; to increase the number of special education teachers and support staff positions like nurses and social workers; to increase teacher pay; and ensure teacher autonomy over prep time. Teachers also want to address affordable housing issues in their new contract, pushing for in-school support staff to work with homeless families, and a financial program to help teachers buy homes. 

While CTU has been a pioneer in terms of using contract negotiations to fight for students, this strike is geared more toward the community, said David Stieber, who has taught in Chicago schools for 13 years.

“CTU has been one of the unions at the forefront of realizing that to get change, you need to advocate for things that are going to benefit everybody,” Stieber said. “It’s realizing that debating only pay and benefits does not help out everybody.”

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot has said that meeting teachers’ demands would simply be too expensive for the district, creating financial peril in a city that already faces a huge budget gap. She has also accused the union of failing to negotiate in good faith and putting more effort into preparing for a strike than coming to a solution. She has said a teachers’ contract is “not the appropriate place for the city to legislate its affordable housing policy,” according to the Chicago Tribune. 

Still, a recent poll from the Chicago Sun-Times and ABC7 found that about 49% of residents support a strike and only 38% oppose it. Respondents also said they were more likely to blame the city — instead of teachers — for the strike.

Though the union theoretically has more in common with Mayor Lightfoot, who took office in May, than with Emanuel, CTU Vice President Stacy Davis Gates says negotiations feel just as fraught.

“Here’s what I have learned from the systems in place. They’re governed by white supremacy,” Gates told HuffPost. “We have a school district that is 90% children of color, we have immigrant children in our system ― why on earth would it be difficult to enshrine class size protections and make sure there’s a nurse in every school?”

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Felicity Huffman Reports To Prison For Sentence In College Bribery Scandal

Actress Felicity Huffman reported to federal prison on Tuesday to begin a 14-day sentence for her role in the massive college admissions scandal that swept across top-tier universities earlier this year.

The “Desperate Housewives” star is the first of more than 30 parents charged in the scheme to begin serving time.

“Ms. Huffman is prepared to serve the term of imprisonment Judge Talwani ordered as one part of the punishment she imposed for Ms. Huffman’s actions,” a statement from her representative said. “She will begin serving the remainder of the sentence Judge Talwani imposed ― one year of supervised release, with conditions including 250 hours of community service ― when she is released.”

Huffman will serve her time at the Federal Correctional Institution, Dublin, a low-security facility for women about 40 miles east of San Francisco. She’ll also have to pay a $30,000 fine. 

Huffman, one of the highest-profile parents involved in the scheme, pleaded guilty to honest services fraud in May for paying someone $15,000 to impersonate her daughter and take the SATs in her place, earning her daughter a much higher score than she did on the preliminary exam.

“I am deeply ashamed of what I have done,” Huffman told Judge Indira Talwani last month. “At the end of the day I had a choice to make. I could have said, ‘no.’”

The onetime Oscar nominee’s remorse contrasts with the position of another celebrity charged in the case, actress Lori Loughlin. The “Fuller House” star, alongside her husband, in April rejected a plea deal and is preparing for trial on charges of paying a half-million dollars for a third party to get her daughters into the prestigious University of Southern California. 

Other parents headed for prison for roles in the scandal, known as “Operation Varsity Blues,” include a Napa Valley vineyard owner sentenced to serve five months, and two others each were sentenced to four months. 

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California Becomes First U.S. State To Mandate Later School Start Times

Some California schoolchildren will soon get to sleep later in the mornings, thanks to legislation signed into law on Sunday by Gov. Gavin Newsom that mandates later start times at most public schools.

The new law, which acknowledges research showing that teens perform better when they start later than schools now typically begin, will make California the first U.S. state with this requirement once the law is fully implemented, the Los Angeles Times noted.

Impacted schools will need to begin the new start times — 8 a.m. or later for middle schools and 8.30 a.m. or later for high schools — by July 1, 2022, or the date of expiry of the school’s three-year collective bargaining agreement with its employees, whichever is later.

Most of California’s public schools will need to delay their start times under the new law, according to a legislative analysis prepared this year. About 50% will need to increase their start times by 30 minutes or less; while 25% of schools will need to push it back by 31 to 60 minutes, the analysis said.

So-called “zero periods,” or classes offered before the start of a regular school day, will not be impacted by the legislation. Rural school districts are also exempt from the law.

Newsom, a Democrat, said schools are being given ample time to adjust to the new timings, which he said are aimed at benefiting California’s teens.

“The science shows that teenage students who start their day later increase their academic performance, attendance, and overall health,” Newsom said in a statement. “Importantly, the law allows three years for schools and school districts to plan and implement these changes.

Some medical associations, including the American Academy of Pediatrics and the California Medical Association, supported the bill.

Describing insufficient sleep among adolescents as a public health issue, the pediatricians’ group told the LA Times that it “endorses the scientific rationale for later school start times and acknowledges the potential benefits to students with regard to physical and mental health, safety and academic achievement.” 

Not everyone agreed, however.

A similar bill was vetoed last year by former Gov. Jerry Brown (D), who said decisions about when schools start are “best handled in the local community.”

Opponents of the measure, including the California Teachers Association and some school districts, have echoed similar concerns. 

“Adolescents function better with more sleep, but we don’t believe that starting school later is the only path forward,” Seth Bramble, legislative advocate for the CTA, said in a letter to lawmakers last month, according to the Sacramento Bee. “A mandatory statewide school start time would be an onerous, overreaching mandate on an issue best left to local districts and their parents. The one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t work in California.” 

Some critics have also warned that some families, especially working class families, could be particularly hard-hit by the bill.

“While well-intentioned, proposals to mandate school start times fail to take into account the complexity of the issue and perpetuate the illusion that adolescent sleep deprivation has a simple fix,” two San Jose school superintendents, Chris Funk and Nancy Albarrán, wrote in a op-ed for EdSource earlier this month. 

“Many students are dropped off in the morning by parents headed to work well before the current start time. Mandating that all districts delay the school start time will not change this reality. It would, however, result in students getting out of bed at the same time they do now and being on campus unsupervised for a longer period,” the superintendents said.

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WeWork Is Closing Its Private School In New York City After This Year

WeWork informed parents on Friday that it would no longer operate its private school in Manhattan after the 2019-20 school year, HuffPost has learned.

WeWork will continue to operate WeGrow through the remainder of the 2019-2020 school year, providing a quality education and classroom experience for all students,” a WeWork spokesperson said in a statement. “As part of the company’s efforts to focus on its core business, WeWork has informed the families of WeGrow students that we will not operate WeGrow after this school year.”

“WeWork and the families of WeGrow students are engaging in discussions with interested parties regarding plans for WeGrow for the following school year,” the spokesperson added.

The small New York City private school has been open since 2018 and costs between $22,000 and $42,000 a year in tuition, depending on the age of the student. Its website calls it a “conscious entrepreneurial school,” offering students mentorship from WeWork employees, weekly trips to a farm, daily meditation and yoga, while preaching lofty goals about nurturing students’ souls.

HuffPost spoke with several people close to the school in the past few weeks to get a better sense of the institution. They described a school that is run like the company of WeWork, subject to constant changes or “disruption,” sometimes without full consideration for the children these changes impact. However, they also described an idealistic learning space, where children for the most part seem to be happy and thriving. According to one former employee, the company recently redesigned part of the school, which they speculated cost up to several million dollars (a spokesperson for WeWork did not respond to questions about this).

The school is a casualty of the company’s new efforts to downsize after the implosion of its planned public offering and a staggering reduction in its valuation. The past few weeks have been chaotic for the company, which rents out shared workspaces to businesses and entrepreneurs. Its CEO and co-founder Adam Neumann stepped down and there are rumors of mass layoffs that could impact thousands of employees.

Amid the chaos, WeGrow parents wondered whether the school would even make it through the year, lining up backup options in case of an abrupt shuttering.

The school was the brainchild of WeWork co-founder and chief brand and impact officer Rebekah Neumann, who served as the school’s CEO before stepping down from her roles at the company with her husband, Adam. Indeed, WeGrow mimicked WeWork, as the school’s day to day was sometimes rejiggered on short notice, which could be incompatible with the needs of children, sources said.

The WeWork spokesperson did not comment on this characterization of school life at WeGrow. A representative for the Neumanns did not immediately have comment.

But by its second year, the school’s enrollment had grown to about 100 students, including a number of children whose parents worked for the company. In 2018, Rebekah Neumann called the school ― and the ability to bring company employees closer to their children ― part of WeWork’s core goals, according to CNN.

“We want to make a world where people can work to make a life and not just a living, but that’s part of a larger, more holistic mission to elevate the world’s consciousness, to create a world where people are happy and fulfilled and living in a sharing state,” she said.

Indeed, the school employs staffers with titles like “creative expressions manager” and “manager of wisdom cultures.”

In recent weeks, teachers have worked to shield kids from the disarray enveloping the larger company, according to a WeGrow parent. This parent praised the school for nurturing children’s social-emotional development, as opposed to perpetuating a rat race focused on test scores and achievement, and worries that the school’s true successes ― its focus on mindfulness and community building ― will be overshadowed by schadenfreude over WeWork’s shortcomings.

The school ― like WeWork spaces ― emphasizes design, and is complete with “modular classrooms, tree houses and a vertical farm,” per the school’s website.

WeGrow is one of WeWork’s auxiliary offerings. The company also rents out furnished apartments and has a gym.

Rebekah Neumann appears to have had high ambitions for the institution, previously telling CNN that she hoped a WeGrow would operate in every city where there’s a WeWork office.

“It will eventually be able to sustain independently for sure,” she said at the time.

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Officers Arrest Texas Student For Bringing Loaded Gun To Middle School

Police arrested a middle school student Thursday in San Antonio, Texas, after classmates discovered the child brought a loaded gun to school.

Several students at Bradley Middle School told the front office Thursday at about 8:30 a.m. that another student may be carrying a weapon on campus, according to a letter to parents from Principal Brenda Cerroni that was obtained by HuffPost. School officials removed the student from class and found a gun in his pocket.

Police with the North East Independent School District arrested the student, who Cerroni wrote “will face serious disciplinary consequences.” North East’s police officers ― or “peace officers” ― are trained police who are licensed to arrest individuals violating local, state and federal laws on campus.

“We applaud the students who came forward and alerted the school,” the principal wrote. “We are treating this situation with the seriousness it deserves, and we will not tolerate any inappropriate items at our school. Please take a moment to talk with your child about the importance of talking to an adult or reporting anything they believe is inappropriate.”

It’s unclear if the student is currently in custody and how he obtained the gun. The letter did not mention the student’s name or age, but used male pronouns to reference him. The firearm was a loaded 9 mm gun, according to WOAI-TV

Thursday’s arrest came less than a month after five children in Texas were shot in four separate incidents over one weekend. Those shootings highlighted the state’s already existing gun violence problem, specifically with youth. Texas leads the nation in unintentional shootings by children, according to a report by the Houston Chronicle. Almost 200,000 children in Texas live in homes with unlocked, loaded guns, the Brady Campaign reported

Data from gun violence prevention group Everytown for Gun Safety shows that Texas had 25 unintentional shootings involving children who found a loaded firearm last year. The state had already seen at least 24 such shootings this year with several months remaining, according to Everytown’s #NotAnAccident index, which tracks unintentional shootings nationwide.

As of September, it’s even easier to carry guns in the state’s churches and schools, after Texas lawmakers passed several bills in May that were later signed by Republican Gov. Greg Abbott, who has an “A” rating from the National Rifle Association for supporting gun rights. Those bills loosened the state’s already lax gun laws.

The Texas laws that went into effect last month came after the state experienced two mass shootings within less than a month. A gunman killed 22 people and injured dozens more at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas. Weeks later, another gunman went on a shooting spree in the Texas cities of Midland and Odessa, killing seven and wounding more than 20. The state also experienced two other mass shootings in recent history: at the Sutherland Springs First Baptist Church in 2017 that left 26 dead, and at Santa Fe High School in 2018 that left 10 dead.

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Drexel University Agrees To Pay Back $189,062 In Grant Money Used For Strip Clubs

Drexel University has agreed to pay back $189,062 to the U.S. government after it was discovered a former professor used the funds at various Philadelphia-area strip clubs.

The money in question came from eight federal grants that were supposed to be for research related to energy and naval technology, according to a Department of Justice press release.

Authorities said that for 10 years, Dr. Chikaodinaka D. Nwankpa, the head of Drexel’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, submitted improper charges against the grants for iTunes purchases and for “goods and services” provided by Cheerleaders, Club Risque, and Tacony Club, all described as “gentlemen’s clubs” in the release.

Nwankpa’s alleged improper charges came to light during a 2017 internal audit. Once confronted, he reportedly admitted to the unauthorized expenses, agreed to pay back $53,328 ― less than a third of the overall total ― and resigned his post, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.

A university spokesperson told the paper that officials have cooperated with the investigation. The school has beefed up auditing controls and instituted additional training for faculty and staff.

U.S. Attorney William McSwain called the allegations “an example of flagrant and audacious fraud, and a shameful misuse of public funds.”

He added: “The agencies providing these grant funds expect them to be used towards advancements in energy and naval technology for public benefit, not for personal entertainment.”

Nwankpa spent 27 years teaching in Drexel’s electrical and computer engineering department, and was the department chair from 2015 until he resigned, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.

He was reportedly one of the university’s top attractors of research grant funds, and landed more than $10 million in research money throughout his career, according to his faculty bio.

Although the University settled with the Justice Department on Monday, the settlement did not preclude prosecution of Nwankpa, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

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California Parent Gets 5 Months In Jail For College Admissions Scheme

Former Napa Valley vineyard owner Agustin Huneeus was sentenced to five months in prison Friday for his participation in the elite college admissions bribery scheme.

U.S. District Judge Indira Talwani delivered her harshest sentence yet for a parent involved in the scandal, also handing down a $100,000 fine and 500 hours of community service.

Huneeus was one of dozens of wealthy parents charged earlier this year in a nationwide college admissions scam for allegedly paying bribes to get their kids into elite universities including Yale, Stanford, UCLA and more.

As part of the bribery scheme, which was investigated under the moniker Operation Varsity Blues, wealthy parents allegedly paid to falsely boost their children’s exam scores or to have their children apply as student-athletes even if they had no skills in the relevant sport.

Huneeus was the only parent of the nearly dozen who have pleaded guilty so far who had paid to both fraudulently boost his kid’s exam score and get her into a school as a fake athlete, per a memo from prosecutors to Talwani.

Huneeus pleaded guilty in May and admitted to paying $50,000 to cheat on his daughter’s SAT exam, per court records. He paid another $50,000 in bribes to get her into the University of Southern California as a water polo player. He was set to pay another $200,000 as part of the scheme, but was arrested before the deal was finished. (His daughter was ultimately not admitted.)

Actor Felicity Huffman, who last month became the first parent to be sentenced in the scam, got 14 days in prison, a $30,000 fine and 250 hours of community service. Three other parents sentenced so far were given one to four months in prison for trying to bribe their kids’ way into schools. “Full House” actor Lori Loughlin and her fashion designer husband, Mossimo Giannulli, have also been accused of paying bribes to get their daughter into college, and have pleaded not guilty.

“The outrage in this case is a system that is already so distorted by money and privilege in the first place,” the judge said last month in handing down Huffman’s sentence. “In a system in that context, that you took the step of having one more advantage to put your child ahead.”

Earlier Friday, California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed legislation meant to make the college admissions process more fair in the state. One bill requires colleges to disclose whether they give preferential treatment in admissions to applicants related to donors or alumni. Another bans those found guilty in the admissions scandal from getting tax deductions for donations they made as part of the scheme.

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California Reforms College Admissions Following Bribery Scandal

California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed legislation on Friday requiring colleges to disclose whether they give preferential treatment in admissions to applicants related to donors or alumni.

The bill, authored by Assembly member Phil Ting (D), came in response to the college admissions scandal earlier this year, which revealed that dozens of wealthy people allegedly paid bribes to get their kids into elite universities, including the University of Southern California; the University of California, Los Angeles; Stanford University and more. 

In mid-September, actor Felicity Huffman was sentenced to 14 days in prison for paying $15,000 to have her daughter’s SAT score boosted. She was the first parent to be sentenced in the college admissions scam.

Under the new law, which takes effect in January 2020, public and private four-year colleges in the state would be required to share with legislators whether they give “any manner of preferential treatment” to applicants related to donors or alumni ― a policy known as “legacy admissions” ― and if so, report how many students were admitted under those practices. 

(The University of California system told HuffPost in March that its policies forbid legacy admissions.) 

“The recent college admissions scandal highlights the need for fair and transparent admissions processes, and concern for what is referred to as ‘back door’ admissions for legacy and donor-related applicants who collectively do not reflect the diversity of the state,” the bill reads.

The scheme, which became known as Operation Varsity Blues, involved wealthy parents paying to falsely boost their children’s exam scores or have their children apply as student-athletes even if they had no skills in the relevant sport.

Huffman pleaded guilty in May to having paid $15,000 to fraudulently boost her daughter’s SAT score. “Full House” star Lori Loughlin and her husband Mossimo Giannulli have pleaded not guilty after being charged with paying $500,000 in bribes to get their daughters into USC as recruits on the crew team, though they were not crew athletes. 

The scheme also included dozens of other parents and top universities around the country, including Georgetown and Yale.

Newsom signed two other bills Friday related to Operation Varsity Blues.

One, authored by Sharon Quirk-Silva (D), bans individuals found guilty in the college admissions scheme from taking tax deductions on donations they made to help secure their children enrollment at a particular college.

A second, introduced by Kevin McCarty (D), would prohibit state universities from making admissions exceptions for prospective students who fall short of a school’s academic requirements (such as athletes or other students with special talents) unless three administrators approve.

He also signed a package of bills to increase access to financial aid across California.

After news of the admissions scandal broke, many pointed out that higher education admissions are already rigged to favor wealthy and white students ― even before reaching the point of criminality ― whether in the form of donations to schools or extra tutors, essay coaches and interview prep professionals who help the elite get their kids into Ivy League schools.

Legacy status, in particular, tips the scales heavily in an applicant’s favor ― and disproportionately benefits white students. 

At Harvard University, for instance, legacy applicants were accepted at nearly five times the rate of non-legacies ― with legacy applicants accepted at a rate of nearly 34% from 2009 to 2015, versus a rate of 5.9% for non-legacies in the same period, per NPR. 

“This scandal is just the extreme, the illegal extreme, but it’s in a continuum with legacy admissions … with all these other thumbs on the scale that wealthy kids get that are legal,” Susan Dynarski, professor of economics, education and public policy at the University of Michigan, told HuffPost in March.

“If you look around a college campus and you’re thinking about who got in because of a thumb on the scale, it’s the rich white legacy kids,” she added.

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Do the Right Thing for DACA Educators

Today, in a legal brief filed with the U.S. Supreme Court, the National Education Association urged justices to protect the thousands of educators who rely on a federal immigration policy known as DACA to shield them from fear and deportation.

The Trump Administration’s inhumane termination of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program in 2017 “not only broke the law but, more importantly, threatens to sweep away the dreams and aspirations of hundreds of thousands of our students, educators, and our neighbors,” says NEA President Lily Eskelsen García.

“The result will be disastrous for students and public education,” says Eskelsen García. “Young children will suffer the abrupt departure of trusted teachers to the measurable detriment of educational outcomes, teacher shortages will worsen as thousands of DACA educators lose their status, and immigrant students will lose a lifeline to education mentors. Rescinding DACA will deprive young people of the protection and certainty they deserve.”

Since 2012, when it was introduced, DACA has enabled about 660,000 young people, known as Dreamers, to be sheltered in two-year increments from deportation. These are people who were brought to the U.S. as children—37 percent before age 5—by their parents. With DACA’s protection, they have stepped out of the shadows, getting work permits and Social Security numbers, going to college and living their dreams.

They include Areli Morales, an aspiring teacher who remembers “[feeling] voiceless” in the years before DACA, and Anayeli Marcos, a University of Texas graduate student who plans to work as a counselor or social worker to under-served clients. “[DACA] affects every aspect of my being,” she says.

Justices will hear arguments in the case on November 12, and decide DACA’s fate sometime in 2020. Lower courts in California, New York, and Washington, D.C., already have ruled the Trump administration’s actions were based on faulty legal reasoning, forcing the administration to continue administering DACA renewals.

NEA’s brief joins others from all corners of the country, including one this week from Apple CEO Tim Cook, who argues that his 443 DACA employees bring “stories of adversity [and] achievement” to the massive technology company.

“DHS swept away DACA, together with its recipients’ dreams and their communities’ needs, in one curt memorandum that failed to provide a reasoned explanation for the agency’s drastic change of course,” writes NEA attorneys. “DACA educators, students, and administrators can—and do, here in this brief—attest to the serious reliance interests engendered by DACA, as well as the disastrous results that will ensue if the program is terminated.”

The Voices of DACA Recipients

In NEA’s brief, the stories of students and educators speak directly to justices. California world history teacher Angelica Reyes remembers dreaming of becoming an educator, accumulating more than 1,000 hours of community service as a student—but being blocked in her professional dream until DACA.

“It was heartbreaking that I couldn’t be part of the system I had tried to enrich,” she says.

Morales describes “wanting to be invisible” in her New York City public school classrooms. Today, she works as a substitute teacher, earning her teaching certification. If she can renew her DACA status, her future classroom will “foster acceptance, understanding, and empowerment to educate future generations of children, so they can strive to reach their greatest potential.”

Schools are full of teachers like Reyes and students like Morales. Ousting DACAmented teachers would lead to costly teacher turnover, which is proven to negatively impact student achievement and cost districts money, NEA points out.

From Oakland, California, high school teacher Kateri Simpson describes how DACA gave hope to her students. Without fear of deportation, they can envision working someday in U.S. hospitals or schools as nurses, teachers, and other professionals. They see a path through college. And, with work authorization papers, they can get jobs to pay for tuition. Students “all of a sudden… were able to work for themselves and that was such a powerful thing,” she says.

“The basic sense of human dignity to be able to work for what you want—I don’t think can be underestimated,” says Simpson.

To learn more about Dreamers, visit NEA EdJustice to read their stories and access resources, including information on supporting immigrant students and families.

With their attack on DACA, the Trump administration threatens the academic and economic wellbeing of countless students, families, and communities. Stress has an impact on academics and behaviors, points out Superintendent Matt Utterback, of the North Clackamas School District near Portland, Oregon. His students’ ability to concentrate, as well as “their ability to excel is being hampered because they are worried about their safety…and that of their family members.”

Other educators agree: “The constant uncertainty that our DACA students and our students [and] families without legal status face has caused fear, stress, anxiety, [and] hopelessness,” reports Maile Valu, a Washington State counselor. In Marshalltown, Iowa, this has led to a “lack of ability to focus, more frequent absenteeism, and lesser achievement with coursework and on test performance,” says Superintendent Theron Schutte.

In addition to its legal advocacy, NEA also supports legislative solutions to the immigration crisis, including passage of the DREAM Act, which would open a pathway to citizenship for some Dreamers. (Tell your Senators and Representatives to support the DREAM Act, too!)

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Have Lawmakers Learned Anything From the Great Recession?

In too many states, school districts are still mired in a seemingly endless slog to get back to pre-recession funding levels. Others have seen significant increases over the past 18 months. These improvements have occurred in states, not coincidentally, where educators launched successful protests demanding a greater investment in public education.

Experts caution however that the revenue sources that boosted funding are vulnerable to back-tracking over the next few years, even as the U.S. economy remains on fairly strong ground.

For the time being at least. All of a sudden, everyone’s talking about a downturn in 2020 or even a full-blown recession. If the more pessimistic predictions prove accurate, will lawmakers take our public schools down the same disastrous path of a decade ago – drastic and reckless budget cuts from which the public education system has yet to fully recover?

If so, the consequences for our students will undoubtedly be severe.  According to a new study by the American Educational Research Association (AERA), in those counties hit the hardest by the 2008-09 Great Recession, the ensuing spending cuts led to significant decrease in student achievement. The steepest declines were in districts serving the most economically disadvantaged students.

Co-author Kenneth Shores of Pennsylvania State University acknowledges that the AERA study is hardly the first to establish a link between funding and student performance. The evidence has been piling up for years. As Northwestern economist Kirabo Jackson told Chalkbeat last year, “By and large, the question of whether money matters is essentially settled.”

Researchers know that, and so do educators.  Across the country – particularly in those states that have cut education the deepest – the #RedforEd movement has notched key victories in legislatures previously fixated on reckless budget cuts.

The schools in areas that were hit with the steepest job losses, for example, saw their spending levels decline at a much faster rate – $600 more per pupil per year- for the first two years of the recession.”

And yet, U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos repeatedly calls for deep cuts to programs that serve predominantly lower-income children,. She also champions private school vouchers and for-profit charter schools that siphon off billions of dollars from public schools. (“The notion that spending more money is going to bring about different results is ill-placed and ill-advised,” she told a Senate committee in 2017.) The privatization agenda she has vocally supported for more than decade represents nothing less than a sweeping divestment in public schools.

By analyzing the impact of taking money out of public schools, Shores said in a statement, “we show that divestments in educational spending matter nearly as much for student achievement as do investments,”

For the study, Shores and Matthew Phillip Steinberg of George Mason University poured over data (including student achievement information from the Stanford Education Data Archive and demographic information from the  Department of Education) covering 2,548 counties for school years 2008-09 through 2014-15.

They found that the Great Recession led to an average decline in per pupil revenues of nearly $900 across the nation. But the consequences varied substantially among counties. The schools in areas that were hit with the steepest job losses, for example, saw their spending levels decline at a much faster rate – $600 more per pupil per year- for the first two years of the recession. By contrast, in the years leading up to the collapse, spending levels were only marginally different among the most and least affected counties.

That rapid decline has had long-lasting repercussions, said Shores.

“The first two years of differential declines in school spending were enough to put those hardest hit students at an academic disadvantage, even after spending levels began to increase [in the 2012-13 school year].”

On average, students in grades 3-8 achieved about 25% less than expected in math and English language arts between 2008 and 2015.  These declines were predominantly in districts that served the most low income students and the most African American students.

One surprising finding in the AERA study – one that contradicts existing research – is that the drop in academic outcome triggered by divestment was more pronounced among older, not younger, students. While unsure of the precise reason, the researchers speculated on the impact of layoffs.

“Teacher layoffs were concentrated in older grades,” Steinberg said. “If true, parents with older children would rightfully be concerned that schools’ responses to spending cuts were affecting those students disproportionately.”

While the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 helped curb the damage the Great Recession inflicted upon the nation’s schools, the impact could have been greater, said Steinberg.

“Our findings suggest that greater fiscal support should be targeted to schools that not only serve the most vulnerable student populations but that also are located in communities that are the most vulnerable to the adverse consequences of an economic recession.”

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Virginia Teacher Fired For Misgendering Transgender Student Is Suing Former School

A Virginia teacher who was fired last year after refusing to use a transgender student’s preferred pronouns believes he was a victim of discrimination because of his religious faith. 

Peter Vlaming is seeking $1 million in damages from the West Point School Board in West Point, Virginia, according to a lawsuit filed Monday. Vlaming, who taught French at West Point High School for nearly seven years, alleged in his suit that he “could not violate his conscience” by using a ninth grade transgender student’s preferred male pronouns. 

The Alliance Defending Freedom’s Caleb Dalton, who is representing Vlaming, said in a Monday statement that his client agreed to use the student’s preferred name. Pronouns, however, were a different story. 

“He just didn’t want to be forced to use a pronoun that offends his conscience. That’s entirely reasonable, and it’s his constitutionally protected right,” he added. “Tolerance, after all, is a two-way street.”

Vlaming echoed those sentiments and added in a statement, “I’m saddened that West Point Public Schools wouldn’t work with me to reach a happy situation for everyone on this matter so that we could all continue on with learning in mutual respect.”

Though Vlaming said he opted to avoid using pronouns altogether while referring to the student, a tipping point came during a virtual reality classroom exercise in October 2018. He yelled, “Don’t let her hit the wall!” as the trans student walked in that direction, the lawsuit states.

The student reportedly withdrew from the class shortly afterward. After a meeting with school administrators, Vlaming cited his Christian faith and once again refused to address the student with male pronouns.

“That discrimination then leads to creating a hostile learning environment. And the student had expressed that. The parent had expressed that,” West Point Superintendent Laura Abel told The Associated Press in a 2018 interview. “They felt disrespected.”

On Wednesday, a spokesperson for West Point Public Schools released a statement saying the district “intend(s) to vigorously defend” itself against Vlaming’s claims. 

“The School Board does not intend to comment further on the pending litigation at this time,” the statement continued. 

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Big Meat Is Coming For Your Vegan School Lunch

PORTLAND, Maine — Cafeteria worker Alison Mason held out the options on a typical Friday at East End Community School, an airy elementary school on a hilltop in this coastal city: in one hand, a plate of traditional cheese pizza, in the other, a vegan option with milk-free flatbread, hummus, and sliced raw carrots, cucumber and olives.

Most kids took the pizza, but a few selected the vegan option. They declared it good — and even convinced some of their friends.

Fifth-grader Rahaf Hlail, 10, at first had the pizza, but eyeing a companion’s vegan version, asked for a taste. She said she’d get some for herself next time.

Rahaf, from an observant Muslim family, doesn’t eat non-halal meat, so she’s often looking at vegetarian or vegan options, and she’s excited that her school now has more choices. “On days when there’s a vegan option and an alternative, I get to choose,” she said.

The alternative lunch is usually just a sandwich with sun butter (resembling peanut butter but made from sunflower seeds). The sandwich is typically available every day, but until this year, it was the only vegan option.

Portland, Maine, is among the 14% of school districts across the country that provided vegan lunches for kids in at least one school in 2017, up from 11.5% in 2016, according to the School Nutrition Association, a nonprofit trade group representing school nutritionists and workers.

School districts from Maine to California — including New Bedford, Massachusetts; Lee County, Florida; Oakland, California; Washington, D.C.; and Boulder Valley, Colorado — have started serving vegan lunches, according to Friends of the Earth, an environmental group that tracks alternative school lunch options.

In California, a bill to provide $3 million to school districts across the state to include plant-based options for lunch was whipping through the legislature before being brought up short this year over money and objections from the beef industry.

The school districts that have adopted more vegetarian and vegan meals have received relatively little pushback from parents and residents. But as the California case shows, objections arise when officials try to expand the program statewide or put state money into it — mostly from the beef industry, whose representatives argue meat must be available for nutritional purposes.

Opposition also sometimes comes from state residents skeptical of introducing new and different foods to school lunch, some on the basis that kids won’t eat it.

In Portland, letters to a food columnist in the local paper mocking vegan options mostly were written by Maine residents outside of the district, the columnist reported.

East End Community School is the only one in Portland so far offering vegan meals, but Food Service Director Jane McLucas hopes to expand the program.

“It was a goal for me last year to come up with a way to improve our vegetarian options,” McLucas said. After some research, she decided to go with vegan meals, rather than just more of the vegetarian options already available. Vegan food does not use any animal products, including milk and eggs.

“I decided that I could better serve a community by doing something that encompassed all of my needs — vegetarian, vegan and multiculturalism here in the Portland community.”

Amari Brent, left, and Rahaf Hlail, both fifth-graders at East End Community School in Portland, Maine, check out the vegan pizza, foreground. The school’s cafeteria is the first in Portland to serve a vegan option. About 14% of school cafeterias across the country now serve veggie lunches.

While Portland is overwhelmingly white (84%), pockets of the city encompass many refugees, other immigrants and residents from a variety of backgrounds. At East End Community, the daily announcements include “good morning” in 23 languages, from Arabic to Vietnamese, according to principal Boyd Marley.

The Title I school serves a large low-income population, and its share of students who qualify for free and reduced-price lunches meets Maine’s 40% threshold for all students to get free lunch, Marley said.

The California bill — which was approved by the Assembly and a couple of Senate committees — was stopped in the Senate Appropriations Committee over its $3 million price tag, according to sponsor Assemblyman Adrin Nazarian, a Democrat. The money would have paid for grants of up to $100,000 to participating schools, to cover the costs of training, advertising, creating menus, technical assistance and student engagement efforts.

Nazarian said he’s no vegetarian, but he recognizes the need for children to have a balanced diet that includes less meat and more vegetables.

“In Armenian culture, meat makes up a big part of our cuisine,” said Nazarian, citing his own ethnic background. He said he wants to work with Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, to gain support for the spending, which would allow school districts to choose whether they want to participate in to the program.

A spokeswoman for state Assemblyman Jay Obernolte, a Republican who voted against the measure, said he declined to comment on the bill. Other California lawmakers who opposed the bill did not return calls seeking comment.

A 2016 study by the Harvard School of Public Health reported that for every pound of beef consumed in the United States, 27 pounds of greenhouse gases were produced. By contrast, the report said, production of dry beans produced 2 pounds of greenhouse gases for every pound.

But Justin Oldfield — the vice president for government relations of the California Cattlemen’s Association who testified against Nazarian’s bill — said the science behind claims of a plant-based diet helping to assuage climate change is overstated.

“We would object strenuously to any argument that we can eat our way out of climate change,” Oldfield said in a phone interview. “The majority of the information cited by those groups doesn’t look at the efficiencies of U.S. producers, especially in California, where the products that are being consumed in schools are being produced by California ranchers and farmers.”

Oldfield also argued that meat is essential to meeting children’s nutritional requirements for school lunches.

Testimony against the bill also came from food service workers who argued that it’s hard to get kids to eat veggies.

Frank Mitloehner — professor in air quality in the department of agriculture at the University of California-Davis and an expert on cattle methane gas production — questioned whether the switch to vegan lunches would have much effect on greenhouse gas emissions.

Concentrating on meat production in climate change obscures the fact that fossil fuels are a much bigger culprit, he said. “Changing what we eat to help climate change is side-tracking us in a dangerous way.”

Nazarian says his bill is not about “getting rid of meat. I do understand [cattle producers’] concerns; that’s not my goal. This is enhancing and complementing it.”

Freelance columnist Avery Kamila, who writes a vegan food column for the Portland Press Herald in Maine and advocated for such meals in the schools, said there was little resistance to the idea within Portland, but “people outside of Portland were mocking the idea” and sent her letters and emails.

“I got a few emails from readers who couldn’t believe I would suggest that schools should be serving vegan lunch,” she said. But Portland’s reputation of being welcoming to refugees, particularly from African countries with large Muslim populations, helped generate support for the vegan lunch program, she said.

McLucas said she’s gotten more positive feedback from the parents than the kids. One dish the school tried was lentil sloppy Joe mix. “The kids haven’t taken to it quite as fast as the parents. We’ll give it a while, anyway.”

Amari Brent, 10, who goes to East End Community, was munching the sun butter sandwich at lunch, but said he had tried some of the vegan options. “They are pretty good, but not the boiled carrot hot dog,” he said. Amari, who said he is lactose intolerant, said the menus are “better this year.”

Asked if there were any dishes he would like to see added to the menu, he thought a moment.

“We live in Portland. Why don’t we have lobster?”

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Advocating for Racial Equity in our Schools

Ursala Pankonin and Thomas Carlson are two educators from Minnesota with vastly different backgrounds and experiences. Pankonin is American Indian and black and for the last 16 years has taught middle school.

Carlson is white and queer and has taught high school language arts for 31 years. Both work within a 20-mile radius, are union members, and operate within similar circles.

They don’t know each other. However, they share one strong experience: they had no teachers of color during their formative years of schooling and that has shaped the work they do today around racial equity.

Why does this matter? Pankonin, whose school was on a reservation, explains, “The first time I remember feeling really irritated about not having teachers of color was in middle school. When we would do the history lesson, the settlers were portrayed as the heroes while Native Americans were portrayed as these aggressive savages. How awful, to be presented a story where we were the bad guys.”

“People act like all the changes in America were due to white people and they did all this good, and that’s just not the case. If teachers don’t know that, then [a false narrative] continues to get taught.” – Ursala Pankonin

Later down the road, Pankonin asked her high school teacher (who is white) why they didn’t read authors of color. Pankonin recalls her response: “Black people weren’t allowed to write because they weren’t allowed to learn how to read. It was dangerous for them so we don’t have anything.”

“I think she believed that,” Pankonin says. “Her exposure to authors of color was limited, and she could only teach me what she knew.”

A teenage Pankonin went out on her own and found authors of color who were writing in the time of slavery.

“Imagine what a powerful message that could have been for students that despite not being allowed to learn how to read or write, look at what they were doing—and doing well—this subversive action of strength and bravery,” she reflects.

“People act like all the changes in America were due to white people and they did all this good, and that’s just not the case. If teachers don’t know that, then [a false narrative] continues to get taught.”

Understanding Pankonin’s experience is important—not understanding it is detrimental to the success of all students.

According to an article in The Hechinger Report, national studies have long underscored how black teachers produce better academic and behavioral outcomes for black students compared to their white counterparts, thereby leading to calls for the recruitment of more black teachers and/or asking where all the black teachers have gone. This extends to Latino, American Indian, and other racial groups that also benefit from educators who share their identity. Missing from these reports is an explanation as to why white teachers are not producing the same results. Some of the thinking around this centers on implicit bias.

To alleviate this thinking, Pankonin and Carlson belong to different cohorts of an anti-racism program called Facing Inequities and Racism in Education (FIRE), developed by Education Minnesota and administered by the association’s professional development academy.

FIRED Up for Racial Justice

Like many states across the country, Minnesota has no formal, consistent professional development pathway for educators to enter and/or continue their journey of living equitably and in turn, authentically disrupt systems of racism and racial inequities in the classroom. In comes Education Minnesota.

The FIRE program leads and organizes Minnesota educators in a movement to live equitably and practice recognizing and responding to racial inequities and injustices.

This includes the Racial Equity Advocate program, plus a series of trainings (see box below) that help Minnesota educators develop an anti-racism mindset and learn how to interrupt and dismantle institutional racism.

The program appeals to educators for a variety of reasons. Carlson, for example, found a shocking lack of curiosity among most white people around race and was looking for a place where the perspectives of people of color were present, centered, and honored.

“In my circles, people of color weren’t in the room, and I found that, in ways, I could never be really educated around race, bias, and racial understanding and competence surrounded by white teachers.”

Meanwhile, Pankonin found a group of educators, specifically of color, who understood the issues, were building community, and pushed forward the work around race equity.

“That was appealing to me because sometimes when you don’t have many people around you who understand the situation or who aren’t seeing things that you’re seeing because their life experiences are different, you feel isolated.”

To learn more about the program, visit the Minnesota Educator Academy. For more information on racial, social, and economic justice in education, go to NEA EdJustice, where you’ll find great resources, such as NEA’s Racial Justice in Education Resource Guide,. Hear from NEA activists who have launched a series of video “primers” for anti-racist, white, educators.


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States Are Struggling To Follow The Law On Schooling For Children In Foster Care

Under federal law, states are required to help maintain a stable educational environment for youth in foster care, even when the children’s personal lives are in tumult. But most places are struggling to follow the law, according to a new report from the Government Accountability Office released Wednesday and provided early to HuffPost.

The 2015 Every Student Succeeds Act that governs K-12 education says that children in foster care should remain in the same school, even if their home placement changes, unless it is against their best interest. States, school districts and child welfare agencies decide how to arrange and fund a child’s transportation to school in these cases, though they may no longer live in the district. 

The GAO report surveyed representatives from 50 states, and held discussion groups with child welfare workers, foster parents and youth to check on the law’s implementation around the country. 

Many states reported a tangle of bureaucratic problems in coordinating with districts and child welfare agencies on issues facing these children. Nearly 40 states said that their points of contact in districts were not aware of their responsibilities, a phenomenon they attributed to high rates of turnover. Similarly, most states said they struggled to find ways to work with districts in arranging ways for these students to travel to the schools they had been attending. 

School districts reported a variety of transportation methods used for such students, including rides provided by child welfare agency staff, rejiggering bus routes or sending taxis to pick up the children. But these options are expensive, and can be unreliable. One school district reported spending over $30,000 a year to transport one student. 

Even identifying which students are in foster care can prove challenging. Nine out of 10  school districts interviewed for the report said they don’t have a way of tracking which students are in the system, and seven said they don’t have a system to track when a student leaves or enters care. 

And if a school district is not even aware of students in the foster care system, there’s no way of knowing when they may require the assistance mandated by the federal law. 

The U.S. Department of Education also has fallen short in providing states with the necessary resources and guidance, the GAO report found. A list of points of contact on these issues used by the department was inaccurate. 

The stakes are high for these students. Compared to 87% of the general population, just 58% of youth in foster care graduate from high school by age 19. Studies show that transience can have a detrimental impact on scholastic achievement ― students can lose four to six months of learning every time they switch schools.

In 2017, around 270,000 school-aged children were living in foster care, per the GAO. 

Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) requested the GAO report. Responding to its findings, she said, “The Department of Education must do everything it can to help states ensure every student has the stable education they need to thrive.”

“Children in foster care are some of our most vulnerable students, and they should be able to stay with their friends, teachers and counselors at their school even when they move to a new foster care placement,” Murray said in an e-mail.

The Every Student Succeeds Act also requires states to report graduation rates for students in foster care. However, a 2018 investigation by HuffPost and The Hechinger Report found that most states were falling short on this front, too. At that time, only four states could identify graduation rates for those children. 

For those four states, the graduation rates ranged from a low of 11% in Georgia to 51.4% in Nebraska.

As part of the investigation, only three states could provide concrete evidence that they were working to make sure students remained in the same schools after moving placements. 

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Give Kids Good Books And They’ll Love Reading Forever

Is it weird that I’m almost 30 and my favorite books are kid’s books?

The first book I read this year was Renee Watson’s 2018 children’s novel “Piecing Me Together.” I picked it up thanks to its beautiful cover and relatively short chapters. But those brief sections of text held a complex story about a young Black girl trying to navigate identity, privilege and history in her hometown of Portland, Oregon, that my adult self found wholly relatable.

Sales of children’s books and young adult, or YA, fiction have boomed in recent years, especially for books that tackle mature subject matter, from gender and sexuality in Alex Gino’s “George,” to the movement for Black lives as featured in Angie Thomas’ “The Hate U Give.” In Jenny Han’s 2014 book “To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before,” kids can learn lessons about love and friendship in the 21st century; in R.J. Palacio’s 2012 book “Wonder,” they can develop language around chronic illness and acceptance; through Tiffany Jackson’s “Monday’s Not Coming,” they can get a better grasp on headline-making stories, such as that of the missing Black and brown girls in Washington, D.C.

Some of the most popular books currently on bookstands are intended for younger readers. There are so many graphic novels, chapter books, picture books and poetry collections written just for kids, all of which teach them important lessons on life that grown-ups will get a kick out of too. While at 28 years old, I’m devouring these titles, sadly the intended audience is barely nibbling on the rich literature available to them.

“We’re still giving kids novels with characters who don’t look like them, who don’t talk like them and who don’t even have internet access and we wonder why they don’t like reading.”

Recent studies show that reading for fun drops drastically for kids between the ages of 8 and 9. According to a Scholastic 2018 reading survey, 57 percent of 8-year-olds say they read for fun; that number drops to 35 percent by the time children are 9. The same downward trend exists for kids who say they love reading; while 40 percent of 8-year-olds said they do, only 28 percent of 9-year-olds said the same.

A love of reading and storytelling sets kids up for socioeconomic success as they grow through life. But if the numbers are to be believed, as kids advance in age, they tend to fall out of love with reading. And who can blame them, really, when what they’re told to read becomes increasingly dense and outdated as they make their way through school? Common Core standards have long been criticized for taking the fun out of English class, as students are given nonfiction and articles to read since that’s the type of content they’ll encounter in college. Just before this school year began, Florida’s Department of Education unveiled their student reading list for Kindergarten through 12th grade. With few exceptions, most of the books on the list were published between 1800 and 1950 and featured mostly white characters penned by mostly white male authors.

Western literary classics (as determined by old white men) and “scholarly” articles have long been the standard for school-aged children. The classics, of course, still have value, but they shouldn’t be the only literary adventures children are given access to in their formative years. We shouldn’t be determining important literature based on what centuries-old scholars tell us is important, but rather on what inspires kids to keep reading and learning. Yet we’re still giving kids novels with characters who don’t look like them, who don’t talk like them and who don’t even have internet access — and they’re told to understand what’s happening and pass a test on it later. And we wonder why they don’t enjoy reading.

“Put some respect on modern children’s, teen and YA books. Within their pages lies the secret to navigating the space between childhood and adulthood.”

Meanwhile, there are entire genres of books dedicated to the unique modern-day experiences, imaginations and problems of young people. YA books and kid lit give children access to the world as it is now and also to the world as it should be: diverse in race, gender and religion, technologically advanced and rich in cultural references and dialogue. And through audiobooks and ebooks, kids have more ways to access these treasure troves if only we encourage them to do so. These modern classic books give a voice to today’s generation and they can teach us adults a lesson or two about where we can make necessary shifts in our value systems.

Maybe it’s not so weird that I still read kids books. Maybe more grown-ups should see the value in modern books created just for today’s children and teens. As it is National Book Month, it’s as good a time as any to put some respect on the children’s, teen and YA sections of your local library or bookstore. Within those pages lies the secret to navigating the space between childhood and adulthood.

If you’re looking for some children’s and teen books to add to your kid’s library, check out some of my favorites:

Piecing Me Together by Renee Watson (ages 12 and up)

This book got my reading year off to a great start. It gave me the language to understand microaggressions and inspired me to see the beauty in the world all around me.

The Girl Who Drank The Moon by Kelly Barnhill (ages 10 and up)

A delightful tale of magic, witches and a small town where everything isn’t what it seems. This book will show the value in challenging authority, respecting your elders and holding on to what you believe.

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson (ages 8 and up)

Acclaimed author Jacqueline Woodson shares what it’s like growing up in the Jim Crow era in this book of beautiful poetry.

Ghostby Jason Reynolds (ages 8 and up)

Four kids, four stories, one goal: be fast enough to make the Junior Olympics. Readers will speed through this heartwarming tale of triumph through adversity.

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne (ages 12 and up)

The young boy in this novel knows nothing about the world of chaos around him. But as he explores his new home in Germany during World War II, he’ll take readers on a journey about tolerance, friendship and tragedy.

The Breadwinner by Deborah Ellis (ages 10 and up)

Now a movie of the same name, “The Breadwinner” tells the story of a young girl and her daily antics while trying to survive Taliban rule in Afghanistan.

Anya’s Ghostby Vera Brosgol (ages 12 and up)

Anya is being haunted, but it’s not so bad at first. Her ghost companion only wants to help her with school, boys and fashion and prove they can be best friends … forever.

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Federal Judge Says Harvard Does Not Discriminate Against Asian Americans

A federal judge ruled Tuesday in favor of Harvard University in a high-profile lawsuit that alleged the school was discriminating against Asian Americans by considering race in its admissions process.

U.S. District Judge Allison Burroughs in Boston said in her ruling that “ensuring diversity at Harvard, relies, in part, on race-conscious admissions,” and that while the school’s admissions process isn’t perfect, it passes “constitutional muster.”

Anti-affirmative action group Students for Fair Admissions (SFFA) filed the lawsuit in 2014, alleging the Ivy League school discriminates against Asian American undergraduate applicants by factoring race in its admissions process. The SFFA argued the process holds Asian American students to a higher standard than others. Asians make up about 5.6% percent of the U.S. population and made up 22.2% of Harvard’s admitted undergraduate class in 2017.

The Harvard lawsuit sparked a nationwide debate about affirmative action in colleges. In August 2018, the Justice Department said that Harvard failed to demonstrate that it does not discriminate on the basis of race in its admissions policy.

Harvard did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but it has denied SFFA’s allegations in the past. 

Conservative strategist and SFFA President Edward Blum told HuffPost that the organization is “disappointed” in the ruling and believes the information SFFA provided at trial “compellingly revealed Harvard’s systematic discrimination against Asian-American applicants.” 

Blum said SFFA will appeal the ruling, which could result in the case going up to the Supreme Court. The high court allows higher education institutions to consider race in admissions, but it says the decision must be made in a way to specifically promote diversity and should be implemented for a limited time.

Blum was also behind an anti-affirmative action lawsuit against the University of Texas at Austin. The Supreme Court ruled in the university’s favor in the lawsuit in 2016.

With Harvard’s current admissions process, students will be able to “know and understand one another beyond race, as whole individuals with unique histories and experiences,” the judge ruled Tuesday.

“It is this, at Harvard and elsewhere that will move us, one day, to the point where we see that race is a fact, but not the defining fact and not the fact that tells us what is important, but we are not there yet,” Burroughs said. “Until we are, race-conscious admissions programs that survive strict scrutiny will have an important place in society and help ensure that colleges and universities can offer a diverse atmosphere that fosters learning, improves scholarship, and encourages mutual respect and understanding.”

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Orientación profesional de latinas en la política que necesitas saber ahora

El Centro de Investigación Pew proyecta que, para el año 2020, 32 millones de latinxs tendrán derecho a votar, por lo cual se convertirán en la minoría étnica electoral más grande en los Estados Unidos.

Aunque ha habido victorias significativas por latinas que han ganado lugares en el Congreso y en elecciones estatales y locales, el número de latinas que representan a estas personas con derecho a votar es aún muy bajo. Del total de 535 miembros del Congreso, solo hay 12 latinas en la Cámara y una senadora latina, Catherine Cortez-Masto (D-Nev.), quien se convirtió en la primera en ser elegida para participar en el Senado en el 2016.

Es más fácil ver lo que puedes lograr cuando puedes ver quién lo ha hecho. Y si tienes ambiciones políticas, toma el ejemplo de estas latinas, que han superado batallas electorales, largas jornadas y el escrutinio público. Estos son los consejos que quieren que sepan las latinas quienes desean seguir sus pasos:

Tiffany Cabán, candidata a fiscal de distrito que se enfrentó al poder político establecido en Queens

Como queer latina de 31 años que prometía una reforma de la justicia penal, Tiffany Cabán organizó una campaña externa en contra del poder Democrático establecido en Queens

Como defensora pública en Queens, Nueva York, Tiffany Cabán pasó años luchando contra la oficina del fiscal de distrito. Pero a partir de la insistencia de sus amistades, ella misma se postuló para candidata a fiscal. Como queer latina de 31 años que prometía una reforma de la justicia penal, organizó una campaña externa en contra del poder Democrático establecido en Queens.  Pero luego de un extenso recuento, que llevó a Cabán a estar muy cerca de la victoria, perdió la carrera. Según afirmó, este proceso hizo que sintiera “todas las sensaciones”.

Pero Cabán no ha terminado de usar su nueva plataforma pública. Ahora a los 32 años, trabaja medio tiempo como asesora sénior de Luz Collective, una compañía de medios de comunicación que cuenta historias de latinas, mientras decide cuál va a ser su siguiente paso. Dijo que “definitivamente consideraría” tomar un trabajo con uno de los candidatos presidenciales demócratas actuales.

¿Qué sabes ahora que desearías haber sabido cuando empezaste a trabajar en una campaña por primera vez?
Empecé pensando “No sé si estoy preparada para esto”, y tuve que depender mucho de otras personas. Hubo momentos en los que tenía ciertas corazonadas y pensaba, “Eso no me parece bien, creo que deberíamos hacer las cosas de una manera ligeramente distinta”. Uno sabe más de lo que cree que sabe; a lo largo del proceso me di cuenta de eso y empecé a adueñarme más de mi campaña. Desearía haber sabido antes que puedo confiar un poco más en mi instinto, porque hay un grupo de hombres blancos mediocres más jóvenes que no tienen ese problema.

¿Hay algún error que hayas cometido al principio de tu carrera que hoy manejarías de otra forma?
En cuanto a mi carrera en defensa pública, siempre cometes errores o sientes que los has cometido. Es un trabajo realmente difícil, y tomas decisiones que realmente afectan las vidas de la gente de maneras muy, pero muy significativas. Es importante ser crítico con uno mismo pero también es necesario tenerse paciencia y entender que uno está trabajando dentro de las limitaciones del sistema; un sistema que realmente está configurado en tu contra.

Fui a una escuela preparatoria conformada, en su mayoría, por personas blancas, de clase media y media alta, y durante muchos años sentí que no pertenecía. Lo mismo sentí cuando fui a la universidad y, especialmente, cuando estudié en la facultad de leyes. Me llevó mucho trabajo, terapia y otros espacios replantear esas experiencias y entender que, como latina proveniente de un barrio de bajos ingresos con un montón de barreras diferentes, eso no quería decir que yo no pertenecía ahí. Yo, como muchos otros, necesitaba verme a mí misma como alguien excepcional, reconocer mi propia autoestima y valor, decir “no solo pertenezco a estos espacios, sino que debería caminar por ellos con la cabeza en alto, y muy orgullosa”. Replantearse las cosas y hacer ese tipo de internalización es realmente poderoso, especialmente mientras continúas intentando navegar por nuevos espacios en tu carrera como yo lo hice.

¿Qué es algo que la gente supone acerca de lo que haces que quieres que las latinas sepan que no es verdad?
Cuando me postulé, puse quién era en primer plano. Dije, “Soy una queer latina de 31 años, de una familia de clase trabajadora”. Y hubo gente que pensó ’Eso es política de identidad”. Y no es así. Quiero ser clara: estoy muy lejos de hacer política de identidad. A lo que se refiere es a un entendimiento en torno a la interseccionalidad y los efectos del trauma individual y generacional en nuestras comunidades. Establece que quiénes somos y de dónde venimos tiene un efecto en nuestras experiencias y lo que aportamos, y que es muy importante tener ese tipo de representación, ese entendimiento íntimo de lo que nuestras comunidades están atravesando, para poder brindarles un mejor servicio.

Cuando la gente decía “Eres muy joven”, yo respondía “Pues tengo el tipo de experiencia correcta”. Tengo la experiencia más directa en los tribunales penales en cuanto a las reformas que estamos intentando implementar”. A otras latinas les diría que comiencen a temprana edad. Debería haber más jóvenes compitiendo en las elecciones, y deberían postularse a más temprana edad.

¿Cuáles son las tres cosas que te inspiran en este momento?
Lizzo. Su álbum entero. Lizzo es la encarnación del amor propio. Pero por otro lado, es muy abierta sobre su proceso y sobre cómo llegó al lugar en el que está, porque no siempre ha estado ahí. Creo que es realmente poderoso que las mujeres tengan acceso a eso, en especial, las mujeres de color.

Recientemente la comunidad [Los Ángeles] se unió y puso suficiente presión en la Legislatura para que cancelar una petición ya firmada por $2.2 mil millones para construir una nueva prisión. Tomó alrededor de una década de organización y defensa en el terreno haber logrado ese increíble éxito al decir “No. Nuestras comunidades están diciendo que ‘No’ a las cárceles. No vamos a invertir más en nuestro complejo industrial penitenciario y sistema de cárceles, y vamos a exigir que este dinero se reinvierta en nuestras comunidades de formas más significativas, para obtener mejores resultados en salud pública y seguridad pública”. Eso fue tan, pero tan inspirador para mí, porque la gente piensa “Eso es demasiado valiente, demasiado grande. Tenemos que asumir compromisos y hablar sobre incrementalismo”. Y es como decir que no, que lo único que importa es que vamos a llegar hasta el final sin disculparnos.

Realmente intento comprar libros escritos por mujeres y, en particular, por mujeres de color. Recientemente leí “America Is Not the Heart” (América no es el corazón) de Elaine Castillo, y fue realmente una historia poderosa. En este momento estoy leyendo “La fruta del borrachero”, de Ingrid Rojas Contreras. Hay algo realmente grandioso sobre leer la primera novela de alguien con la que se da a conocer. Me gusta leer cosas con mis amigos al mismo tiempo porque me encanta el hecho de que, para cada persona, es una experiencia diferente.

Genny Castillo, la ex becaria estrella de Stacey Abrams que trabajó para diversificar el equipo de campaña

"¡Ojalá hubiera sabido cuántas lágrimas implica lograr un cambio!" dijo Castillo.

“¡Ojalá hubiera sabido cuántas lágrimas implica lograr un cambio!” dijo Castillo.

En el 2011, mientras buscaba una manera de ayudar a la gente, Genny Castillo se unió al equipo de la líder de la minoría de la Cámara de Georgia, Stacey Abrams, como becaria no remunerada. La domínico-americana ha permanecido en el ámbito de la política y ascendió al puesto de asesora política sénior para la innovadora campaña gubernamental de Abrams en el 2018. En sus memorias, Abrams describe a Castillo como “la persona a la que acudo para los servicios constituyentes, mi orientadora cuando he necesitado aprender frases en español, mi innovadora residente cuando decidimos lanzar la gira estatal”.

Ahora a sus 33 años, Castillo es la directora de operaciones del Instituto BLUE, el cual tiene como objetivo incluir “más jóvenes de color en el liderazgo de las campañas progresistas”. Si bien este puesto no es su trabajo a tiempo completo, Castillo afirma que es su pasión de tiempo completo. Su puesto político soñado sería ser la mano derecha de una primera dama o primer caballero, o de la pareja de un vicepresidente en la Casa Blanca: “Creo que sería realmente genial”.

¿Qué sabes ahora que desearías haber sabido cuando empezaste a trabajar en una campaña por primera vez?
¡Ojalá hubiera sabido cuántas lágrimas implica lograr un cambio! Cuando pierdes es una experiencia terrible, pero cuando ganas, tu corazón y tu mente están tan emocionados que simplemente te hacen llorar. Tendemos a ser más críticos con las personas sensibles que hacen este trabajo, pero ese es el motivo por el que todavía me dedico a esto. Pongo todo de mí para asegurarme de ver el cambio que se necesita.

También desearía haber sabido cuántas opciones hay disponibles en este trabajo. Cuando recién me involucré, no sabía cuántas habilidades podían ser transferibles y cuántas conexiones hay entre el departamento de campo, la recaudación de fondos y las comunicaciones. Esta es una gran industria para recién graduados, para que fortalezcan sus habilidades de liderazgo y gestión. Una campaña es un pequeño negocio, aprendes mucho sobre prácticas de negocio rápidamente.

¿Hay algún error que hayas cometido al principio de tu carrera que hoy manejarías de otra forma?
Yo los llamaría desafíos. No ganar mucho dinero en este trabajo es duro al principio. Pienso que uno de los desafíos que muchas latinas enfrentan es el miedo a decepcionar a sus padres. Tener padres que se han sacrificado demasiado y que solo quieren que a ti te vaya mejor que a ellos te hace pensar “¿Mi salario está cumpliendo sus expectativas?”.

Pienso que era muy importante para mí encontrar algo que me apasionara. Soy una firme creyente de que “el dinero llegará”, y priorizo mi vocación de servicio. Mis padres me apoyan mucho. Si tu familia está presente, literalmente puedes hacer cualquier cosa que te propongas.

¿Qué es algo que la gente supone acerca de lo que haces que quieres que las latinas sepan que no es verdad?
A excepción de todos los que piensan que he trabajado directamente con el Presidente Obama o la Secretaria Clinton, la gente cree que el trabajo que hago es de 9 a.m. a 5 p.m. en una oficina grande y que puedo enviar un mensaje de texto a Michelle Obama para decirle “Hola”. ¡Qué risa! No hay horas fijas de trabajo, puedes tener un día lleno de eventos desde las 7 a.m. hasta las 9 p.m., trabajar los fines de semana, viajar por todo el país y quizás incluso llevar a una celebridad a una conferencia a dos horas de distancia.

Cada día es diferente, y realmente disfruto eso.

¿Cuáles son las tres cosas que te inspiran en este momento?
Cuando empecé, había solo una latina más haciendo este trabajo en mi área. En los últimos ocho años, he guiado, ayudado y animado a muchos estudiantes latinxs a unirse a estos esfuerzos. El año pasado, un espectacular grupo de líderes latinxs creó el Comité de jóvenes latinxs demócratas, y todo el trabajo que están haciendo de forma individual es increíble. Cuando nos juntamos, mi espíritu se conmueve.

Mi cultura continúa inspirándome en todo el trabajo que hago. Somos todos diferentes pero todos nos movemos en memoria de nuestros ancestros. Me encanta agregar un condimento especial a los eventos de divulgación, asegurarme de hablarles en español a nuestros constituyentes y ser capaz de presentarles nuestra cultura y nuestro movimiento a los demás. Incluso he inscrito voluntarios a los clubes de salsa y hubo gente que me dijo “Mi amor, ¡voté gracias a ti!”. ¡Eso es todo lo que necesito para seguir adelante!

“Un día a la vez”, en Netflix, también es una inspiración para mí. Este programa que trata sobre una familia cubano-americana que pasa por situaciones de la vida real es muy poderoso. Incluso más poderoso [es que] Netflix canceló el programa, pero eso no impidió que todos los fanáticos se juntaran para conseguir una nueva temporada en otra plataforma.

Gabriela López, la funcionaria electa más joven en San Francisco

"Hay más poder con la gente que en cualquier puesto político," dijo López.

“Hay más poder con la gente que en cualquier puesto político,” dijo López.

Cuando era una profesora de 27 años en una escuela pública, Gabriela López decidió postularse como candidata para el consejo escolar. “Estoy muy agradecida de haber competido en las elecciones mientras enseñaba de tiempo completo”, dijo López, porque sus estudiantes la vieron como una candidata que “competía sin descanso, seguía viniendo a la escuela a trabajar, y se involucraba y presionaba para mejorar la experiencia de sus alumnos”. En noviembre de 2018, se convirtió en la funcionaria electa más joven de San Francisco. 

López, que ahora tiene 29 años, tiene una presencia activa en Instagram, donde muestra a los constituyentes como es ser una funcionaria electa. Ser comisionada en el Consejo Escolar no es el único trabajo de López. Por él solo recibe un estipendio anual de alrededor de $6,000, así que López se sustenta enseñando en un distrito diferente a más de una hora de distancia para evitar conflictos de intereses. Oriunda de Los Ángeles y de padres mexicanos, López dice que su sueño es convertirse en secretaria de educación.

¿Qué sabes ahora que desearías haber sabido cuando empezaste a trabajar en tu campaña por primera vez?
Hay más poder con la gente que en cualquier puesto político. Cuando me postulé, me recordaban constantemente que un solo político con privilegios de voto es el que toma las decisiones para comunidades enteras, por lo cual me aconsejaron que no me postulara, porque no “encajaba” con el molde establecido. Me di cuenta de que, cuando se priva a la gente del acceso a la información, pierden también su fuerza. Ahora me esfuerzo constantemente por compartir lo que estamos haciendo, para que la gente pueda reunirse y luchar para lograr mejores condiciones como una fuerza unida. Un equilibrio de poder es lo que va a crear el cambio, y siempre supe que este trabajo no puede y no debe hacerse solo.

¿Hay algún error que hayas cometido al principio de tu carrera que hoy manejarías de otra forma?
Seguir el protocolo. He estado en muchas situaciones donde he tenido que esperar para hablar o me he perdido oportunidades de hacer modificaciones por seguir pautas específicas, mientras intentaba aprender el proceso y entender mejor cuáles son las reglas y los procedimientos. Lo que he aprendido es que estoy en este puesto por una razón: representar estudiantes, familias, educadores, miembros de la comunidad, que se han decepcionado de estos mismos sistemas que no fueron creados para ellos, sistemas que tienen reglas establecidas para que el control permanezca del mismo lado. Ahora traspaso esos límites y me recuerdo a mí misma que puedo hacerlo gracias a las personas que me pusieron aquí.

¿Qué es algo que la gente supone acerca de lo que haces que quieres que las latinas sepan que no es verdad?
Antes de ir a las reuniones del consejo, muchas personas me dijeron que debo controlar mis expresiones faciales y reacciones. Desde entonces, me he dado cuenta de que es una forma sexista de mantenerme en línea con los comportamientos que se consideran la norma. He dejado claro que si la gente dice algo con lo que no estoy de acuerdo, algo que está fuera de lugar o es ofensivo, tengo que expresar mis emociones para que el público entienda cuál es mi posición con respecto a ciertos asuntos.
También hay una inmensa cantidad de presión que enfrenté de repente al asumir la responsabilidad de ser comisionada; esa presión supera todo lo que hago. Mi salud mental realmente estaba en riesgo, y hubo momentos en los que nadie entendía lo que estaba viviendo. Por lo tanto, para mí, es importante destacar que, si bien este trabajo es increíblemente gratificante, también es agotador. ¡Además es un puesto no remunerado!

¿Cuáles son las tres cosas que te inspiran en este momento?
Me emociona mucho la idea de obtener mi doctorado, escribir un libro y el álbum “Let Love” de Common.

Jessica Cisneros, la demócrata que se postula a las primarias y competirá con su exjefe en el 2020

"Creo que, en cuanto al tipo de persona que debería postularse para el cargo, las personas tienen un prototipo espec&i

“Creo que, en cuanto al tipo de persona que debería postularse para el cargo, las personas tienen un prototipo específico. Yo soy lo contrario de eso,” dijo Cisneros.

Este verano, Jessica Cisneros, una abogada de inmigración de 26 años nativa del Sur de Texas, anunció su decisión de desafiar al diputado Henry Cuellar para el 28.º distrito electoral de Texas, un puesto que Cuellar ha ocupado 15 años. Cuellar tiene una calificación A de la Asociación Nacional del Rifle, votó por la legislación antiaborto y fue jefe de Cisneros cuando ella fue su becaria en Capitol Hill. Cisneros describe a su ex jefe como “el demócrata favorito de Trump”.

Hija de dos inmigrantes mexicanos, Cisneros dijo que se siente bendecida por de ser una abogada que lucha por familias como la suya. Se está postulando con una plataforma para terminar con la separación de familias en la frontera, que se apruebe el “Medicare para todos” y promulgar un nuevo Tratado Verde. Su campaña cuenta con el respaldo de Justice Democrats (Justicia Demócrata), el grupo progresista conocido por ayudar a la representante Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) a derrotar al titular demócrata en el 2018. Si gana, Cisneros será la mujer más joven elegida para formar parte del Congreso.

¿Qué sabes ahora que desearías haber sabido cuando empezaste a trabajar en tu campaña por primera vez?
Conocer el tipo de apoyo que iba a recibir de parte de personas totalmente desconocidas. Antes del lanzamiento, estábamos dando un salto al vacío porque estábamos invirtiendo recursos en la campaña que no sabíamos que íbamos a tener. Y eso daba miedo. Realmente fue un salto al vacío deseando que el resto de la comunidad respondiera.

Saber esto antes de lanzar la campaña me hubiese hecho sentir mejor.

¿Hay algún error que hayas cometido al principio de tu carrera que hoy manejarías de otra forma?
Quizás sea algo de las mujeres de color o quizás sea algo que afecta a las mujeres en general, pero a veces sientes que quizá tu opinión no es tan importante como la de otros, o sientes que no sabes tanto como la persona que está a tu lado, pero no es así. He aprendido eso.

Ser tan públicamente abierta con respecto a mi posición, mis creencias y las personas por las que lucho es completamente lo opuesto de lo que sentía cuando crecí, en la escuela y luego durante la transición hacia mi carrera profesional.

¿Qué es algo que la gente supone acerca de lo que haces que quieres que las latinas sepan que no es verdad?
Creo que, en cuanto al tipo de persona que debería postularse para el cargo, las personas tienen un prototipo específico. Yo soy lo contrario de eso. Soy una mujer joven, latina, de barrio y de una familia de clase trabajadora. Necesitamos más personas así, personas que tienen experiencias diferentes. No existe una forma establecida de prepararse para postularse para un cargo.

Hay personas que creen que hay un camino por seguir: tienes que ir a la facultad de leyes; hacer A, B o C y superar ciertos obstáculos, y después, una vez que tengas 50 años, tal vez puedas postularte para el cargo, porque para ese entonces ya habrás demostrado que cuentas con las credenciales necesarias. Creo que esto solo es una forma de impedir que la gente como yo se postule. Eso es algo que la gente supone sobre los candidatos que se postulan a cargos públicos, y es un gran error.

¿Cuáles son las tres cosas que te inspiran en este momento?
La gente con la que he entrado en contacto durante la campaña. Escuchar sus historias, quiénes son, en qué creen, qué valoran y los motivos por los que apoyan mi campaña. Definitivamente, en este momento eso es muy inspirador y es lo que hace que me den ganas de seguir.

Color Esperanza” de Diego Torres. Cuando pienso en la campaña, es la canción en la que pienso, porque estamos de pie. Ahí está esa esperanza por la que estamos luchando.

María Antonietta Berriozábal. Es una activista chicana que conocí al principio de nuestra campaña. Si bien ahora es mayor, aún sigue peleando por la comunidad que quiere y me ha apoyado mucho. Es el tipo de persona que quiero ser, alguien que ha dedicado su vida entera a luchar por la comunidad. Justo estoy leyendo su libro en este momento. Se llama “María, Daughter of Immigrants” (María, hija de inmigrantes). Yo también soy hija de inmigrantes. Ella fue la primera latina en el Municipio de San Antonio; se postuló para alcalde y para participar en el Congreso.

María Quiñones-Sánchez, veterana del Municipio de Filadelfia

"La gente cree que todos los candidatos exitosos tienen acceso a las estructuras tradicionales de poder: privilegios, conexio

“La gente cree que todos los candidatos exitosos tienen acceso a las estructuras tradicionales de poder: privilegios, conexiones, patrimonio personal,” dijo Quiñones-Sánchez.

Para trabajar en la política en Filadelfia durante más de 30 años como lo ha hecho María Quiñones-Sánchez, tienes que estar preparado para ganarte enemigos. La concejal de Filadelfia actualmente está representando al 7.º distrito de la ciudad durante cuatro años consecutivos por tercera ocasión, y en mayo consiguió su cuarta victoria consecutiva en las primarias democráticas sin el apoyo oficial de los miembros de su partido.

Quiñones-Sánchez, quien es puertorriqueña, creció en la sección Hunting Park de Filadelfia y es una pionera en la política. En el 2007, se convirtió en la primera latina elegida para participar en el consejo del distrito en Filadelfia. Los medios de comunicación locales se preguntan si se postulará para alcalde en el 2023. Si se postula y gana, se convertiría en la primera alcalde mujer de la ciudad.

¿Qué sabes ahora que desearías haber sabido cuando empezaste a trabajar en tu campaña por primera vez?
Como mujer afrolatina y puertorriqueña, mi crianza cultural no me preparó para ser una candidata disciplinada en mi primera (y desafortunada) postulación para el cargo en el 1999. No quería hacer alarde de mí misma, por lo que no tenía un “discurso de elevador” sencillo para contar mi historia. No recaudé fondos como se debe, porque no le pedía dinero a la gente. No entendía que es un error tratar de realizar servicios constituyentes durante la campaña electoral, ¡especialmente como candidata por primera vez! Cuando salí a tocar puertas… me quedaba 30 o 45 minutos tratando de resolver problemas individuales ahí mismo. Perdí mucho tiempo y la campaña no fue efectiva.

Aprendí de manera difícil que el tiempo de campaña es para contar tu historia, difundir tu mensaje y establecer conexiones personales. Hay tiempo suficiente para los servicios constituyentes ya que ganas.

¿Hay algún error que hayas cometido al principio de tu carrera que hoy manejarías de otra forma?
Siempre había logrado el éxito como una persona que se enfoca en los procesos, pero perdí esa capacidad por mi afán de darle una voz a mi comunidad, que históricamente ha sido silenciada. Pasé gran parte de mi primer término de cuatro años convocando a la gente e intentando interrumpir el sistema, y no pasé suficiente tiempo educando a mis colegas, estudiando y elaborando estrategias.

Tenía razón cuando me pronuncié en contra del racismo y las desigualdades sistemáticas, pero tener razón no fue suficiente. Necesitaba aprender a operar las reformas por las que luché. Un cambio verdadero y transformador se logra estableciendo una buena política que funcione para tus constituyentes.

¿Qué es algo que la gente supone acerca de lo que haces que quieres que las latinas sepan que no es verdad?
La gente cree que todos los candidatos exitosos tienen acceso a las estructuras tradicionales de poder: privilegios, conexiones, patrimonio personal. Las latinas, por lo general, no lo tienen, pero eso no significa que no podamos ganar.

Las latinas son supervotantes. Si votamos y hacemos voluntariado por ti, sabrás que nuestros esposos, padres, hijos, primos y vecinos, todos, también votarán y harán voluntariado. Los lazos de nuestra comunidad son profundos, y podemos aportar una gran fuerza y energía a una campaña. En todos los niveles, las campañas comunitarias están compitiendo en contra de las estructuras tradicionales de los partidos, el dinero oscuro y la vieja manera de hacer las cosas, y están ganando. Ganamos cuando acogemos a nuestras comunidades, nos apoyamos y compartimos nuestras historias.

¿Cuáles son las tres cosas que te inspiran en este momento?
Mi mamá. Su nivel de energía es increíble. No siempre logro mantener el ritmo, pero ella es mi modelo a seguir.

Mi comunidad fili-riqueña. Nuestra comunidad de diáspora es cada vez más grande y diversa. Nos movilizamos juntos dos años atrás y formamos una base de ayuda humanitaria y una estrategia de recuperación a largo plazo después del huracán María.

Este julio, los puertorriqueños se levantaron y lograron que el gobernador renunciara. Eso fue inspirador, y espero que la acción conduzca a una mejor defensa del futuro de Puerto Rico y los puertorriqueños en el continente y en la isla. Nuestras celebraciones del Mes de la Herencia Hispana crecen y se multiplican cada año, así que esta es una época del año de diversión y orgullo para mi oficina.

Las respuestas se han editado y simplificado para lograr una mayor claridad.

Nuestras Voces Unidas es una serie de historias del HuffPost creada para celebrar el Mes de la Herencia Hispana y amplificar las diversas voces dentro de la comunidad. Encuentra toda nuestra cobertura aquí.

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Muslim Teen Who Was Hit And Smeared As ‘ISIS’ Wasn’t Protected By School, Mom Says

In January, 15-year-old Ihab called his mother and pleaded for her to pick him up from school early. 

“I don’t feel safe,” the ninth grader, whom HuffPost is calling by his first name to protect his safety, told his mom, Fouzia Safadi. 

Safadi rushed to Cambridge-South Dorchester High School in Maryland to find out what was wrong. There, she saw something alarming: finger marks on Ihab’s face and neck. A fellow student had smacked him across the face.

For months, Safadi’s son not only endured physical violence by bullies at his school but abuse of a more specific kind, based on his religion and ethnicity. Fellow students called Ihab a member of ISIS and a suicide bomber, Safadi said. Some students even threatened to kill him, she said. 

Ihab is just one of many Muslim students across the country who have reported being the target of anti-Muslim bullying in American schools. Schools have a responsibility to stop it, experts say. But in Ihab’s case, his mother said officials failed him. 

Safadi, who is a single mother of three, accused school officials at this Maryland school of failing to protect her son from severe Islamophobic and racist bullying he faced during the 2018 to 2019 academic school year. She said the school did not inform her every time her son complained about being bullied and that the issue was only addressed when it turned violent. 

The school district disputes her claims. A spokesperson for Dorchester County Public Schools told HuffPost that it had “thoroughly investigated” the allegations of bullying against Ihab, “and it was determined that no bullying occurred.” The spokesman later told HuffPost they were unable to comment due to concerns of student privacy in cases where more than one child is involved.

But Safadi has witnessed a change in her son and believes he has been bullied. Ihab is suffering from mental health issues due to the bullying and subsequently started to see a mental health counselor once a week, Safadi said.

Safadi described her eldest son as a former cheerful and outgoing teen whose life has turned upside down due to the unaddressed bullying. Ihab has become reserved and quiet. He rarely wants to leave his house, especially to go to school. Ihab is now ashamed of being Muslim because of the bullying, Safadi said. 

“It’s so hard to see him like this,” Safadi said. “He was never like this. Never.”

Anti-Muslim Bullying On The Rise

Nationwide, Muslim students are four times more likely to report being bullied at school compared to the general student population, according to a 2017 report by the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding, a Washington, D.C., think tank that researches issues that affect American Muslims. 

During the first half of 2019, the Council on American-Islamic Relations documented 52 incidents of anti-Muslim bullying, making that at least eight incidents a month. More than half of those incidents involved students bullying other students. Others involved teachers and other school staff members bullying students, according to CAIR. In 2018, CAIR received nearly 100 bullying complaints, with 55 of them those were peer to peer. 

Bullying can do immense harm to children. It can result in a storm of negative emotions such as evoking shame, self-hatred and loneliness, and “can be extremely damaging to the well-being of a developing child,” according to a 2018 report from the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding. Young people who were harassed due to being part of a minority group were more likely to suffer from higher levels of mental health issues.

Bullying against religious minorities, in particular, is on the rise, said Nadia Ansary, an associate professor at Rider University who focuses on discrimination against religious minorities and its psychological impact on adolescents and is the co-author of the ISPU anti-bullying report.

“When a person is targeted because of an essential part of their identity, the impact is severe,” Ansary told HuffPost. “What happens is that we see impacts on self-esteem, risk for anxiety and risk for depression.”

Ansary emphasized the need to see bullying more than just a one-off or an “isolated incident.” Bullied adolescents face long-term consequences such as living in constant fear of being targeted beyond school because of their identity. This psychological trauma then results in children being ashamed or wanting to hide their religious, sexual or ethnic identity. 

That means schools, which are often the site of bullying, have a special obligation to take the matter seriously. 

“Every child and teen deserves a learning environment where they feel safe,” Zainab Chaudry, the outreach director at the Maryland chapter of CAIR, said in a statement.

From A Cheerful Boy To Paranoid Student

In Ihab’s case, the effects of the bullying were immediate, Safadi said. He used to be the first to jump out of the car anytime they went out, but now begs his mother to let him wait at home or inside the car if the pair are ever out together. She tried to coax him out and once took him McDonald’s, his favorite place to eat, but he refused to leave the car. Safadi said her son doesn’t want to be seen with his mother in public because she wears a hijab, a visible marker of their Muslim faith.

For months after the January physical assault, the bullying continued at school. Ihab’s bullies frequently called him a member of ISIS and a suicide bomber. Safadi said each time her son went to a teacher or official to voice his concerns, but the school administration brushed them off. 

Safadi has attempted to work with school officials to resolve the matter but said officials didn’t take her concerns seriously. She has since hired CAIR as her lawyer to address the matter. 

The school, Safadi and the CAIR lawyers have not yet met ― the school spokesperson said CAIR canceled three meetings, which a CAIR spokesperson attributed to “extenuating circumstances, poor communication between spokespersons and scheduling conflicts.”

But Safadi said it’s not enough to reverse the damage that has been inflicted upon her son. She said school officials downplayed the January incident when a student jumped from behind a door and smacked her son without any proper recourse. When she learned that her son was being called names and bullied due to his Arab ethnicity and Muslim faith, Safadi said officials told her they could move him to a different class. (The school declined to offer further details on the situation because it involved another minor.) 

Chaudry argued moving the boy “was completely not acceptable, because that’s punishing the student who’s been victimized rather than the student who’s doing the bullying.” Experts such as Ansary, the professor who focuses on discrimination, agree. Moving the student who was bullied only “further victimizes the child,” she said, adding that schools need to address the culprit instead.

October marks National Bullying Prevention Month, a nationwide program founded in 2006 to educate and raise awareness of bullying prevention. For the last several years, CAIR – Maryland has partnered with the state to provide anti-bullying workshops and inform educators on the signs and dangers of anti-Muslim bullying.

“CAIR recognizes and appreciates school officials’ expressed commitment to providing a safe learning environment for all of its student population,”  said Chaudry, adding that the organization was looking “forward to working with DCPS in a variety of ways to promote a bully-free culture in all of its institutions.”

Safadi said she doesn’t want any child to go through what Ihab went through.

“When I send my son to school, I want to be a million percent sure that he’s not going to get hurt,” Safadi said. “He is going to learn and to be safe.”

Safadi is hesitant to send her son back to the school that has caused him so much pain, but believes it’s important to show her son she can push back against a school she believes failed him. 

“I need to stand up for him. I don’t want him to see me weak. I need to be fighting,” Safadi said. “I need him to see me strong so he can get that power.”

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I Was Forced To Get Married To Finish College. Here’s Why And What Has To Change.

I left a small town and a damaged family when I moved away to college. Despite the chaos at home, I was able to graduate from high school in three years and finish a year of community college by the time I turned 18. I was motivated to leave the chaos of my family life behind and start anew in another city, with dreams of graduating from college with a bachelor’s degree in political science and eventually becoming an attorney or a professor.

During the spring of my sophomore year in college, I was 19 years old and attending a state university full time while also working a full-time retail job as a means to support myself. My boyfriend, Kyle, and I were living together in a tiny one-bedroom apartment, and we managed to scrape by living paycheck to paycheck.

Things back home were not going well. After I moved out of my parents’ house, I didn’t return because of the destructive environment I had left behind. After one particularly big fight, they declared they were “cutting me off,” and since they weren’t paying for anything, they took away the one thing they knew they had control over: my financial aid eligibility. 

At that point in the semester, I needed to fill out my Free Application for Federal Student Aid to secure funding for the next academic year. For previous semesters, I paid my tuition using direct loans from the federal government from my financial aid package, as it was the only way I could afford the thousands of dollars in tuition and fees. I was almost halfway finished with my bachelor’s degree when it became a real possibility that I would not be able to fund the rest of my education. 

In nearly all cases, you must submit your parents’ income information to file your FAFSA. The Department of Education then determines your eligibility for need-based aid and how much your aid package should be by using a calculation called your expected family contribution, or EFC. For the semesters prior, because of my parents’ middle-class income and my inflated EFC, I was only awarded unsubsidized federal direct loans even though in reality I was paying for everything by myself.

Since [my parents] weren’t paying for anything, they took away the one thing they knew they had control over: my financial aid eligibility.

Although my parents were not contributing to my living expenses or tuition, I was still required to submit their income information whenever I filed a new FAFSA. Even today, the website states: “You can’t be considered independent of your parents just because they refuse to help you with this process. If you do not provide their information on the FAFSA form, the application will be considered ‘rejected,’ and you might not be able to receive any federal student aid.” So when they refused to continue to provide their income information for my application, I was screwed.

I called the financial aid office at my school in distress. They told me that they had no way to circumvent the Department of Education’s policies on parental income information, and if I were to submit an incomplete student aid application, it would be rejected. They did offer an appeals process option, but they warned me that it was nearly impossible to be granted a change in dependency status. If I were to be approved for this change in status, they warned that it was also likely that I would not receive enough aid to cover the entirety of my tuition since I would not have an EFC, which is required for most need-based aid.

Although I was supporting myself financially and living independently of my parents, I did not meet any of the strict criteria set forth by the Department of Education that would have qualified me as an “independent student.” Thus, I was still required to provide parental income information by supplying their tax documents, which — given the state of relations between us — was impossible. 

I browsed the internet for weeks, trying to find a loophole. The website echoed what the financial aid office told me, and every online search yielded inconclusive results. It seemed as though my parents had figured this out as well, because once they were no longer able to control my life in other ways, the financial aid documents became their last stranglehold on me. 

My tuition bill came out to almost $4,000. I applied for private student loans, but I had no credit and no cosigner, so my application was denied. I was living paycheck to paycheck, I had no savings, and I was barely making rent with the retail job I had, so coming up with the money myself was inconceivable. I racked my brain for weeks and called the financial aid office over and over again, trying to figure out how I was going to afford to go back to school the next semester. 

It was one of the lowest points in my life. I had this dream of graduating from college and making something of myself, and suddenly I wasn’t sure how I was going to make that happen ― or if I even could.

When I got off the phone with the financial aid office for the last time, I was sitting next to Kyle, my face covered in tears. As I sobbed into his shoulder, I wondered if this was how my dream was going to die. After I stopped crying, I wiped my face with the sleeve of my shirt and took a deep breath. Kyle looked at me and said, “Let’s get married,” as plainly as if he were telling me about the weather.

I laughed because I thought he was kidding, until I looked up at his face and saw that he certainly was not.

“I’m serious. Let’s get married,” Kyle said. “You’ll get all the financial aid you’ll need to finish school.”

He was right. During my extensive research, I found that marriage automatically bestows a student with an “independent,” rather than “dependent,” status, which meant I wouldn’t need my parent’s income information to complete my financial aid application. As a result, I would qualify for financial aid based solely on my boyfriend’s and my income.

We were only 19 at the time, and Kyle was my first boyfriend after high school. We had been living together for less than a year, and I knew that getting married was one of the biggest decisions I would make in my lifetime. Despite Kyle’s seemingly spur-of-the-moment proposal, marriage was not something either of us took lightly, and we spent a lot of time and tears after that first proposal weighing our options. I went back and forth between anger and sadness, as it felt like a major moment in my life was being stolen from me because of this looming decision. During the weeks that followed, I kept thinking, “My wedding shouldn’t have to be like this.”

One day in June, after two months of debating our options, Kyle and I decided to secretly elope. We didn’t tell anyone about our plans ― not even his parents or our closest friends. We drove to the next county over to ensure that no one would find out what we were doing. There were no big dresses, no flowers, no rings and no witnesses. We were married at 9 a.m. on a Tuesday in a courthouse that looked eerily like a jail.

Our first stop after our morning courtroom ceremony was to the financial aid office at my school. I gave them a copy of our marriage certificate, and I filed my FAFSA as an independent student. What should have been the most romantic day of my life ended with us sitting in that office, filling out paperwork.

I would never advise a 19-year-old student to get married for financial aid purposes. The fact that I made such a desperate decision speaks to the kind of reform we need within the federal financial aid program.

However, my story does have a happy ending: I am now an educator and instructional designer with a bachelor’s degree as well as a master’s degree, and I am still married to the same wonderful man who sat in the financial aid office with me on our wedding day five years ago. 

What I learned through this experience is that the parental support measures on the federal student aid application are antiquated. This especially affects first-generation students, such as myself, who lack the resources to fund their education through other means. With tuition reaching astronomical heights, even if these students worked full-time jobs like I did, they would never be able to afford rent, utilities, food or tuition at even a moderately priced state school, such as the one I attended.

Years after I got married, I found myself in graduate school working with undergraduate students who were enduring the same financial aid struggles. Whether they were estranged from their parents like I was or their parents were middle-income and “made too much” for these students to be considered for any financial aid, there are too people who have to make the same types of drastic decisions that I did to finish their education.

I would never advise a 19-year-old student to get married for financial aid purposes. The fact that I made such a desperate decision speaks to the kind of reform we need within the federal financial aid program. Students are struggling to find ways to fund their education, and we are denying them the chance to get an education that could create real economic opportunities in their lives. Unless your parents have put away money for your tuition, there is a strong possibility that you may end up without any means of funding at all.

In my case, I would have never been able to leave the toxic environment I came from had it not been for my education. My education provided me with every opportunity I’ve had in my adult life, which gave me the freedom to choose a career I love and develop myself as a writer and educator. 

As American citizens, we are responsible for voicing the change we want to see. In the 2020 election cycle, vote for politicians who want to reform the student aid process. In the meantime, lobby our politicians currently in office to create change in the student aid process. Through legislative changes in our system, we can continue to empower and uplift more first-generation college students through education.

Samantha Huls is a writer, educator, and instructional designer living in San Antonio, Texas. She has a master’s degree in education and a bachelor’s degree in political science, both from Texas State University. She is passionate about adult education, nature photography, and dachshunds. You can follow her on Instagram at @sammyistheshiz or visit her website at

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Democratic Presidential Candidates Are Promising To Raise Teacher Pay. Teachers Are Skeptical.

Philadelphia public school teacher Kathryn Sundeen would love a raise. Last year, she spent about $3,000 out of pocket on her students, helping to pay for their supplies and fees associated with the debate team she coaches. But when she hears the Democrats running for president talk about giving her one, she’s suspicious. 

“It feels like a superficial way of getting to the root of the problem,” said Sundeen, a 20-year classroom veteran, of the problems plaguing public education. 

In the lead-up to the 2020 election, big-ticket candidates like former Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Bernie Sanders (Vt.) and Sen. Kamala Harris (Calif.) have all made teacher pay a centerpiece of their proposed education plans. 

Harris has released the most detailed plan, with an explicit explanation of how she would work to use both federal and state dollars to give the average teacher a raise of $13,500. Biden has said he will triple funding for Title I ― the program that gives federal dollars to schools serving mostly low-income students ― and require some of this funding to be used for teacher pay increases. Sanders has said he will work with states to set a minimum base salary for teachers of $60,000. Former Rep. Beto O’ Rourke (Texas) has called for the creation of a fund that would help incentivize states and districts to raise teacher pay. 

When the candidates speak of these plans on the campaign trail, they’re greeted with cheers and applause. But in conversations with teachers, the reaction is more mixed. HuffPost spoke with a dozen educators from around the country on the issue. 

Some teachers’ reactions ranged from unabashedly excited ― one educator even said Harris’ plan on this issue helped make her one of his favorite candidates ― to cautiously optimistic. But several educators said they are also skeptical of the politicians’ plans, wondering if proposed pay increases represent a political talking point rather than a realistic proposition. 

It sounds great, but I think we’ve had promises before that haven’t been kept,” said Fred Albert, president of the American Federation of Teachers for West Virginia. “We want to hear the how, how are you going to do it. I think that codifies the promise … teachers are paying attention.” 

Sundeen said that, for now, she’s rooting for Elizabeth Warren (Mass.). Warren has not proposed pay increases for educators, which Sundeen views as a “good sign.” 

Arizona teachers march through downtown Phoenix on their way to the State Capitol as part of a rally for the #REDforED movement on April 26, 2018 in Phoenix, Arizona. 

“She’s not trying to say the things that will get her votes, she’s trying to make lasting substantive change,” said Sundeen, who attended a May town hall with Warren hosted by American Federation of Teachers. Sen. Harris, on the other hand, “keeps hammering this rise in teacher pay thing. It feels like something she’s doing because she wants the teachers union to support her.”

Sundeen, of course, is still happy to hear any candidate discussing the importance of educators. Even if the rhetoric fails to produce any tangible gains, it sends a signal about national priorities to the public. But Sundeen hopes to hear candidates engaging in a deeper conversation about education funding and inequities.

It’s a view shared by educators from Arizona to Michigan.

Theresa Ratti, an Arizona educator, pays about $600 a month in student loans. Help with that would be just as meaningful to her as a raise. It might feel more plausible, too. Ratti used to teach government ― she now works with struggling students ― and suspects that candidates are counting on people not understanding the limits of the federal branch. Education is primarily a state and local issue. Seventeen states currently have statewide salary schedules that guarantee minimum pay based on experience, but most compensation decisions are made at the district level. In general ― without referencing specific candidates’ plans ― she questions how federal intervention would work logistically. She hopes politicians could get creative to make it work.

“That’s what some people are banking on, that teachers don’t know the way things are supposed to go. So they hear, ‘Oh, you’re going to get a raise,’ and of course everybody’s excited, we’d all like a raise.  But if you know about the federal system and its structure you know it’s not realistic,” said Ratti, who has been teaching for 30 years.

National lip service is important though, especially in a place like Arizona, where teachers have been fighting tooth and nail for more resources. 

In 2018, Arizona teachers held a six-day strike to fight for increased education funding and pay raises. In the end, the governor passed a plan that would give districts enough funds to help teachers get an average pay raise of 20 percent, and injected more funds into schools. Around the country, teacher walkouts in places like West Virginia, Los Angeles, Kentucky, Oklahoma and Colorado have led to gains in recent years. In many of those protests, teacher pay was at the top of the agenda. 

It’s the actions of those teachers that helped put this issue on the map nationally. That in and of itself feels like a victory. And might be reason enough to remain hopeful. 

Matt Kaufman, a Kentucky teacher who ran for the state senate after educator walkouts in his state, said he finds politicians’ rhetoric on this issue “comforting,” and says he remains a “realistic optimist.” 

He says he has seen a sea change in how educators approach the issues that impact them.

“What myself and a lot of my colleagues have realized ― we took a lot of things for granted. We thought if we voted, it would be enough, that education wouldn’t get gutted,” he said. “We’ve come to the conclusion: Our democracy only works for us if we work for it.”

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Trump Administration Sides With Catholic Archdiocese That Fired Gay Teacher

The U.S. Department of Justice is defending a Roman Catholic archbishop’s decision that led to the firing of a gay, married teacher ― arguing that the First Amendment bars courts from interfering in how a religious group applies its teachings.

The Justice Department’s civil rights division filed a statement of interest on Friday in a lawsuit brought by Joshua Payne-Elliott, an educator fired in June from his job at Cathedral High School, which is part of the Indianapolis archdiocese.

Payne-Elliott claims the archdiocese illegally interfered in his employment contract with Cathedral by demanding that the school fire him. The school was supportive of the teacher but faced serious repercussions ― including losing its nonprofit status, its diocesan priests and its ability to offer the Eucharist, a key Christian rite ― if it disobeyed Archbishop Charles Thompson’s mandate.

In its statement of interest, the Justice Department said that the First Amendment protects the archdiocese’s right to “interpret and apply Catholic doctrine.” The department sided with the archdiocese and requested that Payne-Elliott’s case be dismissed.

“The United States has no reason on this record to doubt that Plaintiff was an excellent teacher,” the statement reads. But the government can “cast no judgment on whether the Archdiocese’s decision is right and proper as a matter of Catholic doctrine or religious faith.”

“If the First Amendment’s Religion Clauses stand for anything, it is that secular courts cannot entangle themselves in questions of religious law,” U.S. Attorney Josh Minkler said in a press statement.

Kathleen DeLaney, Payne-Elliott’s attorney, said the case isn’t about Catholic doctrine, but rather the archdiocese’s interference in a business contract. 

Joshua Payne-Elliott (right) and his husband, Layton Payne-Elliott, were both employed as Catholic school teachers in Indianapolis. Joshua Payne-Elliott was fired in June.

Payne-Elliott worked as a social studies and world language teacher from August 2006 to June 2019, according to his lawsuit. Cathedral had offered this past May to renew his teaching contract for the next school year. But in June, the school told him it was terminating his employment “at the direction of the Archdiocese.”

“My client was employed pursuant to a written contract by Cathedral High School,” DeLaney told HuffPost in an email. “The Archdiocese ― which was not his employer ― got him fired.”

Payne-Elliott’s husband works at Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School in Indianapolis. That school was temporarily kicked out of the archdiocese for refusing to meet Thompson’s demands that it fire him. But the Vatican earlier this week suspended the ouster, pending its consideration of an appeal of the move.

The Indianapolis archdiocese has said that it sees Catholic school teachers as “ministers” who are required to uphold church teachings, which prohibit same-sex marriages. 

DeLaney said it was “highly unusual” for the Justice Department to get involved in the early stages of a single plaintiff case pending in state court with claims arising only under state law. 

President Donald Trump has made protecting the religious liberties of his conservative Christian base a priority since taking office. He issued an executive order in May 2017 asking the attorney general’s office to create guidelines for all federal agencies on how to protect religious liberty while interpreting federal law. Those guidelines are mentioned in the Justice Department’s statement of interest in Payne-Elliott’s case to help explain why the federal government has a stake in this debate.

Vanita Gupta, who headed the DOJ’s civil rights division during President Barack Obama’s administration, wrote on Twitter that the department files statements of interest when it wants to make a point. 

″[The Trump administration] is once again using religion as a shield against core anti-discrimination principles that protect LGBTQ people,” Gupta wrote.

Sherrilyn Ifill, president of the NAACP’s Legal Defense and Educational Fund, tweeted that the DOJ is using statements of interest to “aggressively promote an anti-civil rights agenda.”

Read the U.S. Department of Justice’s statement of interest below.

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Schools Look at Mental Health Days for Students

As more school districts across the country implement programs to address student mental health, cutting through the stigma that surrounds this issue is a formidable challenge. Too often a discussion about mental health is constrained by uncomfortable silences, suggestions that teenagers are maybe just lazy or incapable of handling any sort of pressure, or just outright denial.

This past summer, a group of students in Oregon did their part to help open up the conversation. They successfully lobbied the state legislature to pass a law that added mental health to the list of excusable absences. When the bill was signed into law in June, Oregon joined Utah as the one of the only states in the country to establish mental health days for students.

To skeptics, the law seemed unnecessary (many schools already permit these absences) and liable to spark a surge in absentee students.

Supporters say these concerns miss the point. The law is important because it opens up lines of communication, says Debbie Plotnick of Mental Health America. She hopes the change will help kids feel more comfortable talking with their parents and teachers.

“Acknowledging that students may be experiencing a mental health issue and allowing them to be excused to tend to their mental health encourages conversations with parents. It also allows for excused absences for appointments to get the help they may need,” Plotnick said.

As Oregon high school junior Leina McLaughlin told a local news station after the bill’s passage, “It tells me that my mental health comes before my school health and if that means staying home for a day and recuperating…that’s OK.”

Alarming Trends

Last June, the Journal of the American Medical Association published a study that found the teen suicide rate was at its highest level in almost two decades. Analyzing data from the Centers for Disease Control, the researchers concluded that there were 47% more suicides in  2017 among young people aged 15-19 than they were in 2000.

(L-R) Student activists Sam Adamson, Lori Riddle, Hailey Hardcastle, and Derek Evans pose at the Oregon State Capitol after passage of a bill establishing mental health days for students. (Photo courtesy of Jessica Adamson)

In Oregon, suicide is the second leading cause of death among this age group. According to a 2017 Oregon Healthy Teens Survey, 18% of high school juniors and 17% of 8th graders reported that they had “seriously considered” suicide in the previous 12 months. The percentages were even higher for LGBTQ youth.

For the students who led the charge on the mental health day bill, the urgency wasn’t just about statistics.  A number of suicides had jolted their communities. They also had been exhausted by school pressures and were increasingly alarmed by the anxiety levels they had seem in their classmates.

The campaign for the new law was launched at a five-day leadership summit in 2018 organized by the Oregon Association of Student Councils. Tackling mental health needs in school was a hot topic at the gathering. A group of students got to work designing a bill that permitted students to take five excused absences (a sick or mental health day) over a three-month period. They began lobbying lawmakers in February.

The bill, which didn’t actually change the number of days a student can be absent from school, quickly won support in the legislature. In June, Governor Kate Brown signed it into law.

Calling It What It Is

Spurred by the students’ inspiring leadership and commitment, the legislation attracted national and even international attention.

Other states have taken notice.

Acknowledging that students may be experiencing a mental health issue and allowing them to be excused to tend to their mental health encourages conversations with parents.” – Debbie Plotnick, Mental Health America

Last month, a  lawmaker in New York introduced a similar bill. “We need to recognize suicide and self-harm among young New Yorkers as the major public health crisis that it is, demolish the stigma around mental health care and do everything within our ower to help kids who are struggling seeking treatment, said Brad Hoylman, the bill’s sponsor.

According to reports, passage is far from certain due in part to lingering fears over students taking advantage of the policy. This was a concern that the Oregon students had to put to rest.

“When people are afraid that this is going to cause some big shift in student attendance or people are going to skip school a ton, they’re really not,” student Haley Hardcastle told The Bulletin. “Students have always made up reasons to skip school, and students have always taken those days for themselves. But now we’re just going to be able to call it what it is.”

Disrupted Learning

The bottom line, said John Larson, a high school English teacher and President of the Oregon Education Association (OEA), is that student mental health days “help reduce the stigma and will help make school environments as inclusive and supportive as possible.”

Along with its support of the new law, OEA has helped move the issue of student mental health front and center with its campaign for more school funding.

“We’re focused on improving mental and behavioral health supports for our students because our schools are in a crisis of disrupted learning,” Larson explains.  “Students are coming to school with unmet needs we can’t manage in the classroom alone. They deserve well-rounded services and supports like psychologists, nurses, school counselors, and smaller class sizes so they can have the individual attention they need.”

In September, OEA led the way by securing passage of the Student Success Act.  This historic funding law invests an additional $2 billion in the state’s public schools.  The new funding will help reduce class size and restore arts and music programs, and a sizable chunk will go toward long overdue mental and behavioral supports for students.

Even as states look for new revenue streams for these programs, experts see other bright spots across the country. Several states have mandated mental health education in schools, although many districts have already added it to their curriculum. Schools are forging community partnerships to provide a more comprehensive services. Homework loads are being reduced. Educators are talking about student stress levels. Trauma-informed classrooms are emerging in schools across the country.

Overall, schools have been helpful in educating students, teachers and staff about the urgency behind mental health, says Debbie Plotnick, and “helping to link students to resources rather than punishing them.”

In the bigger picture, supporting students’ mental and behavioral health isn’t going to begin and end with mental health days. Still, Plotnick and other experts hope other states follow Oregon’s example in taking this relatively modest but important step.

“Schools are where kids are. Recognizing mental health needs in themselves and others is proving to be one of the best stigma busters.”

The 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. Today’s teens and young adults are the most anxious ever, according to mental health surveys.

Inside a Trauma-Informed Classroom
With the right professional training, educators can reduce the impact of traumatic experiences and help all children learn.

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Educator Podcasters Share Expertise and Advice

Kim Lepre is a veteran teacher who understands there is much to learn during your first years in a classroom. With her vast experience as an educator, she found herself taking new teachers under her wing and mentoring them.

Lepre spends a great deal of time thinking about the challenges teachers face. “There’s a lot of being introspective and shifting your mindset during those first few years,” said Lepre. “But without a solid mentor, you’re feeling your way through the dark.”

Lepre felt she could offer practical, reassuring advice for these less experienced teachers. She began to realize many new educators shared the same questions and concerns early in their teaching careers.

“I also noticed that similar frustrations also came up in educator Facebook groups, so I started blogging for a solid year to address those,” said Lepre, “After that, I realized that I wanted to reach a wider audience and help even more teachers, so I thought, why not try a podcast?”

A Podcast for Every Interest

Lepre turned her idea into reality, and she is now the host of the successful podcast, Teachers Need Teachers. Weekly, Lepre releases an episode on topics such as how to have a solid job interview, how to encourage student participation, and how teachers can make personal time for themselves despite their busy schedule. Lepre wants to help beginning teachers feel competent and in control during their early years of educating.

Kim Lepre

Lepre is not alone in realizing the effectiveness of podcasts in inspiring and sharing knowledge with other educators. New Jersey social studies teacher Chris Nesi has amassed a large audience of listeners through his technology-focused podcast, The House of #EdTech.

“The House of #EdTech allows me to explore the ways that technology is changing the way that I teach. I know if it’s changing the way I teach, it is certainly impacting the way other people are teaching,” said Nesi.

Education-related podcasts range from specific topics, like Nesi’s, whose well-produced podcast helps teachers with tasks such as how to make a google forms quiz or how to be a tech coach in your own school, to more general issues, such as dealing with teacher burnout. Some podcasters, like educator Jennifer Gonzalez on The Cult of Pedagogy, cover a wide array of education-related subjects.

Some weeks she discusses instructional strategies, other weeks she will focus on social justice issues, classroom management and teacher workload.

“I have listeners teaching K-12 and at the college level. As far as I understand, I even have part of my audience that teaches medical school. I try to keep my topics pretty broad so that it will appeal to a general audience,” said Gonzalez.

Podcasting 101

Why are podcasts growing in popularity among educators? Podcasts are a communication medium that provide free access to listeners and are accessible to create with basic technology. They are also convenient to listen to whether people are at the gym, doing the dishes, or folding laundry.

Chris Nesi

Gonzalez was drawn to podcasting because she views it as “a more intimate way of learning.” Gonzalez interviews educators who share her passion for education, promoting a positive attitude on the role of an educator.

“I tend to find teachers who have a very healthy optimistic growth mindset. Their attitude about their teaching keeps them growing, and I like to have conversations with them. I think they’re really good role models for other teachers,” said Gonzalez.

Nesi realizes the value in learning through these interviews himself. “The biggest benefit of doing the show… is that I’ve been the one who gets to have these conversations with these amazing people. I am patient zero of this show because I get to have conversations that [I would not have gotten to have] if not for my podcast,” said Nesi.

Lepre, Nesi, and Gonzalez have suggestions for educators interested in creating podcasts of their own:

New Educators, Don’t Miss the School Me Podcast!
The National Education Association has a podcast of its own, featuring experienced member voices. Designed to assist educators in their first five years of teaching, the School Me podcast discusses issues and challenges any new or aspiring educator will want to know more about.

“Starting a podcast doesn’t have to be difficult and can actually reinvigorate and reignite your love for teaching,” said Lepre. “A lot of people assume that it has to be very technical and complicated, but honestly, it’s as complicated as you want it to be.”

Nesi believes starting a podcast is about having the confidence to begin.

“This is the best advice I have, and it’s super simple: just hit record. You don’t have to be great to start, but you do have to start if you want to be great.”

Gonzalez has practical advice on the best way to sustain a podcast; she has been consistent in producing her own podcast since 2013. “Before you start to release episodes, get three or four of those episodes recorded, edited, finished. You need a little bit of a buffer, content prepared and ready to go,” suggested Gonzalez. “Otherwise, life will happen, and you’ll get behind, and then making episodes will just become this thing hanging over you.”

“The biggest benefit of doing the show… is that I’ve been the one who gets to have these conversations with these amazing people. I am patient zero of this show because I get to have conversations that [I would not have gotten to have] if not for my podcast,” said Nesi.

Lepre, whose original mission was inspired by her mentees, never loses sight of this primary reason she took up podcasting. “Knowing that there are so many new teachers that are benefiting from it and sharing it with their fellow teachers makes all the time and cost worth it.”

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Every Educator Deserves a Living Wage

Debbie Reyes is a strong voice for her fellow ESPs (photo: Kimberly Davis)

Debbie Reyes gets very emotional when she recalls the day a student broke her nose. A special education paraeducator for the Pfleugerville Independent School District, in Texas, Reyes works with students on the autism spectrum, many of whom are nonverbal and have severe sensory and behavior challenges.

It was the end of the day and time to clean up, but the boy was sleeping. His mother said he regularly woke up at 3 a.m., wanting to go to school and unable to go back to sleep. The special educators often let him nap, but when Reyes woke him up that afternoon, he responded by striking out, hitting her in the face with his elbow.

“I heard a pop and a crack,” she said. Her nose was fractured in two places, requiring surgery. It took more than a year for her nose to heal.

“I don’t blame him,” Reyes says, tearing up as she tells the story. “He needs a lot of behavior support, and his parents asked us for help. I work with him in the communications unit, a section of the special education room where we help students calm down and communicate what they’re feeling, because a student can’t learn until his behavior is under control.

He just needs help and I want to be a voice for him.” Reyes is committed to being a voice for her special education students. She’s also a voice for her fellow education support professionals (ESPs) who are essential to a well-rounded education for their students but still don’t earn a living wage.

Every Job Matters

Reyes and fellow ESP members of the Pflugerville Educators Association (PfEA) in central Texas have been fighting for a $3 an hour pay raise for all hourly employees since last school year. Committed to their students, they work second and third jobs and rely on food stamps and other public assistance to make  ends meet so they can continue their work in education, which most say is their calling.

“Every single one of our ESPs is critical to the success of our students and they shouldn’t have to worry about paying for groceries or making rent,” says PfEA President Cindy Maroquio. “Everybody matters, every job matters, and they all deserve to have a living wage income.”

Reyes, a single mother who lives with her 10-year-old daughter in income-based public housing, brings home $1,500 a month in her paycheck. Her rent is $1,000 and just went up by $40. She expects it will continue to rise as she struggles to stretch the rest of her wages to pay for food, gas, utilities, and everything else.

Sabrina Reid is an educational associate for essential academics. She’s a single parent to four kids. “I didn’t set out to be a single parent, I set out to be the best parent I can be, and that hasn’t changed,” Reid says. “What has is the cost to support them … Many times I have to tell my children no because of financial reasons, which breaks my heart. I work hard and want to be able to earn enough to provide for my family.”

One month when she couldn’t pay the electric bill, she had to rely on help from her church.

“How are we supposed to survive without a proper living wage?” Reyes asks. “How am I supposed to show up at work and do a good job if I haven’t eaten a decent meal or if I’m not properly dressed? It’s not OK.”

Her job is critical to the school district—it takes a strong, caring, and extremely dedicated person to work with students with severe special needs and behavior problems.

With a $3 an hour raise, Reyes would earn $20.57, about the same hourly rate as a landscaper, bank teller, or truck driver.

To earn at least as much is a matter of dignity and respect. In other parts of the country, in smaller towns or rural areas, $1,500 a month might be livable. But in Pflugerville, part of the Austin metro area, the cost of living has skyrocketed as more and more people move there and older, traditionally low-income areas of the city gentrify.

Rising Cost of Living

Austin is consistently voted one of the best places to live, not just in Texas but in the United States. In many low-income communities of color around the city, people are being pushed out by young, higher earning professionals who want to experience life in the “Live Music Capital of the World.”

“The cat is long out of the bag,” says Maroquio. “Austin is an amazing place to live.”

But it should be an affordable place to live for everyone— including the ESPs who want to live in the same community as their students. To Reyes, it’s an issue for all ESPs, but especially for ESPs of color whose low wages can’t keep up with gentrification.

Reyes regularly makes calls to members to encourage them to share their stories at school board meeting. (Photo: Kimberly Davis)

Many of the ESPs in her district were raised in poverty in border towns like Donna, Brownsville, Mission, or Mercedes.

They live in trailers or crammed with two or three other families into one-bedroom apartments. As the cost of living rises, even those will become unaffordable unless they receive a raise.

“I tell them I will keep fighting for you because I know. I also started at $11 an hour,” Reyes says. “I know poverty. I know how bad it is.”

After years of stagnant wages coincided with enormous increases in the cost of living and the fastest growth rates in rent and home prices in the state, PfEA ESPs decided to take action.

Last April, they circulated a petition, asking all Pfleugerville educators to support the $3 an hour raise. Then they took that petition—with its hundreds of signatures—to spring and summer school board meetings.

With more than 30 union members, all wearing blue, sitting behind her in support, Reyes addressed board members in April, sharing her story of having worked in the district for more than a decade as a special education paraeducator, and loving her job despite the physical assaults and constant stress. She held aloft a copy of her pay stub alongside her monthly bills, explaining that her current pay was not enough to cover expenses for herself and her daughter.

One of the school board members has a nonverbal daughter with autism who is one of Reyes’ special education students.

“He said we were paid enough,” she says. “I was completely heartbroken to hear him say that, knowing that I worked with his daughter, knowing her struggles. I pleaded with him and the other board members to come to our classroom and walk in our shoes for a day and then tell us we don’t deserve the increase.”

According to PfEA President Maroquio, anyone who claims the Pflugerville ESPs “make enough” do not have to live on $35,000 a year.

“They haven’t experienced what that’s actually like, making only $35,000 a year and supporting a family,” she says.

“Do they realize the heart and soul and blood, sweat, and tears these educators put into our students? They have no understanding of the nature of the work that these dedicated people do, nor do they understand how critical it is.”

Show of Solidarity

Over the years, Reyes has seen special education paraeducators and other ESP members come and go. She’s not surprised. It’s a hard choice, but many who can’t make ends meet have to leave for better paying jobs.

“Costco pays $15 an hour, and most of our ESPs start at $11 an hour, so why stay?” she asks. “It took me more than a decade to get to $17.57 an hour, but I can’t imagine doing anything else.

How are we supposed to survive without a proper living wage?” Reyes asks. “How am I supposed to show up at work and do a good job if I haven’t eaten a decent meal or if I’m not properly dressed? It’s not OK.” – Debbie Reyes

I love my work as a special education paraeducator. I worked at a state hospital and a treatment center helping patients with behavior issues. I feel like this is my calling.”

The Pflugerville ESP members aren’t alone. ESPs working in neighboring districts also struggle with low wages. Maroquio and other PfEA members support other district campaigns and regularly attend their school board meetings in a show of solidarity.

“Their stories are the same as ours,” she says. “Someone at a Killeen district school board meeting spoke about being homeless for a month because of their low salaries. Another woman couldn’t pay for hot running water. These are people who barely have enough for their own expenses but will still reach into their own pockets to bring in food for their students who don’t have enough to eat. These are people who dig down deep to support their students and are simply asking for the same support from their school districts.”

As of late September, the school board had voted to give hourly district employees a 5 percent increase, which would raise Reyes’ salary by about a dollar to $18.45.

“We are going to continue the fight,” says Maroquio. “We will continue to go before the school board and ask for that $3 an hour. We’ve been advocating for this for a long time and we’re not going to stop now.”


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Vatican Suspends Decree That Punished Catholic School For Keeping Gay Teacher

The Vatican has temporarily suspended a decree intended to penalize a Jesuit high school in Indiana for refusing to fire a married gay teacher.

Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School can resume holding all-school, traditional Masses, Rev. Bill Verbryke, the school president, announced Monday, while a Vatican body considers a request to allow the school to regain its status as a Catholic institution within the Archdiocese of Indianapolis. 

Archbishop Charles C. Thompson kicked Brebeuf Jesuit out of his archdiocese in June, after the school refused to follow his orders to fire math teacher Layton Payne-Elliott. The archdiocese said that Catholic school teachers are “ministers” who are required to uphold church teachings, which prohibit same-sex marriages. 

Joshua Payne-Elliott, right, and his husband, Layton Payne-Elliott, were both employed as Catholic school teachers in Indianapolis. Joshua Payne-Elliott was fired in June.

Brebeuf leaders refused to budge, insisting that firing the “highly capable and qualified teacher” would violate “our informed conscience on this particular matter.” The school, part of the Jesuit religious order’s Midwest province, was also concerned that an archdiocese was overstepping by interfering in an employment decision that it believed should be made by leaders within the global religious order.

Thompson’s decree meant that his archdiocese no longer formally recognized Brebeuf Jesuit as a Catholic school. Although the school was allowed to hold daily services in its chapel before the school day, Thompson denied its request to hold an all-school, traditional Mass to start the school year, IndyStar reported.

The Jesuit’s Midwest province is appealing Thompson’s decree with the Vatican’s Congregation for Catholic Education, a church body that oversees the world’s Catholic schools. Verbryke said Monday that he does not know how long the appeals process will take.

“Ultimately, our desire is to remain in full communion with the Catholic Church, without restrictions on our celebration of the Eucharist, and that our identity as a Catholic school be fully recognized and supported by the Archdiocese, as had been the case for our first 57 years,” Verbryke wrote.

The archdiocese told the IndyStar that the Vatican’s temporary suspension is a common practice that doesn’t affect the appeal’s outcome.

Archbishop Charles Thompson leads the Archdiocese of Indianapolis.

Archbishop Charles Thompson leads the Archdiocese of Indianapolis.

Verbryke said that because of the suspension, his school can celebrate a special, all-school Mass for the feast day of St. Jean de Brébeuf, its namesake, on Oct. 24.

He emphasized that the Vatican’s decision to suspend Thompson’s decree is temporary.

“It does not mean that the matter has been resolved, or that any permanent decision has been made,” Verbryke wrote in his statement.

Payne-Elliott’s husband, Joshua Payne-Elliott, was fired from another local Catholic school in June at Thompson’s orders. Payne-Elliott has filed a lawsuit against the archdiocese.

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The Secret to High-Achieving Schools: ‘I’ve Never Felt Unsupported.’

It turns out that it’s not magic, or expensive curriculum, or great social media. The key to high-achieving classrooms, where students across racial and ethnic groups achieve at higher-than-predicted levels, are…teachers.

Earlier this summer, the Learning Policy Institute (LPI) in California identified more than 100 school districts where white, black and Hispanic students outperform similar students in other districts on reading and math assessments that measure higher-order thinking. This month, LPI released a follow-up study, called “Closing the Opportunity Gap: How Positive Outlier Districts are Pursuing Equitable Access to Deeper Learning” that identifies and consolidates lessons learned at seven of those successful districts, and provides five areas where federal, state and local policy can be helpful.

What they found will not be a surprise to most NEA members: Well-supported teachers make a difference. Teachers who stay make a difference. And what students need to succeed is more than just reading and math. It includes social-emotional learning, restorative justice, and wrap-around services for health and well-being, provided by education support professionals.

Some of the “lessons learned” that emerged from LPI’s research, which included two-day site visits to the districts, examination of local school schedules and program descriptions, and 30- to 60-minute interviews with 226 district- and school-level staff members, include:

  • Prioritize learning for every child. In these districts, leaders set a clear vision for teaching and learning, and equity is a central part of this vision. For example, in San Diego, their strategy has included expanded access to advanced coursework and new restorative justice approaches. “We look at everything we do through an eye to equity and access,” a staff member told LPI.
  • Build relationships and empower staff. A report summary says “district leaders… intentionally built trusting relationships with teachers. Teamwork and collaboration were elevated as shared values.” In Gridley, a former teacher told researchers: “I don’t ever feel like I’ve been unsupported by any of my administrators. There’s nothing I’ve asked for, for my classroom, to do what’s good for kids, that I’ve been denied in all those years.”
  • Value and support stability and continuity. Researchers found low levels of turnover among teachers and district leaders, and “long-term coherence to programs.” Teachers described these places as good places to work—just 1.8 percent left the seven districts in 2017. In Hawthorn, a union leader told researchers: “I think it’s because you feel like you’re in a family…I think people stay because they feel like [they’re] part of something.”
  • Attract, develop, and retain wellprepared teachers and leaders. Although many of the “positive outliers” are high-poverty districts, LPI researchers note that they have rarely hired un-credentialed, under-prepared teachers. Instead, these districts have partnered with local universities to create a pipeline for young educators, such as Long Beach United School District’s partnership with CSU Long Beach. According to the report, “[These districts] were regarded as attractive places to work, largely due to positive working environments and support for teaching.”

Well-supported teachers make a difference. Teachers who stay make a difference. And what students need to succeed is more than just reading and math. It includes social-emotional learning, restorative justice, and wrap-around services for health and well-being, provided by education support professionals.”

Other shared themes include: collaborative professional learning that supports teachers and administrators, and often includes teacher coaching; a developmental approach to new standards that provides time and professional development for teachers; support for inquiry-based instruction; and targeted interventions for specific students.

Importantly, researchers also found that these successful districts also don’t use test scores and other data to punish teachers or students. They use it to improve practice: “to inform teaching and learning, identify students in need or supports, and evaluate the effectiveness of programs and interventions.”

“We hope that other school districts and states will focus on the lessons from these case study school districts to ensure all students have access to deeper learning regardless of the size, location, and wealth of the district where they go to school. We know it can be done,” said LPI President Linda Darling-Hammond.

What’s Next?

Based on its findings, LPI also outlined five policy recommendations to improve student learning. They are:

  • Develop a stable supply of well-prepared, intentionally engaged teachers and learners. The positive outlier districts focused on building pipelines for teachers — and then making sure to keep them in their districts through supportive mentoring and ongoing professional training. LPI encourages state and federal policymakers to adopt the same focus. One possible action is “forgivable loans.” [To urge Congress to fix the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, visit NEA Education Votes.] Meanwhile, NEA also has undertaken the work of building great teachers through NEA Great Public School grants that support teacher pipelines from Alaska to Nebraska, plus professional development programs from Florida to North Dakota.
  • Support capacity-building for high-quality instruction and focused instructional change. LPI urges states to “select and develop high-quality assessments and use them for information and improvement, not for sanctions and punishment.” To help this happen at a local level, take a look at NEA’s Time to Learn campaign materials.
  • Use assessments and data strategically to support continuous improvement.
  • Create coherent systems of support based on student needs, including academic, social and emotional learning. The report notes that successful districts include social-emotional learning programs; wrap-around services for health, mental health, and social supports; as well as culturally responsive teaching and learning, and trauma-informed teaching and restorative justice practices. None of this is new to NEA members and advocates, and most of these practices are modeled in NEA’s community schools. They do require adequate funding from local, state, and federal policymakers.
  • Allocate resources for equity. Federal policymakers need to enforce the equity provisions in the Every Student Succeed Act (ESSA) that require equitable distribution of resources and staff, say LPI researchers, while state policymakers must take into account the need for well-prepared educators and wrap-around services. To help, check out NEA’s My School, My Voice website, where educators can fill out a school checklist, browse federal grants, and find out how to start a conversation at their schools.

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