When Schools Use Child Protective Services As A Weapon Against Parents


CHICAGO and NEW YORK — Tiffany Banks sat in her living room, a ruby-red wall decorated with family photographs behind her, listing all the ways her life had unraveled over the past year. Her 6-year-old son had been removed from her care for more than a month. She was forced to close an in-home child care business, and she’d been temporarily displaced from her preschool teaching job, which she’d held for 17 years. Her teenage daughter refused to talk to the 6-year-old, blaming him for the family’s troubles.

Banks didn’t blame her little boy. She blamed his school, and the investigators from the state’s child welfare agency they’d sent to her door.

Until last fall, Banks had only good things to say about her children’s school. She’d carefully chosen the K-8 institution, a magnet school across town from her single-family house on Chicago’s West Side, for its academic rigor and diverse student body. Her daughter, now 16, had thrived there, she said, and her middle son did well too. But when her youngest son entered first grade last year, he started misbehaving and making trouble for teachers. “He really struggles behavior-wise,” said Banks, a tall, self-assured woman who’d attended neighborhood public schools in Chicago and desperately wanted something different for her kids. “And at this school they have a low tolerance for it.”

The school wanted the boy to enroll in classes exclusively for students with disabilities. But Banks felt differently: Despite his behavior problems, for which he was eventually diagnosed with attention deficit and mood disorders, he did well academically, she said. Banks pushed back, going so far as to make complaints to the city’s education board and entering mediation with the school.

This was unfolding around the time the workers from the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, or DCFS, began investigating her for alleged child abuse and neglect.  

School employees in most states have a legal obligation to report any suspicion of abuse and neglect, and they can play a critical role in helping keep children out of harm’s way. But in nearly three dozen interviews conducted by The Hechinger Report and HuffPost, parents, lawyers, advocates and child welfare officials said that schools occasionally wield this authority in inappropriate ways. Fed up with what they see as obstinate parents who don’t agree to special education services for their child, or disruptive kids who make learning difficult, schools sometimes use the threat of a child-protection investigation to strong-arm parents into complying with the school’s wishes or transferring their children to a new school. That approach is not only improper, but it can be devastating for families, even if the allegations are ultimately determined to be unfounded.

Banks’ first brush with DCFS came after the school sent her son to the hospital because he was acting out, she said. They wanted him to receive a psychiatric evaluation, she said, but Banks refused because he already had an appointment with his doctor for the following week. The second time a caseworker investigated her, she said, it was because her son’s doctor had prescribed him a new medication and the school hadn’t been properly notified. Next came an investigation after her middle child wrote a paper that Banks was told contained troubling content. One time, she gave her youngest son a spanking for running away from school. After he told school employees about it the next day, he was removed from her home for more than a month and sent to live with her sister-in-law while the child welfare agency investigated her for abuse, according to Banks. The most recent case was the most incomprehensible to her: Banks said she was investigated for letting her middle child go to school with a bad haircut he’d given himself. The haircut, Banks said she was told by an investigator, could amount to emotional abuse.   

As a teacher, Banks herself had sometimes called the state child welfare hotline over the years, when she worried that her students were being abused or neglected. But in her case, she believes the school simply wanted her son gone. Banks said she’d heard from a handful of other parents who’d found themselves in similar situations, all of whom are African-American like her and whose children have disabilities. “All I’m looking for is a good education for my kid,” said Banks. She felt the allegations against her had been twisted and exaggerated to fit a narrative that she was a bad mother. “It severed the relationship that we’re supposed to have as a parent and teacher community.”

Calling ACS is one of the tools in [a school’s] repertoire to make the parents comply.
Irene Mendez, a staff attorney with New York Lawyers for the Public Interest

Emily Bolton, a spokesperson for the Chicago Public Schools, wrote in an email that the agency cannot comment on specific cases but that employees take seriously their responsibility as mandated reporters of abuse and neglect, and that there is no evidence of widespread misuse of the DCFS child-welfare hotline.

But even some former child welfare officials say the practice isn’t as rare as they’d like. “If schools don’t get the parents to agree to what’s being recommended — not all the time, but sometimes — they will call ACS [the Administration for Children’s Services, New York City’s child welfare agency] to pressure them,” said Don Lash, a former lawyer with ACS and author of the book, “ ‘When the Welfare People Come’: Race and Class in the US Child Protection System.”

He and many other experts also note that because of legitimate fears of overlooking kids at risk and vague definitions of abuse and neglect, school workers may sometimes be overzealous, calling in allegations over relatively minor issues such as broken eyeglasses, inappropriate clothing or small scratches. In interviews, more than a dozen lawyers said these investigations disproportionately affect low-income families of color, who tend to live in neighborhoods and attend schools that have bigger police and social services presences and whose children are more likely to show markings of poverty that can be confused with neglect.

Such families also have fewer resources to fight back. When a family in a wealthy Brooklyn neighborhood learned roughly two years ago that their child’s school had initiated an ACS investigation against them, they sued the city education department. Parents from lower-income, majority-black and Latino neighborhoods, few of whom can afford that option, say such investigations can be a regular, even expected, part of parenting. According to ACS data, there were 2,391 abuse and neglect investigations last year in East New York/Starrett City, a low-income neighborhood in Brooklyn, compared with 255 in the affluent, and far more populous, Upper East Side.

Race, and racial bias, can also play a role in whether families are referred to and investigated by child protective services, research suggests. Nationally, black children are roughly twice as likely as white children to enter foster care, and in New York and Illinois, more than four times as likely. Research reveals racial disparities at every step, from the numbers of calls to the child welfare hotline to the numbers of investigations and court findings of neglect.

“I don’t think I can think of a white family where I’ve ever seen it arise,” Chris Gottlieb, co-director of New York University’s Family Defense Clinic, which represents clients in child welfare cases, said of these types of school-driven investigations.

An Intimidation Tool?  

Accusations that officials with Success Academy Charter Schools have sometimes threatened parents with ACS involvement have been a focal point of legal and civil complaints against the charter school network, New York City’s largest. One lawsuit against a Success Academy school in the Fort Greene neighborhood of Brooklyn alleges that the school unfairly singled out kids with disabilities for discipline. In an August ruling allowing the suit to proceed, a judge said allegations that school employees called police or child protective services on 4- and 5-year olds, would, if true, help to demonstrate enough “bad faith or gross misjudgment” to sustain the discrimination claims.  

Nicey Givens, one of the parents in the suit, said she was told at least twice that Success might involve ACS if she didn’t quickly pick up her child from school in the middle of the day. The boy, who’d been given diagnoses of attention deficit and oppositional defiant disorder, often misbehaved, and Givens said she felt the school was pressuring her to remove him. Once, she said, the threat to involve ACS came after she’d sent the boy to school in boots instead of his uniform shoes on a cold, wet day.

Our focus is always on the student, the child. Not to say that the parent doesn’t matter and those kinds of investigations can’t be awkward and disruptive, but it’s better to be safe than sorry, and there are just too many examples that you read of something that was overlooked.
Ann Powell, executive vice president of public affairs, Success Academy charter network

“Calling ACS is one of the tools in their repertoire to make the parents comply,” said Irene Mendez, a staff attorney with New York Lawyers for the Public Interest, one of several groups that filed the suit. A 2016 civil complaint filed with the federal Department of Education includes an allegation that a Success school in Manhattan initiated an ACS investigation against the mother of a 6-year-old as part of an effort to encourage her to send him to another school. Another lawsuit alleges that one of the network’s Bronx schools repeatedly threatened to call ACS to pressure a parent to remove her son from the school.

Success Academy officials dispute the suggestion that any of the network’s schools misuse calls to ACS. Ann Powell, executive vice president of public affairs for the charter network, said she could not comment on the specifics in the lawsuit involving the Fort Greene school because it is ongoing, but said that the network disagreed with the way Givens described her interactions with the school. Success also disputes the allegations made against the Manhattan and Bronx schools. Powell noted that as legally mandated reporters of child abuse, school employees must report any suspicion of abuse and neglect, and that “using that in a threatening way is just not credible.”


Damon Dahlen/HuffPost

The Hankinses with their son David. A family court judge rejected the New York City Department of Education’s allegation that the couple had neglected their child by keeping him out of school and having “unrealistic expectations” for his education.

A Legal Obligation

Mandated reporter laws date to the 1960s, and in most states, school employees are among the professionals (along with doctors, social workers and others) obligated to report any suspicion of abuse or neglect. Mandated reporter trainings remind school employees that it’s not their responsibility to decide whether abuse is taking place but simply to pick up the phone if they have a concern, and the child welfare agency will take over from there. Mandated reporters typically have immunity from prosecution for making needless calls, so long as those calls are made in good faith.

“All of the pressure on mandated reporters is to report, report, report,” said Richard Wexler, executive director of the nonprofit National Coalition for Child Protection Reform.  

If they fail to report their suspicions, and something terrible happens to the child, they can face fines or even jail time and wind up on the front page of a newspaper. Child welfare is often described as being caught in a scandal-reform cycle, with reports of neglect and entrances to foster care rising after high-profile child deaths. Both Chicago and New York are dealing with the repercussions of recent scandals — Chicago Tribune reporting on sex abuse in schools is spurring fresh resources and protocols, while in New York, calls to the child abuse hotline spiked after the deaths of two young boys under ACS monitoring in 2016.

“Our focus is always on the student, the child,” said Powell, the Success Academy VP. “Not to say that the parent doesn’t matter and those kinds of investigations can’t be awkward and disruptive, but it’s better to be safe than sorry, and there are just too many examples that you read of something that was overlooked.”

School officials also note that they have a unique responsibility in policing child neglect in many states. Child welfare laws in New York and 23 other states (not Illinois) list the denial of education as a form of abuse or neglect. In some parts of New York, school employees are required to initiate educational neglect allegations if a child has a prolonged absence and parents don’t respond to the school. Last year, school personnel in New York City made 16,301 reports to ACS, more than any other type of mandated reporter, according to agency data provided to Hechinger/HuffPost. Of those, about 43 percent involved an allegation of educational neglect.

But critics say these too are misused or fall into gray areas of the law. Phillip and Tina Hankins, a couple in the South Bronx, have been tussling with the New York City Department of Education for more than a decade over where and how to educate their son David, who has a disability. They’ve been investigated at least seven times by ACS, including on occasions when they kept David out of class while fighting to get him into what they considered to be a more suitable institution, documentation shows.

“The schools have the right to call in whatever they think is not appropriate,” said Baffour Acheampong, an ACS worker who investigated several of the Hankins’ cases. “But in dealing with Mrs. and Mr. Hankins, what I saw was they have the best interests of their son.”

On the one occasion that ACS substantiated an educational neglect allegation against the Hankinses, a family court judge later overturned that finding. The judge noted that David’s intelligence test scores actually improved when the boy was kept out of school awaiting placement, and that the Hankinses had been doing all they could to fight for educational services. “In light of the Appellants’ year-long battle to get the child into an appropriate school, it is not clear what else they could have done to have enrolled David,” the judge wrote, adding that the agency did not provide a “single credible instance where they failed to exercise the required minimum degree of care.”

In response to questions about this case, spokesperson for the New York City schools Miranda Barbot said that the Department of Education works “closely with families to support them,” and “when there is reasonable cause to suspect abuse or neglect, we have clear policies in place that ensure it is reported.”

Michael Arsham, executive director of ACS’s Office of Advocacy, which responds to complaints from those involved in the child welfare system, said the agency acknowledges that hotline calls from schools do not always contain serious safety concerns, and it is working more closely with the education department to minimize needless reporting. Two years ago, ACS developed a “tiered response” system with the DOE to prioritize urgent matters and reduce the impact on families of investigations over smaller concerns. “We do want people to call potential dangers to children to our attention,” Arsham said. “But I think it’s fair for us to expect other human services professionals — whether they be in education, health care, anybody who is a mandated reporter — to use their independent judgment and discretion and understand there are consequences to making that call.”

It’s very hard because the whole system isn’t adequate in addressing families’ needs. It would be much easier to call ACS if you could count on them as a holistic agency to families that are marginalized.
Leila Ortiz, social worker in New York City public schools

Part of the challenge facing school officials, according to Leila Ortiz, a social worker in New York City public schools, is that ACS is primarily oriented to investigate families, not provide support. Chronic absenteeism could indeed be the canary in the coal mine, she said, signaling deeper troubles within a family. “If you don’t call that in, something could potentially be happening to the student,” she said. “You don’t know, they’re not in the building.”

“But at the same time,” Ortiz added, “you could be adding more stress and damage to a family that already has a lot on their plate. It’s very hard because the whole system isn’t adequate in addressing families’ needs. It would be much easier to call ACS if you could count on them as a holistic agency to families that are marginalized.”

Antagonistic Approach

Despite ACS’s efforts to be more sensitive to families facing investigations, parents don’t tend to experience child welfare investigations as even remotely helpful. A New York City parent named Gabriela — who is going by her middle name for this article because her case is still ongoing and she fears retaliation — knows the type of havoc that a call to ACS can wreak on a family. Over the course of her decades-long career as an advocate for immigrants in East Harlem, she has developed an acute understanding of ways in which families can get unfairly wrapped up in an opaque process. Some of these cases have made sense to her. Many more have seemed unfounded, with cultural differences in child-rearing clearly playing a role.

But she never expected to have to use this ACS expertise with her own family.

Last January, when Gabriela received a knock on the door of her Bronx home from an ACS caseworker, she was shocked to learn that she was the subject of a child abuse investigation. Even more surprising was the source of the complaint: her 10-year-old child’s school.

Days prior, Gabriela’s daughter had gone to her teacher with a secret: That her daddy — amid grief from the death of his mother — had started regularly drinking. Gabriela said that she had tried to keep this behavior from her daughter, and thought she hadn’t noticed the new wrinkles in family life.

What happened next was a whirlwind. The child, hysterically crying and scared, was pulled into a room with several adults and questioned about her home life. Under pressure — and wanting to provide the right answer — she said that her mom, Gabriela, had hit her, a charge that Gabriela denies.

Gabriela recognizes that the school was trying to help — and in some ways was carrying out a professional duty — but says they brought a “nightmare to my house.”

A Mexican immigrant who came to America as a teenager, Gabriela has been deeply involved in the education of her daughter at every step. Over the years, Gabriela has taken the time to get to know her daughter’s teachers and school principal, while advocating for the school’s immigrant families who need extra services. How could the school’s leaders, whom Gabriela knew so well, see her as anything less than a devoted parent?

“Why didn’t they use the social worker outside? Why didn’t they call me with concerns? Why did they go straight for the kill and call ACS?” questioned Gabriela.

She wonders if, in the delicate balancing act of being an involved parent but trying not to overstep her role, she landed on the wrong side of the equation. Or if, in her role as an advocate for immigrant families, she pushed too hard.

She also wonders if this process would have played out differently if she had a different ACS caseworker. (Charges against her were sustained and she is currently amid the appeals process.) This caseworker has asked her on three separate occasions about her immigration status, apparently unable to believe that Gabriela is an American citizen, Gabriela recounts.

“When you go through this, it’s not just a nightmare for you, it’s a nightmare for your child, because the stress level it creates for our family is horrible,” said Gabriela, through tears, one Tuesday afternoon in August.

A representative for the school said that all employees receive training on child abuse and follow state law regarding reporting.

After an employee at her child’s school reported Sandra for alleged abuse, she went from being very involved in her son


Caroline Preston/The Hechinger Report

After an employee at her child’s school reported Sandra for alleged abuse, she went from being very involved in her sons’ education to being fearful of teachers and administrators.

Even for parents who have their records cleared, the pernicious consequences of investigations can be permanent. In 2015, Sandra, a mother of three in Chicago, was investigated by DCFS after her youngest son went to school with what she describes as a minor scratch he sustained from roughhousing with his brothers.

After a DCFS worker arrived on her doorstep, her entire life was thrown under suspicion. The flowers that were a Valentine’s Day gift from her husband, for example? The investigator asked if they were evidence of her husband trying to repair damage from a marital fight.

Ultimately the abuse allegation against Sandra was overturned. But three years and $15,000 in legal fees later, she said she’s still reluctant to meet with or talk to school employees. Recently, the assistant principal at her youngest son’s school called Sandra and her husband in for a meeting to discuss the boy’s behavior, as he’d been getting frustrated in class and acting out. When the administrator suggested she take a stronger disciplinary approach, Sandra pushed back hard: “I am not going to yell at him or touch him because you guys already put me through this one time.”

Growing Awareness

According to NYU’s Gottlieb, there needs to be a greater understanding of the damage caused by needless investigations and the higher rates at which parents of color are caught up in them. “You want to help parents make better choices for their kids,” she said, “and starting out by saying, ‘You’re abusive,’ is not the way to do it.”

One step forward, say critics of child welfare, could be to modify mandated reporter training — by using it in part to educate people about implicit racial bias, for example. The training that has long been offered to Illinois’ school employees is a one-time online course that takes 60 to 90 minutes to complete and includes no mention of race. Chicago Public Schools says that starting this year, it has begun offering an in-person, annual training.

Meanwhile, experiments to reduce racial and socioeconomic inequities in the child welfare system have shown some success. New York’s Nassau County was able to significantly reduce the numbers of black kids put in foster care after placing an emphasis on workforce diversity among human services employees and withholding children’s demographic information from staff meetings. A second New York county, Onandaga, began removing fewer black kids from their parents after investing in afterschool and other school-based programs.

In New York City, ACS is rolling out a new approach to responding to low-risk calls that focuses on assessing which services fragile families need, said ACS’s Arsham.

Neil Skene, a spokesperson for the Illinois DCFS, wrote in an email that while a child welfare investigation is a “painful experience for anyone,” the agency feels it has a “particular obligation to be responsive to the concerns and professional knowledge of mandated reporters.” Skene added: “We are starting to work with local communities to identify cultural and racial disparities and how we can respond better.”  

Out Of Options

Change can’t happen soon enough for families embroiled in school-driven investigations. For them, transferring schools can feel like the only way out.  

In 2015, after the harassment Givens says she endured at Success Academy, she sent her son to a different elementary school nearby. “From first to fourth grade, no problems, no incidents, no suspensions, no fighting, no nothing,” she said.  

When you go through this, it’s not just a nightmare for you, it’s a nightmare for your child, because the stress level it creates for our family is horrible.
Gabriela, advocate and mother investigated by ACS

Gabriela’s daughter has also switched schools, after feeling uncomfortable and mistrustful of the adults who called ACS on her parents. “She went from asking me, ‘Please don’t take me to school, can I stay with you?’ ” Gabriela said of her daughter, “to getting up in the morning, getting ready, excited to participate.”

Banks considered removing her two boys from their magnet school after the child-protection investigations began. Relatives, colleagues, even her kids’ pediatrician — they all warned that the hotline calls wouldn’t stop until her children left the school. Because she worked with kids, the investigations were particularly worrisome for her, she said, even though ultimately none of the cases against her had been substantiated.

But at the same time, she was reluctant. The magnet school offered four foreign languages, math teams and movie nights, things she worried her kids wouldn’t get at their neighborhood school. “I feel like they are winning,” she said. “I understand his behavior is poor,” she said of her youngest son, “but he does deserve to be at a school where he can get a good education.”

Plus, by the time she came to grips with the unrelenting nature of the investigations, the December deadline for applying to specialized schools had already passed. She looked into private schools before deciding they were too expensive.

This fall, feeling out of options, she sent her boys back to the magnet school. On the second day of the semester, she texted: “I am praying it is better this year.”

This story about schools and child protective services was produced by HuffPost and The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news organization focused on inequality and innovation in education.



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What Happens When Substitute Educators Join the Union?


Last year, as a substitute educator in Seattle with decades of experience and a full complement of state certifications and endorsements, Peter Henry earned more money than many full-time teachers across the nation.

“Our daily rate is about $240 a day, which is at the top, or near the top, for Washington,” says Henry, president of the Seattle Education Association (SEA)’s Seattle Substitutes Association, but additional contract provisions for long-term assignments allow substitute educators to earn more.  “Would this have happened if we didn’t have [union] representation? No. You’d have rent-a-temps, like Kelly Services.”

There is power in the union, say substitute educators. In collectively bargained contracts that range from Maryland to Maine to Washington, substitute educators who belong to NEA-affiliated local unions have a voice at the bargaining table—and within their unions—that has led to more professional pay, some access to health and retirement benefits, and professional development opportunities that make them better teachers.

“I’ve been on the bargaining team for our last two contracts. Our issues are taken seriously. We don’t always get what we want, but we are heard,” says Henry.

Today, on Substitute Educators Day, a part of American Education Week, NEA honors its more than 4,700 substitute educator members. Increasingly as districts turn more frequently to substitute educators, these substitute educators are making vital contributions to the success of students in public schools.

“We’re the emergency team,” says Nancy Paine, who is president of the substitute association within the Edmonds Education Association in Washington. “We come in and make sure everything is okay.

“I think that’s a valuable service—and I think it needs to be treated that way.”

One in Ten

There is no “typical” substitute teacher. Some are future teachers. Many are retired teachers, like Paine, or Ben Visnick, a retired high school history teacher and former union president, who serves as a board member in California’s Oakland Education Association. Others are people who, for various reasons, find that the flexible work schedule works for them.

But what is increasingly common, across the nation, is that substitute educators are called to caulk the gaps in the education workforce. About one in four teachers missed at least 10 days of work, or about two weeks of school, in 2016, according to federal data. In districts where secondary trauma or work-related stress is worse, teacher absentee rates can be higher. Meanwhile, many districts kick off the school year with unfilled teacher positions, as low pay, low morale, and scant funding contribute to the growing teacher shortage.

On any given day, substitute educators are helming about 10 percent of all classrooms, studies say. These substitute educators have a range of qualifications, depending on their state or district. At one end of the spectrum, in Edmonds all substitutes must be certificated, and emergency certified subs can only be used when fully certificated substitutes aren’t available. But desperation often fuels lower standards: in Florida, where the teaching shortage is acute, one high school recently hired teenagers to substitute in its classrooms.

Negotiating for a Better Place

Across the nation, NEA and its affiliates are working to make sure substitute educators get what they need so that students can get what they need. “My whole thing is that we could make substitute teaching a much more professional occupation if we took the time and treated it that way,” says Visnick.

By raising the collective voices of substitute educators, and uniting them with their full-time colleagues, substitute educators have improved workplace conditions in several areas.

We’re the emergency team. We come in and make sure everything is okay. I think that’s a valuable service—and I think it needs to be treated that way.” – Nancy Paine, president of the substitute association within the Edmonds Education Association in Washington. 

Pay. Often pay is at the top of the list when it comes to a union’s goals at the bargaining table. “If you’ve done your job right, and you keep getting invited back, then you deserve professional pay,” says Paine.

In Montgomery County, Md., that looks like more than $200 a day for long-term, certificated substitutes with negotiated bonuses of $250 for those who work at least 25 days a semester and $450 for those who hit 45 days.

In Oakland, the union has negotiated a starting rate of $139 a day, which jumps to $162 after 30 days and $179 after 60 days. Thanks to the union’s efforts, “pay has improved,” says Visnick, who first worked as a substitute in the late 70s earning around $29 a day. But pay hasn’t kept pace with rising rents. Full-time and substitute educators alike are preparing to strike this winter if the district doesn’t step up, he says. “We would never have enough power to strike if we [substitute educators] were alone,” he adds.

This past year, Seattle substitute educators received a 5 percent raise—the same as all other educators in the district. “In past contracts, the district has wanted to play the certified employees against the classified employees by offering bigger raises to one group. But that didn’t get very far. We have a history of standing up for each other,” says Henry.

Benefits. Substitute educators’ access to healthcare and retirement benefits is uneven. In West Virginia, substitutes are ineligible to participate in the state’s pension system, but long-term substitutes can be eligible for health benefits. In California, some substitutes who work frequently are provided with healthcare benefits, but many aren’t. Also, if they work 100 days in a district, those substitutes pay into the state pension system and will receive a small pension upon retirement.

In Seattle, most substitute educators aren’t eligible for district-paid health benefits, but some can opt to pay, at their own cost, to participate. After 60 days on the job, SEA has negotiated effectively for district-provided health insurance. Similarly, in Portland, Maine, the Portland Association of Teachers has made sure its substitutes are eligible for the district’s medical insurance plan, with monthly premiums paid by the district, if they have worked the equivalent of 70 days in the previous year. These substitutes can opt to pay for spouses and children.

Professional development. It’s not easy being a substitute educator. Professional development in classroom management, technology, and more is necessary—and benefits both educators and students. Many union contracts require this kind of specific professional development, and unions often take the lead in providing it. In August, SEA’s substitute association hosted its own one-day summit that was attended by about 200 substitute educators, says Henry, who co-presented his own session on the many provisions in their contract.

“Our contract requires two half-days,” says Visnick. In Edmonds, it’s one day, which last year was dedicated to cultural competence training; this year it will focus on special education and other topics. “We need to tell these [substitute] teachers—‘Join us. We will help you be a better teacher. We have programs to help you,’” says Visnick.



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Betsy DeVos’ New Title IX Guidelines Prioritize Schools Over Sexual Assault Survivors


Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos released her long-awaited proposed Title IX guidelines Friday morning, and there’s a lot to unpack. 

The proposed regulations essentially provide more protections for the accused and make it harder for survivors of sexual violence to report harassment and assault by narrowing the definition of sexual misconduct. Additionally, the guidelines essentially prioritize schools above all by creating fewer sexual misconduct cases, which reduces costs (saving colleges anywhere from $286 to $368 million over 10 years, according to estimates included in the proposed guideline).

“The Trump Administration’s proposed rule is designed to let schools off the hook for sexual assault and harassment,” Sage Carson, manager of the anti-sexual violence organization Know Your IX, said in a Friday morning statement.

“These proposals signal the Department of Education’s decision to prioritize schools’ bottom line over survivors’ right to an education,” she continued. “If these draft rules become law, more survivors will be forced out of school by harassment, assault, and their schools’ indifference to their complaints.”

These proposals signal the Department of Education’s decision to prioritize schools’ bottom line over survivors’ right to an education.
Sage Carson, manager of Know Your IX

Title IX, the federal civil rights law created to ensure gender equality in education, applies to all schools that receive federal funding, including nearly all colleges and universities, all public K-12 schools and a few private K-12 schools that receive federal dollars. The regulations differ slightly for K-12 schools versus college and university campuses. 

The suggested guidelines are similar to a copy partially leaked in August which faced swift criticism from survivor advocacy groups for making it harder for victims to report harassment and assault.

Below are the provisions that could have the largest impact on how sexual misconduct is handled in school settings across the country:

1. Narrowing The Definition Of Sexual Misconduct

Keeping with the leaked copy, Friday’s suggested guidelines narrow the definition of sexual misconduct, defining it as “unwelcome conduct on the basis of sex that is so severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive that it effectively denies a person equal access to the recipient’s education program or activity.” 

Jess Davidson, executive director of survivor advocacy organization End Rape on Campus, described this portion of the regulations as “one of the most harmful parts of the rule.”

“The definition is extreme and it’s going to require that students are harassed multiple times before they are able to receive any form of accommodation,” she told HuffPost.  

2. Schools Are Only Responsible If Assaults Take Place On Campus

Under the proposed guideline, a school “is only responsible for responding to conduct that occurs within its ‘education program or activity.’” The Education Department loosely defines “education program or activity” as “all of the operations of” a school including anything that has “any academic, extracurricular, research, [or] occupational training.”

This definition, however, does not include off-campus housing or bars and other settings within a school environment where assault and misconduct often take place. This is one of the most worrisome provisions of the entire 149-page proposal because 87 percent of college students live off campus.

Davidson noted that this provision could prove disastrous for marginalized students, specifically community college and commuter students who spend a majority of their time off-campus.

Additionally, this would allow schools like Michigan State and Ohio State, both currently embroiled in sexual assault scandals, to sidestep misconduct perpetrated by staff at off-campus events. 

“Would it make sense for Larry Nassar not to be held accountable if he only abused student athletes at off-campus events? It’s absurd,” Sejal Singh, policy coordinator for Know Your IX, said to HuffPost in August

3. ‘Mediation’ Instead Of Investigation

Under the proposed provisions, the accused can participate in a live cross-examination of the alleged victim through a third party (although this does not apply fully to K-12 incidents).

Unlike the earlier leaked copy, Friday’s proposed rule would not allow the accused to cross-examine their accuser personally. Additionally, the accuser is allowed to request that their alleged perpetrator watch the live cross-examination from a separate room which prohibits “any unnecessary trauma that could arise from personal confrontation.” 

This process, known as mediation, encourages schools to simply work it out themselves instead of following a regulated investigation protocol.

“Before the 2011 Dear Colleague Letter (DCL), schools pushed survivors to ‘work it out’ with their rapists, fostering a climate where students were afraid to come forward” anti-sexual violence organization Know Your IX said in a Friday statement. “The Department’s decision to revert back to a harmful status quo will allow for schools and rapists to intimidate survivors into silence.”

Additionally, the Education Department has not offered any guidelines on how this mediation process would potentially play out. 

4. Victims Can Only Report To Certain People 

The guidelines would restrict whom a victim can report to in order to implement corrective measures through the school. College students would only be able to report a Title IX issue with the school’s Title IX coordinator which, Davidson said, is cause for concern.

“The lived experience of most college students don’t set them up to go first to the dean of students or to the Title IX administrator directly,” she said. “Most students want to talk to ― as anybody does ― students want to talk to a campus official or an adult who they trust, who will be on their side, who will affirm them, and will help them find safety and an answer.”

“To see this definition go forward ― that would essentially give a free pass to OSU and Michigan State and Larry Nassar ― is really horrifying,” Davidson added.  

It’s worth noting that mandatory reporting laws still apply, but for a student to receive help and protection from their school specifically, they would need to seek out a Title IX coordinator. 

This provision would not apply to students K-12. 

5. A Higher Standard Of Evidence Needed To Prove Guilt

The proposed guidelines state a school can use “either the preponderance of the evidence standard or the clear and convincing evidence standard.” Many survivor advocate groups, however, highlighted that using a “clear and convincing” standard would treat sexual misconduct survivors more harshly than victims of other discriminatory campus crimes.  

“Instead of imposing discriminatory procedural hurdles for campus sexual harassment cases, schools should use the same standards that they use for other serious campus wrongdoing, such as physical assault or arson,” Know Your IX noted


The Washington Post via Getty Images

Meghan Downey of Chatham, New Jersey, protests in Arlington, Virginia, as U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos announces changes in federal policy on rules for investigating sexual assault reports on college campuses on Sept. 7, 2017. 

Many politicians and Title IX advocates were up in arms over the proposed guidelines. Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney (D-N.Y.) urged Congress to stand against the proposal, writing that it’s “intended to make college campuses safe spaces to commit sexual assault and harassment instead of safe spaces to learn.”

In a Friday statement, Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) called on “every woman, man, mom, dad, and anyone else who cares about campus safety and preventing sexual assault to make your voices heard and demand that Secretary DeVos and President Trump withdraw this proposal immediately.” 

Lara Kaufmann, Director of Public Policy for Girls Inc., pointed out how damaging this proposal could be for K-12 girls specifically. 

“All girls should be able to grow up safe, respected, and valued,” she said in a statement to HuffPost. “Unfortunately, these new proposals will lead to fewer students reporting assaults and harassment, more dangerous K-12 schools, and more girls being denied their civil right to equal access to education.” 

President of the American Federation of Teachers Randi Weingarten also condemned the proposed rules in a Friday statement. 

“This rule abdicates the responsibility to protect every student’s right to safety on campus,” she said. “It tells academic institutions that they needn’t bother helping to protect students; they won’t be liable. These changes once again demonstrate that students are not DeVos’ priority.”

Since she was confirmed as Secretary of Education last year, DeVos has been on a mission to overhaul the Obama-era Title IX guidelines and regulations. In 2017, DeVos met with people “wrongly accused” of sex crimes (a group consisting mainly of so-called men’s rights activists) and, not long after, rescinded an Obama-era Title IX guideline, The Dear Colleague Letter.

“It’s worth noting that the secretary has talked a lot about the importance of a fair process but that’s not what this reads like to me,” Davidson said. “This isn’t somebody trying to create fairness in the process, this is somebody who is trying to prevent the process from taking place at all.” 

Legally, the Education Department is required to consider all comments from the public and publicly respond to criticism before making a decision.

Head here to read the Education Department’s proposed Title IX guidelines in full. 





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The Creative Way One Family Is Diversifying Bookshelves Across The Country



Troubled by the lack of diversity in children’s books and the literacy gap involving kids around the country, a mom and her two kids have set out to send 50 diverse children’s books to each of the 50 states.

Charnaie Gordon is the mind behind Here Wee Read, a platform that highlights the importance of representation by recommending books for kids that include main characters of color; focus on various races, cultures and religions; and teach kids about subjects like immigration, voting and more.

For her latest project, 50 States 50 Books, she’s sending these kinds of books to groups in every state with the help of her two children, Madison, 6, and Barrington, who is almost 5.

The Connecticut family chooses an organization or institution ― a school, a library, a literary-focused group, a nonprofit or something similar ― in every state to receive the books. Gordon also hopes to donate brand-new books to children’s hospitals.

While Gordon and her kids head up the project, many other people are helping. Gordon told HuffPost she hasn’t had to buy new books thanks to several book donations, mostly from people who bought titles from Here Wee Read’s Amazon Wish List, which is divided into sections like “Muslim-Themed Books,” “Adoption & Foster Care Books” and “Civil Rights & Activist Books.”

Gordon has received donations from children’s book authors, and on Monday, she posted on Instagram that Hachette Book Group has plans to donate 800 books to her family’s cause. Madison and Barrington also won a Kid Kindness Grant from the nonprofit Kindness Grows Here to help with the project.

The siblings chip in with one of their favorite parts of the project: adding an ink stamp to every book that designates it as a donation from 50 States 50 Books. They also help collect the titles and prepare them for delivery.

“Our book mail days are Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays,” Gordon said. “Their job is to use the key to open [our P.O. box] up. They’re in charge.”

When Gordon started planning the project this past summer, she set a goal of completing the donations by the end of 2020. Now, she figures her family will be able to get it done at some point next year.

“This has just turned into much more than I expected,” she said.



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Vaping in Schools: 3 Million Students and Counting


(AP Photo/Steven Senne)

That scent of cool mint or mango that sometimes wafts from the student bathroom or the back of the school bus? It’s the olfactory evidence of growing, widespread use of e-cigarettes by middle and high school students.

“The bathrooms shouldn’t smell like blueberry flavoring,” notes Oklahoma teacher Christine Pankrantz in a recent NEA Today Facebook post. “Our students use them in their cars…in the bathrooms…we’ve had scientists and doctors come talk about the dangers of vaping, but it seems that we’re fighting a losing battle. They’re so easy to get.”

Federal officials call it an “epidemic of youth use,” and estimate that the number of high school students who use e-cigarettes, sometimes called vapes for their telltale plumes of scented vapor, has risen about 75 percent in the past year to about 3 million students, overtaking tobacco products in popularity. One of the most popular is JUUL (pronounced jewel). Equipped with kid-friendly flavors like “fruit medley,” and packaged to look like a sleek computer flash drive that can be tucked into a fist or pocket and charged in a USB port, each JUUL cartridge contains roughly the same amount of nicotine as 20 cigarettes.

Nicotine is highly addictive, and the “developing adolescent brain is particularly vulnerable to addiction,” notes the federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which recently announced it would ban the sale of flavored e-cigarettes in convenience stores and gas stations.

Our students use them in their cars…in the bathrooms…we’ve had scientists and doctors come talk about the dangers of vaping, but it seems that we’re fighting a losing battle. They’re so easy to get.” – Christine Pankrantz, teacher

But while federal officials consider their options, educators remain on the front lines of efforts to curb students’ e-cigarette use. “It’s happening in the hallways, it’s happening in the bathrooms, we even had a kid a couple of years ago vaping in the classroom!” says Cam Traut, a school nurse at Libertyville High School in the Chicago suburbs and a National Association of School Nurses board member.

For the most part, students don’t seem to realize it’s a dangerous habit. “I get the sense that students think it’s safe,” says Traut. “The marketing or advertising was, ‘oh, this is a much healthier version of traditional, tobacco cigarettes,’ so the kids have focused on that ‘healthier’ component. And it’s taken off like wildfire.

“As a school, we’re trying to provide some education to the kids so that they understand the health risks they’re taking, and we’re also educating our staff on what to look for… It’s an uphill battle,” says Traut.

Vaping in Schools

Like regular tobacco-filled cigarettes, e-cigarettes work to deliver a jolt of nicotine to the brain. But unlike regular cigarettes, they’re battery powered devices. Typically, the battery is activated by the user’s puffing, which, in turn, heats and vaporizes liquid chemicals in the cartridge. The user inhales the resulting vapor, which often is flavored.

Those flavors are attractive to kids, warns the American Academy of Pediatrics. And, despite industry claims that the e-cigarettes are intended to help adult smokers move to a tar-free product, health advocates say the devices are creating a new generation of nicotine addicts. In fact, 15- to-17-year-olds are more than 16 times more likely to be JUUL users than 25- to 34-year-olds, according to the Truth Initiative, a non-profit public health organization that was established 20 years ago as part of a settlement between tobacco companies and states.

vaping in schools

Credit: National Institute on Drug Abuse (2017)

“The teens are after innovation and they’re attracted by sleek design and ease of use,” according to Dr. Sarper Taskiran, a child and adolescent psychiatrist at the Child Mind Institute, which recently produced a “need to know” guide for parents. “They look like an Apple product.”

Taskiran notes that prevention is a lot easier than treatment. Parents and educators need to educate themselves first, and then their children and students. He notes “peer educators can play an important role.”

It’s easy to get addicted to nicotine, Michigan school bus driver Marti Alvarez warns students. She knows firsthand that it’s much more difficult to stop. “It is so much easier to just not start a habit,” she tells them.

And adolescents are particularly vulnerable to addiction, scientists have found. In a conversation with NEA Today in 2015, the author of The Teenage Brain, Dr. Frances Jensen, explained how young people have a higher degree of “synaptic plasticity” than adults, which means they are building bigger and faster connections in their brain. “They can imprint—on good things and bad things. For instance, addiction, which is a form of learning, is stronger, faster, and longer in younger people.”

Jensen advises educators to talk to young people about their brains, how they work, and how the science reveals their particular risk of addiction.

“Evidence-based information” also is the preferred strategy in Libertyville, says Traut. While her district has policies that can lead to school suspension over e-cigs—as well as tobacco products—their school-based administrators don’t aim to suspend students over vaping, she says. Students are more likely to be counseled and educated about the risks.

The best way to approach students is with “mutual respect,” says Alvarez. Often, “the harder authority pushes and yells [about some forbidden thing], the more the kid is attracted to it and the more they rebel.”



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Florida Principal Accused Of Stealing $900 From Boy With Disabilities


A Florida educator is accused of stealing nearly $1,000 from a child with disabilities.

Edward John Abernathy, 50, principal of Connerton Elementary School in Land O’Lakes, was arrested on Nov. 8 and charged with grand theft, according to the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office.

A copy of the police report obtained by HuffPost alleges a 9-year-old boy with a mental disability brought $2,100 of his parents’ money with him to school on Oct. 23. When a teacher realized the child was carrying the large sum, she collected it and notified school administrators, authorities said.

Abernathy was absent from school the day the discovery was made, so the assistant principal counted the money in front of witnesses before placing it in the principal’s office, according to the police report.

Authorities allege Abernathy returned the following day and told his staff “he would take care of the situation.”

On Oct. 26, the parents of the child learned he had taken the money without their knowledge and the boy’s mother went to collect it.

“The principal handed a wad of money to the child’s mother,” according to the police report. “As the mother was walking to her vehicle, she counted the money and learned she was only given $1,200.”


Pasco County Sheriff’s Office

Florida elementary school principal Edward John Abernathy, 50, of Land O’Lakes, was arrested after he was accused of stealing $900 from a child with a mental disability, police said.

When the mother contacted her son’s teacher, she was told the assistant principal had counted the money and verified it amounted to $2,100. She was also allegedly told that Abernathy had counted again the following day. Concerned about the discrepancy, the parents filed a complaint with the sheriff’s office.

Questioned by police on Nov. 8, Abernathy allegedly denied counting the money himself and made “multiple inconsistent statements.” Police said the principal claimed he had hidden the money in a speaker in his office and said it was possible a student took it. When an investigator pointed out the speaker was on a shelf that was about 6 feet high, Abernathy allegedly admitted it would have been “a bit of a reach” for an elementary school student.

Abernathy, whose salary is $91,112, according to the Tampa Bay Times, was booked into the Land O’Lakes Detention Center and freed after posting $2,000 bail. He’s since been placed on paid administrative leave, pending a review of the allegations by the school district, the media outlet reported.

It was unclear Tuesday whether Abernathy had retained an attorney.

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





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5 Things We Learned From Election 2018


(Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call) (CQ Roll Call via AP Images)

The 2018 midterm election results gave educators much to celebrate. More than 1,000 teachers, professors, education support professionals (ESP), and administrators from both major parties won state and local legislative seats across the country. That’s about two-thirds of almost 1,800 current or former educators from K-12 and higher education who sought office this campaign season, according to NEA. About 100 other educators ran for top state or federal seats, with many more running for seats on school boards and other local offices.

In addition, many gubernatorial and other candidates at the state level made public education a centerpiece of their campaign, second perhaps only to health care or the economy depending on the state or district. Teacher-led protests that swept states last winter and spring lead to a high level of activism among educators, students and parents, and other community members.

“We had a good night,” said NEA President Lily Eskelsen García, during a November 9 panel discussion sponsored by the Educator Writers Association at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. “We’ve never seen anything like it.”

As educators look ahead to the next two years and the 2020 presidential election, here are some of the midterm’s key issues, trends, and takeaways.

An infrastructure has been established from the unprecedented level of political activism among educators

While not all educators were victorious on Nov. 6, just being on the ballot increased activism among NEA members and other educators to unprecedented levels of engagement, according to Carrie Pugh, NEA Director of Campaigns and Elections.

“NEA activism was at an all-time high,” Pugh said. “Texting, phone banking, canvassing … we drove an historic movement.”

The massive teacher walkouts, protests, and strikes that took place in West Virginia, Kentucky, Oklahoma and Arizona this spring, highlighted the opposition to decades of cuts to public education budgets, teacher salaries, poor working conditions, and in some cases, changes to public pension and retirement plans. Those walkouts and demonstrations were largely organized at the grassroots level and became known as the #RedForEd movement.

The midterm elections were regarded by many as a durability test of the educator uprising after just a few short-term contract and policy gains in states like West Virginia and Arizona. In Oklahoma, for example, legislators were immediately persuaded to invoke teacher raises and make historic investments in public schools – underwritten by a tax on the oil and gas industry.

The sustainability of the #RedForEd movement was later proven in Oklahoma during primaries and runoff elections when eight Republican incumbents who voted against the tax measure that increased funds for public schools and raised teacher pay were unseated. Some were replaced by Republicans who pledged to support strong education policy in the next legislative session.

The movement’s success was further sustained as educators nationwide were inspired to run for office while others volunteered on political campaigns in unprecedented numbers.

Both Democratic and Republican candidates, said Eskelsen García, were “talking about how we can do better for our public schools.”

“That is a direct result of the public outpouring of support for the #RedForEd wave,” she added. “It raised public awareness of the decrepit conditions of some classrooms.”

Says Pugh: “Educators who stepped up for re-election, or for the first time, will move up and down the pipeline for years to come. A lasting infrastructure has been built.”

A new diverse generation of female, minority, and first-time candidates support strong public schools.

A record 260 female candidates and 195 people of color were on the ballot this year. Many of them were first-time candidates who were also Democrats. While they had varied backstories and a wide range of reasons for running, they emphasized in speeches, forums, and debates about the need to fund public schools and pay teachers and ESPs competitive wages.

“Even in deep Republican areas, we heard candidates tell us ‘We’re making them talk about education!’” Eskelsen García said at the Press Club. “We changed the conversation. When a teacher knocked on a door and said ‘here is who I am supporting,’ it was more likely they were going to be listened to.”

NEA officials have been encouraged by candidates like Gretchen Whitmer and Michelle Lujan Grisham, who won gubernatorial contests in Michigan and New Mexico, respectively. Both ran on pro-public education platforms.

The diverse freshman class will include two Native American women who won seats in the House of Representatives: Deb Haaland, a Laguna Pueblo from New Mexico, and Sharice Davids, a member of the Ho-Chunk Nation from Kansas. Both have spoken about the need to rethink education in tribal schools. Rashida Tlaib and IIhan Omar are one of the first Muslim women elected to Congress, from Michigan and Minnesota, respectively.

Education had a good night, but still much work to do

Democrats entered Election Day needing to flip 23 House seats to retake the chamber. They exceeded that goal by winning at least 37 new seats. While Republicans lost control of the House, they picked up seats in the Senate. Many Republican House members who embraced President Trump lost, but some Republican Senate and gubernatorial candidates who backed the president won. The exit polls showed a majority of voters disapprove of Trump’s job as president — yet turnout was high among Republican voters.

Ultimately, proponents of building strong public schools will have to shift their focus away from school choice schemes such as vouchers and back to funding good schools for every student.

In Arizona, for example, voters rejected Proposition 305, which would have expanded the state’s school voucher program. Voucher proponents worked hard to promote the proposition with voters, but “we made sure they (voters) knew exactly what they were voting for,” Eskelsen García said. “Democrats and Republicans agreed with us.”

In general, nearly 50 percent of voters “strongly disapprove” of Trump’s performance in office, compared to roughly 30 percent who approve of the job he’s doing as president, according to election night CNN exit polls. A little more than 50 percent of voters feel the country is going in the wrong direction.

“The bottom line is this: if you have a poor neighborhood school that doesn’t have the funds or resources that those state-of-the-art, top-tier schools in your state have, then there’s something wrong with the way you fund your schools,” Eskelsen García said. “That’s what we’re going to take on.”

Educators with actual classroom experience and training will now help shape education agendas

With more than 1,000 teachers, professors, ESPs, and other educators ready to take the oath of office in January, debates over education budgets and policies will take a different turn than in the recent past. Teachers and other educators will hold approximately 15 percent of state legislative positions nationwide as a result of the midterms, according to the National State Legislative Council.

In states like Kentucky, for example, where teachers walked out of schools amid pension reforms and budget cuts in the spring, 14 out of 51 teachers and educators won their elections.

“Their voice, credibility, and perspective are invaluable,” said Pugh.

Their expertise is also in dire need, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. In a report titled, “A Punishing Decade for School Funding,” the center found that over the last 10 years, 25 states are still providing less total funding per student than they were in 2008.

In Colorado, ESP Rochelle Galindo, 28, won her state House race. Galindo, who served on the Greeley City Council, is a member of the Boulder Valley Classified Employees Association and head custodian at Lafayette Elementary School.

NEA Secretary Treasurer Princess Moss (center) campaigns with Rochelle Galindo (far right). On Nov. 6, Galindo won a seat in the Colorado State House.

“Our schools continue to grow yet have to fight for a small pool of funding,” Galindo says on her campaign website. “I will fight to provide schools with the funding they need in order to establish a quality education for all Colorado students.”

At the national level, Jahana Hayes, the 2016 National Teacher of the Year, became Connecticut’s first black representative. Rep.-elect Hayes is a former high school teacher who campaigned on strengthening the public-school system.

The new resistance insists on being heard over the voices of Trump-DeVos and incumbents like Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker

“The Women’s March in Washington was an answer to President Trump’s inauguration,” Pugh said. “A number of women candidates stepped up, won primaries, and are now going to Congress.”

At the time of the march, which took place one day after Trump’s inauguration, Republican officials and conservative pundits said the activism would not last. Clearly, the movement sustained its energy and mission and has translated into real political change.

“It shows the importance of ongoing commitment and infrastructure,” Pugh said. “It led to the increased turnout.”

Pugh also stressed the importance of recruiting and training good candidates, such as through programs like NEA’s See Educators Run.

At the Press Club, Eskelsen García stressed that public education issues gained momentum from mainstream voters who oppose Trump policies involving vouchers, school privatization, and the appointment of U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.

According to Politico, DeVos was mentioned in $3 million worth of political TV ads and dozens of Facebook ads, overwhelmingly Democratic. Her advocacy for vouchers, charter schools, dampening civil rights protections for students, and promoting loan servicing companies over student borrowers motivated voters in the opposite direction.

Says Eskelsen García: “Betsy DeVos touched a nerve. We asked our members to write to their congressman to oppose her. We were hoping for around 100,000 emails through our website, but we got over a million. They weren’t all NEA members. This caught the attention of the general public.”

Education was the No. 2 issue in campaign ads for most of the 36 gubernatorial races, according to the Wesleyan Media Project.

In Wisconsin, Democrat Tony Evers, the current superintendent of public instruction, defeated Republican incumbent Gov. Scott Walker, primarily on a pro-education platform. According to polling by Marquette University Law School, approximately 40 percent of voters in Wisconsin put K-12 education as one of their top two issues.

Walker took office in 2011 and soon spearheaded passage of an anti-union act that dismantled collective bargaining rights, which accounted for median educator salaries dropping by 2.6 percent and median benefits by 18.6 percent.

Governor-elect Evers proposed increasing investment in all levels of education.



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Coaches Are Not Heroes | HuffPost


If I asked you to describe the quintessential college head football coach, you’d tell me about a man, most likely one who is middle-age and white, wearing a headset and a hoodie or a polo shirt (depending on the team you root for) while pacing a sideline.

Behind a microphone and in front of cameras, he’d be folksy, stoic unless he’s angry, probably attends church and lets you know it, and is sparse with his words but well-versed in vague coach-speak about teamwork, his love of the game, and the toughness, the effort, the discipline, the pride, the grit with which his teams play.

You might believe he spends endless hours at practices, drawing up plays and recruiting. He likely makes good money, but you’d probably feel obligated to say that he does what he does because he wants to make the lives of these young players better, help mold them into men with good characters. He is, overall, a good man who has dedicated his life to the sport.

And so, when a college football coach makes harmful decisions, exploits the bodies and labor of his players or brushes aside someone vulnerable or less powerful, we struggle to make sense of this behavior, even if we understand that this coach is operating inside of a giant money-making machine of toxic masculinity that flattens anyone who fails to win enough games or to make boosters happy. In order for us to imagine him doing a bad thing, we first must overcome our ingrained belief that to be a coach is the same as being a good person.

We must overcome our ingrained belief that being a coach is the same as being a good person.

It is time to rewrite this narrative. We need a new story because the one we’ve become used to provides way too much protection to powerful men who use their authority to their advantage in order to disenfranchise, abuse and manipulate the people they have power over.

How else do you explain the tragedy at University of Maryland under the leadership of their head football coach, D.J. Durkin?

In May, 19-year-old Maryland offensive lineman Jordan McNair collapsed on the field after struggling to do wind sprints during an off-season practice session. It took about 30 minutes for trainers to take him off the field, another 30 after that to call for an ambulance, and yet another 30 before the ambulance left for the hospital. Just over two weeks later, McNair died from preventable heatstroke that no one in the Maryland football program tried to prevent.

The fallout from the death of a university student from an extreme workout overseen on university property by university employees took two external investigations and about five months to play out. The recent report from one of those investigations found that the program had “a culture where problems festered because too many players feared speaking out.”

The investigators, of course, wrote, “we believe [Durkin’s] concern for his players’ welfare is genuine.” The Washington Post noted that “the sentiment from players varied,” and included some players who believed Durkin should not return and former players stating that he should never coach again.

The Board of Regents didn’t want Durkin to go and advocated for him, reportedly threatening the president’s job if he fired the coach. They also didn’t want to punish the trainers whose failures led directly to McNair’s death. If you are under the impression that this had to do with winning, let me assure you that Durkin’s 10-15 record at Maryland could not have been the reason for this cowardly move. Regardless, when the investigation concluded, Durkin was reinstated as head football coach.


ASSOCIATED PRESS

Students at the University of Maryland quickly protested Durkin’s reinstatement.

The good news is we are getting better at seeing through this facade about coaches. Protests immediately greeted Durkin’s reinstatement, including from Maryland’s governor, university alumni, members of the media, students at the school and players on his own squad who walked out of a team meeting.

And so, the university president fired Durkin late last month, days after reinstating him. Last week, they fired two of the trainers who failed in their treatment of McNair (Rick Court, the strength and conditioning coach who oversaw that tragic practice in May, resigned back in August).

It’s not only coaches who benefit from this kind of thinking that one’s chosen profession says something positive about their inherent character.

And it is not only coaches who benefit from the kind of thinking that one’s chosen profession says something positive about a person’s inherent character.

No matter how many reports reveal that police lie, we mostly take their accounts of events, even those involving police violence. Too many doctors across the country can be classified as “predatory physicians” but The Atlanta Journal-Constitution found that there are a whole host of ways that their behavior is swept aside even if reported to authorities (Larry Nassar is perhaps the most obvious case). One thinks about the horrific and huge ongoing reckoning in the Catholic Church, or the continued problem of gendered violence among soldiers.

Enough with this. We have to begin to sketch out new narratives about who college football coaches are (or, at the least, who they could be). We must question our assumptions every time they crop up because these assumptions favor the people who already have power, who often have money and normally a whole host of other privileges. The least we can do is remove this one other layer of protection from their rather bulky defenses.

We have a long way to go before we finally take control of this. But the toughness, the effort, the discipline, the pride, the grit that goes into this work will be worth it in the end. Because what really are we preserving otherwise? A system that finds it hard to punish someone whose program failed to prevent the preventable death of a college student under his care. And that is unacceptable.

Jessica Luther is a freelance journalist, an author and a co-host of the feminist sports podcast “Burn It All Down.”



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Wisconsin Student Speaks Out On Nazi Salute Prom Photo: ‘It Was A Scary Moment’



A Wisconsin high school student who refused to raise his arm in an apparent Nazi salute for a controversial pre-prom photo told CNN on Tuesday that he had felt “very scared” and “uncomfortable.”

Jordan Blue, now a senior at Baraboo High School, said that in May of this year, he and his male classmates had been posing for pictures in front of a local courthouse before their junior prom when the photographer told them to “raise your hand.”

“The way the students had taken [that direction] was out of control,” Blue told CNN’s “New Day” on Tuesday. “My peers should not have raised it in this specific way that was the offensive way and hurtful way.”

The photo, which appears to show dozens of male students from Baraboo High’s 2019 graduating class throwing up a Sieg Heil, went viral on Sunday after it resurfaced on Twitter. Blue was one of several boys who did not join in.

The Baraboo School District, in coordination with the Baraboo Police Department, announced Monday that they were investigating the incident and planned to pursue “any and all available and appropriate actions, including legal.”

“Knowing the outcome of this situation, I would not have gone up there,” Blue told CNN. “It was a scary moment and it was very shocking and upsetting. It was a huge misrepresentation of the school district and the community of Baraboo.”

“In that moment, I was uncomfortable,” he added. “I was very hurt. I was very scared for the future. …  It was wrong. It shouldn’t be OK and it’s not OK.”

Peter Gust, the photographer who took the picture, has defended himself, saying he told the students to wave goodbye to their parents, not to make the Nazi gesture.

“I didn’t tell them to salute anything,” Gust said in a statement to CNN. “There was nothing that diminished the quality of anyone’s life. There was nothing that diminished anyone’s stature in society, nothing that was intended to point a finger at anyone in their class that may have some kind of difference. There was none of that.”

The photo was available for purchase on Gust’s website until he removed it on Monday, citing public backlash.





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How To Talk To Your Kids About Death And Grief


Death and grief are natural parts of the human experience, but mourning a loss is also an incredibly complex process.

When a young child loses a loved one, parents often grapple with the challenge of explaining the concept of death and helping their little one through the grieving process (all while grieving themselves).

To help inform these difficult conversations, HuffPost spoke to a number of child mental health experts. Of course, a family’s cultural and religious background may steer the discussion, but there are certain guiding principles that are helpful for everyone to keep in mind.

Here are some expert suggestions for parents and caregivers when they prepare to talk about death and grief with children.

Be Honest And Straightforward

“Tell them the ‘facts’ about the death,” clinical psychologist John Mayer told HuffPost. “Don’t sugarcoat what death is or use ‘baby talk’ with a child. Do not use phrases like, ‘Grammy is sleeping.’ This is an opportune time to teach them about death. Don’t shy away from it.”

Board certified licensed professional counselor Tammy Lewis Wilborn echoed this sentiment, noting that using “cutesy language” and euphemisms in an attempt to protect kids from the realities of death and loss can actually do more harm than good.

kali9 via Getty Images

Avoid using euphemisms when explaining death to children. 

“Children tend to think concretely, not abstractly, so when you use language that’s euphemistic, it can actually be more confusing or frustrating,” she explained. When people say things like “Dad is in the clouds” or “Your dad is taking a really long nap,” a young child may not understand the permanence of the fact that their father died and might even look for him in the clouds or expect him to wake up at some point.

Words like “death,” “died” or “dying” may sound harsh, but this is still developmentally appropriate language, Wilborn noted, and it’s important for children to have the language to understand the permanence of death.

Ask And Answer Questions

The kind of conversation a parent has with a child following the death of a loved one depends on the child’s relationship with the person who died. It should also vary based on the child’s developmental age and their understanding of what happens when someone dies. To that end, it’s useful to ask kids questions or offer to answer any questions they might have.

“Starting with questions can be a way in,” said Wilborn. “And you don’t necessarily need to give the specific details of how the person died, particularly if we’re dealing with traumatic grief. They don’t need all of the information, but they need enough age-appropriate details to understand that a person has died and isn’t coming back.”

“Parents should try to shrink themselves down to the size of their child and walk through what they’ve experienced.”

Sometimes children may have witnessed something related to the loved one’s death, like being present at the scene of an accident or visiting the person in the hospital. In these cases, they need help understanding what they saw, said Chandra Ghosh Ippen, an expert in early childhood trauma and the associate director of the Child Trauma Research Program at the University of California, San Francisco.

Parents should try to shrink themselves down to the size of their child and walk through what they’ve experienced. Seeing someone in a hospital with tubes coming out of them or watching paramedics perform lifesaving procedures may be frightening for a small child, so it’s necessary for adults to appreciate how scary things might look to them.

“Create space for them to share how it might’ve affected them, and try to help them understand that doctors and paramedics were trying to help their loved one,” Ghosh Ippen explained.

sot via Getty Images

Know that the conversation around death and grieving will be ongoing.

It’s an ongoing conversation. “Young children will often come back to you after your very excellent explanation of death and still ask, ‘Am I going to see so-and-so?’” Ghosh Ippen said. “It’s not that they didn’t understand you, but little kids tend to repeat their questions. It’s sort of their way of mulling it over and making meaning. This can be painful for caregivers, but appreciate that the child did hear you and is just having a difficult time wrapping their head around the concept of death.”

Know That Their Emotions Are Complicated

“Grief is a complex process, so it comes with a range of thoughts, emotions and behaviors,” Wilborn explained. While parents may expect their child to feel sad, angry, confused or even guilty about a loss, there are other behavioral changes that can be harder to understand, like changes in sleeping and eating patterns or school performance issues.

Sometimes parents may feel confused about a perceived lack of sadness in their kids. “Young children have a short sadness span,” said Ghosh Ippen. “A child can suffer a devastating loss and feel really sad, and then they can go play. You may be thinking, ‘Were they really affected by what happened?’”

While adults tend to immobilize and sink into sadness, kids often discharge it by running around or trying to do something else. “They kind of go in and out of sadness, and that can put us at odds with them if we’re thinking, ‘Oh, my God, do they not care?’” she continued. “But recognize that they did care.”

“A child can suffer a devastating loss and feel really sad, and then they can go play. You may be thinking, ‘Were they really affected by what happened?’”

– Chandra Ghosh Ippen, associate director of the Child Trauma Research Program at the University of California, San Francisco

Be Patient

Wilborn noted that grief is a long process, so parents should reject the tendency to want to rush past it and wonder when their kids are going to be over it.

“Grief is a process that you cannot go around. You have to go through it. So you need to be OK with the pace of the process,” she said. “It can take some time for a child to return to his or her normal.”

Mayer emphasized the power of this experience and of talking to kids about death as a way to build major developmental coping skills. “This is a positive and helps them cope with loss in their life in the future and even transitions in their life, such as leaving one school to another, advancing to high school or college, and losing relationships.”

Encourage Expression

“Children need to see that their parents are a resource; home is a resource where grief is welcome,” Wilborn said, noting that parents should encourage age-appropriate expressions of grief.

“For example with a school-aged, play is their language, so you want to lean into ways that children play to promote communication ― things like drawing pictures, playing games, dolls, puppet shows at home,” she added. “With older kids, you might encourage them to journal, draw, write songs, create poems.”

Mayer noted that being a resource for your child creates a sense of safety and security that will serve them in later life events. “They know they can depend on you, and it is wonderful modeling for them.”

Create Rituals

Creating rituals around remembering and honoring a loved one who died is another significant form of expression. “Explain that this person may not be here with us, but we can still remember him or her and celebrate their life as a family,” said Wilborn.

“When the death is really traumatic, sometimes caregivers stop talking about the person who died,” Ghosh Ippen explained. “And what’s hard in those cases is that children lose their ‘angel memories’ ― times when they really felt loved and cared for with that person. It’s normal for grown-ups in mourning to find it hard to talk about the person who died, but it’s important to memorialize them.”

asiseeit via Getty Images

Losing a loved one offers an opportunity to talk to your child about your cultural and religious beliefs. 

Many cultures and religions promote rituals around saying goodbye and making meaning of death. Mayer noted that losing a loved one presents an opportunity for parents who have religious belief systems to explain these tenets to their children.

“Religious or not, it is also very helpful to teach your children that all the experiences and memories you have had with this loved one do not get erased with their death. People always live in our hearts and our minds forever, and no one or nothing can take that away,” he explained. “Say something like, ‘Where’s Aunt Susie right now? She’s not in this room with us right now, correct? That doesn’t mean she doesn’t exist.’ Aunt Susie is here (point to your head) and here (point to your heart). We have to keep our memories and good times with Aunt Susie alive.”

Make Sure They Know It’s Not Their Fault

“Sometimes children have this really uncanny way of assigning blame to themselves for things that have nothing to do with them,” said Wilborn.

With that in mind, caregivers need to help kids understand that the death is in no way their fault, and it’s not their responsibility to put on a strong face or hide their feelings.

“Religious or not, it is also very helpful to teach your children that all the experiences and memories you have had with this loved one do not get erased with their death. People always live in our hearts and our minds forever, and no one or nothing can take that away.”

– clinical psychologist John Mayer

Use Books And Other Resources

There are many great resources for parents navigating this difficult topic with their children. Ghosh Ippen and Wilborn both recommend Sesame Street’s online grief toolkit, which provides talking points, videos, activities, storybooks and more. Ghosh Ippen and Wilborn also pointed to the National Child Traumatic Stress Network as another great source of online resources.

Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

There are many children’s books that cover the experience of loss. 

Beyond books and online resources, Wilborn emphasized the value of community resources, such as school counseling, support groups, play therapy and peer counseling.

Let Them See You Grieve

The way a child’s parents or caregivers respond to a loss is instrumental in helping them cope. “They need to see you grieve,” said Wilborn. “But they also need to see you taking care of yourself and engaging in self-care, which may or may not include professional help. If you don’t, they may feel like they have to take care of you because you’re not managing grief in a way that’s healthy.”

It’s OK to cry in front of your children and show the value of expressing emotions and having shared emotions among family members. It’s OK to say things like “I’m feeling really sad because my dad died” or “Daddy is sad because he misses his mom.”

“Within our culture, we often have a sense that we have to be tough, so many parents are trying to help their kids by putting on a brave or overly cheery face,” said Ghosh Ippen. “But that can seem really odd and confusing. The child is feeling sad because it’s devastating that this person is gone, but then the parent is cheery ― which can feel eerie and weird.”

Ultimately, it’s about conveying the idea that “Mom is sad, and Mom is also strong,” she continued. If the feelings of grief become overwhelming, parents should seek help from other sources because it’s not their child’s role to help them.

“It’s important for little kids to believe that grown-ups are bigger, wiser and stronger,” said Ghosh Ippen. “We are not going to fall apart, and if we are going to fall apart, other grown-ups are going to help us.”



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9 Gender-Neutral Toys That Aren’t Pink Or Blue



Unfortunately, many toy aisles still specifically designate interests based on what they think little boys and little girls should like. Though there are a few gender-neutral toys at places like Walmart and Target, a lot of toys in their selections are still pretty gendered, which means it can be nearly impossible to find home-related toys that aren’t pink or action figures that are female.

Little kids can and should play with whatever toys they like, which is why giving them gender-neutral gifts gives the freedom to explore their interests without the pressures and stereotypes created by society’s gender norms. That’s something we can get behind.

With that in mind, we’ve gather nine gender-neutral toys for kids that aren’t pink or blue and cover a wide variety of interests. Take a look below:

HuffPost may receive a share from purchases made via links on this page.



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Wisconsin High School Students Appear To Give Nazi Salute In Junior Prom Photo


A photo of Wisconsin high school students appearing to give a Nazi salute went viral over the weekend, prompting the school district and local police to investigate.

The photo appears to show dozens of male students from Baraboo High School, about 40 miles northwest of Madison, performing the Sieg Heil, a gesture used as a greeting in Nazi Germany.

The photo, reportedly taken during the school’s junior prom earlier this year, drew controversy Sunday after it resurfaced on Twitter. Carly Sidey, a former student in Baraboo, tweeted a screenshot of the photo shared to a private Twitter account, @GoBaraboo. 

″This post has since been deleted, but i just want [Baraboo School District] to be aware of the disturbing actions that are represented in this photograph,” Sidey tweeted Sunday. ”This is BEYOND sickening.”


CarleySidey/Twitter

Citing Sidey’s tweet, journalist Jules Suzdaltsev tweeted a request for more information about the photo, noting that one of the students was giving the “white power okay sign.”

Baraboo School District administrator Lori Mueller condemned the photo in a tweet on Monday.

The photo “is not reflective of the education values and beliefs of the School District of Baraboo,” Mueller wrote. “The District will pursue any and all available and appropriate actions, including legal, to address.”

The Baraboo Police Department is “actively investigating” the case with the school district, police Capt. Rob Sinden told HuffPost on Monday.

“It’s brand-new to us,” Sinden said. “At this point, I really can’t comment too much because it’s an active case.”

“I’ve been here quite a while and I can’t recall ever having something like this happen in Baraboo,” he added.

One student in the photo, at the top far right, appeared to refrain from joining his classmates in the gesture. The student, Jordan Blue, gave a statement about the incident to Suzdaltsev.

“The photo was taken during our Junior Prom Photos,” Blue wrote. “I clearly am uncomfortable, with what was happening. I couldn’t leave the photo as it was taken within 5 seconds. The photographer took the photos telling us to make the sign, I knew what my morals were and it was not to salute something I firmly didn’t believe in.”

Blue did not immediately respond to HuffPost’s request for comment.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story misstated the location of Baraboo relative to Madison. It is to the northwest of Madison, not the northeast.





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How Public Education Shaped Election 2018


Votes are still being counted in many states, but the final tally is not going to change the bottom line: Big change is on its way to Washington D.C. and state capitals across the nation.  Come January 2019, newly-minted lawmakers will have to get down to the job of governing and delivering on the promises they ran on.

This includes the many candidates, particularly at the state level, who made public education a centerpiece of their campaign. In 2019, education was a top tier issue, second perhaps only to health care. Did it really drive voters to the polls last Tuesday? What role did the  #RedforEd movement play? How will education policy in individual states actually change?

These were some of the questions before a panel of experts assembled by the Educator Writers Association at the National Press Club on Friday. National Education Association President Lily Eskelsen García, Frederick Hess of the American Enterprise Institute, and Scott Pattison, executive director and CEO of the National Governors Association joined moderator Daarel Burnette of Education Week to review the education issue’s impact in Election 2018 and look ahead to 2019.

Burnette first asked each panelist for their top takeaways from an election that saw impressive wins up and down the ballot for candidates with pro-public education track records.

The level of political engagement among educators, Eskelsen García said, was extraordinary.

“[NEA] has never see anything like it. We saw an 165% increase in folks who said they would do something more than vote. They saw this as a pivotal election.”

Eskelsen García credited the #RedforEd movement, not only for fueling educator activism across the country, but also for fundamentally changing the conversation about public schools.

The teacher-bashing rhetoric of the past was nowhere to be heard. Instead, both Democratic and Republican candidates, said Eskelsen García said, were “talking about how we can do better for our public schools. That is a direct result of the public outpouring of support for those teachers in the #RedforEd wave.”

Scott Pattison was also struck by the dominance of the education issue – along with health care and jobs – in stump speeches and campaign ads.

“Twenty years ago, every gubernatorial candidate wanted to be known as the ‘education governor.’  Then everyone was the ‘jobs governor.’ Now those two have been put together,” Pattison explained. “There’s a broader expansion in how they see education effecting these other issues, including the opioid crisis.”

Why is it always the first order of business to dish out massive tax breaks to corporations and wealthy individuals? …We have to talk about funding. We have to talk about what every student in this country deserves.”- NEA President Lily Eskelsen García

While Frederick Hess agreed that the 2018 election results were good for public education in that candidates were “saying nice things about schools,” he was less sure of education as a critical factor in any race. Hess questioned whether public education actually motivated many people to vote and called the success rate for educator candidates and pro-public education ballot initiatives underwhelming.

“I’m just skeptical of the political saliency of the education issue,” Hess said.

As Pattison pointed out, however, no candidate in 2018 wanted to be seen as being hostile to public schools.

“In this environment, no one wanted to face the voters as someone who wanted to  cut education,” Pattison said. “There was at least a strong desire [among incumbents] to be able to point to their record and say ‘I increased spending on education.’”

While it is true that many educators who ran for political office were defeated, the importance of getting into the race and talking about the future of public education cannot be overstated.

“Even in deep Republican areas, we heard candidates tell us ‘We’re making them talk about education!’” Eskelsen García said.  “We changed the conversation. When a teacher knocked on a door and said ‘here is who I am supporting,’ it was more likely they were going to be listened to.”

Eskelsen García also argued that the debate over the future of public education has reached far beyond educators and policy wonks. In addition to the attention over the plight of underfunded schools, the appointment of Betsy DeVos – and the intense opposition it triggered – signaled education’s standing as an urgent national issue.

“Betsy DeVos touched a nerve. We asked our members to write to their congressman to oppose her. We were hoping for around 100,000 emails through our web site, but we got over a million. They weren’t all NEA members. This caught the attention of the general public,” Eskelsen García said.

NEA President Lily Eskelsen García, Scott Pattison of the National Governors Association (left) and Frederick Hess of the American Enterprise Institute discuss Election 2018 and public education at the National Press Club on November 9.

Burnette asked the panelists about the challenges governors will face next year in finding the revenue to increase education funding.

Pattison replied that governors and legislatures are limited in what they can do because an anti-tax climate still exists, even in those states that elected new leaders.  “There’s not a lot of flexibility on the revenue side.  It comes down to the decision-making process, but there are a limited parameters and all kinds of competing priorities. And the economy may face a downturn in the next few years.”

Eskelsen García said the nation needs to take a hard look at those “priorities.”

“Why is it always the first order of business to dish out massive tax breaks to corporations and wealthy individuals? It’s always called an “economic development program” but study after study shows that the promised job creation and new revenues never materialize,” Eskelsen García said. “We have to talk about funding. We have to talk about what every student in this country deserves.”

To be successful, however, the conversation also has to shift its focus away from “school choice” schemes that siphon off hundreds of millions of dollars from public schools. On Tuesday, voters in Arizona rejected Proposition 305, which would have significantly expanded the state’s school voucher program. Voucher proponents worked overtime to sell the proposition to the voters, but “we made sure they knew exactly what they were voting for,” Eskelsen García said. “Democrats and Republicans agreed with us.”

“We need to stop taking about these distractions,” she added. “The bottom line is this: if you have a  poor neighborhood school that doesn’t have the funds or resources that those state-of-the-art, top-tier schools in your state have, then there’s something wrong with the way you fund your schools. That’s what we’re going to take on.”



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How Schools For Kids In Foster Care Act As ‘Educational Black Holes’


PHILADELPHIA and GREENVILLE, Pa. — Back when he still lived with his family, when school was across the street from his home in West Philadelphia, Johnathan Hamilton used to plow through reading assignments and research religious questions online. He stumbled over fractions — math was always a struggle — but started getting into philosophy as an early teen.

Then, at 15, his relationship with his parents grew violent, and Hamilton went to live in a city shelter for foster youth. When a bed became available at a residential facility in suburban Glenmoore, Pennsylvania, run by the nonprofit Devereux Foundation, Hamilton was sent to live there. For roughly nine months, he went to school on the grounds of the facility — and he says it was mostly lost time.

Classes were full of kids of different ages. The material he was assigned seemed many grade levels behind. In one class, he remembers playing a lot of Bingo. “It just felt like day care,” said Hamilton, who added that the experience left him with a senseless designation for a disability and gaps in his academic knowledge. “It was terrible. It wasn’t school.”

Young people in foster care across Pennsylvania — and the country — say that being sent to residential facilities often plunges them deeper into academic trouble instead of getting them on track. Schedules are filled with electives like movement therapy, art therapy and “values.” Worksheet- and computer-based education proliferate. The schools too often operate like educational black holes, failing to help kids earn relevant credits. Students complain of being kept on campus when they could be attending neighborhood schools. And government oversight is lacking.

“The city of Philadelphia and the School District of Philadelphia expend enormous sums of money for the treatment and education of children in residential facilities and overwhelmingly get poor outcomes as a result,” said Helen Gym, a Philadelphia city councilwoman and a former teacher who helped to start a new task force to reduce the city’s reliance on residentials. Gym said local school districts sometimes reject foster youth — if the foster care facilities let them attempt to enroll at all — so they are “being educated in the residential facility itself, which is not really equipped nor is it certified to really be a quality educational institution.” (Pennsylvania has a law entitling every child in a residential facility to attend a local public school unless a court or, in certain circumstances, guardians and school officials override that decision, but many states do not. Advocates question whether the Pennsylvania law is followed.)

The number of children living in group homes, treatment centers and other institutions has shrunk in recent years as the residential warehousing of kids has fallen out of favor. According to a national 2015 study, on a single day in 2013, the most recent comprehensive data available, kids in those facilities numbered 55,916, 37 percent below the figure for 2004. Federal legislation passed earlier this year is designed to nudge states to further reduce the number of kids in residentials.


Data analysis by The Hechinger Report

But older youth still end up in residential facilities in significant numbers. According to the 2015 study, of the approximately 51,000 children 13 or older who entered foster care in one year, roughly half spent time in institutional settings. Some of these children have serious mental health needs or behavioral issues that child-welfare agencies say can make it difficult to place them with families. Some are consigned to residential schools because of truancy. In some, mostly rural, parts of the country, the opioid epidemic is driving more young people into residential care.

“That’s 65 percent of the problem,” said Cinnamon Evans, executive director of the Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) for Venango County, which assists foster youth. Overdose deaths in the northwestern Pennsylvania county rose by 300 percent between 2015 and mid-2017. Evans said she has started to see more children enter residential facilities in her area, like those run by Keystone Adolescent Center and Pathways Adolescent Center, because of parental drug abuse.

In Pennsylvania, lawyers say, many of the residentials are regulated like private schools, which is to say, hardly at all. While private schools are essentially monitored by affluent, tuition-paying parents who opt into them, no such checks exist for schools that serve foster youth, who by definition have been cut off from their families.

“They treat them like prep schools,” said Maura McInerney, legal director of the Education Law Center, a Philadelphia nonprofit that advocates for educational equity. “They can do whatever they want.”

The Pennsylvania Department of Education does visit residential schools. But under its state education plan, it’s only required to check in once every six years, and the agency’s monitoring only concerns children with disabilities. When asked in a survey about the monitoring and sanctioning of residential schools, the Pennsylvania Department of Education told Hechinger/HuffPost to contact the state Department of Human Services. The education department declined further interview requests. DHS, meanwhile, said review of educational services fell to the education agency.

“It’s out of sight, out of mind,” said McInerney.

Parts of the country hard hit by the opioid epidemic, like Oil City, in Western Pennsylvania, have seen an increase in young


Caroline Preston for The Hechinger Report/HuffPost

Parts of the country hard hit by the opioid epidemic, like Oil City, in Western Pennsylvania, have seen an increase in young people entering group homes and other facilities for foster youth

The disregard for educational quality within these facilities is a national issue. Of 44 state education departments that responded to a Hechinger/HuffPost survey, most indicated that they sent foster youth to residential schools. But only 15 said their agencies conduct site visits and just one said it had sanctioned a residential school in the last three years. Of those state education departments that said they do conduct visits, only four do so at least once a year; the majority visit less often.

“It is completely unacceptable for education agencies not to be monitoring and overseeing educational institutions that are receiving public funding,” said Jesse Hahnel, executive director of the National Center for Youth Law, a nonprofit in Oakland, California, that advocates for disadvantaged children. “That is what these are; let’s be clear about that.”

A 2013 report commissioned by the School District of Philadelphia and provided to Hechinger/HuffPost, found numerous concerns in its study of residential facilities run by three organizations — Horsham Clinic, Devereux Foundation and VisionQuest — where the city was sending hundreds of students. “Academic programs at the residential institutions lack rigor, are not meaningfully linked to state or national standards, and could not demonstrate acceptable student progress,” the report says.

And residential schools are expensive. Gym, the councilwoman, said that placement for one child at a facility today costs taxpayers roughly $140,000 per year. According to the 2013 review, Devereux Brandywine, where Hamilton attended, charged $85,886 per student for an academic year of special education services (that amount rose to $128,756 if the child required an aide). The group’s president, who oversees facilities in 13 states, earned more than $875,000 in salary and other compensation in 2015, the most recent year for which the organization’s tax forms were available. (Devereux declined an interview request for this story.)

When Hamilton first arrived at Devereux Brandywine, he was sent to an alternative school off-campus. There he loved the teacher with whom he spent most of the class day, he said, though the academics often felt like review. But after about six months he was expelled following a disagreement with a teacher, he said, and began attending the on-grounds school. “There just wasn’t a whole lot going on,” said Hamilton, now 21 and tall, with a resonant voice and a full beard. “It was more like activities to occupy us during the day.” He longed to leave campus for a martial arts class, as he’d been watching Jackie Chan since he was little. But he said that Devereux staff denied his request, telling him that he was too old for the class and might use the moves he learned against employees.

Johnathan Hamilton, 21, experienced a lack of academic structure in the foster care system growing up. He is now a a freshman


Michelle Gustafson for HuffPost

Johnathan Hamilton, 21, experienced a lack of academic structure in the foster care system growing up. He is now a a freshman at Cabrini College. 

Eventually Hamilton was sent to a group home in Pennsylvania’s Carbon County where he attended a public school. But the designation for special education he’d been assigned at the Devereux school, which he says was both unnecessary and de rigueur for the facility’s students, trailed him. As a result, Hamilton says he was placed in segregated classes that were far too easy. After weeks of negotiations with school officials, he was allowed to enroll in all general education classes save math. The next spring, he graduated from the school, Jim Thorpe Area High School, after making the honor roll.

Another foster student, M.S., a 15-year old in the Western Pennsylvania city of Greenville, hopes to have the chance to graduate from a public school like the one she used to attend. She spent junior high and most of her freshman year at a mid-sized public school, earning A’s and B’s in algebra, her favorite class, and playing on the volleyball team. But this past spring her relationship with her grandmother, who’d been raising her because her mother suffers from addiction, fell apart. M.S. started getting into drugs and missing school. She was sent into foster care and her academic future was thrown into question. (The full names of some minors in this story have been omitted to protect their privacy.)

At the shelter where she was sent to live, run by the nonprofit Keystone Adolescent Center, the staff were nice and caring but the education was abysmal, said M.S. The school day was a long stretch of sitting before a computer in a room with a single teacher who provided very little support. “The shelter school was horrible. They expected you to do everything online and get everything done within a short amount of time.”

After roughly a month, M.S. moved to Keystone’s transitional living program, which sends most of its children to a nearby charter school run by the same family that operates the residential program. By then, however, the school year was wrapping up.

Sitting one July day in a Pizza Hut near the brick house she shared with seven other girls in the program, M.S. turned to watch as a set of elderly women greeted each other for lunch. “Oh my gosh, they are so happy,” she said. “So cute.” On unscheduled days like these, her main activity was sitting on the front lawn of the transitional living home, on a residential street, and watching passersby, she explained.

If M.S. stayed at Keystone, she would likely attend its charter school. But she was hoping that her cousins would foster her, and she could attend the high school near them.

The Keystone Charter School is a day school in the local school district and it serves kids in foster care and those who’ve struggled in traditional public schools. The adolescent center and the school are big business for the family who runs them: In 2016, the last year for which tax returns were available, Robert Gentile, Keystone’s executive director, earned roughly $158,000 in salary and other compensation; his brother, James T. Gentile, the finance director, earned roughly $157,000. Another brother, Mike Gentile, runs the charter school and serves as educational director of the Keystone Adolescent Center.

Their late father, James Gentile, who started Keystone and once led the school and adolescent center, was fined by the state ethics commission in 2013 for using his positions with those organizations to benefit a private company he also ran. At the time, James Gentile told a local newspaper that he took responsibility for the violations cited by the ethics commission. An attorney general’s report in 2015 again raised similar questions about these arrangements, which involved lease agreements between various organizations operated by the Gentile family.

In a phone interview with Hechinger/HuffPost, Mike Gentile noted that the state education agency has approved these agreements and that he was proud the organization was a “family business.” He also said the shelter school was a “great learning environment” with direct instruction from a teacher and computer-based courses provided by the A+ online curriculum. Gentile emphasized that children remain in the shelter school only for short periods, adding that decisions on where to educate youth who live longer-term in Keystone’s residential facilities are based on “what’s in the best interest of the student.”

Critics of residential facilities, meanwhile, include former staff. Roberta Trombetta left her job as head of Carson Valley Children’s Aid, a nonprofit provider of residential services for vulnerable children, in frustration after coming to believe that facilities for children in foster care do more to hinder children’s education than help. In 2015, she started C.B. Community Schools, a private institution funded by donations that serves foster youth in a former factory in a gentrifying section of northwest Philadelphia.

Ashley F., an 18-year old who spent time in residential schools including Carson Valley and VisionQuest, hopes to graduate this December from C.B. “Horrible,” said Ashley of the education at Carson Valley. “Hor-ri-ble. I literally did nothing.” Kids were disruptive, teachers just handed out worksheets and one class consisted of watching movies, she said. (In an emailed statement, Diane Kiddy, chief executive officer of Carson Valley Children’s Aid, defended the organization’s services: “Our educational program is distinguished by a trauma-focused approach to instruction which is individualized and includes therapeutic supports.”)

Ashley’s transcript is a confusing jumble. She received two final grades of 67 even though her semester grades in those courses added up to different numbers. An ecology course was renamed biology. And it’s not clear why the school district gave her three math credits since the rest of her transcript suggests that she hasn’t taken that many math classes.

“It’s made-up stuff,” said Trombetta. “You’ll see kids who’ve spent a year at residentials and core content subjects aren’t on their transcripts. … You’ll see a lot of electives. You’ll see kids identified at residential programs as special ed who had not been special ed before.”

Employees of residential programs argue that their schools play a critical role in helping vulnerable children who’ve struggled in other environments. They also say that staff ensure that kids attend school in the least-restrictive settings possible and note that courts often are the ones ordering kids into residential facilities and on-grounds schools.

Falling under a patchwork of classifications within the state’s education code, residential schools are a mix of family-run institutions, large for-profit and nonprofit providers, religiously affiliated organizations and smaller nonprofits. Carson Valley and Devereux Brandywine are situated on big, relatively secluded campuses. Pathways Adolescent Center is a cluster of nine or so drab, tan buildings on the outskirts of Oil City, a former petroleum-industry hub that’s been shedding jobs and residents. The educational services there are meager and don’t prepare students for life outside, according to reports from two former students as well as local officials involved with the child welfare system. (Pathways staff declined an interview request.)

Residential campuses that serve foster youth are a mix of large for-profit and nonprofit providers, religiously affiliated or


Caroline Preston for The Hechinger Report/HuffPost

Residential campuses that serve foster youth are a mix of large for-profit and nonprofit providers, religiously affiliated organizations and smaller groups, like this one, run by Pathways Adolescent Center, in Oil City, Pennsylvania.

The 500-acre campus of George Junior Republic, which serves young men who are involved with the juvenile justice and child welfare systems, is flecked with brown brick buildings (called “cottages”), “special needs units” that provide education in a restrictive environment and a big school building that serves teens who have earned the right to be educated in that setting.

Unlike most residentials, George Junior is run by its surrounding school district, so it follows Grove City’s curriculum, employs its teachers and offers sports and other extracurriculars, according to Jim Anderson, the principal. It has six shop classes — including auto body, carpentry and food service — a music room and a classroom where new students spend a week of orientation. Boys who request to take Advanced Placement classes can do so at Grove City High School; two took AP classes this past year, said Anderson.

Yet Philadelphia recently stopped sending foster and delinquent children to the facility. Heather Keafer, a spokeswoman for the city’s Department of Human Services, said in an email that the agency wasn’t “satisfied with the service delivery” at George Junior and is trying to keep more youth closer to home. She also noted that her agency is not responsible for evaluating the facility’s educational services. Anderson said George Junior and the Philadelphia government butted heads over how to care for these kids.

“They are being sent here because the public schools couldn’t handle them,” said Anderson of the boys who come to George Junior. “We are a facility that’s designed to handle the tough-behavior kid, to handle the child who doesn’t like to come to school. Most of these kids get excited about education if they are here long enough.”

One of those students is Oliver Francis, 18. A native of West Philadelphia, he was placed in foster care after missing roughly half his sophomore year at a public high school. A judge sent him to George Junior because it was more than 300 miles from home — too far to run, Francis said.

He’d heard about problems at George Junior and didn’t want to go. But his outlook changed not long after his arrival, he said, sitting for an interview one day this summer in the George Junior school building. Francis started to enjoy schoolwork, especially carpentry, and he caught up on credits through an online credit-recovery program George Junior offers before and after school hours. Six months in, he said, his family court judge offered him the chance to return to Philadelphia. But Francis petitioned to stay.

“I thought that if I stayed here, I was guaranteed to graduate,” said Francis, who expects to enroll at Northampton Community College this year. “If I went home, the temptations of being out on my own, I didn’t think I was ready for it.”

But Francis, who was on George Junior’s basketball and track teams, and won third place statewide in the high jump, said he wishes his courses had been more challenging. “I did feel as though I could probably learn a higher subject, at higher levels of math and English and biology.”

Oliver Francis, of Philadelphia, was placed in foster care because he was truant. He graduated from George Junior Republic, a


Caroline Preston for The Hechinger Report/HuffPost

Oliver Francis, of Philadelphia, was placed in foster care because he was truant. He graduated from George Junior Republic, a residential school in Grove City, Pennsylvania, this spring.

As Pennsylvania and other states try to thin the ranks of kids in residential facilities, they may find that simple solutions are elusive. California has shuttered many of its residential facilities and channeled more money to community-based alternatives.

But California continues to send some of its foster youth (approximately 300 at any one time) to facilities out of state. Occasionally they wind up at George Junior. (There’s no federal data publicly available on foster youth sent across state lines, but advocates say the practice is relatively rare.)

Kate Burdick, a staff attorney with the Juvenile Law Center, a Philadelphia nonprofit that advocates for youth in the juvenile justice and child welfare systems, said that her group would like to see a day when no city foster children are educated in these facilities. Until then, she said, stricter oversight is desperately needed. 

“The real solution is going to be ultimately getting kids out of placements, out in general. But we’re not giving up on improving quality for the young people who remain.”

Sitting in the Pizza Hut this summer, M.S., the teen in Greenville, said she doesn’t regret being placed in foster care. Her relationship with her grandmother needed mending, and she has learned to value herself and worry less about other people’s opinions. “I’ve changed a lot as a person,” she said. She missed her former school’s principal and her old biology teacher, who had recently taken her out for Chinese food, but she was also ready for a fresh start.

Most of all, she said, she hoped to get her academics on track so she could study to become a school psychologist. “I want to be able to help people and make sure they have what they need for life instead of having them go through what I went through.”

In August, her cousins agreed to foster her, enabling her to start the school year at the local public high school.

After brief stints at a community college in rural Pennsylvania and in military training, Hamilton moved back to Philadelphia. He found an apartment in West Philadelphia that he paid for with money from a job in security and the help of an independent living program in foster care. (Pennsylvania is one of more than two dozen states that enable youth to stay in foster care until they turn 21.)

One afternoon in May, Hamilton sat at a small table in the one-bedroom apartment as his cat, Chun-Li, named after the female street fighter from one of his favorite martial arts series, circled his feet. The day before, Hamilton had received big news: He’d been accepted to Cabrini University, a small, four-year college in Radnor, Pennsylvania. Despite some trepidation about returning to school, he felt certain he’d enroll.

He planned to study communications, so he could one day produce martial arts films and other multimedia content. He is drawn to how the noble warriors in martial arts films use their moral and physical authority to halt misdeeds and misbehavior, in contrast to real life. “Most people are bystanders,” he said, “and if not bystanders, enablers.”

Hamilton had visited Cabrini and said he was impressed by its multimedia equipment — the college has a broadcasting center and radio station. He was also heartened that the university is one of a handful in Pennsylvania to participate in a new effort to help foster youth succeed in college. He expected that given his uneven education he’ll need that extra support. 

“I feel like I am not prepared,” said Hamilton. “But that doesn’t mean I can’t do it.”

Sarah Butrymowicz and Nichole Dobo contributed reporting.

This story about the opioid crisis and foster care was produced as part of a series, “Twice Abandoned: How schools and child-welfare systems fail kids in foster care,” reported by HuffPost and The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news organization focused on inequality and innovation in education.



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More Than 1,000 Educators Won Elections On Tuesday, Teachers Union Says



More than 1,000 teachers and other education professionals won state legislative seats across the country in Tuesday’s elections, the nation’s largest teachers union said Friday.

More than 1,500 current and former teachers and education professionals sought office in the 2018 elections, the National Education Association announced in October. Teacher-led protests swept states from West Virginia to Arizona last winter and spring, leading to an exceptional influx of candidates.

The group said the final tally before Election Day numbered more than 1,800 such candidates. Of those, the union said, 1,081 won their races for state legislative seats on Tuesday.

That success means teachers and educators will hold roughly 15 percent of all state legislative positions nationwide next year, based on the number of such positions counted by the National State Legislative Council. An additional 42 races have yet to be called, the NEA said.

A lack of historical data makes it hard to compare this year’s numbers or success rates to previous elections, or to draw a direct connection between those victories and the earlier protest movements.

But the NEA and the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, the Democratic Party’s state legislative campaign arm, said before Tuesday’s vote that the number of teachers pursuing office had increased from previous electoral cycles. A DLCC spokesperson said before the election that it had counted more than 1,200 educators running for office as Democrats in 2018, an increase of roughly 200 from two years ago. 

Not all of those included in the NEA or DLCC counts are teachers. The union used a broad definition to compile the numbers, counting current and former classroom teachers and professors at the K-12 and postsecondary levels, as well as candidates who had worked as administrative or support staff in schools, districts and universities. Many of them were incumbents, and the vast majority of the candidates ran as Democrats. But more than 400 candidates included in the initial count sought office as Republicans, according to the union’s data. 

States like Kentucky, where teachers walked out of schools amid pension reforms and budget cuts in the spring, saw a record number of educators run for office this year. Fourteen of those 51 teachers and educators vying for office won Tuesday, according to the Louisville Courier-Journal

Educators won other high-profile victories that were not included in the NEA’s list, which only counted state legislative races. Jahana Hayes, a former National Teacher of the Year, won a U.S. congressional seat in Connecticut. U.S. Rep. Tim Walz, a former high school geography teacher, won Minnesota’s gubernatorial race. And former school superintendent Tony Evers beat Gov. Scott Walker (R) ― a longtime target of teachers and unions ― to become Wisconsin’s next governor.

Voters in Arizona also rejected a ballot measure that would have expanded the state’s education voucher program.

Union leaders said this week that they were also encouraged by victories for candidates like Gretchen Whitmer and Michelle Lujan Grisham, who won gubernatorial contests in Michigan and New Mexico, respectively. Both ran on pro-public education platforms.

NEA leaders said this week that they hoped the success of educators could help shift debates around funding for public education and teacher pay across the nation, especially after teacher walkouts in West Virginia, Kentucky, Arizona, and Oklahoma turned attention to cuts to education budgets in those states and elsewhere.

“Education had a good night [on Tuesday],” NEA President Lily Eskelsen Garcia told HuffPost. “Nobody expects to win every race there is. But we saw wins up and down the ballot, and we are on fire.”



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What Do Schools Need? More Money and Strong Unions, Say Millennials


Approximately 31% of Americans under the age of 30 turned out to vote in the 2018 midterm election on November 6, according to the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE) at Tufts University.  That by itself may not sound like a particularly impressive number (general voter turnout was around 49%), but it represents a huge increase over 2014 and the the highest participation  since CIRCLE began analyzing the youth vote in midterm elections 25 years ago.

“[Youth voters] will play a significant role in shaping our country’s future through their commitment to service and renewed interest in politics,”  John Della Volpe of the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University said in response to the numbers.

If their level of political engagement continues to increase, Millennial voters could be delivering good news for public education in the years to come. A recent survey by the GenForward Project at the University of Chicago finds that Millennials (loosely defined as adults aged 18-34) overwhelmingly believe that increased school funding is “the most important way to improve public education in their local school district.”

Investing more money in public education is the foundation of the #RedforEd movement that caught fire across the country in 2018. Many Millennial educators were leaders in the massive walkouts that called attention to cash-starved schools and the plight of teachers and other staff in their districts.

Founded by Dr. Cathy Cohen, Chair of the Department of Political Science at the University of Chicago, the GenForward Project draws on a nationally-representative survey of 1750 young adults to analyze their attitudes on a number of important issues.

According to “Millennials and Public Education in the United States,”  over 75%  of respondents believe paying teachers more would do more to improve public schools than, for example, creating more charter schools.

And an overwhelming majority also believe that strong teacher’s unions mean a strong public education system.

(Source: GenForward Project, “Millennials and Public Education in the United States”)

On the issue of school safety, Millennials by a wide margin prioritize expanding access to mental health resources over increasing the number of police officers in schools.

In addition, pluralities have a “very” or “somewhat” unfavorable opinion of Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, even though a sizable percentage didn’t have a position on her one way or the other.

The survey also reveals, however, that Millennials support school vouchers – more so than the general public, according to other polls.

Surprising? Not really, says Cohen. “Millennials are looking for and willing to support most initiatives they deem reasonable that are framed as improving public education,” she explains.

(Source: GenForward Project, “Millennials and Public Education in the United States”)

At the same time, this expressed support should be put in context, Cohen adds. While millennials may see vouchers as one policy option, they do not prioritize them as one of the most effective ways to improve public schools.

Furthermore, support drops among respondents if the program is not exclusively targeted toward low-income families. In some states where voucher programs exist – namely Indiana – they have been expanded to include more middle-class and affluent families.

“Only about 5% of people of color and 9% of whites in our survey picked increasing school choice through vouchers and charter schools as their first policy option,” Cohen says. “Again, while young adults generally support a number of different policies they believe will improve education, increasing funding for public schools is their preferred policy option across race and ethnicity.” (When given the choice between vouchers and more school funding, 71% of respondents opted for the latter.)

Disaggregating data along racial and ethnic groups is a feature of GenForward’s surveys. Given that differences usually surface in responses, the uniformity in the results in this survey is striking, says Cohen.

“We usually uncover powerful differences tied to identities such as race and ethnicity. There are relatively few policy domains, such as education, where you find the consistency in policy positions among millennials across race and ethnic groups,” she explains. “This level of agreement is unique and suggests strong and stable opinions on the issue of how to improve public education in the country.”

 



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The Best Kids Books Of 2018 To Not Raise A Jerk


With everything going on in the world, parents have to make a lot of decisions about how they teach their kids about other cultures. Raising tolerant and accepting children is a complicated task, but a vital part of it is teaching kids to appreciate the differences among us all, and exposing them to it all at an early age.

If you’re not sure how to approach certain subjects like diversity, feminism, immigration and special needs, books can provide many teachable moments about the world they live in. Stories expose us to different places, people and lifestyles in a comfortable and entertaining way. They also allow children to put themselves in the character’s shoes and learn to empathize with people who are different.

Whether it’s representation for minorities or strong female leads, learning to be an ally for LGBTQ, immigrants, and disabled communities, or embracing body positivity, all of these books can teach your child about acceptance of themselves and respect for others.

We’ve rounded up some of our favorite children’s books that promote acceptance and tolerance — but remember, these books are just a start on the path to raising a kid who’s not a jerk.

And just so you know, HuffPost may receive a share from purchases made via links on this page.

1. Children’s Books With Diverse Representation

Books To Help You Raise An Accepting Child – Representation

2. Children’s Books About Immigration

Books To Help You Raise An Accepting Child – Immigration

3. Children’s Books About Feminism

Books To Help You Raise An Accepting Child – Feminism

4. Children’s Books With LGBTQ Representation

Books To Help You Raise An Accepting Child – LGBTQ

5. Children’s Books About Disabilities And Special Needs

Books To Help You Raise An Accepting Child – Disabilities/Special Needs

6. Children’s Books About Body Positivity

Books To Help You Raise An Accepting Child – Body Positivity

7. Children’s Books About Embracing All Differences

Books To Help You Raise An Accepting Child – Embracing All Differences



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Some Students Got To Watch Their Teachers Win Big On Tuesday



When Allyssa DiGiovancarlo was in high school, she remembers, she had a teacher who would always preach the importance of civic engagement, and remind students of the power of the ballot box.

On Tuesday, DiGiovancarlo, now 20, got to put those teacher’s words into action. She showed up to vote in the midterm elections. She cast a vote for a Connecticut candidate named Jahana Hayes, whose ideas she loved.

The best part? Hayes was that teacher.

The 2018 midterm elections featured at least 1,500 former or current teachers and education professionals running for office, according to the National Education Association, the country’s largest teachers union. Pundits and policymakers watched those races closely, seeing them as a referendum on the ideas that bolstered the teacher protests that swept states like Arizona and West Virginia this spring.

The teachers’ students, former and current, were watching too.

For DiGiovancarlo, watching Jahana Hayes run for ― and win ― a seat in Congress felt like a personal triumph. Hayes’ story of starting off as a single, teenage mother, before going on to have a successful career in education, had always resonated with DiGiovancarlo. The candidacy only cemented her admiration of Hayes.

“It shows me that just because I’m living in Waterbury, Connecticut, it doesn’t mean I can’t grow and be great,” said DiGiovancarlo, who is now in college.

The NEA had no official tally of how many current and former educators had won their races as of Wednesday afternoon. But the early view from union leaders is that the 2018 elections delivered a victory for public education nationwide, despite pockets of disappointments around the country.

“Education had a good night last night,” NEA President Lily Eskelsen Garcia told HuffPost on Wednesday. “Nobody expects to win every race there is. But we saw wins up and down the ballot, and we are on fire.”

Hayes, a former National Teacher of the Year, is heading to Congress from Connecticut. Rep. Tim Walz (D), a high school geography teacher by trade, won the race to become Minnesota’s next governor. Former teacher and state school Superintendent Tony Evers will become Wisconsin’s next governor after defeating incumbent Scott Walker, who earned the ire of teachers in 2011 for attacking their right to collectively bargain.

Current and former educators won races for state auditor in Minnesota, secretary of state in Michigan and even state land commissioner in New Mexico ― a position that oversees vital school land trusts that in recent years have been sold off to oil companies and other businesses, to the dismay of teachers and public education advocates. In Kentucky, where teachers shut down schools in protest amid budget and pension cuts in April, a record 51 educators ran in state legislative races Tuesday. Fourteen of them won, according to the Louisville Courier-Journal.

Democrats’ success in flipping governors’ seats ― seven so far ― also led to wins for Govs.-elect Gretchen Whitmer in Michigan and Michelle Lujan Grisham in New Mexico, both of whom campaigned as public education advocates.

“Everyone who flipped a gubernatorial seat ran on a platform of health care, infrastructure and public education,” said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, the union that represents nearly 2 million educators nationwide. “It is a good day when you have eight more governors who want to actually make public education and student success a priority, and want to work with teachers, not against them.”

The results weren’t uniformly rosy, however. There were also significant letdowns.

In Arizona, David Garcia ― an Arizona State University professor and former state Department of Education official ― lost his race to unseat Republican Gov. Doug Ducey. In Florida, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum (D) appears to have fallen just short in the governor’s race after campaigning on a pro-teacher, pro-public education platform. (The race could still receive a recount.) In Oklahoma, site of a high-profile teachers’ strike earlier this year, Republican Kevin Stitt defeated Democrat Drew Edmondson, who’d supported tax increases to fund raises for teachers. 

But even those setbacks were accompanied by signs of progress for public education advocates. Arizona voters rejected a ballot measure that would have resulted in a massive expansion of the state’s education voucher program. In Florida, voters approved new taxes to fund public education and teacher pay in several major counties.

Looking ahead, the more intangible effects of teachers’ involvement in this election cycle could echo far beyond statehouses, and far beyond 2018.

Christine Marsh, a Democrat in Arizona who has spent decades as a high school English teacher, is still locked in a battle for state Senate, her race too close to call. On Wednesday, while the votes were still being counted, she returned to the classroom.

But for her former student Judith Giller-Leinwohl, winning is almost besides the point. Marsh created opportunities for herself. She was ballsy. She got legions of students to pay attention to a state Senate race. And she stuck to her values.

Marsh had always been a force of good in the classroom. To see her take her energy outside of school ― while remaining a fierce advocate for her students ― was heartening, said Giller-Leinwohl, 26.

It’s so powerful for her students to see she isn’t just talk about some of this,” Giller-Leinwohl said. “She really put it into action.”

CORRECTION: A previous version of this story misstated the year Walker earned the ire of teachers. It was 2011, not 2015.





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#RedForEd Comes to Alabama – NEA Today


Wearing red jackets and waving signs that demand state officials #ReturnOurRaise, more than 600 Alabama educators traveled to the state capital on Wednesday for the largest-ever rally in support of public education at the Alabama Supreme Court.

The rally coincided with state Supreme Court testimony in the Alabama Education Association (AEA)’s lawsuit against the state’s public employee health insurance plan, known as PEEHIP. AEA leaders filed the suit two years ago over a secret meeting of the PEEHIP board, which took place in violation of the state’s open meetings law. Immediately after that secret meeting, the board voted to hike educators’ rates, which cost some Alabama educators every penny—and more—of the 4 percent salary bump that state legislators had just given them.

Last year, a circuit judge ruled in AEA’s favor, ordering PEEHIP to refund the $132 million that they took from educators’ paychecks. PEEHIP appealed, and the money has been sitting in an escrow account since then.

“For over two years now, in almost every conversation we’ve had with educators in the schools, this is at the top of their mind,” AEA President Sherry Tucker told the Alabama Political Reporter. “They are asking us what will be done, why did PEEHIP take their 4 percent raise and what can they do to help? Now, we’re asking educators to show the Alabama Supreme Court they won’t stand for being the subject of an illegal, secret meeting that took their first real pay raise in nearly a decade.”

On Wednesday, educators from every one of Alabama’s 67 counties answered the call and came to Montgomery, including busloads from Huntsville, Mobile, Fort Payne, and Birmingham. Meanwhile, thousands more teacher and education support professionals (ESP) who needed to stay home were wearing #RedForEd in support. Inside AEA headquarters, phones “buzzed off the hook” in support of Alabama’s #RedForEd moment.

“This is more than an educator pay or benefits issue,” AEA Assistant Executive Director Amy Marlowe told AL.com. At its heart, the AEA case is about the state insurance board’s obligation to meet and vote in the public’s eye.

According to NEA state rankings, Alabama teachers earned an average $50,391 in 2017, which put them at 35 th in the nation—but this doesn’t account for the hefty price that state educators pay for their health insurance. “When we received our ‘raise,” I actually brought home LESS!” wrote Khrista Walker, an Alabama paraprofessional on AEA’s Facebook page.

“Bills went up. Pay went down,” wrote librarian Crys Hodgens. “The ‘raise’ resulted in pushing us pushed down the economic ladder.”

The consequences are real for struggling educators and their families: “Bills got consolidated, vacations shortened or not taken at all, oil changes put on the back burner, etc…Besides making us feel the pinch, [it] also makes us feel very used and unappreciated,” wrote Mobile teacher Melissa Manning.

And it’s not just Alabama. Growing frustration with state-sanctioned neglect of public schools has fueled a national #RedForEd movement. It started last spring with a nine-day strike in West Virginia, and grew to encompass Arizona, Kentucky, Oklahoma, and other states. Public school educators and parents are fed up with bottom-of-the-barrel pay, taped-together textbooks, falling-down classroom ceilings, and legislators’ neglect.

A decision in AEA’s case isn’t expected for several months.



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Election 2018: Voters Deliver Big Wins for Public Education


Last Spring, educators in state after state took to the streets to demand greater investments in public schools. The protests launched the #RedforEd movement to elevate public education as a top national issue and harness the energy of educators everywhere and carry it to the ballot box in November.

On Tuesday, they delivered in spectacular fashion, helping sweep pro-education candidates – many of them former or current educators – into office at every level of government.

The victories marked a major victory for students and education and serve as a mandate for real change in our public education system.

The 2018 election may prove to be a turning point for public education, said NEA President Lily Eskelsen García.

“Lawmakers learned an important lesson tonight: You can either work with educators to address the needs of students and public education, or they will work to elect someone who will,” said Eskelsen García. “Candidates across the country witnessed unprecedented activism by educators in their races. Standing up for students and supporting public education were deciding factors for voters, and educators will hold lawmakers to their promises.”

The balance of power will shift in Washington D.C. as the Democrats’ new majority in the U.S. House of Representatives will serve as an important check on President Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. More than 100 women were elected to the House, the most in U.S. history.

It was the gubernatorial and state legislature contests, however, that delivered the most impressive wins for pro-public education candidates. Education policy is decided primarily by these legislatures and the bulk of money allocated to public schools comes from state and local coffers. Winning these races was critical, which is why NEA focused its mobilization efforts most sharply in individual states.

At least 290 state legislative seats and seven state chambers were flipped to pro-public education majorities, many in states that have suffered through a decade of devastating cuts to education and relentless attacks on educators and other public sector workers. Beyond that, at least seven governorships were flipped, including Tony Evers, who put an end to the Scott Walker era in Wisconsin and J.B. Pritzker defeated Bruce Rauner in Illinois.

Walker, of course, led the attacks on public sector unions with Act 10, the 2011 anti-collective bargaining law. In 2015, Rauner was chiefly responsible for pushing the Janus case that made its way to the U.S. Supreme Court in 2018.

Other big wins included former high school teacher Tim Walz in Minnesota, Gretchen Whitmer in Michigan, Janet Mills in Maine, Brad Little in Idaho, Laura Kelly in Kansas, and Michelle Lujan-Grisham in New Mexico.

Nearly 220,000 NEA members and education families were involved in getting out the vote up and down the ballot in the 2018 election. That’s a 165 percent increase in activism engagement this election cycle compared with 2016, a presidential year where activism is historically higher than midterms.

There were a number of state ballot initiatives put before the voters that effected education funding. Maryland voters approved Question 1, whichwill require casino revenue to be set aside for schools, potentially raising $500 million annually for K-12 education. Montana voters approved LR-128, a $6 million levy to support the state’s public colleges and universities.

The 2018 elections also saw an unprecedented number of educators step up and run for office. According to an NEA analysis, nearly 1,800 current or former teachers and other education professionals ran for state legislative seats this year and more than 100 more vied for top state or federal offices. Many of these candidates hailed from states that experienced #RedForEd walkouts: West Virginia, Kentucky, Oklahoma, Arizona, Colorado, and North Carolina. Oklahoma led the charge with more than 62 educators who were on the general election ballot.

While results were still being tallied on Wednesday, the message sent by these candidates is loud and clear.

“After decades of starving education funding, educators said, ‘I can do better,’” said Eskelsen García. “They found themselves asking, ‘Why not have an educator in that lawmaking decision seat?’ And that’s exactly why they ran for office and voters elected them to serve,” said Eskelsen García.

Despite the victories in Election 2018, Eskelsen García added, educators will continue to engage with our elected officials so they stay focused on delivering for the nation’s students.

“Educators have had enough of empty promises from politicians. We told them we’d remember in November, and educators keep their promises,” Eskelsen García said. “As a result of the historic #RedForEd movement and the 2018 midterm election, educators have found their voice, and they are going to continue to hold lawmakers accountable after this election.”

For all the latest updates on Election 2018 results, visit NEA Education Votes.



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The Bittersweet Experience of Teaching Overseas


Judi Nicolay has taught in Brussels for 24 years (Photo: Leilani Hyatt)

Randy Ricks teaches at Lester Middle School located on Kadena U.S. Air Force Base in Okinawa, Japan. Tokyo, Bangkok, and Hong Kong are a short plane flight away.

“I love living in a foreign country and experiencing the local culture,” says Ricks, a member of the Federal Education Association (FEA). “The opportunities to travel are great.”

In Brussels, Judi Nicolay teaches English, history, and finance to the children of military service personnel and foreign diplomats at the annex of the U.S Army Garrison. Cities like Hamburg, Germany, Paris, and Vienna, are a drive or train ride away.

“It’s one of the advantages . . . seeing new places,” says Nicolay, who has taught in Brussels for 24 years out of her 30 as a federal employee of the U.S. Department of Defense Education Activity (DoDEA), the civilian branch of the Department of Defense that serves more than 70,000 students of service members and civilian staff in 11 nations, seven U.S. states, Puerto Rico and Guam.

For 28 years, Stacey Mease taught school in South Korea and Turkey before her current assignment at Robinson Barracks Elementary School in Stuttgart, Germany.

“The military community is really a melting pot,” says Mease, a former military dependent who attended four DoDEA schools growing up. “I enjoy working with people from all over America who have different backgrounds.”

The combination of living overseas for years, while firmly planted in U.S. military culture, helps some FEA members cope with being away from family back home, according to Rhoda Rozier Cody, who teaches at Humphreys Central Elementary School at Camp Humphreys in Pyeongtaek, a rural city in the middle of the South Korean countryside.

“Day to day life is pretty normal, but when we travel it is to places that we may not be able to visit if we were working in the States,” she says. “It is a global experience working overseas.”

DoDEA’s Changing Landscape

Weekend train trips across Europe. Basking in the Middle Eastern sun. Wandering the cobblestone streets of ancient Asian cities. That’s only part of the experience of working overseas for DoDEA. Unfortunately, there are a growing number of negative aspects to the job.

“There are many reasons why I joined DoDEA that are no more,” says a veteran teacher who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “Some teachers fear losing their jobs.”

Stacey Mease

Stacey Mease teaches in Stuttgart, Germany. (Photo: Sabrina Wilson)

While DoDEA schools have adequate resources, there are many components that make the job challenging.

“DoDEA used to provide very good professional development both during the summer and school year that really met the needs of teachers,” says a teacher, who has worked with DoDEA since the 1990s. “In recent years, professional development has been one-size-fits-all.”

After more than 30 years of teaching within the DoDEA system, as well as growing up in a military family, a second educator expresses dismay about a lack of support from DoDEA officials.

“These last few years, we are having an issue getting respect from our leaders,” the teacher says. “It is a shame, because living overseas, our teachers, administrators, students and parents have always been more like a family.”

According to several accounts by FEA members who were attracted to DoDEA by the chance to work in a variety of countries, opportunities to transfer to a different location within the system have all but vanished.

An Imperfect System Getting Worse

DoDEA salaries and benefits are commensurate with those in school systems based in the U.S. As federal employees working overseas, teachers receive benefits that include health insurance, retirement contributions and allowances for housing and transportation.

Under the tax law passed this year, allowances and assistance for airfare and the shipment of vehicles, clothing, furniture and other household goods are now being considered as income and therefore taxable. DoDEA has not clearly communicated the change to new teachers entering the system, FEA says. Consequently, new teachers and retirees are being blindsided by a high tax debt.

“There is a current effort by the federal government to place an unfair tax burden on employees who receive moving assistance from the government when entering or leaving federal service,” says FEA President Chuck McCarter. “In addition, too many people are not receiving their proper pay or having their pay docked for bogus debts the government claims they owe. FEA continues to press management to resolve these issues.”

Chuck McCarter

Federal Education Association President Chuck McCarter (Photo: Courtesy of FEA)

Efforts by the Trump administration to weaken bargaining rights, union representation, and employees’ rights to due process government-wide are affecting DoDEA teachers.

“They (DoDEA officials) are also forcing bad contracts on our stateside and overseas bargaining units,” says McCarter. “They all stem from DoDEA management’s complete lack of respect for its school-level employees.”

McCarter says DoDEA senior officials possess a pervasive attitude of: “If you’re not happy, make an adult decision and leave.”

“Management simply does not care what building-level educators—the people who actually work with students on a daily basis—have to say about the learning and working environment in our schools,” says McCarter, who spends weeks at a time meeting with FEA members, who belong to eight DoDEA school districts containing 166 schools in the U.S., Europe, and the Pacific.

When it comes to curriculum, decisions are made by people based at DoDEA headquarters in Alexandria, Va., “who have not been in the classroom in years,” says McCarter.

A separate survey by FEA reveals the following:
– 82 percent of members say DoDEA is not heading in the right direction.
– 17 hours per week, on average, is the time members work outside the duty day.
– 19 percent of members’ workday is spent on non-essential duties assigned by management.

“Decisions are made with no input from the field and no thought to how they’ll be implemented, how to train the school-level staff to use new resources, or how these new programs and initiatives dreamed up by management will impact classroom learning and the amount of time educators have to work directly with students,” he adds. “There is also a disturbing trend toward the micromanagement of classrooms, ignoring educators’ professional judgment.”

Last spring, DoDEA management lobbied Congress—which, along with the Pentagon and White House, serve as DoDEA’s de facto school board—to create a new law governing DoDEA schools that would have gutted bargaining and due process rights.

“Fortunately, with help from NEA members who wrote to Congress on our behalf, we were able to convince lawmakers that DoDEA’s proposal was a bad idea,” says McCarter.

In a 2017 report of the best places to work in the federal government, the Partnership for Public Service ranked DoDEA in the bottom 5 percent—322 out of 339 agencies. The report is an assessment of how federal workers view their jobs and workplaces, considering leadership, pay, innovation, and other issues.

Sheltering Members

“As public employees, our members are often afraid to point out problems and shortcomings of DoDEA out of fear of management targeting them for retribution or even dismissal,” says McCarter. “It’s not a healthy environment and certainly not one that would promote improvements in the system.”

The Federal Education Association is NEA’s state affiliate representing more than 8,000 faculty and staff in the DoDEA system. FEA represents two bargaining units: Stateside (including Guam) and Overseas (including Guantanamo Bay, Cuba).

The overseas unit is divided into two areas:
– Europe, where members are located primarily in the United Kingdom, Belgium, The Netherlands, and Germany.
– The Pacific (South Korea, Okinawa, and mainland Japan).

Randy Ricks

“I love living in a foreign country and experiencing the local culture. The opportunities to travel are great,” says Randy Ricks (Photo: Courtesy of Randy Ricks)

FEA members worldwide include teachers, counselors, school psychologists and speech/language pathologists. Education support professionals (ESP) are part of FEA’s stateside bargaining unit but are represented by other unions overseas. FEA also has an active NEA-Retired membership.

As federal employees, FEA members have strict limitations on their actions and speech in the work place.

“The Association does its best to shelter members, but we simply can’t stop all of the blows when the whole system right now is rigged against federal employees and their unions,” says McCarter.

But there is a bright side to working for DoDEA, he says.

“The faculty and staff in our schools enjoy great respect and support from the military parents and communities we work with,” says McCarter. “And, of course, our members have the utmost respect and appreciation for those military personnel and their families, whom we are honored to serve.”

A Pacific Tale

The U.S. government regularly looks for teachers to work abroad. When Mary Anne Harris was teaching at a Catholic grade school in the early 1990s, she attended an international teachers’ recruitment fair.

“I found the international schools tended to serve the elite members of both American and local nationals near U.S. embassies,” says Harris, in her 26th year with DoDEA, based at Kadena Middle School in Okinawa. “In contrast, DoDEA schools provide educational opportunities for the children of servicemen, like my father.”

Like many FEA members, Harris grew up in a military family. Her father served in the U.S. Air Force.

“I liked the idea of serving those who serve our country,” she says. “DoDEA teachers are a unique group of individuals who left home to seek adventure overseas.”

Harris says her students experience the hardship of frequent residential moves and parent deployments, but still maintain “a resilient moxie that is totally amazing.”

“We are a highly successful school system that provides students with loving, motivational and educational learning opportunities,” she adds.

The same could be said of educators like Harris who in October lived for several days under lockdown and without electricity after Okinawa experienced a massive typhoon.

“We managed,” she says.

Salary Schedule

Educators working overseas are considered defense civilian personnel and are compensated according to a public law (86-91) created for overseas DoDEA schools.

According to figures for the 2017-2018 school year, the pay range is $44,170 (Step 1) for a teacher with a bachelor’s degree through $89,205 at the top of the scale (Step 18) for a teacher with a Ph.D. A teacher with a master’s degree would start at $48,490 (Step 1), reach $64,735 at Step 10 and top out at $78, 795.

Steps 15-18 are longevity steps payable upon completion of four years of service in Steps 14-17, respectively.

Salaries for educators overseas are set at the average pay for educators compiled from more than 250 urban school districts as defined by the U.S. Census Bureau with a population of at least 100,000. Figures for the current school year were still being tabulated at press time.



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Teachers Are Serving As First Responders To The Opioid Crisis


WAR, W.Va. ― Middle school teacher Greg Cruey can explain the most harrowing details of his students’ lives with matter-of-fact precision.

That smart sixth-grader who had her hand raised last period? She’s homeless and has, in the past, been suicidal. That middle school student who seemed on edge during class? As a young child, his parents used him to make pornography; they needed the money for their drug addictions. That sassy eighth-grader with the long hair? Her mom just got out of jail and seems to be allowing her to smoke pot in the house.

Many of these details are ones that, after 15 years in the classroom, Cruey has learned to pick up on, through careful tracking: what students are wearing, hunger levels and emotional states. But sometimes students will offer up these deeply personal details after class with shrugs, as if it’s information as casual as what they ate for lunch. When Cruey still has questions, he will glean information through listening to the constant murmur of student gossip in hallways, tracking social media posts and keeping his ear to the ground at church.   

It’s Cruey’s job to keep track of these particulars, even more than lesson planning or standardized test preparation.

“My job as a teacher is to be a first responder to poverty,” said Cruey, a 58-year-old middle school social studies teacher at Southside K-8 school. “If my students learn other stuff, too, that’s great.”

Cruey’s school, in War, West Virginia, in McDowell County, has long been held up as a living example of how poverty can limit educational attainment. So when the opioid crisis hit, it hit McDowell County particularly hard. In 2014, the county led the state in opioid-related hospitalizations. In 2016, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ranked McDowell County as second-most at-risk in the country for an HIV outbreak due to intravenous drug use.

It’s why, over the course of Cruey’s years in the classroom, he has become used to stories of families torn apart over drugs, as parents and guardians shuffle between hospitals and jails. He cites estimates that nearly half of students live with someone other than their parents. Others are being raised by grandparents, relatives, friends and foster parents.

In War, atypical family structures are the norm.

Nelson Spencer, who retired last month as superintendent of McDowell schools, said that in some of the county’s schools, as many as 40 percent of students don’t live with their parents. And though many of these arrangements are informal, with students casually bouncing between the homes of family members and friends, West Virginia has seen a spike in foster care entrances compared with the U.S. average. In 2016, there were 1,221 foster care entrances per 100,000 youth, compared with the U.S. average of 369. 

Data analysis by The Hechinger Report

It’s a pattern that teachers and school administrators are seeing emerge in many communities, as some states have seen drastic spikes in the number of foster care entrances in recent years. Around the country, the number of kids in foster care increased by about 10 percent from 2012 to 2016. At the same time, the number of children being removed from their homes because of parental drug use has also increased, according to data from the Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System.

And in many places, teachers like Cruey are on the front line of this crisis, working to counteract the effects this trauma has on students’ lives.

For this story, HuffPost/Hechinger Report spent several days shadowing Cruey at his school at the end of the last school year. The time spent showed that teachers, just as much as medical professionals and addiction counselors, serve as first responders to the opioid crisis. Cruey’s story is unique ― in a particular area where rates of addiction and poverty are high ― but it’s also representative of what teachers are experiencing in many communities.

Only 58 percent of children involved in the foster care system finish high school by 19, compared with 87 percent of the general population. Helping deeply traumatized students to succeed in school can be a tough battle.

The decline of coal production started a downward spiral in War, West Virginia.


Damon Dahlen/HuffPost

The decline of coal production started a downward spiral in War, West Virginia.

A Cycle Of Crisis

War was once a center for coal production ― a town where “everybody worked” ― but it spiraled downward as the industry declined.. By 1990, the population in McDowell had fallen to about 35,000 people after a high of nearly 100,000 in 1950.

For schools in the area, this means frequent visits from the Department of Child Protective Services and an abnormally small number of students who live with mom and dad, Cruey said. It also means having students at the center of a crisis that they did nothing to help create. It means high rates of students in special education ― about 40 percent of middle school students have individualized education plans ― a phenomenon Cruey attributes, in part, to the high rates of pregnant mothers on drugs.

On the outside, Southside K-8 school is almost idyllic. Plush mountains surround the recently renovated building, there’s a new jungle gym where young kids swing around and an impressive green football field sits nearby.

But upon closer inspection, the subtle contours of the opioid crisis are undeniably present.

The football field, once a source of community pride, previously served as a place where student-athletes and local coaches could ascend to the status of community legends. It’s where Homer Hickam, famed NASA engineer portrayed in the movie “October Sky,” tried his hand at sports before moving on to rocket science. It was previously attached to Big Creek High School.

But in 2010, the school was closed down over a decline in student enrollment. In 2015, the abandoned school was burned down in an act of arson.

Southside K-8 students now use the field for their football team, but most of the time they can barely get enough students to fill the roster.

Teacher Greg Cruey keeps track mentally of where all his students are living and in what circumstances.


Damon Dahlen/HuffPost

Teacher Greg Cruey keeps track mentally of where all his students are living and in what circumstances.

Cruey, a gregarious man with warm eyes and a friendly smile, attributes the team’s lack of stability to his students’ transience and an overall drain in population. Families are constantly shuffling in and out of the area in hopes of finding a coveted job in the coal mines. And as students with drug-using parents bounce between staying with grandparents, great-grandparents, foster parents and neighbors, Cruey never knows when a student will suddenly stop showing up or will come back after months away.

As a teacher, that means Cruey has to learn to roll with the punches, even though those punches so rarely involve the stuff he was trained to do, like devise lessons, assign homework and monitor learning progress. Cruey maintains a constant mental tracker of which students are living where, which students recently left, and which students are on their way out. He has directly called Child Protective Services at times.

On his way to school in the morning ― he lives about a 30-minute drive away in Virginia ― he watches for parents hitchhiking on the side of the road. He keeps track of which boys are dating which girls ― lamenting that he often sees kids sexually active at young ages, without an understanding of the consequences. Several years ago the school had a pregnant fifth-grader ― she ended up getting an abortion.

It’s inevitable that sometimes these traumas make their way into the classroom.

Lessons in the classroom sometimes have to be customized for kids who face myriad crises in young their lives.


Damon Dahlen/HuffPost

Lessons in the classroom sometimes have to be customized for kids who face myriad crises in young their lives.

During a second period class on a Thursday morning last May, Cruey taught a lesson on Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the politics of the New Deal. The class was mostly engaged, aside from a boy laying his head on a desk, attempting to sleep. Cruey let him. It’s not something an educator would typically allow ― especially one like Cruey, who closely monitors and stomps out classroom misbehavior. But this time Cruey let it slide. He knew enough to know the boy needed the rest.

“He was taken by Child Protective Services two weeks ago, and we didn’t think we’d ever see him again, and he came back,” said Cruey of the boy after class. “He’s one of those situations where ― CPS will show up here because this is the one spot where they don’t have to confront the parents to get the kid. They know our address.”

After school and on weekends, too, the work continues. Cruey’s wife, Cheryl, who was principal of Southside K-8 until retiring at the end of the 2017-2018 school year, mentors three siblings in the district. Cruey’s involved, too. He and Cheryl started helping out after the family of seven spent a winter together in a home where the only adequate heat was a fireplace.

About twice a month, Cruey and his wife take the kids shopping, to church and out for pizza. They bring them bags of food and check on them throughout the school day.

Greg Cruey and his wife, Cheryl, a former principal, often work together to help kids in need.


Damon Dahlen/HuffPost

Greg Cruey and his wife, Cheryl, a former principal, often work together to help kids in need.

But sometimes mentoring is not enough. Sometimes the pain of a child is so great that Cruey feels compelled to do more. Several years ago, Cruey ― who has grown children from a previous marriage ― was in discussions to adopt one of the school’s students, who was in fifth grade at the time.

The student was one of six children, born to a single mother with an addiction to drugs. The eldest sibling, who is now in her 20s and whom Cruey’s wife had had as a student, was in prison at the time. The second eldest was on drugs. The three youngest ended up getting adopted by a local family, leaving a middle boy to mostly fend for himself.

Discussions about an adoption were moving smoothly along until the boy’s legal stepfather was killed, and the boy was granted survivor’s benefits, Cruey said. Suddenly mom wanted to be involved again, and the adoption process was halted.

Six months later, Child Protective Services took the child away and sent him to live with relatives in a different part of the state.

“Occasionally we see him on Facebook. He’s maybe in the ninth grade now. As far as I can tell, he’s doing OK from this distance. His life has changed radically just from not being here,” Cruey said.

Pride And Pain

Amid these issues, there are stories of hope, joy and pride. The district has worked hard to improve its academic outcomes, and there certainly have been improvements. Overall, there’s been an increase in graduation rates and a decrease in dropouts. Spencer, the former superintendent, also points to a decline in teen pregnancies.

“I see a growth in our students. They are proud of where they come from. They’re proud of their heritage. They look people in the eye when they speak,” Spencer said. “If given the right opportunity, our kids can compete with anyone.”

But Cruey isn’t sure that many of his students have the luxury of dreaming about the long term.

“For many of them, the horizon is much closer than ‘When I grow up.’ They think in terms of the instability of their life circumstances and who they’ll live with next year, whether they can get a better deal for themselves by living with grandma,” Cruey said.  

Still, he has high hopes for his kids. He hopes they graduate high school. He hopes they develop a skill. He hopes they experience a life that includes love and support. And he hopes they stay in the area and help revitalize it, stemming the tide of transience and instability.

He hopes the same for their parents and those in his community. He has seen the opioid crisis terrorize generations, turning grandparents into caretakers at ages too old, and siblings into caretakers at ages too young.

The cycle plays out on a Friday afternoon in May.

It’s the last period of the day before the weekend, and students are squirming in their seats with anticipation. Over the loudspeaker, a voice calls for “Friday kids” to come to the cafeteria. A group of students suddenly rushes the hallways.

Greg Cruey says his students are realistic about their lives. “For many of them, the horizon is much closer than &


Damon Dahlen/HuffPost

Greg Cruey says his students are realistic about their lives. “For many of them, the horizon is much closer than ‘When I grow up.’” 

The “Friday kids” club is not one kids want to join. “Friday kids,” as the school calls them, are those who are given a bag of food to take home for the weekend because otherwise they’d go hungry. It’s up to the students how much they want to share with their siblings.

A few minutes later, an older janitor comes to collect Cruey’s classroom trash. He wishes her a happy Friday.

“I wish it was,” she tells him.

A judge has just ruled that her grandchild can go back to living with her dad, who recently got out of jail for drugs, she explains between tears. Cruey offers to help her write a letter to appeal the decision.

Cruey doesn’t know what the students at Southside did in a previous life to be born poor in McDowell County. But he doesn’t see a realistic way to stop the cycle of pain, no matter how well he teaches or how many services the school provides.

“We really don’t make a dent in the most basic problems we have. We achieve some level of educational success. But there are limitations. Because the need is too broad.”

This story about the opioid crisis and foster care was produced as part of a series, “Twice Abandoned: How schools and child-welfare systems fail kids in foster care,” reported by HuffPost and The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news organization focused on inequality and innovation in education.



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Teachers’ Trump Border Wall Costume Leaves Don Lemon Temporarily Lost For Words



The “CNN Tonight” host was at a temporary loss for words Friday night when fellow anchor Chris Cuomo asked him to explain why the costumes had “crossed the line.”

“I don’t know what to say. It’s a sign of the times,” said Lemon, who claimed the outfits worn by the Middleton School District educators were “overtly” and “blatantly” political.

The district’s superintendent has since apologized for the “clearly insensitive and inappropriate” stunt. But Lemon asked, “What is the wall meant to do? Meant to keep out a certain group of people from coming into the country.”

“If you’re educated you should know better,” he added.





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Idaho Elementary Teachers Dressed Up As Mexicans And The Border Wall For Halloween



A group of elementary school teachers from Middleton School District in Middleton, Idaho, dressed up as Mexicans and President Donald Trump’s U.S.-Mexico border wall for Halloween

A photo of about a dozen staff members wearing the costume was posted to the Middleton School District’s Facebook page Thursday evening, the Idaho Press reports. The border wall reads “Make America Great Again,” while the staffers who dressed up as Mexicans are wearing sombreros, ponchos and holding maracas. One woman even wrote “MEXICAN” in big red letters on the top of her sombrero. 

The Thursday post read in part: “It was a great day to be a Heights Hawk! We celebrated our RESPECT character winners, single and double marathon runners.”

Although the Facebook post has since been deleted, screenshots of the racist Halloween costumes were taken and circulated across social media. Many people from the district and other social media users were furious with the costume. 

The Idaho DACA Students Facebook group denounced the Halloween costumes in a Friday morning Facebook post, shared via Elizabeth Almanza, a member of immigrant advocacy group PODER (Protecting our Dreams and Empowering Resilience) of Idaho.

“These photos are extremely disheartening,” Almanza wrote. “ALL children should have the right to a learning environment that celebrates all backgrounds. Imagine how some of the students felt when they walked into their classrooms on Halloween and saw their teachers (people they look up to) dressed like this? This is NOT funny. This is heartbreaking. Students deserve better.”

Middleton School District’s superintendent, Dr. Josh Middleton, addressed the controversial Halloween costumes in a Facebook Live video published Friday morning. He said he only became aware of the staff costumes when a parent contacted him on Thursday, offering his “sincerest and deepest apologies.”

“I was shown those photos and [was] deeply troubled by the decision by our staff members to wear those costumes that are clearly insensitive and inappropriate,” he said, adding: “Do I think there was a malicious intent in this poor decision? No, I don’t. Was there a poor judgment involved? Absolutely.”

“We are better than this. We embrace all students,” Middleton continued. “We have a responsibility to teach and reach all students, period.”

He added that the school district is investigating the issue. The Middleton School District did not immediately respond to HuffPost’s request for comment. 

Middleton announced during a Saturday morning school board meeting that 14 employees have been put on paid administrative leave following the controversial costumes. 

“This type of behavior has no place in education and certainly is not tolerated here at Middleton School District,” a statement from the school district’s board of trustees reads

“This situation is being taken very seriously. We are in full support of our superintendent and administrative staff as a full investigation is being conducted, and are awaiting the results of the investigation,” the statement continued. “This is an unfortunate incident of very poor judgment. Yet it is not indicative of the Middleton School District or our teachers as a whole.”

This article has been updated to include information about the employees’ suspension. 





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How Educator Voices Help Win Fair Contracts


Last year on October 3 the Fresno Teachers Association held a strike vote. With one voice, the membership overwhelmingly supported the move with only 20 out of 3,000 voting against it. It would be their first strike since 1978.

Nobody wanted a strike but FTA was willing to take it that far if for a contract that better served the 74,000 students of their district. Ultimately, a strike was avoided, and a year later, after an historic joint labor and management meeting between the district and the union. Fresno Unified has a new agreement with an 8.5 percent salary increase and a promise to reduce class sizes.

In a news conference with the FTA last month, Fresno Unified superintendent Bob Nelson said that the union and the district are turning “conflict and chaos” into “collaboration and cooperation” between labor groups, district leaders and community members.

“In our community, the poverty level is about 80 percent. For those students, education is beyond just knowledge, it’s life or death,” FTA President Manual Bonilla says. “That’s the way I see it. It’s that critical. We need to serve them as a system, not just as teachers or administrators. We need to work together.”

It was a journey, and Bonilla explains below how they got there and the lessons he learned along the way.

Find Common Ground

Three members of district leadership and three members of union leadership met with a conflict resolution team at Fresno Pacific University, known for strong programs in teacher education and peacemaking and conflict resolution. Through that process, we agreed we had the same goals. We want to serve our 74,000 students and our community, which has one of the highest concentrations of poverty in America. And we agreed that finding solutions together would have a better impact. So that became our foundation going forward – we have the same goals, let’s have the same solutions. We decided we’d be an example of how systems can come together to effect change.

Expand the Circle

To allow everyone to participate and share their voice, we had to expand the circle. We started with three on each side, but then district invited the union to the principals’ institute and cabinet meetings. We invited the superintendent and his staff to our Representative Council. But there were more voices to be heard. We invited all school site representatives to bargaining meetings. That way we could see that issues that come up to the leadership level are probably system-wide, not just site based.

When I was teaching over the past decade, we weren’t involved in the decision making process on how to achieve the goals of best serving students. Now we – the educators, the union — are more involved than ever. Besides the parents, teachers spend the most time with students. We know better than most what these students need in the classroom. We must be at the table to share our expertise and collaborate. When teachers realized they were being heard, more came forward to share their ideas.

We still have tough conversations and we still will disagree, but how we go about that, different way. Our leaders have emerged and showed us different ways.

Listen and Act

Fresno Teachers Association President Manuel Bonilla (left) and Fresno Unified Superintendent Bob Nelson.

We set up meetings to talk to the parents, teachers, students and community at all seven high schools and each of the middle and elementary schools. We have 106 schools in our district and we wanted each of them to be involved in the process. We asked them what their issues were. What did they want to see? Lower class sizes came up time and time again, and we turned that into bargaining language for the contract. They wanted more social and emotional supports, and that was put into the language, too. Now the contract was seen in the right light – as a direct means to improve education, not just as a business transaction.

You can’t just listen. You must take action, and that won over the community. But it also got teachers more excited. Teachers hadn’t been involved with the union in the past because they didn’t see its role in the day-to-day work of the profession. Now they were seeing how the contract was interwoven into education. Now they were getting involved and we made sure all of their voices were heard.

Be Totally Transparent

We wanted to allow our members to hear everything about the process. We had a core bargaining team that worked during school hours, but we also had an evening team so teachers could listen to what was going on. At the first meeting, maybe 150 educators showed up. By the next, it grew to 400, and to 900 the next time. It just grew and grew. Everyone was invested in the process. Everyone felt like they had a voice. We shared bargaining updates on social media to communicate with members, but also with the community.

We were very, very open. We wanted them to know we have nothing to hide. We were breaking the narrative that collective bargaining is about is about partisan issues and showing them it’s about improving education.

Give Professionals the Voice they Deserve

No matter the field, professionals will be motivated and empowered if they understand the goals of the organization where they work. Beyond wanting to be treated as professionals, we heard from our educators that they need to understand the district’s vision. They want clear expectations and a full picture of where we’re going. They want more communication and they want to feel that their time and expertise is valued and taken into account.

Video: Fresno Teachers Association Strike

If you listen, you can hear a slight sigh of relief, the sound of the ice beginning to crack. I don’t think every single educator feels as if their voice is being heard, but we planted a seed of hope. Are we having great conversations at the district level and leadership level? Yes, but until it filters down all the way to the classroom, we are not done. This meeting was first step. We’ve begun the journey. Everyone feels like this is new and different. It feels different. It feels better. The question, what will show that it’s different? What will the evidence be. Hopefully we’ll see that through the actions we take over the course of this contract.

Stay Union Strong

This process didn’t start two weeks ago. It’s not lost on me that we had to take a strike vote first. Had we not done that, had we not been unified and engaged with our members, we wouldn’t be here. The district leadership need to know that the teachers are speaking with a unified voice. Until you do that, they have no real motivation to bargain seriously. The only reason I was able to be in that room to have those tough conversations was because I knew we had the power of the membership behind me. Going forward, we must keep the members engaged to keep the union strong. That’s how we serve our students and schools.



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These Girls Are Suing Their School For The Right To Wear Pants


Bonnie Peltier, a 47-year-old stay-at-home mother of two in Leland, North Carolina, was thrilled when her 4-year-old daughter got into Charter Day School, a publicly funded K-8 with a good reputation in her conservative small town. But she was taken aback at school orientation in the summer of 2015, when she learned that the charter school’s dress code prohibits girls from wearing pants or shorts as part of its standard uniform.

Her daughter dislikes wearing skirts and dresses, Peltier told HuffPost. And Peltier didn’t understand why she’d have to force her child to wear clothes that make it harder to play freely, and are less warm when the weather gets chilly.

To understand the school’s reasoning, Peltier emailed its founder, Baker Mitchell, a conservative entrepreneur who owns a company that manages four public charter schools in the state.

In his reply, Mitchell said the dress code was about “chivalry” and claimed it helped instill traditional values, making for better manners and better-behaved children. A fairly standard response, at the outset. But then, he suggested that the dress code could help prevent school shootings.

The email kicked off a years-long battle with Charter Day that has yet to be resolved. All this time, Peltier’s daughter has been dutifully wearing her school uniform.

Charter Day is the best public school in the area, Peltier said. She didn’t see why her daughter should be denied the opportunity for a good education. “I figured if I have to get the policy changed, that’s what I’m going to do,” she said. “She belongs there; the teachers are wonderful; her friends are there.”

With the help of the American Civil Liberties Union, Peltier and two other mothers sued Charter Day in federal court in 2016 on behalf of their daughters. Their aim is simply to give girls at the school the option to wear pants or shorts. They argue that the restrictive dress code discriminates against girls and violates Title IX, the part of the federal civil rights law that covers public education.

“They get public money. And they need to abide by the law,” said Erika Booth, a 47-year-old paramedic who joined the suit on behalf of her daughter. “They need to go ahead and treat girls equally. That’s it. That’s the bottom line.”

Dress codes in the U.S. have been increasingly subject to controversy for various reasons, but HuffPost only recently learned about the Charter Day case, which hasn’t garnered much national attention. A ruling could come soon on the school’s motion for summary judgment.

Lawyers for Charter Day declined to comment for this story, instead referring HuffPost to the arguments the school made in its motion for summary judgment last year. There, the school said the uniform dress code is part of its “traditional values” framework, and noted that it’s legal to have differing dress requirements for boys and girls. The policy fosters classroom discipline and “mutual respect between boys and girls,” the school argued, pointing out that parents choose the school.

Further, the school said the policy doesn’t adversely impact girls, who outscore boys at the school in standardized math tests.

Charter Day also claimed it would hurt the school to get rid of a policy that parents like. But it’s not clear parents are so fond of the code, Peltier and Booth told HuffPost. “I’ve had a lot of support,” Booth said.

A petition to change the dress code garnered more than 100 signatures, according to a 2016 blog post from a student on the ACLU’s website.

“When we go outside for recess, the boys in my class will sometimes play soccer or do flips and cartwheels,” wrote Keely Burks, who was an eighth-grader at the school. “But I feel like I can’t because I’m wearing a skirt.”

She said she’d been put in a timeout in the first grade because she sat with her legs criss-crossed, rather than curled to the side as was expected of girls.

In its arguments to the court, Charter Day does not touch on the reasoning Mitchell offered Peltier in his email in 2015, possibly because it is so outrageous. In that email, Mitchell linked the dress code to the Columbine school shooting, which he pointed out happened the year before Charter Day’s founding. He told Peltier that some of the victims were female.

In the wake of Columbine, where two high school boys killed 12 of their classmates, one teacher and themselves, Charter Day’s founders were “determined to preserve chivalry and respect among young women and men in this school of choice,” Mitchell wrote to Peltier. Young men should hold doors open for young ladies and even carry umbrellas for them, he said. Students should say “ma’am” and “sir” when addressing adults.

And today, when bullying and harassment are big issues, as well as teen pregnancy and casual sex, Mitchell said, the dress codes are just important.

The argument essentially seemed to be that dressing nicely and behaving politely will somehow prevent school violence and other social ills.

He couldn’t really be saying that Columbine wouldn’t have happened if girls wore skirts, Peltier thought while reading his email. “But that was what he was saying,” she told HuffPost.

In the court documents, Charter Day distanced itself from Mitchell’s email, saying it wasn’t an “official pronouncement.”

Mitchell and the school both emphasized that the dress code encourages a culture of respect, but Peltier and Booth say the unequal policy is actually disrespectful to girls, who are treated as the fairer, and thus less capable, sex ― outdated tropes that perpetuate sexism.

“I think it teaches girls they’re second-class citizens. They take second place to the boys. And it’s not right,” Booth said. “My daughter has aspirations to do things that are traditionally men’s jobs. She wants to be a soldier. I’ve never seen a soldier in a skirt.”

This Charter Day eighth-grader, identified in the suit as “I.B.,” would just rather wear pants or shorts to school.

If schools are really concerned with fostering a culture of respect, they should make sure that students are comfortable, welcome, safe and happy in their learning environment, said Adaku Onyeka-Crawford, senior counsel for education at the National Women’s Law Center.  

But gendered dress codes don’t actually work toward those goals. Skirts and dresses are indeed less comfortable, it’s harder to play when ensconced in fabric past your knees, and in the winter months, girls are colder.

Dress codes also can work against the notion of respect ― particularly for girls, who are treated more like fragile, sexualized objects than autonomous human beings. “There tend to be more rules for girls than boys,” Onyeka-Crawford said. “It tends to be another way to police girls’ bodies.”

There’s no nationwide data on the use of gendered dress codes in schools, but they’re not uncommon. Schools often mandate the length of girls’ skirts or prohibit certain kinds of tops ― spaghetti straps, for example. Meanwhile, boys are allowed to get away with a bit more ― say, playing basketball shirtless.

Over the past year, these prohibitions have been called out for sexualizing, stereotyping and harming young women. Black girls, in particular, are often burdened by dress codes, which can ban styles specific to their cultures, such as certain hairstyles.

Gendered dress codes also help reinforce damaging stereotypes about boys and girls. Girls at the Charter Day school have been told to “sit like a princess” or “sit like a girl” in the classroom, and have been reprimanded for turning cartwheels on the playground (and inadvertently showing their underpants), according to the lawsuit.

“We’re having to tell our daughters, even though this is what they’re teaching you, this is not the way the world works anymore,” Peltier said.



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Lawsuit Accuses Betsy DeVos And Her Deputies Of Being Motivated By Sexism



A new filing in a lawsuit against the Trump administration accuses Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos and a top deputy of being motivated in part by sexism in their policy decisions.

The lawsuit, originally filed in January, challenged DeVos’ elimination of Obama-era Title IX guidance on how sexual assault cases are handled on campus. But an amended complaint submitted Wednesday says that DeVos’ decision was influenced by discriminatory and stereotyped views of women. 

DeVos scrapped the Title IX guidance in September 2017, issuing her own interim guidance on the subject. Her version raised the standard of evidence used in campus sexual assault cases. At the time, DeVos said that the Obama administration’s directive was an example of federal overreach. 

But plaintiffs in the filing say DeVos and her deputies had more nefarious motivations, and they use new Freedom of Information Act records as evidence. The records indicate that Department of Education leaders had solicited input from groups and academics who push inflated and widely discredited statistics regarding the prevalence of false rape allegations. A National Sexual Violence Resource Center study found that false reports account for only about 2 percent to 10 percent of such allegations, a range that it said was likely inflated.

“What you see is that this administration is buying into the sex stereotype that women and girls lie about these types of things, and they’re making policy based on that view,” Karianne Jones, counsel for Democracy Forward Foundation, told HuffPost. Democracy Forward is representing the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, along with the National Women’s Law Center, National Center for Youth Law and Equal Rights Advocates. 

According to the lawsuit, the records also show Candice Jackson, then acting head of the department’s Office for Civil Rights, recommended a book to her staff, Unwanted Advances: Sexual Paranoia Comes to Campus by academic Laura Kipnis. The book describes Obama’s Title IX guidance as allowing women to seek legal recourse for “awkward sexual experiences” and then ask for protection from “sexual bogeymen,” per the filing.  

A spokeswoman for the Department of Education wasn’t able to comment on the specifics of pending litigation but pushed back on the lawsuit’s assertions, noting that department leaders met with a wide range of stakeholders on the issue at the time.

“This lawsuit is nothing more than a baseless, politically motivated attack on the Secretary,” spokeswoman Elizabeth Hill said by email. “She and OCR staff met with a number of people on this important issue including survivors, falsely accused students, college presidents and university GCs and the message was very clear from all of them — we have to get this right on behalf of students and the current process isn’t serving students well.

“The Secretary is committed to Title IX reforms that will ensure survivors feel empowered to come forward, all students are afforded due process and universities have clear rules to follow.”

The lawsuit says that, although the department solicited the views of those who were critical of Obama’s Title IX guidance, “the Department met with organizations that advocate for Title IX’s protections for survivors only after repeated, collective requests from those organizations.”

The FOIA records also show that Jackson had consulted with figures such as professor Gordon Finley of Florida International University on the issue. Finley is a member of the National Coalition for Men, a men’s rights organization, and has referred to Obama’s Title IX guidance as a “war on men.” 

Records also show Jackson was in close contact with the group Families Advocating for Campus Equality, requesting they publish op-eds before a speech by DeVos, according to the lawsuit. The group was started by parents whose children had been accused of sexual assault on campus.

DeVos previously publicly met with representatives of the National Coalition for Men and Families Advocating for Campus Equality. 

The plaintiffs in the case, which include groups like SurvJustice, Equal Rights Advocates and Victim Rights Law Center, say these documents, along with other statements and actions taken by DeVos and Jackson, show they had “discriminatory motivation.” 

An original lawsuit filed by the plaintiffs challenged the Trump administration’s overall rescission of Obama’s Title IX guidance. An overall challenge to the rescission was dismissed, with the judge saying you cannot challenge a nonbinding piece of guidance. But the amended complaint takes a different approach, instead focusing on the mindset of administration officials.

At the time DeVos rescinded the guidance, she said the old process lacked due process. A report from the Wall Street Journal on Wednesday says that DeVos is gearing up to release new rules on the matter, which will require that accused students be allowed to cross-examine their accusers and will narrow the definition of sexual assault cases that schools must arbitrate. Advocates worry that such a process will make victims more reluctant to come forward. 

The lawsuit mentions President Donald Trump’s previous comments and behavior toward women, accusing him of sexism.

Jackson previously said that 90 percent of sexual assault accusations are a result of drunken regrets or misunderstandings, a remark noted in the amended complaint and original lawsuit.

At the time of the original lawsuit, a lawyer for the federal government said this did not prove intentional sexism on Jackson’s part.  

CORRECTION: A previous version of this story mischaracterized the guidance Betsy DeVos issued for campus sexual assault cases; her version raised, not lowered, the standard of evidence used.



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Hilarious Video Compares Moms On Halloween In 1988 And 2018



A hilarious viral video is highlighting the difference between parenting on Halloween in the 1980s and in 2018.

Meredith Masony of “That’s Inappropriate” teamed up with Tiffany Jenkins of “Juggling the Jenkins” to create “1980′s Mom Vs 2018 Mom Halloween Edition.”

The too-real video compares a no-fuss mom of the ’80s with a Pinterest-loving, highly protective mom of 2018. For example:

Mom of the ’80s: “Alright guys, I got you pillowcases. Go head on over to the rich end of the neighborhood. If their lights are off, bang harder. I know they’re home.”

Mom of 2018: “OK, children, I hand-crafted these collection baskets for your candy tonight. I learned how to do it from a nun in the hills of India.”

The video has reached nearly 40,000 views on YouTube and more than 5 million views on Facebook. Watch it above.



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Our Crumbling Public School Infrastructure


It’s one of the critical issues that the #RedForEd movement brought to the nation’s attention: Lawmakers have chronically underfunded our schools. As a result too many educators and students are stuck in deteriorating school buildings where they face problems ranging from unpleasant to outright hazardous.

In some schools, the heat goes out and students sit in frigid classrooms in their coats, hats, and gloves. Elsewhere, a leaky roof means buckets in the hallways and classroom, and moldy ceiling tiles that pose a health risk—especially for those with respiratory issues.

Some problems with old buildings are less obvious but just as serious, including asbestos, radon, and old pipes and water fountains that contain lead.

“If we’re committed to helping every child fulfill his or her potential, then we have to provide safe and modern learning environments for every student,” says Oregon teacher and parent activist Carolyn Smith Evans, who serves on the board of the Healthy Schools Network.

As if we need another reason to renovate and modernize schools. Underfunded school infrastructure also leaves some students without the technology they need to prepare for college and jobs. At least 6 million students—mostly in rural communities—attend schools that lack highspeed internet access.

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How Bad Do For-Profit, Virtual Charter Schools Have to Get?


On January 18, 2018, the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow (ECOT), Ohio’s largest K-12 virtual school, abruptly closed its doors for good. The move, which left its 12,000 students scrambling for another option halfway through the academic year, came amidst escalating scandals over the for-profit cyber charter’s operations. ECOT had been inflating its attendance records to siphon off more state funds. At the time of ECOT’s demise, the Ohio Department of Education was trying to recoup $80 million in improper payments based on years of deceptive enrollment reports. Its academic record was also abysmal. More than one-third of Ohio’s dropouts were ECOT students, and the school consistently ranked near the bottom on state assessments.

ECOT’s spectacular failure became a central issue in the 2018 campaign for Ohio attorney general and governor. The voters rightfully want to know: How could hundreds of millions of state funds be squandered on a school fraught with fraud, mismanagement, and a shoddy academic record?

Welcome to the world of for-profit, virtual charter schools.

ECOT was the indisputable poster child for Ohio’s struggling, unaccountable charter sector, says Becky Higgins, president of the Ohio Education Association (OEA). Over the years, OEA relentlessly pushed state lawmakers to scrutinize ECOT’s operations and adopt stronger accountability measures to protect students and taxpayer funds.

It would be a mistake, however, to look at ECOT as one “bad actor.” Six months after ECOT closed, the Virtual Community School of Ohio also collapsed after being told to repay $4 million in state funds.

“Not only are the students being badly served, but the taxpayers are being fleeced. And at a time of declining state revenues, it’s all the more important that tax dollars are well spent,” said Higgins.

In 2017, the National Education Association’s Charter School Taskforce recommended that because of the “combination of inherent limitations they pose to the healthy social and emotional development of students, along with their particularly dismal student outcomes, full-time virtual charter schools should not be authorized.”

ECOT

In January 2018, ECOT, the largest virtual K-12 school in Ohio, closed its doors after failing to repay $80 million in state funds.

While just under half of all virtual schools in the nation are charter schools, together they accounted for roughly 75 percent of virtual school enrollment in the 2017-18 school year.

Would-be ECOTs exist in many of the 27 states that have opened their doors to virtual charters, says Michael Barbour, Associate Professor of Instructional Design at Touro University in California.

“Especially in states that were early entrants into the virtual charter world, there was very little oversight or accountability built into them,” Barbour explains. “Programs were set up by individuals with a strong background in business. For-profit authorizers play a very direct role in the operations of the school. You have voluntary boards handpicked by the corporations whose sole responsibility is to sign a contract with that corporation to operate that school.”

Behind every opening of a full-time, for-profit, virtual charter school, says Barbour, is “an abdication of the public responsibility for education.”

Profits Over Students

The policies and practices of these schools should be subject to increased federal oversight, according to two U.S. senators. Sherrod Brown of Ohio and Patty Murray of Washington recently called on the General Accounting office (GAO) to scrutinize how the lack of accountability and transparency is affecting student outcomes.

“Most states distribute funding to virtual charter schools as they would to brick-and-mortar schools,” Brown and Murray wrote in their letter to the GAO. “And yet, there is limited information on how operators allocate those public dollars to educate students and manage company operations. This is especially problematic as the majority of virtual charter schools are either explicitly operated by or connected to for-profit companies that have perverse incentives to minimize the cost of instruction and student supports in order to boost their bottom line.”

The letter coincided with a scathing new report by the Center for American Progress on the academic performance and financial practices of for-profit virtual charter schools.

Meg Benner and Neil Campbell analyzed outcomes at the largest, for-profit virtual charter schools in five states. Many of these schools are run by  K12 Inc., the largest such operator in the nation, serving an estimated 30 percent of students enrolled in these schools.

Source: “Profit Before Kids,” Center for American Progress, 2018

“[Accountability] policies have not kept pace with the growth of virtual education, enabling many for-profit operators to take advantage of fully virtual instruction to boost their bottom line and drive dollars away from instruction at the expense of student outcomes,” said Benner, senior consultant for K-12 Education Policy at CAP.

The extent of the failure detailed in the report is staggering:

  • For-profit virtual charter schools graduate about half of their students, which groups them among the lowest-performing schools in their state. Furthermore, for-profit cyber charters have much lower graduation rates than nearby urban school districts that generally serve more low-income students.
  • The schools generally perform below the state average for third-grade English language arts and eighth-grade math proficiency.
  • Most of the large virtual charter schools in CAP’s analysis also fell far below states’ expectations for students’ academic growth.

Benner and Campbell also take a hard look at the financial records of K12 Inc., which reveal a prioritizing of growth at the expense of results: “Despite concerning outcomes across many of K12 Inc.’s virtual charter schools, the company’s 2018 annual report demonstrates that it continues to divert resources to grow enrollment, thereby limiting funds to improve academic programs.”

Then there are the hefty compensation packages doled out to K12 Inc. executives. Benner and Campbell say the compensation of K12 Inc.’s top five executives is “comparable to the national average cost of educating almost 1,300 public school students.”

Political Pressure

In addition to recommending rigorous new accountability mechanisms for all virtual charter schools, the authors endorse banning for-profit companies from opening and operating these schools. Lawmakers would have to be careful, however, to tailor the language very specifically to cover any arrangements a for-profit entity may use to to avoid compliance.

“The majority of virtual charter schools are either explicitly operated by or connected to for-profit companies that have perverse incentives to minimize the cost of instruction and student supports in order to boost their bottom line.” – U.S. Senators Sherrod Brown (OH) and Patty Murray (WA) in a letter to the General Accounting Office

“These guys don’t have much experience in education,” says Michael Barbour. “But they do know business and they know how to find loopholes to get around regulations.”

In September, California Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law a bill, supported by the California Teachers Association, prohibiting for-profit companies from owning and managing charter schools, a major step for a state that has 10 percent of its 6.2 million K-12 students in charter schools. Strong political opposition, however, appears to have stemmed the expansion.

In Indiana, educators have been lobbying the legislature to curb the growth of the states’ poorly performing virtual charter schools, where more than 12,000 students are enrolled. Their record, says the Indiana State Teachers Association (ISTA), is “wholly unimpressive for kids and taxpayers.” ISTA advocates a moritarium on new virtual schools and a change in the funding formula so that performance, not enrollment, determines how much they receive from the state.

As the fallout of the ECOT debacle continues, Ohio lawmakers have passed a series of measures in 2018 designed to strengthen accountability and require fraudulent charter school funds to be returned to school districts. Educators and many lawmakers say more needs to be done, because another ECOT could very easily happen.  After all, 4,000 of ECOT students this spring transferred to another virtual charter school, Ohio Virtual Academy – owned and operated by K12. Inc.





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