School District Threatens Kids Could End Up In Foster Care Over Unpaid Lunches

KINGSTON, Pa. (AP) — A Pennsylvania school district is warning that children could end up in foster care if their parents do not pay overdue school lunch bills.

The letters sent recently to about 1,000 parents in Wyoming Valley West School District have led to complaints from parents and a stern rebuke from Luzerne County child welfare authorities.

The district says that it is trying to collect more than $20,000, and that other methods to get parents to pay have not been successful. Four parents owe at least $450 apiece.

The letter claims the unpaid bills could lead to dependency hearings and removal of their children for not providing them with food.

“You can be sent to dependency court for neglecting your child’s right to food. The result may be your child being taken from your home and placed in foster care,” the letter read.

After complaints, district officials announced they plan to send out a less threatening letter next week.

Luzerne County’s manager and child welfare agency director have written the superintendent, insisting the district stop making what they call false claims.

Their letter calls the district’s actions troubling and a misrepresentation of how the Children and Youth Services Department and its foster care program operate.

Wyoming Valley West’s lawyer, Charles Coslett, said he did not consider the letters to be threatening.

“Hopefully, that gets their attention and it certainly did, didn’t it? I mean, if you think about it, you’re here this morning because some parents cried foul because he or she doesn’t want to pay a debt attributed to feeding their kids. How shameful,” Coslett told WYOU-TV.

The district’s federal programs director, Joseph Muth, told WNEP-TV the district had considered serving peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to students with delinquent accounts, but received legal advice warning against it.

School district officials say they plan to pursue other legal avenues to get the lunch money, such as filing a district court complaint or placing liens on properties.

For the coming year, the district will qualify for funding to provide free lunches to all students.

The district underwrote free lunches for four elementary and middle schools during the 2018-19 year, and WNEP-TV said school officials suspect some parents did not pay their lunch bills as a form of protest.

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Obviously Stylish Teen Wears His Bathrobe For His Senior Portraits

Evan Dennison was just an ordinary teenager in Portage, Indiana, with a dream of becoming a “legend.”

Sure, many teens have that dream, but Dennison believes he has achieved that goal at the tender age of 17 ― with the help of his trusty bathrobe.

The incoming high school senior wore the bathrobe for his senior photos in lieu of some itchy suit and neck-choking tie.

“Most graduation pictures I see are really formal and stuff, so I didn’t want to do that,” Evan told Inside Edition. “I wanted it to be something that was like really funny, not so formal, kind of goofy, so I decided it would be way better done in a bathrobe.”

Instead of informing his mother of his plan to achieve fashion immortality, Dennison sprang it on photographer and cousin Tiffany Clark when she picked him up for a photo session in a nearby field.

When Dennison showed up wearing sweats, not khakis or jeans, Clark wondered where his actual clothes were, she told the Indianapolis Star. Dennison promised he would change once they got to their location.

He did ― into that beloved bathrobe of his. Clark tried to talk him out of it, to no avail.

“He’s stubborn. He absolutely refused to do anything except for in his bathrobe. I didn’t want to do it, and I couldn’t stop laughing,” she said, per the IndyStar. “When I get home, I had like 95 pictures of him in his bathrobe doing weird stuff.”

Dennison enjoyed the shoot but admitted to the IndyStar that it was weird when people he knew drove by. The moment he broke the news to his mom was a little awkward, too, especially since his photos went viral after Clark posted them on Facebook.

In a move that probably won’t be described by anyone as a shocker, Dennison’s mom has chosen not to hang his bathrobe photos anywhere in the house.

“She loves that everyone loves them and that they reflect my personality so well, but she’s still very unhappy with them as my senior photos,” Dennison told

Still, he and Clark have promised they will eventually take more photos in “mom-appropriate” clothing, per

As for his goal of becoming a “legend”? Dennison said that was never in doubt.

“I’ll be honest with you, I considered myself a legend before I did this,” Dennison told the IndyStar. “This just took it to the next level.”

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New Hampshire Passes Law Requiring Free Menstrual Products In All Public Schools

New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu (R) signed a bill into law on Wednesday that requires all public schools to provide free tampons and pads to students. 

“This legislation is about equality and dignity,” Sununu tweeted. “SB 142 will help ensure young women in New Hampshire public schools will have the freedom to learn without disruption ― and free of shame, or fear of stigma.”

The legislation, also known as the period poverty bill, requires menstrual products to be provided in all female and gender-neutral bathrooms in public middle and high schools across the state.

Democratic state Rep. Polly Campion, a co-sponsor of the bill, called the legislation an “essential measure for equality” in a Wednesday statement

“Being an adolescent middle or high-schooler is hard enough without the fear and embarrassment of lacking proper care products during the school-day because you cannot afford them,” she said. ”… Providing access to free menstrual care products in public middle and high school bathrooms is not idealistic, it’s a basic, essential measure for equality and is long overdue.”  

The bill was spearheaded by New Hampshire high school senior Caroline Dillon after she learned about how many people are forced to miss school or work because they can’t afford pads and tampons. Dillon, who worked with Democratic state Sen. Martha Hennessey to draft the measure in March, testified in front of the state Senate’s Education and Workforce Development Committee in February.  

“It was sad to think about,” Dillon said during the committee hearing, the Concord Monitor reported. “Girls in middle and high school would never dream of telling somebody that they have to miss school or use socks because they can’t pay for pads.”

Hennessey thanked Dillon for all of her hard work on the bill in a Wednesday statement

“I am grateful for the hard work of high school student Caroline Dillon, whose advocacy brought this issue to light,” she wrote. “Today’s step forward to address period poverty in New Hampshire would not have been possible without her.

Last month, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh (D) announced that the city would provide free menstrual products in all public middle and high schools. New York and Illinois are among other states that also provide free tampons and pads to students in public schools. 

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Florida To Require Mental Health Classes For Public School Students

Florida’s public schools will now require its students to attend mandatory mental health classes, starting in the 6th grade, following a vote Wednesday by the state’s Board of Education.

The new requirement means students will receive at least five hours of mental health classes each year until the 12th grade, according to the education board.

These classes will instruct students on how to recognize signs and symptoms of mental illness and how to seek help for themselves or others. The classes will also educate students about resources available to them as well as what to do or say to peers who are struggling with mental health disorders.

Public school students in Florida must receive at least five hours of mental health classes each year until the 12th grade, according to a new rule.

“Time is a critical factor. Approximately 1 in 5 youth in Florida, and worldwide, experience mental health disorders prior to turning age 25,” the rule’s summary notes.

New York and Virginia became the first states to require schools to include mental health education in their curriculums last year.

Florida’s program is expected to cost $75 million for this upcoming fiscal year. It will be covered by the state legislature using a mental health assistance allocation, Florida Politics reported.

Florida first lady Casey DeSantis, who was appointed by her husband, Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), to chair the state’s Children and Youth Cabinet in April, praised the program’s passage as an “important step forward in supporting our kids and parents.”

“As I travel the state, I am hearing from many families and know that 50% of all mental illness cases begin by age 14, so we are being proactive in our commitment to provide our kids with the necessary tools to see them through their successes and challenges,” she said in a statement posted to Twitter.

Commissioner of Education Richard Corcoran similarly praised the program’s launch as “just the beginning” and vowed to transform Florida into “the number one state in the nation in terms of mental health outreach and school safety.”

“It’s no secret that mental illness robs students of the ability to reach their full potential, and we are joining forces to combat this disease and give our students the tools they need to thrive,” he said in a statement.

Florida, which is the third highest-populated state in the country, has consistently received low ratings in how it addresses youth mental health, according to the nonprofit Mental Health America.

The mental health organization’s 2019 State of Mental Health in America report ranked Florida number 32, with 51 being the worst, in its assessment of the state’s youth. This ranking, released in May, is up from the 37 ranking it received in 2018.

An annual review of all 50 states and Washington, D.C., by Mental Health America has found that Florida’s youth need mo

An annual review of all 50 states and Washington, D.C., by Mental Health America has found that Florida’s youth need more access to mental health care.

Lower rankings indicate that the state’s youth have a higher prevalence of mental illness and lower rates of access to care. The list included Washington, D.C.

The state’s rate of youth suffering from major depressive episodes was found to have increased from 11.93% to 12.63% over the past year. Data also showed that 62% of these children received no treatment for their depression.

Florida lawmakers have rallied around amping up mental health programs and regulations in the wake of last year’s mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School by a 19-year-old former student with a history of mental health problems.

In May, the state legally allowed trained teachers in certain Florida districts to volunteer as “school guardians” and carry a firearm as protection on school campuses. The law also expanded funding for mental health services to students.

The following mental health resources are available to anyone, regardless of their state of residence:

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), provides free and confidential support for people in distress, as well as prevention and crisis resources.

The National Helpline, at 1-800-662-HELP (4357), provides treatment referral and information that’s free and confidential.

The Disaster Distress Helpline, at 1-800-985-5990, provides immediate crisis counseling to people experiencing emotional distress related to natural or human-caused disasters, including acts of mass violence or severe storms. Its counselors can also be reached by texting TalkWithUs to 66746.

The Behavioral Health Treatment Services Locator helps individuals find treatment facilities confidentially and anonymously.

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I Grew Up In A City Where Busing Worked

Kamala Harris’ takedown of Democratic presidential rival Joe Biden over his past opposition to busingthe euphemistic name for America’s halfhearted attempts, in the 1970s and ’80s, to desegregate public schools — was undeniably compelling political theater. In the weeks since, Harris has risen in the polls, while Biden has struggled to contain the damage.

Less discussed in this scuffle is the fact that few politicians actually support court-ordered busing today — not even the California senator who later qualified her position by saying that busing should be considered but not mandated. The consensus opinion, it seems, even from those who benefited personally from busing like Harris, is that the policy had largely failed and is overwhelmingly unpopular.

That’s not always true. I know. I attended public schools in Louisville, Kentucky, from 1993 to 2006 and earned my education in classrooms that were among the most integrated in the nation. 

School buses at a compound for the Jefferson County Public Schools.

That wasn’t an accident or a product of the “voluntary” desegregation programs the former vice president said he supported. Louisville was the first major metropolitan area to implement a court-ordered busing plan to desegregate its city and county schools all at once, and in the four decades since the federal government first told Louisville to integrate its schools, the city has done so with an unrivaled commitment. Its desegregation efforts eventually became broadly popular among students, teachers, administrators and parents, white and black alike, and Louisville has kept at them, even as many other cities and federal policymakers — many current Democratic presidential candidates included — have abandoned the cause.

If you really want to understand the fight over desegregating public schools, you should take a look at the place that’s still committed to doing it.

Desegregation wasn’t popular when it arrived in Louisville. Forty-four years ago, a federal judge ruled that the city had failed to comply with Brown v. Board of Education ― the landmark 1954 case in which the Supreme Court ruled that separate-but-equal schooling violated the Constitution ― and ordered it to desegregate its schools. The ruling forced the merger of city and county schools into a single district, called Jefferson County Public Schools, and instituted racial quotas for student populations.

Six weeks later, on the second day of the school year, thousands of angry white students walked out of their classrooms and rioted. They torched school buses and chucked rocks at the police, who had been dispatched to help enforce the court ruling. Protests took place especially in the south end of the city, where largely white, working-class schools took in black students, some of them for the first time. 

It was a typical scene for 1975, in the midst of a national effort, led by the U.S. Department of Education, the Supreme Court and the federal courts below it, to desegregate America’s schools. 

Images like those from Louisville remain seared in the national conscience when it comes to those debates and help inform why so many seem to regard “busing” as a cosmic and total failure of American policymaking. 

Protesters in southern Jefferson County, Kentucky, march against school desegregation on Aug. 31, 1976, the day before t

Protesters in southern Jefferson County, Kentucky, march against school desegregation on Aug. 31, 1976, the day before the start of the second year of court-ordered school busing.

But it’s what happened next, in the weeks and years and decades after those protests died down, that should inform those debates instead. 

By the end of the first week, the majority of residents in Louisville seemed “overwhelmingly to be accepting, quietly if grudgingly, the busing of 11,300 black students from the city to the suburbs and of 11,300 white students — out of a total of 118,000 students of both races — in the opposite direction,” The New York Times reported at the time

Eventually, the National Guardsmen who had tried to help ensure smooth implementation of the busing program moved on to other causes, and, although some white Louisvillians fled the public school system for the surrounding counties or enrolled their children in all-white parochial and private schools, the city largely moved ahead with the busing program.

By the time I enrolled in kindergarten, in the fall of 1993, a program that had once been controversial enough to inspire a visit from the KKK had become as fundamental an aspect of Louisville education as textbooks and whiteboards. I was a mere generation removed from the busing fight ― my mother began her senior year at Westport High, the school that was featured in The New York Times story about Louisville, the year busing began. But when I started school, the ideal behind the district’s desegregation efforts ― that white and black kids benefited from going to school together ― enjoyed broader popular support across the city, from political stakeholders and black and white parents alike. 

My experience is not a perfect rebuttal to the arguments that busing skeptics make, perhaps, as I wasn’t sent across the city to a school in a mostly black neighborhood. Rather, I attended one of Louisville’s best schools, but it too was subject to racial quotas, and enrollment was based on a lottery system meant, in large part, to maintain racial balance. (The student body at my alma mater is now roughly 34% black and 40% non-white overall, according to ProPublica.)

And that experience still helps explain the program’s success and why Louisville has continued its efforts to desegregate even without the federal oversight that once compelled it to.

My trips to middle and high school included a stop at a bus compound at another school; arriving on time for the 7:40 morning bell meant boarding a bus a few minutes before 6:30 a.m. Anecdotal skepticism of hourlong, cross-county bus rides provides some of the most potent ― if often misguided and dishonest ― ammunition for forced integration critics, but what they see as a problem, I saw as a feature: The bus ride was a valuable piece of my education, a place to make friends and bond with classmates and kids from other schools outside the confines of a more rigid classroom environment.

That paled in comparison to my experience in school, though: Louisville’s aggressive desegregation efforts meant that I was exposed to an environment that didn’t exist in my corner of southeastern Jefferson County. 

In my neighborhood, at Little League games, at the pool or anywhere else, almost everyone I knew was white. My school, by contrast, looked more like Louisville itself: Roughly 40% of students in my graduating class were racial or ethnic minorities ― most of them were black. Our student body included rich kids from the exclusively white neighborhoods in the east end, students from the almost entirely black neighborhoods of West Louisville, and those of us from the blue-collar suburbs of the south and southeastern parts of the county. Inside those walls, we became classmates, friends, teammates, girlfriends and boyfriends, kids who were exposed to and able to learn from the things that made us different, and those that made us the same, too. 

Kentucky state Rep. Attica Scott, who is black and graduated from high school just a few years before me, left downtown Louisville and the Beecher Terrace housing project to attend duPont Manual High School, one of Louisville’s best schools. 

“I was traveling farther than many white students,” Scott told me last year when I asked about her experience with busing. “But it was worth it to me.”

When the national political mood was becoming inhospitable to school desegregation plans…in Louisville and Jefferson County a biracial integrationist coalition and eventually the school board itself fought to protect diversity in the local schools.
Tracy K’Meyer, University of Louisville history professor

Critiques of desegregation policies often focus on their effects on academic achievement, and on that front, districts like JCPS have acquitted themselves well: “The peak years of desegregation” saw “mixed test score results but a positive trend toward higher African American student achievement,” as well as “long-term academic and professional gains for African American adults who had attended racially mixed schools,” one review of school desegregation studies found. Other studies have suggested that students from all races make achievement gains when they attend diverse schools. 

And, although racial and ethnic achievement gaps still persist, research has shown that the gulf between black and white students is smaller in integrated schools. Black and Latino students who attend integrated schools also score higher on college entrance exams like the SAT, studies have suggested, and students in such schools are less likely to drop out and more likely to go to college than those who attend heavily segregated schools. White students, meanwhile, show no real change in pure educational achievement at integrated schools, so, although busing is often viewed by white parents as a zero-sum affair, the data suggests the downsides are virtually nonexistent. School integration is beneficial to black and white students who experience it alike.

The benefits, however, extend beyond achievement alone, and JCPS has never limited its evaluation of desegregation to its effects on test scores. It has also seen integration as an important tool of social integration and a crucial part of a comprehensive education, a point to which I can attest: Although the schooling I received in the classroom across 13 years in Louisville’s public schools was valuable, when it comes to the real world, what I learned on tests and in textbooks often pales in comparison to the lessons, life experiences and perspectives I gained from going to school with kids who came from backgrounds different from mine. 

Teachers, administrators and white and minority parents and students in Jefferson County tend to agree, according to a 2011 survey. And more comprehensive research has found that students who attend desegregated schools “benefit from access to integrated social networks and positive interactions with students of different races and ethnicities, and are more likely to live and work in integrated environments upon reaching adulthood.” It is said to reduce racial bias and prejudice, especially among whites. 

“Forced busing,” in other words, has had profound effects on the city as a whole and the people who live there, and almost immediately the Louisvillians who’d experienced it under the first iteration of desegregation became its biggest champions ― white students who were bused were later among those who started a nonprofit group that advocated for school integration.

Which may be why Louisville hasn’t given up on school desegregation efforts even when the federal government has given it a chance to. 

In the 1980s and then again in the 1990s, Jefferson County Public Schools, believing it had satisfied the federal requirements, attempted to make major changes to its desegregation policies in ways that many in the community feared would result in the re-segregation of its schools. But each attempt was met instead by broad and racially diverse coalitions of activists and organizations who “stood up for preserving integration and diversity in the schools,” as University of Louisville history professor Tracy E. K’Meyer has observed. “As a result, the school board over time altered but did not end the busing plan.”

So, during a period “when the national political mood was becoming inhospitable to school desegregation plans,” K’Meyer wrote in her book about desegregation in the city, “in Louisville and Jefferson County a biracial integrationist coalition and eventually the school board itself fought to protect diversity in the local schools.”

And instead of dramatic overhauls, JCPS constantly tweaked its approach to desegregation, giving parents slightly more choice in where their children went to school, attempting to reduce the inequitable burden busing placed on black students, reintegrating some aspects of neighborhood schooling and implementing magnet programs across the city to make schools more attractive — all while maintaining desegregation as an overarching goal of how it assigned students to various schools. 

Then, in 2007, the year after I graduated from high school, the U.S. Supreme Court invalidated the quota-based busing plan Jefferson County Public Schools had used to desegregate, giving forced integration skeptics yet another opening and the district an out. For the last decade, conservatives and well-funded education “reform” groups have pushed various policies that, whether by design or by accident, have rolled back a half-century of progress across the country, and today, many of the nation’s public school districts are as segregated ― and in some cases even more segregated ― than they were when Brown v. Board of Education was handed down in 1954. 

But Louisville and JCPS have remained committed to desegregation. School officials there responded to the Supreme Court decision by implementing a new student assignment plan meant to comply with the law but achieve the same ends: Instead of relying solely on race, it incorporated socio-economic and poverty statistics into its plans, too. 

It was, by and large, successful, and that persistence has earned Louisville plaudits as “the city that believed in desegregation” and made Jefferson County Public Schools, as Penn State education researcher Erica Frankenberg told me last year, “a real national model for commitment” to integration.

Despite the protests that occurred in the immediate aftermath of busing’s implementation, it seems that forced integration fostered support among Louisvillians for it ― especially as a generation that went to integrated schools became parents who wanted their children to learn in integrated spaces, too.   

In 1975, as many as 90% of local residents ― and 98% of white parents ― opposed the plan. A 2011 poll, however, found that 89% of parents who had children in Jefferson County Public Schools supported desegregation in theory, and surveys of students themselves found broad support as well. The same survey suggested that residents’ commitment to desegregation was more than philosophical, as nearly half of white parents said they’d support desegregation policies even if it meant their own child had to cross neighborhoods to attend school. 

It’s possible such polls overstate the popularity of specific desegregation policies, but Louisvillians have consistently shown support for the city’s actual plans at the ballot box: School board candidates who have run against the district’s student-assignment plan have faced overwhelming defeats even in the wake of the 2007 Supreme Court ruling, according to The Atlantic

In the years since, opaque organizations with nondescript names have poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into school board races to no avail. Two years ago, a Republican-backed “neighborhood schools plan” that would have effectively ended Jefferson County’s desegregation efforts stalled amid vocal opposition. And last year, a proposed state takeover of JCPS that threatened the district’s aggressive desegregation efforts drew widespread opposition in Louisville, in part because locals saw it as an effort to “effectively re-segregate our schools,” as Chris Brady, a member of the Jefferson County Board of Education, told me at the time. 

Students board a bus heading to Atherton High School on March, 2, 2017, in Louisville, Kentucky. 

Students board a bus heading to Atherton High School on March, 2, 2017, in Louisville, Kentucky. 

That’s not to say Jefferson County is perfect or that it doesn’t need to make substantial progress to achieve equality and improve its schools. Too many of its students, especially those in black neighborhoods, still attend schools with high concentrations of poverty, and its low-income schools ― which are largely located in the overwhelmingly black neighborhoods west of the city ― remain far behind in terms of equity and achievement. Its efforts at desegregation might not be ambitious enough, in practical or idealistic terms. And inside school, white kids like me were and still are more likely to wind up in Advanced Placement classes, meaning there were still pockets of segregation even in a broadly desegregated space ― a problem many integrated schools haven’t adequately addressed. Students of color are more likely to be suspended. And, though most black Louisvillians support desegregation efforts, there has long been concern that the district’s efforts still place an unequal burden on black children. The list goes on. 

A survey JCPS conducted last year suggested that the overall plan isn’t popular: Just 20% of Louisville parents believe the current method of assigning children to schools is working, and the numbers are even worse among black parents. Just 40% of white Louisvillians, meanwhile, expressed “high agreement” with the idea that the district’s guidelines should “ensure diversity” among its student bodies. But dig deeper, and the chief concern with the plan is its ability to get children into quality schools ― a broader problem JCPS needs to address ― rather than its focus on desegregation. Among students, parents and Louisvillians generally, the survey found that less than 10% disagreed with “using enrollment guidelines to ensure that students learn alongside peers from races and backgrounds other than their own.”

School officials in Jefferson County have, at least publicly, taken those shortcomings seriously, launching new policies aimed at addressing existing iniquities. And amid threats of a state takeover last year, they promised to re-evaluate, and possibly overhaul, its current processes for assigning students to schools ― a move that will keep the reform process in the hands of local officials who see desegregation as a priority. And whatever changes occur, it seems clear, a half-century after the federal government forced it to start desegregating its schools through busing, that Louisville remains committed to building on that foundation and keeping its schools from re-segregating.

There, at least, the question is one of how rather than if. But how Jefferson County reached that point still matters historically. 

“I think of busing as being in the toolbox of what is available and what can be used for the goal of desegregating America’s schools,” Harris said days after the debate in what some viewed as an effort to walk back her criticism of Biden. “I believe that any tool that is in the toolbox should be considered by a school district.”

Busing was in the toolbox in Louisville. But only because the federal government put it there.

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‘Really Good Speller’ Trump’s Handwritten Note Shows Embarrassing Mistakes

Just last week, President Donald Trump bragged that he was really a “good speller” despite his reputation for Twitter typos. However, another handwritten note caught on camera shows he struggles with writing simple words on paper.

In this case: “people,” which the president spelled as “peopel.”  

The note from Trump’s comments on Monday when he doubled down on racist attacks against several lawmakers also contained another gaffe, with the president misspelling “al Qaeda” as “alcaida.”

The mistakes were caught by several photographers, including Jabin Botsford of the Washington Post: 

Last week, Trump claimed his well-documented spelling struggles were simply a matter of clumsy fingers on a smartphone screen. 

Really I’m actually a good speller,” he said. “But everyone said the fingers aren’t as good as the brain.”

Yet Trump’s handwritten notes have consistently contained spelling errors as well, including one last month torching Democrats for having “no achomlishments.” 

The latest mistakes caused “alcaida” to trend on Twitter as Trump’s critics schooled him on basic spelling: 

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As Hate Incidents Grow, More States Require Schools To Teach The Holocaust

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Claire Sarnowski of Lake Oswego, Oregon, met Holocaust survivor Alter Wiener at a school event five years ago when she was 9 years old.

Because her aunt had arranged the talk by the Holocaust survivor, and served as his escort to the school and back, Sarnowski got to ride along when Wiener was driven home. The two started talking and formed an immediate bond. They kept in touch, with Sarnowski often persuading someone to drive her to see Wiener at his home in Hillsboro, Oregon, about an hour away from where he spoke. They shared meals and stories. Sarnowski became increasingly interested in Wiener’s tales of living under Hitler during World War II and his life since then.

She thought other kids should learn about them too and began a campaign to get a state law requiring Holocaust education in Oregon schools. Last month, Democratic Gov. Kate Brown signed that law, with Sarnowski, now age 14, looking on. Even though Wiener died late last year at 92, Oregon students will continue to learn the lessons he shared.

Oregon is the 12th state to enact such a law, according to the Anti-Defamation League. Most of the states have acted in the past few years, and bills are pending in another dozen states.

In a telephone interview, Sarnowski said it’s very hard for young people to relate to the Holocaust, particularly in that there are fewer survivors around for them to talk to. It was the personal talks with Wiener, she said, that made it real for her. Surveys show that Sarnowski’s instinct is on target regarding young people.

Ignorance about the Holocaust is growing, particularly among young people. A survey last year showed that two-thirds of U.S. millennials were not familiar with Auschwitz, the largest Nazi death camp complex, located near Krakow, Poland. More than 1.1 million people were gassed, shot or starved at Auschwitz, including nearly a million Jews. Overall, the Nazis murdered 6 million Jews during the Holocaust, plus millions of Roma, homosexuals and others.

The Holocaust was the largest genocide in history, but not the last one. More recent examples include the Khmer Rouge’s killing of about 2 million Cambodian dissidents between 1975 and 1979; the Hutu slaughter of about 800,000 mostly Tutsis in Rwanda in 1994; and the Sudanese government’s killing of 300,000 civilians in the Darfur region, beginning in 2003.

“For me, being able to hear stories of survivors … that connection was the most valuable piece of my education,” said Sarnowski, who is not Jewish. “Just to know what happened, what led up to it … and that this is considered our recent history. It’s important to learn for the future and what we can do to make a difference in our own community. How we can stop the persecution of people in our schools for racial, religious [reasons] or just people who are different.”

She forged a special bond with Wiener, who was born in 1926 in Chrzanow, Poland, near the German border. When the Germans invaded Poland in 1939, Wiener, his stepmother and his brothers fled, leaving his father, a grocer, behind to supply Nazi troops with food. When the family returned three months later, their father had been killed. Wiener, then 13, was sent to several concentration camps and was eventually freed by Russian troops in 1945. The rest of his family died.

Wiener moved to what was then Palestine after the war and eventually joined cousins in the United States, according to the Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education. He moved to Oregon in 2000 and began speaking to student groups, eventually making about a thousand appearances in schools, the museum said.

Sarnowski visited Wiener nearly every week in the last couple of years of his life, she said, hearing his stories over and over and becoming special friends.

When the two approached Oregon state Sen. Rob Wagner, a Democrat, about passing a law, Wagner sensed that feeling too. “That friendship was pretty magical,” he said by telephone from his Lake Oswego home. He said the planned 15-minute meeting lasted 2½ hours and — along with work with Oregon Jewish groups and Holocaust educators — led to the bill that became law.

Wagner also said he was spurred to act by the rise of anti-Semitism in his neighborhood in suburban Portland. “Near a synagogue in my own neighborhood, there were anti-Semitic posters put up on light poles,” he said. “There’s definitely a rise in racism and anti-Semitism in the last couple of years.”

The point was underscored in hearings in the Oregon legislature on the bill. In a House hearing in May, several people presented testimony that denied the Holocaust took place and said the deaths were exaggerated. Salem resident Tom Madison, in his written testimony, said there were “no gas chambers capable of killing humans” and “Soviet propaganda created the Nazi ‘death camp’ myth.”

The testimony got so emotional that Education Committee Chairwoman Margaret Doherty, a Democrat, recessed the hearing to allow members to compose themselves. The bill passed unanimously.

Sondra Perl, director of U.S. programs for the Olga Lengyel Institute for Holocaust Studies and Human Rights in New York City, said most programs on the Holocaust, including her organization’s, stick strictly to historical fact so as “not to give fuel to deniers.”

That institute, the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, the Shoah Holocaust remembrance foundation and other organizations are creating a rich catalogue of survivors’ stories — many on video recordings — to preserve their experiences even after they die. “When they are gone, the eyewitnesses will be gone,” Perl said.

The Anti-Defamation League, which keeps tabs on hate crimes nationwide, and — along with the FBI — statistics on incidents, reported that anti-Semitic acts hit near record levels last year, with a doubling of anti-Semitic assaults, including the deadliest in American history: the shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in which 11 died.

The overall number of anti-Semitic incidents last year, nearly 1,900, was a slight decline from the nearly 2,000 reported in 2017. But it was still nearly half again as high as the number reported in 2016 and nearly twice as high as in 2015.

Michael Lieberman, Washington counsel for the ADL, said the purpose of the mandated Holocaust education courses should be as much about looking forward as looking back.

“If you can craft them in an age-appropriate way, it’s a study of democracy and the teaching of core values … and how anti-Semitism and racism can run amok even in a democratic country,” Lieberman said. “These are lessons that are not just looking back, but also looking forward.”

The relevance of such lessons was driven home earlier this month, when a high school principal in Palm Beach County, Florida, was removed from his post after the release of emails in which he refused to state that the Holocaust was a historical fact. Spanish River High School Principal William Latson was sacked following reports that he told a parent that “not everyone believes the Holocaust happened” and that he couldn’t say that it was a “factual, historical event,” the Palm Beach Post reported.

This, despite the fact that Florida is one of the states that require public schools to teach the Holocaust. The state laws vary widely — some provide funds or suggest curricula, others do not. Some specify when or how the lessons should be incorporated into courses, while others are less prescriptive.

The Illinois law is one of the most specific, saying that every public school “shall include in its curriculum a unit of instruction studying the events of the Nazi atrocities of … the Holocaust.” The Pennsylvania statute, in addition to curriculum guidelines, calls for in-service training for Holocaust teachers.

Nick Haberman, a Pittsburgh high school teacher who attended last week’s course on teaching the Holocaust here at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington,  said while Pennsylvania requires teaching the Holocaust, it doesn’t spell out just how it is to be taught.

“We were very excited to have the mandate, but it was unfunded,” Haberman said, and he called for more teacher participation in the process. He said the Tree of Life shooting spurred local residents to work on more community-based events to “teach the living history of anti-Semitism. The best weapon against anti-Semitism is education.”

The weeklong course here at the museum, called the Museum Teacher Fellowship Program, is designed to train teachers to create outreach projects on the Holocaust in their schools and communities. Most of the teachers attending the program this month already teach the Holocaust to their students and were hoping to expand their understanding and efforts.

An exercise involving looking at pictures taken during World War II was particularly instructive to the teachers who were attending, underscoring how, for example, an ordinary-looking family appearing to enjoy a swimming pool was actually a photo of a Nazi general, his wife and kids, taken just outside the boundary of a concentration camp where he worked to slaughter thousands.

“It just shows how our perceptions can be wrong,” said Kelsey Cansler, who teaches sixth and seventh grade in Townsend, Tennessee.

Lisa Clarke, who has been teaching middle school units on the Holocaust in Maryland for 16 years, said her students can relate to exclusionary laws, like those aimed at Jews in Germany in the 1930s, because “middle schoolers are all about who’s in the club and who’s not in the club.”

“I’d never say that ‘the Holocaust is just like middle school’ but I want them to get the sense that it is human,” Clarke said. “Part of the things that happened in the Holocaust are human nature. We want to be part of a group … even if that goes against our values and morals.”

Many of the units on the Holocaust talk about the difference between “bystanders and upstanders,” and how students may respond either way to bullying, for example.

Massachusetts state Rep. Jeffrey Roy, a Democrat who represents the near-western suburbs of Boston, is sponsoring a bill in his state that would require Holocaust education, despite the fact that the topic already is included in the state’s education “framework” that forms the basis for instruction in many of the state’s schools.

“The frameworks are voluntary, local school committees have the option to adopt the frameworks as much or as little as they want,” he said. “The legislation would require them to incorporate it into the curriculum.”

Roy said he did not know how many of the 351 local school districts in the state teach the Holocaust, but he suspects it’s a pretty large number.

“No child should graduate from a high school in Massachusetts without being exposed to this type of curriculum,” he said, noting that the ADL reported a more than 90% increase in hate crimes in Massachusetts from 2016 to 2017.

James Waller, a professor of Holocaust and genocide studies at Keene State College in New Hampshire who taught a session at last week’s seminar for teachers here at the Holocaust museum, said there is merit to teaching in “ways that connect the Holocaust and genocide with everyday people … in dehumanizing, ‘other-izing,’ discrimination and so on.”

“I think when teachers are intentional about those connections, I think it can do some good,” he said. “It is when the course is just taught as history that it makes it easy for students to say, ‘It happened then, it happened there, it has no relevance here.’”

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Jeffrey Epstein Was Their Teacher. He Became A Monster.

Some remember him as a caring teacher; others remember him as lousy. Some remember him as a creep. Some remember him as just one of many young faculty members, who barely would have stood out if not for his penchant for dressing in long, flamboyant fur coats. 

In recent days, former teachers and alumni from The Dalton School in New York City have been reconnecting via long group email chains and Facebook comments to discuss memories of the infamous financier Jeffrey Epstein. Epstein, who was charged with the sex trafficking of minors on Monday, worked as an educator at the private school for two years, teaching math and science to students who were just a few years younger than he was at the time, according to The New York Times

In conversations with 15 former Dalton students, parents and teachers, HuffPost learned that some are reconciling the fond or amusing memories they have of Epstein with allegations of monstrous misconduct. Others recall seeing red flags in Epstein’s behavior, even as teenagers. Some are using the present moment to reconsider certain memories of their alma mater, where sexual student-faculty relationships were occasionally an open secret at a time when the Me Too reckoning was still decades away. 

And many are in awe that their former headmaster Donald Barr ― a man who was known for being strict, polarizing and conservative ― is suddenly a relevant part of Epstein’s story, too. Barr, Dalton’s headmaster throughout the late ’60s until the mid-’70s, is the father of Attorney General William Barr. As the nation’s highest law enforcement officer, William Barr oversees the office that is prosecuting Epstein.

The joke has been this is the Epstein-Barr problem at Dalton,” said Harry Segal, a senior lecturer at Cornell University and Weill Cornell Medical College who graduated from Dalton in 1974. The Epstein-Barr virus, which is a type of herpes that can cause mono, coincidentally contains the name of the men at the center of Dalton’s latest controversy. 

Karin Williams, who left Dalton before her junior year in 1976, never had Epstein as a teacher. But she can still picture him clearly in the hallways of Dalton, standing by the school elevators, often surrounded by a gaggle of female students, with whom he seemed to have flirtations, she said.

“He stood out as this young guy in this weird coat,” said Williams, who now lives in Sweden and works in consulting, and has largely fond memories of Dalton. “You noticed him.”

Jeffrey Epstein at The Dalton School during the 1970s.

The elder Barr hired Epstein to teach at Dalton when Epstein was merely a 20-year-old college dropout from both Cooper Union and New York University. Epstein only lasted at Dalton two years before he was hired by the investment bank Bear Stearns after tutoring the chairman’s son.

Now, Epstein stands accused of sexually abusing dozens of underage girls in New York during the early 2000s. In 2018, the Miami Herald also identified about 80 women who said Epstein abused them around the same time

Dalton is one of New York City’s most storied and prestigious private schools, known for its sky-high cost and enrollment of the sons and daughters of New York’s richest and most influential families. And while even in the ’70s the school had an outsized reputation, former students describe a largely supportive environment where they were encouraged to pursue intellectual curiosities ranging from ancient Greek to Russian literature. They took classes with notable figures like Yves Volel, a Haitian presidential candidate who was assassinated in 1987.

Still, teachers like Epstein weren’t totally unusual at Dalton during the 1970s, according to seven former students. Barr liked to hire young people in their early-to-mid-20s whom he saw as smart and energetic and full of potential, they say. 

It was, however, unusual for a teacher to be as young as Epstein. And to lack a college degree. 

And while some Dalton alumni don’t remember him at all, some say he stood out for his youth.

The Dalton School did not respond to HuffPost’s request for comment about the circumstances behind hiring Epstein and whether the school’s hiring policies have changed today. Epstein’s legal team did not respond to a request for comment by press time. 

Epstein was known for his informal dress and casual relationships with students, whom he could sometimes treat more as peers than pupils, according to four former students. Indeed, as he was only 20, his general immaturity stuck out, they say.

He has garnered mixed reviews about his abilities as an educator. 

Dr. Susan Cohn, class of ’75, recalls Epstein telling students not to stress over the class because they were all going to get A’s. Cohn is now a professor of medicine at Northwestern University. 

“I didn’t learn a whole lot. He didn’t take the classes very seriously,” said Cohn, who said Epstein seemed more concerned with having fun. She described him as someone who seemed like he had just walked off the movie “Saturday Night Fever” and was “a bit smarmy.”

Now, some alumni wonder how Epstein could have gotten hired at Dalton. Though private schools don’t require staff to have the same credentials as public schools, they imagine such a young, inexperienced hire would be unheard of in the present day.

But at Dalton, Epstein ― a young man who seemed to enjoy the company of his female students ― existed within a specific context. It was just a few years before the release of Woody Allen’s “Manhattan,” which told the story of a 17-year-old Dalton student in a relationship with a much older man. 

Students from the ’70s recall a boundary-pushing atmosphere at the school during a particularly sexually permissive period in American history. Student-faculty relationships were generally seen as eyebrow-raising rather than abusive. 

“What’s sickening is that a creep like Epstein took that and never let go of it,” said an alumna from the class of ’74 whose name is not being used for privacy reasons. 

Indeed, In the years since, a similarly situated private school in New York City, Horace Mann, has come under scrutiny for widespread issues of sexual abuse during the ’70s and ’80s. 

“There were a number of teachers who looked at the student body as their next meal,” said Mark Robinson, class of ’74. Robinson, who is writing a book about his experience as one of Dalton’s few black students, recalled having wonderful educators overall. 

Donald Barr, too, existed in a specific context at Dalton. The headmaster is credited with transforming the school from a progressive bastion into an elite prep school where uniforms were strict, only certain hairstyles were allowed, discipline was emphasized and leadership was conservative. 

After years of strained relations with the school’s board of trustees, he resigned in ’74 and passed away in 2004. 

But if, at the time, students liked rock n’ roll, Donald Barr liked bagpipes. He even had students gather at one point to watch his son William perform the instrument for them, according to Mickey Rolfe, class of ’74. 

And if students were protesting Vietnam, then Barr was threatening to suspend them if it interfered with class time, according to Segal. 

Indeed, Barr was not shy about his conservative beliefs. In a 1968 New York Times article, he sounded off on the youth activism of the time. 

“They think they can cheat on tests, steal from one another’s lockers and exploit each other emotionally so long as they have the right opinions about the war or civil rights or something else. That is not morality,” Barr said. 

Segal even recalls learning as a young person that Barr had a son in the CIA. Amid the anti-war fervor and the school’s young men fearing that they would be shipped off next, this fact felt like a betrayal. 

It was only during the time of William Barr’s confirmation hearings for attorney general that Segal realized who the headmaster’s son had grown up to become. The resemblance ― father and son had similar glasses ― was uncanny.

For some, the connection between Epstein and Dalton seems random and useless. For others, it’s fascinating. And others find it entirely unpleasant. 

“It’s a little icky; you want to have positive memories, clear, clean, nostalgic memories of your school days,” said Robinson. “You don’t like to remember the things that are unpleasant. And this kind of pushes it up in your face.”

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Teacher Fired For Pro-Choice Facebook Posts Sues Catholic School, Citing Free Speech

A teacher who says she was fired from a South Carolina Catholic school for sharing progressive Facebook posts about abortion has filed a lawsuit alleging the school violated her freedom of speech.

Elizabeth Cox says she was fired from Bishop England High School in Charleston, South Carolina, at the end of the last school year because of three Facebook posts, the Charlotte Observer reports. 

Two of the posts called out hypocrisy within the anti-abortion movement, and the third was about efforts to oppose Alabama’s strict new law banning abortions in almost all circumstances — including in cases of rape and incest.

The lawsuit, filed Monday, argues that the Catholic school and its principal “committed a criminal offense” by firing Cox because of her “political opinions, free speech and/or exercising the political rights and privileges guaranteed by the United States and/or the South Carolina Constitutions.” She is seeking an unspecified amount in damages, lost wages, and reinstatement. 

Cox was a teacher at the Roman Catholic school in the Diocese of Charleston for about 16 years, according to the lawsuit. She accepted the school’s offer to renew her employment for the 2019-2020 school year. But in early June, Cox received a letter from principal Patrick Finneran stating that she was being fired because she had supported abortion on a public Facebook account that identified her as a teacher at the school. 

“When we confronted you with the post, you admitted to it and, moreover, reacted in a manner leading us to conclude you would not do differently in the future,” Finneran wrote in the letter, which was included in the complaint.

“Parents send their students to our school expressly because they want a Catholic teaching and upbringing, and your public expression of disagreement with Catholic values undermines that,” he continued.

In a Facebook post from May, Cox shared a quote about abortion popularly misattributed to the feminist activist Gloria Steinem. The quote points out how differently conservatives treat young women who seek abortions and young men who want to buy guns. 

How about we treat every young man who wants to buy a gun like every woman who wants to get an abortion – mandatory 48-hour waiting period, parental permission, a note from his doctor proving he understands what he’s about to do, a video he has to watch about the effects of gun violence … Let’s close down all but one gun shop in every state and make him travel hundreds of miles, take time off works, and stay overnight in a strange town to get a gun. Make him walk through a gauntlet of people holding photos of loved ones who were shot to death, people who call him a murderer and big him not to buy a gun.

Cox commented that the quote was “brilliant,” according to a copy of her Facebook post included in the complaint.  

Cox’s second post also called out double standards within the anti-abortion movement. 

I’ll start believing you’re pro-life when you:

– ban guns

– have free healthcare for all

– stop separating families at the border

– offer cheap, prescribed birth control

– raise minimum wage

– improve the quality of education in schools

– act on the climate crisis

– improve mental health care

The third Facebook post mentioned in the lawsuit was a link to an article from The Washington Post with the headline, “Leslie Jones leads the charge against Alabama’s abortion ban in the SNL season finale.”

Bishop England High School’s teacher employment contract contains a line stating that all teachers and employees are considered active ministers who understand they must “at all times publicly speak and act in accordance with the mission and teachings of the Roman Catholic Church,” according to the complaint. 

Cox’s lawsuit names as defendants the high school, Finneran, and four unnamed individuals involved in the decision to terminate her employment. 

The Diocese of Charleston told HuffPost on Friday that it and the school are reviewing the complaint and will “file a response to the lawsuit with the court in due time.” 

Catholic leaders often speak against abortion, but studies show that Catholics in the pews are divided on the issue. About 22% of Catholics believe abortion should be illegal in all circumstances, according to a 2018 Gallup poll. About 53% said it should be legal in certain circumstances.

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Fired Gay High School Teacher Sues Indiana Catholic Archdiocese

A gay teacher who was fired from an Indiana Catholic high school for getting married has filed a lawsuit against the Archdiocese of Indianapolis. 

Joshua Payne-Elliott, who was booted from his job at Cathedral High School in Indianapolis last month, claims the archdiocese interfered with his employment contract by demanding that the school fire him.

Payne-Elliott, who worked at Cathedral for 13 years, is seeking unspecified damages for lost wages, benefits, emotional distress, and damage to his reputation, according to a lawsuit filed on Wednesday.

“We hope that this case will put a stop to the targeting of LGBTQ employees and their families,” Payne-Elliott said in a statement obtained by the Indianapolis Star.

Joshua Payne-Elliott is married to Layton Payne-Elliott, a teacher who works at the nearby Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School. The pair were married in 2017. Both men have been at the center of a debate in the Indianapolis archdiocese over whether Catholic schools can employ gay, married teachers. The Payne-Elliotts had refrained from publicly identifying themselves before the lawsuit was filed on Wednesday.

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

The Archdiocese of Indianapolis gave Brebeuf the same ultimatum about employing Layton Payne-Elliott ― threatening to cut ties with the school if it didn’t fire the gay teacher. Last month, Brebeuf announced that it was standing its ground, claiming that firing the “highly capable and qualified teacher” math teacher would violate its “informed conscience on this particular matter.” The Jesuit school, part of the global religious order’s Midwest province, also resented that a local archdiocese was interfering in an employment decision.

As a result of Brebeuf’s stance, Indianapolis archbishop Archbishop Charles Thompson has kicked the school out of his archdiocese and is refusing to recognize it as Catholic.

Cathedral’s leaders say that its situation was different. The school relies heavily on its local archdiocese, according to leaders, and risked losing its nonprofit status, its diocesan priests and its ability to offer the Eucharist, a key Christian rite, if it disobeyed the archbishop.

Archbishop Charles Thompson leads the Indianapolis archdiocese. 

Archbishop Charles Thompson leads the Indianapolis archdiocese. 

Joshua Payne-Elliott, a social studies and world language teacher, worked at Cathedral from August 2006 to June 23, 2019, according to the lawsuit. In May, Cathedral allegedly offered to renew his teaching contract for the 2019-2020 school year. But a month later, the school told him it was terminating his employment “at the direction of the Archdiocese.”

Cathedral’s president, Robert Bridges, told Joshua Payne-Elliott that he was a “very good teacher” and that there was no performance-based reason for the termination, the lawsuit states. Bridges allegedly asserted that Payne-Elliott  was only getting fired because the Archbishop mandated that the school couldn’t employ a teacher in a “public same-sex marriage here and remain Catholic.”  Bridges apparently told the teacher that he felt like the school was making the decision “with a gun to our head.” 

Joshua Payne-Elliott’s lawyer announced Tuesday that the teacher had reached a settlement with Cathedral High School. In it, the teacher reportedly expressed that he did not wish Cathedral any harm. The archdiocese was not part of that settlement, according to the Indianapolis Star.

Joshua Payne-Elliott has also reportedly filed a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, claiming he was discriminated against because of his sexual orientation.

The archdiocese has said that Catholic school teachers are “ministers” who are required to uphold church teachings, which prohibit same-sex marriages. The archdiocese maintains that, because of its right to religious liberty, it should have the ability to decide what conduct is appropriate for employees. 

In a Q&A on the issue published in a diocesan newspaper earlier this month, Archbishop Charles Thompson suggested that society “has pushed the Church to the margins and peripheries.”

“We must continue to engage the world, engage society and engage culture with our message, with that Good News, with those teachings, and what we believe the word of God and the tradition of the Church has revealed and brought to us—and calls us to take to others,” Thompson said.  

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When Small Local Unions Make a Big Impact

While educators from big cities—like Los Angeles, Oakland, and Denver—have garnered national attention for their massive strikes, walkouts, work stoppages, and rallies over student learning conditions, wages, and benefits, educators in smaller towns have been just as successful.

Take California’s Lincoln Unified Teachers Association (LUTA), a mid-sized local of nearly 500 members who mobilized, held informational pickets, packed school board meetings, worked bell-to-bell, and won big.

In April, after spending 15 months negotiating and two years without a contract, LUTA educators ratified a landmark contract that improves the learning conditions for all 9,400 students. Negotiations weren’t over wages and benefits, according to the California Educator—both sides came to an agreement on those a year ago. Instead, educators bargained for more music programs for kindergarten kids and the restoration of music instruction for third graders.

The contract also includes district-paid induction costs for new teachers, which help to recruit and retain committed teachers. For new teachers, this goes a long way.

“Being a new teacher is hard enough without having to pay extra costs,” says Angela Quitasol, a science teacher at Sierra Middle School. “I’m so grateful to get reimbursed for the fees that I’ve already paid and that I won’t have to pay any more next year.”

Additionally, each K-8 class districtwide will receive a “classroom budget” of no less than $400. This will cover classroom supplies needed for students to be successful. Previously the amount would vary: some classrooms received only $100 while others received $400.

Wins like these don’t happen overnight. It takes time and intentional effort to engage members. LUTA President Tiffany Fuhrmeister said to the California Educator that “the victory wouldn’t have been possible without the commitment of all LUTA educators to fighting side-by-side for each other, their students, and the Lincoln Unified community.”

And when Fuhrmeister says “all,” she means all.

‘Let’s Empower People’

With small local unions, it’s not uncommon for a handful of leaders to task themselves with all of the work. LUTA leaders, however, made a long-term investment and a commitment in making the local more democratic by empowering its members to run their own contract bargaining.

Two years ago, NEA’s Center for Organizing and the California Teachers Association partnered with a few northern Golden State locals to help develop campaigns around their contract negotiations. With guidance from the national and state affiliates, LUTA leaders shifted its negotiation’s structure to include more voices in their decision-making process. This included parents, education support professionals, and new teachers.

“We keep talking about this notion of collective action,” says Fuhrmeister, an elementary school teacher with nearly 20 years of experience. “There are all these people who want to get involved and have deep-rooted insight on what their students need. If we’re going to empower people, let’s empower people.”

Additionally, public forums were held, school-site visits were scheduled, and a campaign plan was built to address the concerns of parents and educators throughout the district.

“Having three or four people wasn’t enough. We expanded the bargaining team to 25 people. This allowed us to focus on school- and student-friendly platforms, as well as speak on behalf of our entire membership.”

Inclusivity and the openness to share leadership roles have gone a long way. Initially, during the first public forum in the spring of 2018, 120 LUTA members were in attendance—less than half of the overall membership. By fall of the same year, after the new bargaining format was adopted, a board action drew 350 members to the meeting.

What’s next for LUTA? With Election Day fast approaching, the local now has the experience to organize around upcoming school board elections, as well as state and federal races.

“A teachers’ union is only as strong as its members. We need to continue to know our worth, the worth of our students, and the worth of our profession,” Fuhrmeister said. “This is just the beginning of a new day at [Lincoln Unified School District].”

On the Opposite Side of the Country

With more than 950 students, the Newport School District in New Hampshire prides itself on its small-town flavor: school Halloween parades down Main Street; Homecomings at the high school and the bonfires that follow; and pancake breakfasts to salute veterans. But even small districts like these go through difficult contract negotiations.

Previously, members of the Newport Teachers Association (NTA), a local of nearly 100 members, would go one year with a contract and then without the following year.

This swaying pattern lasted ten years, until this past March, when the district, local, and the town’s voting bloc approved a three-contract. (In New Hampshire, collective-bargaining agreements require voter approval.)

The main issue was teacher pay. The yo-yo effect of the bargaining agreement created a lag in salaries. Teachers were between one and eight steps behind the salary schedule. For small locals like Newport, this is “crippling.”

At the start of the 2018-2019 school year, for example, the district saw a 33 percent teacher turnover (33 of 100 teachers left). Some of them were new teachers who left a few weeks after the school year started. These turnovers left huge gaps in special education and elementary school positions.

“Teachers would turn down jobs once they found out what they were going to get paid—despite their years of experience and credentials,” says Melissa Mitchler, a 22-year veteran math teacher and co-president of the local association. “This was crippling the district’s ability to hire. It was crippling our profession because over time we were losing money to rising health-care costs, and it was crippling our students, who struggled to connect with new teachers every year.”

What Changed After a Decade?

Similar to California’s Lincoln Unified Teachers Association, the Newport local began to plan and organize long before leaders met with the district and voters. NTA Co-Presidents Mitchler and Lisa Ferrigno, an elementary school teacher with 14 years of experience, recruited more rank-and-file members, as well as community members, to be involved in their negotiation efforts.

NEA-New Hampshire staff offered guidance and support every step of the way, including a fact-finding brief that was hard to disprove. Additionally, a partnership with American Votes helped the local create a solid campaign plan that included targeted post cards, walking sheets for door-knocking efforts, and visibility via lawn signs. The local’s leadership attended select school board meeting, budget committee meeting, and took to the air waves to enlist public support.

Together, the trio launched a massive organizing effort that led to winning a three-year contract. The contract was its own item on the ballot, which included the school district budget and the collective-bargaining agreement for the Newport Support Staff Association. In March, more than 1,000 voters hit the polls. It was the largest voter turnout for a school budget vote on record, according to reports from district officials. NTA’s three-year agreement passed by 17 votes (629 to 612). The contract for support staff also passed and was a significant win.

The first-year cost of the contract, including salary and benefits is listed at $347,000. The second year is $301,000 and the last year is $140,000. At the end of the third year, all staff will be on a step that properly equates to their years of experience, instead of being one to eight steps behind.

“While this was momentous for the district, the association, and for our students,” says Ferrigno, “this is just the first step toward bringing our district pay closer in line with neighboring districts. We have more work to do to keep teachers in the profession, giving our students consistency in their education.”

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Florida Principal Could Lose Job Over Email Defending Holocaust Deniers

A Florida high school principal, now reassigned to a school district office, may lose his job completely for telling a parent in a shocking email that “not everyone believes the Holocaust happened.” The email, sent in 2018, was made public this week after the Palm Beach Post reported on its public records request for the email.

In a filmed statement on Wednesday, Palm Beach County Superintendent Donald Fennoy said he recommended the school board not renew the contract of William Latson, who was principal of Spanish River Community High School in Boca Raton.

The school district reassigned Latson on Monday after his 2018 email was uncovered, but he still has 11 months left on his contract, according to The Associated Press.

Fennoy said on Wednesday that Latson’s remarks caused “real distress” at his school and said that people in Boca Raton and beyond are deeply concerned by them. 

“Our children need to be taught the facts of our history, period,” Fennoy said. 

He also reaffirmed that “all students are taught about the Holocaust as an established fact.”

“Our schools can never be fact-neutral environments,” Fennoy added. “It’s our job as educators that our students learn the facts and know our history. This is non-negotiable for a strong society.”

In 2018, a parent sent an email to Latson asking if the school made lessons about the Holocaust “a priority” for its students, the Palm Beach Post reported. 

Latson replied that the school offered a one-day lesson to 10th-graders but noted that the lesson wasn’t mandatory since some parents wouldn’t want their children to participate, according to the Post.

When the parent countered Latson’s email, saying the Holocaust is a “factual, historical event” and “not a right or belief,” Latson disagreed, the emails show.

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

Latson offered an apology in a statement to the Post this week, saying he regretted “the verbiage” used in the emails. He also claimed that his emails “did not accurately reflect my professional and personal commitment to educating all students about the atrocities of the Holocaust.”

However, in a message to school staffers on Monday, Latson falsely accused the parent he exchanged emails with of misrepresenting his emails, according to The Associated Press ― even though the Post had obtained those emails in a records request.

“I have been reassigned to the district office due to a statement that was not accurately relayed to the newspaper by one of our parents,” Latson reportedly wrote to school staffers. “It is unfortunate that someone can make a false statement and do so anonymously and it holds credibility but that is the world we live in.”

Between 1933 and 1945, an estimated 6 million Jewish people were murdered under the Nazi regime of Adolf Hitler in Europe. The Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate and extremist groups in the U.S., notes that some influential people who deny the Holocaust “seek to rehabilitate the Nazi regime” and bring the ideology of national socialism and anti-Semitism “to new, broader audiences.” 

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Inside a Trauma-Informed Classroom – NEA Today

A student models the “cool down” corner in a trauma-informed classroom at Highland Elementary in Newark, Del. (Photo: Luis Gomez)

On a recent morning, Wilmington, Del., school nurse Donna O’Connor was reading the local news online “and saw that one of our fathers had been shot the night before.” She knew it would mean a bad day—week, month, year—for his children, and a new challenge for their educators. And, unfortunately, that kind of trauma isn’t unusual in their community, she says. “What does normal mean? What we consider normal [may not be] normal for them. How many of our students sleep in a bed?”

Scientists tell us that a child’s brain changes when they witness violence at home or in their communities, or experience poverty, eviction, and hunger. It adapts, altering its structure in a way that can be observed in brain scans. As a result, educators of these children will notice frequent “fight, flight, or freeze” responses to stress.

But what educators need to know is that they can adapt too, says Deb Stevens, director of instructional advocacy for the Delaware State Education Association (DSEA).

With professional training, they can reduce the impact of traumatic experiences and help all children learn. “You must believe you can make a difference,” she tells educators.

In 2017, DSEA won a $253,683, three-year NEA Great Public Schools grant for a collaborative project supporting educators at five Wilmington and Newark, Del., schools through frequent after-school and summer trainings, book studies, and more. “This is not another program,” says Stevens. It is a promise by the union, rooted in compassion and science, to change everything.

trauma-informed classroom

Dim The Lights!

Heather Harrison’s second-grade classroom at Highlands Elementary in Newark, Del., is an oasis of tranquility. The ceiling fluorescent lights are off. Natural light filters through sheer, handmade shades, while floor lamps glow in the corners. Wall posters say: “Relax” and “Just Breathe.”

Against the back wall, dozens of yoga mats and bolsters are stacked. “That classroom is a happy place for me!” says Principal Barbara Land. It’s also a trauma-informed space with flexible seating that allows for small movements by students, and a cool-down corner for students who need a break. During a recent math lesson, when a student yawns loudly, Harrison points to her own head and whispers to him: “Mindful! Be mindful of our actions!” Down the hall, in Sabra Lyons’ first-grade classroom, another math lesson is going on: “Last week, our brains were warming up,” she tells her students. “This week our brains are building on.”

Inside the Cool-Down Corner

Predictability and consistency help. But educators can’t always know what might spark fear or anger in a traumatized student. A “cool-down” or quiet corner can help stressed-out students avoid eruptions by taking a break, and almost every trauma-informed classroom has one. These places can be equipped with audio headphones, children’s books (Grumpy Bird is a favorite), or calm-down kits with stress-relieving putty, magic sand, stress balls, etc. “These are not toys,” says Stevens. They’re sensory tools that help students regulate their emotions. Recently Harrison had every one of her second graders visit her cool-down corner to practice their self-soothing skills. When they feel the need, they should be able to freely relocate there—and know what to do to take care of themselves.

At Shortlidge Academy in Wilmington, first grader Taralyn explains it like this: “You play there if you’re mad.”

trauma-informed classroom

Highland Elementary teacher Shayna Moon (Photo: Luis Gomez)

Social and Emotional Learning

“Good morning, Henrietta!” say Highlands Elementary kindergartners to their hedgehog puppet mascot. But it is not a good morning! Henrietta, a character from Highland’s social and emotional learning curriculum, is feeling frustrated and losing her cool. “Boys and girls, what should Henrietta do to calm down to think about her choices?” asks teacher Shayna Moon.

Says kindergartner Serenity: “Do turtle.” Sitting with crossed legs, Moon’s kindergartners demonstrate by tucking their heads against their chests, and getting “in their shells.” They breath deeply, and then “say the problem and how you feel.” These kinds of lessons will help their students in all aspects of their lives, educators believe. Meanwhile, at Shortlidge Academy in Wilmington, kindergartners learn about their brains as engines—if you’re revving too fast, it’s not a safe time to drive! “We teach the same thing,the same language, to our families,” says O’Connor.

Deb Stevens, director of instructional advocacy for
the Delaware State Education Association (DSEA). (Photo: Luis Gomez)

It’s a Good Thing She Loves Her Job…

From early Monday classroom visits to all-day trainings on Saturdays, the trauma project means DSEA’s Stevens is always on the go with bags full of handouts, books, and other resources.

Her recommended reading? Disrupting Poverty: Five Powerful Classroom Practices by Kathleen Budge and William Parrett; Fostering Resilient Learners: Strategies for Creating a Trauma-Sensitive Classroom by Kirstin Souers and Peter Hall (who came to Delaware this summer to work with DSEA members); and Help for Billy: A Beyond Consequences Approach to Helping Children in the Classroom by Heather Forbes.

Recently, Forbes visited a book study group that Stevens coordinated with interested teachers, where they talked about the importance of making kids feel safe and building community in classrooms.

In the first year of the NEA GPS grant, Stevens focused on steering committee members at each school—doing poverty simulations and brain-architecture maps, and exploring school strategies that can counteract those effects. This past year, compassionate- schools training unfolded to all staff members.

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Catholic School Promises To Help Fired Gay Teacher Find New Job

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — An attorney says a Catholic high school teacher fired for being in a same-sex marriage has reached a settlement in which the Indianapolis school will help the teacher with future employment options.

Attorney Kathleen DeLaney announced the settlement with Cathedral High School in a news release Tuesday. In it, the teacher thanks Cathedral for the opportunities and experiences that he has had teaching there and does not wish the school any harm. Cathedral thanks the teacher for the years of service, contributions, and achievements.

It wasn’t immediately clear whether a monetary settlement was included.

Archbishop Charles Thompson pressured Cathedral High School into firing a gay teacher in a same-sex marriage.

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Preschool For Children With Disabilities Works. But Federal Funding For It Is Plumeeting.

SURPRISE, Ariz. — Lindsey Eakin’s son Corbin was only six months old when she started to suspect something was wrong. Corbin, her third child, wasn’t babbling or cooing like his two older siblings had at his age and he was experiencing chronic, painful ear infections. His pediatrician at the time wasn’t concerned. But by the time he turned 1, Corbin wasn’t meeting developmental milestones in speech and Eakins was frustrated that nobody seemed to have answers for her.

“I didn’t know where to go with him,” she said. “I knew he wasn’t getting the help he needed.”

For her son’s 12-month appointment, Eakins took Corbin to a different pediatrician, who immediately agreed with her concerns. The doctor thought the ear infections could be affecting Corbin’s hearing. Tubes were placed in Corbin’s ears to help drain fluid and improve his hearing, but Corbin’s speech did not improve. Just before his third birthday, he was tested for speech delays and diagnosed with childhood apraxia of speech, a speech disorder that can lead to a delayed or limited ability to make sounds or form words.

Eakins soon learned that Corbin qualified for speech therapy and also for a preschool program offered through her local school district, Dysart Unified, about 20 miles northwest of Phoenix. The federally funded program, often called developmental preschool, serves young children ages 3 to 5 with disabilities. The goal of the program is to give kids with disabilities the services they need and a head start in school.

Dysart Unified’s preschool program for students with disabilities, which is offered at each of its elementary schools and staffed with teams of teachers, therapists and paraprofessionals, has become a model for Arizona. It’s the kind of inclusive, widespread program that experts say is ideal for young children with disabilities and can lead to impressive outcomes. Some children do so well in these programs they no longer need special education services by the time they enter school.

Corbin attended Dysart’s preschool five days a week for two-and-a-half hours a day. It wasn’t long before his speech skyrocketed.

“It’s had a major impact,” his mother said. “He went from not talking to full blown sentences.”

But comprehensive programs like the one in Dysart are a rarity, especially in a state where public pre-K is not yet widely available for all students, let alone children with disabilities. In 2016, Arizona offered public preschool to only 4% of its 4-year-olds and 2% of 3-year-olds. Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), every state in the country is required to offer, at a minimum, services like speech or occupational therapy for preschool students with disabilities, beginning at age 3. But the local school districts that must provide the programs are receiving fewer federal dollars: Federal funding to support these efforts has been declining steadily for decades.

The government’s overall appropriation of funds for special education preschool programs has varied by year, but generally decreased between 2002 and 2015, from $390 million to $353 million, before getting a slight bump to about $368 million in 2016 and 2017. At the same time, the number of children served by the programs more than doubled from the early 1990s to 2017, when 753,000 children ages 3 to 5 were served.

The growth in enrollment without adequate federal funding means per pupil spending has decreased sharply, by 40% per child from 1994 to 2014. Without funds, states may struggle to offer a robust special education preschool program and services, which means kids who could greatly benefit from having a head start in school are missing out and losing valuable time to catch up with their peers.

Experts say this delay can impact kids when they finally do enter school. “We know ‘wait and see’ doesn’t work,” said Amanda Morin, an expert at Understood, a nonprofit that gives parents resources and information about learning and attention issues. “So kids who are not getting services at younger ages will most likely need services when they get into school.”

The lack of adequate federal funding also means these federally required special education programs and services must often be subsidized by state funds and local sources, and thus vary widely by state and district. In Indiana, for example, preschool funding for children with disabilities has not changed in almost 30 years.

While some states and districts lean more toward offering piecemeal services for kids, such as therapy at home or at school, others have rearranged funding to invest in brick-and-mortar preschool classrooms that give kids with disabilities the opportunity to attend a pre-K program while also getting services catered to their needs.

There is also wide variability within pre-K programs. Some districts offer just one special education preschool classroom for the entire district, while others offer several. Some are inclusive and enroll students without disabilities as well, while others only serve children with disabilities.

Ashley Navarette reads a book to her morning preschool class.

Nicol Russell, deputy associate superintendent for early childhood at the Arizona Department of Education, said the lack of funding hamstrings many districts that recognize the long-term benefits of developmental preschool and want to expand their programs.

“We believe [districts] really want to offer children the best setting possible,” Russell said. “Many of them, because of the level of funding, just don’t know how to make that happen. It is costly to do quality in any situation when it comes to early childhood, but especially when it comes to special education services.”

Dysart’s developmental preschool program is funded by its maintenance and operation budget, which is cobbled together from state per-pupil allocations for each child enrolled in the district and local taxpayer dollars. The maintenance and operation funds mostly cover the salaries for preschool teachers in the program. The district covers the preschools’ other costs by pulling from the budget for all special education programs and by charging tuition for children without disabilities who attend the preschool program.

Marydel Speidell, the district’s director of finance, said the district has not done anything drastic to fund its special education preschools; administrators have simply prioritized spending money on the program, which cost $2.5 million this fiscal year. The finance department starts as early as possible to create the next year’s budget, working closely with district department leaders, Speidell said. She added that the special education department has a budget specialist who helps the district’s special education director identify where to shift funds within the overall special education budget to cover shortfalls.

In the district, which serves about 25,000 students, about 400 students with disabilities participate in special education preschool classes in 25 classrooms, with at least one classroom on each of the district’s 19 elementary campuses. Therapists serve an additional 40 students with disabilities outside of the preschool program. The program is free to students with disabilities, but a fee is charged to general education students. Beginning this fall, those students will be charged $250 a month, a $100 increase from the tuition in effect for the past five years.

On a recent morning in Ashley Navarette’s developmental preschool classroom at Surprise Elementary, nine 4-year-olds were busily engaged in activities at three pint-sized tables. Half the children had disabilities and attended the school for free; half did not, and paid to participate in the program.

At one table, a boy wearing a striped shirt carefully lined up plastic dinosaurs. “This is a ‘dramadasaurus,’” he said matter-of-factly. “It’s red.”

Another boy sitting next to him picked up a green stegosaurus and roared as he pretended his dinosaur was eating the red one. “Ms. Ashley! He’s trying to scare me!” the first boy said. Navarette swooped in and crouched down. “Why don’t we arrange the dinosaurs by color,” she suggested.

As Navarette guided the students to play together, a speech therapist walked into the classroom and found a little girl at another table.

“Are you ready for speech?” she asked the girl. The girl nodded and got up from the table.

“What’s that pink thing?” another student asked, pointing to a tiny device in the little girl’s ear.

“That helps her hear better!” the speech therapist said with a smile.

“Ohh!” the other student said, returning to her activity.

Typically, a child being pulled out for special services is the only clue that a student in Navarette’s class has a disability. And often, therapists will come into the classroom and run a center, allowing all students to receive exposure to speech therapy or work on their fine motor skills.

 A student in Dysart Unified School District’s developmental preschool program works on an activity during class.

A student in Dysart Unified School District’s developmental preschool program works on an activity during class.

Research shows providing opportunities for students with disabilities to attend preschool programs works: An analysis of data by the Early Childhood Outcomes Center found over 75% of children who participate in federally-funded special education preschool programs and services show “greater than expected growth in knowledge and skills, social relationships and taking action to meet needs,” according to a 2014 report. Nearly every state reported that at least 70% of kids enrolled in special education preschool and services showed a substantially increased rate of growth in positive social-emotional skills, according to a 2016 report by the Early Childhood Technical Assistance Center.

Clark Crace, director of exceptional student services for Dysart, said many students who leave Dysart’s developmental preschool program and enter the district’s kindergarten program no longer require services or are able to exit special education completely “because those early intervening services helped close those developmental gaps.” This year, 40% of the district’s developmental preschool students will start kindergarten either without the need for any special education services, or needing only services to improve speech. Twenty percent exited special education completely.

And while every child may not be able to exit special education, educators say the preschool program better prepares students with disabilities to be comfortable and confident in school, which is especially important for students who may start behind their peers in academic or developmental skills.

“The first week of school, the kindergarten teacher will be like, ‘That kid was in preschool.’ They know how to navigate the classroom. They know how to line up, go to the bus, go to the playground,” said Crace.

Nationwide, most kids in developmental pre-K qualify under one of two disability categories, developmental delays and speech-language delays. Heather Fogelson, a preschool liaison for the district who helps children transition into preschool, said the presence of peers without such disabilities is especially helpful for children who have speech delays. Those children are able to hear speech from their peers and learn how to converse despite challenges. “You really see that communication blossom,” Fogelson said.

But developmental preschool has traditionally separated kids with disabilities from their peers, according to Suzanne Perry with the Arizona Department of Education. In 2016, 35 states reported that fewer than 50% of children ages 3 to 5 with disabilities were served mostly in a regular education setting.

Perry said there has been some recent momentum to prioritize inclusiveness, after the release of a 2017 “Dear Colleague” letter from the U.S. Department of Education’s office of special education and rehabilitative services, encouraging districts to expand inclusive practices.

 Dysart preschool teacher Megan Jones waits for students in her afternoon class to arrive at school.

Dysart preschool teacher Megan Jones waits for students in her afternoon class to arrive at school.

Dysart preschool teacher Megan Jones said inclusion immediately integrates kids with disabilities into the school community. “They have a sense of belonging,” she said. “They become close as a class.”

On a recent afternoon in her inclusive developmental preschool classroom at Sonoran Heights Elementary, she stood by the entrance as her students filed in. “Can you find your name?” Jones said to the first student who entered the room. The girl looked at a large reader board and found a colorful card with her name on it. She moved it to the top of the board to show she was present.

“Let’s go wash our hands,” said a paraprofessional, gently guiding the student toward the sink.

The rest of Jones’ class filed in, found their names, washed their hands, and chose their seats from three tables, with various toys and activities scattered on top, set up on the side of the classroom. While most children sat down, eager to play with the toys, others were distracted.

One little boy in a red shirt sat for a few seconds before jumping up from his chair, grabbing some colorful plastic bears off a table and throwing them across the classroom. Jones turned and walked over to him. “Go get those bears,” she said in an upbeat but firm voice. The child laid down on the ground. “Pick up!” she said again, helping him stand up. “Can you put them in the bucket?” The child turned and tried to go sit at a table. “Pick up first!” she reminded him. The child ran over, picked up the bears, and took them back to the table.

“He just started in January,” Jones said as she watched him play at a table. “We’re still learning.”

Jones’ goal is to expose children to concepts like letter names and sounds, but also to skills like how to line up, how to transition to new activities, and how to follow rules. Fifteen minutes later, after every student had arrived, Jones instructed the children to clean up and join her at a brightly-colored carpet in the middle of the room. Kids quickly wiped off small white boards and threw plastic body parts from a Mr. Potato Head game back into buckets and meandered over to the carpet, each choosing their own colorful square to sit on.

Jones sat at the top of the carpet on a small chair and started to lead the students in a song. “Here we are together, together, together, here we are together,” Jones sang as the children joined. The little boy in the red shirt sat briefly, then got up, running circles around the classroom with the plastic bears stuck on five of his fingers. “He can get up,” Jones said quietly to a paraprofessional, who was deciding whether to encourage him to sit or let him run around.

“It’s so crucial to get these kids served early,” Jones said later. “It makes the world of a difference. It sets them up for the rest of their lives.”

Lindsey Eakins, whose son is in Jones’ class, said Corbin has continued to progress during his first year of preschool. He’s learned his shapes, numbers and colors and has made friends with his classmates. His speech has improved to the point where he no longer gets frustrated because people can’t understand him. “Now he talks too much,” Eakins joked.

She’s encouraged by his growing self-esteem. “I want him to be confident,” she said. “This is a lifelong diagnosis. But I want him to have that confidence to say, ‘I have apraxia, but I can overcome it.’”

This story about developmental preschool was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news organization focused on inequality and innovation in education. Sign up for Hechinger’s newsletter.

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Florida Principal Removed After Defending Holocaust Deniers

A high school principal in Florida who defended Holocaust deniers in an email to a parent has been removed from his position.

William Latson, who as head of Spanish River Community High School in Boca Raton told a parent that “not everyone believes the Holocaust happened,” was reassigned effective immediately, the Palm Beach County School District announced Monday.

“In addition to being offensive, the principal’s statement is not supported by either the School District Administration or the School Board,” the district said in a statement. It added that its Holocaust curriculum is “based on historical fact.”

Latson has been reassigned to an unspecified job as the district searches for his replacement at the high school.

A high school principal in Florida who defended Holocaust deniers to a parent when asked about his school’s Holocaust curriculum has been removed from his position. A Jewish cemetery in Krakow, Poland, is seen.

Latson, in an April 2018 email exchange with an unidentified parent who asked how his school teaches about the World War II atrocity that killed 6 million Jews, said he had to be respectful of those who don’t accept the Holocaust as historical fact.

“Not everyone believes the Holocaust happened and you have your thoughts but we are a public school and not all of our parents have the same beliefs so they will react differently,” Latson told the mother, according to copies of emails obtained by the Palm Beach Post through a public records request. “I can’t say the Holocaust is a factual, historical event because I am not in a position to do so as a school district employee.”

Not everyone believes the Holocaust happened and you have your thoughts but we are a public school and not all of our parents have the same beliefs so they will react differently.

He added that instruction and an assembly about the genocide were not mandatory for students, as some parents “don’t want their children to participate.”

Latson was privately counseled by district administrators shortly after the emails, but he was not disciplined. He later visited Washington’s U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum to educate himself, the Palm Beach Post reported.

It wasn’t until the Palm Beach Post obtained and published the emails on Friday that the principal’s comments made national news, generating calls for his removal.

″(The) fact that someone charged with educating children would be unable to speak unequivocally on the realities & horrors of the holocaust is incredibly concerning,” Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) tweeted. “Our children and communities deserve better. There’s no excuse for anti-Semitism in any form.”

Politicians leading the Holocaust remembrance "March of the Living" for the six million for Holocaust victims walk through th

Politicians leading the Holocaust remembrance “March of the Living” for the six million for Holocaust victims walk through the “Arbeit Macht Frei” gate at the former Nazi German death camp of Auschwitz-Birkenau in Poland in May.

Latson, who did not respond to a request for comment, issued an apology to the Palm Beach Post last week, saying his emails did not reflect who he is.

“I regret that the verbiage that I used when responding to an email message from a parent, one year ago, did not accurately reflect my professional and personal commitment to educating all students about the atrocities of the Holocaust,” he said.

The school district in its statement called Latson’s leadership “a major distraction for the school community.”

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Former Wharton Admissions Officer Says Trump Benefited From Family Connections

“I went to the Wharton School of Business,” he’ll have you know. “I’m, like, a really smart person.”

However, a former admissions officer at the school said that the president got into the prestigious school mostly due to his genes rather than his genius.

James Nolan told the Washington Post that he was working in the admissions office in 1966 when a good friend, Fred Trump Jr., called asking for a favor.

“He called me and said, ‘You remember my brother Donald?’ Which I didn’t,” Nolan, 81, told the paper in an article published Monday.“[Trump Jr.] said, ‘He’s at Fordham and he would like to transfer to Wharton. Will you interview him?’ I was happy to do that.”

Nolan recalled that when he met with the future president, he saw no signs he was dealing with a world-class intellect.

 “I certainly was not struck by any sense that I’m sitting before a genius,” he said. “Certainly not a super genius.” 

Nolan said he wrote a report about Trump and said he doesn’t remember the details, but “it must have been decent enough to support his candidacy.”

Although it was common for children of wealthy and influential people to be admitted before other applicants ― especially if there were big donations made to the school ― the Post said there is no evidence that Fred Trump Sr. made a large donation to the school to help his son.

Still, the interview is just another example of how Trump, a self-proclaimed self-made man, benefited greatly from family connections and wealth.

Last year, the New York Times reported that, contrary to the president’s claims that he transformed a “small loan” of $1 million from his father into a “massive empire,” Fred Trump Sr. actually loaned his son at least $140 million in today’s dollars.

Trump’s dad also helped his son avoid financial ruin more than a few times, such as in 1990 when he sent one of his bookkeepers to Atlantic City in 1990 to buy $3.5 million in casino chips so his son could make a bond payment.  

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Malala Would Have To Remove Her Headscarf To Teach In Quebec: Education Minister

Quebec’s education minister is facing criticism for tweeting a photo of himself with Nobel Peace Prize recipient Malala Yousafzai after his government banned public employees from wearing headscarves like hers.

Education Minister Jean-François Roberge then further enraged critics by tweeting that, if the 21-year-old educational activist were to teach in Quebec, she would not be able to use the religious head covering she normally wears.

Roberge’s comment comes less than a month after Quebec passed Bill 21 — a controversial piece of legislation introduced by Coalition Avenir Québec, the province’s new anti-immigrant, center right, government. The bill bans public servants such as teachers, police officers and judges from wearing religious symbols, including hijabs, kippas, turbans and crosses.

Critics say the ban unfairly targets Muslim women, while its supporters argue that the legislation is meant to uphold the province’s secular nature. 

Yousafzai, the youngest Nobel Prize Laureate and an advocate for girls’ right to education, gained international attention in 2012 after Taliban gunmen shot her in the head for going to school. She met Roberge in France to discuss “access to education and international development,” according to the politician, who is in Paris for a series of education meetings before the G-7 summit next month.

After Roberge shared the photo of himself posing with Yousafzai on Friday, Montreal-based journalist Salim Nadim Valji asked the minister how he would respond if Yousafzai wanted to become a teacher in Quebec. 

Roberge responded that having Yousafzai teach in the province would be an “immense honor,” but “that in Quebec, as is the case in France (where we are now) and in other open and tolerant countries, teachers cannot wear religious symbols in performing their duties.” 

Roberge did not respond to HuffPost’s request for comment, and Yousafzai was unavailable to comment, according to her spokespeople.

“It’s frankly hysterically and tragically absurd,” Mustafa Farooq, executive director at the National Council of Canadian Muslims, told HuffPost of Roberge’s tweet. “It just stands to show the nature of what happens when you start introducing legislation that strips away from the civil liberties of people.”

“It leads to absurd, unconstitutional consequences that have devastating effects on the way that people can live and how they can feel as citizens,” Farooq added.

Alongside the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, NCCM is set to challenge the legislation in court on Tuesday with Ichrak Nour El Hak, a hijab-wearing Muslim student at the University of Montreal studying to be a teacher. Hak said she fears the law will stop her from teaching in public schools. 

Hak is one of possibly hundreds of Muslim women who could be affected by Quebec’s ban. Even before the legislation passed, Muslim women in the region said they faced an increase in hate attacks. 

For decades, Quebec has long struggled with Islamophobia in the name of secularism. In 2017, a gunman killed six worshippers and injured 19 others at a mosque in Quebec City in what is now Canada’s worst mass murder in a house of worship. Nonetheless, the current premier of Quebec insisted early this year that the province didn’t have a problem with Islamophobia.

Outside of Quebec, members of far-right hate groups entered a mosque uninvited and harassed worshippers on their way to Friday prayers in Edmonton, Albertaearlier this year, stoking fears in the Muslim community.  Reported hate crimes against Muslims in Canada nearly tripled between 2016 and 2017 alone, with many civil rights organizations noting that the number of crimes is likely higher. 

Were you a victim of an anti-Muslim hate crime? Get in touch:

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At NEA Representative Assembly, Educators Prepare to Make an Impact in 2020

Galvanized by the historic mobilization of public school educators that caught the attention of the entire nation, educators converged on the George E. Brown convention center in Houston, Texas on July 4 for the 157th National Education Association Representative Assembly (RA). The theme of the 2019 RA was Our Democracy. Our Responsibility. Our Time! After four busy and exciting days, the more than 6,000 delegates left Houston ready to carry the momentum of the #RedforEd movement into 2020 and play a pivotal in choosing the next president.

“This movement has created something better for millions of students and educators, but it’s bigger than that,” NEA President Lily Eskelsen García told delegates in her keynote address. ” We’ve created something better for communities—for this country that we love.”

And that unnerves people like Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos and the army of billionaires who are funding the school privatization schemes that driver her agenda. But if we are to bring real change, Eskelsen García said, we need to look to the top.

Electing a new U.S. president in November 2020, she said, should be a priority of anyone who cares about public education. And public school educators should not shy away from working toward that goal.

“Political action isn’t subversive,” Eskelsen García said. “It’s the essence of democracy. … We will use our collective power to listen and learn and teach and reach and engage and organize and convince.”

At this year’s RA, NEA took a big first step in leading the conversation around public education and Election 2020 with the #StrongPublicSchools presidential forum.

For two hours, ten presidential hopefuls – former Vice President Joe Biden, former HUD Secretary Julián Castro, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, Sen. Kamala Harris, Gov. Jay Inslee, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Rep. Tim Ryan, former Rep. Beto O’Rourke, Sen. Bernie Sanders, and Sen. Elizabeth Warren – made their case to the delegates (and viewers nationwide who watched the forum via livestream). They fielded questions from NEA members on everything from education funding, privatization, testing, school safety, and student debt.

Although NEA members undoubtedly had their preferred candidates, most came away impressed by the substantive conversation and the fact that – as Eskelsen García pointed out in her opening remarks – while educators were hearing from the candidates, “the candidates were listening to you.”

“They have clearly been listening to teachers,” said Oklahoma teacher Brendan Jarvis. “Only a strong and large organization can make an event like this possible, and give teachers a seat at the table in the next administration.”

‘Our Kids Deserve Better’

Taking a seat at the table (and keeping it) is a goal shared by all teachers and education support professionals, said 2019 NEA ESP of the Year Matthew Powell. Powell, a custodial supervisor in Kentucky and one of the most politically active educators in the state, addressed the RA on July 6.

“I want to remind all of us of the influence and power we have in the lives of our students, in our schools, and our communities,” he said. “That power is available to each and every one of us, every day, in big ways and in seemingly small ways …Never forget, we are the experts when it comes to public education.”

National Teacher of the Year Rodney Robinson carried the inspiring message forward with a powerful speech later in the afternoon. Robinson, a social studies in a school inside the Richmond Juvenile Detention Center in Virginia, made an impassioned plea for diversity, inclusion and greater educational opportunities for our most vulnerable students.

“We have hit the point of a national emergency, as we stand in solidarity with our brothers and sisters all over this great nation, and we need leaders who are willing to stand with us,” Robinson said.

In his closing, Robinson put lawmakers across the country on notice.

“Thousands of students, teachers, parents, and administrators are stepping up and saying enough is enough. And I promise you your judgement day will not be on your final day on this earth, but on Election Day when millions of Americans–led by every single person in this crowd-march to the polls, break down the doors, kick you out of office and say our kids deserve better!”

Strong and effective activism sometimes starts with a strong image. Hundreds of delegates discovered that when they visited a designated area in the hall, where artists from the Milwaukee-based Art Build Workers helped them create powerful protest art for signs, posters, and parachute banners.

“Creating images that go along with a movement, whether it’s racial or social justice [or the national #RedforEd movement], brings people together, and creates ownership in the movement,” said Wyoming art teacher Paige Gustafson.

Paige Gustafson at the NEA RA Art Build

John Stocks, in his last address as NEA executive director, urged the delegates and educators everywhere to embrace their growing power. “We need you to come together and make this country whole. Our democracy is calling out for social justice patriots.

“Let’s be perfectly honest. An educator can do more for our democracy in five minutes than some lawmakers can do over their entire career,” said Stocks.

Dolores McCracken, former president of the Pennsylvania Education Association, posthumously received the NEA’s highest honor, the NEA Friend of Education Award. McCracken’s two adult children accepted the award.

The RA awarded David Schneider, a communications professor at Saginaw Valley State University (SVSU) in University Center, Mich., as the 2019 Higher Educator of the Year.

What Democracy Looks Like

It wouldn’t be an RA, however, without New Business Items, lots and lots of New Business Items. The RA is a democratic body, so delegates spend most of their time debating and voting on new NBI’s – policies, resolutions, amendments that will direct much of the Association’s work in the coming year.

This year, delegates adopted more than 60 out of 160 proposed, dealing with topics as far ranging as the impact of technology on students, the opioid crisis, immigration advocacy, charter school “co-location,” and ethnic studies.

RA delegates also elected two educators to NEA’s Executive Committee, the Association’s highest-level governing body. Robert Rodriguez, a special education teacher from San Bernardino, Calif., and a champion for diversity and LGBTQ rights in schools, was re-elected to a second two-year term.

RA delegates debate a New Business Item.

The newest member of the executive committee is Christine Sampson-Clark of New Jersey, also a special education teacher.

“I’m honored to join NEA’s Executive Committee and look forward to representing the voices of my fellow education professionals in this role,” said Sampson-Clark. “Our members deserve professional respect as well as the resources needed to provide all our students with great schools. NEA is vital to these goals.”

RA delegates got the chance on the last day to say hello to NEA’s new executive director, Kim Anglin Anderson, who effective Sept. 1 will replace John Stocks. Anderson was previously with NEA for 15 years, creating and leading NEA’s Center for Advocacy and Outreach in 2016 before leaving to serve as executive vice president of the Democracy Alliance.

In a brief address to the RA, Anderson told the delegates how thrilled she was to be “coming home” to the NEA.

“What’s in my heart is what’s in yours: a love of the students we serve. And the responsibility we share to instill the values of democracy and equal opportunity in order to model in our schools what a just society should look like.”

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Florida Principal: ‘Not Everyone Believes The Holocaust Happened’

A Florida high school principal appeared to defend Holocaust deniers when he was reportedly asked by a parent how his school teaches about the World War II atrocity and wrote that “not everyone believes the Holocaust happened.”

The surprising response was revealed in emails between the parent and principal at Boca Raton’s Spanish River Community High School sent in April of 2018, The Palm Beach Post reported Friday, citing the results of a public records request.

The parent, who did not want her name published, told the Post that she had reached out to Principal William Latson about how his school prioritizes that part of world history. The mother mentioned a 1994 Florida mandate that requires Holocaust education in public schools. Oregon most recently passed its own such mandate.

Participants in the Jewish event of Holocaust remembrance walk in the former Nazi World War II death camp of Auschwitz in Oswiecim, Poland, in May 2019.

Latson replied by saying that the school offers a one-day lesson to 10th graders but he said it’s not mandatory as some parents “don’t want their children to participate.”

“The Holocaust is a factual, historical event,” the mother reportedly responded to him. “It is not a right or a belief.”

Latson, however, protested.

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

I can’t say the Holocaust is a factual, historical event because I am not in a position to do so as a school district employee.
William Latson, principal of Boca Raton’s Spanish River Community High School

He added that the school presents information about the Holocaust to the students and allows them to make their own decisions about it. He said it does the same when it comes to slavery.

The mother and a second parent later met with Latson and discussed incorporating the Holocaust memoir “Night,” by Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel, into the school’s required reading list. A request to have assemblies about the Holocaust for every grade level did not come to fruition, however, the mother told the Post. Deputy Schools Superintendent Keith Oswald told the paper that was because of a time constraint and said the assemblies would happen in the upcoming school year.

Latson, in a statement to the Post, apologized, saying the views he expressed in his emails “did not accurately reflect my professional and personal commitment to educating all students about the atrocities of the Holocaust.”

Portraits of Holocaust survivors are displayed in April 2019 at New York's Museum of Jewish Heritage, as a vintage German tra

Portraits of Holocaust survivors are displayed in April 2019 at New York’s Museum of Jewish Heritage, as a vintage German train car, like those used to transport people to Auschwitz and other Nazi death camps, is seen in front of the building.

Latson, who was reportedly not disciplined over his conduct, visited Washington’s U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in the summer following the email exchange so that he could learn more about the tragedy.

He did not immediately respond to a HuffPost request for comment.

The Holocaust Memorial Museum considers Holocaust denial to be a form of anti-Semitism. Those that preach it are “generally motivated by hatred of Jews and build on the claim that the Holocaust was invented or exaggerated by Jews as part of a plot to advance Jewish interests,” the museum’s website states.

Intentionally denying or distorting the historical record threatens communal understanding of how to safeguard democracy and individual rights.
From the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum website

The museum argues that it’s essential to confront such denial to prevent similar horrors from happening again.

“A society that tolerates antisemitism is susceptible to other forms of racism, hatred, and oppression,” the museum’s website states. “Intentionally denying or distorting the historical record threatens communal understanding of how to safeguard democracy and individual rights.”

Social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube recently started to remove content from conspiracy theorists and deniers of such tragedies, including the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

YouTube, which began removing the content in June, did not say why it had decided to take this action now.

“We’ve been taking a close look at our approach towards hateful content in consultation with dozens of experts in subjects like violent extremism, supremacism, civil rights and free speech,” it said in a blog post.

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2019 Teacher of the Year: ‘Everyone Benefits From Diversity’

Rodney Robinson, 2019 National Teacher of the Year addresses the delegates during the NEA Representative Assembly.

Rodney Robinson, the 2019 National Teacher of the Year, brought the 7,000 NEA Representative Assembly delegates to their feet on Saturday with an impassioned plea for diversity, increased opportunity for our most vulnerable students, and a day of reckoning for politicians who refuse to fully-fund public education.

“When we talk about education justice,” said NEA President Lily Eskelsen García, “Rodney lives it every day.”

Robinson teaches social studies at Virgie Binford Education Center, a school inside the Richmond Juvenile Detention Center in Richmond, Virginia. He became a teacher to honor his mother, who was denied the opportunity due to poverty and racism in rural Virginia.

As Robinson told RA delegates, his mother was still his greatest teacher, imparting life lessons that shaped his career as an educator – namely an early understanding of the need for equity. Not all children grow up on a level playing field and some need more help in order to achieve.

“A one-size-fits all model of equality does not work in education and education funding,” Robinson said. “Equity ensures that the students suffering from multi-generational poverty receive the same resources and education as those born with a silver spoon in their mouths.”

The staggering budget cuts that have devastated the public education system in so many parts of the country have to be reversed. “The national economy has recovered from the Great Recession and is surging at record highs.  It’s time the children of America received their fair share of the nation’s resources!” Robinson said.

Economic and resource equity is integral and long overdue, but Robinson shifted the focus of his speech to another urgent gap that deserves the same level of attention.

Cultural equity, Robinson explained, continues to be a staggering challenge for the U.S. education system.

Robinson singled out the nation’s severe shortage of teachers of color in our classrooms. While more than half of the school-age population are students of color, 80 percent of teachers are white. Study after study has demonstrated the undeniable benefits of a more diverse teacher workforce – particularly for students of color.

“We need to make sure students have teachers who look like them and values their cultures,” Robinson said. “All students deserve teachers and role models who appreciate and understand the unique gifts they bring to the table no matter their race, religion, gender status, or sexual orientation.

“We need more teachers of color in American because everyone – and I mean everyone- benefits from diversity!”

Watch Rodney Robinson’s Speech

Robinson told the delegates about TJ, one of his recent students.  TJ’s story is in many ways sadly familiar: He was born into poverty to a drug-addicted mother, misdiagnosed in school and placed in an underfunded special education program. TJ then attended a dilapidated, mold-infested, overcrowded and understaffed high school where he never received the attention he needed. He was soon arrested and convicted for a violent offense and sent to the diversion program where Robinsons teaches.

With Robinson’s help and the assistance of a full-time psychologist, TJ began to show real signs of progress.

“We were able to give him the academic, mental, and social help he needed to be better because we are a fully funded school with teachers who look like him and understand his culture,” Robinson told the delegates.

Still, Robinson is worried. TJ will soon return to the same underfunded, understaffed school that was unable to provide him with the attention and resources he needs.

“He doesn’t have any counseling at the school to improve his mental health,” Robinson said. “I hope it works out for him but it doesn’t look good. He needs special resources and they are not available to him… Why does a kid have to go to jail to get a full-funded school and the resources they need to be successful?”

Robinson closed his address with a powerful plea for educators everywhere to join their colleagues already on the frontlines to step up and say “enough is enough!”

“We have hit the point of a national emergency …I ask the legislators of America, what is your life’s blueprint when it comes to the kids of this country?” Robinson said, paraphrasing Martin Luther King.

“I promise you, your judgement day will not be on your final day on this earth but on election day when millions of Americans led by every single person in this crowd march to the polls, break down the doors, kick you out of office and say “Our kids deserve better!”

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NEA Representative Assembly Honors 2019 ESP of the Year

2019 ESP of the Year Award Matthew Powell addresses the delegates during the NEA Representative Assembly in Houston, Texas. JULY 6, 2019.

Matthew Powell, the 2019 Education Support Professional of the Year, took the stage at the NEA Representative Assembly on Saturday. Introducing him to the almost 7,000 delegates gathered in the George E. Brown Convention Center in Houston, NEA President Lily Eskelsen García commended Powell for his “commitment to public education and our students.”

“Technically, he has the title of custodial supervisor,” Eskelsen García added. “But that is just one of the many hats this talented man wears.”

In addition to his work as a custodial supervisor, Powell is also the night watchman and fills in as a bus driver when the district needs substitute drivers. He works at Graves County Central Elementary School in Mayfield, Kentucky.

Powell, who was named ESP of the Year at the annual NEA ESP national conference in March, is a passionate advocate for teaching the whole child—and for the critical role ESPs play in that effort. In his speech to the RA, Powell highlighted the lasting impact every school staff member has on students and their community.

“My ‘class’ includes all 538 of the students in my school,” Powell told the delegates. “My classroom is on the bus, in the cafeteria, on the playground, in the halls, at the outside koi fish pond, and many other places around the school.”

Powell took time in his speech to salute four educators—a teacher, a bus driver, a “lunch lady,” and a school custodian—who affected him growing up and helped him become the educator he is today.

“What these educators really did was create an atmosphere where I felt supported, fed, and safe. They created an environment for me to enjoy and thrive in school. They had different roles, but they seized their unique opportunity to make a positive difference in my life,” Powell said.

Powell recounted how in May 2016 a tornado swept across western Kentucky, leveling large swaths of Graves County, where he teaches. While his school was spared, Powell and his colleagues sprang into action to help the community recover, assisting in the delivery of supplies to students and their families.

Sharing this story with delegates was not intended as a “trip down memory lane,” Powell said.

“I want to remind all of us of the influence and power we have in the lives of our students, in our schools, and our communities. That power is available to each and every one of us, every day, in big ways and in seemingly small ways,” he said, to applause from delegates.

Powell, a dedicated political activist for public schools in Kentucky, pointed to the powerful alliance between teachers and ESPs in igniting the #RedFor Ed movement across the country.

“ESPs have valuable experience and expertise that should inform our schools about decisions made inside our schools,” Powell said.  “We know our students well and many of us live in the community where we work…We deserve a seat at every table where policies and decisions are made that impact our work,our students and our communities that we serve.”

Powell was a vocal advocate for the Recognizing Achievement in Classified School Employees (RISE) Act, which acknowledges the outstanding contributions of ESPs and classified school employees in the nation’s schools.

“It established the first-ever federal recognition of ESPs,” Powell told delegates. “It was a victory that would not have been possible without the educators who reached out to members of Congress and shared their voice. It was an amazing achievement, but one that was long overdue.”

Quoting Helen Keller, Powell urged delegates to remember that “alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.”

“We must keep using our collective voice and telling our stories to elevate our profession and demand what we need for our students,” Powell said, in closing. “Never forget, we are the experts when it comes to public education.”

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NEA Higher Educator of Year: Tough, Caring, and Student-Focused

Saginaw Valley State University (SVSU) professor David Schneider was Googling a paper he recently published when he stumbled across a website where students rate their professors.

“I read the first five reviews, and honestly I have a lot of issues with ‘rate my professor,’ but it was spot on!” says Schneider. “‘Tough grader,’ ‘challenging,’ but they also view me as approachable, as caring, and they really enjoy my classroom experience.”

Schneider’s student-centered approach also inspires his NEA Higher Ed colleagues, who selected him as the 2019 Higher Educator of the Year. On Saturday, alongside the national Teacher of the Year and NEA Education Support Professional (ESP) of the Year, the NEA Representative Assembly (RA) honored Schneider.

“It’s been a humbling and moving experience to be recognized in this way,” says Schneider.

Although Schneider was unable to attend the annual meeting, National Council for Higher Education (NCHE) President DeWayne Sheaffer spoke on his behalf. “Our honoree, David, exemplifies so much of what is best in our profession. He has improved the college experience of students through his student-centered learning and research methods. He’s applied those learnings to his own classes and campus, but also shared his knowledge at national conferences. He’s a trailblazer, helping to challenge his peers.”

Schneider, a professor of communications and union leader who is entering his 34th year at SVSU, also has served as president of his local union, and as president and board member of the Michigan Association of Higher Education. “His message has been that the community benefits by strong cooperation and support,” writes his Michigan colleague Colleen Pilgrim, of Schoolcraft College, who nominated Schneider this year.

Focusing on student success

“It’s kind of interesting, in K12 education, ‘retention’ isn’t necessarily a positive word,” says Schneider. “But in higher education, it is! Our issue is trying to keep students in college, moving toward graduation.”

At SVSU, “for many very good reasons, less than 50 percent of our students will graduate in six years or less,” says Schneider. While poor academic preparation often is blamed, “it’s not the whole picture,” he adds. “The research reveals that students need to develop a sense of belonging on their new institutions, and there are things that faculty and staff can do to help.”

Adults “attach” themselves in different ways, says Schneider. Psychologists talk about four attachment styles, such as “secure” or “dismissive” styles. “It may help students when faculty and staff identify the different ways that students attach, and offer them different kinds of connections,” says Schneider.

“From my experience, we have all sorts of help centers on university campuses—writing centers, tutoring centers—but the students who need them most, use them the least! Faculty have the power of suggestion, or the power to integrate some of these services into our assignments, to help students realize these are good places to go,” says Schneider. “They’ll see that ‘I’m not going there because I’m weak, I’m going there because I’m smart!’”

Union leadership

Schneider has been a chief negotiator for his local NEA-affiliated faculty union since 1996, and he “understands the fight,” he says.

But he also sees his role at the bargaining table—and the role of the faculty union at large—as being bigger than faculty salary and benefits. “We, as union, need to remember that we organize around a skill. As long as we keep on top of that skill, many of the other battles don’t go away, but they become easier to deal with,” says Schneider. “It’s my belief that we need to create strong faculty—and strong faculty teach well, strong faculty do research, and strong faculty participate in college or university governance. Our training of our members should reflect that.”

“To me, good unionism is continually keeping an eye on and honing our professional skills,” he says.

On his campus, which respects the long-held principal of “shared governance,” union members have equal say in matters of curriculum and academic program development. Faculty understand that the union gives them a seat at the table.

Still, Schneider sees challenges in higher education today. When he attended college decades ago, the state of Michigan covered three-quarters of the cost, while students shouldered about one-quarter of the tuition burden. Today, the proportion is reversed: the state pays about one-quarter of the cost, while student tuition has skyrocketed to cover the balance. Struggling students and families incur enormous student debt.

That dynamic may contribute to students, families, and policymakers reconsidering the value of higher education in a way that concerns Schneider. Instead of thinking about the role of higher education in developing people who can think for themselves, and who can participate fully in their communities, it’s become more about job training. “College is an experience, not job training. Job training is something we do, but it’s not all we do,” he says.

The role of personal technology in classrooms: Curious about the paper that Schneider was Googling? It’s a review of the literature around the use of personal technology—like iPhones—in classrooms. (Read it here.) Not surprisingly, he found that the use of personal devices to text, or pop onto Facebook, or what Schneider calls “unstructured use” does “significant damage to academic performance.” Meanwhile, students who only use their devices for classroom-related tasks perform better. On the first day of class every semester, Schneider reviews the research with his students and they write a “limited-use technology policy” that allow students to use technology to take notes, or access their textbook or classroom website.

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2020 Presidential Hopefuls Court Educators at NEA Representative Assembly

NEA President Lily Eskselsen García gets ready to introduce the first candidate at the #StrongPublicSchools presidential forum.

“Election 2020 starts right here, right now!” NEA President Lily Eskelsen García announced to the almost 7,000 delegates at the NEA Representative Assembly on Friday.

Waiting backstage at the George E. Brown Convention Center in Houston, Texas, were 10 presidential hopefuls ready to make their case to educators for the first ever #StrongPublicSchools Presidential Forum. Across the nation, educators are ready to build on the momentum of the #RedforEd movement and play a powerful role in the 2020 campaign.

For three hours, Eskelsen Garcìa moderated the one-on-one discussions with former Vice President Joe Biden, former HUD Secretary Julian Castro, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, Sen. Kamala Harris, Gov. Jay Inslee, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Rep. Tim Ryan, former Rep. Beto O’Rourke, Sen. Bernie Sanders, and Sen. Elizabeth Warren.

The forum, Eskeslen García explained to the delegates, was not intended to promoting any specific candidate.

“We are promoting our agenda – what we want for our children, our profession and for our communities.”

Bernie Sanders and NEA President Lily Eskelsen García during the #StrongPublicSchools Presidential Forum.

The questions came from NEA members and everything was on the table  – education funding, educator pay, school privatization, equity, gun safety, student debt, and, of course, Betsy DeVos.

“What I love about this format is that it’s not just because we will be hearing from the candidates,” Eskelsen García said as the forum began. “It’s because they will be listening to you.”

Reinvesting in Education

Candidates emphatically supported increased federal funding for public education—for infrastructure repairs; for wrap-around services, like mental health counselors and school psychologists; for technology; for after-school programs; for universal pre-K; for special education, and more.

Julian Castro at the #StrongPublicSchools Presidential Forum.

“Ah! I’ve got a plan for that! It starts with a wealth tax on the top one-tenth of the 1 percent—people who have more than $50 million, who would pay 2 cents on every dollar they earn after $50 million,” said Warren. With that two cents, she said, we could pay for universal childcare; pre-K; a living wage for preschool teachers and childcare workers; tuition-free technical schools, community colleges, and four-year colleges; and also cancel student debt.

As Bill de Blasio told the delegates, “There’s plenty of money to fund education. But right now it’s in the wrong hands.”

“Let’s reverse the Trump tax cuts, take $20 billion away from the oil and gas industry, and put it into education to fully fund Title 1 and IDEA,” said Governor Inslee.

“I’d invest $100 billion in school districts to pay teachers for mentoring, to teach other teachers,” said Joe Biden. “Folks, we need you in the schools teaching, not working two to three jobs!’”

Joe Biden and NEA President Lily Eskelsen García during the #StrongPublicSchools Presidential Forum.

Meanwhile, Kamala Harris, who wore a #RedforEd bandana around her wrist, pointed to the federal government’s obligation to pay for special education, which it has never met. “There is a mandate that the federal government pay 40 percent, but they’re not doing it, they’re at about 15 percent, and it’s actually immoral as far as I’m concerned,” she said.

Julian Castro highlighted the dire need for more mental health funding.

“As educators, you see the impact on our students, each and every day, of the lack of healthcare. My plan calls for investing in community-based schools with wrap-around services so that students can avail themselves of services and be healthy.”

The Pay Educators Deserve

Elizabeth Warren and NEA President Lily Eskelsen García during the #StrongPublicSchools Presidential Forum.

Every candidates roundly supported increased pay for educators. “This is partly about money, but again it’s about respect. It’s about recognizing the work that every day our teachers do,” said Elizabeth Warren, who promised to put more money into public schools and strengthen unions.

“Every teacher should make at least $60,000,” said Bernie Sanders,  who also promised to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 “so that everybody in a school is paid at least a living wage.”

Meanwhile, Tim Ryan told delegates “we need an economic plan in the United States of America that rebuilds the middle class. For too often, we have not held accountable the people who have run away with the gold. It’s like the country song—you get the gold mine, and I get the shaft.”

The Next Secretary of Education

“I promise you,” Harris told the delegates. “The person I nominate will come from public schools.”

Amy Klobuchar at the #StrongPublicSchools Presidential Forum.

Replacing Education Secretary Betsy DeVos with an individual who has worked in the public school system was one, if not the, most popular promise made at the forum.

“I want to see someone who has seen a child light up, become engaged for the first time, seen a door open for a child. Betsy DeVos need not apply!” Elizabeth Warren said.

It won’t stop there. The candidates promised to give educators a “place at the table” on policy. “You’re the experts,” said Biden. “You should be  part of the agenda. You should craft the policy. You’re the ones who know it.”

School Privatization

Beto O’Rourke at the #StrongPublicSchools Presidential Forum.

Both Sanders and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio slammed the for-profit charter school industry. Sanders touted his recent proposal to ban unaccountable, for-profit charter schools. “My plan ends federal funding for for profit charter schools and imposes a moritorium until we have a better understanding of their impact on public education.”

Beto O’Rourke vowed, if elected president, never to spend “one dime on vouchers for private schools.”  O’Rourke told the delegates that while he believed there was “a place for public, non-profit, charter schools,” he strongly opposes the unaccountable, for-profit charter schools that siphon off billions of dollars from public schools.

Social Justice

Jay Inslee at the #StrongPublicSchools Presidential Forum.

Many of the questions that delegates asked candidates raised the issue of inequities in public schools and systems. “I know firsthand the impact of growing up in intensely segregated school districts,” said Castro. “If we want to make sure every child can get a great public education, in addition to investing in our educators and treating them with respect, we also need to tackle housing segregation,” who also supports voluntary busing, he said.

Meanwhile, both Sanders and former Vice President Joe Biden said they would triple funding for Title 1, and O’Rourke said he’d set aside $500 billion to erase the disparity between majority-white and majority-minority school districts. Amy Klobuchar also spoke about Dreamers, saying, “You know these kids. They’re in your schools…What I would do in my first 100 days is make sure Dreamers are safe and secure.”

Gun Violence and School Safety

Many of the candidates were asked to address the epidemic of gun violence. U.S. Senator Harris made a passionate vow to push Congress to take action.

Bill de Blasio at the #StrongPublicSchools Presidential Forum.

“On day 1, I will give the Congress 100 days to get their act together, and if not, I will tale executive action to put in place the first comprehensive universal background checks and ban the importation of assault weapons i our country!”

Arming teachers, said  Inslee, was an “idiotic idea.” In addition to gun safety measures, Inslee and other candidates emphasized the need for comprehensive mental health services in schools. “We need more counselors and psychologists to help studnets deal with domestic violence, homelessness, all the problems of growing up,” Inslee said.

Rep. Ryan agreed. “It’s imperative for us to have social and emotional learning in every school so  that we can make sure that all of these kids are connected to each other, to the teacher, to the school… So help me God, if we’re going to transform our schools, before we start talking about tests, we have to start talking about how we take care of our kids [and] how we address their trauma.”

Keeping Unions Strong

Tim Ryan during the #StrongPublicSchools Presidential Forum.

Candidates knew they were speaking to leaders of the nation’s largest labor union—and many voiced support for collective bargaining rights. The best way to “raise teacher pay and get more resources into our public schools” is to “strengthen our teacher unions. Make it easier to join a union and give those unions more power when they negotiate,” said Warren.

O’Rourke told delegates that he recently visited Iowa, where state legislators gutted union rights, and “those educators are leaving Iowa…I want to make sure we guarantee the rights of every educator to organize, including Iowa, and right here in Texas.”

Student Debt Relief

As student debt tops $1.6 trillion in the U.S., many candidates said they would make higher education more affordable. “If we could bail out the crooks on Wall Street to the tune of billions of dollars, we surely can cancel student debt in America,” said Sanders.

Kamala Harris at the #StrongPublicSchools Presidential Forum.

Biden promised “absolutely free” community college, while Warren’s plan provides free community college, technical college, and four-year college.

Meanwhile, Klobuchar spoke to the need to improve the federal Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program, “to make it actually work!” Harris, who also would reform PSLF and provide “debt-free college,” pointed to her experience as attorney general in California, where she sued sued one of the largest for-profit college chains in the U.S., Corinthian College, “and put them out of the business,” she said. “And the reason is, they were predatory in their practices, as are so many in this field.”

After the forum, Eskelsen García said the 7,000 delegates were clearly energized by the event.

“The power of this union and the collective voice of our 3 million educator members was on full display today. …This must be at the center of the 2020 campaign conversation. Educators are ready to make their presence felt in this election and we will play a vital role in choosing who becomes the next president of the United States.”

Visit to find out more about candidates’ positions and events, submit questions to the candidates, watch videos and get news from the campaign trail, as well as take action to support public education.

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Democratic Presidential Candidates Vie For The Teachers’ Vote

Ten Democratic candidates for president courted the votes of educators on Friday afternoon at a Houston forum hosted by the nation’s largest teachers union. Each candidate was asked a different set of questions, but all took pains to emphasize the need for increased education funding, and many referred to their plans to raise teacher pay.

The National Education Association forum included former Vice President Joe Biden, former Housing Secretary Julián Castro, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, Sen. Kamala Harris (Calif.), Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (Minn.), former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (Texas), Rep. Tim Ryan (Ohio), Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.).

Though questions over school segregation and busing have dogged Biden and Harris in the past week, neither was asked about the topic. Only Castro was asked explicitly about the issue. He called for investments in “tools like voluntary busing” and also emphasized the need to address housing segregation.

“I know from firsthand experience the impact of growing up in segregated school districts. The challenge is that today we’re still grappling with so many of the same issues,” Castro said.

Three candidates also followed Warren’s lead in pledging to nominate someone with a background in public schools and teaching as education secretary. In May, Warren promised to appoint a public school teacher to the job. Biden, de Blasio and Harris pledged Friday to do the same.  

Candidates were asked about topics that included the rising costs of health care, the opioid crisis, predatory for-profit colleges and teacher retention.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren at the forum hosted by the National Education Association.

Several 2020 candidates were also asked about their views on charter schools, of which teachers unions have been critical. Charter schools are a type of public school that is privately run.

O’Rourke, whose wife has run a charter school, was the most favorable to charters, saying he believes there is a place for nonprofit charter schools. 

Sanders pointed to his previously released education plan, which calls for a ban on for-profit charter schools and a moratorium on federal funding for the opening of new nonprofit charter schools until there is a study on their effect. 

De Blasio took a similarly tough stance on charters ― a type of school he has worked to diminish in New York City ― saying there should be no federal funding for charters.

No one should be the Democratic nominee unless they’re willing to stand up to Wall Street and the rich people behind the charter school movement once and for all,” de Blasio said.

For months, Democratic presidential candidates have been courting the votes of teachers. And, in a testament to the power of this voting bloc, especially amid a year of teacher protests throughout the country, several have released plans that specifically address pay increases. 

During the forum, Sanders said his plan is to make sure every teacher in America earns at least $60,000 a year. Harris pointed to her comprehensive plan to increase educator pay across the country. 

“You are not paid your value,” Harris said. 

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Former PSEA President Receives NEA’s Highest Honor

Kristin Ellenberger (center) and PSEA President Rich Askey accept the Friends of Education Award from NEA President Lily Eskelsen García during the 2019 NEA Representative Assembly.

On Friday, the Representative Assembly (RA) posthumously honored Dolores McCracken, former president of the Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA), with NEA’s highest honor, the NEA Friend of Education Award.

“She was fierce and she was loving,” said NEA President Lily Eskelsen García, who called McCracken “a true inspiration to every student and member who had the good fortune to meet her…She was unwavering in her representation and support of PSEA’s 181,000 members and all of Pennsylvania’s public school students.

McCracken’s adult daughter, Kristin Ellenberger, and PSEA President Rich Askey accepted the award from the more than 7,000 RA delegates.

Wow. There’s not enough words to explain how I feel — thank you on behalf of my father, my brother, my family. You know how much my mom loved all of you, and her work, and she truly believed every child deserved every opportunity in the world.
– Kristin Ellenberg

McCracken first got involved in public education when her children started elementary school and she took on the role of president of Churchville Elementary’s home and school association. “In Dolores’ words, ‘I got involved, and ended up making it a lifelong habit,’” said Askey.

A former paralegal, McCracken then entered the classroom as a paraprofessional in a sixth-grade inclusion classroom in the Council Rock School District—and stayed nearly two decades. “When you work in public education and you believe you’re making a difference, one year turns into two years. And the next thing you know, you realize…you’re not going to leave,” McCracken said, in a 2017 interview.

After serving in various local and state union leadership roles, McCracken, in 2017, became the first education support professional to serve as PSEA president, where she led PSEA’s legislative and political programs, focusing always on improving the teaching and learning conditions in Pennsylvania’s public school classrooms.

McCracken died on Nov. 13, 2018, at age 65—but her legacy as an advocate for Pennsylvania’s children persists in legislation, policy, and practice. “While we mourn the loss of our dear, dear friend and member of our NEA family, we cherish her memory that will be a blessing. And we recognize the indelible impact she had, not only in Pennsylvania, but beyond,” said Eskelsen García.

During her tenure as president, “Dolores was always keenly keenly focused on improving teaching and learning conditions in PA. She was creative, she was collaborative, she pushed for bipartisan support,” said Eskelsen García, “and everything she fought for became law in Pennsylvania,” including legislation that promotes school safety, reduces the time that Pennsylvania’s students spend on standardized tests, and protects education support professionals from losing their jobs to the privatization of public school services.

She was creative, she was collaborative, she pushed for bipartisan support,” said Eskelsen García, “and everything she fought for became law in Pennsylvania,” including legislation that promotes school safety, reduces the time that Pennsylvania’s students spend on standardized tests, and protects education support professionals from losing their jobs to the privatization of public school services.

“Over her two-decade career, she worked tirelessly to change the lives of hundreds and hundreds of students. She strongly believed that our students are more than test scores…and every one of them deserves a world-class education,” said Askey.

Previous winners of the NEA Friend for Education award include: Nobel Prize winner Malala Yousafzai; education policy expert Linda Darling-Hammond; U.S. Presidents Lyndon B. Johnson, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton; U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall; Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA); and U.S. Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA).

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10 Movies That Will Teach Kids Empathy, Inclusion And Other Good Lessons This Summer

The summer box office is known for action-packed hits, beloved remakes and long-awaited sequels. This year is no exception with Spider-Man: Far from Home, the Lion King and Toy Story 4 hitting the big screen. Of course summer movies have high entertainment value, but some can also offer valuable opportunities for out-of-school learning.

Students benefit from experiences that expand their knowledge, not just from math or science but also from the world around them. We all have a framework of attitudes and beliefs that define our worldview. Sometimes to see life for what it truly is, we need to break away from these notions. Movies can remind kids that we all have different perspectives, that human rights matter, that cultures can share many fundamental values, and that kindness and compassion are key qualities in a just, civil and inclusive society.

We’ve put together several movie recommendations to get kids thinking and reflecting this summer. The selections here can help students see the world from new perspectives, giving them an introduction to people, cultures, events and beliefs that may be new to them. And though movies aren’t always 100% historically or scientifically accurate, they can still be a great starting point for rich conversations.

With references to the 1950s, there’s a lot to unpack about technology vs. nature in The Iron Giant. But what kids (and even adults) will really learn from this tale of robot/kid friendship is acceptance, the consequences of being too quick to judge and the many forms of heroism.

Discussion questions: What do you know about the Cold War of the 1950s? How might the characters have acted differently if the story had been set in another time period (like post-9/11)? Where do you see statements about technology v. nature? How does paranoia drive the plot of the film?

This Disney flick about human excess and environmental decay manages to be relatable to kids. An adorable robot and his quest to connect with another are the backdrop for a reflection on the impact of our collective actions.

Discussion questions: What does Wall-E learn from the movie Hello, Dolly? How is satire used in the movie to drive home the messages about the environment and big business? What similarities do you see in the movie and in our consumption of media today? Do you think this is our future?

Coco explores the Day of the Dead and a kid’s desire to become a musician despite his family’s wishes. A moving tribute to Mexican traditions and customs, this movie will get kids contemplating the ways we remember and honor our departed family members.

Discussion questions: What about learning the traditions of the Day of the Dead surprised you? How does your family pay tribute to relatives and loved ones after they’ve passed away? How do you think the practice of honoring the dead might factor into how tight-knit Mexican families make important decisions?

Based on the real-life 1940s All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, this classic film will get kids thinking about the value of female athletes throughout history. Students will also see how both individual strength and teamwork play a factor in success.

Discussion questions: What is women’s role in most professional sports ― and their role in the film? Have all those changes been good? To keep the game popular with fans, the players flaunted their femininity. Do you think this was all in good fun, a sign of the times, or somewhat demeaning?

Remember the Titans tells the inspirational true story about the struggles and victories of a newly integrated high school football team in 1971. Themes of segregation and prejudice will help students think critically about race relations.

Discussion questions: How did playing football help the students better understand the prejudice of the time? Do you see segregation or racism today in schools or neighborhoods? How might you apply the lessons from the movie (change is inevitable, teamwork and attitude are important) to the issues of today?

The main character in this satirical movie is an insurance salesman who discovers that everyone around him is part of an elaborate “show” and that every aspect of his life has been orchestrated. Kids will inevitably begin to question the consequences of our media-driven world.

Discussion questions: How does this movie address the reality of those who spend hour after hour of their free time watching TV or movies? Does the proliferation of social media make the story outdated today? What lessons can we still learn about how we consume ― and are influenced by ― media?

With a strong female lead, this sci-fi alien tale leaves out the action scenes in favor of a reflective look at how we communicate as a species. It’s great for class discussions, and students will end up having lots to say about the political and personal choices we make.

Discussion questions: How might you have started to communicate with the aliens? What are the benefits of communicating through symbols rather than words? How does this movie compare with other movies or stories about aliens?

Despite some controversy surrounding a central white character in a civil rights-era film, this movie adaptation still demonstrates how oppressed people have a story that needs to be told. It will get kids thinking about segregation and class differences in our society, and what it takes to break the legacy of racism.

Discussion questions: Why do you think people might be critical that the story is anchored in the coming-of-age tale of a white girl? Do you think the characters are realistic representations of the time, or are they stereotypes? How do we know?

A girl living in England struggles to pursue her soccer dreams while also respecting her parent’s traditional Indian values. This feel-good story grounds the popular “follow your heart” theme in relevant discussions about second-generation immigrant families and cultural identity.

Discussion questions: How much should you preserve the traditions of a culture when you’re no longer living (or never lived) in that place? What are some strategies for helping to build up your own sense of self-worth and for coping with pressures from family members or society?

While this lighthearted tale isn’t based on a historical event and doesn’t delve into deep intellectual themes, it does give insight into the emotional turmoil of a young man trying to come out. It’s a rare slice of cinema that gives kids a chance to relate to and empathize with the struggles of a gay man and the gay community.

Discussion questions: How does the film compare to the novel it’s based on (Simon v. the Homo Sapiens Agenda)? How do you think these childhood experiences might later affect someone as an adult? What other type of secrets do you think students may be struggling with in high school? How might it affect their relationships with their classmates?

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How To Raise A Kid Who Loves To Learn

“Look! When I mix these paints, I get a whole new color!” Hearing your kids get excited about learning feels like glitter bombs exploding in your heart. And it’s a confirmation that school and report cards are really only one sign that your kids are learning. While grades and test scores are important, what about the sparkle in their eyes when they discover a “new” bug in the backyard, see a painting that inspires some art of their own, and overcome frustration to go hand-over-hand across the monkey bars? In the end we want their love of learning to go beyond school and sustain them throughout their whole lives.

Unfortunately, lots of kids start to lose their passion for learning as they grow up. Some research indicates that 40% of U.S. high school students have little or no interest in school. How do they get to that place? For some kids school becomes less about learning and more about achievement, right answers and grades. When that happens, they can start to think learning isn’t fun. And as they get older, they want to play it cool and avoid showing a sense of awe about pretty much anything ― at least to us. Even kids with exceptional grades are sometimes in it for the letters on report cards and have lost sight of learning.

The good news is that even when kids claim they don’t like to learn, they really do. Maybe their hand isn’t the first to go up, maybe their grades (whether A’s or F’s) don’t reflect what they know (and don’t know), and maybe they can’t articulate what they love to learn. But there are things we can do to combat this trend. And the media and technology that’s literally at kids’ fingertips can help. Though it’s best to start encouraging kids to be lifelong learners when they’re little, it’s never too late. Here are some tips to keep your kid’s love of learning alive.

1. Start early, inspire often

Babies and toddlers find everything fascinating: It’s often enough just to play with sand, stack blocks and even just stare at their hands. Parents can build on this natural inclination in lots of ways. First, you can share their wonder at the world. If your kid is amazed by a spider web or delighted by the garbage truck, let yourself mirror that enthusiasm and build on it by asking questions and noticing things: “The truck’s wheels are circles. What other shapes do I see?” or “I wonder what kind of spider made this web?”

Getting out into the world to have adventures is also a great way to inspire learning. Nature hikes, museums, road trips and even your own street can have tons of opportunities to discover things and wonder at what you see. Other than showing and sharing excitement, parents can help kids make sense of what they experience. Watching, playing, exploring and talking with your kid helps them connect some dots and continue a dialogue.

Using media to inspire learning

  • Reading to your kids not only inspires learning and lays a foundation for literacy, but if you comment and ask questions as you read, it shows kids that reading can be an active process.

  • And don’t discount kids’ favorite online pastimes, such as watching video clips on YouTube or social media as potential learning opportunities. Check out videos that examine unique concepts, such as the ones on Khan Academy, Vsauce and SciShow. Ask kids what subjects they’re interested in, what their friends are sharing and what’s trending to get ideas.

2. Model learning

In addition to being open about your own wonder and curiosity, you can also be a role model for the learning process. Once you’re curious about something, what do you do next? We’ve gotten so used to Googling or simply asking Alexa for answers, but sometimes it’s fun to ask more questions and try to figure things out without the help of technology. And sometimes, an unsolvable mystery is part of the fun!

Talking through the learning process with your kid not only shows some ways learning can happen, but also that it’s for grown-ups, too. This can be as simple as sharing what you’re learning from a movie or TV show. It’s especially great to walk kids through what happens when you hit obstacles. For example, if you’re reading articles or manuals to learn a new skill at work or you’re trying a new workout, talk through the tough parts and what you do to overcome obstacles: “I’ve never done this type of exercise, so I’m making lots of mistakes. But I asked for some help and am being a good friend to myself by being patient as I practice.” And when you make mistakes, show how we can learn from them and sometimes even turn them into a “beautiful oops.”

Using media to model learning

3. Don’t be so sure

Too often, learning is about having the “right” answer, and adults are the keepers of knowledge. Instead of always being the expert, be an explorer with your kid and let them teach you along the way. If they stun you with knowledge and insights, don’t just say, “Wow, you’re smart,” since research shows empty praise can backfire. Reinforcing their effort and process with specific observations makes a bigger impact.

Even if you do have some hot wisdom to drop, try to stay open and curious about other positions or further facts about a topic. Foster problem solving and critical thinking by going deeper, examining opposing points of view, and finding connections. Asking, “What do you think?” is always a good place to start when a kid is curious about something to find out what they already know and where they want to go next.

And if there’s a problem you can solve together ― repairing a bookshelf, researching potential pets, using a new recipe ― go for it! Working through steps, finding information and untangling tricky moments shows kids that we keep learning throughout life.

Using media to explore what you don’t know

  • Discover different angles or viewpoints ― not to condone or justify things that oppose your values ― but to help kids learn to think critically about what they see and hear. Read or watch current events together and fact-check the stories to discover additional information to inform your opinions.

  • Watch documentaries on various subjects such as history, animals and space. Sharing new discoveries increases knowledge ― as well as bonding.

4. Work on soft skills

Sure, we want our kids to be great at math, reading and science, but what about the so-called soft skills like kindness, empathy and perseverance? While they can be hard to measure, we want our kids to keep learning about how to be the best human being they can be. Like more concrete skills, building these character traits lend themselves to modeling and narrating so kids can see how grownups work through interpersonal issues: “Someone at work said something that made me angry, so I had to use some chill skills to calm down, and then I used ‘I’ statements when I talked with her about it.”

Taking responsibility for mistakes, making amends and showing self-awareness about strengths and weaknesses is also a good way to demonstrate how we keep working on ourselves and are never perfect.

Using media to foster soft skills

  • Check out our lists of TV shows and movies that emphasize specific character traits. Use the conversation starters in the “Talk to your kids About …” section of the reviews to reinforce messages.

  • Role model responsible online behavior so kids are respectful to others when they start interacting online. Digital citizenship skills as just as important as academic skills ― not only for drama-free social lives, but also for kids’ potential careers. Learn more social media basics to set your kids up for positive online experiences.

5. Encourage autonomy

It’s important to let kids try things, fail and try again. Even as they get older and want to attempt things on their own, you should still let them ― within reason, of course. Making choices and having some independence teaches them special lessons they can’t get anywhere else, such as resilience.

When kids are mostly told what they need to learn in school, being able to explore their own interests can be really powerful. Not only can they piggyback on their own passions, but they can also learn things that are especially relevant to their real lives, like changing a tire, organizing a toy drive or cooking.

It’s also helpful to get kids to examine their own learning process. Self-reflection, mindfulness and metacognition ― understanding how you learn ― let kids gain a deeper understanding of themselves and how to approach new topics and circumstances.

Using media to encourage kids to learn on their own

  • Let’s say your teen is on Instagram marveling at Rihanna’s new makeup line. Ask what sets it apart, how it’s being marketed and why Rihanna might be taking time to do it in the first place. Maybe you can tap into your teen’s interests and turn them into a discussion about branding and being an entrepreneur.

  • Have a nightly challenge where everyone has to share one fascinating fact they learned that day at dinner. Twitter is a gold mine of facts. Try following: #AP_Oddities, Bill Nye the Science Guy or #wokeletter.

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NEA President: “Something Big Is About to Happen”

NEA President Lily Eskelsen García delivers the keynote address at the 2019 NEA Representative Assembly.

In her keynote address to the 2019 National Education Association Representative Assembly on Thursday, NEA President Lily Eskelsen García told the more than 7,000 delegates that the stakes in 2020 are too high for any educator to disengage from the political process.

Eskelsen García delivered her speech on July 4, usually a day to celebrate freedom and independence. Now, she said, everyone must stand up for something that is endangered.

“I’ve taken it for granted that in an open, democratic society, the moral arc of the universe would always bend towards justice,” she said. “That our country would keep finding ways to be more inclusive of folks who had been excluded; that we’d be looking for ways to give opportunities to folks who had so little; that we’d see more ways to appreciate our diversity of cultures and languages and races and our LGBT communities.”

Now more than ever, the nation needs its educators to take up the call. “The moral arc of the universe needs us now to put our backs into education justice,” Eskelsen García told delegates.

It’s already happening. In early 2018, West Virginia educators staged a historic walk-out sparking the national #RedforEd movement that quickly spread to states whose schools had buckled under a decade of extreme budget cuts.

Suddenly, politicians everywhere were listening.

“Even without a march, surprising doors were opened.  Politicians who usually said, ‘Talk to the hand,’ reached out to our leaders and said, ‘Let’s talk. We would so rather you not go all West Virginia on us,” Eskelsen García said.

Momentum carried over into the fall with the midterm elections. Educators delivered in spectacular fashion, helping sweep pro-education candidates—many of them former or current educators—into office at every level of government. Jahana Hayes, the 2016 National Teacher of the Year, was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.

Educators should never apologize, never shy away from being “political,” Eskelsen García said.

“Political action isn’t subversive.  It’s the essence of democracy.  Showing up informed and engaged, prepared to make a difference is exactly what democracy looks like.”

And NEA is prepared to be powerfully engaged in the 2020 election.

“I hope I’m not being too subtle.  I want to be clear,” Eskelsen García said. “The United States of America must have a new president. …Donald Trump is pushing our beautiful, imperfect nation towards authoritarianism and despotism. In the history of history, wherever authoritarian, anti-democratic despots took over, they had a common strategy. It’s about who you oppress, who you scapegoat, and the institutions you corrupt.”

To elect a new president—one who respects our democratic institutions, who has an inclusive vision for the country and strongly supports public education—NEA members will need more information than ever before.

On Friday, July 5, Ekselsen García will host 10 presidential candidates at the first ever #StrongPublicSchools Presidential Forum. It promises to be an exciting opportunity for members to hear directly from the candidates about their thoughts on public education.

“So much depends on betting this right,” Eskelsen García said, because so much is on the line. But all signs point to unprecedented mobilization by educators in the 2020 campaign.

Eskelsen Garcia recounted how, while attending a reception at Nancy Pelosi’s offices prior to a State of the Union address, she was approached by Evelyn Fabito. Fabito, a teacher in Maryland, was working the event as a server, one of her three jobs.

“I do a lot of these kinds of events,” Fabito told Eskelsen García. “But tonight, I see all these important people and I see you, the NEA president right here with them, and I just know, something big is going to happen.”

Those words stuck with Eskelesn García long after she departed the U.S. Capitol that night.

“Evelyn Fabito was the most important person I met that night,” she recalled. “There is no freaking way I’m letting her down.  Something big is going to happen and she’s going to be part of it. … We will use our collective power to listen and learn and teach and reach and engage and organize and convince.  And who better to do all that than those who teach our students their rights—but also their responsibilities in our democracy.”

Read the full remarks here.

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Energizing Educator Activism With Art Build

Art Build at the Experience Area during the 2019 NEA Representative Assembly in Houston, Texas. JULY 7, 2019

Wyoming art teacher Paige Gustafson found her happy place at the 2019 NEA Representative Assembly (RA) in the delegate experience area, where paintbrush in hand and dozens of cups of paints around her, she put the final daubs on a fabric panel saying “Fund Public Education.”

“I love it. I feel like, especially as an elementary art teacher, we’re often forgotten, and art is so incredibly important,” said Gustafson. “Creating images that go along with a movement, whether it’s racial or social justice [or the national #RedforEd movement], brings people together, and creates ownership in the movement.”

While attending the annual meeting, this year in Houston, Tex., hundreds of NEA members worked with artists from the Milwaukee-based Art Build Workers to create and contribute to graphic depictions of collective action. Together, they turned massive parachutes into protest banners saying, “Ready to Strike” and “Red for Ed,” or painted patches with slogans like, “Teachers—We Work for The People” and “Public Schools—The Heart of Our Community,” to take back to their classrooms and communities.

Paige Gustafson at the NEA RA Art Build

The RA-based “art build” is the latest in a line of art builds across the country, supported by NEA and organized jointly by Art Build Workers and local unions, such as the United Teachers of Los Angeles, California’s Oakland Education Association, and the Prince George’s County Education Association in Maryland. The way it works is that the professional artists associated with Art Build Workers first talk to union leaders and community members about the needs of their community, brainstorming slogans and images, and then they work with local educators, parents, students and others to create the art that amplifies their message and goals.

“I want them to feel connected to something larger,” said Paul Kjelland, a Milwaukee artist and Art Build Workers member who manned the screen printers in Houston, churning out hundreds of fabric panels that delegates could finish with their own brushed paints. “Especially when we’re working with unions prepping for strikes, we want to bring people together. We want to create a safe space where educators and community members can bridge gaps in their community, spend time together, and make something together that’s meaningful.”

Ashley Whyte

Often, what’s most important is not the art itself, but the process of making it, said Milwaukee art teacher Jeannette Arellano, who provided the template for the “ready to strike” parachute, based on an image of her sister, a Houston community organizer. “Gaining community, building relationships—that’s the powerful part.”

The first art builds were done in Milwaukee, in partnership with Voces de la Frontera, a local advocacy group. Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association (MTEA) members assisted with the process, and were inspired to do the same for state budget hearings, said Joe Brusky, a MTEA member who travels with Art Build Workers to document their work in photographs. In 2017, at the Wisconsin State Capitol, they built 600 picket signs and two parachute banners to carry through the streets.

Last year, art builds supported #RedforEd strikes in Oakland, California, and in Los Angeles, where hundreds of community members, over three days, created eight 24-foot parachute banners, 1,600 silk-screened picket signs, 1,000 posters, and 30 banners that decried school privatization and corporate greed, and championed smaller class sizes.

At the RA, Ohio kindergarten teacher Ashley Whyte selected a “Fund Our Schools” panel to paint. “I am crafty, but I am not an artist,” she said. “But I was attracted to this because it gives me some time to sit and relax and create art for my classroom.”

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