Student Forced To Use Marker To Fill In Shaved Hairstyle That Violated Dress Code

A school administrator who told a junior high student to fill in his shaved hairstyle — which violated the school district’s dress code — with a black marker has been placed on leave and could face further repercussions, the Houston Chronicle reports.

The student, identified as “Juelz” in a social media post expressing outrage over the April 17 incident, had an “M” shaved into his hair the day before. When he arrived for class at Berry Miller Junior High in Pearland, Texas, an assistant principal called him out for violating the dress code, which bans “extreme hairstyles” and “carvings.” The administrator reportedly told the boy he could call his mom, or get in-school suspension (ISS) for the infraction. There was also a third option: Use a black marker to fill in the offending “M.”

A school administrator made a junior high student cover up the “M” design in his hair with a marker.

As a photo shared online shows, “Juelz” chose the marker option. Traces of the ink could still be seen the next day.

The incident prompted outcry from Angela Washington, who appears to be the boy’s mother.

Her post has sparked outrage.

“Sue the lunch off that school AND the district,” one Facebook commenter wrote.

“This is awful,” agreed another commenter. “Lawyer up.”

“I would’ve put my hands on that principal if that was my kid,” read another response.

The uproar has caused Pearland ISD to issue an apology acknowledging that the administrator “mishandled” the situation.

“District administration has contacted the student’s family to express our extreme disappointment in this situation, which does not fall in line with the values of Pearland ISD,” a statement reads.

Pearland ISD trustee Mike Floyd shared Washington’s post and called for the school official to be “fired” over the “unbelievably unacceptable.”

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Virginia’s Rodney Robinson Named 2019 National Teacher of the Year

Rodney Robinson, 2019 National Teacher of the Year

Rodney Robinson, a social studies teacher in Richmond, Virginia, was named the 2019 National Teacher of the Year on Wednesday by the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO).

Robinson, a 19-year veteran of Richmond Public Schools, teaches at Virgie Binford Education Center, a school inside the Richmond Juvenile Justice Center. CCSSO commended Robinson for creating “a positive school culture by empowering his students – many of whom have experienced trauma – to become civically-minded social advocates who use their skills and voices to affect physical and policy changes at their school and in their communities.”

Robinson says he looking forward to helping lead a conversation about the students he calls “the most vulnerable in society” and how the nation can address the school-to-prison-pipeline that has pushed too many kids out of school.

“This year I hope to be the voice for my students and all students who feel unseen, unheard, unappreciated and undervalued in America,” Robinson said.

At the Virgie Binford Education Center, which serves youth ages 10-18, Robinson uses a social studies curriculum that centers on juvenile justice and the prison system. Robinson collaborated with Pulitzer Prize-winning author James Forman Jr at Yale University in developing the unit. The curriculum allows “students to step outside of themselves and examine the system and the circumstances that have led to their incarceration and a better understanding of how to avoid future incarceration,” Robinson wrote in the introduction.

Robinson, who previously taught at Armstrong High, Wythe High, and Brown Middle School, earned a bachelor’s degree in history from Virginia State University and a master’s degree in administration and supervision from Virginia Commonwealth University. In addition to being published three times by Yale, Robinson has received numerous awards for his accomplishments in and out of the classroom, most notably the R.E.B. Award for Teaching Excellence.

A proud member of the Richmond Education Association, the Virginia Education Association, and the National Education Association, Robinson is a vocal and dedicated union activist, and was a featured speaker at the VEA Fund our Future rally in Richmond.

Robinson is standing up for students who “feel unseen, unheard, unappreciated, and undervalued in America,” said NEA President Lily Eskelsen Garcia.  “He is not only a beacon of light but also a mentor, a leader and a role model in the fight for racial and social justice in education….Every student in every public school in this country deserves a teacher like Mr. Robinson no matter their ZIP code or their circumstances.”

Robinson has focused great deal of his efforts on the need for mental health services in schools and singles out the stigma surrounding treatment. As teacher of the year, Robinson will have a heightened platform to advocate for the students who are being left behind by budget cuts and a system that emphasizes punitive discipline over preventative and rehabilitative measures.

“I want school counselors, I want conflict mediators, I want restorative justice, I want people to come in and actually work with the kids and not just put a kid in handcuffs whenever there is a minor disagreement,” Robinson told WCVE Radio in Richmond.

Robinson says the positive influence black educators can have on the lives of vulnerable students cannot be overstated. When he was a student at King William County High School in the 1990s, Robinson admits he struggled “to find his place” and looked up to his band director Mr. Calvin Sorrell, who at that time was the only male, black teacher in the district. Today, only 15 percent of licensed teachers in Virginia are people of color.

“It’s important to have role models of all races and ethnicity — especially for students of color,” says Robinson.

After graduating high school, Robinson set his sights on becoming the kind of educator many students who have made mistakes desperately need.

“Most are in survival mode 24 hours a day, seven days a week… but they still persevere and strive for success. They are my inspiration, and I will fight to my last heartbeat for them,” Robinson says

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What Is BookTube And Why Should You Be Watching (And Reading)?

Hidden among the popular YouTube videos of beauty gurus, gaming tutorials and whatever Logan Paul is doing is a small, yet growing vlogging community of people who nerd out about books and reading on the internet. That magical place is BookTube, and it reminds viewers that reading is not only fun but a fundamental part of life.

BookTube is the unofficial name given to a collection of YouTube channels that discuss all things bookish. Each day, thousands of online creators, or BookTubers, share videos about books they love (and hate), literacy, fandom and being generally crazy for reading.

“I feel able to be kind of unhinged in my passionate love for books because I know the people watching me are the same,” shares Ariel Bissett, a 24-year-old BookTuber from British Columbia who’s been making bookish videos since 2011. Her YouTube channel (also named “Ariel Bissett”) boasts nearly 150,000 subscribers and over 10 million video views. “Reading is usually a pretty solitary, quiet event so getting to find a place where people are passionate and excited and wanting to talk about what they’ve read is what’s really magical about BookTube.”

BookTubers like Bissett make videos about everything bookish from their favorite authors and series to their most beloved book covers. Book clubs and live shows like Bookmarked and Booksplosion use YouTube to discuss reading habits, pet peeves and literary tropes. Tag videos like “Rip It or Ship It” and “Blindfolded Book Challenge” allow viewers to play along with BookTubers as they pair up fictional characters or try to identify a book while blindfolded.

In the many hours I’ve spent watching BookTube, I’ve even discovered an entirely new language to discuss and think about books from DNF (a book you did not finish) to TBR (a selection of books to be read) to OTP (the “one true pairing” of fictional couples). Unboxings of book subscription services like Owlcrate and Fairy Loot share bookish clothes, fan art and collectibles with viewers. Even bookmark collections are up for discussion on BookTube.

While watching videos about reading can seem counterproductive, BookTubers encourage people to stop watching YouTube and start reading as many books as possible in as many genres that exist. Some BookTubers promote the joys of reading by hosting read-a-thons where viewers read for 24-hours straight, read only Black or Asian authors or characters for an entire month or try to read as many books as they can during one week of summer.

“In 2013, I came up with this thing called BookTube-a-thon (now known as The Reading Rush),” shares Bissett. “Anyone who loves reading and shares that passion online should participate in the event. Now we have tens of thousands of people who participate every summer who come together to read at the same time as other readers around the world.”

“BookTubers encourage people to stop watching YouTube and start reading as many books as possible in as many genres that exist.”

Publishing houses have taken notice of BookTube and have changed the way books are pitched, marketed and even the way book covers are made.

“Social media is definitely considered when choosing book covers like ‘Oh, will this look good on Instagram? Will the gloss make this hard to film?’” says Valerie Wong, a digital marketing associate for Little, Brown Books for Young Readers under Hachette Book Group, who see the majority of their engagement with young readers emerge from bookish social media platforms like BookTube, Book Twitter and Bookstagram. “For book marketing specifically, it’s a good way to get faces behind books and give books and authors some more credibility,” she adds.

Rachel Feld, Senior Director of Trade Marketing at Scholastic, Inc. agrees. “These influencers are doing a great job in connecting us with new readers,” she said. “BookTubers have become a trusted way [for readers] to find out about new books.”

Some BookTubers have been able to make friends IRL at conventions like Bookcon and Book Expo, or through the comments section on their videos.

“BookTube is letting me connect with people from all kinds of places that I never would’ve been able to connect with before,” says Cindy from Read With Cindy, who’s amassed a following of over 20,000 subscribers since starting her channel last year. “Every time I get a comment or a message from someone in Brazil or the Philippines, I think it’s so crazy that someone on the other side of the world is even watching my videos.”

“I just love that we can get together and get geeky about books!”

– India Brown

Other BookTubers have been able to parlay their channels into lucrative opportunities, getting paid to make videos through sponsors, YouTube Ads and contributions made through sites like Patreon. Some BookTubers have gotten opportunities to speak on panels at conventions and festivals, while other BookTubers like Christine Riccio and Sasha Alsberg have been able to become published authors in their own right. Just last month, BookTubers Jesse The Reader, Katytastic and Bissett were invited to sit down with former first lady Michelle Obama in a YouTube special to discuss reading and her new autobiography “Becoming.”

“BookTube has definitely changed my life because it got me back into the path of reading more and writing more seriously,” says India Brown of the channel Books and Big Hair, whose debut children’s novel, “The Forgotten Girl,” is set to release this November.

Like any social media platform, BookTube is not without its drama and controversy. It’s been the epicenter for ongoing conversations around consumerism in book buying, online bullying, as well as diversity, racism and lack of representation both in literature and in the YouTube community.

“It’s such a niche community, change isn’t going to happen overnight,” says Cindy. “The community will continue to grow. It might go through some growing pains, but it’s going to grow for the better. We’ll see a lot more diverse faces. And more BookTubers and authors of color.”

Despite, or perhaps because of, its problems, BookTube is leading a new generation of book lovers and socially conscious readers. If you were once passionate about books but somewhere along the road, reading has lost its spark, or if books are your favorite and you can gush about them all day long, or if you’re new to the literary world and you’re looking for your next good read, BookTube is a good place to go and be among your people.

“I just love the fact that we can get together and talk about books and dissect books and get geeky about books,” says Brown. “It’s a very genuine community. It has its problems, but I just treasure the BookTube community. I think it’s so amazing. It should be something that everyone is watching.”

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Should You Apply To A College Tainted By A Recent Scandal?

When a scandal lands a college at the center of media attention, students and families are often repulsed  quite literally.

That’s what we discovered when we examined admissions data at dozens of schools where scandals took place over roughly a decade.

For instance, we found that in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal at Penn State, applications dropped by 10%, or about 5,000 applicants, from 47,552 to 42,570.

At Dartmouth, applications fell by 3% in 2013 and 14% in 2014 after Rolling Stone published an exposé about the school’s fraternity hazing culture.

And back in 2006, Duke saw its applications drop by 2% after the Lacrosse rape case.

The dips in applications tend to last about a year or two and then things go back to normal.

We are both economists with an interest in how students choose colleges and the consequences of those decisions.

While we found that applications temporarily drop at colleges that draw negative publicity, there may be some good reasons to apply to a school where a scandal recently took place.

The silver lining

First, our research found that around 75% of the U.S. News and World Report’s ranking of top 100 universities had a scandal reported by the media from 2001-2013. Simply put, scandals are common across selective college campuses. This suggest that having a scandal doesn’t imply that a school is worse than another school without a scandal  or that a school without a scandal won’t have a scandal in the future.

Second, we found that schools that have a scandal are less likely to have one in the following years than schools that didn’t have a scandal. We don’t believe our findings can be fully explained by the old saying that “lightning never strikes twice.” Rather, we think it is because colleges’ responses in the wake of a scandal  from shutting down fraternities after hazings to boosting campus police to changing administrators  make them less prone to a scandal (and hopefully safer).

Third, we find that fewer students apply to a school after a scandal, likely since scandals temporarily cause a hit to the college’s reputation. The decreased application volume may make it slightly easier to get into the school.

Impact of a scandal

To conduct our study, we searched for highly visible scandals in national newspapers such as The New York Times and magazines that publish long-form articles such as Rolling Stone. Just to be sure we caught the big scandals, we used a commercially available news archives site and found the same results. We placed scandals in four categories: sexual assaults, homicides, hazings and academic cheating scandals.

Examining the top 100 schools in the U.S. News and World Report’s national university rankings from 2001-2013, we found that roughly 75% of schools in our dataset experienced a scandal that attracted media coverage. The scandals that became highly publicized witnessed a roughly 10% average decrease in the following year’s entering freshman applications.

We didn’t find that scandals had any impact on incoming students’ SAT scores or school yield  that is, the number of admitted students who actually go to the school. We also didn’t find any impact on alumni donations.

It’s worth noting that not all college scandals are the same. While we didn’t find any differences by scandal category, a recent study has shown that Title IX investigations at less selective schools lead to an increase in applications, likely due to the adage “all press is good press” for these less prominent schools. This nuance is important for predicting the impacts of scandals, like the ongoing bribery scandal uncovered by the Department of Justice’s Operation Varsity Blues. Applications to schools with scandals could rise or fall based on the school’s selectivity and how much attention the scandal gets in the media.

So why do students and families tend to avoid highly selective schools that have recently experienced scandals?

Rational behavior

These scandals might provoke emotional reactions that overtake other factors that students and families consider.

Research has shown that applicants tend to rely on simple metrics and pathways in their decision-making processes. In the absence of such an event, applicants might be more likely to accurately weigh the many pieces of information, such as a school’s academic strength or extracurricular offerings, in the complex calculus of choosing a college.

Jonathan Smith is Assistant Professor of Economics at Georgia State University and Patrick Rooney is a PhD Candidate at the University of Toronto. This article is republished from The Conversation, a nonprofit news site dedicated to sharing knowledge from experts, under a Creative Commons license. Read more articles on education from scholars.

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Measles Outbreak Highlights Why Schools Need More Nurses

This week, as federal officials tracked the 626th case of measles in the U.S. this year—the second-highest number in two decades—school nurses in several states hurried to reach the parents of students at risk of infection and keep all students safe.

But everything that has to do with school nurses and vaccines—from fact-based conversations with parents about the science of immunization to the firsthand monitoring of student populations for diseases—has been made difficult by the underfunding of school nurses.

Across the country, about 25 percent of schools don’t have a nurse, and only about 40 percent have a full-time nurse, according to the National Association of School Nurses (NASN). Nurses commonly travel between three or four schools a day or week, juggling caseloads of 1,500 or more students, trying to distribute medications and treatments on time, attempting to triage the most critical cases, while also keeping on top of a mountain of paperwork.

“If you’re not in the school—because you’re covering multiple schools—then you miss lots of opportunities to build trust with parents,” said NASN President-elect Laurie Combe, a school nurse from Texas with more than 25 years’ experience. “If they don’t see you, if you’re simply the person telling them to comply [with immunization laws], then I think you have more resistance.”

Measles has reached 22 states this year with outbreaks (defined as three or more cases) in five states: Washington, California, New York, Michigan and New Jersey, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The outbreaks are linked to people who traveled abroad to places with measles outbreaks, and then returned to communities in the U.S. where large numbers of parents choose not to vaccinate their children.

For example, in Clark County, Wash., where the CDC reports 73 confirmed cases of measles in the past few months, about one in four kindergartners weren’t immunized in 2018. Across all grades, the number of non-immunized children adds up to about 20,000.

State epidemiologist Scott Lindquist told a local radio station that the outbreak began when a group of kids was exposed to a traveler, and “then what quickly happened is all those kids who were unimmunized went to public places, like Ikea and Costco and the Portland Trailblazers game, and spread it to anyone in the population that was unimmunized.”

Measles is extremely contagious. When an infected person coughs or sneezes, the measles virus can remain infectious, in the air, for up to two hours after the infectious person has left the area.

That’s why New York City officials have ordered people in an ultra-Orthodox Jewish area of Brooklyn to get vaccinated—or risk fines of $1,000 for non-compliance. And, in Rockland County, New York, county officials last month banned unvaccinated children from public places. (The ban has since been lifted by a judge.)

Exemptions on the Rise

In Rockland County, the local health department has been working in collaboration with schools, “which is what we want to see!” says Wendy Hord, in-house expert on school healthy and safety at New York State United Teacher (NYSUT). In recent weeks, NYSUT members in Rockland, who include hospital healthcare professionals, have worked with county officials to administer 18,000 vaccines to Rockland County residents.

Because school nurses are responsible for tracking students’ vaccines and ensuring compliance with state laws, they often need to have these conversations with parents.

In New York, per state law, there are two ways for parents to exempt their public-school student from immunizations—a medical exemption or a religious exemption. These two exemptions are common across the nation: only California, Mississippi, and West Virginia don’t allow religious exemptions. But 17 states, such as Washington, also allow philosophical exemptions. And, in recent years, exemptions of all kinds have soared.

In California, the number of medical exemptions has tripled in the past two years, Kaiser Health News found. In some schools in Berkeley and Santa Cruz, more than 30 percent of kindergartners have medical exemptions. These exemptions are intended for students whose health could be harmed by vaccines, such as a child receiving chemotherapy, but Kaiser found that “one prolific exemption provider is a psychiatrist who runs an anti-aging clinic.”

Last month, a California lawmaker proposed that every medical exemption be approved by state officials.

Most medical professionals believe that parents who don’t want to vaccinate their children need better, fact-based information about vaccines—what they do, and how they do it. “No vaccines are without risk, just like most medical treatments,” says Hord. “But you look at the overall record and benefit of the requirement, and there’s a reason for them.”

Because school nurses are responsible for tracking students’ vaccines and ensuring compliance with state laws, they often need to have these conversations with parents.

“My personal experience is that some parents are ready to comply with state regulations. You notify them that the next dose in the series is due, or that their child is ready to begin a new series, such as meningitis, and they go and get it,” says Combe. “Others don’t, and what you recognize in those instances is that it might be a matter of access. So, in order to meet the needs of that portion of the population, you bring the vaccine to them in school-located events… Others do it based on their fear of vaccines. With accurate education about what vaccines really do, they may be willing to be vaccinated.”

School Nurses at Work

How that conversations goes often depends on the relationship between the nurse and parent, which often depends on the level of staffing in a school. “You address any myths that you think they may be operating under, you provide them with fact-based, scientific information about immunization,” says Combe. But, she adds, “They have to know you. They have to really believe that you have their child’s best interest at heart.”

In times of outbreaks, children who aren’t immunized typically are excluded from school. Nurses also will reach out to staff and students who they know have underlying health conditions. These are the people who are most at risk when measles, or another communicable virus, breaks out. “They’re relying on the people around them to get the vaccine, so that they can be safe,” says Hord.

But school nurses also play another role—when they’re actually present on campuses—and it’s in preventing outbreaks. Combe points to the New York City school nurse who noticed unusual symptoms in her students in 2009, and thought “Wow, we have something going on here.” Her alert to health officials uncovered the first swine flu cluster.

“If there’s an unlicensed person monitoring that clinic, while the nurse is visiting three or four other campuses, can that person pick up on disease presentation?” warns Combe. “There are many missed opportunities when a school is not staffed by a nurse every day.”

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Elizabeth Warren Proposes Wiping Out Almost Everyone’s Student Debt

On Monday, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) released a wide-ranging plan to fix the U.S. college system, with proposals including making two-year and four-year public college free and expanding the size and scope of the federal Pell Grant program.

And one particularly radical idea is sure to grab the attention of young people around the country: wiping out student loan debt for the vast majority of American borrowers.

“The time for half-measures is over,” Warren, one of many politicians and public figures hoping to secure the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, wrote in a post published Monday on Medium. “My broad cancellation plan is a real solution to our student debt crisis. It helps millions of families and removes a weight that’s holding back our economy.”

Last year, outstanding student debt in the U.S. topped $1.5 trillion, a growing financial burden that Warren argues is “crushing millions of families and acting as an anchor on our economy.” 

“It’s reducing home ownership rates,” she wrote. “It’s leading fewer people to start businesses. It’s forcing students to drop out of school before getting a degree. It’s a problem for all of us.”

To address the problem, Warren is suggesting what she calls a “truly transformational” approach: wiping out $50,000 in student loan debt for anyone with a household income below $100,000. People with student loans and a household income between $100,000 and $250,000 would receive substantial relief as well. At that point, “the $50,000 cancellation amount phases out by $1 for every $3 in income above $100,000,” Warren wrote.

That means someone with a household income of $130,000 would get $40,000 of their loans wiped out. Someone with a household income of $160,000 would get $30,000 in relief. 

People with household incomes above $250,000 would not be eligible for debt cancellation.

Under Warren’s proposed plan, up to 76 percent of households with student loan debt would receive “total loan forgiveness,” according to an economic analysis of the proposal by academics at Arizona State University, Brandeis University and the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. Ninety-five percent, or 42 million Americans, would be eligible to have at least some of their debt canceled.

The plan would particularly benefit black, Latino and lower-income households, as well as households headed by people who never finished college, the researchers said. Wiping out the debt would cost the government an estimated $640 billion, they noted.

To make the process as painless as possible, student debt owned by the government would be canceled automatically after an analysis of borrowers’ income and outstanding debt, Warren said. Private student loan debt would be “eligible for cancellation” as well, but in those cases, “the federal government will work with borrowers and the holders of this debt to provide relief,” she said. 

Randi Weingarten, the president of the influential American Federation of Teachers union, said in a prepared statement that Warren’s college proposals would be a “game-changer” for borrowers, and would prove to be “as consequential as the GI Bill” enacted after World War II.

“Sen. Warren’s plan would release Americans from their debt sentence so they can live their lives, care for their families and have a fair shot at the American dream,” Weingarten said.

Warren’s proposal also received praise from Seth Frotman, the former student loan ombudsman at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau who stepped down last year in protest of what he saw as the Trump administration’s prioritization of “powerful financial companies” over borrowers.

“Student debt has become a crisis that can no longer be ignored,” Frotman said. “We need leaders who not only understand this crisis, but who put forth solutions to end it. Senator Warren’s proposal recognizes the scale of this crisis and rises to meet it.”

In her post, Warren lays out a litany of other college-related proposals as well. Like fellow Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Warren wants to make two-year and four-year public colleges free by wiping out tuition and fees. She also wants to do more to help students pay for the growing cost of non-tuition expenses like room and board by investing an additional $100 billion in the Pell Grants program over the next decade, as well as expanding their size and who is eligible for them. 

On top of that, Warren hopes to create a fund with a minimum of $50 billion to help historically black colleges and universities and minority-serving institutions; prohibit “public colleges from considering citizenship status or criminal history in admissions decisions”; give additional funds to states that substantially improve enrollment and graduation rates for lower-income students and students of color; and eventually cut for-profit colleges off from federal money.

“I commend Senator Warren for proposing solutions to rectify our student debt crisis and to provide universal race conscious access to a quality college degree,” said Darrick Hamilton, executive director of the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity at Ohio State University. “This bold debt cancellation proposal, coupled with investments to let Americans graduate college without debt, offers an American promise of enabling access to a college education regardless of one’s race or families’ ability to pay.”

The plan to broadly cancel student debt and institute a universal free college program is estimated to cost a total of $1.25 trillion over 10 years. Warren claims the cost would be covered by passing a separate plan to annually tax the wealth of households worth more than $50 million.   

The academics who analyzed the report argued that the overall cost would likely be offset by additional tax revenue that would come from the proposal itself, which they said would serve as a middle-class economic stimulus.

“Debt cancellation cascades to relieving thousands of dollars in interest payments while leaving several hundred dollars each month for consumption and investment,” the researchers wrote in a letter to Warren. “It would likely entail consumer-driven economic stimulus, improved credit scores, greater home-buying rates and housing stability, higher college completion rates, and greater business formation.”

Thus far in 2019, Warren has distinguished herself from other Democratic presidential candidates by regularly putting out innovative policy proposals, like her plans for universal child care and an annual wealth tax on the ultra-wealthy. On Friday, Warren made news on the non-policy front when she became the first Democratic presidential candidate to call for President Donald Trump’s impeachment.

But the Massachusetts senator has also faced questions about the large size of her staff after only raising $6 million during the first quarter of the year ― a number that can be at least partially attributed to her decision to forego traditional big-donor fundraising tactics.

In her post on Monday, Warren argued that she began “sounding the alarm” on the student debt crisis long ago, noting that as a senator she has introduced bills to “provide relief to student borrowers” and “let people refinance their loans and lower their monthly payments.” She has also pressured the Department of Education to cancel thousands of “fraudulent” loans related to the now-dissolved for-profit Corinthian Colleges.

“We got into this crisis because state governments and the federal government decided that instead of treating higher education like our public school system ― free and accessible to all Americans ― they’d rather cut taxes for billionaires and giant corporations and offload the cost of higher education onto students and their families,” she wrote Monday. 

“The student debt crisis is the direct result of this failed experiment,” she added. “It’s time to end that experiment, to clean up the mess it’s caused, and to do better.” 

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I Attended Felicity Huffman’s Boarding School And I Learned More Than I Bargained For

Media stories about sexual assault and the culture of toxic masculinity at elite boarding schools have become so routine that nobody is surprised when another one emerges. Such stories involve schools like Saint Paul’s, Milton Academy, and Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s now-infamous alma mater Georgetown Prep, all classic boarding schools with preppy dress codes, honor codes, an emphasis on orthodox academics and sports, and serene campuses whose brick buildings and tidy lawns suggest history and tradition. But sexual assault also happens at elite progressive schools that don’t fit these stereotypes.

I speak from personal experience. In the mid-1980s, I was sexually assaulted at the Putney School in Vermont, a famous progressive school in both the pedagogical and the political sense of the word. Founded in the 1930s by Carmelita Hinton, a women’s rights advocate and pioneering social reformer, Putney makes high-minded claims about educating students for political responsibility and democracy, and shuns conventionality and competition. The school treats manual labor, the arts and traditional academic subjects equally, and boasts a working animal farm, which students help run.

We wielded axes on “woods crew,” washed hundreds of dishes on “dish crew,” and on “carrot day” cheerfully harvested the orange roots from the school’s vegetable plots. Courses ranged from “peace studies” to printmaking, and every Friday evening students attended an obligatory all-school singalong. There were no dress codes or grades, and a decidedly countercultural atmosphere prevailed.

Like other elite boarding schools, Putney has famous and wealthy alumni, but they’re more likely to be artists or writers than lawyers or financiers. Actor Téa Leoni, tech entrepreneur Reid Hoffman, filmmaker Errol Morris, playwright Wallace Shawn and musician Harper Simon (son of Paul Simon) all went to Putney. My Southern background left me ill-prepared to navigate this lefty elite environment. I said “y’all,” wore preppy clothes and was into bands like Duran Duran. A different set of tastes had currency at Putney: kids embraced The Grateful Dead, The Velvet Underground and punk rock groups like Black Flag. They wore alternative styles of dress I couldn’t pull off without a wardrobe makeover, and used drugs with an ease that terrified me.

Lacking the right cultural capital had serious social consequences at Putney. I was frequently bullied, and my few friendships felt tenuous. But there was one kind of capital I did have: sexual capital. I was pretty and got a lot of attention from boys. Any dim sense I had that wielding this power might come at a price did not stop me from doing so. This largely meant responding to the sexual cues of older, popular boys, my association with whom I vaguely hoped might improve my bleak social status, especially if I could land any of them as real boyfriends (I didn’t).

But sexual capital alone couldn’t make up for everything else I lacked, and I quickly gained a reputation, which only intensified the bullying I experienced, especially from girls, who understood the threat that my winning attention from “cool” boys posed to their own positions in the overall pecking order. At best, I had too many confusing, and just plain bad, sexual encounters. At worst, boys ruthlessly targeted me for sexual conquest.

Lacking the right cultural capital had serious social consequences at Putney. I was frequently bullied, and my few friendships felt tenuous. But there was one kind of capital I did have: sexual capital.

In one particularly memorable incident, a popular senior boy cornered me alone in the basement of the dining hall, where I had gone to use one of the school’s few payphones. This boy, 17 or 18 years old to my 14, began pressuring me to have sex with him. I refused, but he persisted, complimenting my looks, professing his desires, and masterfully laying on the charm. Eventually, feeling worn down and not knowing what else to do, I gave up and schlepped with him across campus to his dorm room. We had sex. I don’t recall hating it, or feeling much of anything — just numbness. In any case, I must have subconsciously reasoned, he was friendly enough, and good-looking, and it was better than being bullied.

For a long time, Putney’s reputation as a famous progressive school was an obstacle to my making sense of this incident, and the ruthless teenage culture surrounding it. Bullying, gender extremes and sexual predation seemed utterly at odds with the emphasis on social justice and “changing the world,” but I wasn’t the only one who experienced them, as I witnessed then, and as interviews with students from my era that I’ve conducted have confirmed.

To be sure, the 1980s were a time of crisis for Putney, whose administrators had allowed their belief in student independence and self-direction to go too far, resulting in a “Lord of the Flies” atmosphere. At times, it felt as if my suffering was simply due to my inability to handle such a free, i.e.,“progressive,” sort of place. But decades later, as I began trying to make sense of my experiences, I realized that the school’s chaotic conditions only amplified a more systemic problem. Simply put, Putney’s progressive ideals were in conflict with its imperatives as an elite school.

One of prestigious boarding schools’ main goals is to induct students into membership in elite society. This starts with formidable barriers to entry, like high tuition — Putney’s is now over $62,000 per year — and selective admissions processes. But economic resources and good transcripts alone don’t confer eliteness. As the social scientist Rubén Gaztambide-Fernandez has shown, once inside an elite school, students must prove they belong there by demonstrating certain behaviors, knowledge and aesthetic choices, the precise nature of which varies from school to school. The degree to which students succeed or fail at this task determines their place in the school’s status hierarchy. Nonelite students pay a higher price in this game because succeeding at it often requires them to reject aspects of themselves that are in conflict with the elite status that an esteemed boarding school bestows.

This is especially important to grasp as boarding schools increasingly tout their economic and social diversity. Roughly 49% of Putney students currently receive some kind of financial aid, and the school boasts a large proportion of international students. But the reality is — and recent research shows — that all students at elite boarding schools, regardless of background, must learn to behave as part of an elite status group.

Kids from upper-class backgrounds already know how to do this. It’s the ones who aren’t who find they need to change. In other words, it’s not that what it means to be elite is expanding to encompass a wider range of people, but rather that a wider range of people are being given the opportunity to go through the ordeal of altering themselves to fit the narrow definition of white American eliteness. This upends the whole notion of American meritocracy. In order to survive socially at Putney, I had to learn to dissociate not only from my Southernness, but also, painfully, from the cultural practices and beliefs of my family and community back home. This has had lifelong consequences.

While my original trauma was one of social class, it was compounded by my experience of gender at Putney. Social scientists have recently documented how girls at elite boarding schools are pressured to be sexual objects in order to fit in (see ”Perfectly Prep by Sarah Chase). The reasons for this are partly historical: elite boarding schools were created to educate the children of New York City bankers and Boston Brahmins, who consolidated wealth in part through marriage (hence the “trophy wife,” a primary way upper-class men signal their status). And these schools were always a male domain structured by competition, hierarchy and “survival of the fittest” values that tacitly encourage gendered behaviors.

It’s not that elites are more prone to social hierarchies or sexism than other groups — these problems permeate all of society. But they are particularly insidious in expensive progressive schools like Putney because of the sharp disparity between the branding and what’s really going on inside.

As a progressive school, Putney prided itself on rejecting these norms, but this only hid the fact that rigid gendered behavior was still going on, just in a different guise. Girls signaled status through a finely-tuned sense for the right vintage, punk or bohemian look, and by holding their own with boys, be it in sports, drugs or their ability to retain an aloof, tough exterior. But while boys used sexual conquest as a route to enhanced status in their male counterparts’ eyes, girls had to carefully cultivate sexual attractiveness without actually having too much sex, lest they be branded sluts.

The Kavanaugh hearings this past fall were a dramatic demonstration of how such intersectionality operates within elite circles, allowing men to maintain credibility in the face of convincing accusations of sexual misconduct from their female peers. Progressive elite men need not identify with Kavanaugh’s ilk or hold explicitly sexist values to reap the benefits of this system. Long before Putney, I learned that women’s status comes in part from the men with whom they associate. But the need to act on this lesson was undoubtedly intensified in an environment in which my social standing was suddenly so precarious. In other words, gender helps articulate and reinforce class inequalities among students at elite schools.

It’s not that elites are more prone to social hierarchies or sexism than other groups — these problems permeate all of society. But they are particularly insidious in expensive progressive schools like Putney because of the sharp disparity between the branding and what’s really going on inside. The tangible consequence is that families spend money on an education that is not entirely as advertised, diverting resources away from genuine progressive causes.

Putney alumna Felicity Huffman’s alleged cheating on her daughter’s college applications is emblematic of the way the need for elite social status trumps our alma mater’s supposedly progressive ideals, laying bare the contradictions between what elite progressive schools say and what their students and graduates actually do. Such contradictions reveal deeper truths about these institutions’ values. This is important because their alumni often wield disproportionate power and influence, and because demystifying eliteness can help us better understand how inequality works across the class spectrum.

If the mission of eliteness tends to undermine social justice-oriented progressive educational principles, then what is to be done? Putney Head of School Emily Jones told me that I am not the only student from my era who has contacted her to share bad experiences from the 1980s, and that, on campus, she “feels ghosts around her” from that period in the school’s history. After talking with her, I felt reassured that Putney is a much better place today.

Jones says part of the change is generational — adolescents today have grown up with a lot more “emotional intelligence,” are more gender-fluid, and talk more to adults about their lives than we did. The school is also proactively addressing issues of class and gender with mandatory courses about sexuality and consent and faculty-moderated panels on race, class and gender. I’m glad things have improved, and am sure much more could be done, but do we really need elite boarding schools?

As a parent, I value progressive education, no doubt in part because, despite the trauma, Putney did illustrate to me the value of schooling that is connected to real life, citizenship and community. But it’s these very values that make me uncomfortable with the idea of expensive private schools of any kind, which perpetuate a system in which some people go to schools where the gym has been condemned, and some go to schools that offer 30 different sports. Ideally, progressive educational values would be combined with a truly public school system in which a child’s educational prospects would not be determined by their family’s ZIP code. The root issue is inequality, and solving that will require efforts on many fronts, both in and beyond schools.

Allison Lirish Dean is the host and producer of “Ear to the Pavement,” a podcast about progressive urban planning. She researched and produced the award-winning documentary film “My Brooklyn” (2012), which has been used as an organizing tool by anti-gentrification activists around the world. Allison has covered the arts as well as urban planning and policy issues for public radio shows such as Studio 360, and for publications such as Next City, HuffPost, The Brooklyn Rail and Gotham Gazette. She also researched and produced “Someplace Like Home” (2008), an award-winning video for Brooklyn-based community organization Families United for Racial and Economic Equality. For more from Allison, follow her on Twitter.

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Sparking Student Inquiry Key to Classroom Engagement

To help spark curiosity, wonder and discovery—the things that
engage us in learning—I encourage educators to provoke more student inquiry. If students are asking more questions, and you work with them as part of a team to discover the answers to their questions together, they will be more engaged in their learning journey.

But I’ll be frank, the word “inquiry” is one of those teacher-ese
terms that sometimes doesn’t resonate in any way, nor provide a way of understanding how it can be implemented. I’m hoping to break it down here in a way that can be easily digested.

We talk about the 4Cs: critical thinking, collaboration, creativity, and communication. But the fifth C—curiosity—is just as important. I would also argue that instilling a sense of curiosity in our students is our most vital task. When it’s time for them to leave our care, we want them to take along the desire to continue asking questions and looking for answers.

Don’t worry. I’m not suggesting that students take the reins entirely. As their coach, you control the ultimate destination, and the direction they should take to get there. But allowing them to ask questions creates a more rich—a more curvy, if you will—route.

Opening the door to questions can sometime make it feel like the fast-moving train of content-driven classes is slowing down. I am the first to admit that. But you must trust that you are generating enagement, which will help make your lessons stick.

Way to Trigger Inquiry

The key is to build in spontaneous, in-the-moment instruction that encourages students to ask questions and fumble toward the answers. This “flexible instruction,” as I call it, only appears to be spontaneous. In fact, you plan for and encourage it. In this way, teachers can create a more student-driven environment that still has scaffolds and structure. Here are some concrete ways to trigger ongoing inquiry in a classroom:

At the Beginning of a Unit: After introducing a topic in an engaging way—like using an entry event to launch a unit, for instance—give students the chance to develop a list of questions. At this stage, no question is too “out there.” Then, use this as an opportunity to teach high-level sentence stems and see if students can change those close-ended questions into ones that are of a higher level and more open ended. This initial brainstorm can then be whittled down to the highest quality of questions that can then become a classroom-created list. The resulting questions can guide student research, be used as writing prompts for future formative assessments, and as talking points once students have generated some expertise in the topic.

During Research: Students can generate questions prior to the appearance of a guest speaker. To showcase their prior knowledge of the topic, have students incorporate their research into a sentence stem before launching into questions.

For example, when my middle school students were interviewing a scientist to ask about the physics of their superhero powers for their superhero origin stories, one student developed the question,

“I know that a positive and negative charge is needed to create lightning. If my superhero has one hand that generates one charge and the other hand generates the opposite, and I put them together, could my hero possibly create lightning?”

After an Initial Draft/Prototype: Once a student has created a rough draft or a first prototype, have them develop questions that are designed to elicit the feedback they want to receive. That way, they will get what they need. Also, the questions created during this step will allow you to understand what a student knows about the topic. For instance, after a student writes a first draft in my class, I will look at the question quality in order to formatively assess their knowledge of how to write. If a student poses the question: Is this good?

Heather Wolpert-Gawron

I know that this student might be at a loss and is not using this opportunity to reflect on what we’ve learned about writing. But if a students asks instead: Does my evidence strongly reflect my thesis statement? I know that kid is thinking even while needing help.

To Set up Assessments: While you’re at it, have students develop some of the questions they might encounter on an assessment. If you’ve spent some time prepping the students in high-quality questions, they can develop some questions that can then be distributed to peers to formatively assess a variety of topics.

By “outsourcing” to the students themselves some of the responsibility of generating curiosity, you will cast yourself as an ally in their learning.

The bottom line is this: Get excited by their curiosity. Don’t panic at the possibility of a lesson being derailed.

See every question as an opportunity to learn deeper and to take them on a more exciting learning journey. And when questions confuse you, well . . . smile at those, too.

You don’t need to know everything. You’ve got curious brains in the room to learn with you. Your responsibility is to give students a safe space in which they can enjoy the confusion and the inevitable learning.

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

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2 Florida Middle School Girls Charged With Plotting To Kill 9

AVON PARK, Fla. (AP) — Two Florida middle school girls are facing charges that they planned to kill nine people.

Court documents reported by WTSP-TV say a teacher at Avon Park Middle School, roughly 74 miles south of Orlando, spotted the 14-year-olds acting “hysterically” Wednesday while seeking a folder and overheard them say they would be arrested if anyone found it. She heard one say to tell police it was a prank.

The teacher found the folder and saw a mention of guns. She alerted school officials and its police officer.

Officials say the folder included plans for getting guns, killing the victims, and disposing of their bodies. The folder was reportedly marked “Private Info,” “Do not open” and “Project 11/9” on it.

They are charged with conspiring to commit homicide and commit kidnapping.

Prosecutors in the central Florida county didn’t say whether they will be tried as adults. They are now in a juvenile jail.

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Road Crew Gets Failing Grade After Misspelling ‘School’ In School Crossing

DORAL, Fla. (AP) — A road crew in Florida should get an “F″ for spelling.

A motorist on Thursday spotted the error, realizing that workers in Doral had made a mistake when painting the word “school” at a pedestrian crossing in the road. Instead of S-C-H-O-O-L, it was spelled S-C-O-H-O-L.

WPLG brought it to the city’s attention, and the city tweeted that the private contractor has now corrected its work. It’s not clear how long the mistake was there in plain sight.

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UNC Coach Resigns Amid Allegations Of ‘Racially Insensitive’ Remarks, Injured Players

Sylvia Hatchell, one of the winningest head coaches in women’s college basketball, resigned Thursday after 33 years at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, for allegedly threatening her players with racist remarks and forcing some to play while seriously injured.

A group of six parents and one other person with knowledge of the university’s investigation told The Washington Post earlier this month that Hatchell said her players would be “hanged with nooses in trees” at an upcoming game if they did not improve. 

Three players said they felt pressure from Hatchell to play through injuries, the Post reported. One later discovered she needed shoulder surgery, another learned she had torn a tendon in her knee, and a third suspected she had a concussion. The group also told the Post that the coach led her team in a “war chant” to “honor” an assistant coach’s Native American ancestry.

Hatchell and her staff were placed on paid leave earlier this month while the university looked into the matter.

After a more than two-week investigation that included 28 interviews, a UNC official said in a statement that the school “found issues that led us to conclude that the program needed to be taken in a new direction,” according to the Greensboro News & Record.

“It is in the best interests of our University and student-athletes for us to do so,’’ Athletic Director Bubba Cunningham continued in the statement. “Coach Hatchell agrees, and she offered her resignation today. I accepted it.”

The university’s investigation determined that Hatchell had made “racially insensitive” remarks, and that she wielded “undue influence” in players’ medical decisions. While the parents who spoke to the Post differed on Hatchell’s exact wording, they insisted their daughters heard her say “noose” and “tree.”

Cunningham continued: “We appreciate her 33 years of service to Carolina and to the community, and we wish her the best. Our focus now is on conducting a search for a new head coach who will build on our great Carolina traditions and promote a culture of excellence.”

Hatchell’s attorney, Wade Smith, said in a statement to the Post that “Coach Hatchell has always cared deeply for her players, and their well-being is extremely important to her. And, to repeat, she does not have a racist bone in her body.” He previously told the paper that his client did not use the word “noose” and that she was talking about the players being “hung out to dry.”

In a statement to CNN, Hatchell said she is grateful for having had her “dream job.”

“Now, I will turn my attention to supporting the University in different ways. I will continue to raise money for the Lineberger Cancer Center, to establish a ministry of exercise and recovery for cancer patients and to push for equal facilities and treatment for women’s athletics,” Hatchell said.

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George Mason University Doesn’t Care That Its Students Oppose Brett Kavanaugh’s Hire

FAIRFAX, Va. ― George Mason University president Angel Cabrera told students Tuesday night that he knows they’re upset about the school hiring Supreme Court justice and alleged sexual assaulter Brett Kavanaugh for a teaching gig. But too bad.

“Even if the outcome is painful, what’s at stake is very, very important for the integrity of the university,” Cabrera said to audible gasps from students in the audience during a two-hour town hall on Kavanaugh’s hire and sexual violence in general on campus.

“Oh, my God,” one female student said aloud.

“Why?” asked another, to no one in particular.

GMU’s student government organized the event, along with student group Mason for Survivors, after the school gave Kavanaugh a three-year contract to teach a summer course at its England campus. The town hall comes after protests, an ad campaign and a student-led petition with more than 10,000 signatures opposing Kavanaugh’s hire. He was confirmed to the Supreme Court in October after an ugly, painful, weekslong Senate fight over Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s allegations that he sexually assaulted her in high school.

Mason for Survivors, a student group that advocates for sexual assault survivors, set up a table at a university town hall protesting Brett Kavanaugh’s teaching job at the school.

Dozens of students came out for Tuesday’s town hall, where Cabrera and other school officials took precleared questions from students. The first hour was closed to the public as students shared personal stories of being sexually assaulted. Once the event was open to the public, school officials defended their decision to hire Kavanaugh ― even as none of them seemed to want to take direct responsibility for doing it.

Provost S. David Wu said it was the law school’s choice to hire Kavanaugh, and he saw “no reason for university administrators to override” their decision. Cabrera agreed, emphasizing the need to protect the law school’s ability to hire who it wants. Alison Price, senior associate dean of GMU’s Antonin Scalia School of Law, said she would ensure going forward that faculty would thoughtfully consider a hire’s “implications to all students.”

Students were somewhere between baffled and outraged that none of their school’s leaders saw a problem with giving Kavanaugh a job.

“In hiring Kavanaugh, to what extent did you consider the mental health of the survivors on campus and how that might affect them and their education?” asked one male student, as the room filled with the sound of students snapping their fingers in support.

“Even if in this particular case the outcome is one that you deeply disagree with, the process by which these decisions are made and the reason why we are so firm in defending them is actually essential to the way a university like ours operates,” Cabrera said to sighs in the audience.

David Hamlette, a 19-year-old sophomore, went rogue and shouted out a question that hadn’t been precleared. He asked the school administrators how many of them had kids, and when six out of seven of them raised their hands, he asked how many would feel comfortable with someone facing sexual assault allegations being in close proximity to their children on a campus.

In an incredibly awkward moment, only one of them, Price, raised her hand. Wu half-heartedly raised his hand after a few seconds. But even Cabrera kept his hand down as students began buzzing. Rose Pascarell, GMU’s vice president for university life, jumped in to say the question was “complicated” because she would be comfortable with her son on a campus that had a strong focus on sexual violence prevention.

Only one raised her hand! This was so awkward!

Only one raised her hand! This was so awkward!

“I don’t know if I have to keep this professional, but that was like, dumb,” Hamlette later told HuffPost. “Do you feel comfortable having your daughter around an alleged assaulter? I don’t have children and the answer is no. It shouldn’t have been a complicated question.”

It wasn’t just current GMU students in attendance. Sarah Fishkind, a 17-year-old high school senior in Maryland, told the school administrators that GMU had been one of her top three choices for college until the school hired Kavanaugh.

She shared a story about a boy in elementary school blocking her from leaving his room until she took her clothes off, and said part of what helped her get past the fear and humiliation from the incident was her mom telling her she believed her. She said she’s not sure GMU officials understand the connection between stories like hers and their decision to hire Kavanaugh.

“How could Kavanaugh possibly be hired despite Ford’s allegations? Why is the college student that recorded women in the bathroom still on this campus?” asked Fishkind, referring to a disturbing February incident on campus. “A blatantly obvious response by GMU [would be one] that states that first they do not believe Dr. Blasey Ford’s testimony and second do not care about the safety of their students.”

She continued: “The beautiful George Mason University is one of my top choices, but do I want to risk my safety and disregard my core values? I can attend one of my other top choices. When I was 10 my mother believed me. Now I need George Mason to believe me.”

Sarah Fishkind, 17, said George Mason University's decision to hire Brett Kavanaugh is factoring "a lot" into her decision on

Sarah Fishkind, 17, said George Mason University’s decision to hire Brett Kavanaugh is factoring “a lot” into her decision on whether to go to school here.

Students applauded Fishkind when she was done, and Cabrera told her “it would be an honor” to have her at GMU.

But Fishkind told HuffPost later that Kavanaugh’s hire is factoring into her college choice “a lot,” and said GMU students she’s been talking to this week have been telling her not to come to the university.

“They said sometimes they wish they weren’t here,” she said, “and at the same time, they don’t feel like they’re being heard.”

HuffPost asked Cabrera after the event if he saw any possibility of revisiting the school’s contract with Kavanaugh if students continue to protest and say his association with the school feels inappropriate or makes them revisit their own sexual trauma.

“No,” he said. “It’s done.”

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Hostile, Divisive Political Climate Ensnaring U.S. Schools

Political debate in the United States has deteriorated over the past two decades, as reasoned, well-informed dialogue has been eclipsed by hyperpartisanship, name-calling, even paranoia.  But can anyone reasonably deny that the political climate today is debased beyond a point unimaginable perhaps even five years ago?

Unfortunately, this hostility and incivility has seeped into our schools.  Rigorous classroom debate is one thing; verbal attacks designed to incite and divide is something else altogether, presenting educators with a new set of formidable challenges.

That’s the conclusion of a new survey of high school principals conducted by the Institute for Democracy, Education and Access (IDEA) at UCLA.

“The flow of the nation’s harsh political rhetoric does not stop at the school house gate, but instead, propelled by misinformation and social media, is fueling anger, fear and division that is negatively impacting students, schools and learning,” the report says.

Although the report is called “School and Society in the Age of Trump,” the intent, explains lead author John Rogers, professor of education at UCLA and the director of IDEA, is not to suggest President Trump singlehandedly took a wrecking ball to the nation’s political discourse.

Nonetheless, “the Trump administration has dramatically expanded the practice of demonizing opponents, as well as uses of invectives and violent political metaphors,” Rogers says.

A majority of the 550 principals surveyed are seeing an unmistakable increase in incivility over the past few years:

  • Nine in ten principals report that incivility and contentiousness in the broader political environment has “considerably affected their school community.”
  • Hostile exchanges outside of class, demeaning or hateful remarks over political viewpoints are increasing.
  • Most disturbingly, 8 in 10 report that their students have made derogatory remarks about other racial or ethnic groups, including immigrants. Very often, students will echo Trump’s incendiary rhetoric, with “Build the Wall!” being a particularly popular chant.

As a high school principal in California noted, “students are more and more willing to say outrageously racist, homophobic, ‘whatever-phobic’ things, believing it is their ‘right’ to do so. In the past, when this occurred, there would be a certain acknowledgement and perhaps shame I could elicit through discussion—an ability to see that hate speech is wrong. That is less and less true now.”

Source: “School and Society in the Age of Trump,” The Institute for Democracy, Education and Access, UCLA

Truth Decay

The UCLA survey also focuses on how the steady flow of false information – usually via social media platforms – has corrupted critical thinking and exacerbated political tensions and divisions in schools. Over the past few years, “students struggle to discern fact from opinion, identify quality sources, or participate in inclusive and diverse deliberations on social issues,” the report said.

While this trend long predates the 2016 election, Rogers says, Trump’s relentless campaign to discredit traditional information sources has had an impact.

“President Trump’s rhetoric often obfuscates the public’s understanding of important issues and erodes commitment to the ideal that policy deliberations should be grounded in verifiable facts,” says Roger, who cites Politifact’s 2016 finding that 70% of Trump’s statements were “mostly false,” “false,” or “pants on fire” lies.

In addition, Trump’s constant bellowing of “Fake News!” and “Corrupt Media!” further erodes the public’s trust in traditional, reliable information sources.

According to the UCLA survey, a large majority of principals reported an increase in students making at best dubious claims based on unreliable media sources, and rejecting outright the sources their teachers were using in the classroom.

The report also takes a look at how schools have been struggling to address greater societal challenges, such as gun violence, immigration enforcement, and the opioid crisis.

Trump’s “frequent public threats” to expand deportations, as well as his intention to exploit the immigration issue in 2020, has heightened the fear and anxiety of millions of students with undocumented family members.  Two-thirds of the principals surveyed said enforcement policies and demagogic rhetoric – now adopted by an increasing number of lawmakers and politicians – “have harmed student well being and learning.”

‘There’s Nothing Wrong With Disagreement’

Escalating political tensions, says Rogers, caught many schools a little off-guard, leaving them unprepared for the fallout.

The report offers a set of recommendations that can help stifle tensions and build and protect a healthier school climate.  School climate standards, for example, should emphasize “care, connectedness, and civility,” and be supported by a network of trained educators.

Rogers cautions that some district administrators pressure principals to enforce neutrality in the classroom. While this may sound practical on the surface, taking such a step can silence civil discussions.

“The most effective principals we studied create democratic cultures within their schools, inviting teachers and students to share their ideas and grapple together across lines of difference,” Rogers explained.

In one of the testimonials in the report, a principal in Connecticut pointed out that political differences between students, if handled carefully, can be used to promote engagement and trust in the classroom:

I try to be really real with kids. I try not to shy away from important topics. I tell teachers that their job is to facilitate dialogue and learning; I don’t want any sort of dialogue to be smashed. I don’t want them to feel like when discussions about the election come up that they need to shut them down so as to avoid any sort of hurt feelings or disagreement. I want teachers to have the attitude of ‘there’s nothing wrong with disagreement.’ We need to be able to foster and model how to properly do this for our kids.

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Mumps Cases At Indiana University More Than Double In A Week Amid Outbreak

As the nation grapples with a measles outbreak, the number of mumps cases at Indiana University has more than doubled since last week, school officials said, with similar outbreaks occurring at Temple University and Penn State University.

As of Thursday morning, there are 17 mumps cases at the Bloomington campus, up from seven last week. More than half of the cases have been linked to a single fraternity, which is where the disease is believed to have originated back in February, a school official said.

“We feel confident about where a lot of this is coming from which has helped us deal with it,” university spokesman Chuck Carney told HuffPost. “It’s not sweeping broadly around the campus.”

The university’s students are required to have two MMR vaccines ― for measles, mumps and rubella ― by their second semester at the school. There is an exemption for religious reasons.

There were 17 known mumps cases at Indiana University in Bloomington on Thursday, a school official said.

Of the 16 cases known on Wednesday, Carney said 14 of them had received two doses of the MMR vaccine. One of them had received just one dose, and the other had not had one because of a religious exemption.

A health clinic was recently held at the fraternity where the outbreak is believed to have originated and 58 percent of its members received a third MMR vaccine during it, Carney said.

“What that does is it provides them with a boost of immunity for about a month so it helps them stave off the illness if they are exposed,” he said.

The university is working to inform students about the disease’s spread and things they can do to avoid infection, which Carney said is “simply practicing good hygiene.” That includes washing hands frequently, not sharing drinks and sneezing in the crook of one’s arm and not their hands.

“The basic things that you would do to avoid any illness,” he said.

Temple University in Philadelphia had been dealing with a similar outbreak. As of Thursday, there are 155 cases associated with the Temple University outbreak. Twelve of them are from surrounding counties, while the other 143 are in Philadelphia, the city’s Department of Public Health said in an email.

A line of mostly students wait to enter a vaccination clinic amid a mumps outbreak on the Temple University campus in Philade

A line of mostly students wait to enter a vaccination clinic amid a mumps outbreak on the Temple University campus in Philadelphia on March 27.

The university on Tuesday said that the number of active cases at the school is now fewer than 10. During the outbreak’s peak in early March, there were 46 cases at the school, according to the university, which said it had issued more than 6,000 doses of the MMR vaccine.

Penn State University has also been dealing with several mumps cases.

Since the start of April, the University Park school said in a release last week that there have been three mumps cases confirmed and two more suspected. Those numbers were current as of Thursday, a university spokesperson told HuffPost in an email. Local station WJAC-TV reported that the state’s Department of Health considers this an outbreak.

Mumps spreads by direct contact with saliva or respiratory droplets from the mouth, nose or throat. This can happen from an infected person sneezing, coughing, talking, kissing or by sharing cups, water bottles or eating utensils. It can also spread from touching objects or surfaces with unwashed hands and then someone else touching it, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“An infected person can likely spread mumps from a few days before their salivary glands begin to swell to up to five days after the swelling begins,” the CDC’s website states. “A person with mumps should limit their contact with others during this time. For example, stay home from school and do not attend social events.”

Health officials have urged the public to receive the MMR vaccine. Some people who are vaccinated can still contract mumps if exposed, but its symptoms will be milder, the CDC said.

This has been updated with information from the Philadelphia Department of Public Health.

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For ESPs, Being the Best for Students Requires Continuous Learning

Andrea Beeman (left), Matthew Powell, and Kimberly Scott-Hayden have helped implement the ESP Professional Growth Continuum.
(PHOTO: Andrea Kane)

It’s common knowledge amongst educators that professional development for education support professionals (ESPs) is largely non-existent or irrelevant, if offered at all. Whether five or 20 years on the job, ESPs receive limited access to career learning opportunities unless they provide it themselves.

“Everyone thinks professional development is for teachers only,” says Matthew Powell, custodial supervisor at Central Elementary School in Mayfield, Ky. “But ESPs also need the opportunity to learn and grow in their careers.”

After working for 12 years as a special education paraeducator, Powell returned to college to complete a bachelor’s degree in educational studies. To meet expenses during this time, he worked as a school custodian on the night shift.

As a member of NEA’s ESP Careers Committee, Powell is working alongside ESPs and teachers from across the country to increase professional learning opportunities for school support professionals. Already, the committee has led to the development of new universal standards that provide a pathway for professional growth for ESPs throughout their careers.

These universal standards are outlined in the ESP Professional Growth Continuum (PGC).

“At the end of the day, if ESPs increase their skills and knowledge, it’s students who ultimately win,” says Powell, recently named the 2019 NEA ESP of the Year.

The PGC provides the first ever career continuum for ESPs grounded in eight universal standards within three levels of practice: Foundational, Proficient, and Advanced/Mastery. This landmark resource describes applicable standards and levels of practice across all NEA ESP job categories.

Participants can choose to work independently or join a group, known as a professional learning community. Several NEA affiliates across the country are working with members and other education leaders to develop student-centered learning opportunities aligned with the PGC to support ESPs in their professional practice.

“It goes back to wanting to be the best we can be for our students,” says Powell, who helps implement PGC standards for custodian and maintenance service workers at Grave County Schools. “The PGC gives us that opportunity.”

Local Successes

In New Jersey, Kimberly Scott-Hayden led the development of trainings for East Orange Maintenance Association (EOMA) members using PGC standards. The program started after Scott-Hayden approached Dr. Kevin West, East Orange School District Superintendent.

“Before anything, you need to effectively communicate a message, a perception, or a theory,” says Scott-Hayden, who first enticed Dr. West with an idea about training ESPs to communicate more effectively at work.

In East Orange, EOMA’s original 32 members were the first to join the training sessions. Scott-Hayden and Dr. West decided to begin with this question: How can I grow professionally to become more culturally aware and effective in communicating with students and colleagues?

Scott-Hayden and the team found that discussing culturally sensitive issues can be difficult. Still, they asked participants how they collaborate with members from culturally diverse groups, how they evaluate their ability to recognize reactions in individuals different from themselves, and how they address the consequences of inequities based on identity or group membership.

“Understanding the culture of your community gives you a better sense of your students,” says Andrea Beeman, a paraeducator who serves with Powell and Scott-Hayden on the NEA board and ESP Careers Committee.

Once educators saw the passion of Scott-Hayden and her team, the New Jersey program quickly expanded across East Orange. The team was awarded one of NEA’s Great Public Schools Fund Grants for $90,000 over three years starting in the 2018-2019 school year. She says she could not have predicted the spike in membership after the grant was issued, which reached 370 members to now include teacher assistants, paraprofessionals, and security guards along with the original maintenance workers.

Members of the ESP Careers Committee met in March at the NEA ESP Conference in Las Vegas, Nev.                 (PHOTO: Andrea Kane)

“Just based on the work they are seeing, people have said, ‘I’m buying into this.’ It builds capacity,” says Scott-Hayden. “It gives you an opportunity to show your district that you are an important stakeholder in your career development. You can use PGC to bargain, as leverage to increase your salary, or for career advancement. It will cultivate leaders.”

In Ohio, Beeman says trainings aligned to the PGC will help close the achievement gap.

“In order to do my job effectively, I have to know a student’s strengths, weaknesses, interests, and aspirations, hopes and dreams,” says Beeman, who works at Maple Heights High School in Maple Heights.

Along with opportunities for professional growth offered by PGC is the chance to better connect with students, Beeman explains. She says students want to know a few things, such as: Will you help me, do you care about me, and do you see me as an individual.

“Responding to that begins with gaining a clear understanding of a student’s racial and cultural background,” Beeman says. “My focus is to meet my students where they are and on their terms.”

How the PGC Works

While the continuum provides a career path toward personal and professional growth, it is not meant to be linear or hierarchical. The model is fluid so ESPs can build their professional capacity in one or more standards. Participants might be “proficient” in one standard and “advanced” in another based on how skills compliment on-the-job experiences and training.

NEA offers an opportunity for members to conduct a PGC self-assessment and strengthen their knowledge and skills through NEA micro-credentials, which are short, competency-based recognitions that allow educators to demonstrate mastery in a particular area. Micro-credentials are available for each of the eight universal standards outlined in the PGC. By completing micro-credentials, ESPs can learn how to use the standards to reflect on current levels of skills and knowledge and map out opportunities to grow in their professional practice.

“As educators progress through the levels of practice, increased knowledge and skill levels are going to help them when they engage in difficult cultural conversations with students,” Beeman adds.

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Kamala Harris Says She Regrets That Parents Were Arrested Under Her Truancy Law

Sen. Kamala Harris said Wednesday that she regrets that some California prosecutors “criminalized the parents” of truant children using a controversial 2011 law she helped pass when she was the district attorney of San Francisco.

“My regret is that I have now heard stories where in some jurisdictions, DAs have now criminalized the parents,” Harris said in an interview with “Pod Save America.”

“And I regret that that has happened and the thought that anything that I did could have led to that,” she added.

This is the latest instance of Harris grappling with critiques of her prosecutorial record since launching her 2020 bid for the presidency.

Truancy — which refers to unexcused school absences — was one of Harris’ signature issues while she was the San Francisco district attorney and California attorney general. 

The law in question imposes fines and jail time on parents of children in kindergarten through eighth grade who have missed 10 percent of school days or more without a valid excuse. 

Harris championed the law in the state legislature after she successfully reduced truancy in San Francisco by threatening to prosecute parents under a more dated law.

Harris’ remarks also come after HuffPost profiled an Orange County mother who was arrested and vigorously prosecuted under the 2011 law. Orange County’s district attorney touted the woman’s arrest as part of a gang prevention effort; in reality, her 11-year-old daughter was missing school because of chronic illness.

Many observers also questioned whether Harris’ push to address truancy through the criminal justice system inherently punished low-income and struggling families. She has previously framed truancy as “a parent issue” that stems from parental “neglect.”

Harris has always said her goal in involving prosecutors in the truancy process was not to punish parents but to give schools more leverage to bring them to the table. 

When she was district attorney of San Francisco, she noted, her office never jailed any parents. 

“I realized that the system was failing these kids, not putting the services in place to keep them in school, to make it easier for parents to do what parents naturally wanted to do around parenting their children,” she said in the interview. “And so I put a spotlight on it.”

“As a result of doing that, we ended up increasing attendance by over 30% because we actually required the system then to kick in and do the services that they were required to do and sometimes had available, but they weren’t doing outreach with the parents,” she continued. “And so that was the whole purpose.”

If any parents who were punished as a result of the law she later helped pass, that was an “unintended consequence,” Harris said.

Read the full HuffPost investigation here

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Anti-Vaxxers Sue New York City Health Department Over Vaccine Mandate

New York law requires every student entering or attending public, private or parochial school to receive a cocktail of immunizations, though medical and religious exemptions are allowed.

Many Orthodox Jews believe vaccinations run counter to Jewish or Talmudic law, leading to low vaccination rates in some communities, despite some rabbis who warn it’s a mistaken belief with potentially dire consequences.

A mounting measles outbreak in the Williamsburg area prompted New York health officials to issue the mandate on April 9 requiring all people who live or work within ZIP codes 11205, 11206, 11211 and 11249 to receive the MMR vaccine if they haven’t already.

As of Monday, there were at least 267 confirmed measles cases in Williamsburg since September ― 39 of which were reported in the past week. New York health officials say Jewish yeshivas and day care centers are of particular concern.

At least one day care center in Williamsburg has been shut down since the mandate went into effect last week for failing to provide vaccination records for students and staff to the health department. More than 20 yeshivas and day care centers have received citations for violating the order.

In their lawsuit, the parents argue the city’s response to the measles outbreak has been “irrational” and that it doesn’t pose a clear danger to public health.

One to two children out of every 1,000 who contract the disease die from it, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“We try always to respect religious rights, religious customs, but when it comes to public health, when we see a problem emerge, we have to deal with it aggressively,” New York Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) said last week. “We are absolutely certain this is an appropriate use of our emergency powers.”

Failure to comply with the April 9 order is a misdemeanor that could result in various penalties, including criminal fines or imprisonment, officials warned.

In their lawsuit, the parents of unvaccinated children say the mandate is causing “irreparable harm” and complained that they’re being “treated like pariahs.”

“Parents, whose religious beliefs are being disregarded, risk becoming criminals if they simply do nothing,” according to the lawsuit. “Parents who know their children’s health status better than anyone else are being threatened with the forced vaccination of their children against their wills.”

The order, issued by New York City Health Commissioner Oxiris Barbot, remains in effect until a New York City Board of Health meeting scheduled for Wednesday when it will be decided whether to continue or rescind the mandate.

Measles cases in the U.S. are at the second-highest level in 25 years, with the number expected to rise, according to figures released by the CDC on Monday.

The virus was nearly eliminated in the U.S. in 2000, but the CDC reports a growing number of unvaccinated communities is causing outbreaks to rise again.

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Barbering Behind Bars: Using A Community Cornerstone For Criminal Justice Reform

Inside the Mecklenburg County Detention Center’s walls sit five brand-new chairs between two pillars decorated like barber poles.

The county opened a barber school on April 1 for teenagers in pretrial detention at the jail in Charlotte, North Carolina. The school, called Ausie’s Barber School, is the first of its kind in the state’s jail system.

“I’m real excited about this program; it’s been a long time coming,” instructor Jeff Broadie told HuffPost. “We’re looking to have a grand time.”

The five incarcerated 16- and 17-year-old boys in the county’s barber program — who call themselves the “Fab Five,” Broadie said — spend four to five days a week learning how to cut hair, apply relaxers, do facials and master the art of grooming. Broadie, who owns multiple barber schools outside the jail, said he makes sure the teens learn theory and classroom work before they can start working on each other.

“You’ve got to know hair,” he said. “It’s more than just cutting.”

The students will rack up as many hours as they can before eventually applying to take the state exam to become licensed barbers, ready to work. North Carolina requires barber school students to complete 1,528 hours of course instruction before taking the exam.

Detention centers and prisons throughout the country have begun establishing beauty and barber schools as part of their educational training. A 2013 study showed that allowing incarcerated people to participate in academic and vocational programming reduces recidivism, or being incarcerated again, by 40%.

Just because somebody went to prison doesn’t mean they’re irredeemable.
Kenyatta Leal, The Last Mile

Kenyatta Leal knows a little bit about that statistic. Leal spent about two dozen years in California’s prison system before he was released in 2013. During his time in San Quentin State Prison, he participated in a program called The Last Mile that brought businesses from the community into the facility to help teach corporate skills to incarcerated people. Now he works at the nonprofit to help continue its mission.

“Just because somebody went to prison doesn’t mean they’re irredeemable,” he said. “We all have redeemable qualities, and if we’re able to provide people with a framework for change and a support system and real-life opportunities that anyone could do … we would be better off as a society.”

The Mecklenburg program also works with the community to pay for continuing barber school education if students do not finish by the time they leave the detention center.

“What we love about this is, once they have gotten their situation disclosed, if they’re going to return to the community, they can continue at any barber school in this city and we’ll pay for it,” said sheriff’s spokeswoman Tonya Rivens, whose grandfather Ausie Rivens, the first black barber in Cornelius, North Carolina, inspired the name of the detention center’s barber school.

Sheriff Garry McFadden said a group he helped create called Cops and Barbers, rather than the county, will help pay for continuing education at an outside local barber school. The nonprofit works to bridge the gap between law enforcement and communities of color, citing barber shops as safe havens and vital institutions in those communities.

“Even if you do not have the money to complete barber school, we’re coming up with initiatives to pay for your tuition,” McFadden said. “We will get with the brothers at [the barber schools], we’ll put you in the barber schools, we will pay for your tuition.”

Incarcerated teens who get transferred into adult prisons can make sure their schooling doesn’t end at the detention center. Tonya Rivens said young people going into the prison system can get on the waitlist for a location with a school. The only prison — rather than jail — in North Carolina to have a barber school is Harnett Correctional Institution in Harnett County.

Similar to Mecklenburg, the youth detention center in Cook County, home to Chicago, opened its own barber school in 2017 called S.T.A.R. — which stands for Standing Tall Against Recidivism — Barber College. That program has room for eight students at a time, and the hours they earn at the detention center count at a traditional barber school.

“For me, it’s like a fresh start, and do something different, like I can help other people out doing it,” participant Damarco, 18, told ABC 7 when the program opened.

The barber schools are seen as an important tool in helping incarcerated people move forward in their lives and prepare to reenter their communities. A 2016 U.S. Sentencing Commission study said that incarcerated people released from federal prison before turning 21 had a roughly 68% rearrest rateand those without a high school diploma were more likely to be rearrested than those with high school or college degrees.

The statistics make a case for education programs in prisons and detention centers in the U.S., a country that leads the world in incarceration, according to the International Centre for Prison Studies.

Rivens said local officials expect the barber school program to be even more successful than everyday education programs at the detention center.

“These soft-serving certificates … it does not get them a job when they get out,” she said. “Now you’re teaching them a trade that would be very prosperous along the lines of sustaining a living, because [a barber shop] is an institution in our community, and people until the end of time will always need a haircut.”

Broadie, the instructor, said the biggest consideration for him is building a connection with the boys and “keeping them focused,” as barber schools and shops are also considered places of mentorship.

“If I can reach them, then I can teach them,” he said. “By being in a program like this where there’s a father figure or a big brother figure, our jobs are to help them build character, be responsible and work together as a team. All that plays a part in helping them be successful.”

To help make sure students he mentors continue on the right track when they return to their communities, Broadie said he will keep an eye on them for about a year after they get their licenses.

If I can reach them, then I can teach them.
Jeff Broadie, barber school instructor

People who were formerly incarcerated often face an array of difficulties when reentering the community, according to a 2014 report on U.S. mass incarceration trends. They often deal with lower wages, denial of jobs and food stamps, and require support and encouragement from the community.

“When I was their age, I didn’t think I was gonna live past 25,” Leal said of the incarcerated teens. “I was looking at what was happening around me, my reality where I lived at. So in my mind, I needed to live it up right now while I had a chance. And I think that a lot of young people experience the same things.”

Ann Jacobs is the director of the Prisoner Reentry Institute at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. Jacobs previously told HuffPost that reentry can be successful if a recently released person meets six basic life needs: livelihood, residence, family, health, criminal justice compliance and social connections. While those needs can show up in different ways depending on the person’s situation, continuing one’s education at a barber school and eventually making a living as a licensed barber helps secure some of those life needs.

“When you have a person who learns a trade and is able to develop this skill, building one’s self-efficacy and tapping into that human resiliency that we all have … it’s amazing,” Leal said. “We’ve got a lot of work to do in terms of reducing recidivism and breaking down the prison industrial complex, but it’s going to take this kind of work to do it. Because if we’re going to sit around and wait for the state to do it, it’s never going to happen.”

McFadden said that Mecklenburg’s barber school program helps restore dignity to incarcerated people who can often feel dehumanized in prison and detention. He hopes more detention centers implement similar programs and team up with the community.

“We want them to duplicate it. We want to reduce crime nationwide,” the sheriff said. “It’s true criminal justice reform, and that’s what we want.”

The ribbon-cutting for the Mecklenburg County Detention Center’s new barber school.

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Preschool At D.C. Synagogue Accused Of Enabling ‘Systemic’ Child Sexual Abuse

A preschool at a prominent Jewish synagogue in Washington, D.C., enabled sexual abuse against numerous children for years, a new lawsuit filed Monday alleges.

The families of eight children previously enrolled at Washington Hebrew Congregation’s Edlavitch Tyser Early Childhood Center say the preschool and its leader, Deborah “DJ” Schneider Jensen, failed to protect students from a child sexual predator over a two-year period, according to the complaint.

The families allege Jordan Silverman, a teacher at the preschool, subjected numerous children, including their own, to “regular and systemic” sexual abuse beginning in March 2016. The lawsuit alleges the children were between ages 2 and 4 at the time of the abuse.

The 74-count complaint alleges the abuse, perpetrated against both male and female children, included the most “grievous, demeaning and damaging forms of sexual abuse.”

“Mr. Silverman categorically denies engaging in any inappropriate or illegal contact with children at Washington Hebrew Congregation,” his attorney, Shawn Sukumar, told HuffPost. He declined to comment further. Silverman has not been charged with a crime.

Metropolitan Police Department of the District of Columbia confirmed to CNN that an investigation into alleged sexual abuse of children at the school is currently ongoing. 

Jensen, head of schools for Washington Hebrew Congregation, hired Silverman to teach at the preschool despite having no professional background in teaching or child care, the complaint alleges. Previously, he worked for 20 years as a photographer in Vermont, before moving to Bethesda, Maryland, according to the lawsuit.

Silverman was often alone with the preschoolers, the lawsuit alleges, even though child development centers in Washington are required to enforce a “two-deep policy,” which requires two adults to be present at all times if one or more children are present.

The policy is “the number one deterrent of children being abused in an institutional setting,” Michael Dolce, the attorney representing the families, told HuffPost. “It’s a very effective way to guard against the unknown abuser.”

But Silverman was “allowed and encouraged” by school administrators to be alone with individual or small groups of children on an almost daily basis, according to the lawsuit.

Dolce would not describe specific aspects of the alleged abuse, citing the ongoing police investigation.

“Each child has required mental health professional intervention,” Dolce told HuffPost. “It’s just been incredibly difficult for the children involved.”

Parents and teachers reported concerns related to Silverman’s behavior as early as one month after he was hired, but Jensen took no action, the lawsuit alleges. 

Jensen “ignored, rejected and purposefully silenced repeated warnings and expressions of concern, from parents and teachers alike, that Jordan Silverman might be engaged in inappropriate conduct towards children,” the complaint states.

The complaint continues: “The children who were abused are left to suffer with profound, grievous and debilitating mental health harm, with expected life-long and developmental adverse impact.”

Jensen remained head of schools for the synagogue as of Monday, though she has announced plans to leave at the end of the school year. Silverman was placed on administrative leave in August 2018 after a young child accused him of sexual abuse, according to a press release issued by Dolce’s law firm. 

Washington Hebrew Congregation said in a statement that “child safety has always been our top priority,” indicating that it reported the allegations to the police after the August 2018 complaint.

“Although there has not been any arrest, these allegations are very troubling,” the synagogue said in its statement. “As a faith community, Washington Hebrew has supported and will continue to support its entire community as individuals grapple with how these allegations affect them and their families.”

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New Mexico Gets Rid of A-F School Grading System

For the past several years, students at Dulce Elementary School, on the Jicarilla Apache Nation reservation in New Mexico, faced the threat of school closure. The only elementary school in the district, if it closed students would have to rise before dawn for a long bus ride over bumpy, dusty roads to the closest schools, more than 30 or 40 miles away.

But rather than punishing the students and their tribal community by closing the only elementary school for miles, New Mexico’s new governor and secretary of education will amend the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), scrap the A-F school grading system and replace the policy of labeling schools as ‘failing’ in favor of actually supporting schools in need and celebrating successes of schools doing well or making progress.

This is ESSA done right, says NEA–New Mexico Vice President Mary Parr-Sanchez.

“The proposed changes to New Mexico’s ESSA plan will ensure that the state and local school districts are measuring things that are important and highlight what is good about a school as well as what needs improvement,” Parr-Sanchez says. “Before, the state ESSA plan merely highlighted shortcomings of schools, with no offer of how to support.

All three schools in the Dulce Independent Public School District on the Jicarilla Apache Nation will finally receive the funding they so desperately need, have applied for, and have been denied under the punitive measures of the previous education secretary, which focused on test scores. Now the district will receive support on things like family engagement and attendance and the emphasis on test scores will be reduced.

Don’t Flunk Schools, Support Them

Beyond the Apache reservation, support will extend throughout the state to the many schools who need assistance. Last year, more than two thirds of the New Mexico’s schools received Ds or Fs; in Santa Fe, 56 percent of schools received the lowest grades.

NEA-New Mexico and other public education advocates called for legislators to recognize that slapping bad grades on a school and threatening them with closure or privatization was not the solution; students at these schools needed better supports.

The new governor, Democrat Michelle Lujan Grisham, ran on making big revisions to the ESSA plan put in place by her predecessor. Those included getting rid of teacher evaluation through test scores, the A through F system for grading schools, and PARCC tests.

NEA-New Mexico members overwhelmingly supported Grisham in the election and from “Day One,” says Parr-Sanchez, “Grisham has worked to change the bad and harmful practices of her predecessor. From Day One, she ended PARCC testing and the grading and labeling of schools in need,” Sanchez says. “This is why elections are so important for educators.”

Accountability to Come Through New Indicators

The shift does not mean that “there are no consequences for underperformance,” said Karen Trujillo, New Mexico’s new secretary of education. “With high levels of support must come high levels of accountability.”

The state is planning to launch a “New Mexico Spotlight Dashboard” in fall 2019, will celebrate the success of the highest performing schools, identify schools that the department will support with federal grant money, and provide families with an opportunity to learn more about their local schools.

Michelle Lujan Grisham

New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham (center)

“We believe that when schools struggle academically, the system is failing the school, not the other way around,” says education secretary Trujillo.

Based on indicators of academic performance and school climate rather than test score data alone, the New Mexico Education Department will collaborate with districts, schools, and communities to determine what resources are needed to support schools on their path to student success.

Trujillo says the dashboard will give more nuanced information about schools not offered with a simple A-F grade.

Recognizing that there is much more to a school’s story than test scores, the proposed amendments shift points for elementary and middle schools from test scores to educational climate. For high schools, the amendments increase the points for improvements in graduation rates to emphasize an improvement-oriented approach.

“This shift in philosophy will allow the education department to allocate federal resources where they can make the most impact and help every student succeed,” says Trujillo.

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Substitute Teacher Fired After Bullets Fall Out Of Pockets In Pre-K Class

A substitute teacher in Massachusetts may have shot his career ambitions in the foot after bullets fell out of his pockets during a class.

The unidentified teacher was covering a pre-kindergarten classroom on Thursday at Elmwood Street School in Millbury when the bullets fell on the classroom floor.

Another teacher overheard the bullets hitting the floor and notified the principal, according to local station WHDH-TV.

Millbury Police Chief Donald Desorcy said the teacher claimed he had been shooting the day before.

“So apparently he was wearing the same clothing two days in a row,” he told the station. “He claims he had left magazines in his pocket.”

The Millbury Police Department suspended the teacher’s license to carry firearms. Officers later seized six handguns, 12 shotguns and rifles, and ammunition from the teacher’s home.

Although it is not illegal to bring ammunition on school grounds, Desorcy told Boston TV station WFXT that the teacher will face charges of improperly securing his guns at home.

“To me, that’s just not sound judgment, an individual not thinking clearly or have a strong concept of gun ownership or gun responsibility,” Desorcy said.

Superintendent Gregory B. Myers later confirmed to media outlets that the substitute teacher had been fired, according to the Worcester Telegram.

“That kind of an oversight, even if you legitimately forget that you have something like that in your pocket, is not going to be tolerated,” Myers told WHDH-TV, adding that he’s also reached out to parents to let them know the school is safe.

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Muslim Student Attacked In Possible Bias Incident At New Jersey School

A New Jersey school district has vowed to review its policy toward school fights after a Muslim student and her alleged attacker were both disciplined for an altercation on school grounds last week. 

Middlesex County authorities announced charges of simple assault, harassment, cyber harassment and disorderly conduct Thursday against a student accused of fighting with another student at East Brunswick High School on Wednesday. 

The altercation began as an argument over a seat in a common area and escalated quickly, according to the school. The charged student attempted to pull off her Muslim classmate’s hijab during the fight, The Associated Press reports.

The alleged attacker also posted an “inflammatory” statement on Snapchat, the town’s mayor, Brad Cohen, said in a statement. That post helped investigators identify the altercation as a “bias incident,” although it did not rise to the level of a hate crime, reported.

“It truly saddens me that we are even having this discussion, especially given the circumstances that occurred in New Zealand such a short time ago. Bias, in any form, is unacceptable in this community and it is simply NOT who we are or what we stand for,” Cohen said.

A family member of the alleged attacker told Pix 11 on Thursday that the teen is a “good kid” and “not racist.” 

East Brunswick’s board of education has a “zero tolerance” policy toward fighting in schools. Administrators are able to discipline both parties involved in a physical altercation ― even if one of them was fighting in self-defense. There may be a different outcome if a student who is attacked backs away and calls on school officials to intervene instead of engaging in the fight, superintendent Victor Valeski said.

Both of the students involved in this fight were suspended, Valeski confirmed to HuffPost. The Muslim student has already returned to class, he said.

A third student who recorded the fight and posted it on social media was also disciplined for violating a school policy that prohibits students from posting unauthorized photographs of classmates and staff, according to Valeski.

Some East Brunswick High School students were upset that their Muslim classmate was suspended for the fight. Thousands of people signed an online petition calling for changes to school district policy.

“She’s really nice, everyone loves her,” Gabrielle Goins, an East Brunswick High School student told CBS New York about the Muslim student. “Why is someone suspended if she’s defending herself?”

In this case, school officials used security footage to determine that there was indeed a fight, Valeski said. But since the investigation is ongoing, he said he couldn’t confirm whether the Muslim student was fighting in self-defense.

James Sues, executive director of the New Jersey chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, told HuffPost that the Muslim student’s family is “somewhat satisfied” with how the school and the police have handled the incident. Sues said he has spoken to the student’s family but that CAIR-NJ is not representing them in a legal capacity.

The school has erased the suspension from the Muslim student’s record, Sues told HuffPost. Valeski was unable to confirm this, telling HuffPost that he couldn’t share specific information regarding student matters.

Sues said he hopes “students that are attacked and take steps to defend themselves are not suspended for that.”

Cohen, the town’s mayor, said in his statement that the alleged attacker had received a “far worse” punishment than the other student.

On Thursday, a board of education meeting attracted dozens of community members who expressed frustration about the incident. The board and Valeski announced a “comprehensive review” of the zero tolerance policy and its future applications on Friday.

“The Board and Dr. Valeski share the community’s collective desire to foster an environment throughout our Township and our schools that promotes unity and inclusion and celebrates East Brunswick’s extraordinary diversity,” the board of education said in its statement.  

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Morehouse College To Begin Taking Transgender Men Next Year

The country’s only all-male historically black college will begin admitting transgender men next year, marking a major shift for the school at a time when higher education institutions around the nation are adopting more welcoming policies toward LGBT students.

Leaders of Morehouse College told The Associated Press that its board of trustees approved the policy on Saturday.

Transgender men will be allowed to enroll in the school for the first time in 2020. Students who identify as women but were born male cannot enroll, however, and anyone who transitions from male to female will not be automatically eligible to receive a degree from the institution.

Morehouse officials hailed the move as an important step toward a more inclusive campus while affirming its mission to educate and develop men.

“I think Morehouse having the courage to speak to issues of masculinity in today’s environment is important,” Morehouse College President David Thomas told The Associated Press. “For 152 years, the world has, in some way, seen Morehouse as the West Point of black male development.”

The policy also states that Morehouse “will continue to use masculine pronouns” which it calls “the language of brotherhood.”

Morehouse is an iconic college that counts the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., filmmaker Spike Lee and former Atlanta Mayor Maynard Jackson as its alumni. It bills itself as the “college of choice for black men” that has instilled leadership skills in generations of African American men.

More than 1,000 colleges and universities nationwide have adopted some form of a transgender policy, including about two dozen historically black colleges. An increasing number of schools are updating admissions guidelines to ensure transgender students have a welcoming experience, said Human Rights Campaign spokeswoman Sarah McBride.

“Young people are incredibly supportive of LGBT equality, including transgender equality,” McBride said. “Schools are responding in kind. In many ways, our college campuses look like the country we’ll have in 10 or 15 years. There are a lot of reasons for hope.”

Morehouse becomes the first standalone all-male college in the country to adopt a transgender policy. Nationwide, there are only two other all-male colleges, Wabash College in Indiana and Hampden-Sydney College in Virginia. Minnesota’s St. John’s University, which enrolls only men but shares a co-ed academic program with the College of St. Benedict, also has a transgender policy.

Morehouse has had challenges around LGBT issues, most notably the 2002 attack of a 19-year-old student accused of beating a fellow student with a baseball bat who he mistakenly thought was making a sexual advance.

Gregory Love’s skull was fractured in the beating. Aaron Price was found guilty of assault and initially sentenced to 10 years in prison.

The incident was widely seen as reflective of a larger and pervasive attitude toward the LGBT community among African Americans.

Thomas acknowledged that historically black colleges and universities — mainly established after the Civil War with the help of religious institutions like the Baptist and Methodist churches — face added challenges in addressing issues of gender and sexuality because of opposition in black churches.

“I can’t speak for all HBCUs, but we know in the black church there has largely been silence on this issue,” Thomas said. “I can imagine there may be people who would say, ‘Why would you even raise this?’ I say to those people we live in an era now where silence on these issues is actually not helpful. For us, as a school for men, it’s important for us to set clear expectations about what that means. That’s what we’re trying to do with this policy.”

In 2009, the college updated its dress code, in part to address a handful of students who were wearing women’s clothing on campus. The following year, Morehouse held its first Gay Pride. Morehouse offered its first LGBT course in 2013 and has a scholars program named for civil and gay rights icon Bayard Rustin.

Spelman College, an all-woman HBCU next door to Morehouse, adopted a transgender policy in 2017, and the first transgender woman graduated in 2018.

Other HBCUs with transgender policies include Tuskegee University, Howard University, Florida A&M University, Southern University in Louisiana, North Carolina Central University and Morgan State University in Maryland.

Titi Naomi Tukes — a 2017 graduate of Morehouse who enrolled as a cisgender man in 2013 but now identifies as transgender nonbinary and uses the pronouns they/them/their — said they disapproved of the policy, which they learned about in an alumni email on Saturday. Tukes said the policy is hostile and exclusionary toward transgender women and nonbinary students, and could put transitioning students in an unsafe environment if they have to leave the college.

Titi Naomi Tukes — a 2017 graduate of Morehouse who enrolled as a cisgender man in 2013 but now identifies as transgender nonbinary and uses the pronouns they/them/their — said they disapproved of the policy, which they learned about in an alumni email on Saturday. Tukes said the policy is hostile and exclusionary toward transgender women and nonbinary students, and could put transitioning students in an unsafe environment if they have to leave the college.

“You can’t control how someone feels in their body,” said Tukes, now a management consultant working in New York who added they are willing to offer input on how the policy is implemented. “The college fails at addressing and understanding the gender journey that one undergoes during their college experience, spiritually, emotionally, physically and psychologically.”

Whack is The Associated Press’ national writer on race and ethnicity. Follow her work on Twitter at

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School Districts Finding More and More Homeless Students

 As homeless education coordinator for Billings Public Schools, Sue Runkle frequently gives presentations to help raise awareness about the district’s homeless student population. Even after 18 years in this role, she still occasionally encounters a familiar puzzled look from participants.

“Some people will still ask me, ‘Wait — we have homeless students in Billings?’”

Five-hundred and three in the 2017-18 school year, to be exact, and 414 so far this year. These numbers can be an eye-opener, Runkle explains, because the homeless population in Billings is not on the street, huddled under a bridge, or waiting outside a soup kitchen.

“They’re invisible,” Runkle says. “Students and their families are living in shelters, motels, or doubling up with other families. They’re still homeless. Many people don’t understand that.”

Homeless children, as defined by the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act,  are those who “lack a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence.” McKinney-Vento was passed by Congress in 1987 to “ensure that each homeless youth has equal access to the same free, appropriate public education…as provided to other children.”

The number of students identified as homeless is on the rise across Montana. The increase has been particularly sharp in rural areas, where homeless students have previously been undercounted, and therefore not receiving the services and support they need.

According to new federal data, during the 2016-17 school year, 1.36 million public school students in the United States were homeless, a 70 percent increase since 2008. Furthermore, the national average graduation rate for homeless students is just 64 percent, significantly lower than the 77.6 percent rate for low-income students who are not homeless, and the 84.1 percent for all students. 

Education Leads Home, a national campaign focused on education and homeless youth, recently dug into graduation data from 26 states. It found that the gap between homeless students and all students in some states is over 35 percentage points in some states, and the gap between low-income and homeless students is over 20 percentage points. 

 “These gaps reflect the significant educational challenges — above and beyond poverty — that homeless students face,” said Erin Ingram, senior policy advisor at Civic, an Education Leads Home partner. “We can and must do more to remove these barriers. Students cannot afford to miss out on the critical first step of a high school diploma due to homelessness. “

Urgent Need to Identify

Higher numbers of homeless students and lower graduation rates is never welcome news. As Education Leads Home suggests in the summary of its report, however, reporting this increase could be a sign that some states are taking steps to confront the issue.

Improving systems of identification is a positive trend, although it “also points to a growing challenge for schools, and the need for increased supports for homeless students across the country,” the report said. 

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), passed by Congress in 2016 to replace No Child Left Behind, includes provisions designed to protect and support homeless students (see graphic below). The law also requires states to disaggregate and report graduation rates for homeless students.

The number of students identified as homeless in Billings has dipped slightly this year. As some in the community still wonder aloud about the existence of the problem, Runkle is vigilant about contextualizing any statistical noise, particularly as the definition of student homelessness is refined.

“I’m skeptical that we’ve had a real decline,” Runkle says. “I’m seeing just as many homeless and at-risk kids this year than in the past.”

Ensuring that homeless students are not undercounted can be a steep challenge, particularly in populous states. In 2018, one-quarter of California’s school districts did not report a single homeless student in a state that has seen a 20 percent increase over the past four years. Such flagrant underreporting means nearly 2,700 schools in California are not providing the services and supports to which homeless students are entitled. In February, state lawmakers announced an audit to investigate this gap.

Homeless Education and the Every Student Succeeds Act (NEA Center for Great Public Schools) Click to Enlarge.

“Student homelessness is not an issue that will simply go away if we pretend it isn’t happening,” said Assemblymember David Chiu, who co-sponsored the legislation. “If students experiencing homelessness are not being identified, they are not getting access to the services they need to be successful.”

Coming to grips with the problem also requires a better understanding of the many factors that drive student homelessness.

“Homelessness among students is more than a housing problem; its causes are complex, and cannot be remedied by housing alone,”  explains Barbara Duffield, executive director of SchoolHouse Connection.

Sue Runkle says increasing substance abuse among teens has exacerbated the problem in Billings.

School leaders in the Delavan-Darien district in Wisconsin, about 60 miles southwest of Milwaukee, blame “economic realities” — specifically lack of affordable housing — for the increasing numbers of homeless students. Between 2011-2016, student homelessness skyrocketed by almost 800 percent.

“When families’ basic needs and students’ basic needs aren’t being met, school is not the top priority,” Lisa McKay, a social worker at Delavan-Darien High School, told The Gazette. “It’s getting those basic needs met—that food, that shelter, the clothing piece—before we can even focus on attending at school.”

‘We Can’t Teach Them If They’re Not Here’

After the homeless education liaison position in Billings was created in 2001 (following the reauthorization of the McKinney-Vento Act), Runkle worked out of one school, Washington Elementary, with roughly 50 homeless students Her responsibilities expanded in the second year to incorporate the entire district, which now serves 16,000 students.

Runkle works directly with students and their families, connecting them with area resources. (In 2014, she was named the 2014 outstanding advocate by the National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth.) She is quick to underline, however, that schools cannot tackle this problem alone.

Sue Runkle (photo: Larry Mayer/Billings Gazette)

“They need to be a part of a network of community partners, service organizations, faith-based organizations,” she says. “Everyone has to come to the table. We rely on one another to provide services for these families.”

Collaboration with families and other stakeholders is a pillar of the community schools model, which, in addition to offering substantive academic programs, draws upon networks to support students before, during, and after school and on the weekends.

Homeless students are among the two-thirds of the  economically disadvantaged students who attend Walt Whitman Middle School, a community school in Fairfax County, Virginia.

“Community schools are plugged into the resource pool to help these families, to connect them to the services they need,” says Karisa Gearheart, a social worker at Walt Whitman.

Families in the area know that Walt Whitman is there to support them and that makes it easier, adds principal Craig Herring. “Parents aren’t as afraid to talk about [homelessness] as much. Community schools make supporting families a regular, ongoing conversation.”

For a homeless student, the importance of a supportive school environment, whatever form it takes, cannot be overstated.

“We have to help keep these students in the classroom, in the school they are familiar with,” says Sue Runkle. “We can’t teach them if they’re not there and school is the only stable place that they know. The best way out of homeless will always be education.”

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Georgetown Students Vote To Give Reparations To Descendants Of Slaves Sold To Fund School

Students at Georgetown University have voted overwhelmingly to create a fund to provide reparations to descendants of 272 slaves sold to fund the school in the 19th century, a major step in becoming one of the first major U.S. institutions to provide financial restitution for a role in slavery.

More than two-thirds of undergraduate students approved the measure in online voting, which ended Thursday night, according to Georgetown’s student newspaper The Hoya. The report added that 58% of undergraduates participated, “the highest turnout in recorded student government electoral history.” 

The measure was spearheaded by student activists, including some who are descendants of the 272 slaves known as the GU272 that Jesuit priests in Maryland sold in 1838 to rescue the school from bankruptcy. It would add a student fee of $27.20 per semester to provide reparations.

Georgetown administrators have said the student referendum is nonbinding, and the school’s 39-member board of directors would have to vote on the measure, according to the Hoya.

If Georgetown’s board approves, the university, in Washington, D.C., would be one of the first major U.S. institutions to create a fund for slavery reparations. The issue is gaining national attention, including in the 2020 presidential race, with some candidates calling for national studies.

Todd Olson, Georgetown’s vice president for student affairs, acknowledged the results of the vote in a statement Friday, but did not indicate where officials stand on implementing the reparations fund.

“The university values the engagement of our students and appreciates that 3,845 students made their voices heard in yesterday’s election,” Olson said. “Our students are contributing to an important national conversation and we share their commitment to addressing Georgetown’s history with slavery.”

Critics of the reparations fund have argued that it should not be current students’ responsibility to atone for the school’s past, and oppose a mandatory fee.

“A more just solution to the question of reparative justice would leave navigating the morality and personal circumstances to each individual student,” Georgetown freshmen Rizana Tatlock and Henry Dai wrote this week in an editorial for the Hoya. “For example, an opt-in or opt-out fee each year would be a reasonable way to leave the choice in the hands of the students.”

Like many American institutions in recent years, Georgetown has been grappling with its role in slavery. In 2015, school officials created a working group to evaluate how to address the school’s legacy.

In the years since, Georgetown has issued a formal apology to the descendants of the 272 slaves, announced a policy to give them priority in admissions and renamed two campus buildings, including one in honor of Isaac Hawkins, the first person listed in the 1838 sale.

Nationally, the issue of reparations has been gaining momentum. In 2014, journalist Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote a widely circulated article in The Atlantic called “The Case for Reparations,” spotlighting the issue.

Multiple 2020 Democratic presidential contenders have expressed support, including Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), who this week announced legislation to study the issueSens. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) also have called for consideration of the issue.

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Arizona Repeals Homophobic AIDS Education Law

Arizona just repealed a nearly 30-year-old law that prohibits schools from conducting education on HIV and AIDS that “promotes a homosexual lifestyle.”

The Arizona House and Senate voted on Wednesday and Thursday to advance Senate Bill 1346, which amends an existing law regarding AIDS instruction by repealing homophobic provisions, including that no course study may present “homosexuality as a positive alternative life-style.”

Gov. Doug Ducey (R-Ariz.) swiftly signed the bipartisan bill after the Senate’s 19-10 vote on Thursday, calling it a “common sense solution.”

“I was proud to be a part of a positive effort to change Arizona law in order to make all students feel more welcomed in Arizona’s classrooms,” Arizona state Rep. T.J. Shope (R) said in a statement on Thursday.

The 1991 law, which also prohibited HIV and AIDS instruction that “suggests that some methods of sex are safe methods of homosexual sex,” was challenged in a lawsuit filed last month on behalf of LGBTQ advocacy group Equality Arizona.

The suit alleged the law discriminated against LGBTQ youth and “communicates to teachers and students that there is something so undesirable, shameful, or controversial about ‘homosexuality’ that any positive portrayals of LGBTQ people or same-sex relationships must be explicitly barred.”

Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich on Tuesday refused to join the lawsuit, which named the state’s Board of Education and Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman as defendants.

Hoffman had previously expressed her opposition to the law, and on Thursday applauded the repeal.

“After nearly three decades of this law placing stigma on our #LGBTQ community, the repeal sends a signal to every student, teacher, and family in Arizona that they are welcome in our schools – regardless of who they are and who they love,” Hoffman wrote in a Twitter thread.

Arizona was one of seven states with anti-LGBT curriculum laws.

According to Lambda Legal, an LGBTQ legal advocacy group, these so-called  “no promo homo” laws are state or local statutes “that restrict or prohibit the discussion of lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT) issues in the classroom.”

“Some of these laws affirmatively require schools to portray LGBT people in a negative light, or prohibit schools from portraying LGBT people in a positive light. Others prohibit even the discussion of LGBT people in certain curriculum,” Lambda Legal states on its website.

Such laws currently exist in Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Texas.

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9 Awesome Apps For Kids On The Autism Spectrum

Technology has the power to unlock learning for kids of all ages and stages. And sometimes exploring and learning on a device first is less intimidating than trying out new skills with real people. Check out these apps that help kids with autism or other developmental issues with communication, organization and even social-awareness skills and watch the video to learn more about how to choose media and tech products for kids with learning differences.

This ingenious app helps kids with special needs, social challenges, anxiety or anger issues learn self-awareness as they begin to identify when they “need a break” and practice calming down.

For kids who like a little humor, this series of videos and questions offers a unique approach to learning about social skills. When used with an adult or with a group of kids who can interact around the content, the learning potential will expand and have even more impact.

With its simple, multisensory interface, this app has great potential for use with kids with developmental or learning disabilities, anxiety or attention issues and language, hearing or processing difficulties.​

By creating social stories, kids can work with expectations and practice before events actually happen. The special features are particularly helpful for kids who may need to see themselves encountering situations, such as a visit to the dentist, in storybook form before encountering them in real life.

Though this social-emotional skill builder is designed for young kids, older kids who struggle with social situations and empathy also might find it helpful. Best used with a parent or teacher, this app provides built-in discussion questions to help guide kids so they can take their learning offscreen.

This mind-mapping tool is especially helpful for kids who have problems with organization and visual memory. Kids can insert words, images and their own drawings and then connect to other related Popplets to create an interactive outline of related ideas.

This extraordinary communication aid is great for kids who have basic to severe speech challenges. Kids can learn how to effectively convey wants, needs, feelings, opinions, social manners and more.

Through video and a comprehensive, step-by-step process, kids can learn about expected vs. unexpected behaviors in a variety of everyday situations. Because the videos include real kids and the app offers practical tips, users will be able to identify with and apply what they learn.

This excellent animated app boosts kids’ social-awareness skills. Kids can learn to identify how their peers are feeling, develop coping strategies, recognize the importance of eye contact, and learn a host of core social skills needed to function in daily life.

For more great learning tools for kids with special needs and learning differences, check out our Learning Difficulties and Special Needs guide.

Angela Zimmerman, Common Sense Media, Senior Manager of Editorial Partnerships, contributed to this article.

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I Trusted God To Help Me Pay Back My Student Loans. Spoiler Alert: He Didn’t.

As a child, I accompanied my mother to every worship service our church offered each week. There were four, starting on Sunday morning with a formal program, complete with Bible verse reciting and a brass plate to pick up monetary offerings. By Friday night’s prayer meeting, folks like my mom were just looking for a safe space to pray out loud and commune with the Holy Spirit.

To say my mom is a devout Christian is an understatement. She entrusted me, her only child, in God’s hands so completely that she didn’t bother taking me to a pediatrician for regular checkups.

When I came down with chicken pox (I was probably 4 or 5, as I hadn’t started kindergarten yet), she prayed and asked God to heal me quickly. And, of course, we still went to church — scabs and all.

The way my mother believed in God’s ability to take care of her and her loved ones wasn’t lost on me. She talked about him like he was her invisible best friend. Once, I came home from riding my bike with friends to find her sitting outside in our backyard. I felt sad that she was by herself, and told her so.

“You don’t have to worry about me,” she replied, smiling. “God’s always with me.”

As I grew older, I began to believe in God with the same kind of fervor. It’s one of the most significant lessons I learned growing up in a Christian household: That no matter what I do, God is looking out for me. If I just have enough faith, he will be there with me in everything.

It’s a belief that’s touched every important decision of my life: from what college I attended and who I chose to date to decisions around my career. It’s also why I decided to go back to graduate school, even though I couldn’t afford it.

In 2009, the newspaper industry was brutalized by the recession, and my company filed for bankruptcy. This was the first place I worked after graduating from college: I’d taken a leap of faith just three years earlier to move to North Carolina for a part-time copy editor position, intending to find another part-time gig to help pay the bills. Within days of starting work at that newspaper, I was offered a full-time position with benefits.

As my mother pointed out, God provided a way.

So, when newspapers started shutting down left and right, and my boss admitted even he was looking at other options, I convinced myself that I needed a backup plan for work. Maybe I can teach if this journalism thing doesn’t work out, I thought, albeit naively, at the time. I borrowed the maximum amount federal lenders offered me to use toward pursuing my master’s.

On some level, I knew how irresponsible I was being, especially since I didn’t have any kind of guarantee that I’d be able to earn enough money to pay the loans back. But owing tens of thousands of dollars didn’t scare me then like it does now. Instead of facing reality — how financially successful could I really be as an English professor without a terminal degree? — I told myself that, as my mom put it, God would provide a way.

One of the most profound messages from the biblical story of Jesus dying on the cross is that suffering yields reward: He sacrificed his life to take on our sins so that those who believe in him can have everlasting life in heaven.

In other words, good things come to those who believe.

Although my application of that timeless lesson was muddied by my own selfishness, I believed God would help me figure out how to take care of this new financial burden. By the time I graduated with a Master of Arts in English, I had accumulated more than $60,000 in student debt.

I was too swayed by my mother’s lifelong devotion to her faith. She never hesitated to trust in God for both the big things and the small — especially when it came to me. When I was sick with a cold, she put her hands on my back and prayed. When my face started breaking out during my teen years, she added “clear skin” to her list of things to pray about. She even once told me she knew I was going to be successful in life because not only did she talk to God about me every single day, but she donated money to the church’s building fund in my name.

If my mom could have that kind of unwavering belief that everything in my life would turn out OK, I thought I should, too. No matter what the circumstances.

And I did, for a while. Shortly after graduating, I was promoted to editor of the newspaper at which I’d started my career. With the position’s increased salary and some part-time work teaching freshman English at a community college, I earned enough money to cover my household bills and make my monthly student loan payments.

But in 2015, for a few different reasons having to do with my work life and family, I took another leap of faith and decided to quit my full-time job to freelance.

“It’ll all work out later,” I told myself again.

Three years down the road, however, I’m starting to wonder if it really will. Today, I barely make enough money to cover groceries, child care and my credit card debt. If it weren’t for my partner, I don’t know where I’d be.

Meanwhile, I haven’t made a single payment on my student loan debt since I left my staff position, and the amount I owe increases with interest each month. The good thing is that I haven’t incurred any penalties because I’m on an income-based repayment plan.

I find myself scrolling Indeed again. Should I try to fit in a part-time bartending gig or return to teaching adjunct between my freelance writing, being a mom, and managing the care of my elderly dogs? Every month, the weight of my debt grows heavier.

My faith has also faltered. I hardly ever go to church anymore. When my mom asks why, I tell her it’s because I have a kid now, and I don’t want to stick her in child care when she can barely talk. It’s easier to say that than the truth: that I’m just not sure what I believe anymore.

It’s not just that God hasn’t shown up for me like I expected. So many of my political beliefs as an adult contradict the religious ideas drilled into me as a kid. For instance, I don’t believe that God would shun a person because of who they love. “Homosexuality is a sin” rhetoric makes me want to run as far away from religion as possible.

Despite my waning connection with organized religion, there’s still a part of me that clings to the hope that God will take care of me and my family. And, sometimes anyway, I wonder if my lack of faith has anything to do with my current financial struggles.

I do hope to one day find my way back to a personal relationship with God ― the one who made me feel safe and protected all those years. For now, though, my Sunday mornings are reserved for working. I’ve got bills to pay.

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‘A Deal is a Deal’: Sacramento Educators Go on Strike

The #RedForEd wave hits Sacramento. Today, April 11, more than 2,800 Sacramento educators are on strike to protest the Sacramento City Unified School District’s (SCUSD) bad faith bargaining and to support a fair settlement that includes additional resources, such as art and music, smaller class sizes, more school nurses, and psychologists. The contract also includes an 11 percent increase in teacher salaries.

“[The strike] grows out of frustration of the failure of the superintendent to honor a contract that he signed more than a year ago, and the continued treatment of our contract [as] optional, [instead of] something that’s binding on both parties,” David Fisher, a second-grade teacher and president of the  Sacramento City Teachers Association (SCTA), said in an interview.

The superintendent is Jorge Aguilar, whose refusal to honor the contract has led to the city’s first strike in nearly 30 years. SCTA members voted by 92.3 percent to protest the unlawful, unfair labor practices by superintendent and the school board.

In November 2017, after more than a year of bargaining, SCTA and the district settled and signed a bargaining contract with a commitment to reprioritize resources toward students and classrooms. Since then, the district has committed 31 unfair labor practices. Now, the district is back tracking on the mutually agreed upon contract that meets the needs of students.

Thousands of educators, students, and parents will hit the picket lines to demand that SCUSD keep its promise to lower class sizes and increase student services—and to act lawfully and remedy its illegal actions that are hurting nearly 50,000 Sacramento public school students.

Sacramento’s Kara Synhorst, an English teacher of nearly 20 years, captured the sentiments of many educators in a video posted to Facebook: “I’m offended and insulted at the way teachers are being portrayed…My union has offered ways for the district to save money…If anyone is refusing to come to the table, it’s Mr. Aguilar and the district. We have a contract. Don’t ask us to negotiate a new one when you won’t even implement the last one—because [as] my students already know: A deal is a deal.” Synhorst was speaking directly to Aguilar.

The local argues that instead of honoring the contract, the district mismanaged funds and is now $35 million in the red. A state takeover threat looms over the district, too. But this wasn’t always the case.

The district was in the best financial position in its history up until 2017, when the contract was being bargained. Discussions centered on how the reduced costs in the district’s healthcare plan would generate more money. The plan was to negotiate further down the road and apply those savings toward schools.

Instead, the district went on a “spending spree, adding more than $6 million in vacation buyouts for top administrators,” explains David Fisher. This resulted in deficit spending for the first time in years.

In an interview with Education Week, Fisher said, “This really feels like a betrayal…If a district can just throw up their hands and say, ‘Yeah, we know we agreed, but now our budget situation has changed, so we’re not going to do it anymore,’ that sets a terrible precedent for what districts can do when they sign agreements.”

The strike is currently scheduled to last for one day.

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Kentucky Gov. Demands Names Of Teachers Protesting Pension Crisis

Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin’s (R) administration is demanding that some of the state’s school districts hand over lists of teachers who allegedly participated in “sickouts” to protest legislation they believe would harm their already imperiled pension fund.

The Kentucky Labor Cabinet issued a subpoena to Jefferson County Public Schools, the massive district surrounding Louisville, on Wednesday. 

Representatives for at least two other districts, Bullitt County Public Schools and Oldham County Schools, confirmed with the Courier-Journal, a Kentucky newspaper, that they also received subpoenas.

In addition to names, the Bevin administration is requesting to see any doctor’s notes submitted by the teachers and copies of the schools’ sick leave policy, along with other documentation.

The demand largely mirrors that of Kentucky Education Commissioner Wayne Lewis, who asked Jefferson County and nine other districts for lists of participating teachers last month; Jefferson handed over its list on March 25. Lewis said he would not take further action if the protests stopped.

But the governor’s move heightens the tension between his administration and the state’s teachers, who led massive protests last year over pension concerns. (They succeeded in securing a hike for public education spending.)

KY 120 United, a group that formed last year, has said it specifically opposes House Bill 525, which would change the way the pension board is set up.

Teaching jobs in Kentucky are not eligible for social security benefits upon retirement. Instead, Kentucky teachers rely on a pension fund that is currently facing a huge funding crisis due largely to risky management decisions. 

“If this well dries up, we have nothing,” one retired Jefferson County teacher, Lauri Wade, told the Courier-Journal during last year’s protests. 

Educators staged the coordinated protests six times in a two-week period, according to WDRB, a local news station. Due to a lack of enough substitutes, some of the districts were forced to close during the sickouts.

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