How To Talk To Kids About School Safety


From the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting to the headline-making effects of school bullying, school safety is a hot-button topic in the U.S. Now that kids across the country have gone back to school, parents may be facing questions from their children or coming up with their own concerns about safety. 

Although it’s important to respond to kids’ queries and have conversations around school safety, broaching this topic without causing unnecessary fear or anxiety can pose a challenge. 

To offer guidance, HuffPost spoke to a couple of school safety experts about the best ways to tackle these issues with kids. Here are eight things to keep in mind when discussing school safety with children. Much of the advice can apply to parents and educators alike. 

Take A Glass-Half-Full Approach

“We advocate for a glass-half-full approach with kids ― focusing on the positive,” said Michele Gay, who co-founded the nonprofit Safe and Sound Schools after losing her daughter Josephine in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. Instead of emphasizing potential dangers, she recommends drawing attention to places where students can find examples of safety and various things that support safety in school.

“It’s all about orienting students to their space and using kid-friendly language,” she said. “Always make sure that you’re not using scary imagery or ‘bad guys’ or anything like that. Just talk about safe and unsafe. ’If you feel unsafe, how can you get to safety and where might you find safety? Who might help you find safety?”

Don’t Try To Scare Kids

Amanda Klinger, the director of operations for the Educator’s School Safety Network, echoed Gay’s sentiment of positivity. Over the years, news reports have shown schools conducting hyperrealistic active-shooter drills in which police fire blanks or shout and pound on doors ― events that have been shown to traumatize students.

“That’s not increasing the skills of the people in that school building,” Klinger said. “When we have actual events, and we have to respond, yes, that’s going to be scary for kids. But when I do a drill with kindergarteners, it shouldn’t be, ‘Boys and girls, when the homicidal maniac with the AK-47 comes to kill us, what would we do?’ There’s no reason we should do that.”

It shouldn’t be, ‘Boys and girls, when the homicidal maniac with the AK-47 comes to kill us, what would we do?’
Amanda Klinger, Educator’s School Safety Network

Like Gay, Klinger noted that it’s important to focus on finding safety. Teaching young kids how to quickly evacuate, whether it’s because of a gunman or a collapsed roof, doesn’t have to be frightening.

“Ask kindergarteners what we’d need to do if we needed to get out of the classroom in a hurry so that no one gets trampled or left behind,” she explained. “We’d be careful with our bodies when we leave, we’d follow the teacher, we’d pay attention and we’d use our listening ears and our looking eyes. That’s not scary.”

Use Age-Appropriate Activities

One activity that Safe and Sound Schools promotes in classrooms is a game called Safety Tag. “It works great with little ones, and all you need is a pack of Post-Its,” said Gay.

Educators gather their students in their classroom, cafeteria, gym or hallway and give each child a handful of Post-it Notes. Then they can ask the students to walk around the room and use a Post-it to tag anything they see that represents safety, makes them feel safe or could support their safety in various circumstances.

“Within a matter of 60 seconds, the room is usually littered with Post-its,” Gay explained, adding that kids often tag things like the fire extinguisher, the first-aid kit and even the teacher. “That kind of approach gets them to stop and see that, in this uncertain world where we unfortunately hear about tragedy after tragedy, we are doing an awful lot and have many resources to support safety and keep everyone safe in schools.”

Parents can do this sort of exercise with their kids as well, by asking them to find five things that keep them safe at school and report back when they return home that day.


Caiaimage/Paul Bradbury via Getty Images

Appropriate books can be great conversation starters.

“That’s a great conversation starter for parents who want to make sure their children are aware of those things and know how to utilize them if they should need them ― without coming at it from that really negative, worst-case scenario angle,” Gay said.

There are also many age-appropriate books that teach kids about safety. Gay recommends The Lockdown Drill by Deputy Becky Coyle. “The book introduces in a gentle, kid-friendly way what this safety procedure is and why we do it in schools. It’s good to sit down in a comfortable, cozy environment with kids to curl up with a helpful book. It’s a no-stress way to open the door to these conversations.”

Recognize Safety Comes In Many Forms

Gay and Klinger both emphasized that school safety encompasses so much more than active-shooter drills and security checks. Other major safety issues include earthquakes, tornadoes, fires, floods, blizzards, bullying, sexual violence and playground injuries.

Rather than harping on school safety events that make national news, it’s more important to focus on the specific risks that students are more likely to face at their particular school. 

“If my school is a mile downwind from a chemical plant, that’s a more likely hazard than other things,” Klinger said. “That doesn’t mean we need to be paralyzed by fear, but it means we need to see if we’ve addressed that risk.”

Having an additional lock or buzzer does nothing if the biggest risk we face at school is that we don’t have adequate supervision at dismissal and a kid is going to be hit by a bus … or the LGBT kid that’s getting bullied.
Amanda Klinger

Klinger said she gets concerned when she sees so much expenditure on strengthening the security of buildings. “Having an additional lock or buzzer does nothing if the biggest risk we face at school is that we don’t have adequate supervision at dismissal and a kid is going to be hit by a bus … or the LGBT kid that’s getting bullied. We need to make sure what we’re doing is part of a comprehensive all-hazards approach.” 

Focus On Building Life Skills

“When we’re talking about safety, we’re talking about life skills,” Gay explained. “Those things that we teach regarding safety in school can apply out in the world, at home, in the grocery store, at the movies, at the mall. Wherever you are, wherever you go, you want to take a little time to orient yourself. The information and behaviors kids learn can serve them for the rest of their lives.”

Both Gay and Klinger noted that “stop, drop and roll” is a classic life skill students learn as part of safety lessons in school. “If you think about it, the thought of burning to death sounds really terrifying,” Klinger said. “But we’re able to talk to kids about ‘stop, drop and roll,’ and it doesn’t cause the chaos, fear and anxiety that we see around other conversations about school safety.”

To that end, it’s crucial that educators frame these discussions in a way that helps students and parents understand they’re doing different safety drills not because schools are fundamentally terrible, dangerous places, but because these are life skills. 


simonmcconico via Getty Images

“It’s about knowing how to respond appropriately, how to follow directions, how to be aware of your surroundings,” Klinger said. “Asking yourself, how would I evacuate this building if the roof collapsed?”

Know What Their Schools Are Teaching

Many parents, especially around the start of the school year, have questions about what’s going on with safety in their child’s school.  

“Historically, this is not a conversation we invited parents to be a part of. When you start the school year as a parent, you receive a lot of paperwork ― including forms for parents to sign up for committees, projects or other types of volunteering ― but there’s hardly ever anything related to safety that involves parents,” Gay said.

As parents come forward and ask questions, however, this has shifted a bit, as schools are sharing more information. 

“Of course, schools aren’t going to give parents the alarm codes or pass out the blueprints, and things like that. But certainly, they can and should be telling them about protocols that are in place,” she added. 

Gay offered a number of questions parents should consider asking teachers: Which drills do you practice? How many times a year do you practice them? What kind of teaching goes on beforehand? How many ways are you able to quickly secure the classroom if you need to? How many ways are you able to get out of this classroom if you need to? In what ways are you able to communicate? Do you feel there’s more you need that parents can provide? How can I help?

Perhaps the biggest question, however, is: What kind of language do you use with my child to talk about these issues and prepare them for safety in a variety of circumstances? This question is significant because parents already have the basic math and reading education to support those curriculums at home, but they likely don’t know what their kids are learning about safety.

Are they saying, ‘Run, hide, fight’ or ‘Get out, keep out and hide out’?
Michele Gay, Safe and Sound Schools

“The safety curriculum needs to be supported by parents at home, too, just like science or reading,” Gay said. “So what words are they using in school? Are they saying, ‘Run, hide, fight’ or ‘Get out, keep out and hide out’? Are they using the word ‘violence’ or different vocabulary? That way, parents can weave that language into everyday conversation and help them learn about safety.”

Beyond questions about language and protocols, parents should also ask what their roles are in the case of a crisis. 

“Are you expecting me to stay at home, stay informed and wait to get the word about what I’m supposed to do next?” Gay said. “If so, what’s the most reliable way to get that information? Is it our local news station? The school website? Twitter? What tools do I have for getting information, and which ones do you want me using?”

Be Realistic And Reassuring

“I think that when parents talk to their students, there needs to be a real discussion of how statistically unlikely these events are,” Klinger said. Although ESSN’s research has shown a recent uptick in school-based violence and threats, she still emphasized that it remains statistically unlikely a given child’s school will have an active-shooter event.

It’s important to ask kids to share their concerns, hear them out and respond in a realistic, reassuring way. Parents can note these threats are real, but many of them are not likely ― and even though that may be the case, there are still many ways to prepare for them in case they do come to pass. Getting kids involved in the preparation process can also be encouraging. 


Viara Mileva via Getty Images

Use Resources

There are resources for parents that can help inform discussions about school safety with kids. The Safe and Sound Schools website offers safety toolkits that include a questionnaire for parents, as well as a specific “Parents for Safe Schools” guidelines.

The ESSN website also offers free resources about moving beyond strictly security or active-shooter-focused approaches. Klinger and her mother, ESSN co-founder Amy Klinger, published a book called Keeping Students Safe Every Day: How to Prepare for and Respond to School Violence, Natural Disasters, and Other Hazards, which is geared toward educators and administrators but has gotten positive feedback from parents as well. For parents looking to learn more about these issues, Amanda Klinger suggested the University of Virginia’s Model for Student Threat Assessment and the U.S. Secret Service’s Operational Guide for Preventing Targeted School Violence.

Klinger also recommended parents look to school boards for guidance about what makes sense and what the best practices are. “Parents can advocate for change. It’s important to figure out what’s best for students, not what’s convenient for adults.”



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Effective Engaging Strategies Not Just an Investment in Students



Recently, I conducted a survey of sixth through twelfth graders and asked them one simple question: What engages you as a learner? The responses flooded in from every school model out there—from each coast, and from districts both rural and urban. And no matter the student, their responses could be categorized into the same 10 strategies of student engagement.

I’ll be covering some of those strategies throughout this NEA Today series on student engagement, but my focus today is on rationale. I want to make the argument that by focusing on student engagement, you, the teacher, will be more engaged as well. It’s not the only reason to focus your practice on student engagement, but there’s no reason not to rank your own enjoyment of teaching high up on the rationale-meter.

As I say in my book, Just Ask Us: Kids Speak out on Student Engagement (Corwin, AMLE 2017), using engagement strategies to lure kids into learning—while it might seem draining—is actually an investment in your own energy as an educator.

Being engaging as a teacher is not just an investment in students; it’s also an investment in you and your quality of life.

After all, I’m selfish. I want to like my job. I want to like how I spend my day. Focusing on student engagement, even before I focus on content, not only ups my own  enjoyment and makes classroom management easier, it also happens to positively affect student achievement. It’s a win- win.

Neurologist-turned-educator, Dr. Judy Willis says that “when we scrub joy and comfort from the classroom, we distance our students from effective information processing and long-term memory storage.”

Boredom, as it turns out, isn’t just an energy-sucker, it’s a brainpower-sucker too. In other words, if a student is bored, a cycle can begin where the brain becomes less able to re-engage.

Yet, teachers often tend to focus their curriculum development efforts primarily in content standards—sometimes to the detriment of enjoyment.

Educator and author Kelly Gallagher says, “Engagement first, then content, then rigor.” In that order. Kids simply won’t learn if they aren’t engaged. For that reason, I believe that the student engagement standards are, in the land of Google-able answers, as important to utilize as the content standards.

So it’s also about doing a job we can be proud of. We can’t help our students without using engagement strategies. We as a profession are competing for these kids’ attention with so many other outside elements. We are competing against social media and Netflix. We are competing against having crushes and getting dumped. We are competing against hunger and homelessness, bullying, and abuse. We are competing against elements in our students’ lives that range from traumatic to simply more interesting, and those elements will win out…unless we prove to students that we or our curriculum can be more engaging.

The good news is that engagement is cyclical. If your students are engaged, you will be too. See, student engagement acts like a teacher’s batteries. The students’ eureka moments, their excitement, discoveries, and efforts recharge you. And much like your phone gets a new boost of energy after you slap on a spare charger, you get a new surge of engagement for each day the students are engaged.

Heather Wolpert-Gawron

When that silent student in class appears online to praise and give feedback on another student’s essay, that engages us. When that seemingly bored student lifts his head from the desk in alert attention at the prospect of going outside to read under a tree, that engages us. When the student who never shares the air actively listens to her peers in her small group, seeking advice from others in the room, that engages us. When that student asks to use Minecraft to visualize the setting of her novel because she’s been allowed to choose her own way to show her knowledge, that engages us.

So to sum up the answer to the question: Why focus on student engagement? Here’s why:

  •  It increases student achievement.
  •  It makes classroom management easier.
  • It increases teacher enjoyment in a really difficult job.

It’s become a part of our responsibility to not only teach the content, but to teach it in a way that stands a chance against the competition. And the only way to do it is to tackle our students’ levels of engagement.

Heather Wolpert-Gawron is a middle school teacher, a fellow of the National Writing Project, and a faculty member at Buck Institute for Education. This article is Wolpert-Gawron’s first in an NEA Today series about student engagement.



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Former Student: Brett Kavanaugh’s Prep School Party Scene Was A ‘Free-For-All’



For the duration of his time on campus, a former student recalls, the guiding principle among Georgetown Preparatory School students was straightforward: Don’t be a narc.

“Don’t tell, don’t tell,” said the former student, who overlapped at the school in North Bethesda, Maryland, with current Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, class of ’83. It was a code of preppy omerta to which Kavanaugh himself has alluded.

“But then,” the former student continued, “you’re getting all these 14-, 15-, 16-year-olds, 17-year-old kids doing whatever the fuck they wanted to do, with no repercussions. Drugs everywhere. Partying everywhere. Drinking — just whatever we wanted to do. It was unbelievable, off the rails. And that’s just how it was.”

Sexual misconduct, the former student says, was routine, shrugged off. “My friend, who went to one of the private girls’ schools, said she woke up with a guy on top of her,” the former student said. “And this was not a situation where people would talk about it. They would just say: ‘Oh, well, how’d you do? How was your weekend?’ ‘Oh, well, I got attacked.’ And that was just normal then. It was an attitude where ‘No’ didn’t necessarily mean ‘I’m going to stop.’ It meant ‘I’m going to keep going,’ and ‘I’m going to keep going because I’m privileged and I’m allowed to and I’m not going to get in trouble for it.’”

The former student would speak about his time at Georgetown Prep only on the condition of anonymity, fearing attacks from his fellow alumni. Based on the response to Christine Blasey Ford’s allegation that Kavanaugh attempted to rape her when they were both in high school, his fears are not unfounded. 

In describing the culture of the school in those days, the former student pointed to the April 1984 overdose of 28-year-old David Kennedy, son of Robert F. Kennedy, who’d injected drugs into his groin, apparently to hide the needle marks. (Cocaine, Demerol and Mellaril were found in his system.) The former student spoke of Kennedy’s death as the end of the school’s free-for-all party scene and the catalyst for changes in Georgetown Prep culture.

Two Prep students — David’s brother Doug, and his friend Derrick Evans — had helped David Kennedy score the coke. Doug, class of ’86, had been at the center of Georgetown Prep social life, which the former student characterized as “weekly frat-style parties with the neighboring sister schools and other private schools,” often hosted by Kennedy at his family’s house in McLean, Virginia.

The death certainly registered on campus. The former student remembered the FBI showing up at Georgetown Prep one day and questioning a student. 

“Everybody was like, ‘Oh shit, what happened? How is this going to affect us?’” said the former student. “‘Were we involved? Did this happen with us?’ That kind of thing. It was never a situation where anybody told on anyone.”

The former student recently spoke with HuffPost about the party scene in which our current Supreme Court nominee spent his formative years. The conversation, which has been condensed and edited for clarity, is below.

First, just generally, I’d be interested in hearing what you remember about the culture of Georgetown Prep while you were there.

I guess you could call it a fraternity between a bunch of rich kids. All this shit happens, and then nobody really wants to talk about it, because if one person crumbles, the whole system crumbles, and everybody tells on everybody. And that’s not the way Georgetown Prep has ever been.

And you and Kavanaugh were there at the same time?

When Kavanaugh and I overlapped, it would have been 1982, and that’s when Kavanaugh was a senior. [Current Supreme Court Justice] Neil Gorsuch [who also attended Prep] would have been a sophomore. Now, as far as Gorsuch goes, he was so straight-up. He was like, “Golly gee,” one of those kids. And Prep has always been a very elite school with 400 students. One hundred per class — that’s all they would ever let in. Some of it was academic merit, but the rest of it was privilege. I didn’t have a lot of interaction with Kavanaugh, but I did know of Mark Judge, the other guy who was named. My first reaction I had was, “Oh, that guy.”

Yeah, that seems to be the general sentiment around him.

I mean, we were teenagers, but there was sex and drugs and more drugs and more partying and belligerence and disrespect, all going on at all times while I was there. Around 1986 is when Georgetown Prep really changed, and it went back to a more strict, Jesuit-based style.

What prompted the change?

A lot of the stuff that happened in the ’70s and the ’80s and the time that Kavanaugh was there and those parties that Judge described, it was common. That’s what happened all the time. One of the biggest people and one of the most influential people there was Doug Kennedy. He was one of the youngest RFK kids, and Dougie, as we called him, was the one who had all these huge parties. There were other parties, but everybody remembers Kennedy parties because they were in McLean at the house where Ethel Kennedy lived.

The police would be there, but they would say, “Oh, are you going to the party? We’ll escort you.” That kind of thing. And, you know, they’re escorting a load of teenage kids in a car who were all going to underage drink and party. And as I remember, it was hundreds of kids — boys and girls from different schools, all private. No public schools were involved. And what would happen was a lot of drinking. There was one room full of drugs, everybody would be doing coke. And in another room, everybody would be smoking weed. And then in another room, people would be having sex. And there would be all sorts of unwanted stuff going on.

What do you mean when you say “unwanted stuff”?

These were the situations where, I think, you could talk to any prep school girl, and they would say, yeah, I was attacked or I was abused or I was touched or I was done in this improper fashion. And like I said, it was a fraternity, but it was also a situation where the girls wouldn’t talk about it later on, either. A lot of these women basically became kept women.

Was the assault that Christine Blasey Ford described typical?

Yeah, and a lot of that happened. And I think she said she was in a bathing suit, so that happened at Beach Week, I would guess.

That’s where everybody would go down to the coast, over to Ocean City [Maryland], or Rehoboth [Beach, Delaware], one of the local beaches. And somebody would have a house, or somebody would rent a house, and then it would just turn into a free-for-all there. My friend, who went to one of the private girls’ schools, said she woke up with a guy on top of her. And this was not a situation where people would talk about it. They would just say: “Oh, well, how’d you do? How was your weekend?” “Oh, well, I got attacked.” And that was just normal then. It was an attitude where “No” didn’t necessarily mean “I’m going to stop.” It meant “I’m going to keep going,” and “I’m going to keep going because I’m privileged and I’m allowed to and I’m not going to get in trouble for it.”

So the Kennedy parties were the most notorious. But every weekend there was some sort of party base during the school year where there was drugs, alcohol—which was typical, but we’re talking about 14-, 15-, 16-, 17-year-old kids.

I remember hearing about [Kennedy’s death] after it happened in Florida. It was a small school and everyone was talking about it. It came out in the news, and it was all over The Washington Post. And everybody was like, “Oh shit, what happened? How is this going to affect us? Were we involved? Did this happen with us?” That kind of thing. And it was never a situation where anybody told on anyone. That was the weirdness about all of it.

It was hushed up and cleaned up quickly because of the Kennedy connection. In the weeks after, no one really talked about it. 

How would you hear about parties or meet kids from the other private schools?

Most it was based on the football schedule. Like, as a football team, we played all the other prep schools. That’s where all the parties started, and that’s where all the parties went. I don’t think it was something that we invented. I think that it was a culture that had been there for a long time, and then it just progressively got more abusive, and more and more and more and more abusive.

How often did these Beach Week parties happen?

They were considered a rite of passage. An end-of-the-year blowout. Partying at the beach was typically way more crazy than what happened during the school year. Inhibitions were thrown out the window. Fighting was a lot less common, but there was more sex involved and even more liberties taken because the parents were so far away. At least, that’s what I concluded from my experiences at Beach Week every year.

It was a game of who could party the most, who could drink the most, who could get the most girls, who could get away with the most crazy shit. A lot of these kids at these prep schools had family homes at the beach. And if not, they rented homes for the week.

Do you think people would have even remembered something like what Blasey described? Like, would it have registered?

Every weekend there was this whole idea of, “Hey, where are you going this weekend?” “Well, so-and-so’s having a party or someone’s having a party at their house.” Usually because their parents were gone — that would happen all the time. Then everybody would go over there, the entire class. Or at least, anybody who was cool or anybody who could party would go. Anybody who could get a ride, or anybody who had a car. And then all the girls’ schools in the area. If you talked to any of the girls there, they would all say, “Oh, yeah, of course there was a culture where assaults like that happen.”

But was it something people ever talked about at the time?

It was just a weird culture of how there was no telling ― you know, don’t tell, don’t tell. But then you’re getting all these 14-, 15-, 16-year-olds, 17-year-old kids doing whatever the fuck they wanted to do, with no repercussions. Drugs everywhere. Partying everywhere. Drinking — just whatever we wanted to do. It was unbelievable, off the rails. And that’s just how it was. Most of the kids I went to school with were either privileged or from foreign governments or whatever. They could get away with anything.

One last question: Blasey said her assault happened at a smaller party — four boys in total. Were smaller parties like that common, in addition to these big ragers?

It was more common to have at least 50 people there at a party. But these smaller parties ― usually what happened was that it was a Beach Week party, where the kids went to the beach. Somebody had a house, and whoever was there and whoever heard about the party went to the party. So there may have been as few as five people. There may have been as many as a hundred. It just depends. But that was not uncommon. As soon as I read the description, I was like, “Oh, yeah, that’s your typical prep school party, where it’s just a bunch of kids just going off the rails.” That’s the best way to describe it.





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How Higher Education Helped Derek Black Renounce White Supremacy


Derek Black

Until age 22, Derek Black was the chosen heir to the white nationalist movement. The son of Don Black, founder of the massive hate site, Stormfront.org, and godson to former KKK Grand Wizard David Duke, Black grew up in a world of racists—and he embraced it. The creator of a website for “proud white children” and the founder of a 24-hour radio network for white nationalists, Black pioneered the idea of “white genocide,” or that white people in America are victims, not perpetrators, of racism. Duke called him “the leading light of our movement.”

Then he went to college.

Recently, NEA Today spoke with Eli Saslow, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Rising Out of Hatred: The Awakening of a Former White Nationalist, about Black’s renunciation of racism, how higher education played a role in the evolution of his thinking, and whether we can learn anything from Black’s story as we confront an emboldened white nationalism movement.

How did you hook up with Derek Black?

Eli Saslow: I first heard about Derek when I was working on a story about Dylann Roof. [Editor: Roof is a white supremacist who shot and killed nine people during a prayer service at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, in 2015.] Roof had been on Stormfront and because I was writing about it, I went on Stormfront. And, of course, I found this horrifying celebration of what Roof had done, but the biggest discussion thread was about Derek. I was fascinated. He’d made himself difficult to find—he’d switched his names and moved across the country—but I had some resources to track him down.

If a person like Derek, who was raised in this insular world with the specific intent of someday leading the white nationalist movement, if he can move that far to the other side, then it seems like other people also are capable of moving and changing in small ways, and this is particularly true in college.”

The first time I got in touch, he was unequivocal: he did not want to be written about. I think he was hoping that white nationalism was this thing he could just leave behind and it would go away, which was incredibly naïve. We stayed in touch, and during that year, the far right was rising in Europe and the rhetoric that Derek had worked to mainstream was surfacing around the presidential campaign here. It was a mutual thing: I was telling him that, if he ever wanted to tell his story, this was the time, and I think Derek was feeling increasingly culpable and guilty about what was happening around him…It was a slow evolution and it took a long time for us to build trust. At that time [around 2016], he wasn’t a white nationalist anymore, but he was unsure of how public to be in his anti-racism.

I read the book, looking for ways that higher education impacted Black’s thinking…

ES: There was plenty to find! Both in the actual academics of the classroom and in the fascinating culture of that campus. [Editor: Black graduated from the New College of Florida (NCF), one of the 12 campuses in the State University System of Florida.] Where I live, in Portland, I sometimes work at Reed College, which may be similar to NCF in terms of politics, there is constant debate about whether to use civil discourse or civil resistance, and it’s an either-or, one thing or the other. In the book, it’s both. Both are absolutely necessary. Derek understands the value of civil discourse in his life, but he’s only open to conversations that challenge his beliefs because of the civil resistance that isolates him on campus. And those conversations were informed by what they were learning in their classrooms. Alison almost weaponizes her “Stigma and Prejudice” syllabus.

Are these campus conversations still possible today, when we’ve got sites like Professor Watchlist asking students to report their professors for “liberal thinking,” and so much uncertainty about safe versus free speech on campuses?  

ES: A lot of things work to stifle conversation. The country is so polarized, and people are so far apart and hesitant to approach the divide. I guess the truth is I don’t know if it’s still possible, although I think so. It hasn’t been that long since Derek was at NCF, and the divides were very large on that campus.

I’m hesitant to talk about the book as a how-to guide for changing anybody’s mind. It took two years and incredible acts of personal courage to change Derek’s thinking. From James Birmingham saying we need to shut down the school, to Matthew, who says I’m going to befriend Derek, invite him to dinner every Friday for two years, and never talk about it, to Alison, who goes undercover to white nationalism conferences and engages in scientific debate with Derek for years about the science of race — obviously, it was not easy to change Derek’s mind. The story is unique, but I hope there are things that people can take to have conversations about this stuff. If a person like Derek, who was raised in this insular world with the specific intent of someday leading the white nationalist movement, if he can move that far to the other side, then it seems like other people also are capable of moving and changing in small ways, and this is particularly true in college.

Derek’s hometown, West Palm Beach, is a diverse community, too…

ES: It’s super diverse, and I certainly listened to Derek’s father, Don, when I was there, complain about that, in his ways, all the time! Derek was homeschooled. He was pulled out of school in second or third grade, and he was spun a story of why diversity was bad, of how he was surrounded by a lesser gene pool. They were mad because he was taught the version of American history that says everybody is equal, and a scrubbed version of Thomas Jefferson, not the white nationalist Thomas Jefferson that white nationalists know. They turned the idea of public education, in Derek’s thinking, into another example of why multiculturalism doesn’t work. If he’d been older, in high school, and able to see things for himself, he may have been able to come to his own conclusions.

Derek’s story feels like a victory, but it’s the story of just one racist, albeit a racist with a very high profile, changing his mind and heart. Derek himself acknowledges the existence of structural racism, a much bigger issue than any one person.

ES: One racist changing his or her mind matters, but it does not solve the incredibly embedded problems that this nation faces in terms of structural racism and systemic white supremacy. One of the things that I hope is there in the corners of the book, and that I hope Derek can continue to speak to, is how we can understand the systems of white supremacy. Derek spent the first part of his life [on his radio show, and at white nationalist conferences and “message trainings”] in ways that were useful to mainstreaming that ideology. The polls today are scary—more than half of white people believe that white people suffer racism more than people of color. That’s bananas!

Eli Saslow, author of “Rising Out of Hatred: The Awakening of a Former White Nationalist”

Derek and other white nationalists were very effective in figuring out how to sanitize this ideology from its history of real violence, and instead talk about all the ways that white people are under attack in this country, talk about white genocide, talk about building a wall… Derek’s conclusion, which is certainly my own conclusion, is that the only way for our country to face its racism is to stare into it. We can’t just say ‘we believe in equality and racism is bad,’ we need to confront it.

Higher education is critical to that. Derek would not have left white nationalism if he hadn’t gone to college. I say that because he says that. It’s an incredible time of possibility for people to change their thinking. The possible conversations and interactions in diverse spaces, inside and outside the classroom, don’t happen very often in other times in your life. After college, we go back to our silos.

What’s Derek doing now?

ES: He’s in his last year of the Ph.D. program at the University of Chicago. I think he’s very good at what he does, and his original research in the field of Islamic medievalists is considered excellent. I think he feels a little bit torn these days. It is important to help people reimagine history in the ways it really was, but he also understands that he has a pinpoint, crucial understanding of America’s super-problematic white supremacist history and the ways that this administration and the far-racist fringes of the right can capitalize on that history to create more racial polarization. This summer, he was a consultant at Facebook helping them deal with polarization, but also at the same time reading 20 Islamic texts toward his PhD.

He feels haunted by the fact that he spent the first 22 years of his life spreading these ideas…he’s got a lot to figure out. How to forgive himself, whether to forgive himself, and how to engineer the rest of his life where he feels like he’s doing something important and purposeful.

Bottom line, what do you want people to walk away from the book thinking?

ES: Parts of Derek’s story are very hopeful. It’s fantastic that he emerged from it. Somebody who was going to be very important to the white supremacy movement is now activated to work against it. And that matters. But his story is set against incredible darkness. This ideology is growing. More of the country feels more comfortable in speaking in racially coded ways, and these beliefs are on the rise. White nationalists have been so effective at mainstreaming this sense of ownership among white people of this country, like ‘this country belongs to you! And now it’s something you don’t recognize! Let’s restore it to greatness!’ Unless we really look at that, acknowledge it, and begin a conversation about how, as a country, to fully activate against it, that stuff is only going to fester. I hope there’s enough hope in the book to give people energy to do that. Civil discourse and outreach has some possibilities. But it’s not an easy road.

 

 



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How To Actually Teach Your Kid The Value Of Money



In a world of credit cards, online banking, tax codes, investments and retirement plans, keeping up with money can be tough for adults, and even more so for kids.

So, for the many parents who want to teach their kid economic ideas and prepare them for their financial futures, where the heck is the starting point? 

We asked financial experts to break down the best ways to actually teach kids the value of money. Here’s their advice:

Make sure money isn’t “invisible” to your kids.

Chris Whitlow, CEO of financial wellness benefits provider Edukate, described money as “an emotional issue” and “very much a contact sport.”

“It’s like if you were to read academically about football and then go out and try to play football,” Whitlow told HuffPost. “The act of reading about and playing it are two different things.”

That’s why it’s important for families to speak openly about finances when possible ― like their budget, for example ― to encourage questions from their kids and to set them up to be better prepared in their financial future. This means taking a minute after swiping your debit or credit card to explain that the little thing in your wallet is not the source of limitless money. 

Whitlow also noted that money conversations with kids are opportune times to discuss the difference between “what you need to have to function in life and what you want to have in life.”

Consider letting your children have some money to work with.

One way to teach kids about money is to simply let them have it, and cash is a great start. 

“Cash is a tangible object,” said Gwen Tulin, founder and artistic director of Brain Arts Productions, a group that runs birthday parties, camps and other events that incorporate financial literacy with the arts. “You see it’s there and then it’s not.”

She suggested that caretakers take a few minutes to grab cash from an ATM and pick one store in which they’ll regularly use that money in front of their kids.

“It helps make the idea crystallize in somebody’s mind,” Tulin said. “Then, you can move on to more abstract concepts, but cash is a foundation.” 

If you’re uncomfortable letting your kids have actual money, get creative. Whitlow told HuffPost his family made bills featuring one of his kids’ faces that she was able to earn for various tasks.

“It allowed her to do the things we asked at home ― some of them were emotional, like how she interacted with her siblings,” Whitlow said. “But those bucks had a very tangible utility to them.”

We’ve made money into a foreign language. 401(k) and 529, those are tax code language, and why would we expect the average person to understand the tax code language?
Tanya Van Court, CEO and founder of Goalsetter

There are also options for parents who are OK with letting their kid manage finances on a spending card. The app BusyKid allows parents to manage their children’s chores, pay them, and put that money on a reloadable Visa card for the kids to use, so they’re the ones seeing the balance adjust with every purchase and every chore.

“I think of it as a kid’s first job with direct deposit,” said Gregg Murset, CEO and founder of BusyKid and a certified financial planner.

The platform also allows kids to buy fractional shares of stocks, if that’s a skill you’d like them to learn early on. 

Don’t get overwhelmed with financial language.  

Tanya Van Court started Goalsetter, a saving and giving platform for kids, as a way for families to better celebrate birthdays and holidays with their little ones without racking up a bunch of plastic toys that are hardly used. The founder and CEO gets why many parents are intimidated to even start a conversation about money with their kids. 

“We’ve made money into a foreign language,” Van Court said. “401(k) and 529, those are tax code language, and why would we expect the average person to understand the tax code language?”

Van Court wasn’t taught financial basics as a kid, so she made sure to introduce it to her own children. To help other families do the same, Goalsetter offers an Urban Financial Dictionary that explains financial terms and associates them with movies, TV shows, song lyrics and more.  

Natalia Oberti Noguera, founder and CEO of Pipeline Angels, which promotes angel investing for women and non-binary femme entrepreneurs, noted that it’s important to introduce kids to other economic ideas and to associate money with their lives as adults.

“We’re getting better at having kids think about entrepreneurship,” Oberti Noguera said. “We can talk to kids like, ‘Hey, if you’re interested in start-ups, you can get a job and climb the ladder. You’re actually going to be building wealth and you’ll be able to invest.’”

Don’t forget to explain that money can be a powerful tool to help others.

When talking about money with your kids, you don’t want to leave out the fact that some people are more privileged than others. BusyKid incorporates a list of charities to which kids can donate, and Goalsetter breaks down three different ways in which it lets kids categorize their goals: saving for the future, saving for things and experiences, and sharing with others. The last designation encourages kids to pay it forward with money they’ve earned.

“We not only want the lessons about allocating your money toward things that are important to you,” Van Court said, “but also giving back to other people that don’t have much stuff.”

As Whitlow pointed out, there’s no perfect way to teach kids about financial topics. What you’re aiming for is to “create a certain sense of vigilance about money” so kids will be prepared for their future.

Parenting is harder than ever, and there’s no one way to do it right. So, on Nov. 2, HuffPost Life will convene a community of people trying to figure it out together at our inaugural HuffPost Parents conference, HOW TO RAISE A KID. In advance of the event, HuffPost Parents will publish stories on topics that matter deeply to parents of children who are starting to navigate the world on their own: bullying; sex, consent and gender; money; their digital lives; and how to raise compassionate, self-sufficient, creative, emotionally intelligent children. In short — kids who aren’t assholes. View the event site here and be sure to follow HuffPost Parents on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, and subscribe to our newsletter, How Not To Raise A Jerk.





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A Year After Hurricane Maria, School Closures Make Trauma Worse For Puerto Rico’s Children


CAIMITO, SAN JUAN ― When asked what she remembered about Hurricane Maria, 10-year-old Yermiletsy Quiñonez Rosado immediately began to imitate the high-pitch whistle of the storm’s 155 mph winds.

“We thought the wind was going take the house. We were very scared,” she told HuffPost in late July, her eyes focused on a toy she was restlessly turning in her hands.

But it wasn’t memories of the hurricane that hit Puerto Rico last September or her family’s nearly four months without power or water afterward that made Yermiletsy anxious just weeks before the start of the new school year. It was knowing she would soon begin fifth grade at a new school, Escuela Inés María Mendoza.

“I don’t know anyone at the school I will be going to and that bothers me,” she said. “I’m nervous because the school is very big and I could get lost.”


Carolina Moreno/HuffPost

Yermiletsy Quiñonez Rosado, 10, had to leave Abelardo Díaz Alfaro elementary school after Puerto Rico’s Department of Education closed it this spring.

Inés María Mendoza, a public K-12 school located in the working-class neighborhood of Caimito in San Juan, is four times bigger than Abelardo Díaz Alfaro, the elementary school that Yermiletsy attended from kindergarten until Puerto Rico’s Department of Education closed it this spring.

“I couldn’t believe it,” her mother, 29-year-old Betsy Rosado Sánchez, told HuffPost. “I graduated from that little school. My oldest daughter graduated from that school and all my other girls were there.”

The mother of five said her daughters would often cry because many of their friends were being sent to different schools outside the Caimito neighborhood.

Yermiletsy and her younger siblings are just a few of the hundreds of kids across the island forced to switch schools in August, after 255 public schools were permanently closed at the end of the 2017-2018 school year. Despite teachers’ fervent objections and public protests, they joined the 167 schools shuttered last year. (That leaves 856 schools in operation, according to the Department of Education.)

Abelardo Díaz Alfaro elementary school is just one of 255 public schools that were permanently shut down at the e


Aja Harris/HuffPost

Abelardo Díaz Alfaro elementary school is just one of 255 public schools that were permanently shut down at the end of the 2017-2018 school year.

These closures disproportionately affect children living in low-income communities, which were also hit hardest when Hurricane Maria destroyed much of the island’s infrastructure a year ago, killing nearly 3,000 people and leaving millions of survivors without power or water for months.

But the storm’s destruction is not solely to blame. The island’s decade-plus economic crisis is also driving the school closures, and Puerto Rico’s education secretary, Julia Keleher, told HuffPost this latest decision was made because the island’s school system had lost more than 125,000 students since 2014.

Keleher said consolidating students into the remaining facilities meant the government could divide its finite funds among fewer schools, which would in theory help improve the quality of education.

“The system has been left to decay and self-deteriorate for over a decade,” she said, adding that she was not insensitive to the pain the decision has caused. Keleher suggested she didn’t have a better choice: “I am responsible for changing the distribution of resources in a way that allows more kids to have an opportunity to learn.”

But child psychologists say the decision ― which strips thousands of children of familiar social circles, adult figures and safe spaces ― represents a major new loss in the mounting trauma that Puerto Rican kids have faced since Maria. 

Betsy Rosado Sánchez comforts her youngest daughter, 6-year-old Marina, on their front porch. Marina, like her older s


Carolina Moreno/HuffPost

Betsy Rosado Sánchez comforts her youngest daughter, 6-year-old Marina, on their front porch. Marina, like her older sister Yermiletsy, had to change schools.

‘The Child Simply Can’t Put It Into Words’

“Already so many children and teens have had to deal with all this loss from the hurricane, and now to have to face these new challenges,” said Dr. Mario González, a child psychiatrist in the municipality of Dorado. “I would expect that at the beginning they could present symptoms of depression, adjustment disorders and anxiety disorders.”

While no data have been gathered yet on how Puerto Rico’s youngest citizens are faring psychologically in the aftermath of Maria, mental health experts on the island told HuffPost that the need for quality mental health services for children and teens is greater than ever.

Puerto Rico is facing a significant shortage of mental health professionals, according to Dr. Karen Martinez, a child and adolescent psychiatrist who directs the Center for the Study of Treatment of Fear and Anxiety at the University of Puerto Rico. Through her careful tracking, she’s found there are only about 28 psychiatrists left on the island who are trained to work with children and adolescents. But most of them are working with adults, where there’s more job security.

Within the school system, she added, mental health services are “practically non-existent.”

What’s more, the Puerto Rican government’s new, more centralized schooling strategy didn’t include a comprehensive plan to implement mental health services.

Without trained professionals readily available, children and teens can fall through the cracks because they manifest trauma very differently from adults ― through behaviors like the reappearance of bedwetting, unusual levels of crying or sudden aggression from a normally peaceable child ― and unsuspecting parents, guardians and teachers might not realize who’s in crisis.

“Many times people think that the child is misbehaving and it’s a behavior problem when it’s actually anxiety or depression and the child simply can’t put it into words because they don’t have the vocabulary yet to tell them what’s happening,” Martinez said.

School psychologist Rebeca Román Barranco prepares for this school year in Inés María Mendoza's Casa Fam


Carolina Moreno/HuffPost

School psychologist Rebeca Román Barranco prepares for this school year in Inés María Mendoza’s Casa Familiar room.

‘Everything Was Sadness’

Rebeca Román Barranco is an exception to the overall lack of mental health care providers in schools. As a permanently placed school psychologist at Inés María Mendoza, she oversees the Casa Familiar program, an initiative run by a nonprofit using federal funds that offers psychological services to students.

Román Barranco said many students at Inés María Mendoza showed clear signs of distress in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Maria. Since then, she’s seen everything from frequent crying and lack of appetite to aggression and kids reluctant to even set foot in their classrooms.

Children and teens she has met with grapple not just with memories of the storm, but also with the changes in routine that came in its aftermath. Most families in Caimito were left without power and water for months, and some had limited access to food or shelter.

About a month after Maria, Román Barranco went into a classroom and asked the children, ages 7 to 10, to draw or write down how they were feeling.

“Everything was sadness,” she said of what the kids drew. “One of the drawings was a house without a roof, a mom, a dad and a child crying. That for me was so shocking. … He needs help, and he’s not asking for help.”

Students at Inés María Mendoza, a public K-12 school located in the working-class San Juan neighborhood of


Carolina Moreno/HuffPost

Students at Inés María Mendoza, a public K-12 school located in the working-class San Juan neighborhood of Caimito, began this school year with hundreds of new students from two nearby closed schools.

To make matter worse, like many children across the island, students at Inés María Mendoza returned to class with shorter school days (due to the lack of power and water) and higher-than-normal workloads to compensate for lost time.

“For many schools, it was difficult to be able to make sure kids would meet all the requirements they needed to pass the year,” said Martinez, of the University of Puerto Rico. “And the level of stress [among the kids] got significantly higher. I saw many kids who couldn’t handle the pressure.”

Martinez said the start of the 2018-2019 school year has been equally chaotic, with schools assigning additional work in an effort to prepare for the possibility of another major storm this hurricane season. That has led to a significant increase in anxiety and breakdowns among students, she said.

“I’ve already had several crises,” Martinez said.

Many times people think that the child is misbehaving … when it’s actually anxiety or depression.
Dr. Karen Martinez, a child and adolescent psychiatrist at the University of Puerto Rico

Last school year at Inés María Mendoza, Román Barranco said those challenges ultimately meant grades began to slip and cases of home abuse appeared.

“Maria brought a lot of despair and frustration over not having enough food for their kids,” she said. “That has consequences. The frustrations are repressed and they can manifest as violence against students and the community.”

“Before Maria, I had no reports of suicidal thoughts; after Maria, I did have some cases of possible suicidal thoughts,” she said, adding that it was mainly teenagers who felt that way.

Román Barranco has been there to help students in Caimito work through the trauma of the storm and its aftermath, but most public school children in Puerto Rico don’t have mental health professionals on hand. In fact, unless they attend one of just 10 public schools that host the Casa Familiar program, their only access to mental health services may be through a Department of Education “triage unit” ― psychologists deployed on a short-term basis to schools in need of help.

Yermiletsy's three younger sisters ― (from left) Alondra, 9; Mia, 7; Marina, 6 ― also started the new school year at In&


Carolina Moreno/HuffPost

Yermiletsy’s three younger sisters ― (from left) Alondra, 9; Mia, 7; Marina, 6 ― also started the new school year at Inés María Mendoza after their previous school closed.

When Trauma Accumulates

In Puerto Rico, few people know more about a hurricane’s impact on children than Dr. Glorisa Canino. The child psychologist, who has spent the last 35 years as director of the Behavioral Sciences Research Institute at the University of Puerto Rico, has done extensive research into how Puerto Rico’s previous major storm ― 1998’s Hurricane Georges ― affected children.

Four studies, published from 2011 to 2013, found that children were emotionally resilient in the face of the natural disaster, but the success of their recovery was highly dependent on how well their support systems fared during and after the storm.

“Children’s response to hurricanes is highly related to how the primary caretaker’s response is. If the primary caretaker is very afraid and is affected by the hurricane, then the child is going to be affected,” Canino told HuffPost. “It is not only the effects of what happens during the storm, but it’s what happens after that storm.”

Canino noted that after a traumatic event, young children may become very attached to their parents or guardian again. Older kids may exhibit post-traumatic symptoms ― including nightmares, other sleeping problems and difficulty with darkness. Teens might also act out sexually, she said.

Overall, kids with a troubled home life or a pre-existing psychiatric problem are at higher risk of developing psychiatric problems in the aftermath of a natural disaster. Canino said children from low socioeconomic backgrounds are also more likely to develop these behaviors because their families and communities tend to suffer more from natural disasters.

Even before Hurricane Maria hit, Lizxayra Meléndez Trinidad, 12, had been getting help from Román Barranco and


Carolina Moreno/HuffPost

Even before Hurricane Maria hit, Lizxayra Meléndez Trinidad, 12, had been getting help from Román Barranco and the social worker at Inés María Mendoza.

Kids from impoverished neighborhoods, for example, are more likely to have had their homes destroyed, lost relatives or endured food insecurity and homelessness in the aftermath of a storm. They’re also more likely to be impacted by school closures, since low-income neighborhoods are more reliant on public schools that depend on government funding.

While the research after Georges offers a guide, experts who spoke to HuffPost believe the effects of Maria will be more profound.

“Studies after Georges give us some insight and a foundation, but we have to evaluate it in light of the fact that [Maria] was a bigger catastrophe,” Martinez said.

“The damages in terms of infrastructure were far greater with Hurricanes Irma and Maria, because it was one hurricane after the other,” she continued. “There’s also the fact that in Puerto Rico we’ve spent years dealing with an economic crisis that has caused an atmosphere of insecurity and anxiety. So this time around it’s been several traumas that have accumulated.”

González noted that one other big difference is the widespread separation of families post-Maria. The adults in a child’s life, he said, are truly “the frame of reference from which kids or teenagers learn how to handle situations.” They’re also part of a child’s routine, and he said re-establishing routines is crucial to helping a child regain a sense of normality.

“If families are separated, even temporarily, and some children have to move to the U.S. and be separated from their cousins, their siblings, their grandparents, their whole environment ― basically all of that, in one way or another, can affect the mental health of children and adolescents,” he said.

A mural at Abelardo Díaz Alfaro elementary school, with locked classroom doors in the background. 


Aja Harris/HuffPost

A mural at Abelardo Díaz Alfaro elementary school, with locked classroom doors in the background. 

The Loss Of A Safe Space 

Returning to familiar schools can play an important role in a child’s healing process after a traumatic event ― even a struggling school without power or water, according to González.

“The fact that the teachers continue to come and teach class is an important part of them recovering a sense of normalcy,” he said.

Keleher, the education secretary, assured HuffPost that her agency was “done” closing schools. Still, for many children, especially those dealing with other trauma from Hurricane Maria, the damage has been done.

The school closures won’t just be affecting students from shuttered schools. González pointed out that the influx of new students can “exacerbate pre-existing situations or conditions” among children and teens at the schools that are staying open.

Just over a month into the new school year, it’s still too soon to measure the impact these closures will have on kids’ mental health. Likewise, experts told HuffPost there are currently no studies underway that focus on children and teenagers’ overall mental health in the aftermath of Maria. But they hope that will change in the coming months.

In the meantime, they stress that increasing access to quality mental health care is crucial to preventing current disorders among young Puerto Ricans from persisting into adulthood.

“We’re talking about the next generation of leaders who will guide the country and the world in the future,” González said. “We need them to be as strong as possible so they can face all of the challenges to come.”

The basketball court at the now-shuttered Abelardo Díaz Alfaro elementary school.


Aja Harris/HuffPost

The basketball court at the now-shuttered Abelardo Díaz Alfaro elementary school.



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Lisa Murkowski’s Brother Went To Brett Kavanaugh’s High School


Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) has a brother who went to the same high school as Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh in the 1980s, giving her a deeper insight into the atmosphere and culture of the elite private school world in Washington, D.C., as Kavanaugh faces an allegation of sexual assault from his teenage years.

Brian Murkowski, the senator’s younger brother, graduated from Georgetown Prep in 1986, three years after Kavanaugh. A person who was in Brian’s class described him as a “big-time partier” and noted that the school seemed to really get serious and crack down on partying in 1986.

It’s not clear how much Lisa Murkowski has talked to her brother, who stays out of the public eye. But she’s evidently consulted him at least briefly, because Karina Borger, Murkowski’s spokeswoman, said that “Senator Murkowski’s brother didn’t know Kavanaugh.”

Still, the connection is one that gives Murkowski more to consider as she weighs the nomination. The senator is considered one of the most likely Republican “no” votes on Kavanaugh, but so far, she’s been quiet about how she’s leaning on confirming him. She is facing significant pressure to vote against Kavanaugh from activists on women’s rights, health care and Alaska Natives.


Georgetown Prep yearbook

From the 1983/1984 Georgetown Prep yearbook, Brian Murkowski is in the top photo on the far right.

Christine Blasey Ford, a professor in California, has accused Kavanaugh of attempting to sexually assault her while they were at a high school party in the 1980s. At the time, she was 15 and a student at Holton-Arms, an all-girls private school in Bethesda, Maryland, and Kavanaugh was 17.

Ford alleges that Kavanaugh and his friend locked her in a room and that Kavanaugh, who was drunk, held her down and tried to remove her clothes. She said that at one point he held his hand on her mouth to stifle her screams, but that she managed to escape.

Lisa Murkowski went to high school in Alaska, but in 1980, her father, Frank, was elected to the U.S. Senate. That meant her family was spending more time in Washington, D.C., and that when it was time for her younger brother to attend high school, he went to Georgetown Prep. 

Brian Murkowski did not return a request for comment. 



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Ellen DeGeneres Meets School Counselor Who May Be Fired For Her Same-Sex Marriage



An Indianapolis guidance counselor told Ellen DeGeneres her future remains “in limbo” after officials at the Catholic high school where she works put her on paid administrative leave last month when they learned she’s in a same-sex marriage. 

Shelly Fitzgerald dropped by “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” on Monday, where she discussed being told by administrators at Roncalli High School that her job of 15 years would be on the line if she chose not to “dissolve” her marriage. 

Fitzgerald and her wife, Victoria, have been married for four years, but together for 22 and have a 12-year-old daughter. Though she said most of her school colleagues knew about her relationship, it had never surfaced as an issue until an unknown person sent a copy of her marriage certificate to administrators. 

She told DeGeneres she decided to speak out only after officials released public statements about the status of her employment last month.

“They announced that I was on administrative, paid leave, and that I was banned from campus, which was obviously hurtful,” she said. At that point, she said, school officials released a statement explaining why she’d been placed on leave and “put it on all of their social media and sent out a press release,” thereby outing her publicly. 

Though Roncalli administrators have mostly kept quiet about the case, they posted a lengthy note on Facebook last month cited by The Associated Press that read, “The personal conduct of every teacher, guidance counselor and administrator and staff member, both at school and away from school, must convey and be supportive of the teachings of the Catholic Church.”

Fitzgerald and the school have yet to reach any accord on what the next steps will be.

“I’m obviously not going to dissolve my marriage. I have no desire to resign from a job that I adore,” she said. “We want to work together and see what happens, and so it’s kind of just in limbo, still.” 

During the interview, DeGeneres surprised Fitzgerald by inviting a group of the school’s students onto the show to express their support for her. Those students had launched an online fundraiser aimed at “saving our amazing LGBT+ teachers and bringing awareness to the equality of the LGBT+ community” and, they hope, getting Fitzgerald’s contract revised so she can stay employed at their school. 

The host, however, saved the biggest (and best) surprise for last, presenting the students with a check for $25,000 toward their campaign.  



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Help for Educators Impacted by Hurricane Florence


Waves slam the Oceana Pier & Pier House Restaurant in Atlantic Beach, N.C., Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018 as Hurricane Florence approaches the area. (Travis Long/The News & Observer via AP)

Devastating, widespread flooding from Hurricane Florence has swamped huge swaths of North and South Carolina and has left at least 17 people dead as waters continue to rise. Millions are without power and about 15,000 people were in shelters across North Carolina by Sunday afternoon, many of which are staffed by the educators who work there.

Hurricane Florence is having a devastating impact on thousands of NEA members and their families in the southeastern United States, and we are rallying the support of the union to come to their aid.

NEA Member Benefits is facilitating disaster relief funding collection to help support members affected by Hurricane Florence. NEA MB has set up two opportunities for NEA members, affiliates, and business partners to help support recovery efforts:

  • Individuals may contribute to the NEA Hurricane Florence Relief Fund via a special GoFundMe page.
  • NEA Affiliates and other organizations, including NEA MB business partners, may make donations via check.

If you would like to help, please consider making a donation to the NEA Hurricane Florence Relief Fund. Please be assured that 100 percent of funds donated will go to affected NEA members and their families through their state affiliates.

For individual donations:
Individuals may contribute to the NEA Hurricane Florence Relief Fund via a special GoFundMe page.

For state affiliates, business partners and other organizations, please make your donation by check.
Checks should be payable to:
NEA Member Benefits Relief Fund
ATTN: Cecilia Evans, Hurricane Florence Relief
900 Clopper Rd., Ste. 300
Gaithersburg, MD 20878-1356

“NEA and NEA Member Benefits extend our heartfelt gratitude to all for the tremendous support being shown NEA members and families in need. Our hearts, thoughts, and prayers remain with the people of affected by Hurricane Florence,” said NEA President Lily Eskelsen García. “The recovery will not happen overnight but the more than 3 million members of the National Education Association family stand ready to help our fellow educators as they work to rebuild their families, homes, schools and communities.”

Donations to the NEA-MB’s GoFundMe page for Hurricane Florence relief will go a long way to replace belongings and the many expenses educators and their families will certainly incur in the days, weeks, and months to come.

“All of us can play a role in rebuilding the lives of those impacted by these natural disasters, standing strong for our members and their families, and mending communities,” said Eskelsen García. “On behalf of affected NEA members, thank you for your prayers and generosity.”

NEA Member Benefits Assistance

NEA Member Benefits is here to support educators in tough times. For members affected by Hurricane Florence, including damage to a house, auto, or classroom as the result of the hurricanes, visit www.neamb.com/disaster-assistance.htm for more information about which NEA MB Partner offers might apply to you and your situation. You may also contact the Member Service Center toll-free at 1-800-637-4636.

NEA Resources

Educators know that when disasters such as Hurricane Florence strike, children are often traumatized and they need help from families and educators to cope and heal. NEA is providing resources and information to help deal with students’ fears and questions.

NEA’s School Crisis Guide (PDF)
A step-by-step outline of what to do before, during, and after any school or community crisis like a natural disaster. NEA offers best practices that address the full spectrum of crisis response from how to prevent and prepare for a crisis to how to respond and recover in the minutes, days and weeks following the event.

Resources for Educators, Students and Families

Source: Associated Press

American Red Cross The American Red Cross is working around the clock to provide safe shelter and comfort for the hundreds of thousands of people impacted by this disaster.

North Carolina Department of Public Safety central web site for North Carolina response.

The American School Counselor Association provides an extensive list of resources for helping kids deal with hurricanes and floods.

Colorin Colorado Colorin Colorado is a bilingual web site for educators and families has information on how to help children after a natural disaster and additional resources.

National Child Traumatic Stress Network “After the Hurricane: Helping Young Children Heal”.

Harvest Hope Food Banks are in need of donations for food banks across the Carolinas.

United Way provides basic needs such as food, shelter and medicine, as well as the long-term recovery services.

Additional Resources

Tips for Parents: Helping Kids Cope with Hurricane Harvey (Save the Children)

Remembering Hurricane Katrina: 15 Moving Books for Kids of All Ages (Brightly)

Recommended Children’s Books About Hurricanes (ThoughtCo)

Talk to Your Kids About Hurricanes (Scholastic)



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How To Talk To Your Kids About Natural Disasters


From hurricanes and tornadoes to earthquakes, mudslides and even extreme blizzards and flooding, families around the world have faced the trauma of natural disasters.

As Hurricane Florence batters the Carolinas, parents living in and outside the storm’s path are facing questions about it from their children. HuffPost spoke to experts in child and adolescent psychiatry about the best ways to talk to kids about natural disasters.

Here are 10 things to keep in mind when discussing natural disasters with children at different developmental stages. While the advice is geared toward families directly affected by a particular disaster, many of these guidelines can apply to children outside the disaster zone, as well as those who have faced disasters in the past and may be feeling triggered by the latest news.

Remain Calm

“Kids do best if their parents are calm and measured,” Gene Beresin, Harvard Medical School psychiatry professor and executive director of the Clay Center for Young Healthy Minds at Massachusetts General Hospital, told HuffPost. “Anxiety is contagious, and when parents are fearful or bent out of shape, kids of all ages are going to pick up on that.”

Beresin recommends parents follow the principle of an airplane oxygen mask: Secure your own mask before attending to the child next to you. In times of natural disasters, parents should first calm themselves down ― perhaps by talking to a partner or friend ― before trying to reassure their children. This will set a better tone for the conversation and allow them to focus on providing safety in a time of chaos.

Little kids have big ears, and if the parents are talking about roofs blowing off or trees smashing into houses, they hear that stuff and worry about it.
Gene Beresin, executive director, Clay Center for Young Healthy Minds

With younger kids, parents should also be mindful of the conversations they’re having in their children’s presence. “Little kids have big ears, and if the parents are talking about roofs blowing off or trees smashing into houses, they hear that stuff and worry about it,” Beresin said. 

Limit Media Exposure

Similarly, it’s best to be mindful of what kids are picking up from media.

“Under these circumstances, adults and older kids have a tendency to stay glued to the TV or radio,” Steven Berkowitz, co-chair of disaster and trauma issues at the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, told HuffPost. “But that’s not really helpful for young kids because they don’t understand everything, and it just becomes overwhelming.”

Turning off the TV can help keep their worries at bay. Older kids and teenagers have steady access to information as they engage with social media, but Beresin suggested that parents watch the news with their adolescents so they can answer questions and talk to them about what’s happening.


Hero Images via Getty Images

Younger kids can be overwhelmed by all the images and information in the news. 

Find Out What They Want To Know

“Don’t assume you know what your child is thinking about and what their concerns are,” said Allan Chrisman, a Duke University associate professor emeritus of psychiatry and behavioral sciences and AACAP disaster and trauma program co-chair. “There’s always a tendency for parents to over-explain or bring in information that is at a higher level than the child is at, so try to understand what exactly the child’s questions are really about in terms of their own thinking and feelings.”

Kids may not be forthright with their concerns, so parents should ask them open-ended questions first, like “How are you feeling?” “What have you seen or heard?” or “What are you worried about?”

“Kids need the reassurance that they’re going to be safe, but you want to address their specific fears. And you can’t know what their fears are without asking them,” Beresin said. “They might ask, ‘Is our dog going to be OK? What about our goldfish? Can we take our goldfish?’” Even if they aren’t in the direct storm path, kids might be worried about family members who are, and children who have lived through natural disasters in the past might be worried for other little kids.

Keep It Age-Appropriate

According to Beresin, kids of all ages want to know three fundamental things: “Am I safe?” “Are my caregivers safe?” and “How is this disaster going to affect my daily life?”

How parents answer these questions and the amount of detail they should offer depends on a child’s developmental age. “Parents know their child best and how much information they can take in,” said Melissa Brymer, the director of terrorism and disaster programs at the UCLA-Duke University National Center for Child Traumatic Stress.

Kids of all ages want to know three fundamental things: “Am I safe?” “Are my caregivers safe?” and “How is this disaster going to affect my daily life?”

Little kids are more easily confused and overwhelmed, and may even think that they played some part in causing a disaster, or blame themselves. School-aged children are better at processing information and are able to absorb factual explanations. Adolescents are the most aware of what’s happening, and are likely taking in up-to-date news from social media and other sources.

“Preschoolers need to know, ‘This is not something that anybody has control over, and what we need to be able to do is be prepared,’” Berkowitz said. “They should know it’s up to their parents or family to keep them safe, so that’s what they’re going to do.”

Depending on the situation, it’s also important to let little kids know roughly what the plan is, Berkowitz said ― but beyond that, the details of the disaster may get too confusing or increase their anxiety. A little extra TLC, like hugging or cuddling time, can also go a long way.

Part of reassuring kids is offering a little TLC. 


Blend Images – KidStock via Getty Images

Part of reassuring kids is offering a little TLC. 

Brymer suggests using analogies to help kids understand what’s going on. If school-aged kids ask what exactly a hurricane is, for example, one way to help them think about it is to compare it to baking a cake. “You have to have all the right ingredients to make a good cake, and there are certain ingredients that form a hurricane too, like warm water and big, steady winds,” she explained. Brymer also compared it to a top spinning on a table that’s suddenly knocked down by big wind rotating harder or in a different direction.

With adolescents, parents can be direct and treat them more like peers in the situation, letting them know everything they’ve learned and discussing the family’s action plan. 

Be Honest

While it’s important to remain calm and keep your conversations age-appropriate, parents can be honest about their uncertainty, even while reassuring their children. 

“Be open to responding to questions you may not know the answer to,” Berkowitz said. “It’s OK to say you don’t know. If you can find out the answer, say, ‘I’m gonna try to find out,’ and if not, be able to say, ‘Hmm, let’s see, I really don’t know, but here’s the plan.’” 

Kids may want to know if their room or toys will be OK, and parents shouldn’t offer false promises, but rather emphasize that they’ll fix it or replace it if something bad happens.

Kids are reassured by honesty and calmness.
Gene Beresin

Parents can also be open about their feelings, Beresin said.

“If you’re nervous or afraid that the house will be messed up, you can tell them, ‘Yeah, I’m worried that there may be some damage, because we put a lot of effort into our house, and we may have to spend some time taking care of it, but we’ll fix it. We’ll be safe and together and just do what we have to do,’” he said. “Kids are reassured by honesty and calmness.”

Focus On Preparedness

A great way to assuage fears about natural disasters is to focus on things you can control, like your preparations for an expected or unexpected event. “It’s very important that you are making the plan more concrete for them: ‘This is what it means. This is what we’re doing,’” Berkowitz said. Outlining the family’s plan with age-appropriate details is incredibly helpful.

Sometimes kids outside the zone of a particular disaster may ask their parents, “Can this happen here?” It’s crucial to offer concrete steps and plans in those instances too.

“The short answer is, ’Something can happen here, and here are some things that have happened to this area in the past. But we’re going to make sure that we’re prepared,’” Berkowitz said. 

Sudden events like a tornado or an earthquake generally don’t offer as much time to prepare as a hurricane, but there are still steps you can take, and it’s important to share those plans with kids. For school-aged kids, that may involve telling them which phone numbers to call or text, or which adults to contact if the disaster strikes while the family isn’t together, Brymer said. For teenagers, that may also involve telling them what to do if they’re out driving and a tornado forms.

Include Them In The Process

“Older children in particular are at the point in their development where a conversation can be viewed as an opportunity to help them feel that they’re an effective agent in being able to mitigate the damage of the threat,” Chrisman said, suggesting that parents give their children roles in the preparation.

Kids can get involved in the preparation process in age-appropriate ways, like packing their backpacks or helping to pick up


paul mansfield photography via Getty Images

Kids can get involved in the preparation process in age-appropriate ways, like packing their backpacks or helping to pick up groceries and other supplies. 

“I have a friend who had to make sure his boat was secure ahead of Hurricane Florence, and he took his adolescent son with him,” Chrisman said. “His son was quite excited to not only help secure the boat and items that could potentially be lost, but also when he came back, to explain to the other kids at his Boy Scout troop meeting, ‘This is how you prepare for a disaster if you have a boat.’”

Berkowitz recommends getting school-aged kids actively involved in the preparation process at their appropriate developmental level.  

“Whether it’s putting together their backpacks or knowing how to map out the evacuation, the more they can feel they have some sort of input or involvement makes them feel more in control in an uncontrollable situation,” he said.

Teenagers can participate more actively by brainstorming with their parents and offering their own problem-solving skills, Beresin said. Chrisman noted that kids outside a disaster zone can also help affected family members by sending them messages of support, offering shelter or gathering supplies.   

Pay Attention To Nonverbal Cues

Children may not always express their feelings verbally, especially if they are very young or have developmental disabilities. Beresin noted that a child’s emotional distress may manifest in aggression, sleeping issues, bed-wetting, fear of the dark, anxiety, irritability, picky eating and a whole host of other ways. Parents should pay attention to these cues.

“The other thing is they may express their feelings by drawing, or playing with dolls or action figures,” he said. “I would encourage them to play, and just watch them play, whether they’re playing with little houses or buildings being knocked down ― that’s their way of grappling with the issues.”

They may express their feelings by drawing, or playing with dolls or action figures.
Gene Beresin

“We have workbooks at the Red Cross shelters here that use storytelling to relate what’s going on to kids, and offer an activity at the same time,” Chrisman said. “The family can create a scrapbook for a natural disaster, for instance, and people can get school-aged kids to cut out articles from a newspaper or pictures and put them in a scrapbook. That kind of thing can be helpful ― something simple and concrete that relates to the event and gives them the opportunity to express themselves.”

Use Resources

The American Red Cross website offers disaster safety resources for children and parents, including a kid-friendly activity book featuring Mickey Mouse and other Disney characters.

Brymer noted that the National Child Traumatic Stress Network has a free app called Help Kids Cope, which helps answers questions about what to do in different disaster situations and how to explain these events to preschool, elementary school and adolescent kids. The app also offers general preparedness tips and guidance for helping kids heal in the aftermath of such events.

There are also many children’s books about natural disasters, anxiety and resilience in times of adversity. 

Talk About Community

“Community is really important,” Beresin said. “Whether it’s a spiritual community or friends and neighbors, it’s a helpful way to feel that you’re OK and secure.”

Talking to your kids about community and the good people out there who will help them is very reassuring, he added. “Tell them, ‘We may have to leave home and go to a safe place, but folks are coming in from other states to help make everything OK.’”

Playing a role in rebuilding their community can be therapeutic for young people and adults alike.


Hero Images via Getty Images

Playing a role in rebuilding their community can be therapeutic for young people and adults alike.

Another thing to keep in mind when discussing adversity, community and resilience is culture.

“This might be a good time to introduce how other kids in their school might be coping differently because they may have different cultural backgrounds, religious beliefs, things like that,” Chrisman said. “So you’re not giving them the impression that there’s only one way to cope, but that you respect and value other points of view.” 

In the aftermath of a disaster, school-aged kids and teenagers can participate in efforts to help rebuild their community. Kids outside the disaster zone can also participate in donation drives or take community service trips to affected areas. 

“Let them get involved in picking things up or helping others,” Beresin said, adding that it’s helpful to channel anxiety into pro-social activity. “When kids help get a community back on its feet, it’s therapeutic for everyone.” 

Parenting is harder than ever, and there’s no one way to do it right. So on Nov. 2, HuffPost Life will convene a community of people trying to figure it out together at our inaugural HuffPost Parents conference, HOW TO RAISE A KID. In advance of the event, HuffPost Parents will publish stories on topics that matter deeply to parents of children who are starting to navigate the world on their own: bullying; sex, consent and gender; money; their digital lives; and how to raise compassionate, self-sufficient, creative, emotionally intelligent children. In short — kids who aren’t assholes. View the event site here and be sure to follow HuffPost Parents on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, and subscribe to our newsletter, How Not To Raise A Jerk.





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An Entire Senior Class Aces Picture Day By Hilariously Dressing Up For Their IDs



The senior class at a high school in Farmington Hills, Michigan, gets an A+ for bringing the internet some good clean fun this week.

Each year, the graduating class at North Farmington High School in the suburbs of Detroit dresses up on picture day. For most students in the school, the photos taken on this day appear in both the yearbook and on their student IDs.

But because the graduating class takes separate senior portraits for the yearbook, these lucky teens get to be way more creative with their IDs.

Most students look for a celebrity or pop cultural doppelganger to emulate, some seniors told HuffPost.

“I’ve always been known for my curly and poofy hair,” Sydney Gordon, 16, told HuffPost. “So I decided to choose a character that had exactly that.”

Other students dress up in the name of representation.

“Growing up, representation of Asians was limited, and I was very self-conscious about my race,” Jessy Wu, 17, told HuffPost. “So I decided to recreate [Lara Jean from ‘To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before’] for my ID! … I had a lot of fun recreating this and hope this inspires all my fellow Asians to embrace their culture.”

And some seniors strive to be completely original.

“I thought it’d be funny to do something random and unlike anything anyone else was doing!” Claudia Cerezo, 17, told HuffPost. “I tried to think of something that required minimum effort and maximum results!!”

Even teachers get in on the fun.

“The teachers and administration also enjoy seeing what the students come up with,” Erika Rust, an English teacher at North Farmington who dressed up as Garth from “Wayne’s World” with fellow teacher Jessica Read, who donned a hat for Wayne. “Many of us encourage their creativity and enthusiasm.”

The tradition dates back to 2013, when a few seniors approached administrators with the idea. After some discussion, they approved it, according to Rust.

The seniors’ IDs at North Farmington have gone viral since then, and the rest of the school has embraced the tradition.

“It is a rite of passage for the seniors and it has been something we have been looking forward to since we were freshmen,” Molly Deighton, 18, told HuffPost. “The one thing that I really like about it is that it’s unique to North Farmington, and while everybody has prom, we have senior ID day, which is always the best day of the year.”

Check out some of the best pictures from the class of 2019 below.





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Educators Speak Out on Buying Their Own School Supplies


Their own salaries continue to stagnate, and many are looking to a second job to help make ends meet. Still, practically all public school educators are reaching into their own pocket to pay for school supplies without reimbursement. According to a recent survey by the National Center for Education Statistics, 94 percent of teachers spend their own money to stock their classrooms with the necessary supplies and resources. On average, a teacher will shell out about $479, although 7 percent spent more than $1,000, according to the survey.

So what are they buying? It’s not just pencils and masking tape. Recently, the National Education Association asked educators to share their #OutOFMyPocket stories – how much they spend annually on classroom supplies, what they purchase, and why they believe it’s necessary to dig so deep into their own paychecks. Here are just a few of the stories from educators who, as they continue to stand up to lawmakers to demand better pay and school funding, are doing what they can in the meantime to help get students the support they need. 

Serra Laurenco, California
Every year I start “back to school shopping” as soon as school gets out. I have to buy pencils (hundreds), erasers, white board markers, packs of crayons, scissors, glue sticks, pencil boxes for all my kids, cases of copy paper, index cards, colored pencils, markers, and more!! I spend an average of $3,000 every year. I purchase books for my class and individual students who don’t have any at home, sometimes backpacks and jackets for kids who need them as well. Being a teacher isn’t easy; we spend so much time on our profession and money from our pockets.

Juli Taylor, Missouri
I’m a special education teacher, and many of my students have physical disabilities, so they need specific adaptive equipment in order to meaningfully access their education. These include sensory bins, vibrating teethers, fidget toys, and many other things. Each year, we are given a budget of $150 to place a requisition order. This year, I spent $109 out of $150 on a special order, and was told two weeks into the school year that the items I wanted were sold out. I have not heard back yet whether or not I can place a new requisition order for the year.

In addition to special adaptive items, I buy snacks for my students out of pocket. We also cook each Friday to practice important functional measuring skills. I think this activity is soimportant, and I am given a budget of $100 to spend on the groceries required to cook the food. We spend that $100 within the first eight weeks of school.

I do not have access to a colored printer in my building, although many of my students’ level of literacy representation is colored line drawings. I can use the copy center if I can wait two weeks for the materials, but I frequently need visual supports the next day to help students who struggle with emotional regulation to be successful in their school day. So I bought my own printer, I buy my own colored ink, and I bought my own laminator. I spend hours at home printing and laminating my own materials, and hundreds of dollars on colored ink and laminating film.

 

Regino Ramos, Texas
As a band director at a Title I district, I have many students that come from very disadvantaged families. In some cases, both parents work, and the father has an extra job. They make minimum wage, and with all that have a hard time making ends meet. In order for the student to march in the band, they must purchase marching shoes ($50), supplies for their instrument, ($25), band shirts and a band hat, ($35). Regularly I put in $1500 to cover the expense of these students. Then there are times when I need to purchase supplies, reeds, etc.

Our district is very supportive of the program, but these expenses are not covered by Title 1 funds and we are not always able to fundraise.

I love my kids, I love my community, but I wish that our state would give us higher wages, or a greater tax deduction, or maybe even a tax credit!

Jamie McAlpine, Maine
Out district does reimburse teachers up to $250 they may spend each school year, but as a paraeducator, I do not receive that benefit. I teach social skills and while I was extremely grateful that teachers in my building donated games and materials to me for use with my kiddos, I still spent around $200 on books, games, and teaching materials (amen for Teachers Pay Teachers!) to use with my kids. This year the district helped fund more of the curriculum I will be using, but that was a big hit last year working on a para salary. I’m thankful for supportive colleagues and online resources to help me get through!

Mandy De Groote used her own money to create a flexible, more engaging learning evironment for her students.

Mandy De Groote, California
This year, we received 12 pencils, 3 boxes of crayons, 2 Post-it notes,  and a handful of composition books. Everything else in my classroom was funded by me. As teaching becomes more challenging, from a student and an administrative expectation standpoint, it is important to create a learning environment that inspires the students and yourself. This year I financed all the flexible seating, all the school supplies, additional chromebooks, and curriculum to meet state standards (we have none for NGSS) as well as curriculum that is innovative and engages students.

Alicia Fisher, Maryland
Even at the Dollar Store and Target, things add up. I have spent approximately $200 this summer for the 2018-19 year and my aunt spent approximately $50. Each year she makes a donation to my class. We bought crayons, pencils, bulletin board paper and border, a broom, wipes, snacks, folders, Sticky Tack and bins to name a few. Still need a couple pillows and a rug. That’ll come later.

Elizabeth Brown, Utah
I’m an art teacher at four schools with almost 3,000 students. My budget is around $350. My budget covers a piece of construction paper per student. Without searching out grants, leg work for Donors Choose, and my own pocket, all we would do is draw with pencils and old broken crayons.

Larry Grimaldi, Illinois
I spent quite a bit last year knowing I might get a small portion of that back on my tax return. Not anymore. Teaching science is tough without supplies, and even in an affluent community such as the one I teach in, our science budget is lacking due to the other initiatives the district prioritizes. If I’m going to bring an engaging unit to life, I need supplies and consumables to do just that.

Alicia Fisher (left) and her aunt after a visit to the dollar store to buy classroom supplies.

I hope I can find some residual income to do similar things in my classroom this year that I was able to do last year.

Debra Deskin, Oklahoma
As a Gifted and Talented teacher for two school sites, I get little to no extra funding, even though students who are identified as Gifted get money brought into the district. STEM-related activities are wonderful, but these activities can become expensive for the teacher. I have literally had to choose whether to purchase items for my classroom and students or pay bills. Honestly, the bills get put on the backburner more often than not. I am embarrassed to not live in a home that I would like teacher friends to visit. I just can’t afford this job, yet I have stuck with it for 15 years.

Ryan Knight, Indiana
Every year I budget $1,000 for my classroom expenses. I have to buy basic supplies for my room: tissues, paper towels, markers, cleaners, pencils, erasers, pencils, folders, binders, glue, hole punchers, whiteout, staples, tape, Post-it’s, flash cards, “clickers,” and more. Some people don’t realize that middle and high school teachers rarely have classroom supply lists like elementary teachers do…the cost falls back on us.

I also bought my own audio system because my music classroom does not have a sound system. I spend money on educational posters and visual tools to help students remember details and stay engaged. I teach in three different classrooms, so I purchase materials for all three spaces. Our school has given us some help with supplies, but teachers can only request supplies up to $75 for the whole year.

Our school has been given 1:1 devices, but I had to buy my own case and accessories. I also bought a lot of the software used to run my department: website hosting, Adobe subscription, cloud storage, study tools, and other online resources that the school won’t pay for. I’ve even bought styluses for my class because kids don’t have them and the school can’t afford to get one for every child.

Let’s also remember that teachers are paying for more than classroom supplies. We take some field trips, so I often pay partial costs for students who cannot afford to go otherwise. I have also purchased clothes, shoes, and school tech accessories for students in need. I don’t charge for voice lessons even though I should, but my kids can’t afford to pay. I do these things out of love for my kids and I don’t ask for a refund from anyone. But I think the community ought to know the real amount of money teachers are putting into their classroom, school, and kids’ overall education.

Share Your #OutOfMyPocket Story





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How To Talk To Your Kids About Addiction


In 2016, a federal report found that nearly 21 million Americans over the age of 12 struggle with substance addictions. In recent months, stories of celebrity overdoses and the opioid epidemic have inundated the news. And in the United States, an estimated 8.7 million children under the age of 18 live with at least one parent with a substance use disorder. 

Needless to say, addiction is something that touches almost everyone in some way, whether it’s directly through a family member or indirectly through news consumption. While parents want to address drugs and addiction with their kids, they often don’t know when or how to broach the subject. But it’s immensely important that they do.

To offer some guidance, HuffPost spoke to prevention and mental health experts, like John Sovec, a therapist based in Pasadena, California.

“Kids are much more savvy today, and open, honest conversations that take place now can set up the groundwork for keeping substances out of their future,” Sovec said. 

With that in mind, here are nine things to know about talking to your children about addiction.

Start Early

“The important thing is that this is a conversation that needs to start long before any child is exposed to substances in their peer groups,” Lindsey Prevost, the director of prevention services at the Council on Alcohol & Drug Abuse for Greater New Orleans, told HuffPost. “You can start talking to preschoolers and younger kids and highlighting some of these things.”

By starting the conversation early, parents can instill the notion that they will always be a resource and that their children can come to them with any questions or concerns. “Always bring it back to, ‘We love you. We care about you. And if we don’t know the answer, that’s OK. We’ll figure it out.’”

Keep It Age Appropriate

Of course, starting early doesn’t mean going into all of the ins and outs of addiction. Prevost emphasized keeping the discussion age appropriate.

“With toddlers or preschool kids, you can start the conversation simply by saying, ‘Hey, while I’m giving you this vitamin, this is really important to help you grow, but it’s also really important that you never take this by yourself,’” she explained. It’s helpful to note that taking too many vitamins ― or taking vitamins or medicine meant for someone else ― could make you feel sick.


baona via Getty Images

With younger kids, the conversation can start around vitamins and the medicine cabinet. 

“It can start with medicine safety, telling them that just because this is our family medicine cabinet doesn’t mean all of the medicine is for you, and we are responsible for taking care of you so please come to us with questions about what’s in there.”

Let The Conversation Evolve

Going into the tween years, Sovec advised parents not to be in denial about how much their kids are being exposed to the notion of addiction and drugs.

“It’s important for families to understand it is present on campus as young as elementary school and definitely in middle school,” he said. “And even if it’s not present in your kid’s face, it is on social media and in the news they’re seeing, so they are being exposed to the story of addiction at a much younger age than parents imagine they are.”

With this in mind, it’s crucial to foster open conversations about what your kids are seeing, hearing and reading. “Maybe someone got pulled out of their class one day because they were caught with drugs in their backpack. That’s an opportunity to ask what they know about it and what questions they may have about it,” Sovec added. “This sets them up to have a place to talk about addiction and substances as it becomes more present around them.”

Draw Connections To Things They Understand

Using a metaphor can help explain the concept of addiction or drug abuse to young kids. Sovec offered the example of a plate of cookies on a table.

“For some people, they can take one cookie and eat it and be OK, but some people might take the whole plate of cookies because they can’t stop themselves. And afterward when they’ve eaten that whole plate of cookies, they don’t feel well. That’s something more familiar to a little one’s experience.”

Prevost said when her agency explains the brain science behind addiction to kids, they relate it to everyday experiences. “We ask, ‘Have you ever been running around outside on a hot day and felt so thirsty? And then you took a sip of really cold amazing refreshing water and it felt so good? Or have you been so tired, you just couldn’t hold your head up anymore, and then you finally put your head on the pillow and you felt so good?’”

Honesty is vital in conversations about addiction between parents and children.


kupicoo via Getty Images

Honesty is vital in conversations about addiction between parents and children.

Our brains are designed to reinforce these things that are good for our survival, so they reward us when we do these things by making us feel great, Prevost explained. When someone develops an addiction, however, those things that used to make them feel good no longer compare to how they feel when they’re using a drug.

Be Honest

Honesty is key when parents are having conversations with their children about addiction. 

“When we try to hide things from kids, they know that there’s something going on,” said Sovec. “And if we don’t validate that information or explain what addiction looks like in a person, family or community, we’re doing them a disservice in their own personal development.”

Prevost noted that many parents feel hesitant to talk to their kids about drugs if they have used drugs themselves at some point. But it’s still possible to have a constructive conversation without hiding the truth. 

Kids rely on credibility and can tell if you’re lying to them.

“Your child may ask, ‘Have you ever done this?’ And you can be honest to a point. You don’t have to reveal every little thing that’s happened to you, but kids rely on credibility and can tell if you’re lying to them,” she said. 

“It’s important to be candid when it’s appropriate,” she continued. “So you can say, ‘Yeah, I did try it and it wasn’t a great experience, and a lot of bad things could’ve happened to me. Or something bad did happen to me and I want to make sure you don’t make that same choice now that we know so much more about substances and how the brain works.’”

Don’t Use Scare Tactics

Prevost recalled being young and hearing preventive messaging from a police officer during a school assembly in fifth grade.

“He told us we were going to die or go to jail if we used drugs, and I saw how poorly that worked,” she said. “Scaring kids really doesn’t work. It may work in the beginning when they’re really little, but once they see someone who used and didn’t go to jail or die, you’ve lost your credibility.”

Make It Clear That It’s A Disease

“It’s important to emphasize that if someone is addicted, that doesn’t make them a bad person. It means they’re sick,” said Prevost, whose agency works to combat the stigma of addiction as a moral failing or character flaw. 

Addiction is an disease, and though it may be tricky to recover from it, people can and do get better. They just need good doctors and support to treat it, she said. 

Parents should emphasize that addiction doesn't make you a bad person. It's an illness. 


asiseeit via Getty Images

Parents should emphasize that addiction doesn’t make you a bad person. It’s an illness. 

Use Resources

Prevost highlighted some resources for parents when it comes to drugs and addiction, including the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids’ website, which features guides for parents, explanatory videos and even a support hotline. She also recommended the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and Facing Addiction.

If a child’s parent or another immediate family member with whom they have regular contact is facing addiction, it’s also important to offer counseling and support to that child, Sovec noted. 

“It’s vital for kids to understand that it’s not their fault because often self-blame will come up, especially when everyone in the family is silent about it,” he explained. 

Take Cues From Your Child

Addiction might seem like an overwhelming topic for a young child, so you can let them direct much of the conversation. 

“If they have questions, they’ll ask you,” Ericka Hofmeyer, a therapist and clinical director at 5 Residential Treatment Center in Los Angeles. “You don’t have to start out telling them the elaborate details of the disease of addiction. You can start out very simply.”

Let them know, ‘I’m here, and if you make a mistake, you can still come to me and talk to me.’

If a child seems confused or overwhelmed at the news that a close family member is seeking treatment for addiction, Hofmeyer noted that it’s best to stress that the loved one is safe and going to a good place to work on some things. “Be sure to mention that they love the child,” she said. 

Even if it’s not a family member, kids may come to their parents asking about a favorite singer or actor who is facing addiction or may have even died. 

“That can be really upsetting for kids,” said Prevost. “But it’s a good time to talk about how a lot of celebrities are in the limelight and under a lot of stress, and sometimes they make the unfortunate choice to start using a substances to feel better, which doesn’t always work.”

Parents should take cues from their children and let them guide the conversation. 


Westend61 via Getty Images

Parents should take cues from their children and let them guide the conversation. 

Throughout these discussions, parents should take note of how their kids are responding, said Sovec. “Some kids process stuff really clearly and may come back with more questions. But if you notice you’ve started to create anxiety in your child, that’s a moment to pause and say, ‘I notice this is overwhelming. We can talk about this more in the future.’”

Ultimately, the crucial thing for parents is to start the difficult conversation and to establish that they are there for their children. 

Let them know, ‘I’m here, and if you make a mistake, you can still come to me and talk to me. I always want to listen,’” Prevost said. “And then let them do the talking.”

Parenting is harder than ever, and there’s no one way to do it right. So on Nov. 2, HuffPost Life will convene a community of people trying to figure it out together at our inaugural HuffPost Parents conference, HOW TO RAISE A KID. In advance of the event, HuffPost Parents will publish stories on topics that matter deeply to parents of children who are starting to navigate the world on their own: bullying; sex, consent and gender; money; their digital lives; and how to raise compassionate, self-sufficient, creative, emotionally intelligent children. In short — kids who aren’t assholes. View the event site here and be sure to follow HuffPost Parents on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, and subscribe to our newsletter, How Not To Raise A Jerk.





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Are Schools Ready to Tackle the Mental Health Crisis?


For Melodie Henderson, it was one of those “Tag, you’re it!” moments.

“When you’re an educator, often it’s just you and a student at a particular, challenging time in the classroom and you have to step into their world,” says Henderson, a special education teacher at Manchester High School in Chesterfield County, Va.

That’s what happened a few years ago, in the middle of Henderson’s grammar instruction. A student got out of his seat without warning, walked toward the window, and began to sob uncontrollably. Henderson approached the student, who quietly told her that the previous night he had made a deal with the devil, but wished he hadn’t.

“I made a mistake. Give me my soul back!” he shouted. “I don’t need to go!”

Henderson promised him that the school and the school’s staff would keep him safe. Seemingly reassured, he quietly returned to his seat.

This wasn’t the first time Henderson had handled a situation with a student whose behavior demonstratrated a mental health concern. But this particular incident made her realize that the patchwork of resources available to educators in her school and district that were designed to help students who may be grappling with mental illness was—although marginally useful—inadequate.

Henderson dove into her own research into best practices and interventions. Eventually, she developed a workshop geared toward educators who were looking for basic information, tips, and strategies on ways to create a better learning atmosphere for students who have a mental illness. Henderson conducted the workshop at professional development conferences sponsored by the Virginia Education Association.

The workshop only “scratches the surface,” Henderson says, but the educators at her presentations were always grateful for the information.

Ideally, all school districts in Virginia and across the country should be designing and implementing effective, school-based, holistic programs so that individual educators like Henderson don’t have to shoulder the burden of training their colleagues.

Even though educators can be extremely effective in identifying red flags in student interactions and behaviors, says Theresa Nguyen, vice president of policy and programs at Mental Health America, “our teachers are already pushed to the max.”

“It’s best that they be seen as partners—with parents, the administration, the community—in helping students with mental health challenges,” Nguyen says.

Although Nguyen and others see local and state officials beginning to look more closely at more substantive, evidence-based programs, the U.S. public education system simply isn’t addressing student mental health in a comprehensive way. The magnitude of the problem cannot be overstated. At least 10 million students, ages 13–18, need some sort of professional help with a mental health condition. Depression, anxiety, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and bipolar disorder are the most common mental health diagnoses among children and adolescents. And the overwhelming majority of those do not have access to any treatment.

The Child Mind Institute reports that half of all mental illness occurs before the age of 14, and 75 percent by the age of 24—highlighting the urgent need to create systemic approaches to the problem.

“One in five students in this country need treatment,” says Dr. David Anderson, senior director of the Institute’s ADHD and Behavior Disorders Center.  “We are seeing a real movement to properly and systematically tackle this crisis, because what these students don’t need is a ‘quick fix.’”

Mental Health in Schools: Stigmas and Culture Shifts

Melodie Henderson

The growing crisis around students’ mental health, and the scarcity of available care, has long been a concern of many educators and health professionals. Interest among lawmakers, however, is a relatively new trend, sparked primarily by the spate of mass shootings. There is also a growing awareness of the stress and anxiety gripping so many teenagers, the role of trauma in their lives, overdue scrutiny over punitive school discipline policies, and the devastating effects of poverty.

It’s the proverbial perfect storm, says Kathy Reamy, a school counselor in La Plata, Md., and chair of NEA’s School Counselor Caucus.

“The public’s natural response is to say we need more mental health services and programs, and we do,” Reamy adds.

But much of the national conversation has been inherently reactive, focusing on “crisis response”—to school shootings in particular—rather than a systematic approach to helping students with their mental health needs.

Crisis management is obviously important, says Anderson, but communities must also understand the devastating impact untreated mental illness has on learning.

“The research is very clear that when a school has a system-based, evidence-based, whole school approach, all students are more engaged academically,” says Anderson.

Such programs differ but they generally provide substantive professional development for staff, workshops, resources, and have social and emotional learning competencies integrated into the curriculum.

According to a 2014 study by the Center for Health and Health Care in Schools, students who receive positive behavioral health interventions see improvements on a range of behaviors related to academic achievement, beyond letter grades or test scores.

“Improvements include increased on-task learning behavior, better time management, strengthened goal setting and problem-solving skills, and decreased rates of absenteeism and suspensions,” the report states.

Despite the obvious return on investment, comprehensive mental health programs are still only scattered across the country. Many resource-starved districts have cut—or never had on staff—critical positions, namely school psychologists, undermining their schools’ ability and capacity to properly address these challenges.

While districts may look at hiring more school counselors to fill gaps, Kathy Reamy cautions that their role is often misunderstood. Counselors unquestionably have unique training to help students deal with the social and emotional issues that interfere with their academic success. But real improvement to school mental health programs doesn’t and shouldn’t end with hiring more counselors.

“The services they provide are typically responsive and brief therapy in nature,” explains Reamy. “The misunderstanding of the role of the counselor often either prevents students from coming to us at all or they come expecting long-term therapy, which we simply don’t have the time to provide.”

The stigma around mental health is another obstacle to getting more services in schools. Even if services exist, stigma can prevent students from seeking help.

We’re seeing progress that hopefully will continue. We can’t wait until a student is at a crisis state. Like diabetes or cancer, you should never wait until stage 4 to intervene.” – Theresa Nguyen, Mental Health America

Still, more students are asking for help from their school. “We’re finding that young people are more eager to talk about these issues, says Nguyen. “They hunger for this type of support and conversation and are looking to their school to provide it.”

The fact that schools have become essentially the de facto mental health system for students may be jarring to many educators, district leaders, and parents. As important as the task is, many see it as someone else’s job. The change in perspective is a formidable culture shift for many communities.

“What makes it a little tougher is the need to change how we see students—specifically, thinking less about a students’ belligerent behavior, for example, and more about the reasons for that behavior,” says Joe O’Callaghan, the head of Stamford Public Schools social work department in Connecticut.

But getting there requires training, ongoing professional development, and resources.

“You have to make sure the whole school knows how to support these kids,” O’Callaghan says. “Sometimes what happens is a student will feel a lot of support and encouragement from a social worker. But then they’ll go back into the school and may not receive the same understanding from the teacher, the principal, the security guard, whomever. So in a whole-school program, everybody needs to be relating to and engaging with each other over students who are experiencing difficult things in their lives.”

“Tell Us What You Need”

O’Callaghan helped lead a district-wide effort to overhaul Stamford Public School’s mental health program after three students from three different high schools took their own lives in 2014. The shaken community was galvanized to think about how to improve and support the school mental health programs.

“Just tell us what you need,” a member of the school board asked O’Callaghan after the deaths.

The district always took student mental health seriously, evidenced by a strong team of counselors and school psychologists, plus solid relationships with community agencies.

“We were doing a lot of things right and our team was valued in the community,” O’Callaghan recalls. “But we had to take a step back and think systemically and comprehensively about the work we were doing.”

No small undertaking for a 21-school, 16,000-student school district, with high levels of poverty and a large immigrant population.

Joe O'Callaghan

Joe O’Callaghan

The district hired the Child Health and Development Institute of Connecticut (CHDI) to audit mental health programs. The resulting 2015 report found strength in some areas, but indicated overall efforts had focused on crisis management as opposed to early identification, prevention, and routine care.

This new “continuum of care” is now the central tenant of Stamford’s revitalized program, along with intensive training of all staff in mental health issues and data collection, an area that had been sorely deficient.

The district worked with CHDI to deploy Cognitive Behavioral Intervention for Trauma in Schools (CBITS), a school-based program for students grades 5–12, who have experienced traumatic events and are suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. The district also implemented a counterpart for grades K–5 called Bounce Back.

By 2017, Stamford Public Schools had expanded the number of evidence-based services for students from zero to four, implemented district-wide trauma and behavioral health training and supports for staff, and integrated community and state resources and services for students.

The goal, explains O’Callaghan, is to create a self-sustaining, in-house program.

“Other districts are outsourcing CBITS to local community agencies who are sending their own social workers into the school. There’s nothing wrong with that model, but we’re training our own staff to create our own institutional expertise.”

Doing so provides a layer of protection against budget cuts or grants approaching expiration.

Even in the face of potential budget tightening, “we’re fortunate to be part of a community that has a long history of supporting what we do,” he adds.

In Chesterfield, Henderson is encouraged by the strides her district has taken, namely the introduction of an SEL curriculum in the lower grades, soon hopefully in the high schools.

“We can always do more, but I think we’re seeing a more proactive, less reactive, approach.”

That shift is a critical first step forward, says Theresa Nguyen, and is indicative of many schools and communities beginning to think about mental health early.

“We’re seeing progress that hopefully will continue. We can’t wait until a student is at a crisis state. Like diabetes or cancer, you should never wait until stage 4 to intervene.”

student anxietyThe Epidemic of Anxiety Among Today’s Students
By high school and college, many students have run out of steam. Anxiety—the mental-health tsunami of their generation—has caught up with them. Today’s teens and young adults are the most anxious ever, according to mental health surveys.

trauma and childrenHow Trauma is Changing Children’s Brains
Traumatized 5-year-olds are three times more likely to have problems with paying attention, and two times more likely to show aggression. Understanding how severe stress affects students is the important first step in creating trauma-sensitive classrooms.



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Sikh Group To Department Of Education: Treat Our Religion As An Ethnicity, Too



Over a week after the Department of Education indicated it would start embracing a definition of Judaism as both a religion and an ethnicity, another religious group asked for the same treatment, HuffPost has learned. 

In late August, the head of the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) wrote to the Zionist Organization of America saying that the department would re-open a civil rights complaint filed in 2011 alleging anti-Semitism at Rutgers University. In this letter, the head of OCR, Kenneth Marcus, also said the department would use an expanded definition of what constitutes as anti-Semitism, and indicated it would consider Judaism both a religion and an ethnicity.

The controversial move, first reported by The New York Times, has drawn fierce criticism, especially from free speech and pro-Palestine groups, who say it will stifle the First Amendment rights of students. 

But HuffPost has learned that earlier this month, members of a Sikh group called United Sikhs also asked the Department of Education to treat their religion as an ethnicity when considering civil rights cases. The event was unrelated to the department’s recent moves on Judaism.

The ask took place during a meeting between United Sikhs and Marcus. A representative from the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund was also present. At the time, Marcus did not indicate whether or not the department would heed the request, although he seemed “very receptive” to the idea, said Megan Daly, United Sikhs’ director of public policy and communications.

The Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights is charged with enforcing civil rights laws in schools. But the office’s jurisdiction does not extend to religious discrimination, only discrimination on the basis of race, ethnicity or national origin. Treating certain religions also as ethnicities could ensure that instances of prejudice against these groups are treated more seriously. A recent report found that Sikh students are bullied at a rate about twice the national average. 

Data from a HuffPost FOIA request shows that between January 2009 and June 2018, the Office for Civil Rights received 118 complaints of “national origin discrimination involving religion.” 

The Department of Education makes determinations on these complaints on a “case-by-case basis,” said department spokeswoman Elizabeth Hill. 

“Discrimination against students who belong to groups that share ethnic characteristics as well as religious beliefs, including Arab Muslim, Jewish and Sikh students, may be prohibited under Title VI,” the law that outlaws racial discrimination in schools, said Hill. “Secretary DeVos has made clear that OCR will look at the specific facts of each case and make determinations accordingly.”

Hill also noted that a piece of 2004 guidance addressing this issue still stands. Marcus issued the guidance when he held the same position under the George W. Bush administration. This guidance said the department “must remain particularly attentive to the claims of students who may be targeted for harassment based on their membership in groups that exhibit both ethnic and religious characteristics, such as Arab Muslims, Jewish Americans and Sikhs.”

“OCR aggressively investigates alleged race or ethnic harassment against Arab Muslim, Sikh and Jewish students,” says the guidance. 

Daly said her group had also asked previous administrations to treat Sikhism as an ethnicity. Marcus initiated contact with her group to better understand the experiences of Sikh students, she said. Under the Bush administration, Marcus played a key role in addressing instances of discrimination against Sikh students. 

In the coming weeks, Daly said her group is going to formally petition Marcus for a new definition of Sikhism in which it is treated as an ethnicity.

That was always the goal for us,” said Daly, whose advocacy group is affiliated with the United Nations. 

Marcus also met with Zainab Al-Suwaij, executive director of the American Islamic Congress, last month to discuss discrimination against Muslim students, but the issue of treating the religion as an ethnicity did not come up, Al-Suwaij told HuffPost. 

On Tuesday, The New York Times first reported that the Department of Education would re-open the 2011 Rutgers case, which was closed in 2014 and involves the issue of anti-Israel protests on campus.

In a letter sent to the Zionist Organization of America, which brought the complaint, Marcus said the Education Department would adopt a broader definition of anti-Semitism, used in agencies like the State Department. This definition says “denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination,” and “applying double standards” to Israel “not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation” are examples of anti-Semitism. 

Pro-Israel groups have applauded the decision, saying it will make campuses more safe for Jewish students. In the past, Marcus has been deeply critical of anti-Israel activism at universities and has largely spent his career trying to protect Jewish students on campus. 

But other groups say that equating criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism will have a devastating effect on free speech on college campuses.

“Marcus is sending a clear signal that attacking free speech for Palestinian rights is at the top of his agenda at OCR,” said Dima Khalidi, director of Palestine Legal, in a press release. “This is a perverse use of government resources. Especially at a time when white supremacist attacks are rampant on college campuses, we need to use the meager resources we have to protect – not attack – civil rights.”



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Betsy DeVos Loses Lawsuit Over Obama-Era Student Loan Rules



Education Secretary Betsy DeVos on Wednesday was on the losing end of a lawsuit accusing the Department of Education of illegally delaying regulations set by the Obama administration to protect student loan borrowers from predatory colleges.

Attorneys general from 19 states and the District of Columbia filed the lawsuit against DeVos after her department began rolling back the so-called borrower defense rules, which were set to take effect on July 1, 2017.

U.S. District Court Judge Randolph Moss ruled in favor of the attorneys general, calling DeVos’ attempts to delay the Obama-era rule from its start date “unlawful,” “arbitrary and capricious” and “procedurally invalid,” according to the opinion.

Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey celebrated the judge’s ruling, saying in a tweet that the federal court “agreed that the actions of the [Education Department] are not only wrong, they are illegal.”

“It’s time for the #BorrowerDefenseRule to go into effect and give thousands of students the relief they’ve been waiting for,” she added.”

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) congratulated Healey on the win. 

“This is a crushing defeat for [DeVos], and a huge win for students who have been scammed by [for-profit] colleges,” Warren tweeted.

The Obama administration overhauled borrower defense rules after receiving an “unprecedented influx” of fraud claims from Corinthian Colleges. 

The for-profit education chain, which ran Heald College, Everest College and WyoTech, shut down in 2016 amid allegations of deceptive marketing and lying about grades and attendance records. Other for-profit colleges, including ITT Tech, shuttered after facing similar fraud accusations.

The Obama-era regulations to protect students from the college’s predatory actions were finalized in October 2016. 

DeVos delayed the effective date, citing a federal lawsuit filed by a trade association challenging the new rules.

In a press release at the time, DeVos called the Obama-era rules a “muddled process that’s unfair to students and schools.”

Moss has scheduled a hearing for Friday to address remedies for the situation.





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NEA, CTA Sue DeVos Over Rollback of Protections for Online Students


Stephanie Portilla wants to be a teacher.

So the aspiring elementary educator did her research and found an online program that meets her needs and the standards for certification in her home state of California. But now, even as Portilla, a 28-year-old mother of two, diligently studies and faithfully pays for her classes, the Department of Education has removed any legal obligation on her program to reveal if their accreditation changes, or if it fails to meet licensing standards.

Portilla’s dream—and investment—are at risk.

That’s why Portilla and other educators, backed by NEA, the California Teachers Association (CTA), and the National Student Legal Defense Network (NSLDN), have sued the U.S. Department of Education (DOE) and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. In the suit, which was filed in a federal court in California, Portilla and NEA point to DeVos’ July 3 rollback of federal protections for online students and ask that DeVos be ordered to put the rules back into effect.

“It’s shocking but not at all surprising that the Department of Education would roll back student protections because this latest brazen attack on student rights is consistent with everything we have seen from the Trump administration and Secretary Betsy DeVos,” said NEA President Lily Eskelsen García. “Without these rules, current and prospective students will remain in the dark. Students will be denied critical information about which programs are right for them and which would be a waste of their time and money.”

Since 2010, student enrollment in online college courses has grown exponentially every year, reaching 6.3 million students in 2016. Fifteen percent are students who are enrolled exclusively in online courses, like Portilla.

As their numbers grow, so does the need to protect these students, advocates say. That’s why the federal regulations to protect students in online or distance courses, which were published by DOE in December 2016 after a multi-year rulemaking process and went into effect on July 1, are so critical. The regulations, which DeVos has delayed until July 2020, would require online or distance programs to disclose to prospective and enrolled students whether their programs meet licensing requirements in their states, and whether the school is under investigation by a state or accrediting agency.

“Without them, students like Stephanie Portilla could end up saddled with debt and stuck with a worthless degree they can’t use,” said CTA President Eric Heins.

Portilla is enrolled in Western Governors University (WGU), an online-only program that touts its competency-based approach to higher education. But last year, a high-stakes audit by the Department of Education found that most WGU courses don’t meet federal standards for online education because they aren’t taught by qualified faculty, and interactions between faculty and students are too minimal. Federal auditors recommended the DOE force WGU to return $713 million in federal aid.

But since DeVos has revoked the rules for online institutions, Portilla and tens of thousands of other WGU students may have no idea of any future state or accreditory actions against WGU.

The other plaintiffs are a second-grade Kansas teacher who is enrolled in an online master’s degree program, and a fourth-grade teacher from California who is planning to apply to an online Ph.D. program in educational leadership. Like Portilla, these teachers are NEA members.

An Anti-Student Approach

Meanwhile, the federal rules for online courses aren’t the only higher-ed regulations that DeVos has delayed or dismantled.  Her administration also is seeking to redefine “distance education” so that it no longer requires “regular and substantive interaction” between a faculty member and her student. This would permit poor-quality programs, NEA notes, and overlooks the most influential element in any classroom, virtual or otherwise. That is the teacher.

Earlier this year, DeVos also rolled back protections for students at for-profit colleges. Known as the “borrower defense” and “gainful employment” rules, these regulations were developed over many years by the Obama administration with the input of student advocacy groups, including NEA. In effect, they require DOE to penalize the for-profit colleges with the worst records on student loan defaults and joblessness.

Last month, NEA formally urged DOE to implement the borrower defense rule now. “To delay and revise simply prolongs the situation where students and taxpayers are at risk, and irresponsible institutions continue to collect government money without any reasonable accountability to provide educational benefits to their students,” wrote Donna Harris-Aikens, director of NEA’s Education Policy and Practice Department.

By delaying or substituting these rules with weak versions, the government is breaking its own laws regarding how federal regulations must be developed, advocates note.

“Desperately needed as it may be, no law can force Secretary DeVos to care about protecting students. But the law does require a specific process to delay a rule, and Secretary DeVos tried to take an illegal shortcut instead,” said NSLDN President Aaron Ament.



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LA Football Coach Canned After Players Spike Water With Sex Enhancement Drug



A high school football coach in Los Angeles has been canned for not telling parents that two students allegedly spiked the water at a team practice with a male enhancement drug.

Luis Barajas was fired Aug. 7 as coach of the Bernstein High School varsity football team in Hollywood after he was investigated for an alleged July 12 incident where two students put the drug in the junior varsity team’s water, The Los Angeles Times reported.

An investigation by the Los Angeles Unified School District discovered that the coach didn’t bother to notify school officials or parents that players had possibly ingested contaminated water until two weeks later, according to the Times.

“No parent complaints were received at Bernstein, school police [were] not involved, no testing of the alleged contaminated water took place and there [were] no student illness reports,” the district’s general counsel’s office said in a statement.

A district spokeswoman said investigators “did not find evidence that any student actually drank the contaminated water.” In addition, she told the Times, the water was never tested because it had been discarded by the time the allegation was reported.

So far, it looks like there was no enhancement to the team’s on-the-field performance. The season record is currently 1-3, according to USA Today.

Officials also said Barajas committed numerous other violations, including failure to secure a practice permit, insufficiently vetting an assistant coach and allowing players to practice before they received academic eligibility, according to CBS Sports.



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Ellen DeGeneres Gives Gay Valedictorian Rejected By Parents A Heartwarming Surprise



Georgetown University student Seth Owen was left speechless during an appearance on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” Tuesday when he received an unexpected surprise from the host.

Owen, who hails from Florida, shot to viral fame in July after one of his teachers launched an online fundraiser to help him cover his college tuition. The 18-year-old graduated from Jacksonville’s First Coast High School at the top of his class, but he’d been unable to afford the $20,000 bill for Georgetown after his Southern Baptist parents ostracized him because he identifies as gay.

The fundraising campaign had a relatively modest goal of $20,000. It ended up raising $141,636 in just two months. 

In his chat with DeGeneres on Tuesday, Owen said his father discovered he was gay during his sophomore year. At that point, he said, he was sent to reparative, or “conversion,” therapy aimed at “curing” him of his same-sex attraction.

“The dangerous part about that is, as a patient, I believed that this health care professional was doing what was best for me,” Owen said. But a breaking point came during his senior year of high school after his church enlisted a new pastor who began preaching anti-LGBTQ sermons.

“I asked to go to a different church, and they said that I would either have to go with them or move out. And so I decided that day that I had to move out,” he said. Though his relationship with his parents remains “difficult,” he’s chosen to maintain contact.

“At the end of the day, they’re still my parents,” he said.

When Owen’s situation became widely publicized, Georgetown responded by offering him a full scholarship. Now, he said, he plans to use the money from the fundraiser to launch his own scholarship fund “for people in similar situations.”

At that point, DeGeneres presented the student with a $25,000 check toward the scholarship.

The heartwarming moment was preceded by Owen’s words of praise for DeGeneres as an outspoken LGBTQ rights icon.

“When I was writing my papers at 2 a.m., I often had to look up your videos for inspiration,” he said. “There were so many times that you really pulled me through, so I really appreciate that.”



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More Than 500 Teachers And Other Educators Are Running For Office This Year



As massive teacher strikes swept red states around the country earlier this year, many of those walking out of their classrooms in protest said they needed to change government from the inside. Anecdotally, at least, it seemed an unusual number of teachers might soon run for state office.

One of the country’s top teacher unions now says it has a comprehensive tally of 2018 educators-turned-candidates for state house and senate seats: 554. That includes 512 running as Democrats and 42 as Republicans, the majority of them women.

The analysis from the National Education Association includes members of both its own affiliates and those of the other main teachers union, the American Federation of Teachers. It also takes an expansive view of educator-candidates: The 554 figure includes current and retired teachers, as well as administrators and support staff in K-12 schools across the country.

A spokesman for NEA said this year was the first time the union tracked the number of teachers running to be state representatives, making the sum hard to compare to years past. But he said the union believes the 554 figure is “unprecedented.”

“What we are witnessing is not a moment but a movement by educators running for office to fight for the public schools our students deserve,” NEA’s president, Lily Eskelsen García, said in a statement.

The AFT has been tracking the number of its own members running for office this year, which is now just shy of 300. Most of those educators are running for state seats, though that figure also includes people running for boards of education and other local positions.

“Teachers want a political voice to secure a safe and welcoming environment for their kids,” AFT’s president, Randi Weingarten, said in statement. ”[T]hey also want to reverse the logic of economic austerity that has made crumbling classrooms and torn textbooks the norm.”

The teacher walkouts began in February in West Virginia. Teachers and support staff there closed schools in all 55 counties for nine school days to protest stagnant pay and rising health care costs, as well as dwindling funds for classrooms. The shutdown forced legislators to pass a five percent pay raise for school employees and other state workers.

Similar walkouts soon spread to Kentucky, Oklahoma and Arizona, where teachers closed schools and flooded their state capitols, with mixed outcomes. Although each situation was different, the common thread between all of them was the gradual disinvestment in public schools over the years.

One of the educators to run for office in Kentucky is Paula Setser-Kissick, a technology resource teacher for Fayette County Public Schools in Lexington. The daughter of a teacher and a principal, Setser-Kissick is running as a Democrat for senate district 12, which is occupied by a Republican.

Setser-Kissick told HuffPost her campaign is powered by teachers like herself who want to change education policy from inside the statehouse.

“The people who are going out canvassing are mostly teachers and education professionals,” she said. “The bulk of it right now is teachers. So if I look at that, I believe we’re going to be a force in November.”

She noted that a Kentucky high school math teacher defeated the Republican house floor leader in a major primary upset in May.

“It sent a message not just to the Republican Party, but across the entire state,” Setser-Kissick said. “Not only did a teacher win and defeat somebody in leadership, he did it with almost no money.”



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Poverty Simulation Raises Awareness for Educators


(Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Imagine you’re a mother whose husband has just left you and your children with $2.00 in your bank account. Or you’re a grandparent raising your incarcerated daughter’s children. Or a father of three with a disabled wife who can’t help pay the bills or raise the children.

With these and other scenarios, a group of Wilmington, Delaware, educators were offered a glimpse of what it’s like to live below the poverty line in a poverty simulation held during a two-day trauma training last summer.

“They let go of their own identities and were given the roles of a person struggling with poverty,” says Deb Stevens, director of instructional advocacy for the Delaware State Education Association (DSEA).

A Lesson in Hard Choices

Each educator was given a card explaining their “family’s” unique circumstances and the task of providing food, shelter and other basic necessities with a set amount of monopoly money they were given at the beginning of the session.

Over the course of four 15-minute “weeks” they had to find a way to access twenty different community resources set up around the perimeter of the room. Volunteers staffed resources you’d find in a low-income community with everything from a quick cash and pawn shop to a discount grocery, police station, utility company, daycare center, community health clinic and the department of social services. Some volunteers assisted the family members graciously, others with impatience and rudeness.

Twenty minutes into the simulation nobody had taken the time to visit the health clinic, despite having serious health problems requiring medication.

During the simulation, educators were given a card explaining their “family’s” unique circumstances and the task of providing basic necessities with a set amount of “money” they were given at the beginning of the session.

“Health is the first thing families sacrifice because they can’t afford insurance or hospital bills…” Eunique Lawrence, assistant principal of Warner Elementary told Delaware Online.

Some educators wore “Hungry” signs indicating that they couldn’t afford groceries that week. Some played the role of bored students left behind at school because their parents couldn’t afford the field trip fee.

DSEA president Mike Matthews played the role of a local drug dealer, tempting the educators with fast money or a temporary escape from their troubles. Some “families” were robbed while they were out applying for jobs or buying groceries, other families were evicted, others were denied the federal food assistance they relied on.

The educators scrambled around the room trying to pay for transportation to visit the social services offices, get a job and buy groceries, always with too little money. Most participants ran out of time before they could get the help they needed.

Stevens said teachers were frustrated, but that it imitated real life.

“This simulates what many of the poor go through every day. They encounter long lines and and unsympathetic people,” she says. “It gives teachers a great insight into why a parent may seem frustrated or distracted in a parent-teacher conference, for example.”

Wilmington poverty rate is the highest in the state and 35 percent of children live below the poverty line. The idea for the poverty simulation was part of a larger proposal for trauma education to help educators address student trauma at their schools.

“It helps our educators understand what their students go through at home,” said Shelley Meadowcroft, director of public relations for DSEA. “It’s hard to pay attention when you’re hungry. It’s hard to pay attention when you saw someone shot in front of your house.”

On a more practical level, the participants also said they’d try fundraisers for field trips so that all students could participate whether their parents could afford the fee or not.

NEA Grant Helps Fund Compassionate Connections

The simulation was part of a statewide trauma education program created by DSEA and the Delaware Department of Education (DOE) called Compassionate Connections, which a trauma training program kickstarted by a $253,000 NEA grant.

The grant allowed the partnership to create a statewide trauma framework, that allowed all of Delaware’s educators to go through trauma training on a unified continuum.

“We created developmental framework that starts with creating teachers who are first trauma aware, then trauma sensitive, trauma responsive, and and finally, trauma informed,” says Stevens.

What does it mean to be trauma aware, sensitive, responsive and informed? It’s about understanding the root of behavior or absences and finding ways to provide pathways to achievement in class by helping provide access to necessities. A homeless student needs a place to shower. Another student in poverty needs a pair of shoes that fits. Or a hot breakfast and lunch, but also food to bring home through a partnership with the school and a local food pantry or grocery store.

It’s also learning that those who live in poverty don’t expect, or want, handouts.

Equetta Jones, assistant principal of Highlands  Elementary, says that while teachers may be extremely empathetic and caring towards students struggling with trauma and poverty, they lack cultural competency.

”Their first instinct is to say ‘Let me help you.’ But you need to hold students accountable, while also meeting their needs. The poverty simulation shed some light on that. They learned that it’s one thing to help students in the short term, but the long term goal is building resilience.”

Use ESSA Funding For Your Poverty Simulation Training

There are three ways ESSA can offer opportunities for social-emotional learning for your school or district.

· Title I: Schools with large populations of low-income students can select interventions that target the social and emotional well-being of these students.
· Title II: These funds support the retention and professional development of teachers. Schools can implement programs that train teachers in delivering SEL, as well as support their own educators’ social-emotional health.
· Title IV: Funds programs that support safe and healthy students and a well-rounded education.

Find out more at myschoolmyvoice.nea.org



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Here’s What Teachers Really Need From Parents This Back-To-School Season



By Jen Beaudoin and Caitlin Zammuto

While each item on the the list of school supplies you receive is both appreciated and desperately needed — those aren’t the most important things we need from you. We aren’t talking money or material items, either. We’re talking relationships — our relationship — as parent and educator.

How can we build a strong relationship? How can I be an important member of your village? And how can you be a key part of your child’s school community?

These are the “things” that we really, truly need from you to accomplish that.

1. Trust

We totally get it. Leaving your child with someone you hardly know and trusting them to watch, care for, love, teach and return them home safely is no easy feat.But please trust us. We love what we do. We are not here for the paycheck. We do it because we love children — your children. We want what is best for each individual child and whatever their unique needs might be.

In return, we promise to trust you, too. We promise not to judge you or your methods. You know your children better than anyone, and any input and feedback you have is priceless information.

Tell us about your home life, what you did on the weekend, and what “works” at home! We LOVE to hear about life outside of school. It connects us to you and your child in a way that we often miss out on. The stronger the connection, the stronger the trust.

2. Respect

You are your child’s first teacher. You’re the person they look up to the most. If you want your child to have respect for me, you are the best model to show them how. When you walk into the classroom, let’s both try our best to take the time to make eye contact, greet one another and maybe even chat for a second when possible.

We don’t need to be best friends — but being friendly with each other can go a long way.

We will show the same respect — not just to you, but also to your children. It is our job to model respectful interactions with each and every child and parent who walks through our classroom door. And we take that job very seriously.

3. Time

Ah — time. There just never seems to be enough of it. We know that mornings can be crazy (for us too!) and just trying to get out the door feels like you’ve already run a marathon (sometimes before you’ve even had your coffee!). BUT—taking the time to slow down when possible could benefit your child in many ways.

We would love it if you could give yourself a couple of extra minutes to try to incorporate, promote or practice some self-help skills in the morning — let them get their shoes on, jacket on, zippers closed. It’s easier and faster for you to do it for them in the short term, but this is a better long-term confidence and independence building strategy.

(And you can sip your coffee while you watch them in action! ?)

4. Communication

Let’s promise to reach out when there’s something we need to talk about. What happens in your child’s life outside of school can impact everything, including: negative or withdrawn behaviors, participation level, friendships, appetite and so on. How children deal with stress is a MAJOR factor in a teacher/child relationship.

Tell me about anything stressful that might have an affect on your child. Maybe you guys are moving, there was a death in the family, or even something seemingly innocuous like a minor change in your child’s schedule. You could even just shoot me a quick email about an emotional morning full of meltdowns and tantrums. It will help me to start problem solving faster and with more direction.

5. An open mind

Feel free to ask me questions if there’s something you need more detail on, or if you don’t agree with a method or subject we’re implementing. I’d love to have an open, respectful conversation and offer a new perspective.

I know it can be hard — but try to understand that we are doing our best to please 20-30 families, and not everyone is going to be happy all the time. We certainly are not trying to make anyone unhappy though, so let’s work together to understand where one another is coming from.

6. A simple thanks

Think of a room full of 20+ 3, 4 or 5 year olds. It is fairly chaotic. It’s full of hungry, sleepy and enthusiastic tiny humans who have big emotions to express — and they often do so by screaming, crying, laughing, hiding — and most likely anything else you can possibly imagine!

That being said, every single piece of artwork created, morning meeting completed, snack thoughtfully made, story read, toy cleaned up, etc. are all amazing feats of teamwork between your child and their teachers.

With every nugget of knowledge your child comes home discussing — they probably learned that nugget from a teacher who just got glue on their favorite shirt, had a crying child in their arms and was wondering when they’d be able to sit down for lunch. Hearing “thank you” from parents is profoundly meaningful and validating for us. Those simple words are appreciated more than you know.

You can also express your gratitude in other ways — not just with words. Offer to come in and read a story, contribute something to the classroom that goes with the curriculum (don’t think expensive — bring in a bag of leaves in the fall!).

We know the start of a school year can not only make the kiddos nervous, but parents as well.

Think of this list as a loose guide — we don’t expect perfect families 365 days of the year.

Bad days happen — both at home and at school. More than anything we just want an environment where your children will succeed, both academically and emotionally.

The best way to ensure this is to have open, honest and respectful communication channels ― between us and with your child.

Let’s be a team. Let’s build each other up, and help each other out. Let’s have an awesome school year!



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Thousands of Washington Educators Stand Strong for Professional Pay


The #RedforEd movement has picked up steam in Washington state, where nearly 6,000 Washington Education Association (WEA) members in the western part of the state are on strike—all hoping to finalize their collective-bargaining agreements. Overall, at least a dozen locals have been on strike in western Washington. In recent weeks, thousands of other educators throughout the state have reached tentative agreements that come with significant pay raises, aimed at keeping the best trained educators in their schools.

The issue at hand? Superintendents and school boards in these nine areas refuse to negotiate competitive pay raises for teachers and education support professionals despite the state Supreme Court ordering it, the state legislature funding it, the governor signing it, and parents supporting it.

What’s happening in Washington has been bubbling for at least a decade in what is known as the McCleary Decision, when two families and several groups—including school districts, parent organizations, local education associations, and WEA—sued the state for not meeting its constitutional duty to adequately fund public schools.

In 2012, the state Supreme Court ordered the state legislature to fully fund K-12 public schools. The state recently met its obligation by adding approximately $8 billion to the K-12 budget. Of the $8 billion, $2 billion was identified for teacher salaries that are to be allocated via collective-bargaining agreements.

‘Keep Great Educators on the Job for Our Students’

For Washington educators, the McCleary Decision is a generational realignment of educator pay that will now level their salaries with other college-educated workers and will provide that competitive pay required to keep them in the profession.

“This is a much-needed generational realignment of pay for educators—both teachers and ESP members,” says Kim Mead, president of WEA. “New competitive and professional salaries will help attract new people to the profession, and keep great educators on the job for our students.”

And the public agrees that educators should be paid more. Results from the new 2018 Phi Delta Kappan Delta Poll of the Public’s Attitudes Toward the Public School show that two-thirds of Americans believe teacher salaries are too low. It should also be noted that 78 percent of public school parents support teachers in their communities if they went on strike for more pay.

And yes, while it’s true that most educators decide to enter the profession because of a desire to work with children, it’s also true that to attract and retain a greater number of dedicated, committed professionals, educators need salaries that are attractive and allow them to support themselves and their families. Otherwise, low teacher pay comes at a very high cost.

  • Close to 50 percent of new teachers leave the profession during the first five years of teaching.
  • New teachers are often unable to pay off their loans or afford houses in the communities where they teach.
  • Teachers and education support professionals often work two and three jobs to make ends meet. The stress and exhaustion can become unbearable, forcing people out of the profession to more lucrative positions.

Educators across the country have long felt the pain of statistics like these. NPR recently reported how the 2016 teacher of the year left his home state of Oklahoma for Texas where the pay was higher. While Texas now has a highly qualified teacher, Oklahoma has lost one—and this hurts everyone: students and their families, the community, and educators.

‘Educators are Frustrated and Angry’
While 6,000 WEA members are continuing to fight for funding and close out their tentative agreements, nearly 33,000 members—98 percent of membership—of the United Teachers of Los Angeles (UTLA) authorized a vote to strike if an agreement can’t be reached with the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD).

“Our members have spoken, with one big, united voice,” said Arlene Inoyue, chair of the UTLA Bargaining Team. “After 17 months of bargaining with LAUSD, educators are frustrated and angry. We want a district that partners with us—not fights us—on critical issues like lower class sizes, fair pay, and bringing more staff to work with our students.”

If negotiations continue to stall, teachers in the nation’s second largest school district are prepared to strike. Stay tuned.

The teacher exodus is a crisis in many places, including Washington, which has been reported to have a shortage of substitutes, and a need for teachers who can teach specific subjects.

A  report by the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction reveals that in 2016-2017 school year, 61 percent of principals indicated they had to cover a classroom because there were no substitutes available while 74 percent of human resource directors said the challenge of finding qualified certificated teachers was greater than compared to the previous school year.

The McCleary Decision helps to reverse this downward spiral. “But it’s not a done deal; those funds still have to be bargained by every local association in the state,” said Mead to a local news outlet.

And that’s where the union comes in.

Union Strong

The role of WEA and its members has been paramount, leading much of the efforts since the beginning of the McCleary trial. In early 2000, for example, WEA members agreed to increase their dues to pay for the expenses related to the lawsuit, as well as help fund the formation of a coalition that helped support a victory in the McCleary Decision.

Members were relentless in making sure public education would be funded. Many organized their own education town halls or participated in town halls held by legislators. They responded in multitude to WEA action alerts, from showing up in person to events to writing postcards, sending emails, and making phone calls.

And before the #RedforEd walk outs in West Virginia, Kentucky, Oklahoma, Colorado, and Arizona, more than 50 percent of WEA members were participating in one-day rolling walk outs in 2015.

Washington’s Chad Donohue, a teacher at Park Place Middle School in Monroe, penned for NEA Today why he walked out, naming a host of reasons that include his students and their right to creative opportunities, because of high-stakes testing, and for new teachers who start at $34,000 a year despite having a higher education degree, huge student debt, and high costs of living.

“I walked out so our legislators would wake up,” he wrote.

And now 6,000 Washington educators want to wake up superintendents and school board officials by remaining on the picket line, donning #RedforEd t-shirts, in hopes of successfully negotiating their contracts.



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This Children’s Book Is A How-To Guide For Body Positivity


Jessica Sanders remembers being an active child and spending most of her time outside building forts and climbing trees. It wasn’t until she started primary school that she started thinking her body wasn’t good enough.

“I quickly learned that I took up too much space for a girl,” the 25-year-old from Melbourne, Australia, told HuffPost via email. “I was bigger and taller than all the other children (boys included). By the time I entered high school, I was experimenting with dieting and restriction, and for the entirety of my teenage years I truly believed that when I finally looked like the girls in the magazines, that’s when my life would actually begin.”

This experience, and many others, inspired Sanders to write Learning to Love Your Body, a guide for girls about body positivity.


Courtesy of Jessica Sanders

Author Jessica Sanders decided to write this book after becoming fed up with the pressure women face to adhere to “an unattainable beauty standard.”

Sanders teamed up with illustrator Carol Rossetti and designer Steph Spartels for the project, which features images of many different kinds of women, including women of different races, a woman with a limb difference and another with armpit hair. One passage reads, “Bodies come in all different forms and abilities. All these bodies are different and all these bodies are good bodies.” Sanders is currently running a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds for production costs.

The author, who has experience in gender studies and is pursuing her master’s degree in social work, said the idea for the book came to her in September 2017 while she and a friend were discussing an article about the growing trend of women undergoing labiaplasty procedures for nonmedical reasons.

“The feelings of frustration, anger and sadness felt consuming for me in that moment. I had to do something!” she said. “I was so tired of hearing this same story of women modifying their bodies, restricting themselves, in order to fulfill an unattainable beauty standard.”

Last year, Sanders founded Re-Shape Social Enterprises to house more of her women's empowerment efforts. 


Katja Kollecker

Last year, Sanders founded Re-Shape Social Enterprises to house more of her women’s empowerment efforts. 

Sanders realized the recent body-positive movement offered resources for women, but not many were aimed specifically at girls, despite a report from Common Sense Media that found more than half of girls between the ages of 6 and 8 “indicate their ideal body weight is thinner than their current weight” (one-third of boys in the same age range indicated the same).

“This statistic illustrates the importance of providing girls with these valuable lessons of self-love and self-care at a young age and before they are active on social media,” Sanders said.

Last year, Sanders founded Re-Shape Social Enterprises as a vessel for more of her women’s empowerment efforts. She said that her guide about body positivity is just the beginning.

“Learning to Love Your Body is my first project,” Sanders said, “but it definitely won’t be my last.”



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Florida Schools In Anti-Bullying Program Ban Dreadlocks And ‘Progressive’ Hairstyles


Florida’s new school voucher program, designed to help students escape bullying in public schools, gives publicly funded scholarships to victimized kids and helps them attend private schools.

But many of the private schools participating in the Hope Scholarship program have strict hair policies that ban students who sport certain styles, like dreadlocks. Critics say these policies ― which have gained attention in recent weeks amid several incidents that have gone viral on the internet ― have racist undertones and fail the scholarship program’s aim of helping victimized students. 

HuffPost has previously reported that many schools participating in Florida’s Hope Scholarship program have policies that exclude LGBTQ students, or use homophobic, racist and sexist teachings. Our latest analysis ― which examines the policies of the approximately 130 schools that have signed up for the program as of mid-August ― finds that many participating schools have strict or exclusive hair policies.

  • Nearly 20 percent of participating schools  ― 23 institutions ― have policies regarding a student’s hairstyle. These policies generally require that students sport “natural” hairstyles with “natural” colors. These schools have bans on styles that might be interpreted as “extreme” or “fad.”
  • Four schools ban dreadlocks, or require that dreadlocks be tied back.
  • Two schools ban hairwraps or beads.
  • Five schools ban braids or cornrows, or have stipulations about the appearance of these hairstyles.
  • One school’s handbook says, “Many styles of fashion are clearly a result of the liberal influence of today’s secular society.”
  • One school has a ban on “gothic” or “progressive” hairstyles.
  • Three schools require “feminine” appearance for girls.

Hope For Who?

The Hope Scholarship program, new this year, gives around $7,000 in taxpayer funds to students who have reported an instance of bullying and helps them attend private school. It also provides a transportation stipend for students who want to switch public schools. The program is the first of its kind in the U.S.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) supports the Hope Scholarship program, and U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has championed similar programs and private school choice. 

But, as HuffPost previously found, many of the schools that accept these scholarships ― more schools are currently signing up to participate ― are far from inclusive. LGBTQ students face high rates of bullying, but at least 10 percent of schools that have already signed up for the scholarship ban LGBTQ students or have policies objecting to homosexuality. As of mid-August, around 25 percent of schools in the program advertised using ultra-evangelical textbooks that promote racism, sexism and homophobia.


Joe Raedle via Getty Images

Florida Gov. Rick Scott supports the state’s Hope Scholarship program.

The hair policies in nearly 20 percent of participating schools help perpetuate racist and antiquated ideas about sex and race, and can have a devastating impact on a child’s self esteem, critics say.

“Those students are being told that black hair is somehow by its nature anti-education, by its nature distracting, by its nature illegitimate,” said Emily Martin, vice president for education and workplace justice at the National Women’s Law Center, which has studied how strict dress codes affect African-American girls in public schools.

“It’s an incredibly disturbing thing to say to black girls and black boys,” Martin said of the dress codes. “And for girls, with these messages, it’s layered on top of messages about gender and sex. You can really see the double whammy of being told in such a personal way that you don’t measure up.”

A spokeswoman for Florida’s Education Department defended the scholarship program, and rejected the suggestion it was anything but inclusive.

“The Florida Department of Education does not condone discrimination of any kind in Florida schools,” spokeswoman Audrey Walden wrote in an email. “Using a cursory review of private school handbooks, over which the state has no jurisdiction, to paint a negative picture of the Hope Scholarship Program is both deceptive and irresponsible.” 

Walden added: “This program was developed to provide families whose children were victimized by bullying additional education options, and participation is strictly voluntary.”

Schools that participate in Florida’s three other private school choice programs ― which target students with disabilities or families making below a certain income level ― are eligible to sign up for the Hope Scholarship program. Thousands of schools participate in Florida’s other tax credit or voucher programs, and many have policies that ban certain hairstyles.

First Day Fail

This issue of discriminatory hair policies gained renewed attention in recent weeks after a video of a 6-year-old child with dreadlocks getting turned away from a private school in Apopka, Florida, went viral.

By now, Clinton Stanley Jr.’s story is well known. In August, the child was set to begin class at A Book’s Christian Academy using a scholarship provided by one of Florida’s voucher programs.

Clinton was well behaved and excited for his first day of school, but he wasn’t allowed to enter the building. The school has a policy against students sporting dreadlocks, and administrators said he should come back with a different hairstyle. 

But Clinton didn’t come back. Instead, his dad Clinton Stanley Sr., recorded a now-viral Facebook Live video in which he immediately withdrew his son from the school. The video was viewed hundreds of thousands of times and was cited in numerous media reports, spurring petitions and protests.

Clinton Stanley Jr. in a Facebook video recorded by his father.


Facebook

Clinton Stanley Jr. in a Facebook video recorded by his father.

“A policy is a policy and you have to respect a person’s policy, but it’s not right,” Clinton’s father told HuffPost. “It’s allowing you to be discriminatory. It’s just allows people to treat you in a kind of way.” 

Clinton’s story is only one example of a system of private schools that routinely punishes students for their hairstyles, pushing policies with distinct racial undertones. Since his story was broadcast on Facebook, similar incidents at other private schools in Florida and Louisiana have gained public attention. Those schools, HuffPost has discovered, also receive public funding through private school choice programs. 

Activists in Florida are starting to rally around the issue.

Nonprofit leader Miles Mulrain Jr. has been calling attention to a Florida organization called Step Up For Students, which distributes scholarships for voucher programs like the Hope Scholarship. A petition started by Mulrain’s group that calls for policies that protect against biased hair policies has received over 850 signatures. 

“This was a real big fight in the ’60s with the black is beautiful movement,” Mulrain said. “Now it’s 2018 but we’re here still fighting for it.” 

A Step Up For Students spokesman told HuffPost it has received eight email complaints regarding the hair policy at A Book’s Christian Academy, which it forwarded to the state Department of Education.

“At Step Up, we believe parents should have the power to determine which school is the best fit for their child, including consideration of factors such as dress codes and restrictions on hair styles,” spokesman Patrick Gibbons said in an email. 

A Book’s Christian Academy administrators deny their policy is discriminatory.

“You can see my school, it’s probably 95 percent black. Obviously I’m not a racist,” the school director, the Rev. John Book, told local television station WESH. “We try to uphold certain biblical standards and certain standards of order that allow us to maintain a school.”

But Mulrain said such biased policies are especially problematic when the school receives public funding.

“I believe if it’s not hurting the kids and you want to focus on education, I don’t believe you should ever deny a child education based on their appearance,” said Mulrain.

A Book’s Christian Academy is eligible to participate in the Florida Hope Scholarship program. A school administrator did not respond to requests for comment about whether it would sign up.

Clinton Stanley Sr. said he sees what happened to his son as a form of bullying, which could impact the child long term.

He immediately enrolled his son in a local public school after A Book’s Christian Academy turned Clinton away. He continues looking for a private school that will embrace his son’s appearance.  

“I’m shocked these codes exist,” said Stanley Sr. “Look at my son, it’s a disappointment. I refuse to ever disappoint him.”

CORRECTION: An earlier version misidentified Audrey Walden, a spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Education, as a spokeswoman for Gov. Rick Scott.



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Ask A Dad: My Son Was Suspended For Bullying. Did He Get A Raw Deal?


This is the first of a regular column on parenting from author, speaker and dad Doyin Richards in which he’ll tackle some of the toughest questions today’s parents face. Do you have a topic you’d like him to take on? Email askdoyin@huffpost.com.

I’m worried that our world is becoming too politically correct. My 9-year-old son was suspended in school for “bullying” after he pushed a girl on the playground and she hit her head. This stuff happened all of the time when I was growing up and no one punished me. As a matter of fact, my son told me that he likes this girl, so it wasn’t malicious. Do you think he got a raw deal?

My guy, I’m not sure if you’re paying attention to the news cycle lately, but we could use more political correctness nowadays, not less. (We can save that discussion for another day, though.)

First off, your kid’s hands shouldn’t be on this girl (or anyone else) at school. If you have the urge to come at me with some version of the antiquated “boys will be boys” nonsense, please don’t. Toxic masculinity is running rampant in America these days because boys and young men are taught that the only acceptable emotions they can express are happiness, lust and anger. When those emotions are mixed with aggression, it can get ugly. 

I was bullied mercilessly growing up, so I know exactly what it was like. Between getting shoved into lockers, having my lunch money stolen and being called “crowbar” for being black and thin, school wasn’t exactly fun for me.

You have one thing correct, though: Bullies weren’t punished that often when we were growing up. Most administrators in my elementary school thought bullying victims were overreacting or believed kids needed to learn to handle adversity themselves. Since this continued all the way through high school, I did handle it myself when I broke a bully’s nose who pushed me too far. That was the last time he bothered me.

Do I believe bullies need to get their asses kicked in order to solve the problem? In some cases, absolutely. But it shouldn’t have to get to that point if we can raise our kids to be good humans. I’ve said this plenty of times before, but I’ve always thought that raising a child who is smart or athletic has much less to do with one’s parenting abilities than raising a kid who is kind.

And speaking of kindness, please stop with the “he hits her because he likes her” foolishness. What starts with a shove on the playground could evolve into punching his wife in the face for talking to another man at the grocery store, if left unchecked. 

So, Mark — you gotta move past the thought of your son being victimized by the “PC Police,” because that ain’t it. Bullying is a serious issue in schools, and all of us need to do our part to ensure it ends. This is where you put on your BBDP (big boy dad pants) and tell your son that he isn’t being kind to this girl when he hits her — he’s being a jerk.

You want to raise your son to be accountable, right? Your kid should use the time he is suspended from school to apologize to this little girl and reflect on his behavior. 


JGI/Jamie Grill via Getty Images

A prepubescent girl wearing a tank top and shorts can’t possibly distract anyone.

My daughter was told in school that her outfit was “distracting” to the boys. She’s 8 years old and was wearing a tank top and shorts — and it is completely in line with the dress code of the school. As a dad, how do I deal with this? 

– Pete in Jacksonville, Florida

There is so much wrong with this that I’m struggling to determine where to begin. I guess I’ll start by wondering how a tank top and shorts worn by a prepubescent girl could distract anyone. Was her outfit covered in gummy bears? Was her tank top so shiny that it blinded the other kids? I’m struggling over here to find any reason that could be viewed as remotely acceptable.

She’s freaking 8 years old! How and why others could view her in a sexual manner is a huge (and disturbing) problem. The first thing I would do is set up a meeting with the administrators who brought this to your attention and get some direct answers as to what the problem is here. Being told that your child is “too sexy” is not an answer that I would be OK with.

If you’re telling me that there is no justifiable policy prohibiting this particular outfit at her school, then she should continue to wear it unapologetically. As a dude, I’m tired of this line of thinking that girls/women have to do everything to make boys/men comfortable. It’s like that guy who refuses to hire an attractive (and qualified) female employee because he doesn’t know if he can behave like a decent grownup around her. Maybe the focus should be on raising boys who have the requisite tools to focus on themselves instead of being “distracted” by what the girls are wearing or doing — but, hey, what do I know?

I have two young daughters and would be absolutely livid if this happened to one of them. It’s not my daughters’ job to cater to the needs of boys, and I tell them that at every opportunity. You should do the same with your little girl. As a dad, it’s important to remember that your role in shaping a positive body image for your daughter is invaluable. This situation could be embarrassing and confusing for her, so you have to remind her that she is doing nothing wrong and support her throughout this.

While we’re here, there’s a larger issue at play that affects students and parents all over the country. Research has shown that school discipline is meted out unequally across racial, gender and economic lines — and I know this to be true because I witnessed it firsthand when I was a kid. 

As for the school administrators, they should use this incident to reevaluate their training and policies. The goal of a good school is to provide the best education possible in the safest learning environment possible. I fail to understand how the sexualization of young girls helps in either regard.

This is the bottom line, Pete: It’s up to the world to change, not your daughter.

Doyin is a father, husband and author dedicated to creating and celebrating a world of great fathers. Follow him on Twitter or Facebook at @daddydoinwork, or ask him a question for a future column at askdoyin@huffpost.com.



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Teacher Pay Gap Reaches a Record High


The overdue national attention on the erosion of teacher salaries across the nation couldn’t come at a more urgent time. According to a new paper by the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), the teacher pay penalty – the percent by which public school educators are paid less than comparable workers – has reached an all-time high.

When adjusting only for inflation, the researchers found that teachers, compared to other college graduates, are paid nearly $350 less per week in salary in 2017, or 23 percent less.

When they adjusted for education, experience, and demographic factors, the gap had barely shrunk – 18.7 percent, up from 17 percent in 2015.

While benefits such as health insurance and retirement improved for teachers relative to other professionals during that period,  the total compensation (wage and benefit) penalty for public school teachers grew from 10.5 percent to 11.1 percent in 2017.

“This growing compensation penalty is a key part of the story of changing teacher pay but shouldn’t obscure the importance of the wage penalty alone—only wages can be saved or spent on housing and food and other critical expenses,” the authors write.

The teacher pay penalty has grown significantly among women. In 1960, female teachers earned 14.7 percent more than comparable female workers, an advantage that lasted throughout most of the 1970s but was completely erased by the 1990s. In 2017, the wage gap for female teachers was 15.6 percent.

The male teacher wage gap is actually much wider, standing at 27 percent in 2017.

Not surprisingly, the largest pay gaps can be found in the same states that saw large-scale protests this year over salary and education funding: Arizona (36.4 percent),  North Carolina (35.5 percent), Oklahoma (35.4 percent) and Colorado (35.1 percent). Overall, weekly teacher pay lags by more than 25 percent in 16 states.

There is no state where teacher pay is equal to or better than that of other college graduates.

“Wages for teachers have been falling relative to comparable workers all over the country for many years,” says Lawrence Mishel, EPI Distinguished Fellow and co-author of the paper with University of California at Berkeley Economist Sylvia Allegretto.

“Deteriorating teacher pay is not just a fairness issue. Eliminating the teacher pay penalty is crucial to building the teacher workforce we need. In order to recruit and retain talented teachers, school districts need to address the inadequacy of teacher pay,” said Mishel. “As we’ve seen across the country in states like Washington, Arizona, and Oklahoma, teachers are tired of working demanding jobs with low pay.”

In large part because of meager pay – along with increased pressure from testing, ballooning class sizes, and deteriorating working conditions – many school districts have been unable to fill teaching positions in 2017-18.

Judging by a recent poll by Phi Delta Kappan that found two-thirds of Americans believe teacher salaries are too low (and would support educators in the own communities if they went on strike for higher pay), the public appears wiser to the reckless decisions made by lawmakers that are hurting our schools.

As the EPI paper makes clear, blaming the Great Recession for the widening teacher wage gap no longer holds any water in light of fiscal policies in states – including Arizona, Oklahoma and North Carolina – where the teacher pay penalty is largest.

According to a recent report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, seven of the 12 states that have cut education funding by at least 7 percent over the past decade also enacted deep tax cuts for the wealthiest individuals and corporations, costing hundreds of millions of dollars.

It’s a “man-made crisis” says NEA President Lily Eskelsen García, and it’s the students who pay the price for low teacher salaries.

“Public school teachers deserve professional pay for professional work,” Eskelsen Garcíasaid  “Low teacher pay comes at a very high cost. To recruit and retain talented teachers for the long-haul we have to pay them what they’re worth.”



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Back to School Without a Qualified Teacher


Last week, as school got underway in Oklahoma, the state Board of Education approved its 2,153rd emergency teaching certificate for the school year, enabling a record number of non-certified teachers to teach in its public schools.

Seven years ago, only 32 were issued.

“We appreciate Oklahomans willing to step in and fill the gap, but it begs the question: why do we have this gap at all?” asks Oklahoma Education Association President Alicia Priest. “Our growing number of emergency certifications is a symptom of a greater sickness—a sickness caused by chronic underfunding, a decade without raises and a culture of disrespect toward education.”

Across the nation, but particularly in states like Oklahoma and Arizona where educators have long been frustrated or deterred by a lack of classroom resources and extremely low pay, the teacher shortage has grown acute this year. Hundreds of thousands of students across the U.S. are being taught this year by unqualified or under-qualified instructors, estimates the national non-profit, nonpartisan Learning Policy Institute (LPI). The consequences for students, who strongly benefit from high-quality students, is likely to be enormous.

“It’s a serious problem that districts in almost every state in the nation are struggling with,” says Linda Darling-Hammond, professor emerita of education at Stanford University’s Graduate School of Education and LPI chief operating officer.

Recently, LPI published a report, “Taking the Long View: State Efforts to Solve Teacher Shortages by Strengthening the Profession,” which offers evidence-based policies that some states are investing in to strengthen their workforce and address teacher shortages. These include student loan forgiveness; high-retention pathways into teaching, like residency programs; and more effective mentoring for new teachers.

These strategies also have been championed—and in many cases, piloted and paid for—by NEA’s Great Public Schools (GPS) grant program. For example, a three-year, $600,000 GPS grant to Florida’s Brevard Federation of Teachers helped create a teacher-led, union-run orientation program and a meaningful mentoring program.

The LPI report also notes that short-term strategies, like hasty certification programs, likely worsen the problem. Under-prepared teachers leave at two to three times the rate of well-prepared teachers. LPI also notes that students of color, and students in low-income communities, are most likely to be assigned uncertified or inexperienced teachers

A National Epidemic of Untrained Teachers

“There’s a good chance the teacher in front of your child’s classroom this year, isn’t fully trained to teach,” the Arizona Republic announced last month, after its reporters analyzed state Department of Education teacher certification data.

In the past three years, the Republic found, the number of certifications granted to teachers who aren’t fully trained to teach has increased by more than 400 percent in Arizona. Meanwhile, the state has cut funding to Arizona schools by more than $4.5 billion since 2009.

Studies of the relationship between teacher preparation and teacher turnover suggest teachers with little to no pedagogical preparation are 2 to 3 times more likely to leave the profession than those with the most comprehensive preparation.” – Learning Policy Institute, “Taking the Long View: State Efforts to Solve Teacher Shortages by Strengthening the Profession” 

This past spring, angry Arizona educators held the largest walkout of educators in history, demanding state legislators find the funds to pay for books, air-conditioning, classroom repairs, and pay raises. They won the pay raises, but continue to press hard for increased state funding.

In Florida, as school opened last month, a Florida Education Association (FEA) review of teacher job vacancies found 4,063 job vacancies. Two years ago at this time, the number was about 2,400. “That’s the acceleration in the teacher shortage you need to be looking at,” FEA legislative specialist told the state Board of Education.

In Colorado, the Denver Post reported that as many as 3,000 new teachers are needed to fill existing slots, especially in rural communities, while the number of graduates from teacher-prep programs in the state has declined by 24.4 percent over the past five years. In April, its teachers held a one-day #RedForEd walkout, protesting decades of legislative neglect. Half of Colorado school districts can’t afford five days of school a week and have switched to four.

As part of its dive into teacher shortages, LPI also has published interactive state maps, which include ratings for teacher pay and working conditions, as well as teacher qualifications and teacher turnover, in every state. It is clear that these variables are inter-related. For example, Arizona earns the lowest possible ratings for teacher turnover, qualifications and pay. By contrast, Pennsylvania, which earns the highest possible score for teacher turnover, also has the best rating for teacher qualifications and pay.



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Court Ruling Won’t Be Last Word on School Funding, Say AZ Educators


On Tuesday, thousands of educators across the U.S. dressed for school in red-shirted solidarity with their colleagues in Arizona, who were stunned last week when the state Supreme Court blocked a ballot initiative that would have increased school funding by $690 million.

“Our students and educators deserve better,” said NEA President Lily Eskelsen García, in urging NEA members to participate in Tuesday’s national #RedForEd day.

This summer, Arizona educators worked day and night to gather and deliver 270,000 petition signatures to the state—far more than the 151,000 required—enabling Proposition 207, which would have guaranteed voters a say in sustainable school revenues.

“We knew the voters would support this. They want to see more funding in our schools, they want to reverse the direction that our governor and legislature has had for us,” said Arizona Education Association President Joe Thomas. “The voters have been cheated out of the opportunity to invest real dollars in education.”

The court’s ruling will not be the last word on education funding, promised Noah Karvelis, Arizona high school teacher and a leader in Arizona’s #RedForEd movement. “We know what to do. We will put one foot in front of the other, and keep fighting.”

The next step? The November election. “Our only recourse is to remember in November. That’s where we’re going to make the most impact,” said Thomas.

As Arizona educators look toward the November election, it’s undeniable that they will have power at the polls. In Oklahoma last week, Republican primary voters ousted dozens of state legislators who were unsupportive of their #RedForEd efforts this spring. The same thing happened in West Virginia’s primary elections this spring.”

In November, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey faces challenger David Garcia, who has said that Ducey “stacked” the court against educators. “The stakes for governor in Arizona just changed utterly and irrevocably. We must elect pro-public education candidates up and down the ballot to prevent this kind of corruption in the future. I’m proud to stand with our educators, parents, and kids.

No state in the nation has cut education funding more than Arizona. Between 2008 and 2015, state lawmakers cut funding per student by 36.6 percent, according to a national analysis by the non-partisan Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Even as the state economy has rebounded from last decade’s Great Recession, lawmakers have refused to reinvest in public schools. Last year, they spent 13.6 less on students than they did in 2008.

The results of their neglect are stunning. Teachers have up to 50 students in their classrooms. An elementary school counselor last year reported 1,540 students in her care. In photographic evidence, Arizona educators have shared the evidence of legislative abandon: mold growing on their classroom ceilings, decades-old textbooks taped together, homemade “air conditioners” that educators construct with Styrofoam coolers, electric fans and bags of ice. Teachers describe earning so little money that their own children qualify for free or reduced price lunch.

This spring, in the largest educator walkout in history, tens of thousands of Arizona teachers participated in a statewide, six-day #RedForEd walkout that ended with significant teacher pay raises but no commitment for additional state funding. Arizona educators weren’t satisfied. Their #RedForEd efforts never were about salary only. Almost immediately after educators returned to school, they began working on #InvestInEd, which would have taxed Arizona’s wealthiest to increase funds for public schools.

The ballot initative was challenged by the state’s Chamber of Commerce, which alleged that the petitions were misleading because they referred to the tax-rate increase as a “percent” increase rather than a “percentage point” increase.

“We’re in…shock that they’d stoop so low to take this away from voters,” said Thomas. “Our students absolutely have been cheated.”

But the fight is not over, Thomas and Karvelis promised. As Arizona educators look toward the November election, it’s undeniable that they will have power at the polls. In Oklahoma last week, Republican primary voters ousted dozens of state legislators who were unsupportive of their #RedForEd efforts this spring. The same thing happened in West Virginia’s primary elections this spring.

“We don’t mourn. We organize,” Thomas promised.





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Making Doctors Dumber Won’t Make Our Health Care System Smarter



You don’t know what you don’t know.

That’s the fundamental issue with ophthalmology intern Dr. Akhilesh Pathipati’s recent Washington Post op-ed, “Our doctors are too educated.”

Yes, our health care system is broken ― for a lot of reasons. Dr. Pathipati blames our nation’s health care deficiencies on a doctor shortage and advocates that the solution is as simple as shortening medical school curriculums and research requirements.

However, the issue is not a pure question of supply and demand, but of distribution of resources ― to primary care vs. specialties, urban vs. rural areas, and academic vs. “private” practice, for example.

Our medical system currently comprises more than 120 specialties and subspecialties ― specialties like cardiology and pediatrics with subspecialties like advanced heart failure cardiology and pediatric transplant hepatology. As these specialties and subspecialties proliferate into smaller and smaller niches, we are faced with a paucity of doctors able to coordinate care and provide cost-effective preventive action.

After finishing four years of medical school, three years of emergency medicine residency and earning my board certification, I am still humbled every day by the pathology I see while on shift.

On the quest for lifelong learning that we call medicine, there is nothing you learn more than that there is always more to know.

The idea that doctors are too educated is riddled with the naivety of a physician who hasn’t seen enough patients or read enough research, studies or case reports. This is not to question Dr. Pathipati’s credentials, but merely to challenge his perspective.

And we’d be remiss to assume that specialists need no primary care experience (or that primary care providers need no speciality experience).

Our ophthalmologists are pressured to see an overwhelming number of diabetics with retinopathy, but wouldn’t it be better if we just managed those patients’ diabetes better in the first place?

Our cardiologists see heart attack patients for invasive, expensive catheterization procedures and artificial cardiac support like LVADs, pacemakers and defibrillators, but what if we’d just controlled the patients’ blood pressure, cholesterol and diet 20 years earlier?

Our pulmonologists place patients on expensive on-patent medications to manage patients’ COPD, but what if that patient had just been counseled off smoking years before?

We need more early intervention and prevention, not more late-stage expensive patches. Smoking cessation counseling isn’t sexy the way humming machines and newly approved biologics are, but it’s effective, inexpensive and what our country really needs. Unfortunately, the way the house of medicine is carved now, it’s not the specialists who are providing it.

The balance between primary care and specialty services is a delicate one, and some would argue that health care is already too specialized ― why does one patient need an entire Rolodex of “-ologists” — a cardiologist, a nephrologist, an endocrinologist, a pulmonologist and a dermatologist?

Patients are not sliced into the “organ systems” we divide specialty lines across. And there is no better example of this than the patients we see in the emergency room, confused by their multiple canisters of co-interacting meds, sent to see us by one of their specialists who, after expensive tests on the organ of expertise, couldn’t figure out what was going on and sent the patient to the ER. Ophthalmologists refer patients to the ER for high blood pressure found in the clinic. Orthopedists send patients to the ER when they find incidental elevated blood sugar prior to an operation.

Yes, some referrals are appropriate, but some are plainly wasteful. The ER, designed to be full of “resuscitation-ists” — providers trained to take care of life-threatening events like heart attacks, strokes and gunshot wounds — has quickly become a catch-all of “available-ists” — providers who happen to be available 24/7/365. In between the heart attacks and car accidents, I also counsel patients on smoking and drug cessation, advise them on the importance of seat belts, teach them to use their glucometers and adjust their daily meds.

Why? Because not only are these patients unable to get in to see all of their specialists in a timely manner, but many don’t even have a primary care doctor.

We can’t force medical students to become primary care physicians, nor should we. But education reform isn’t necessarily going to fix our health care system, either.

The ER, designed to be full of ‘resuscitation-ists’ … has quickly become a catch-all of ‘available-ists.’

The argument that medical education should be shorter is fair to a degree, but we must tread carefully. Basic science curriculums, traditionally two years in duration, are already becoming 18 months or shorter at many institutions. Three-year medical school programs are being actively investigated as a possibility. Students who “know” what specialty they are going into can now take earlier elective clinical rotations, but most students change their specialty choice during their four years of medical school, anyway.

Robbing undecided students, or even students who think they are decided, of the real-life experience of clinical rotation in the name of shortening a medical school curriculum is misguided for a few reasons. Choosing a specialty is one of the biggest decisions a medical student makes, and making an uninformed decision will inevitably only lead to jaded, unhappy physicians, further depriving America’s health care system of the empathy and passion we hope to see in all of our caregivers.

And we’d be remiss to assume that specialists need no primary care experience (or that primary care providers need no specialty experience). The knowledge that comes with the medical school electives Dr. Pathipati advocates cutting is sometimes the only experience a future specialist will have on disease processes out of his or her expertise. This valuable clinical time is also the only chance students have to be exposed to all types of practice and decide their best career fit. 

Truncating the medical education and experiences of young physicians isn’t the answer to a complex and broken health care system. Rather, we should train physicians for both breadth and depth, because the health care system needs both. A few months of additional investment in experiences as a medical student is worth it for the future decades of patient care as a physician. When it comes to health care, we have to take the long view.

Dr. Ho is a board-certified attending emergency physician, published writer and national speaker on issues pertaining to health care, with work featured in Forbes, Chicago Tribune, NPR, KevinMD, and TEDx.



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