Publix Suspends Contributions To NRA-Backed Politician Amid Protests

Protests prompted supermarket chain Publix to suspend all political contributions after it was revealed to have given more than half a million dollars to a Florida Republican who called himself a “proud NRA sellout.”

Publix was found to have given $670,000 in donations over the past three years to Adam Putnam, Florida’s current agriculture commissioner, who is now running for governor. But in Florida, where a school shooter in Parkland killed 17 people earlier this year, many locals aren’t about to let a National Rifle Association “sellout” run their state.

On Wednesday, Parkland shooting survivor and gun-control activist David Hogg issued a call on Twitter for people to stage a “die in” at the grocery store, which has locations throughout the Southeast. 

Prior to the demonstration, Publix issued a statement expressing “regret” that its political contributions had led to an “unintentional customer divide.” On Friday, it released a new statement saying it would be suspending political contributions.

“We would never knowingly disappoint our customers or the communities we serve,” the company said in a statement provided to HuffPost. “As a result, we decided earlier this week to suspend corporate-funded political contributions as we reevaluate our giving processes.”

The same day, Hogg attended a protest at a Coral Springs Publix, where he and supporters lay on the floor for 12 minutes.

“USA over NRA!” the activists chanted at one point. 

“Suspended means nothing,” Ryan Deitsch, a March for Our Lives activist at the Coral Springs store, told the Sun Sentinel. “Publix knows we’re not going away.”

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All The Things The NRA Has Blamed For The Texas School Shooting

It’s been a week since the mass shooting at Santa Fe High School in Texas, and the National Rifle Association has had time to make sense of why, exactly, this happened.

It’s because of an abundance of doors. And junk food. And not believing in God.

These are the things the NRA has blamed for 10 people being killed and 13 people being injured in last week’s massacre. Not once did the gun rights group raise concerns over the shooter’s easy access to firearms ― the 17-year-old student just used his dad’s guns ― or acknowledge that school shootings are now happening with such frequency in America that kids are developing post-traumatic stress disorder.

The Texas shooting was the 16th school shooting this year. Another school shooting took place while this article was being written.

But the NRA says guns aren’t the problem. Here’s a look at all the other things the group has said are the reasons for the horrifying uptick in gun violence at schools.

A “culture of violence”

Incoming NRA president Oliver North said the solution to mass shootings at schools is to focus on the “disease,” which is not about easy access to guns.

“The disease is youngsters who are steeped in a culture of violence,” North said on Fox News Sunday. “They have been drugged in many cases. Nearly all of these perpetrators are male and they are young teenagers in most cases.”

NRATV host Grant Stinchfield said it’s helpful to offer “thoughts and prayers” after every mass shooting because it brings God back into the discussion. 

“Taking God out of our culture … is at least partly to blame for the violence we see today,” he said on his Monday show.

Too many doors in schools

Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, a fierce opponent of gun control, said the Santa Fe shooting may have been caused by schools having “too many entrances” and that it may be time “to look at the design of our schools moving forward.”

NRA spokeswoman Dana Loesch tweeted that Patrick is “exactly right.”

NRA board member Ted Nugent said Tuesday that kids’ unhealthy diets are making them want to shoot up their schools.

“Mark my words when the studies are finalized, you will find that Columbine, Virginia Tech, Aurora, certainly Sandy Hook, these maniac murderers in Parkland and now Santa Fe, if you really studied the slovenliness and the zombie-like conduct of these murderers, you go back to their diet and examine what they’ve put into their sacred temple, and it’s all garbage,” Nugent said in an interview on Newsmax TV, a conservative media outlet.

“I know people think I’m trying to get away from the gun issue, but it’s not a gun issue,” he added. “It is a conduct issue.”

North said the combination of kids growing up in a violent culture and then taking medication for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder is causing a spike in school shootings.

“They have come through a culture where violence is commonplace. All you need to do is turn on the TV, go to a movie,” he said on Fox News Sunday. “If you look at what has happened to the young people, many of these young boys have been on Ritalin since they were in kindergarten.”

The overmedication of children

“The problems that are producing scores of isolated young disturbed children who have convinced themselves that murdering their classmates is the way to get attention will not be solved at the gun store. It is in the home,” Loesch said Tuesday on an NRATV segment titled “The Overmedication of Children Is an Epidemic.”

“It’s about the kind of people we’re raising these kids to become,” she said.

“Progressive culture”

NRATV commentator Colion Noir said loose gun laws aren’t the problem behind school shootings. It’s America’s progressive culture.

“When are we going to be completely honest and acknowledge the awkward, bullied, sexually frustrated, psychotropic drug-laced, suicidal, mass shooters in the room for what they are?” he said on a Sunday NRATV segment. “Or are we just going to keep acting like we don’t know what’s going on in the name of not confronting the miserable reality that they are a creation of our so-called progressive culture and media?”

Criticizing masculinity as toxic

In the same segment, Noir blamed school shootings on parents failing to teach their kids “how to cope with the harsh realities of life.”

“We shield them in safe spaces and give them participation trophies incentivizing mediocrity, and tell our young boys that their masculinity is toxic and our young girls that being a woman means acting like a man, further confusing the hell out of kids who are naturally going to struggle with their identity as is,” said Noir.

NRATV host Grant Stinchfield said Monday that mainstream media outlets “wrote the mass shooters playbook.”

“I place some of the blame on the #MSM. They recruit new players to their dark real life mass shooting reality show,” he tweeted.

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How I Paid Off $22,000 Of Student Debt In 6 Months

My fancy, embossed college diploma sits on my office desk. It’s pretty — it ought to be. It was certainly expensive. Like so many of my millennial compadres, I fell victim to the idea that an expensive secondary education was vital to my overall success in life.

Prior to my leaving the nest, my dad laid out the terms of his contribution to my college education. Graciously, he would allocate $10,000 per year toward academic costs. I could go wherever I wanted, but if I chose an option where all costs were covered, he would buy me a car as a graduation gift. In hindsight, I realize how generous his support was. I understand the value of money better, now that I live the life of a corporate worker bee.

Nevertheless, in my ambitious naiveté, I chose the most expensive school that accepted me, sunk daddy’s investment, and signed the digital dotted line for a $30,000 loan. (I still drive the same car from high school.)

It’s good debt. I’ll make great money once I graduate. It’s not that much in the scheme of life.

While my musings were true to an extent, I graduated Rollins College in Florida in May 2013, and hit the job market with an overwhelming feeling that I had made a poor investment. I spent $70,000 on a private, undergraduate business degree that I can’t read because it’s printed in Latin. My senior year, I imagined I’d work for a top consulting firm, analyze numbers, make important recommendations to clients, take home a fat salary and live my idea of a glamorous lifestyle. To my dismay, in my final semester, I discovered spreadsheets make me cry, and my interview skills were subpar. Needless to say, my dream job never came to fruition. 

I spent $70,000 on a private, undergraduate business degree that I can’t read because it’s printed in Latin.

Three years post-graduation, I found myself working as a recruiter for a small, national firm. I spent my days aggressively cold-calling potential candidates and pitching job opportunities. I was paying my $301 minimum monthly payment and was discouraged when I realized I was barely making a dent in the overall balance due to high interest rates. The balance made me sick. I hated my job. I felt chained to my desk — decaying under fluorescent lights.

I had a pipe dream of quitting and traveling the world for a year. I wanted to start a podcast and record the stories of people I met anonymously. Unfortunately, I had minimal savings and an educational debt shackle keeping me at my recruiting desk. Around this time, I received news that I was not selected for a job opportunity that would allow me to travel while working remotely. I thought the job was the answer to my prayers, so the rejection was heartbreaking.

I was miserable for months. I was insufferable at home, which consequently led to a temporary split from my long-term boyfriend. After several months of wallowing in my perceived misfortune, I decided I had to make a change. I was disgusted by my own behavior. Who likes a mopey whiner? I felt financially trapped. I had borrowed to get to this place, and it appeared I had made a mistake. I obsessed. I worried. Then, I took action. I devised a financial plan to eliminate my college loan and save enough cash to allow me to quit my job and travel for an extended period.

My recruiting job paid me a $40,000 salary and commission based on performance and sales. The base was enough to get by, but the variable income portion was the attractive aspect of the compensation plan. I figured if I could seriously cut my expenses, make a killing in commission, and supplement my income with side jobs, I could potentially eliminate the loan balance and alleviate the financial stress. 

I felt financially trapped. I had borrowed to get to this place, and it appeared I had made a mistake.

November 2016, I started by making a $500 payment. My bank account felt it. The majority of my after-tax income was allocated to living expenses. Still, there was a sense of satisfaction associated with paying more than the minimum. It was a small step, but it was what I needed. I started reading financial blogs and books, and began discussing my plan with a few close friends. I set a goal to pay off my $22,000 loan balance in six months, beginning in January 2017. Lofty? Yes. I’m not the most disciplined when it comes to managing money. I’m your typical millennial consumer. Dining out, manicures, and long weekends away ate up the majority of my disposable income. Nevertheless, I had to change my situation, so I had to change my habits.

The terrifying aspect of my plan revolved around the fact that only $40,000 of my compensation plan was guaranteed. I needed to perform like a rockstar professionally to ensure I stayed on track. I estimated I needed to gross approximately $100,000 in 2017 to pay off the loan, save a hefty security fund and account for taxes.

One of my mentors regularly acknowledged the power of writing down goals and the benefit of positive affirmation. I figured this was the perfect time to test her theory. I started a journal, penned my six-month goal and gave myself specific dates to accomplish financial payoffs.  

June 30 was highlighted on my calendar as D-Day (Debtless Day)! I read my goals daily, and I focused on the small accomplishments. Essentially, I gave myself a consistent reminder that the insurmountable is comprised of bite-sized victories! (i.e. NO, I do not need that Starbucks latte!)

At the onset of my six-month endeavor, I still owed approximately $22,000, which meant I needed to contribute $3,666 or more each month to my debt. (It was actually more than that, as I did not account for interest). After taxes, that was more than my base income, and of course, I still had bills to pay. Out of either sheer luck, skill or power of will, I began to see significant success at work. I was closing deals regularly, and my paychecks began to reflect the effort. Still, I needed more to meet my living expenses and self-imposed, monthly debt payment.

I picked up several side hustles to pad my pay. I spent 50 hours each week recruiting by day, and moonlighted as a liquor promoter by night. I was exhausted, caffeinated, and determined. I went on a strict budget, lived with multiple roommates to mitigate my rent expense, and lowered my 401k contribution from 12 percent to 1 percent. I vowed: No binging! No superfluous buying! Err, mostly (again with the lattes. OK, and maybe manicures). I may have slipped here and there, but for the most part, I stayed the course: $3,666 each month. 

I’m your typical millennial consumer. Dining out, manicures and long weekends away ate up the majority of my disposable income. Nevertheless, I had to change my situation, so I had to change my habits.

Like John Lennon, I got by with a little help from my friends ― specifically, my parents. I needed an accountability partner (or two) to keep me honest and focused. They were my cheerleaders, and encouraged me to stay the course. Many of my friends and colleagues were deferring their loans. They did not buy into my debtless delirium. But mom and pop were always there to offer praise and wisdom. But that was all they offered. My dad was adamant that he had contributed his fair financial share to my education, and the debt responsibility was mine and mine alone.

Entering the fourth month of my debt demolition, my balance was a proud $11,600. Progress was delicious! Still, that was only half of my goal. With two months left on my (self-imposed) payoff timeline, I had to kick things into high gear.

Initially, I didn’t realize I could choose which loan balances to pay. I just submitted the $301 monthly payment to the balance and called it a day. I finally realized I had eight mini-loans ― all with different interest rates ranging from 3.4 percent to 6.5 percent. Logically, I should’ve been paying off the highest interest rates first. Eek ― rookie mistake! I also started making weekly, sometimes biweekly, payments. If I had an extra $5 in my budget, I literally made a $5 payment. It kept me honest, and mathematically it reduced the interest, which accrued daily. Toward the end of my debt payoff timeline, I had several small loans, all at 3.4 percent, so I paid the smallest balance first. Knocking off one mini-balance at a time was quite satisfying!

June came, and I continued to sink every extra dollar into my debt. I depleted my savings to an uncomfortably low balance. BUT. I. DID. IT! I made the last payment on June 26, 2017: four years, one month after graduation; and six months after I aggressively decided to commit to debt payoff. 

In an era where ‘treat yo’self’ is a cultural norm, I think a little self deprivation does the soul good.

So how did it feel? Honestly, a bit anticlimactic. Crowds cheer, family sends greeting cards, and there are parties to celebrate when you graduate. Debt payoff is an achievement celebrated in solitude. Yet, the sense of personal pride was much greater paying off my student loan than actually earning my diploma.

I often reflect on my why. Why did I feel the need to adhere to such extreme measures? It certainly wasn’t fun. On the contrary, at times it was miserable. But in an era, where treat yo’self is a cultural norm, I think a little self-deprivation does the soul good. I live in a world where I’m always teetering toward indulgence, and my all-or-nothing personality needs to be yanked back in the other direction from time to time.

To date, this is my proudest accomplishment. I taught myself a valuable lesson. Discipline is much more valuable than motivation. I was motivated to pay off my debt, but disciplined behavior was the driver that enabled me to do so in a six-month period. Today, I do not feel shackled by the constraints of a student loan. I used a methodology that can be applied to many life accomplishments: set a goal, create a plan, execute. I’m not special, but I do have an extra $301 each month to spend as recklessly as I want.  

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Teaching Students to Hope for the Best

Please don’t call them “at-risk” students, says Rick Miller, founder of Kids At Hope and professor at Arizona State University.

After spending years in educational research, Miller has concluded that it’s not the crime in their neighborhoods, the absence of a father at home, or any other so-called “risk factor” that holds students back in school.

“It’s the absence of hope,” he says.

And this is a good thing for educators to understand, he offers, because teachers and education support professionals can’t control those factors anyway. “But we can control the hope. We can control whether we believe in them, whether we have their back, and whether we can help them plan for the future.”

Over the past few decades, Miller has developed a framework that supports hope and resiliency in students. It rests on three universal truths: One, that kids do better when they’re surrounded by adults who believe in them; two, that kids do better when they have meaningful and sustainable relationships with adults; and three, that kids do better when they can articulate their futures. That is hopefulness.

Just like reading and math, hope is something that students need to practice—and adults need to teach, says Miller. The more hope students have, the happier and healthier they are, the more they persist in academic lessons, and the likelier they are to graduate.

All of this is why the Washington Education Association (WEA) has invested a $450,000 NEA Great Public Schools Fund grant in cultural-competency trainings for more than 5,000 WEA members—2,000 last year and 3,000-plus this year—that focus on hope and resiliency. “Our teachers are hungry for this,” says WEA Human and Civil Rights Coordinator Ben Ibale.

“This is the union saying, ‘We’re going to give you a voice and a framework to express your magical role,’” says Miller. “We [giving] kids hope is what inspired you to enter this profession, and now we’re going to help you get to the purpose of who you are, the essence of who you are. It’s not what we do.  It’s who we are.”

“Pretty Talented Kids…”

Mason Quiroz of Gaiser Middle School in Vancouver, Wash., is one of those inspired educators. He is also the rare middle-school teacher who has zero discipline problems—and not because he has angels at his desks. Many of his students get in trouble in other classrooms, and many would be called “at-risk” because of their economic disadvantages. “I have kids living in cars, whose only meals are the two they eat here at school,” he says.

Quiroz believes he has his students’ attention and respect because he has taken time to build meaningful relationships with every student, and because he, like Miller, has replaced the “at-risk” label with an “at-hope” philosophy. “I wouldn’t consider them at-risk. They’re pretty talented kids, in my eyes,” he says.

Last year, when his local union president asked if he’d be interested in learning more about how to teach hope, he jumped at the chance. “I was like, yes!” recalls Quiroz, a nationally board certified teacher. Because decades ago, he says, he was that kid who came to school with challenges, whose teachers couldn’t—or didn’t try—to reach him. “I’ve always related to these kids. I come from a background like that. I’ve always known my students have gifts, and I’ve always been aware of how powerful an educator can be in a student’s life,” he says.

What Quiroz heard in WEA’s training, which was developed in partnership with Kids At Hope, the University of Washington, and the Association of Washington State Principals and delivered more than 100 times last year, aligned with his own thinking. “I tell my students all the time, ‘The world deserves to see and experience the gifts and talents you have to offer,’” he says.

It also makes sense to Quiroz that his union would lead the way. Although cultural competency may not be traditional union work—it’s not salaries, it’s not health insurance, it’s not grievances—it should “absolutely be a priority for our union,” he says. Districts aren’t offering this kind of support to educators, “and our students can’t wait anymore.”

It does take time. Every Friday, for 30 minutes per class, Quiroz sets aside multi-step math equations. He and his students “circle up” and dive deeply into conversation. Sometimes they talk about “hope objects,” which are small things students bring from home to “remind them of their purpose,” says Quiroz. They discuss and write about their future aspirations, including how they’ll give back as adults. Quiroz shares, too. “The days of teachers vs. students is over,” he says. “It’s a collective effort where we all contribute to the prosperity of each other.”

This takes time, but also saves time. Without hours invested in building relationships, and in helping students articulate their dreams, which is the essence of hopefulness, “I’d be spending plenty of time writing [discipline] referrals,” Quiroz says.

Ideally, every student would be a time traveler, who can sit in a classroom and see the road to their future families, careers, and hobbies, says Miller. Every educator—and this includes bus drivers, cafeteria workers, every adult in a school—would be a “treasure hunter,” who glimpses the hidden gifts in students and excavates them with joy. “That’s my perfect world!” he says.

“I get some administrators who tell me that their staff isn’t ready for this,” he says. “I say ‘I know this. You’re not ready. But your kids are.’”

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Betsy DeVos Stirs Uproar By Saying Schools Can Call ICE On Undocumented Kids

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos provoked an outcry Tuesday when she said schools can choose to call Immigration and Customs Enforcement on potentially undocumented students.

“I think that’s a school decision, it’s a local community decision,” DeVos told the House Education and the Workforce Committee. “I refer to the fact that we have laws and we also are compassionate. I urge this body to do its job and address and clarify where there is confusion around this.”

DeVos was responding to a question from Rep. Adriano Espaillat (D-N.Y.) about whether she thinks school leaders should call ICE on students or their parents.

Advocacy groups immediately protested her answer, pointing out that under the Supreme Court case Plyler v. Doe, all children ― undocumented or not ― are entitled to a free public education. Some demanded that DeVos issue an immediate clarification in light of this fact.

Elizabeth Hill, press secretary for the U.S. Department of Education, provided HuffPost with a clarification of DeVos’ remarks on Wednesday. “Her position is that schools must comply with Plyler and all other applicable and relevant law,” said Hill.

During the hearing, DeVos did note that the 1982 Supreme Court decision requires public schools to educate all students, including those who are undocumented. Still, she repeatedly said it was a school’s decision if it wanted to call ICE on kids and their parents.

MALDEF, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, issued a statement saying that DeVos should resign for “abject incompetence” if she does not “issue an immediate clarification that emphasizes the holding in Plyler.” The organization also said it “stands ready to hold accountable through legal challenge anyone in public education who attempts to report a student to ICE.”

DeVos’ comments could have a chilling impact on undocumented students attending schools, said Andrea Senteno, legislative staff attorney for MALDEF, on Wednesday. Indeed, around the country, schools have seen substantial drops in attendance after ICE raids at local businesses. 

“We are very concerned her statement yesterday leaves open to interpretation what the law actually is for schools and administrators and those in the community,” Senteno said. “There are going to be students and family members who are not going to know what that means.”

The Education Department needs to make publicly clear “what the current law is and what students’ rights are,” said Senteno. 

The American Civil Liberties Union also blasted DeVos’ comments at the hearing.

“Let’s be clear: Any school that reports a child to ICE would violate the Constitution. The Supreme Court has made clear that every child in America has a right to a basic education, regardless of immigration status. Secretary DeVos is once again wrong,” said Lorella Praeli, director of immigration policy and campaigns for the ACLU, in a statement. 

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story misspelled the name of MALDEF legislative staff attorney Andrea Senteno.

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Michelle Obama Reflects On ‘Scary’ Time At Princeton With Sweet Throwback Snap

Michelle Obama congratulated the class of 2018 by sharing a photograph from her “scary” time at Princeton University in the early 1980s to Instagram on Tuesday.

“I know that being a first-generation college student can be scary, because it was scary for me,” the former first lady wrote. “I was black and from a working-class neighborhood in Chicago, while Princeton’s student body was generally white and well-to-do.”

Obama, 54, noted how she’d “never stood out in a crowd or a classroom because of the color of my skin before” but soon found close friends and a mentor who gave her the confidence “to be myself.”

“Going to college is hard work, but every day I meet people whose lives have been profoundly changed by education, just as mine was,” Obama said. “My advice to students is to be brave and stay with it.”

She captioned the post with the #ReachHigher hashtag, in reference to the program she launched at the White House in 2014 which aimed “to inspire every student in America to take charge of their future by completing their education past high school.”

Obama paid tribute to her parents, Marian and Fraser Robinson, with this picture earlier Tuesday:

Her father “taught me to work hard, laugh often, and keep my word,” Obama wrote. Her mother “showed me how to think for myself and to use my voice.”

Obama has promised over the coming days to share more old photographs from her upcoming memoir, BECOMING, which is scheduled for release in November.

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High School Teacher Defeats Kentucky House Majority Leader In GOP Primary

Teachers whose protests have spread across the country scored one of their first major electoral victories on Tuesday night, when Travis Brenda, a teacher at Rockcastle County High School in Mount Vernon, Kentucky, defeated the state’s House majority leader in a Republican primary.

Brenda ousted GOP state Rep. Jonathan Shell by 123 votes in Kentucky’s 71st House District to win a primary less than two months after educators blanketed the state capitol in protests over pension and budget cuts. The Associated Press called the race ― one of the state’s most closely-watched primaries ― late Tuesday evening.

As the Republican House majority’s floor leader, Shell helped craft and pass a slate of controversial changes to the state’s public pension system that drew the ire of teachers and other state employees in late March and early April. In response to the legislation, which was tucked into a bill that previously dealt with public sewage, teachers shut down school districts in dozens of counties across the state on multiple days.

Brenda opposed the pension cuts and was one of at least 40 teachers seeking public office in Kentucky during the 2018 cycle. 

Sixteen of those candidates had primaries on Tuesday, according to the Lexington Herald-Leader, which reported that Brenda used his victory speech to credit state employees and teachers for helping him push back against Gov. Matt Bevin (R) and Republican leaders “for what they did on the pension bill.”

Travis Brenda was one of at least 40 teachers seeking public office in Kentucky during the 2018 cycle.

Kentucky’s teacher protests also targeted Bevin’s proposed cuts to the education budget, which has faced 20 separate rounds of spending reductions in the last three decades, according to the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy. The state legislature eventually voted to restore funding to many of the programs Bevin had sought to cut.

But that hasn’t suppressed dissatisfaction with the governor or his allies in the legislature, especially as Bevin continued to criticize teachers in radio and television interviews (in one such case, Bevin blamed the teacher protests for instances of child abuse before later apologizing.)

Teachers were successful in other Kentucky races, too, though none scored a victory quite as significant as Brenda’s.

Unofficial results from the Kentucky Secretary of State showed that retired teachers Linda Edwards and Tom Williamson and current educators Jenny Urie and Lisa Willner appeared to have won Democratic primaries in state House races. Western Kentucky University history professor Patti Minter had a lead in her Democratic primary with nearly all precincts reporting late Tuesday night. And Scott Lewis, a school superintendent in Ohio County, won the Republican nomination in his House district.

Amid the protests, teachers repeatedly promised that when it came time to vote in November, they would target lawmakers who’d supported changes to the pension system and further cuts to state education budgets. Now they’ve delivered a strong early warning to Bevin and those lawmakers that they have the power to follow through on the threats. 

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Harvard Overseer Resigns In Protest Over University Endowment, Fossil Fuel Investments

A member of one of Harvard University’s governing bodies resigned Tuesday over ethical concerns surrounding the school’s multibillion-dollar endowment, including investments in fossil fuels, an action that some environmentalists described as a “powerful act of conscience.”

With just one day left on her six-year term on Harvard’s Board of Overseers, Kathryn A. “Kat” Taylor resigned in protest over what she described as the university’s failure to adopt ethical commitments tied to its endowment, according to a letter she sent on Tuesday to the university’s leadership, including incoming president Lawrence S. Bacow.  

Among Taylor’s top concerns were the burning of fossil fuels, land purchases that may not respect indigenous rights, water holdings that threaten human access to water, and investments that threaten the safety of children and first responders.

“For Harvard to continue to profit from activities that might and likely do accelerate us toward climate disaster, enslave millions to unfair labor practices, or proliferate more and more weapons in society that threaten especially young lives is unconscionable,” wrote Taylor, who graduated from Harvard in 1980.

Taylor now serves as CEO of Beneficial State Bank, a community development bank that she co-founded in Oakland, California, that supports economic justice and environmental sustainability by offering loan capital to those aligned with its mission.

In her letter, Taylor outlined how she attempted to work with the university behind the scenes, meeting with students and faculty, consulting university officials, and speaking out publicly about her concerns. That approach yielded “virtually nothing,” she wrote, and so, tapping the last act in her power, Taylor decided to resign early.

“I do this perhaps only as a mouse that roared but nonetheless with the conviction of many of the constituents who elected me,” she wrote.

In an interview with HuffPost, Taylor said the university’s lack of transparency surrounding its endowment drove her decision. Harvard needs to be open and truthful, she said, because when the university makes an investment, it’s associated with the outcomes of that investment. 

“We have gotten to a place where a mere 2 degrees of climate change/temperature change and very frail social and political systems the world over might spell the end of civilization,” Taylor said.

Taylor explained that she doesn’t see the point in investing without acknowledging those realities.

“If we don’t tell the truth about what we do, put others above ourselves, pursue a mutualism where we’re better together than we can be apart, and protect our natural capital base … we’re going to crash the planet and descend into social chaos,” she said. 

If we don’t tell the truth about what we do … we’re going to crash the planet and descend into social chaos.
Kathryn A. “Kat” Taylor, who resigned from the Harvard Board of Overseers

Taylor said she was also compelled to take action after meeting with Harvard students who feel the university has already ceded leadership on the issue of divestment.

“They’re the leading research university in the world and they’re silent on these issues, and the students are going to leave them behind because they can’t wait anymore,” she said. “So I hope in this last-ditch effort of mine … that they stand up for what’s right, get on the right side of history and use their enormous influence and leadership to help this world come around right.”

She noted in her letter that over the last decade, Harvard’s endowment has “severely underperformed financially” compared to its peers, even as the university has continued to invest in “activities and products that undermine the well-being of our communities, nation and planet.”

Taylor also expressed concern about the lack of information about the university’s investments because much of the endowment is held in funds she described as opaque.

She said she hopes others will press Harvard to divulge the results of its investment strategy to determine if its decision to engage, instead of divest, is fruitful.  

“That’s what they have pursued for some time, to almost zero effect, otherwise we wouldn’t be in the place where we are,” said Taylor, later adding, “I think that’s a comfortable excuse that allows them to avoid wrestling with actually having ethical principles about how you invest your money.”

Author and environmentalist Bill McKibben, a founder of the global grassroots climate change movement, told HuffPost via email that he had never heard of a Harvard overseer resigning in protest from the board.  

“This is a powerful act of conscience, from the absolute heart of the establishment,” wrote McKibben. “When you have a bank president telling Harvard that its investments are immoral, (not to mention losing money), it’s a remarkable moment.”

Environmentalist Bill McKibben speaks during a United Nations Equator Prize Gala in 2014 in New York City. 

Taylor served on Harvard’s Board Of Overseers, one of the university’s two governing boards. The President and Fellows of Harvard College (also known as the Corporation) and the Board of Overseers perform the roles typically associated with a board of trustees. The boards help shape the university’s agenda and help ensure that “Harvard remains true to its mission,” according to the university website, which no longer listed Taylor as an overseer as of Wednesday.

Harvard spokeswoman Melodie Jackson told HuffPost that Taylor had made her support for divestment known to her colleagues on Harvard’s governing boards and that the university respected and welcomed her opinion.

“We agree that climate change is one of [the] world’s most urgent and serious issues, but we respectfully disagree on the means by which a university should confront it,” Jackson wrote in an email. “As an academic institution, Harvard will continue to pursue a leadership role in seeking meaningful, effective solutions to climate change through wide-ranging research, education, community engagement, and dramatically reducing its own carbon footprint.”

Since joining the Board of Overseers in 2012, Taylor had pressed Harvard’s president and the corporation to be more transparent about its endowment and to invest responsibly and according to Harvard’s core principles.

“Ethical investment standards run to the core of our responsibility. We should and would be horrified to find out that Harvard investments are actually funding some of the pernicious activities against which our standout academic leadership rails,” Taylor wrote in her letter.  

I think at this point in history, if you’re remaining committed to fossil fuel investment and a variety of other things that I’m concerned about … that is a political action at this point.
Kathryn A. Taylor

Earlier this year, she published a statement in The Harvard Crimson calling on the university’s leaders to direct the Harvard Management Company, which oversees the school’s endowment, to divest from fossil fuels to “prevent the end of life as we know it through cascading climate-driven disasters.”

Taylor said her point in waiting until the last day of her term to resign was to exhaust all other measures to influence the course of the Board Of Overseers, the president and the corporation.

She said many people, including her fellow overseers, were “deeply sympathetic and very supportive,” but that she hit a wall with university officials, whose response she characterized as: We don’t politicize the endowment, we pursue engagement versus divestment, and we respectfully agree to disagree.  

Taylor said the university’s characterization of divestment as a decision that politicizes the endowment runs contrary to what she sees as already-politicized investment environment.      

“I think at this point in history, if you’re remaining committed to fossil fuel investment and a variety of other things that I’m concerned about — like anything that trammels on indigenous rights, anything that supports the system of mass incarceration, anything that threatens basic human rights, like access to water — I think if you’re invested in activities like that, that is a political action at this point,” she argued. 

Though she will no longer serve on the Board Of Overseers, Taylor said she plans to remain an active alumna and will continue to exhort the university to adopt ethical investment principles.

“I will continue to be very politically active in my personal life along all of these issues,” she said, later adding, “There’s nothing else I should do at this point in my life. I need to be fully on the game board trying to achieve that new economy and fully inclusive society and a stable world.”

In her resignation letter, Taylor urged the overseers who remain on the board to address the issues surrounding the endowment by drafting standards that will protect Harvard from unwitting complicity. 

“Harvard may have already lost its great opportunity to lead, but it has not lost its responsibility to act and cannot indefinitely avoid taking up this issue,” Taylor wrote. “And given Harvard’s dominant influence among world universities, Harvard’s commitment to these standards would likely open a floodgate of similarly principled decisions that truly move markets, policy, hearts and minds.”

This article has been updated to include Kathryn A. Taylor’s comments to HuffPost, as well as a statement from Harvard spokeswoman Melodie Jackson.

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Abolish Standardized Testing For College Admissions

A new study from the National Association for College Admission Counseling provides evidence that test-optional policies ― a variety of policies that allow students not to submit scores on standardized tests like the SAT or GRE during the admissions process ― can help colleges improve their diversity without sacrificing academic quality.

The study found that schools that do not require the SAT/ACT saw an increased enrollment of underrepresented students of color relative to comparable institutions that require a test score and that admitted students who did not submit scores were just as likely to graduate as admitted students who did. The report also found that high school grade point average (GPA) was a better predictor of success in college GPA than test scores for non-submitters.

As of January 2018, over 1,000 colleges and universities have stopped requiring SAT or ACT scores for undergraduate applicants.

The conversation also extends to the graduate level, where institutions are grappling with whether to use standardized tests, which ones and howIn particular, the Inclusive Graduate Education Network and the Alliance for Multicampus, Inclusive Graduate Admissions, are promoting and studying the effects of inclusive holistic review practices. These projects are also exploring what factors of an application are most important for admission to graduate school versus success in graduate school. (Full disclosure: I am affiliated with IGEN and AMIGA, but the opinions here are mine and do not necessarily represent these projects or anyone affiliated with them.)

The NACAC report contrasts with Measuring Success: Testing, Grades, and the Future of College Admissions, a recent book published by scholars tied to the testing industry, which argues test-optional policies are either ineffective at increasing diversity or do no better than similar institutions that require these tests.

Unfortunately, this debate sidesteps a serious issue: the urgent need to seek solutions beyond the ways that selective college admissions are conducted today. We need to pay attention to the deeper purposes that selection criteria serve — and for whom. The use of standardized tests in admissions disproportionately exclude people of color and other marginalized groups.

The truth is that overwhelming research has shown that performance on these tests is better at predicting demographic characteristics like class, gender and race than educational outcomes. This disproportionately excludes racial minorities, women and low-income persons from selective colleges.

For many practitioners in higher education, these tests are simply the most efficient and common metric for evaluating students. But efficiency can no longer be an excuse for maintaining a flawed system. The only result we can expect from that course of action is efficiently maintaining the status quo of inequality. The makers and advocates of standardized tests promote the notion that equality requires we use a singular metric to evaluate everyone in the same way. But one common tool cannot equitably measure the potential of people who have been afforded different chances in life. Our limited resources must be redirected to finding better ways to reach equitable outcomes, which will require offsetting prior inequality of opportunity and resources.

As of January 2018, over 1,000 colleges and universities have stopped requiring SAT or ACT scores for undergraduate applicants.

From academics to policymakers, people mistakenly believe that standardized tests are better at predicting college outcomes, like grades and graduation, than they really are. This uncritical belief in the current system of admissions allows those who have benefited to feel that they earned their position completely on their own. In reality, our success is a combination of our effort, our opportunities and the resources to make the most of both. This misplaced faith also makes us complicit in the exclusion of those who have not had our same privileges.

Even if standardized tests perfectly predicted achievement, they would be doing so on the basis of accumulated resources that have helped children from privileged backgrounds to reach the levels of success that they have by the time they take the test. These testing disparities do not represent students’ potential to learn and achieve.

As Jerome Karabel documented in The Chosen: The Hidden History of Admission and Exclusion at Harvard, Yale, and Princeton, standardized tests played a devious role in the history of admissions at selective institutions. Selection criteria like the SAT/ACT and GRE come out of historical actions that have defined merit purposefully to exclude students based on their social identities, including religious affiliation.

Add to that history generations of underfunded schools and a bevy of other racial and class-based discriminations that continue to hamper the achievements of racially minoritized and low-income students. To accept any “predictive” measure that perpetuates these inequalities, even indirectly, is a disservice to communities of color and poor people today and robs future generations of their potential.

For the United States to live up to its highest potential, we have to stop turning away students from the possibilities of higher education just because their backgrounds have not afforded them the same opportunities or the resources needed to take advantage of earlier opportunities. To that end, researchers like Estela Bensimon highlight the responsibility of our educators and educational institutions to better serve marginalized students in order to support the success of all students.

So how do we move forward? Some research indicates that holistic review may be better at judging a student’s potential given the context of their prior experiences.

Many highly selective institutions such as Harvard, Yale and Columbia already claim to practice a version of holistic review due to the U.S. Supreme Court’s backing of this approach in affirmative action cases. However, these options are largely used and researched in tandem with standardized tests that produce racially and class-based disparate outcomes.

We have inherited a society built on grave injustices, and we perpetuate them through both intentional acts and failures to redress what has been done. Higher education, from college to graduate school, can provide the opportunities and resources for people to make the most of their potential but only if we make access to it more equitable. The only way forward is to enact policies and practices, especially in education, that are corrective and redistributive.

The time has come to end the perpetuation of systemic inequity through institutional practices that appear facially neutral, but which have a disparate impact by race and class. Ending the use of standardized tests at all levels of admissions is one of the ways we can do so.

Theresa E. Hernandez is a scholar of higher education policy working toward her doctorate at the University of Southern California. Her research examines issues of race, gender, class and intersectional equity in academia.

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Boy Says Teacher Told Him It Will Be His Fault When Police Shoot Him At Age 16

Malachi Pearson, a 10-year-old black boy, says a teacher used the prospect of his death in a police shooting to chastise him when he was goofing off at school.

The fourth-grader at Rosehill Elementary School in Lenexa, Kansas, told FOX 4 that he was playing around with a friend in a lunch line when the unidentified teacher intercepted and pushed the two children apart, assuming they were fighting.

“She told me when you turn 16 and the police shoot you, the only person you can be mad at is yourself,” he said.

Malachi said the comment made him cry. His father was shot and killed in Kansas City when he was just an infant.

Mahogany Foster, Malachi’s mother, said she was outraged when her son told her about the incident, and she pulled him out of Rosehill Elementary two days later.

“That was a low blow, and that was something personal,” she said of the teacher’s comment. “You shouldn’t say it to any child.”

Foster said the district assistant superintendent told her the teacher had been put on leave. But a representative for Shawnee Mission School District told FOX 4 that due to federal law, it cannot discuss any disciplinary actions against the teacher.

Rosehill Elementary School did not immediately reply to HuffPost’s request for comment.

One Twitter user shared Malachi’s story online on Monday, writing, “I don’t think people talk about the cruel things people in positions of authority say to Black children enough.” 

“Black children face this type of stuff from the home to classroom and it’s extremely harmful. This teacher deserves to be fired.”

The post prompted many other people of color to share their experiences with racism in school.

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Democrats Want To Boost School Funding To Address Teacher Walkouts

As more and more teachers protest their states’ funding cuts, Democrats in Congress say they have a plan to restore school spending and boost teacher pay.

On Capitol Hill on Tuesday, party leaders joined teachers’ union officials to promote a slate of policies aimed at addressing the growing number of teacher walkouts that have shaken up statehouses across the country. The measure would steer $100 billion in federal funds toward schools and ensure that teachers could bargain collectively on salaries, benefits and working conditions.

“We’re here because teachers are marching on state Capitols across the country,” said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.). “Teachers of America, the Democrats hear you loud and clear.”

Democrats said their plan would pay for those investments by paring back some of the tax cuts for the wealthy in the Republican tax package passed by Congress last year and signed by President Donald Trump. Parts of the plan were introduced last year as the Democratic Party’s new “Better Deal” agenda, which is heavy on antitrust and labor law reform.

The leaders didn’t specify which parts of the Republican tax plan they would target for repeal, referring only to tax breaks for the rich and special-interest loopholes. At the heart of the Republican plan was a massive corporate tax cut. Although families in all income brackets are expected to have smaller tax bills next year, independent analysts say most of the benefits from the plan will go to the wealthy.

“The very wealthiest should not have such a large tax cut,” Schumer said. “I think the odds of something like this [education proposal] passing are large in the next several years … Our day is going to come sooner than you think.”

The Democrats’ plan isn’t going anywhere for now, as Republicans still hold a majority in both chambers and occupy the White House. But the education plan helps Democrats put down a marker before the midterm elections, just as the teacher walkouts have galvanized grassroots activists and spurred a backlash against Republican austerity.

Most states pulled back on education funding when tax revenues fell during the Great Recession. Spending still hasn’t returned to 2008 levels in certain states, several of which went on to implement tax cuts that left even less money for schools and salaries. The teacher strikes have tended to hit states with the deepest cuts.

“Republicans are fighting to slash teacher and school budgets. This is one of the dumbest things Republicans have done,” said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).

The walkouts began in late February, when West Virginia teachers went on strike to protest low pay, rising health costs and poorly equipped classrooms. The successful work stoppage prompted similar walkouts and school closures in Oklahoma, Kentucky, Arizona and North Carolina, all with Republican-controlled statehouses that have cut taxes in recent years while school funding has dropped, when adjusted for inflation.

The images of striking teachers and crumbling textbooks has prompted several states to increase school funding and teacher pay to varying degrees. Congressional Democrats said it still isn’t enough. Their plan would dedicate $50 billion to states to raise teacher pay and another $50 billion to states to spend on school infrastructure and curriculum.

Another, less direct way the plan could boost teacher salaries is through more union contracts. The states that have seen teacher strikes and walkouts tend to have weak labor laws, in some cases even outlawing collective bargaining by public-sector workers. In West Virginia, for instance, the unions have no ability to bargain contracts and guaranteed raises with school districts, only to lobby lawmakers for higher salaries.

The Democratic plan would change that by enshrining public-sector workers’ ability to bargain as a group, just like workers in the private sector, through a federal law. Such bills have been proposed in the past but never received enough votes. If Democrats succeed in passing it someday, it’s likely that conservative states would challenge it in court. 

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Merging of Bargaining Teams Strengthens Educators’ Hand in Negotiations

Bargaining team members of the St. Paul Federation of Teachers assemble after negotiating their contract.
(photo: Patrick Mulvaney)

In December, Educational Assistants (EA) and School and Community Service Professionals (SCSP) bargaining units of the St. Paul Federation of Teachers (SPFT) in Minnesota filed for mediations with the state at the same time as the unit comprised of teachers and other licensed staff.

Faced with negotiating three separate contracts, officials with St. Paul Public Schools followed their usual protocol: They met with teachers while ignoring the education support professional (ESP) units.

“The EA team finally received a date for a meeting approximately six weeks out, while the SCSP team didn’t get a date assigned at all,” says Ellen Olsen, an ESP member of the bargaining team. “We feared that the district would give everything they had to teachers while we (ESP) would split the leftover crumbs.”

Having to beg for residual funds was indicative of a larger problem facing the union’s 400 EA and 150 SCSP members, according to Leah VanDassor, a teacher at Highland Park Middle School.

“While in a bargaining session, it was eye-opening and actually disgusting how some district representatives talked down to ESP members — like they didn’t really matter or that their demands were entirely unnecessary,” VanDassor says. “I have not experienced that as a teacher on the bargaining team.”

On January 31, more than 85 percent of SPFT’s 3,600 members voted to strike if an agreement was not met in a week. The same night that votes were counted and ratified, executive board members voted to merge the three units into one bargaining team of 26 members.

“The district team was surprised and angry,” says Olsen, SPFT director of non-licensed personnel. “State mediators supported our legal right to choose our team, so the district had to negotiate our contracts together.”

After eight days of mediated talks, including more than 30 hours over a weekend, a two-year agreement through 2019 was reached and the strike averted.

“Because the bargaining teams stood together, our threat of a strike was even more credible for the school district,” says Patrick Burke, SPFT communications organizer. “The merger also highlighted how jobs in our public schools are connected.”

Says VanDassor: “We can now help each other become even stronger by learning how issues impact all three groups the same and differently.”

Breakthroughs All Around

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, more than 40 percent of public school employees are ESP. Nationally, 51 percent of K-12 school support staff work at least 40 hours per week (2017 NEA ESP Data Book).

A member of the bargaining team, Sylvia Perez noticed that some school board members knew almost nothing about her duties as an SCSP — behavioral specialists, cultural specialists, after school program coordinators, and other workers at the district’s student placement center.

“Some of them had no clue who we were and what we did,” says Perez, a cultural specialist at Crossroads Elementary School. “I think they now see our contributions more clearly. We are not invisible anymore!”

Until the merger, some teachers also admitted to not knowing these workers well enough.

“I didn’t really understand the SCSP perspective, nor how many different roles they play,” VanDassor says. “After the merger, we now better understand how our jobs align for students.”

Erica Schatzlein is vice president of SPFT and a member of the bargaining team. At Nokomis Montessori School, where she is a teacher, there are no SCSPs.

“Teachers as well as board members now know more about how we contribute to students’ educations. It takes all of us — teachers, EAs, SCSPs, and other staff — to nurture students and keep them safe.” – Sylvia Perez, Crossroads Elementary School

“A few years back, I didn’t know what issues our SCSPs faced in their daily work,” she says. “Bringing us together deepened our understanding of each unit’s work and interconnectedness.”

At the bargaining table, Schatzlein recalls how some board members responded to ESP issues.

“I saw firsthand how our EA and SCSP members were dismissed or pushed aside,” she says.

At one point, says Schatzlein, a district administration member said they wanted to settle the SPFT contract first, and then deal with EAs and SCSPs, implying that ESP members were an afterthought or somehow subordinate to other members.

“That use of language told me how my EA and SCSP brothers and sisters are sometimes viewed as “others,” and not part of SPFT,” she says. “In fact, they are an essential part of our union.”

Says Perez: “Teachers as well as board members now know more about how we contribute to students’ educations. It takes all of us — teachers, EAs, SCSPs, and other staff — to nurture students and keep them safe.”

Before Merger, Board’s Disrespect Reigned

The decision to merge the three units unfolded against a backdrop of insulting treatment by school board trustees toward ESP members that went back to previous EA and SCSP contract campaigns.

“Our EAs and SCSPs negotiated good contracts, but they still felt disrespected by the school district, which waited until after teachers settled to finish negotiations with the other two bargaining units,” says Burke.

Talk of a merger “had been floated at the teacher table by SPFT organizers at the beginning of negotiations, but when we started talking about striking, EA and SCSP members on the bargaining team and the executive board forcefully advocated for the merger,” Burke says. “The vote by the board was the catalyst for the formation of a unified bargaining team, but it only came about because of the advocacy of our paraprofessionals.”

Teamwork at the Table

The new collective bargaining agreement includes guarantees to hire more student placement specialists (SCSP) and at least 13 of the 23 new support staff hired for special education students have to be educational assistants.

“Teachers testified strenuously about the difference for them and for their students when they work with EAs,” says Olsen, and an interpreter for deaf and hard of hearing students at Focus Beyond, which provides transition services to students through individualized instruction. “We argued together and won the first intentional new hires of EAs in these settings that we’ve seen in years.”

After the merger, we learned how much we all have in common. …Before, when we bargained alone, they (school officials) didn’t seem to listen to us. Now, the tone is different. Better. They know we are united and strong like a mountain.” – Yasmine Muridi, Four Seasons Elementary School

Saint Paul educators also won new class size measures, expansion of the restorative practices program, and a promise from district officials to collaborate in seeking joint agreements with corporations, health care and higher education non-profits. Administrators and educators also agreed to coordinate lobbing efforts for education funding at the state and federal levels.

During the bargaining sessions, teachers commented on how student learning is diminished when, for example, some educational assistants are summoned by administrators to interpret conversations from parents who do not speak English.

“Bringing out examples like this built respect and trust for the respective roles we play in schools,” says Shela Her, a student placement specialist with the district. “We ended up bargaining for the common good … for better school conditions and more support for students.”

Yasmine Muridi is a language interpreter at Four Seasons Elementary School. She is categorized as an EA, which in other areas might be considered a paraeducator. The EA unit includes library aides, testing coordinators, aides for special education students, adult learning educators, before and after school care workers, language, deaf and hard of hearing interpreters. Licensed practical nurses are also categorized under the EA contract while registered nurses are organized under the licensed contract.

“After the merger, we learned how much we all have in common,” says Muridi, a native of Somalia who speaks four languages. “Before, when we bargained alone, they (school officials) didn’t seem to listen to us. Now, the tone is different. Better. They know we are united and strong like a mountain.”

Shela Her signs the tentative agreement for the SCSP unit. “We ended up bargaining for the common good…for better school conditions and more support for students,” said Her.

Maintaining Momentum

On the heels of the agreement, SPFT and the district are working closer together seeking additional school funding.

“We are discussing a referendum for this summer and a door-to-door re-enrollment campaign to bring students back to our district,” says Burke. “We also will continue pushing for a payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT) program with large medical and higher education nonprofits and keep pressuring large corporations that avoid paying taxes to give back to our public schools.”

The PILOT campaign is related to SPFT’s TIGER Team (Teaching and Inquiring about Greed, Equity, and Racism), a coalition of parents, educators, and community members that is investigating how money has been removed from public schools to support private interests.

“The merger transformed us for the better,” says Olsen, an NEA board member. “We will not turn back.”

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Mourners Honor Pakistani Student Killed in Santa Fe High School Shooting

The Texas community rocked by Friday’s mass school shooting that killed eight students and two teachers came together to celebrate the life of Sabika Sheikh, a 17-year-old Pakistani exchange student who had been studying in the U.S. through a State Department-sponsored program. 

Mourners, including her host family, the mayor of Houston and Santa Fe High School classmates, gathered at a local mosque on Sunday for the first funeral for those who were slain. 

“I always told her, ‘Sabika, you have a warrior’s heart,’” Joleen Cogburn, Sheikh’s host mother, tearfully told the crowd. Her host father, Jason Cogburn, told mourners how much they loved and cared for Sabika

Just weeks from completing her school year and returning home, Sabika had dreams of one day working as a diplomat to help her country, her father Aziz Sheikh told Reuters. He spoke of how grateful she was to be studying in America.

“Sabika’s case should become an example to change the gun laws,” her father added. “I want this to become a base on which the people over there can stand and pass a law to deal with this. I’ll do whatever I can.”

He learned of her death from turning on the television after iftar, the meal Muslims eat to break the daily Ramadan fast, he told The Associated Press. He had been calling and messaging her without a reply.

The assumption that life is America is safe and secure is clearly untrue, he said. Attacks in the U.S., he noted, are “rampant.”

Abdul Khatri, one of the mosque’s worshippers, agreed. “People come here because they are told there is peace here,” he told The Washington Post. “You have the right to be protected here. It’s why I came. But to have this happen not in India or Pakistan, but here? We have gotten off track. And it’s been going on too long.”

Worshippers pray in Stafford, Texas, during the funeral service of Santa Fe High School shooting victim Sabika Sheikh, 17, on

Other local congregations paid their respects to school shooting victims on Sunday as well. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) attended morning prayers at a Baptist church near Santa Fe High school, during which the pastor, the Rev. Jerl Watkins, blamed the shooting on a Godless, technology-obsessed society. 

“It seems to me, since the 1960s in this country, we’ve begun to think technology and other things can replace our God, and we’ve taken God out of the schools, and social media has taken togetherness out of the family,” Watkins said. “Many of these video games and movies our children are exposed to on a daily basis is all about thrill and killing and destruction. We’ve slaughtered millions of unborn children for the sake of convenience, and we twisted the sanctity of morality.”

Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt said he plans to pay for all 10 funerals, describing the massacre as “absolutely horrific.”

Sabika’s body will be flown to Pakistan for a traditional burial.

The investigation of the shooter’s motivation continues. The governor said the suspect wrote in a journal about carrying out a shooting and then committing suicide. 

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Parents Of School Shooting Victims Decry ‘Moronic’ GOP Platitudes

Two parents who lost children to campus gun violence had strong words of criticism on Sunday for the GOP’s continued dismissal of responding with tougher firearm control measures and more emphasis on preventing shootings.  

Fred Guttenberg, whose daughter Jaime was killed in the Marjory Stoneman Douglas school shooting in Parkland, Florida, in February, joined Nicole Hockley, whose son Dylan was killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in 2012, to speak with host George Stephanopoulos on ABC’s “This Week.”

Both parents voiced their disappointment with Republican politicians for ignoring the topic of gun control in the wake of the school shooting in Santa Fe, Texas, on Friday in which 10 people died. 

Guttenberg and Hockley spoke shortly after Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R) appeared on the talk show and blamed the most recent school shooting on American culture, saying that “we have devalued life.” 

“I think those are the most idiotic comments I’ve ever heard regarding gun safety,” Guttenberg said in response to Patrick.

“I’m here this weekend on what was supposed to be my daughter’s dance recital, where they are honoring my daughter’s memory instead of having my daughter dance,” he said. “For that man to be making those moronic comments? Unacceptable.”

“I am raging right now,” Guttenberg, who confronted Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) at a heated CNN town hall after the Parkland shooting, told Stephanopoulos.

Hockley said that focusing on arming teachers and changing the layout of school campuses ― two things Patrick has advocated in response to Friday’s shooting ― avoids the root of the problem. 

″We’re simply focusing on the wrong thing here,” she said. She characterized the measures Patrick has been spotlighting as “mitigation,” not “prevention.” 

“While I disagree with much of what the lieutenant governor said, I do agree that we have a problem where we devalue life. … That this shooting is not receiving a significant amount of action, that’s devaluing life.” 

Both parents agreed that the pervasive issue of campus gun violence isn’t just about guns ― but they argued that firearms, and access to them, has to be a central aspect of the conversation. 

“This is not just about guns. It’s not just about school safety. It’s not just about mental health,” Guttenberg said.

But he added, “The problem is that when these shootings happen, the crowd that does not want to talk about guns wants to talk about everything else but guns.”  

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Oliver North Blames School Shootings On Ritalin

Just two days after a young man opened fire on his classmates and teachers at a high school in Santa Fe, Texas, the National Rifle Association’s incoming president, Oliver North, blamed Ritalin and a “culture of violence.”  

On “Fox News Sunday,” the controversial Iran-Contra figure told host Chris Wallace that the solution for the increasing number of school shootings ― there have been 22 so far in 2018, by one count ― is not gun control.

“We’re trying like the dickens to treat the symptoms without treating the disease,” he said. 

“And the disease in this case isn’t the Second Amendment. The disease is youngsters who are steeped in a culture of violence,” he said. “They’ve been drugged in many cases. Nearly all of these perpetrators are male. … Many of these young boys have been on Ritalin since they were in kindergarten.”

North’s comments on Sunday echoed those made by President Donald Trump after the Sandy Hook shooting in December 2012. Following the shooting, Trump tweeted about violent video games and the “glorification” of violence.

North, a retired Marine whose role in the Iran-Contra affair in the 1980s made him a household name, appeared in ads for the war-centered video game “Call of Duty: Black Ops II” and has also worked as a consultant for the game. 

Other prominent Republicans have blamed violent culture, and not lax gun laws, in the wake of recent shootings, including Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida and Ohio Gov. John Kasich.

North is due to start as NRA president in the coming weeks. 

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Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick Touts Need To Arm Teachers

Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R) on Sunday pushed for arming teachers and reducing the number of entrances into school buildings after the latest mass shooting at a U.S. school afflicted his state.

Patrick, a staunch conservative, appeared on CNN’s “State of the Union” and ABC’s “This Week” to discuss responses after a lone gunman opened fire at Santa Fe High School in Santa Fe, Texas, on Friday, killing eight students and two teachers.

“There was a teacher next door, a (former) Marine, who saw what was going on… Some feel had he been able to carry a gun, he could have stopped that shooter,” he told host Jake Tapper on the CNN program. 

Patrick said that as he visited a hospital on Friday night where some of those wounded in the shooting had been treated, students and parents alike said that teachers should be armed. 

He told “This Week” host Geroge Stephanopoulos that “our teachers are part of that well-run militia” referred to in the Second Amendment that concerns the right to bear firearms.

“It’s guns that also stop crimes,” he added.

Under a school marshal program in Texas that has been cited approvingly by President Donald Trump, teachers can carry guns on campus, with local officials ultimately making the call on whether that is allowed.

Patrick also said that the issue underlying the raft of school shootings plaguing the U.S. isn’t access to guns, but that “it’s about us.”

“We have devalued life, whether it’s through abortion, whether it’s the breakup of families, through violent movies, and particularly violent video games which now outsell movies and music,” he said.

He also reiterated the suggestion he first made Friday immediately after the shooting that school campuses be redesigned to have fewer entrances. 

“We need to get down to one or two entrances to our schools. We have to funnel our students into our schools so we can put eyes on them,” he said. 

Even before Friday’s shooting, several Republican politicians, including Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and Sen. Ted Cruz, have been calling for training teachers to carry firearms. 

Trump repeatedly pushed that idea after the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, in which 17 people were killed.

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These Are The Victims Of The Santa Fe High School Shooting

Students at Santa Fe High School in Texas spent Friday morning in fear as a gunman killed 10 people and injured 10 others at their school.

Law enforcement officials took a male suspect into custody later Friday ― a 17-year old believed to be a student at the school. 

The tragedy marked the 16th school shooting in 2018, according to a count by The Washington Post. It was also the 10th since the February massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, which left 17 dead and sparked a nationwide conversation about gun violence in America.

“Santa Fe High, you didn’t deserve this. You deserve peace all your lives, not just after a tombstone saying that is put over you. You deserve more than Thoughts and Prayers, and after supporting us by walking out we will be there to support you by raising up your voices,” tweeted Emma González, a survivor of the Parkland shooting.

A number of the victims’ identities have not been released, so this story will be updated as we get more information.

Sabika Sheikh

Sabika Sheikh was a YES program exchange student from Pakistan. The program’s manager, Megan Lysaght, confirmed her death via email to all of the YES program participants.

Cynthia Tisdale

Cynthia Tisdale was a substitute teacher at Santa Fe High School. Her brother-in-law, John Tisdale, confirmed her death in a Facebook post on Friday evening, saying she had been teaching an art class when the shooting began.

“Cynthia planned on one day retiring and being a full-time grandmother. It will never happen,” he wrote. She is survived by her husband, Rev. William Recie Tisdale, and four children, he said.

Chris Stone

Chris Stone, 17, was missing for much of Friday while his friends and family frantically called him and checked local hospitals to see if he was among the injured. Multiple outlets confirmed his death on Friday evening.

Photos the teen’s family released showed him smiling as he got ready for the high school prom just a week before he was killed.

Angelique Ramirez  

The family of student Angelique Ramirez confirmed to CBS-affiliate KHOU that she was killed in the shooting.

Araceli Ramirez, who identified Angelique as her “baby sister” in a Facebook post, wrote: “You deserved so much, you had so much planned for yourself and they took that away from you.”

Shana Fisher  

Shana Fisher’s aunt Candi Thurman confirmed on Twitter her niece didn’t survive the shooting. In a tweet earlier Friday, Thurman ― also a student at the school ― said Fisher was in an art class when the gunman opened fire, shooting her in the leg.

“Its hard to believe one of the sweetest kids you would ever meet had a punk kill her,” Tammy Fisher Whalen, who also identifies as Fisher’s aunt on Facebook, wrote in a post. “Shana i love you sweet girl sorry we couldnt help you.”

Kyle McLeod

The family of Kyle McLeod, a student at Santa Fe High School, confirmed to ABC News that the young man was killed during the shooting.

Kim Vaughn

Kim Vaughn’s mother, Rhonda Hart, said in a Facebook post earlier Friday that her daughter was in first-period art class at the time of the shooting. Her family later confirmed to ABC News that she had died.

Later in the day, Hart urged her Facebook friends to contact lawmakers in a post that included a hashtag of her daughter’s name.

“Folks―call your damn senators. Call your congressmen,” Hart wrote. “We need GUN CONTROL. WE NEED TO PROTECT OUR KIDS.”

This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.

Sarah Ruiz-Grossman and Carla Herreria contributed reporting.

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Ten Killed in Texas School Shooting

People embrace outside the Alamo Gym where students and parents wait to reunite following a shooting at Santa Fe High School Friday, May 18, 2018, in Santa Fe, Texas. ( Michael Ciaglo/Houston Chronicle via AP)

Yet another deadly school shooting, this one at Santa Fe High School in Santa Fe, Texas, thirty miles outside Houston, has claimed at least ten lives – nine students and one educator – after the suspected shooter, a 17-year-old student, went on a rampage inside the school this morning before classes began. A second person of interest has been detained and the police are searching the campus for explosive devices.

The shooting comes just three months after the Parkland, Florida, school shooting where a former student killed 17 people, sparking a student-led gun control movement and a series of national protests where thousands demonstrated to end gun violence.

Texas State Teachers Association President Noel Candelaria and National Education Association President Lily Eskelsen García provided the following joint statement in reaction to the shooting:

“Our hearts and prayers go out to the families and loved ones of the victims in today’s shooting at Santa Fe High School. The members and staff of the Texas State Teachers Association and the National Education Association stand ready to assist the Santa Fe community in any way that we can.

“Once again, we are mourning more senseless shooting deaths. But even as we mourn, we redouble our efforts to convince our elected representatives in Washington and Austin to take every necessary step to keep our schools, students, and educators safe from gun violence.

“We don’t know why this attack occurred. But every child has the right to feel safe and be safe at school, and every parent has the right to know their neighborhood schools are safe places to send their children.”

NEA Crisis Guide

NEA maintains a crisis resource page for students, educators, parents, and communities at

The page includes advice for talking to students about violent tragedies, as well as tips for preventing school violence.

Also included is NEA’s School Crisis Guide, which NEA assembled to foster the creation of crisis teams with the ideas, tips, tools, and resources that spur effective leadership and crisis management.

Knowing what to do in a crisis can be the difference between stability and upheaval. This step-by-step resource created by educators for educators can make it easier for union leaders, school district administrators, and principals to keep schools safe—before, during, and after a crisis.

Download NEA’s School Crisis Guide (PDF)


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West Virginia Educators Take Their Power to the Polls

(Craig Hudson/Charleston Gazette-Mail via AP)

As state election officials counted votes in West Virginia’s primary races last week and the results were broadcast on local TV stations, West Virginia’s teachers felt something unfamiliar but wonderful.

It was an electric surge of their own power.

“It was a great feeling watching the returns come in!” said Jonas Knotts, a high school teacher and president of the Webster County Education Association, an affiliate of the West Virginia Education Association (WVEA). “People and educators are really starting to see the power that they possess. We have a voting bloc that, if we turn out to the polls, can outvote anybody. Teachers are realizing this. It’s something that fills us with a very empowering feeling.”

Early this spring, WVEA members kicked off what NEA President Lily Eskelsen García has called an “education spring” with a statewide, nine-day strike that brought red-shirted educators from every one of the state’s 55 counties to the state Capitol.

Their massive show of solidarity, which ended with significant pay raises for all public workers, including teachers and education support professionals, and the establishment of a state task force to address public-worker health insurance, inspired educators across the nation and has been followed by statewide educator walkouts in Oklahoma, Arizona, and Kentucky, and huge Capitol demonstrations in Colorado and North Carolina.

Now, WVEA members are modeling what happens next: They’re taking their energy and passion for public education to the ballot box. In this May’s primary races, WVEA endorsed 115 pro-public school candidates for U.S. Senate, U.S. House, and the state’s House of Delegates and Senate. Of those, 99 candidates—or nearly 90 percent—won. One state lawmaker who had called union members “free riders” was shown the door.

This is exactly what public-school educators across the nation have promised to do in the mid-term elections this November. With this latest show of union strength, WVEA members have shown how it can be done—and how good it feels.

“This election was a huge vindication for the power of the movement because, of course, the opposition was saying ‘they’re going to forget, they’re going to stay home,’” said Knotts. “But we know it’s only one victory in a long war. We have to keep up those conversations, we have to keep people engaged, we have to show them how we’re working to improve everybody’s status—from teachers to support personnel to students to communities.”

Taking Power to the Polls

The West Virginia educators’ strike was the result of decades of neglect by state lawmakers. With school budgets cut to the bone and great teachers leaving the state in droves, dedicated educators just couldn’t take it anymore. “People were starting to ask themselves, what is my future here? What is the future for my students, my children? And they realized that unless action was taken, there isn’t going to be a future,” said Knotts.

Educators walked out because they couldn’t stay silent any longer, and they stayed out with the support of their students, families and community members until state lawmakers finally agreed to do something about the problem.

It was a bold lesson in the power of solidarity and civic engagement—and nobody learned it better than the striking teachers.

“The strike really opened up people’s eyes,” said Knotts. “In years past, people and educators felt like there wasn’t anything their vote could do. They felt like whatever happened in Charleston wasn’t connected to their lives. They couldn’t see the end game, how elections truly matter, and how they directly affect their work environment and their students.”

In the weeks leading up to the May primaries, WVEA members made their preferences known. “Word of mouth was the biggest thing,” said Heather White, president of the WVEA-affiliated Grant County Education Association. “We made sure to utilize Facebook. All of us who are on it have friends who are not educators, and they’d follow the articles we’d post and send.” Educators also helped register new voters, drove elderly people to the polls, and stood on street corners with posters for their preferred candidates.

WVEA members—and their friends and family members—remembered which legislators stood with them during the strike and supported the health-insurance task force, and which lawmakers talked about the need to keep great teachers in West Virginia.

They also remembered who didn’t.

“Going to the Capitol, sitting in committee meetings, listening to the debates and following [the legislators] on social media—it makes you think, ‘oh my, this is the person representing our interests?’” said Knotts.

Bye-Bye, Senator

That person—the one representing the interests and welfare of public-school educators and students—is not Robert Karnes.

Karnes, the incumbent senator in West Virginia’s 11th District, is known in the state as “maybe THE biggest teacher-hater, public-employee hater out there,” said Knotts. “This is a person who goes out of his way to antagonize and harass and destroy public education. He has no qualms about saying that because he homeschools his eight kids he should not have to pay taxes to support public schools.”

He got elected, suggested Knotts, because too many educators stayed home during the 2014 election.

In his challenger, state Delegate Bill Hamilton, a nine-term moderate Republican who supports public education and has opposed anti-union legislation, educators across the enormous, six-county 11th District found somebody that they could support with enthusiasm. Dozens went so far as to switch their party registration from Democrat to no-party affiliation so they could cast a ballot for Hamilton, said White.

“The thing about Karnes is that he just didn’t support public education,” said White. “Our local schools have the bare minimum of what they need. There’s just no way we could survive with any less, and still do what we need to do for our kids.”

Last Tuesday, on Election Day, WVEA members said no to less. They flexed their muscles. When the returns were counted, Karnes had been trounced, barely taking a third of the votes cast. “It had been our goal for four years to take him down. We succeeded. Not just mildly. He was destroyed in every county in his district,” said Knotts.

On Wednesday, the day after the election, in a show of celebration and solidarity, many WVEA members wore their red “55 Strong” t-shirts that they had worn to the Capitol a few months earlier. “It was like everybody knew the power!” said White.

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The Controversial Way Some California Schools Are Handling Students’ Misbehavior

The two 9th-grade girls heard the laughing the minute they walked into their third-period class that December morning at Oakland’s Fremont High School. And they knew why: a video of one of the girls being slapped by a classmate had gone viral among students on social media.

It was one of those moments that could have gone bad in a hurry — like so many others had at Fremont High, a school that had more suspensions last year than any other in the Oakland Unified School District.

Both girls (whose names are being withheld to protect their privacy) acknowledged later that their first instinct was to lash out at their snickering classmates. But they didn’t do that. Instead, they left the classroom and walked down the hall to Tatiana Chaterji’s room.

Chaterji is Fremont High’s restorative justice facilitator and among a growing number of educators in Oakland Unified charged with changing the district’s approach to behavioral issues through restorative practices. This work departs from traditional school discipline in that it focuses less on punishment and more on righting wrongs and building healthy relationships within the school.

During the previous period, the two girls had participated in a community building circle, a cornerstone of restorative justice in which students gather in a circle, talk about the difficulties of their daily lives and work on responding to them in a healthier way.

“What would have happened had you stayed (in the classroom)?” Chaterji asked the girls after they had told her their story.

“They would have said some things, then I would have said some things…then things could have gotten ugly,” said the more assertive of the two, who was wearing an ankle monitor from the Alameda County Juvenile Probation Department.

Had things gotten out of hand, punches might have been thrown. That would’ve led to an office referral and perhaps suspensions. Such an outcome would be an unfortunate but not uncommon occurrence at Fremont, which, according to district data, suspended 151 students during the 2016-17 school year.

Fremont High hired Chaterji last summer as part of a larger effort to improve the school’s climate and cut down on suspensions. The school also employs three case managers who work to alleviate conflicts that crop up in classrooms before they become office referrals.

“People’s trust in the process is growing,” Chaterji said. “The leadership has really shifted to prioritize [restorative justice]…we are at an exciting moment, but it’s just the start.”

A new approach to an old problem

Small victories like the one that morning at Fremont High are being won to varying degrees in schools throughout California. Over the past decade, a mountain of research has shown that the so-called zero-tolerance approach to misbehavior, characterized by stringent rules and harsh punishments, largely doesn’t work.

In particular, studies have shown unequivocally that students of color are suspended and expelled at disproportionately higher rates than their white peers, which has forced a reassessment of school discipline in many places throughout the nation.

Teachers and administrators have come to realize that a student’s range of experiences — their home life, their neighborhood and the overall atmosphere of the school — has an outsized impact on their behavior in class. Research shows that by gaining insight into these experiences and building stronger relationships with students, educators can address a number of behaviors without having to resort to suspensions and other punitive methods of discipline.

This awakening, along with intense pressure on districts from the state in recent years to cut down on suspensions, have spawned a number of behavioral support programs under the umbrella of social/emotional learning, including Positive Behavioral Intervention and Supports (PBIS) and Multi-Tiered Systems of Support (MTSS).

Interwoven in these approaches is the idea of restorative justice, which has both captured the imagination of many youth advocates and educators and generated controversy.

In recent years, some of the state’s largest districts have made significant investments in restorative justice:

  • Oakland Unified budgeted roughly $2.5 million for restorative justice in the 2017-18 school year, which pays for 35 facilitators and a districtwide coordinator.
  • The Los Angeles Unified School District budgets more than $10 million annually for restorative justice and has a goal of implementing the practices in each of its more than 900 schools by 2020.
  • Following the lead of Los Angeles Unified, the San Diego Unified School District board last year approved a “School Climate Bill of Rights” that is centered on restorative practices. The board also approved a nearly $800,000 budget for restorative justice in 2017-18, which pays for a districtwide program manager along with several other staff members.
  • The Santa Ana Unified School District received a multi-year, $3 million federal grant to implement restorative practices in schools throughout the district.

Although the terms restorative justice and restorative practices were largely unheard of in the school setting as recently as a decade ago, the work in many respects builds on conflict mediation strategies that schools have used since the 1990s.

Yet many see restorative justice as groundbreaking because at its core is a repudiation of the punitive model that has been the foundation of school discipline in this country since the days of the one-room schoolhouse.

A community building circle in Tatiana Chaterji's classroom at Fremont High School in the Oakland Unified School District

Because their use in the school setting is so new, there is scant research on the long-term effectiveness of restorative practices. But officials in districts that have devoted significant resources to them say they’ve led directly to fewer suspensions and better school climates.

“We have seen a drastic reduction in suspensions and RJ (a commonly used shorthand for the practices) is a big reason for it,” said Deborah Brandy, Los Angeles Unified’s director of district operations, which oversees restorative justice programs.

“We’ve also seen a reduction in truancy rates…and it goes beyond the data. Parents feel more welcome at their school sites; students remarked (in climate surveys) that their teachers seem more caring.”

While awareness of restorative practices is high among school officials statewide, relatively few districts outside major urban centers have well-established programs, EdSource found through interviews and a survey.

The most common sentiment expressed among nearly a dozen superintendents, principals and other officials interviewed was cautious optimism, with the caveat that finding resources to devote to it is a challenge.

“There is certainly an interest and heightened awareness,” said Tamara Clay, who is director of the El Dorado County Special Education Local Plan Area. “And system change can be easier in small rural areas like ours — but it’s harder in that our superintendents don’t have the capacity.”

While it is difficult to find anyone — administrators, teachers, students or parents — who disagrees with the core principles of restorative justice, a fair number of critics say it’s been oversold as a quick fix. And, in some instances, they say it’s contributed to more chaotic school environments.

Los Angeles Unified’s efforts have drawn criticism from some teachers’ union officials who say the district has launched an aggressive implementation plan without sufficiently taking into account how the timetable is affecting students and teachers at the ground level.

“The LAUSD idea is that in three years’ time we’ll just train all the teachers and we’ll be done,” said Daniel Barnhart, who is vice president of secondary schools for United Teachers of Los Angeles. “It is a recipe for resentment and for teachers to not make a change they may want to make because there is no real support.”

Belia Saavedra, director of restorative justice in schools for the Long Beach-based California Conference for Equality and Justice (CCEJ), said most teachers she works with embrace restorative justice — but she has encountered pockets of resistance in both Long Beach and Los Angeles schools.

“More than a few teachers will tell you that RJ is the removal of punishment without a replacement for accountability,” Saavedra said, referring to concerns that there aren’t sufficient consequences. “If RJ is coming to their school they see it as the wild, wild West.”

LA Unified’s Brandy does not dispute the reports of pushback, but says the concerns fade once teachers and administrators see the district’s commitment to the approach.

“Because the district has been very steadfast we are getting more and more buy-in,” Brandy said. “In the first year, we received a lot of pushback. In the second year, people started calling me, asking me ‘When am I going to get the RJ training?’”

The restorative justice room at Roosevelt High School in the Los Angeles Unified School District.

Brandy’s assertions notwithstanding, the issues being raised are real and indicative of the pendulum swinging too quickly away from traditional discipline, argues Max Eden, a senior fellow specializing in education policy for the Manhattan Institute, a conservative think tank based in New York City.

Eden says his research shows that students report feeling less safe when districts issue mandates to reduce suspensions and in their place offer alternatives like restorative justice and PBIS.

“There is more immediate evidence that the reforms are creating a crisis rather than solving one,” Eden said, pointing to studies done in New York City, Philadelphia and Virginia. “If it were being approached as a complement to traditional discipline I would be bullish, but given that it’s being looked at as a substitute, I’m bearish.”

Daniel Losen, who is director of UCLA’s Center for Civil Rights Remedies, takes issue with Eden’s arguments on a couple of levels.

First, Losen said Eden is cherry-picking indicators to make schools seem more unsafe than they actually are. Secondly, he sees in Eden a failure to acknowledge that there is strong evidence showing that suspensions and other isolating punishments are harmful to students, especially students of color.

“No one wants the reform efforts to yield something worse than before,” Losen said. “But we have to reject the status quo. Schools are doing things that are harmful to kids right now, and we need to stop that — their civil rights are being violated.”

A winding road to progress

It is because of disagreements like the one between Eden and Losen that Sonia Llamas, Santa Ana Unified’s assistant superintendent for school performance and culture, spends a lot of her time documenting her district’s success with restorative practices and showing how they help its bottom line.

Five years ago, Santa Ana Unified had nearly 9,800 days of suspensions, Llamas said, which cost the district about $680,000 because state funding is calculated based on average daily enrollment. Since then, thanks to a grant from the federal Department of Education, the district has invested more than $3 million in restorative justice and related programs and seen its suspensions drop by 75 percent.

“People can talk a good talk, but you need strong data to show what’s working,” Llamas said. “It is really hard to cut something that is showing impact.”

That being said, Llamas and other proponents emphasize that transforming a school’s climate and culture often happens in fits and starts and requires commitment and patience from schools and communities.

“The ability to do RJ is based on where a school and its community are at and start from there,” said David Yusem, Oakland Unified’s restorative justice coordinator. “Right now, there are some schools, just like some communities, that are ready for RJ and it can come in really nicely. Then there are other schools that are fractured and it’s tough to implement it.”

John Jones III recently moved to Oakland from Portland and his son, a 9th-grader at Fremont High, has had trouble adjusting to his new school. Jones, who works for a community group as a restorative justice facilitator, said the school’s handling of altercations his son had with a teacher showed the progress Fremont has made as well as how far it still has to go.

“My biggest critique is that I wasn’t notified of the situation until months afterwards,” Jones said. “Once there is the first inkling of a problem, parents should be brought in…the old proverb is true, it does take a village to raise a child — and it’s important that everyone is on the same page.”

While they acknowledge their progress has not gone in a straight line, the staff at Fremont High feel they are slowly getting on the same page. The school is on track to cut suspensions in half from last year, said Co-Principal Tom Skjervheim.

“Part of the challenge is we have lots of students who need support in any given day,” Skjervheim said. “[But] now that we have a system where RJ can live — it is setting us up for more success.”

When asked whether she learns more from being suspended or going through restorative justice when she gets in trouble for fighting, the 9th-grade girl who had sought Chaterji’s counsel after the problems in her third-period class rolled her eyes. “It’s all a waste of time,” she said.

But when pressed further, she gave a clear-headed comparison of the two approaches.

“I could be getting into a fight with someone and get suspended. Then I come back and it could still be a fight,” she said. “If I don’t get suspended and we talk it out, there is a higher chance of there being no more problems.”

This story is the first of a three-part series on restorative justice in California which originally appeared on

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Teacher Caught On Video Making Students Help Him Drown Raccoons

A Florida high school teacher is under investigation after being caught on video drowning raccoons with students on Monday.

Video taken by one of the students show an agricultural science teacher and a group of students at Forest High School in Ocala lift a raccoon inside a metal trap into a garbage bin, then fill the the garbage bin with water. The student shared the video with his mother, who told local news station WKMG that her son came home crying about the experience. 

The following local newscast, which contains some footage from the incident, may be disturbing to some viewers:

She said the teacher, identified by multiple media outlets as as Dewie Brewton, had students assist in drowning two raccoons, along with a possum.

“When the raccoons tried to come up for air, they had metal rods and they held them down with metal rods and when the raccoon would try to pop its head up they held water hoses in its face to drown it,” the mother told the news station.

The student told WFTV that raccoons had been killing chickens that students and staff members were raising behind the school.

The school placed Brewton on paid administrative leave Tuesday.

“Marion County’s education standards — in fact, Florida’s education standards ― do not include activities for the destruction of live animals, nuisance or not,” read a statement from Marion County Public Schools. “While law enforcement determines whether this teacher’s actions were legal or not, his actions before students are entirely unacceptable and cause us great concern.”

Superintendent Heidi Maier is recommending that Brewton be fired, according to a second statement.

Additionally, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is investigating the incident to determine if charges will be filed. It’s legal in Florida to kill “nuisance” wildlife, but the law stipulates it must be done “humanely.”

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Trump Judicial Nominees Threaten The Legacy of Brown v. Board

In March, Linda Brown, who as a third-grader lent her name to the fight to dismantle school segregation, passed away at age 75. While systemic inequality and racial disparities still exist, the landmark Supreme Court ruling in Brown v. Board of Education changed our entire nation for the better. The 1954 decision not only struck down state-sponsored segregation and became a cornerstone of our justice system; its principles of equality and opportunity are now foundational aspects of our democracy. 

If there was ever a Supreme Court ruling that nominees to federal courts should wholly embrace, it should be Brown. The doctrine of “separate but equal” has no role in today’s society. The case was famously decided by a unanimous Supreme Court. Although the ruling was initially met with massive resistance throughout the South, it was precisely because of federal judges on the lower courts that its mandate was respected. The decision is not about to be revisited by any court anywhere.

Brown is not subject to debate.

Yet today, as we celebrate the 64th anniversary of Brown v. Board, several of President Donald Trump’s judicial nominees have recently dared to challenge it. Wendy Vitter, nominated to a federal district court in Louisiana, was the first, saying at her April confirmation hearing, “I think I get into a difficult area when I start commenting on Supreme Court decisions which are correctly decided and which I may disagree with.” Next came Andrew Oldham, ironically nominated to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit, which was home to the unlikely heroes called upon to enforce Brown throughout the South. Then, four more district court nominees refused to answer the Brown question. 

Clearly, there was another answer, the right answer. All sitting Supreme Court justices endorsed Brown at their own confirmation hearings. Conservative justice Samuel Alito called it “one of the greatest, if not the single greatest thing that the Supreme Court of the United States has ever done.” Clarence Thomas stated, “[Brown] is certainly one of the cases ― even before I knew all of the legal ramifications, it is one that changed my life and changed the South.” 

The refusal to endorse Brown is a powerful symbol of the intensely xenophobic zealotry shared by many Trump judicial nominees that threatens civil rights jurisprudence in particular and the rule of law in general. These are lawyers on the fringes of society who, if confirmed, will willingly depart from widely accepted principles and may harm communities of color.

We know about Brett Talley, the failed nominee to an Alabama federal court, who allegedly praised an early leader of the Ku Klux Klan on a University of Alabama message board. The nation should also know about Thomas Farr, a nominee to a North Carolina federal court who has ties to white supremacists and personally engaged in activities to intimidate black voters in order to help segregationist Sen. Jesse Helms win his 1990 re-election bid. Both Farr and Kyle Duncan, who was recently confirmed to the 5th Circuit, appealed to the Supreme Court to overturn the 4th Circuit’s ruling in 2016 that North Carolina’s voter suppression efforts targeted African-Americans with “almost surgical precision.”

Oldham, the other appellate nominee who refused to support Brown, also refused to answer Sen. Kamala Harris’ question about whether voting discrimination exists today. As deputy solicitor general in Texas, Oldham tried to gut the Voting Rights Act in defending the state’s photo ID laws, which federal courts found to be intentionally discriminatory. But Trump has nominated him to the 5th Circuit, which now covers three states with a large percentage of residents of color.

A key part of making America ‘hate’ again lies in stacking the federal bench with people willing to do Trump’s bidding.

Trump’s apparent efforts to whiten the federal bench are central to reshaping the courts. Black nominees are rarely to be found among the scores of nominees the Senate is rushing through to confirmation. Of some 120 nominees to lifetime seats on the federal bench, only two are African-American. Courts such as the 7th Circuit, which covers Illinois, Wisconsin and Indiana, currently have no judges of color.

This lack of diversity comes at a severe cost to the nation. It could lead to the undermining of laws that have transformed our country and ensure democracy works for all of us. We have seen the direction the president wants to take our nation. A key part of making America “hate” again lies in stacking the federal bench with people willing to do Trump’s bidding ― judges willing to rubber-stamp partisan gerrymandering, voter suppression, inhumane immigration policies and laws that favor corporations over people.

Sixty-four years after the Supreme Court’s watershed decision, our nation still has much work to do to make sure that the promise of Brown is realized. We must never forget that judges who understood their role in maintaining the balance of power among branches of government helped bring about the positive transformation we have seen in our society. We must remain cautious of any who seek to utilize the courts to return us to an era before Brown.

Derrick Johnson is the president and CEO of the NAACP. Follow him @NAACP and @DerrickNAACP.

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Michael Keaton Ends Kent State Commencement Speech With ‘I’m Batman’

Actor Michael Keaton ended his commencement address at Kent State University’s graduation ceremony with two words: “I’m Batman.”

Keaton could have gone the more dramatic route and yelled “Beetlejuice! Beetlejuice! Beetlejuice!” at the Class of 2018 crowd during Saturday’s ceremony. But he went with his memorable line from the 1989 film “Batman,” and 1992′s “Batman Returns.”

“I’ve got two words that I want you all to remember. They’re very important, and if I leave you with anything, I’m going to leave you with these two words,” Keaton said in a clip of the speech that has now gone viral.

“And those two words are: I’m Batman.” 

Many in the crowd (and the internet) celebrated the “I’m Batman” ending.

But some Kent State students were less than thrilled at Keaton’s commencement speech. Some wondered whether he was drunk:

Keaton’s representative didn’t immediately reply to HuffPost’s request for comment. 

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Regardless of Janus Decision, ‘We’re Not Going Anywhere’

(AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

With the U.S. Supreme Court only weeks, perhaps days, away from issuing a  potentially momentous decision in Janus v. AFSCME, what will the fallout be for unions, educators and schools? That was the question before a panel at the 2018 Education Writers Association National Seminar in Los Angeles on May 16.

The panel, moderated by journalist David Washburn of EdSource, featured Lily Eskelsen Garcia, president of the National Education Association, William Messenger, staff attorney for the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, and Julia Koppich, president of J. Koppich & Associates, a San Francisco-based education consulting firm.

The issue before the Court in Janus is whether government employees who are covered by and benefit from a union contract, though not members of the union, should have to contribute to the union’s costs –  by paying an agency or fair share fee for their share of those costs  –  that support strong public sector collective bargaining. The petitioner argues that the First Amendment prohibits fair share fees. If the Court agrees, the rights and freedoms of working people to join together in strong unions will be significantly weakened.

Pressed by moderator Washburn about the actual agenda behind the Janus case (“Is this not just window dressing for union-busting?”), Messenger insisted that the only pertinent issue is the “freedom” to choose whether or not to be in a union. As far as whether or not unions lose members, and the impact on schools, “This is about choice only and I don’t see the connection,” said Messenger. “The case is a few degrees removed from any of those issues.”

Julia Koppich suggested to the audience that anyone who believed Janus was merely about the First Amendment was indulging in “magical thinking.”

“It’s important that we understand the malign intent behind Janus,” Koppich said, namely to severely reduce the bargaining power of public sector unions.

The case is bankrolled by the National Right to Work Foundation, Messenger’s employer, an is part of a well-funded network of corporate billionaires to use the courts to rig the rules against working people.

Eskelsen García told the reporters that NEA has only around 90,000 feepayers members out of 3 million. “I don’t think the National Right to Work Foundation will be satisfied with just that.”

It wouldn’t, she added, because “the case is just a pretext to get union members to drop their membership.”

Eskelsen García also pointed out that groups behind Janus already have launched aggressive drop campaigns seeking to persuade current union members to drop their membership and enjoy the benefits of membership on the dues paid by others. This exposes the true intent behind the case: divide and limit union members’ collective bargaining power and take away the rights and freedom of working people to speak up for themselves and their communities.  

“They want to keep the megaphone as small as possible,” she said. “This is about silencing voices.”

If the Court rules for the plaintiff, Washburn asked, how will unions change how they organize and engage. There’s no question that NEA and others will have to open “a new chapter,” said Koppich. “We don’t know yet what the impact will be on membership but unions will have to be creatively nimble moving forward. I do worry, however, that collaborative relationships in schools districts will be undermined. That can happen when fairness and due process, once embedded in the system, is no longer there.”

Eskelsen Garca agreed that the Janus case could make NEA significantly adjust. “We have to become more and more relevant. What we are doing has to touch the heart and minds of members and potential members. But it’s already happening.”

janus decision

NEA President Lily Eskelsen García (far right) discusses the potential ramifications of Janus v. AFSCME at the 2018 Education Writers Association National Seminar on May 16.

Support for labor unions has risen to its highest level in years and millions of American workers have recommitted to their unions and launched new organizing drives.

“Everyone is looking at what is happening across the country and are saying ‘listen to the teachers.’ ”

Koppich agreed. “Parents see teachers as being unfairly treated,” and schools underfunded.

Through their union, educators in West Virginia, Oklahoma, Kentucky, Colorado, Arizona and North Carolina have been speaking up and advocating for their students. They are speaking out against broken chairs, outdated textbooks that are duct taped together, mold on the ceilings, classrooms with more students than desks, and four-day school weeks.

As Eskelsen García told the journalists in the room, educators in Arizona were quick to reject Gov. Dave Ducey’s initial proposal to end the walkout because it focused on their salaries, not on reversing the chronic underfunding that has plagued the state’s schools.

These red state walkouts, in states without fair share fees many of which have no or very limited state bargaining rights, show the power of educators and their unions as advocates for students, Eskelsen Garcia said.

The question for the Court is whether it would rather see the power of those unions at the bargaining table in a controlled form or in the streets of state capitols.

Regardless of the decision, however, “educators are awake. There will be a new chapter,” said Eskelsen García.

“We’re seeing a greater level of activity now that we ever have before. But we still have to have one-on-one conversations with every educator. They need to know how we can help. The collective voice is all we have…and we’re not going anywhere.”

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Teachers Shouldn’t Have To Hoard Sick Days To Invent Maternity Leave

The subway ad glares at me from above during my morning commute in New York City: a mother kissing a baby boy in a sling, the father standing next to her.

“All parents deserve time to bond with a new child,” it reads. Then, in smaller letters: “Starting January 2018, New York State’s Paid Family Leave Policy makes sure you can get it.”

But each morning I see the ad, I think: Not me. Not us. Because I’m a New York public school teacher. 

If you’re curious about the NYC Department of Education’s current maternity leave policy, I’ll fill you in: We have none. Instead, we have to use our banked sick days if we want to continue receiving pay during leave ― the norm for most maternity leave is six weeks, or eight if a woman has a cesarean section. Many teachers do not have enough available days to cover that time, especially if it’s not a teacher’s first childbirth. So we end up borrowing future sick days from the Department of Education to keep an income, which sends our sick bank into negative numbers. Once we’ve exhausted those borrowed days, we get nothing.

The strain is enough to make many new mothers consider leaving the teaching profession altogether.

Of the 75,000 New York City public school teachers, 76.6 percent are female. We spend our days, afternoons and weekends doing the best we can to educate our city’s youth. We often end up nurturing them and becoming second parents to them. Sometimes, we’re more like first parents.

The maternity leave policies for teachers in Denver, Seattle and Boston resemble New York City’s: unpaid unless you use sick time.

The irony is glaring: We dedicate our lives to taking care of other people’s children, but when it’s time to have our own, we have to fend for ourselves. 

Just ask Meredith Formica, a teacher whose son was born with a congenital heart defect. She had to go off payroll in order to care for him until he was old enough for surgery; she lost almost $20,000 in pay as a result.

Or ask Andrea Cardinali, who was scheduled to return to work before her premature twins’ due date had even passed. She extended her leave for four weeks without pay. 

Rachel Sookram worked through the flu to hoard her sick days so she could afford to stay home for six weeks after her daughter was born.

Saphira Hendrix threw up into the garbage can in front of the school building each morning before teaching high school mathematics for the same reason — she had to save up her sick days for her daughter’s birth.

After my own daughters were born, I taught while dealing with two infected wisdom teeth and strep throat. I had run out of sick days and couldn’t take unpaid leave. I just didn’t have the money to spare.  

Having a baby is not a sickness, and borrowed sick time is not the same as maternity leave ― it’s a loan that many women are never able to pay back. Even after paying the Department of Education hundreds of dollars to try to buy back days, I am still in debt 11 sick days ― and my youngest daughter has just turned 3 years old.

In May 2017, I began a petition on calling for a change to this antiquated policy (or lack thereof). Within months, it had garnered more than 80,000 signatures, and the stories began pouring in.

Having a baby is not a sickness, and borrowed sick time is not the same as maternity leave ― it’s a loan that many women are never able to pay back.

My personal struggle paled in comparison with the hardships others had faced. Women wrote to me about their choice to have only one child because they didn’t have enough sick days saved up to afford going off payroll for a second child. One woman had been working a second job for two years in order to save money, putting off her pregnancy out of financial fear. Several women said they were too scared altogether to start a family, because they knew it would send them into a financial free fall. 

I spoke with women who missed rent payments and feared eviction. With women who had to seek help from local charities to pay their mortgage. With women who went on WIC, SNAP and other government programs to help them through. One adoptive mother wrote that she only got paid for three days after welcoming a new infant into her home, even though she had banked 30, because the current policy doesn’t recognize an adoption at all.

It’s easy to forget for a moment that we are talking about New York City, supposedly one of the most progressive places in the world.

Like the subway ad states, in January 2018, the New York State Paid Family Leave law took effect. Workers under this law are eligible for eight weeks of paid time off ― at 50 percent of their average weekly wage ― to take care of a newborn or ill family member. For unionized employees such as teachers to receive this benefit, however, it has to be negotiated through collective bargaining.

Our union leader, Michael Mulgrew, has held countless bargaining sessions with the city of New York, but as of now, nothing has been done. Mulgrew, who refuses to agree to concessions, told the New York Daily News that Mayor Bill de Blasio is trying to “manipulate a process, to try to create leverage for it, to try to get something else out of those workers.”

This, from a supposedly progressive mayor who has been cited multiple times as a supporter and advocate of paid parental leave, is absurd. Overworked and underpaid teachers shouldn’t have to shoulder the burden in order to attain this basic human right.

“We’re currently in discussion with the [United Federation of Teachers] over this very topic and hope to come to an agreement soon,” a de Blasio spokeswoman responded in the same article.

As of 2016, the U.S. was the only developed country in the world that didn’t have a comprehensive maternity policy.

This issue has become one of gender inequality. Male teachers often retire with extra sick days that they can not only cash in but can also use to calculate higher pension rates. When women retire, if we previously decided to have and raise children (and stay with them as newborns), we have many fewer sick days left over ― and a lower retirement payout and pension as a result.

In the era of Me Too and its emphasis on feminism, it surprises me this issue is not getting more attention.

As of 2016, the U.S. was the only developed country in the world that didn’t have a comprehensive maternity policy, according to The Washington Post. And although some major U.S. cities are doing far better than New York in terms of what they offer their teachers ― Chicago, for example, allows birth mothers to take 90 total days at full or partial pay ― this problem is not specific to just the Big Apple. The maternity leave policies for teachers in Denver, Seattle and Boston resemble New York City’s: unpaid unless you use sick time, under specific and often complicated circumstances. Houston teachers are actually forced to use their sick days when they take leave; they aren’t even given the option to take unpaid leave and save their sick days for an actual illness.

In my classroom, there’s a picture just like the one in the subway ad sitting in a frame on my bookshelf: me, my 1-month-old in a sling, my husband standing nearby. It’s been three years, and I am still trying to rebuild my savings to recover from the time I stayed home to care for and nurse each of my girls.

I know I’ll continue to work through illnesses and emergencies in an attempt to climb out of a negative sick day balance. And when I look at that picture, or into either of my daughters’ eyes, I never doubt the choice was worth it. But I also know I was never given a fair choice to begin with. It’s a choice I hope future mothers and teachers won’t have to make. 

The 84,614 people who signed the petition successfully got our union’s attention ― and gave it the necessary ammunition to fight ― but the stagnancy of negotiations shows that the buck stops at de Blasio. As a community, and as a nation that expects more for our working mothers, we will continue to reach out to the mayor and let him know we are watching and waiting for him to do the right thing.

Emily James is a teacher and writer in NYC.

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Video Shows 8-Year-Old With Autism Taunted, Abused By Bus Driver

The lawyer for the parents of an 8-year-old girl with autism released a disturbing video that shows a California school bus driver taunting and manhandling the child.

“I’ve been doing work on behalf of physically and sexually abused kids for 17 years ― many times against school districts – and it’s beyond disturbing to me,” the attorney, Micha Star Liberty, told HuffPost.

The video, recorded on Feb. 6 by a surveillance camera on a Vacaville Unified School District bus, led to the arrest of Kim Cheryle Klopson, 64. Vacaville police have charged her with felony child abuse, to which she’s pleaded “not guilty.”

Liberty said the family plans to file a lawsuit against the district in the coming months.

Klopson, according to police, was transporting a group of students with special needs to Browns Valley Elementary School when the 8-year-old a second grader was accused of blocking the aisle with her leg.

“If you stick your feet out again… you are going to be on the window,” Klopson can be heard saying on the video.

The incident appears to escalate when the bus arrives at the school. Klopson is seen on the video grabbing the girls backpack and ordering her to remain seated as the other students exit the bus.

When a paraeducator steps up to the bus, the driver is heard taunting the girl as she cries hysterically.

“She’s acting like she’s younger than her baby sister,” Klopson says. “She’s only two, how old are you? One? Oh no, a baby.”

Klopson can then be seen yanking the girl up.

“Okay, so I get to do that again? Help you sit up? Get up,” Klopson says as she throws the girl down. “You wanna crawl, you can crawl.”

The paraeducator does nothing to intervene and after a few minutes Klopson closes the bus door, saying, “Okay, we’ll be right there.”

Klopson can then be seen yanking the young girl around again as she continues to taunt her.

“Nah nah nah nah nah,” the bus driver says. “You done? Nah nah nah nah nah.”

Klopson then tries to force the girl’s backpack on her.

“Please stop it,” the girl cries. “I don’t want to. Stop it.”

Klopson replies, “No, I’m not gonna stop it.”

The video ends with Klopson dragging the young girl off the bus.

“It’s okay, I didn’t hurt her, guys,” Klopson can be heard saying to people outside the bus. “I mean you’re all like ― it’s okay. Bye… I’ll see you after school. That should be interesting.”

Vacaville police have charged Kim Klopson, 64, with "cruelty to child by inflicting injury." She's pleaded "not guilty."

The incident left the girl with scrapes and bruises, according to Liberty.

“Instead of being taken to the principal’s office or nurse, she was taken to her classroom,” the attorney said. “She complained about physical pain and eventually she was taken to the nurse and the nurse reported it to principle.”

Liberty said the family was not notified of the incident until the girl was bac on the bus later in the day and on her way home.

“The parents asked what happened and they were invited down to the school to see portions of the video,” she said. “They were heartbroken, appalled and shocked.”

The Vacaville Unified School District claims they fired Klopson, but court filings indicate Klopson said she quit. The paraeducator who appeared to witness some of the alleged abuse is still employed by the district, according to Liberty.

“I don’t know how you can watch a child go through that and then allow the bus driver to shut the door,” she said. “It’s clearly despicable.”

Liberty said the bus incident has caused the young girl deep and ongoing mental trauma.

“She’s started therapy for the first time at the young age of 8 to try and work through the trauma that she’s experienced,” she said. “She’s having regressive behavior, nightmares and aversions to certain things. This has had a very significant impact on her.”

A phone number for Klopson has been disconnected. In a statement to The Reporter News, the school district said, “Please know that we take this matter very seriously and will continue to be forthcoming and collaborative with our families.”

Liberty called it “heartbreaking” that “this little girl was educated and trained to use her words and to say if she doesn’t want to do something. She was crying and she’s telling the bus driver, ‘I don’t like you’ and ‘I don’t want to’ because she was doing what she was trained to do to help herself. Yet this bus driver clearly wasn’t trained appropriately and didn’t behave in any sort of accordance with norms or standards.”

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

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North Carolina Teachers Just Closed Schools With A Massive Protest

Thousands of North Carolina teachers poured into downtown Raleigh and marched to the state’s General Assembly on Wednesday morning in the latest in a series of red-state public school teacher uprisings across the country.

The demonstration was believed to be the largest teacher protest in North Carolina’s history, with educators creating a sea of red on Fayetteville Street and inside the assembly galleries as they demanded more public school funding and better salaries for school staffers.

The largest school districts in the state announced closures once it became clear that not enough teachers would be in the classroom. Roughly a million students were out of school as a result, according to the News & Observer, a Raleigh-based paper.  

The North Carolina Association of Educators, the group coordinating the protest, said teachers were marching because the state has cut taxes while public school per-student spending and teacher salaries lag national averages.

Our students deserve better,” the group said in a statement. “They deserve resources to help make them successful. They deserve professionally paid educators. They deserve safe schools and schools that are not crumbling and in disrepair.”

The group laid out a list of demands before the protest, calling on the state to meet the national averages in per-student spending and teacher pay within four years. It also wants the state to institute higher pay for teachers with advanced degrees and long tenures and to hire an additional 500 school nurses and counselors for the current school year. 

Echoing the frustration of teachers who have walked out in other states, the group has also called for a moratorium on new corporate tax cuts until teachers are earning the national average.

The teacher walkouts began in late February in West Virginia, where teachers shut down schools for nine days, leading to 5 percent raises for school staffers and state workers. Buoyed by the success of the West Virginia strike, teachers in Kentucky, Oklahoma and Arizona soon followed suit, closing down schools and flooding their state capitals to call for more funding.

What all these states have in common is flat or falling investment in schools paired with tax cuts that have primarily benefited businesses and the wealthy. The walkouts have largely been a revolt against the austerity of Republican-led statehouses, which has left the states with little money to devote to salaries and textbooks.

North Carolina slashed its corporate income tax rate in 2013, reducing it from 6.9 percent to its current 3.0 percent.

According to the National Education Association, North Carolina ranks 39th in public school teacher pay in the U.S. Teachers received a 4.2 percent pay bump last year, but they still earn less than what they were making a decade ago when adjusted for inflation. Per-student public school spending is down about 8 percent over the same period, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

This is a developing story and will be updated.

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Why #RedforEd Has Caught Fire in North Carolina

There are more than 1.5 million reasons behind Wednesday’s “March for Students and Rally for Respect” in North Carolina, where more than 20,000 educators from 40 or more school districts  traveled to Raleigh to demand the attention of state lawmakers. Those reasons include the 1.5 million public school students who often are learning in crowded classrooms with outdated textbooks and technology.

Here are a few more reasons:

  • State education funding! Last year, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) reported that state funding for North Carolina students had dropped 12 percent since 2008. That means bigger class sizes, cuts to academic programs, and outdated classroom resources. “We have to make sure our schools in North Carolina are fully funded,” says Ronda Mays, president of North Carolina’s Forsyth County Education Association. “The per-pupil spending has to be at least—at least—to the national average.
  • Educators want to send a message to lawmakers: Choose students over corporations. Since 2013, the GOP-controlled North Carolina state legislature has cut the corporate tax rate from 6.9 percent to 3 percent. The revenues lost to these tax cuts—about a half a billion dollars a year—make it impossible to adequately fund public education. And it’s only going to get worse! Corporate and person taxes are scheduled to drop again next year. The North Carolina Association of Educators (NCAE) wants the legislature to cancel these cuts until school funding is improved.
  • They’re sick of seeing their colleagues forced out of the classroom because they can’t afford to stay. Nearly one in 10 North Carolina teachers left the profession last year, and the rates are even higher for new teachers. Months into the school year, some school districts had teacher vacancy rates of more than 10 percent. At least part of the reason is pay: Since 2009, N.C. teacher pay has declined 9.4 percent, when you adjust for inflation. The average salary is $9,600 below the national average. “And they’re still paying out of their pocket to make sure students have what they need,” Mays notes.
  • School support personnel are suffering, which means students are suffering. Nearly 7,500 teachers’ aides in North Carolina have lost their jobs because of budget cuts. Caseloads for counselors have increased. “There are people in our schools who are not classroom teachers, but who are just as vital to students,” says Mays, a school social worker. “It’s important that we have these people to work with students, and it’s important that they be fairly compensated, too.”
  • They just can’t take it anymore. North Carolina’s #RedforEd movement isn’t an overnight sensation. Educators have been watching the situation in their schools get worse for more than a decade. The movement, says NCAE President Mark Jewell, is “the culmination of years of starving our public school system.”

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Meet The First Openly Trans Man To Graduate From Spelman College

It’s fitting that Keo Chaad O’Neal was a history major, because the college graduate is already making it.

O’Neal says he’s the first openly trans man to graduate from Spelman College, America’s first private, liberal arts historically black college for women.

O’Neal shared two smiling snapshots of himself in his graduation attire on Twitter that subsequently went viral. HuffPost talked to the recent graduate about his journey at Spelman and what it’s like to be a trans man at an all-women college.

“My experience was up and down, much how I’d expect any college experience would be,” O’Neal said in an email.

O’Neal said he loved Spelman as a freshman, but he didn’t feel like he could come into himself, so he transferred to a predominantly white institution.

The 21-year-old had started Spelman identifying as non-binary and using they/them pronouns, but “no one could catch on to that so it was kind of hard to exist as myself,” O’Neal said. He added that in his experience, “black folks really only understood the binary.”

It was during the time at the predominantly white school that he “was able to grow and develop” himself the way he wanted to “without the pressures of other black folks telling me I couldn’t do or be something.”

“I came back to Spelman my junior year because although I could flourish in my queerness, I felt like I was denying my blackness and I was nothing more than a body to those folks,” O’Neal said.

Getting through junior and senior years was hard for O’Neal, who said that he received a lot of backlash from “current students, their parents and alum” after he came out during a convocation with author and activist Alice Walker, a Spelman alumna who was visiting as an artist-in-residence.

“Lots of people believed that because I was trans, I didn’t belong at Spelman but there was nowhere else I would rather be,” he said. “People still have their own opinions of me attending Spelman, but it’s because of Spelman why I am who I am.” The college did not immediately return a request for comment.

O’Neal said there were many who supported his decision to come out, which is only emphasized by the explosion of support from friends, family and fans on Twitter after his graduation photos went viral.

Odds are high that O’Neal will not be the only openly trans man to gradute from Spelman.

The school announced in September 2017 that it would revise its admissions and enrollment policy to “consider for admission women students including students who consistently live and self-identify as women, regardless of their gender assignment at birth.” 

“If a woman is admitted and transitions to male while a student at Spelman, the College will permit that student to continue to matriculate at and graduate from Spelman,” read the letter from the college president about the change.

On what’s next for O’Neal, the South Plainfield, New Jersey, native said that he’s been accepted into a Ph.D. program for this fall, but is thinking about “taking some time off to work and establish” himself before going back to school.

“Right now, I’m on the job hunt! Not necessarily looking to stay in my major but I definitely want to do something I love,” he told HuffPost.

The graduate wanted to thank his supporters.

“I could not have made it this far without the encouragement of others,” he said. “It truly takes a village. For everyone who played a part in my successes, this is a win for all of us.”

O’Neal also hopes that his experience will teach others to “never give up, no matter what people tell you.”

“You have to believe in yourself,” he added. “It is so easy to get down and out but it takes a lot of courage to keep fighting and that courage has always been inside of you.”

Cheers to you, Keo. Congratulations! 

This piece was updated to include information about Spelman College’s revision to its admissions policy.

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As States Debate Anti-LGBTQ Bills, Educators Focus on Supporting All Students

(AP Photo/Toby Talbot, File)

This year’s legislative session saw a wave of anti-transgender state bills all across the country. Ten states introduced 21 anti-transgender bills, many of which have been defeated or are pending final votes. In November’s general election, Massachusetts voters will have the power to strike down an anti-transgender ballot initiative. Overall, these bills and ballot measures limit people from accessing health care and updating identity documents, as well as create special exemptions that discriminate against the LGBTQ community. Despite these efforts, the fight for equality remains strong.

In Alaska, voters in Anchorage defeated a ballot measure that would have allowed strangers to demand to check a person’s “sex at birth” before allowing access to certain restrooms and public facilities. On the opposite side of the county, the Maine House of Representatives passed legislation to protect LGBTQ youth from the discredited practice of “conversion therapy.”

While voters and legislatures nationwide continue to push for more LGBTQ-friendly policies, many educators are taking action in different ways.

Lindsay Buck, a special education department chair and teacher for Lawrence High School in Kansas, sponsors the Total Equality Alliance, the school’s version of Gay Sexuality Alliance (GSA) clubs. At Lawrence, educators are creating affirming/welcoming schools by, for example, normalizing gender pronouns. Educators are making it common place to ask and share gender pronouns and to never assume pronouns, explains Buck.

“Just because society says there’s ‘feminine’ and ‘masculine’ pronouns, doesn’t mean they should be used or assumed. Some folks use pronouns other than she/her and he/him, and feel more comfortable in the they/them area,” she says.

Supporting students’ gender pronouns goes along way. “This lets non-binary and transgender students know you’re an ally.”

As a sponsor of Lawrence’s Total Equality Alliance, Buck meets weekly with LGBTQ students and allies. Her goal is to ensure students have access to student resources and support.

This support comes at a critical time for the LGBTQ community. The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) Foundation released on Tue., May 15 the findings of their 2017 LGBTQ Teen Survey, a new survey conducted in partnership with the University of Connecticut of 12,000 LGBTQ teens. The survey explored the experiences, health and wellbeing of LGBTQ teens across the country and underscored high levels of anxiety, fear, and rejection LGBTQ teens face in places that should be safe areas: home, school, social settings, and their communities.

“I’m a member of the LGBTQ community myself,” says the educators of 11 years, “and I know from experience what it’s like to not have a support system in place. I want my students to know that they can be their authentic selves, and that they can be successful and have careers and families.”

Affirming and Welcoming Schools

The effort toward being an affirming/welcoming school has been well received by many at Lawrence. In fact, the school district, after hearing from their own LGBTQ+ advisory committee, took a stance to add gender expression to their non-discriminatory policies, after previously adding sexual orientation and gender identity.

Additionally, the district directed schools to move away from gendering activities, such as designating a “Queen” and “King” at homecoming events. Now, 12 students are selected to court. Of the 12, two are selected “Royalty,” regardless of identity.

“It could be two people who identify as male or it could be a female student and a non-binary student, for example,” says Buck. “Before, non-binary and transgender students felt they weren’t a part of homecoming or that it wasn’t even an option to be on court. Now everyone has an opportunity to participate without the fear of being discriminated against based on identify or expression.”

Thousands of NEA members, like Buck, serve as GSA advisors in their schools.

At Hale-Dale Middle School and High School in Farmingdale, Maine, school counselor Tara Kierstead helped students set up a GSA in 2013 and says, “[S]tudents find it a comfortable space to meet and talk. They do not seem ready yet to become highly visible advocates for LGBT rights, but when they’re ready, I will be right there to support them.”

If students are interested in creating a GSA, Kierstead suggests using the GLSEN start-up kit.

Kansas’s Lindsay Buck says that even if you’re an educator in a conservative area or are grappling with wanting to have a safe and inclusive school, educators can still show support by wearing a button with your gender pronouns or a rainbow flag. Small gestures of support “communicate that you’re a safe person who students can talk to.”

While some teachers feel out of their comfort zone or are not quite there in their understanding of the LGBTQ community, Buck suggests to challenge your beliefs, assumptions, and expectations about the world.

“Research and interact with others who don’t necessarily share your beliefs or your way of thinking,” Buck says. “You can also seek resources, like GLSEN or NEA Ed Justice, to learn how you can be an affirming and inclusive teacher.”

Educators are uniquely positioned to address these issues and work towards creating a safe, supportive and affirming school environment for LGBTQ students.

Educators can start by taking The Pledge to support LGBTQ equality. There’s also Gender Spectrum’s The Gender Inclusive School guide, which looks to expand the approaches educators can take to help all students feel safe within their schools or classrooms.

Additional Resources: Human Rights Campaign Foundation’s 2017 LGBTQ Teen Survey, Schools in transition Guide, What Do You Say?, Legal guidance on transgender students’ rights, GLSEN’s Model Laws and School Policies, and How to Support LGBTQ by starting a GSA.


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