Critics Fear Ohio Bill May Allow Students’ Religious Beliefs To Trump Scientific Facts

Ohio’s state House of Representatives has passed a bill that some critics fear could require teachers to accept faith-based answers on school assignments ― even if those responses are contradicted by scientific facts.  

The Ohio Student Religious Liberties Act of 2019, which passed the state House 61-31 on Wednesday, generally seeks to protect public school students’ right to express their faith on school grounds. But one controversial aspect of the proposed legislation is receiving scrutiny for dictating that schools can’t “penalize or reward a student based on the religious content of a student’s work.”

The bill states that Ohio public schools must allow students to engage in religious expression while completing homework, artwork and other assignments. It also says that student’s grades for these assignments will be calculated “using ordinary academic standards of substance and relevance, including any legitimate pedagogical concerns.”

How exactly this grading standard will be applied remains open to interpretation, experts say, which has set off significant debate among Ohio lawmakers and advocacy groups.

Ohio House Minority Leader Emilia Strong Sykes claims the bill would technically allow students in social studies or science classes to refer to Bible stories (such as Noah and the Ark) as true historical events, or to characters from scripture (such as Adam and Eve) as real, historical figures. The bill mandates that educators must not penalize “religious responses that fly in the face of science and accepted facts,” Sykes said.

“As the bill is currently written, it requires teachers to accept answers that could be scientifically inaccurate so long as religious doctrine says they are true,” Sykes told HuffPost in a statement. “A K-12 public school education is intended to open minds and allow free thought, however we are wading in dangerous territory if we refuse to accept facts and science in educational settings.”

The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio’s chief lobbyist, Gary Daniels, said that his organization fully supports protecting public school students’ religious liberty. But he believes that this particular bill is unnecessary since these rights are already protected by the First Amendment and Ohio’s constitution.

Daniels said he is also concerned about another part of the bill that mandates that public school students may engage in religious expression “in the same manner and to the same extent” that students are permitted to engage in secular expression.

Hypothetically, Daniels said, this could mean that if one set of students organizes a school assembly about suicide prevention that focuses on best practices from a clinical perspective, the school would also need to allow religious students to hold an assembly that teaches the answer to suicide prevention is getting right with God.  

“At minimum, this bill is going to confuse administrators and students and in the worst case, it’s going to cause constitutional violations,” Daniels said.

But the bill’s Republican sponsor, Rep. Timothy Ginter, is insisting that the criticism his proposal is getting stems from overblown “urban myths.” In a statement sent to HuffPost, Ginter said that his bill will not allow students to submit inaccurate classwork in the name of religion. 

At minimum, this bill is going to confuse administrators and students and in the worst case, it’s going to cause constitutional violations.
Gary Daniels, American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio

For example, he said that if a class is being tested on the theory of evolution, all students must show that they understand the subject as it was taught. 

“A student would still not be allowed to say, “My religion tells me that the world was created and is only 6,000 years old, therefore I don’t have to answer this question,’” Ginter said. 

On the other hand, if students are asked to write a book report on any book of their choosing, the bill would make sure students aren’t penalized for choosing to write a book report on the Bible’s Book of Job, Ginter said.

HuffPost requested examples of situations in which the bill would create greater religious freedom for students in science or in history classes but did not receive a response from Ginter’s office.

Ginter said that his bill is necessary because of increased pressure on schools from groups that he claims are “biased against Ohio students’ religious freedoms.”

“Many school officials are confused and frankly, intimidated by the threat of litigation from these well-funded groups,” Ginter said. 

Yet whatever Ginter’s intentions with the legislation, “the plain language of the bill is what a court is going to look at,” Daniels said. “Taken alone in that context, the language is too broad and too vague.”

As written, the statute could protect a student’s right to discuss creationism in a science assignment on evolution, according to Caroline Mala Corbin, a law professor at the University of Miami who specializes in the First Amendment’s speech and religion clauses. But it could also allow a biology teacher to refuse to credit a creationism-based answer to a question about evolution — not because the answer is religious, but because under “ordinary academic standards,” the answer is wrong, and under “ordinary academic standards,” teachers do not give points for wrong answers. 

How the bill will be interpreted in courts ultimately hinges on what counts as “ordinary academic standards of substance and relevance” and what counts as “legitimate pedagogical concerns.”

“And, of course, how these key parts of the statute are interpreted will depend on who is interpreting them,” Corbin said. 

The bill is being sent to Ohio’s Republican-controlled Senate for consideration.

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Racist Graffiti At Syracuse University Spurs Outrage, State Investigation

Four cases of racist or anti-Semitic graffiti have been discovered on or near Syracuse University’s campus over the last two weeks, prompting outrage among students, the city’s mayor and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

The school’s Department of Public Safety on Thursday reported the latest incident ― anti-Asian messages scrawled on the third floor of Day Hall, a mostly freshman residence building.

The same day, a swastika was found drawn in the snow on Comstock Avenue, which runs parallel to school grounds, spurring an investigation by the Syracuse Police Department.

The day before, derogatory language targeting Asians was found inside a bathroom stall of the Physics Building.

Last week, racial slurs aimed at Black and Asian people were seen on the fourth and sixth floors of Day Hall.

It’s not yet clear who’s behind the vandalism or how many people may be involved.

Cuomo said on Monday he was “disgusted by the recent rash of hateful language,” and directed the state police’s hate crimes task force and the state Division of Human Rights to launch a probe of the matter.

“These types of hateful and bigoted actions seek to splinter and segregate our communities, and they have no place in New York ― period,” he said in a press release. “We will do everything in our power to prosecute those responsible to the fullest extent of the law.”

Mayor Ben Walsh echoed Cuomo’s remarks on Friday, calling the acts “vile and appalling.”

“They violate everything our City stands for and all that we are working to be ― a city that embraces diversity and creates opportunity for all,” he said in a statement. “I reject them and direct city resources to do all that we can to stop them.”

The Daily Orange, SU’s student newspaper, was the first to report on the vandalism, which began on Nov. 6. The university was alerted on Nov. 7, but it wasn’t until four days later ― after the paper highlighted the issue ― that the university issued a public statement condemning the acts.

“We regret not communicating more broadly,” said Robert Hradsky, the school’s vice president for the student experience. “We remain focused on being a welcoming and inclusive campus environment, free of intolerance, bigotry and prejudice.”

For many students, the mea culpa doesn’t cut it.

Otto’s Army, the student fan group for the school’s athletics, named after its mascot, Otto the Orange, boycotted a basketball game against rival Colgate University on Wednesday.

In a Twitter post, the group urged others to take part in the protest “in light of how the university has handled recent hate crimes that have occurred on campus.”

Now, some students are calling for the resignations of university Chancellor Kent Syverud and Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer Keith Alford if a list of demands is not met by Nov. 20, the Orange reported. On Thursday, more than 200 students gathered to call for the expulsion of anyone found guilty of the vandalism, as well as a forum for students and increased diversity among staff.

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Gay Teen Who Punched Classmate Opens Up About Bullying He Says Prompted Viral Incident

The Indiana teenager seen on video punching another student who had taunted him with anti-LGBTQ slurs is now urging his social media supporters not to direct their anger at his classmate. 

Jordan Steffy, a junior at LaPorte High School in LaPorte, Indiana, opened up about the viral incident in a Thursday appearance on “The Tamron Hall Show.” He told the host that he confronted his classmate, who he didn’t know personally, after discovering that student had posted a Snapchat photo of him with a homophobic message.

“I didn’t know his name,” Steffy said. “I kind of saw [him] as a familiar face, kind of blended into the crowd … I had walked into the class, and I had the post already on my phone because I was going to ask him why he posted it.” 

Acknowledging that he was the one who shoved his classmate first, Steffy said the fight was his breaking point after having been repeatedly bullied for being gay. 

“It was years and years over, built up,” he said.  

The video, which Steffy posted to his Twitter account Nov. 8, has been viewed more than 3 million times. In it, he can be seen repeatedly punching the student he says created the homophobic Snapchat image in a classroom as classmates look on from their desks. 

Watch the video below. WARNING: Contains graphic language. 

Although the alleged Snapchat image is not shown, Steffy’s classmate can be repeatedly heard calling Steffy a “faggot” throughout the clip. 

Both Steffy and the other student were suspended from school over the incident. Steffy’s mother, Angie Bush, said her son will now be home schooled

LaPorte High School officials did not respond to HuffPost’s request for comment on the video. The school posted a Nov. 11 letter sent by Principal Ben Tonagel to parents that said “the matter was addressed immediately” and that an investigation was continuing. 

“Getting all the facts associated with the concern is important,” Tonagel added

After Steffy posted the video, he was praised on social media by “Pose” star Billy Porter and drag icon Miss Coco Peru, among others. 

“I am def always against violence of any kind, but this video felt cathartic,” fashion designer Prabal Gurung wrote on Facebook. “I too should have been like this dude who fought back and slapped the shit out of those homophobic demons back when I was growing up.”

“This baby slapped him with the hands of Harvey Milk and EVERY ancestor at Stone Wall,” another person wrote on Twitter.  

Others, however, were more critical.

“These brawling students were both white and male,” author Richard Morgan wrote Tuesday in a Washington Post op-ed. “Who knows what Twitter would’ve made of the same fight playing out across other permutations of race and gender?”

Speaking to Hall, however, Steffy urged his supporters to lay off the “negativity and negative comments” directed at his classmate. 

“I have no idea what’s going on in his life, as he has no idea what’s going on in mine,” Steffy said. “I can’t hold what he said accountable against him, because I don’t know how he was raised. …  I don’t know if it was a heat-of-the-moment thing. I don’t know if it was what he truly believes in.”  

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2 Dead, Several Injured In Shooting At Saugus High School In Santa Clarita

A teen wielding a semi-automatic gun opened fire at a Southern California school on Thursday morning, killing two of his fellow students and injuring several others before attempting to take his own life.

Police said they responded to a report of an active shooter situation at Saugus High School in Santa Clarita at 7:38 a.m. local time. Police arrived on the scene two minutes later and found six people shot, including 14-, 15- and 16-year-old girls, and two 14-year-old boys, Capt. Kent Wegener of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Homicide Bureau said at a news conference.

One of the 14-year-old males and the 16-year-old female have died. 

The suspect, a 16-year-old male, is being treated at a hospital, Wegener said. Security footage from the school showed the suspect take a pistol from his backpack and shoot five students on the quad before shooting himself in the head.

A motive has not been determined. Police said it was the suspect’s birthday.

A parent waits outside of Saugus High School in Santa Clarita, California, on Thursday, after an active shooter was reported at the school around 7:30 a.m.

The sheriff’s department initially said the suspect, described as an Asian male student in dark clothing, was on the loose. About 90 minutes later, law enforcement officials reported that the suspect was in custody. 

Earlier, live video showed officers surrounding a home in a residential neighborhood near the school. The sheriff’s department told HuffPost that the residence was an “area of interest.”

Henry Mayo Hospital in Valencia, California, has been treating victims of the shooting. Three males are still being treated. Two are in critical condition.

Students and others wait outside a reunification center after the shooting. 

Students and others wait outside a reunification center after the shooting. 

A resident who declined to give her name said she and her neighbors had been ordered to lock their doors and stay inside.

“I was shocked when I looked out and saw all the police,” the woman told HuffPost. “We don’t normally see stuff like this.”

The woman said police were searching the backyard of a home across the street from her.

The high school, located about 40 miles north of Los Angeles, was evacuated and nearby Highlands Elementary and Rosedale Elementary schools were placed on lockdown as police searched for the suspect. 

Students were seen on video leaving the school with their hands in the air, escorted by authorities. In the same video, several people were seen being loaded onto gurneys and into ambulances.

Saugus High School student Mason Peters described how his teacher and classmates jumped into action to lock down their classroom after hearing gunfire.

“All of a sudden, we hear this distinctive sound outside so my teacher quickly sprang to his feet, got up, locked the door, asking the students to get the keys,” he told CBS Los Angeles. “Then we turned off all the lights … and reinforced the doors and we all just stayed hidden.”

Saugus High School serves about 2,500 students in grades nine through 12. Authorities have set up a reunification point for parents and students at Central Park in Santa Clarita, roughly one mile away from the high school.

“It’s one of my worst nightmares as sheriff,” Villanueva said. “We all embrace our kids in the morning and send them off to school … but you never know what someone is plotting.”

Last year, Saugus students participated in a nationwide walkout to protest gun violence following the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida that left 17 people dead. Weeks later, Saugus students hosted a town hall to demand elected officials pass stricter gun legislation.

“I’m so sick and tired of seeing students die because politicians and people in positions of power won’t do anything,” Saugus High School sophomore Olivia Hurst told a local radio station at the time.

Authorities will review the suspect’s “digital footprint” as the investigation unfolds, Villanueva told CBS Los Angeles. He said he has not heard reports that the suspect posted threatening social media posts prior to the incident.

Former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, herself a victim of gun violence, said in a statement that new legislation that would strengthen the background check system needs to be passed immediately.

“It’s been 260 days since the House of Representatives passed the Bipartisan Background Checks Act,” Giffords said. “How many more deaths will happen before they sign that lifesaving legislation into law?”

Former Rep. Katie Hill, a graduate of Saugus High School, was reportedly in her backyard in the Saugus neighborhood of Santa Clarita when she saw helicopters overhead.

“I’m absolutely horrified that it’s happening at my school,” she told The Los Angeles Times.

“This gun violence epidemic is not beyond our control,” Giffords said. “We can take action to change this fate so horrific acts of violence don’t dominate our lives.”

President Donald Trump has so far not commented on the shooting.

Students are comforted as they wait to be reunited with their parents following the shooting at Saugus High School.

Students are comforted as they wait to be reunited with their parents following the shooting at Saugus High School.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

Andy Campbell, Sara Boboltz and Ja’han Jones contributed reporting.

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Minnesota School Apologizes After Taking And Tossing Indebted Kids’ Meals

A Minnesota school district is apologizing after video captured high school students’ hot lunches being taken from them and thrown away because they owed more than $15 in lunch debt.

The Richfield Public School District, in a statement on Monday, said its lunch debt policy was poorly enforced when the food was confiscated and replaced with a designated cold lunch.

According to local station KARE 11, as many as 40 students had their lunches thrown away at Richfield High School on Monday. A Facebook video obtained by the station shows one girl’s meal being replaced with an unidentified item and sheet of paper before she slinks away.

“Our nutrition staff inaccurately and inappropriately implemented alternate lunch,” Richfield Public Schools Superintendent Steven Unowsky told the station.

The district also issued an apology on its Facebook page for “the embarrassment that it caused several of our students.” 

“We have met with some of the students involved and apologized to them. High school administration will also be meeting with student government this week to talk about the situation and listen to what students have to say,” the post read.

Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) was among those who vented anger over the school lunch incident, which she called “shameful.”

“No student should be denied food PERIOD,” she said on Twitter, before promoting a bill she sponsors that would end school lunch shaming and another with Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders that would make school lunches free.

Richfield School District’s current lunch policy, which is posted on its website, states that middle school and high school students with more than $15 in lunch debt ― or $25 for elementary students ― are designated cold meals. If they somehow obtain a hot lunch while in the lunch line, they are allowed to keep and eat it, KARE reported.

The cost of the hot meal should be noted in the student’s account balance and their parents should be notified in a phone call, school leaders told the TV station. The student should also be notified, privately, before they enter the lunch line again and they could be privately approached by a social worker or guidance counselor to discuss what needs they may have.

Students at a Minnesota high school who owed more than $15 in lunch debt had their lunches taken away and replaced with a cold meal on Monday. The school district has apologized for what happened.

Lunch for high school and middle school students costs $2.95, while elementary school lunches are $2.70. Parents do have the ability to apply for free or reduced meals online, according to the district’s website.

The school district said it currently has more than $19,669 in outstanding lunch account balances. That amount includes last year’s deficit. It is accepting donations from those wanting to help pay it off. 

Such lunch debt issues are unfortunately nothing new.

A New Jersey school district found itself in hot water last month after it said students who owe more than $75 in lunch debt could be banned from participating in extracurricular activities, including purchasing a yearbook.

The district was previously criticized for suggesting that students with a certain amount of lunch debt will be designated tuna fish sandwiches, which some likened to a “badge of shame.”

In July, a Pennsylvania school district warned that its students could end up in foster care if they didn’t pay their overdue lunch bills, suggesting that it could lead to dependency hearings.

In 2016, a Pittsburgh school district cafeteria worker quit her job after being told to deny children hot meals if they owed $25 or more. The following year, the state passed legislation that banned “lunch shaming,” but this policy was reversed this summer due to ballooning debt, WHYY reported.

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‘Enraged’ Parents Say Catholic School Made Gay Teen Undergo Conversion Therapy

The parents of a gay teenager say her former Catholic high school in the Los Angeles area subjected her to over two years of deeply detrimental conversion therapy ― without ever asking for parental approval.

Magali Rodriguez’s parents say they would have never allowed the 17-year-old  high school senior to continue attending Bishop Amat Memorial High School in La Puente if they’d known she was being pulled out of class to attend the counseling sessions.

Based on what their daughter has told them about the sessions, both parents independently told HuffPost they believe the teen was exposed to conversion therapy at Bishop Amat ― something they wouldn’t have wanted if they’d had the choice.

“They wanted to talk her out of being gay, out of feeling this way,” her mother, Martha A. Tapia-Rodriguez, said of the sessions. “They wanted to convince her that this was something bad.”

“I’m just so enraged at the fact that it went on for such a long time and we didn’t know anything about it,” Tapia-Rodriguez added. 

The parents learned about the source of their daughter’s deepening distress only after she wrote them a letter in late September. They pulled Magali out of the Catholic school a few days later.

Tapia-Rodriguez said her heart races and her hands start shaking when she thinks about what her child secretly endured. She said she is speaking up now to warn other parents of queer kids at Catholic schools to remain alert.

“I don’t want this to happen to any other child or any other parent,” she said. “[Heartbroken] doesn’t even begin to touch the surface of how I feel.” 

Magali Rodriguez is a 17-year-old high school senior.

Bishop Amat is the biggest private school in Los Angeles County. It is part of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, whose leader, Archbishop José Gómez, is the newly elected president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. The school has a good academic reputation, Tapia-Rodriguez said, which is mainly why Magali decided to enroll as a freshman. Some of the teen’s family members, including her father, had also attended the school.

Asked to respond to the parents’ allegation that their daughter was exposed to conversion therapy at Bishop Amat, a spokeswoman for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles told HuffPost that it was not able to discuss specifics of this matter out of respect for the student’s privacy.

“We do not believe that statements made by the student and her parent are entirely accurate, but we are not at liberty to discuss the student’s status or share her personal information,” spokeswoman Adrian Alarcon told HuffPost.

Bishop Amat issued a statement on Friday as about 200 students staged a walkout in support of Magali. The school said that it was committed to providing a “supportive and inclusive” learning environment for students irrespective of their sexual orientation. 

“Any student who is involved in a relationship may socialize appropriately on campus,” the statement read. “However, as stated in the Parent/Student handbook, engaging in excessive displays of affection on campus is not permitted.” 

Tapia-Rodriguez insists that her daughter did not engage in excessive public displays of affection at school, especially compared with her straight peers. The mother also faulted the school for failing to publicly address what she thinks is a much bigger issue: that they exposed Magali to counseling to alter her sexual orientation without parental consent.

Conversion therapy, also referred to as reparative therapy or sexual orientation change efforts, encompasses a range of widely discredited tactics used to try to change someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity. Researchers say the  practice is ineffective and potentially harmful for children. Even non-aversive forms of the practice, such as talk therapy, can be dangerous, experts say, since patients have reported suicidal thoughts, hopelessness and an increase in depression and anxiety.

Catholic doctrine teaches that same-sex relationships are “intrinsically disordered.” The church has tried to distinguish between being gay and being in a same-sex relationship ― claiming that it’s only the latter that is sinful. The only church-sanctioned options for lesbian or gay Catholics are lifelong celibacy or eventually marrying someone of the opposite sex.

At the same time, American Catholics have gradually become more accepting of queer love. Most Catholics (61%) now say that they support same-sex marriage, according to the Pew Research Center

Magali Rodriguez's parents say she was exposed to conversion therapy at Bishop Amat Memorial High School in Los Angeles Count

Magali Rodriguez’s parents say she was exposed to conversion therapy at Bishop Amat Memorial High School in Los Angeles County.

Tapia-Rodriguez said employees at Bishop Amat High School noticed her daughter’s close friendship with an older female student and singled her out for counseling before the two students officially began dating ― and before Magali had properly come out to herself. The employees allegedly coaxed Magali into acknowledging that she was gay and then promised that they wouldn’t inform her parents if she attended counseling sessions and followed a set of strict rules, such as not sitting close to her girlfriend at lunch. 

Members of Bishop Amat’s staff were on high alert to call out and shut down any signs of affection between Magali and her girlfriend, Tapia-Rodriguez said. The mother believes Magali was regularly called in to be berated by a dean of discipline for hanging out with her girlfriend.

In addition, Magali’s parents say that from the end of the teen’s freshman year to the end of her junior year, she attended about 20 private counseling sessions. Most were with a counselor on the school’s staff, while a few were with a faith-based psychologist they claim was specifically brought in to counsel Magali. During the sessions, the mother said, the counselors discussed Catholic theology about same-sex relationships and tried to apply this theology to what the teen was going through. The counselors allegedly asked the teen why she thought she was gay and tried to convince her that her relationship with her girlfriend was not what God wanted for her. 

Magali’s father, Nicolas Rodriguez, said that from what his daughter has told him so far, the sessions sound like conversion therapy. 

“The goal there was pretty much to shame her to stop or to change her,” the father told HuffPost. 

California was the first state to ban licensed therapists, including credentialed school psychologists, from practicing conversion therapy on minors. The state’s law defines conversion therapy as practices that seek to change an individual’s sexual orientation, including efforts “to eliminate or reduce sexual or romantic attractions or feelings toward individuals of the same sex.” The law does not apply to unlicensed individuals, according to the LGBTQ advocacy group Equality California. 

Bishop Amat’s counseling sessions and the allegedly hostile attitude of some staff members had a profoundly negative effect on the girl, the parents said. The formerly straight-A student’s grades started to slip, and she became increasingly anxious and depressed, they said. 

Tapia-Rodriguez said that Magali referred to Bishop Amat as “hell.” When asked why, the teen said, “God doesn’t live there,” her mother said.

Her parents tried to press her for more details about why she hated the school but said she wouldn’t elaborate.

Looking back, Tapia-Rodriguez said she believes her daughter learned to equate being in a same-sex relationship with being in trouble.

“She’s never been the kind of girl who got in trouble,” Tapia-Rodriguez said. “She thought that my parents work hard to put her through this school and she didn’t want to be in trouble, didn’t want to let [us] down.”

Tapia-Rodriguez said that Magali came out to her parents during her sophomore year. The family embraced her, her mother said, and ensured her that she was loved. After that, the teen slowly started pushing back against the counseling she was receiving at school, her mom said.

Then Magali’s girlfriend graduated, which meant she didn’t have that support system anymore. Things came to a head this September, when Magali wrote her parents a letter describing how miserable she was at school. The parents were alarmed at the tone of the letter.

“My heart dropped,” Nicolas Rodriguez said. “It unfortunately sounded like a suicide letter, a serious cry for help.” 

The letter prompted a discussion with Magali in which she opened up about her experiences at Bishop Amat. Rodriguez said he was “furious” when he learned about the counseling sessions.

“How the school could do something like that, refer some kind of psychiatric care without our knowledge, I just couldn’t understand that,” he said.

Magali is now finishing her senior year at another local high school.

Magali is now finishing her senior year at another local high school.

Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director of the LGBTQ Catholic group DignityUSA, told HuffPost that what Magali’s parents say happened to their daughter violates their parental rights. She also said it shows how conversion therapy continues to be imposed on minors in an irresponsible way.

U.S. Catholic schools have developed a wide array of tactics for handling LGBTQ identity among students, Duddy-Burke said. Some have allowed student clubs that work on making school culture inclusive to the extent that the administration feels comfortable. Other Catholic schools actively discourage students from expressing LGBTQ identity, she said. Duddy-Burke said she’s heard of school officials recommending conversion therapists to parents but hasn’t heard of students being subjected to conversion therapy at the school itself.

Overall, it’s nearly impossible for a Catholic school to be completely affirming, she said, and she believes students “sense that conditional acceptance.” 

“Many Catholic institutions have no idea how to address LGBTQ issues, among students or employees, given the tensions that exist in our church and society on this,” Duddy-Burke said. “They have a lot to learn, and we hope they will see this crisis as an opportunity to hear from students, parents and people who have expertise in LGBTQ Catholic issues.”

Samuel Garrett-Pate, a spokesperson for Equality California, told HuffPost that Magali’s story shows that too many Californians are still subjected to psychological abuse by those who are supposed to be caring for their emotional and psychological well-being. 

“So-called ‘conversion therapy’ doesn’t work, isn’t needed and causes lifelong psychological damage,” Garrett-Pate said. “It’s a harmful, ineffective solution in search of a problem that doesn’t exist.”

Magali is now finishing her senior year at another high school. Her parents say they’ve placed the teen in therapy and are actively trying to counter some of the negative messaging she received at Bishop Amat about her sexual orientation. 

Tapia-Rodriguez said she understands that, as a private school, Bishop Amat can set its own standards about same-sex relationships among students. But she said she wishes the school had called her and said, “Your daughter’s views and beliefs are different than what we believe here.”

Instead, she said, “they kept her, they kept taking our money and took it upon themselves to counsel her and make her feel like shit.”

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Betsy DeVos Might Outlast Them All

Betsy DeVos’ confirmation hearing in January 2017 made her a universal punchline. When asked about her thoughts on guns in school, she famously pointed to the need to protect students from grizzly bears. When asked about her opinions on exams that measure proficiency versus those that measure growth, she could barely stammer out an answer. In a Republican-majority Senate, the billionaire mega-donor was barely confirmed to her position, a humiliating turn that required Vice President Mike Pence to cast the tie-breaking vote.

Two years later, DeVos remains among the least popular Cabinet members in a historically unpopular administration. Yet, somehow, even as her peers dropped like flies — former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson — the education secretary has remained standing. 

HuffPost spoke with over a dozen people about DeVos’ longevity, including former colleagues at the Department of Education, former co-workers in the advocacy space, and several political opponents who continue to root for her downfall.

For the most part, despite her wild unpopularity, they chalk up DeVos’ success to President Donald Trump’s relative disinterest in education, her comparative lack of ethical conflicts and scandal, and her connections to the evangelical community, a group that serves as an important voting bloc for the president. 

But they also point to her wholehearted belief in the righteousness of her agenda and persistence in seeing it through. Many of both her supporters and opponents say they’re not surprised she’s lasted this long, describing her in similar terms ― determined, dedicated, resolute — though vehemently disagreeing on what these traits mean for students. 

Her boosters and detractors seem to agree: Whether people hate or love what she’s doing, she’s doing it because she truly believes in it.  

Kate McKinnon plays Betsy DeVos on “Saturday Night Live” on March 17, 2018.

A Confirmation Hearing Disaster And Troubles In Trumpland

DeVos’ confirmation hearing earned her a portrayal by Kate McKinnon on “Saturday Night Live” — and a message from the White House detailing the inadequacy of her performance, according to a former administration official. 

But since then, Trump has mostly stayed out of her way, whether out of disinterest or distraction. DeVos has similarly worked to avoid conflict with Trump and the pitfalls of self-promotion, quietly pressing forward with her education agenda. 

She has unsuccessfully worked to drum up interest in a federal school choice program and she’s slashed guidance that promotes civil rights in schools. She has moved to give colleges — especially for-profit ones with sometimes fraudulent practices — more freedom from oversight, despite a litany of judicial challenges.  

“She keeps doing what she said she was gonna do, what she’s always done and what she was hired to do,” said Jeanne Allen, CEO of the Center for Education Reform, who has crossed paths with DeVos over the years as an advocate for school choice.

Her clashes with the president have generally been infrequent and insignificant: DeVos heard from the White House early on when she issued a botched statement calling HBCUs — historically black colleges and universities formed in response to systemic discrimination ― pioneers in school choice. When she flubbed a “60 Minutes interview in March 2018, she also heard from her boss, said a former staffer.

DeVos has mostly navigated her way through the bumps, though — even when it comes to larger issues of policy and communication — publicly carrying the president’s water. 

She keeps doing what she said she was gonna do, what she’s always done and what she was hired to do.
Jeanne Allen, CEO of the Center for Education Reform

When Trump charged DeVos with running the Federal School Safety Commission after the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, he made her the face of an initiative she had relatively little say over, sources told HuffPost.

To DeVos’ dismay, the White House used the commission to emphasize schools’ ability to arm personnel. DeVos didn’t necessarily disagree with such proposals ― she is dedicated to the idea of local control and allowing districts to make such choices for themselves ― but she didn’t see the need to highlight such an option. And then, as the president waffled on whether the commission should look at potential age restrictions on firearms, she was left to look foolish, at one point describing the commission as a group that would study school shootings but not guns. 

The Education Department pushed back on any characterization of conflict between the secretary and the White House, emphasizing that the secretary believes “every school and community has its own unique needs, one size does not fit all, and the people closest to the problem must be empowered to solve it,” according to spokeswoman Angela Morabito. 

DeVos most publicly pushed back against the president in March after he took credit for saving proposed cuts to the Special Olympics. Until that point, DeVos had toed the administration’s line over the cuts, even amid widespread public outrage. The cuts had been proposed every year — and were most recently pushed by Mick Mulvaney, the director of the Office of Management and Budget and acting White House chief of staff  — despite DeVos’ opposition.

“I am pleased and grateful the president and I see eye-to-eye on this issue, and that he has decided to fund our Special Olympics grant,” DeVos said in a statement at the time. “This is funding I have fought for behind the scenes over the last several years.”

DeVos’ office emphasized her “strong working relationship with President Trump.”

“It’s evident in their collaborative efforts to protect First Amendment rights on college campuses, make American STEM education (and the future STEM workforce) the envy of the world, their work on school safety, and most of all, their partnership on the Education Freedom Scholarships Proposal,” said Morabito. 

DeVos’ Determination

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, left, accompanied by Education Department Budget Service Director Erica Navarro, testify at

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, left, accompanied by Education Department Budget Service Director Erica Navarro, testify at a hearing on the Education Department’s fiscal 2018 budget on May 24, 2017.

Eliza Byard, president of LGBTQ civil rights group GLSEN, recalls DeVos painfully pushing school choice during a meeting with advocates of transgender youth, right after the Education Department rescinded guidance designed to protect these students. Amid a discussion about safety concerns for these children, DeVos awkwardly promoted school choice, despite the fact that private schools in voucher programs are in fact legally allowed to ban LGBTQ students — and many of them do

“The thing that is painful and alarming and infuriating about that is there were already things in place solving those problems and they were ripped apart,” Byard said. 

Indeed, Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, uses harsh words to describe DeVos. But there’s one word Weingarten won’t use: chameleon.

“She is who she is. She doesn’t pretend to be pro-public education, she doesn’t pretend to be pro-student. She is pro-privatization, she is pro-big business, she is pro-the student lender industry,” said Weingarten, who leads a teachers’ union of about 1.7 million members that recently sued DeVos over alleged mismanagement of a student loan forgiveness program

But those who have worked with DeVos both inside and outside the Education Department maintain that while she might have tunnel vision, her motives on this issue are pure. They describe her as driven by altruism rather than opportunism, a trait that may separate her from her peers in the Trump administration. Whether misguided or not, she truly sees choice as a prerequisite for meaningful educational improvement that could especially benefit low-income children of color. 

“I think Betsy DeVos has the best of intentions. Her desire to expand choice, especially for poor kids and kids of color, comes from a big heart and interest in seeing kids in America do better,” said Michael Petrilli, president of the right-leaning Thomas B. Fordham Institute. 

“To the degree she’s been cast as some kind of villain, that’s not who she is. You might think she has bad ideas, but she doesn’t have bad intentions.”

Deliberate and Methodical  

Former employees and associates say they understand why it’s easy to see DeVos as a villain. But they work to rationalize her actions, painting her motivations and personality in plain terms. 

When she takes steps to protect at times predatory for-profit colleges ― well, she thought the Obama administration treated these institutions unduly harshly and that the free market should be left to work its magic unencumbered, regardless of the casualties. (Courts have consistently ruled against DeVos in several of her attempts to roll back protections for victims in these cases, in one instance calling her actions “arbitrary and capricious.”) 

She is who she is. She doesn’t pretend to be pro-public education, she doesn’t pretend to be pro-student. She is pro-privatization, she is pro-big business, she is pro-the student lender industry.
Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers

“She’s not an outwardly warm and fuzzy type person ― that doesn’t mean she’s cold and distant ― but it certainly doesn’t mean she approaches her job or issues that come across her desk as: How can we screw up students’ lives today?” said one former education staffer.

And, according to a former employee, her most recent wave of scandals — which resulted in her being held in contempt of court after the Department of Education continued to collect money from defrauded students despite a ban on doing so — was more of an accidental snafu in a cumbersome system than any type of sinister DeVos-led plot. (The judge in that case previously said she was “astounded, really, just really astounded” at the department’s “sheer scale of violations.”)

“Pretty simply, it was nothing more complicated than an operational glitch,” said A. Wayne Johnson, who was the Department of Education’s chief strategy and transformation officer before resigning in October and endorsing a mass cancellation of student debt. Wayne described DeVos as an “inspirational leader,” and “the best example of what a committed public servant is about.”

Her decisions are characteristically deliberate and methodical. Early in the administration, when DeVos sparred with Trump and Sessions over the decision to repeal joint Department of Education and Department of Justice guidance designed to protect transgender students, it was less out of concern for those students than concern for a lack of process.

While former employees suspect that DeVos may have ultimately decided to rescind the guidance — which called on schools to allow transgender students to use the bathroom that aligned with their gender identity — she would have preferred to have engaged with a wide range of stakeholders first. 

Protesters demonstrate during a speech by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Governmen

Protesters demonstrate during a speech by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government on Sept. 28, 2017. Asked about protections for transgender students, DeVos said she was committed to making sure all students are safe. But she rescinded guidance that allowed transgender students to use bathrooms that matched their gender identity.

They maintain that she’s not personally homophobic or racist — despite slashing a number of pieces of guidance designed to protect vulnerable groups — just disdainful of federal overreach. When a group of Harvard students unfurled a sign calling her a white supremacist during a September 2017 speech, she was particularly hurt, they said. (Education Department spokeswoman Morabito said DeVos wants to focus on students, “not on herself, and certainly not on personal attacks that have no basis in truth.”)

But these depictions are a far cry from how her detractors describe her and the impact of her actions.

“She never pretended she knew anything about schools or public schools,” said Weingarten. “[The Department] hasn’t dealt with the student loan crisis. Instead, they’ve just walked away from obligations to students, or they’ve made it worse.”

Others wonder if, when it comes to school choice, DeVos is actively hurting the cause she most wants to promote. There’s scant expectation she will succeed in pushing any type of federal program ― an initiative at odds with her love of small government. Using her bully pulpit as education secretary to promote school choice seems like her greatest hope for expanding programs around the country, but DeVos is an unpopular Cabinet member in a historically unpopular administration. School choice once drummed up bipartisan support, but DeVos has helped make the issue radioactive for centrists and Democrats, Petrilli says.  

After writing a letter of support to Congress upon DeVos’ nomination, he now wishes she would just step down. 

“She seems like someone who is determined to show grit and perseverance and demonstrate she was going to follow through [with the job.] I think she deserves a lot of credit for that,” he said. “My only argument is two years is plenty to demonstrate that. She could have stepped down after the midterm election and felt quite good.”

DeVos’ office vehemently denies that the issue of school choice has been in any way harmed by her tenure, saying that it continues to gain popularity across states.

“The only vocal national opponents of education freedom are seeking the endorsement of the teachers union,” said Morabito. “They are the ones who ought to be asked to explain why the issue has suddenly become divisive.”

“Secretary DeVos is dedicated to advancing Education Freedom,” Morabito continued. “She has worked tirelessly to keep the focus on the cause ― allowing every student in America to access a high-quality education that’s right for them.”

But her last day also can’t come soon enough for advocates like Byard, who says DeVos has already perpetuated so much harm in the everyday lives of vulnerable students.

“I wish something would get through to her,” Byard said. “We’re parents and we’re people who care deeply about children. And we’re scared.”

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Kamala Harris Wants To Extend The School Day To Help Working Parents

California Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) introduced a bill on Tuesday seeking to have schools extend programming for students from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekdays so that parents don’t have to scramble to find childcare they can afford during those traditional work hours.  

The “Family Friendly Schools Act” would create a pilot program distributing up to $5 million in funding to 500 elementary schools over five years to provide “enrichment” activities to students that extend past the normal school hours. It would prioritize schools with “the greatest need,” including those whose students have high numbers of single parents who work, have two working parents or parents working irregular schedules.

The bill offered by the presidential candidate would also provide an additional $1.3 billion in funding to states to divvy among local groups that provide summer programs for low-income students. 

After the five-year pilot period, the Department of Education would publish a report on lessons learned from the program. 

“The misalignment between school and work schedules puts working families through unnecessary financial stress ― a burden we know is disproportionately shouldered by Black and Latinx families and families with low incomes,” Catherine Brown, an education expert at liberal think tank Center for American Progress, said in a release from Harris’ office.

The bill is also backed by the American Federation of Teachers union and the National Women’s Law Center.

Most public schools close around 3 p.m. in the U.S. — hours before the standard workday ends. Meanwhile, about 44% of public elementary schools had no formal after-school program available for students, according to a 2009 Department of Education report.

Last month, the senator’s home state of California became the first to mandate later school start times in an effort to support teen students, who perform better when they can get more sleep, research has shown. 

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University Accepts Peanut Butter And Jelly As Payment For Parking Tickets

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — What a lip-smacking offer!

Anyone with unpaid parking fines at the University of Alaska Anchorage campus has the option to reduce or cover the cost of their tickets with peanut butter and jelly.

KTUU-TV reported the university would take donations for their annual payment tradition until Nov. 8 to help combat student hunger.

Officials say the food goes to students in need.

University officials say each person could use PB&J payments for two citations issued within the past 45 days.

Officials say two 16-ounce (454-gram) jars offer a $10 credit, three jars offer a $35 credit and five jars offer a $60 credit.

Officials say any unopened commercially produced nut butter-almond, cashew, peanut butter or any flavor jam, jelly, marmalade or preserves would be accepted.

Information from: KTUU-TV,

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Florida Sheriff’s Deputy Arrested After Throwing Girl To Floor By Her Neck

A Florida sheriff’s deputy assigned to a school was arrested and charged with felony child abuse after he was caught on video grabbing a 15-year-old girl by the neck and slamming her to the floor.

Broward County Sheriff’s Deputy Willard Miller, 38, surrendered to authorities on Tuesday and was released on $5,000 bond to await trial. If convicted, he faces up to five years in prison.

Miller was working as a school resource officer for Cross Creek School in Pompano Beach on Sept. 25 when surveillance video captured his violent interaction with the female student. The school, about 35 miles north of Miami, serves emotionally and behaviorally disabled students from kindergarten through 12th grade.

A judge allowed Willard Miller to be freed on a $5,000 bond to await trial on a felony child abuse charge. 

In the video, released by the sheriff’s office, the girl can be seen tapping Miller’s leg with her foot moments before he grabs her by the neck with both his hands and throws her to the floor. 

Then he’s seen flipping her over, putting his knee in her back and handcuffing her. The video shows him then pushing her through a doorway, causing her to hit a wall.

The student doesn’t appear to have been seriously hurt. Miller was charged under a child abuse law that specifies “without great bodily harm.”

Miller was removed from his position at the school and placed on administrative leave on Sept. 27. He was suspended without pay on Oct. 28.

Broward County Sheriff Gregory Tony called Miller’s actions “deplorable” during a news conference Tuesday. He applauded school district officials for alerting the sheriff’s office to the deputy’s misconduct.

“It’s embarrassing, OK, when we have one individual that acts outside the confines of the oath that they take, it goes on every news channel, it spreads across the country,” Tony said.

“I’m tired of it,” he continued. “I’m going to fix it and I’m going to hold people accountable.”

Miller’s arrest follows several accusations against the Broward County Sheriff’s Office related to excessive force. A deputy was fired last week for punching a handcuffed man in a hospital bed in January.

Two other deputies are awaiting trial on misdemeanor charges of battery and falsifying police reports after a teen was pepper-sprayed and his head was slammed into the ground outside a McDonald’s in April.

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Italy Is Making Climate Change Lessons Compulsory In Schools

Children studying in Italy’s public schools will soon have climate change lessons on their weekly schedules. 

Italy’s education minister, Lorenzo Fioramonti, announced on Tuesday that climate change and sustainability will be a mandatory part of education for students ages 6 to 19. The new law will make Italy the first country in the world to introduce compulsory climate change education at all levels. 

Teachers will start training in the new year and the school module will be rolled out in September 2020. 

Initially, the classes will amount to 33 hours a year ― about an hour a week ― but the aim is also to thread the topic through traditional subjects such as geography and math. The syllabus will center around the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, a collection of 17 goals focused on tackling poverty, inequality and climate change.

Fioramonti is a member of the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement in Italy and a key advocate of environmental policies. Previously a professor of political economy, he has written about the need to move beyond traditional measures of economic success, such as gross domestic product, and toward better ways of measuring our well-being.   

As a government minister, he has voiced support for taxes on flying, sugar-sweetened drinks and plastics. And in September, he encouraged students in Italy to skip school to join the global climate strikes, saying on Facebook that schools should consider absences as justified because children’s lives are “threatened by environmental devastation and an unsustainable economic development.”

His green policies have made him a target of Italy’s popular, far-right Lega party whose leader, Matteo Salvini, has cast doubt on climate change. 

Students demonstrate during a worldwide protest demanding action on climate change in Milan in September.

But Fioramonti is confident there is broad support among Italians for his policy, especially young people. “They are yearning to understand how the knowledge can be applied to foster sustainable development,” he told HuffPost. “And they yearn for scientific education that can give meaning to their lives.”

Some environmental experts have embraced the news with caution. Edoardo Zanchini, vice president of Legambiente, a big environmental group in Italy, told The New York Times that there isn’t time to pin all of our hopes on young people. “Science tells us the next 10 years are crucial. We cannot wait for the next generation,” he said.

A paper released Tuesday, supported by 11,000 scientists all over the world, said that we could expect “untold human suffering” if the world did not take immediate and drastic action. 

Fioramonti said, however, that he wants to bolster intergenerational understanding, rather than pin all hopes on young people. He aims, he said, to “build a strong bridge between old and new generations around sustainable development as a social glue.”

The chance of the U.S. government implementing anything similar in American public schools is currently incredibly remote. Italy’s announcement comes the same week that President Donald Trump officially started the process to pull the U.S. out of the Paris climate agreement, which commits countries to reducing emissions in an attempt to keep global temperature rises to 1.5 degrees Celsius. 

Still, Fioramonti remains positive. “I have no doubt that more and more countries will join,” he said. “We need to join forces among progressive societies, against this wave of denial and conservative policies.”

If it matters to you, it matters to us. Support HuffPost’s journalism here. For more content and to be part of the “This New World” community, follow our Facebook page.

HuffPost’s “This New World” series is funded by Partners for a New Economy and the Kendeda Fund. All content is editorially independent, with no influence or input from the foundations. If you have an idea or tip for the editorial series, send an email to

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Principal, Teacher Suspended After Student Dresses As Hitler In Halloween Parade

A Utah elementary school principal and teacher have been suspended after a student wore a Nazi costume during the school’s Halloween parade last week.

Parents were shocked and horrified when the boy, who has not been publicly identified, donned a fake Adolf Hitler-esque mustache and a red armband emblazoned with a swastika during the event Thursday at Creekside Elementary School in Kaysville, according to local news reports.

Two parents told local Fox affiliate KSTU that the student was doing a Nazi salute during the parade. Both parents, who wished to remain anonymous, are questioning why school officials allowed him to participate in the parade dressed as a Nazi in the first place.

One of the parents said they called the school to complain the day after the parade and were told the student had been removed from the parade, ordered to change his clothes and that his parents were notified. But the mother said she felt the behavior had been excused by administrators.

“I was told that [the school] thought he was Charlie Chaplin,” she told KSTU. “And like, he has a whole swastika on his arm. … He had to have been seen by his teacher, by multiple people.”

Video and images of the student’s costume gained attention after being posted to a Facebook page for local mothers, reported Deseret News. The woman who shared the photo called the costume as “ridiculous and distasteful as one could get” and said the boy was “Hailing Hitler” in the face of the “few minority children who attend the school.”

The Davis School District apologized for the incident in a statement sent to HuffPost on Monday and said it was investigating “every aspect of the situation.”

The school district “does not tolerate speech, images or conduct that portray or promote hate in any form,” according to the statement. “The district is taking the matter very seriously and is investigating every aspect of the situation.”

The principal and teacher have been placed on paid administrative leave during the investigation, the school district said in its statement. A representative for the school district declined to confirm the identity of the staff members.

Creekside Elementary School, located about 20 miles north of Salt Lake City, serves more than 750 students from preschool to sixth grade.

In a statement Saturday, the United Jewish Federation of Utah said it’s “appalled” that the student was allowed to participate in the parade apparently dressed as Hitler.

“Almost all Jews and Americans regard Hitler and Nazi symbols as signifiers of the worst hatred, racism, and crimes against humanity that the world has known,” the organization said in its statement. “Dressing a child as Hitler is intolerably offensive and should never be suggested, permitted, or condoned.”

Anti-Semitic incidents have been on the rise nationwide in recent years. The Anti-Defamation League reported in April that assaults against Jewish people in 2018 were more than double the number reported in 2017.

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Chicago Teachers Union Reaches Deal To End 11-Day Strike

The Chicago Teachers Union reached a tentative deal with the city’s mayor on Thursday to end an 11-day strike in the nation’s third-largest school district.

The union’s 700-member governing body voted to approve the terms set with Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, telling 25,000 teachers and more than 300,000 students to return to the classrooms Friday morning amid a prolonged negotiation period. 

The five-year deal hinged on Lightfoot agreeing to demands that would allow schools to make up the 11 missed days. The mayor had consistently refused to compromise on the makeup days, but on Thursday said Chicago Public Schools can make up five of the missed days at the end of the year.

“This has been a hard and difficult journey,” Lightfoot said at a press conference Thursday alongside CPS CEO Janice Jackson. “I want to thank the House of Delegates for ratifying this historic contract for CTU.”

That compromise means striking teachers will only be paid for five of the days spent on the picket lines, and will be out six days of pay. CTU Vice President Stacy Davis Gates told reporters Thursday that while the contract will make the school district a better place for students, Lightfoot “has taken out her anger on our members” by only giving teachers five days’ pay in a return-to-work agreement.

“We want a partner who will appreciate that and respect that” teachers are giving up six days of pay for the contract agreement, Davis Gates said. “We are teachers. It is about Black and brown children in the city of Chicago.”

Before Lightfoot’s announcement, CTU President Jesse Sharkey said the mayor was making it clear that she was more concerned about politics than actually putting children back in school.

“Our members are tired, frustrated and miss their students … we want to return to the classroom,” Sharkey said in a statement.

Lightfoot’s announcement came after Sharkey met with the mayor to discuss the deal. The union president did not appear with her at the press conference Thursday, explaining to reporters that it’s “not a day for photo ops or victory laps.” 

The mayor was initially opposed to CTU’s return-to-work terms, even after the union overwhelmingly voted to agree to the specifics of the deal late Wednesday. 

“I’ve learned a lot,” she said at her press conference Thursday. “I think I need a moment to reflect. I’m grateful it’s over. It’s time to move on and focus on our kids.”

The last day on the Chicago public school system calendar was initially set as June 16. It will now be moved to June 30.

CTU had been without a contract since July 1. The union had demanded a wage increase but also more funding for overcrowded classrooms and the hiring of social workers, school nurses and about 1,000 teaching assistants.

The changes add about $500 million a year to the union’s previous $2.6 billion contract.

Classes had been canceled for hundreds of thousands of students every day since the strike began on Oct. 17. The school buildings remained open throughout the strike to provide hot meals and a safe place for students.

“This deal will move us closer to ensuring that our most vulnerable students receive the instruction, resources and wraparound services they need to thrive,” Sharkey said. “No educator wants to leave their classroom, but our [strike] was the only option we had to enshrine, ensure and enforce real change for our students and school communities.”

Details of the tentative agreement include a fast-track process for grievances related to contract disputes; enforceable staffing increases in nursing and social work; a plan to reduce K-12 class sizes; better resources for homeless students; and more protection for both special education teachers and school clerk assistants. Education news nonprofit Chalkbeat Chicago first obtained a copy of the deal Wednesday.

All CTU members still have to vote on the agreement before it gets ratified. After the contract is finalized, the union plans to work with state legislators and Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D) to make sure students, families and school faculty get an elected representative school board instead of one appointed by the mayor.

“The Governor has long expressed his support for an elected school board and changes to the collective bargaining process,” Pritzker’s office told WTTW Chicago. “He looks forward to reviewing the specifics when these bills reach his desk.”

A separate strike for the Chicago union representing school support staff also ended Wednesday after that union, SEIU Local 73, agreed to terms that included raises ranging from 17% to 40% over a five-year stretch. The strike continued after the bargain was struck in solidarity with the Chicago Teachers Union.

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Principal Who Said He Couldn’t Confirm The Holocaust Was Real Is Fired

A Florida principal who told a parent that he couldn’t say that the Holocaust happened has been fired, four months after his comments drew national outcry.

William Latson of Boca Raton’s Spanish River Community High School was fired by county school board members on Wednesday after they voted 5-2 to have him removed, The Palm Beach Post reported.

Latson’s termination was on the grounds of “ethical misconduct” and “failure to carry out job responsibilities.”

William Latson (right) of Boca Raton’s Spanish River Community High School was fired on Wednesday following a vote by county school board members.

Though it was his emailed comments to a parent back in 2018 that launched public furor after they were published by The Palm Beach Post in July, it was reportedly his failure to respond to district officials’ messages in the days after the outcry that led to his firing.

In his email to the parent who was inquiring about the school’s Holocaust curriculum, Latson said the school’s one-day lesson to 10th graders is not mandatory because some parents “don’t want their children to participate.”

“The Holocaust is a factual, historical event,” the mother, who asked not to be named by the Post, responded to him. “It is not a right or a belief.”

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

Latson said he takes the same stance when it comes to slavery.

He later defended his remarks in an email to school staff members, telling them that his comments were not “accurately relayed” when shared with the local newspaper.

“It is unfortunate that someone can make a false statement and do so anonymously and it holds credibility but that is the world we live in,” he said.

Latson has until Nov. 21, when his termination takes effect, to file an appeal, according to local station WPTV.

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Reading Proficiency Among U.S. Students Declines, Nation’s Report Card Reveals

The reading proficiency of fourth-graders and eighth-graders has declined in more than half of U.S. states since 2017, according to the results of a national student achievement test released Wednesday.

The National Assessment of Educational Progress, known as the Nation’s Report Card, also showed students failed to make significant gains in mathematics.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos lamented the generally abysmal results, which she said reflected a “student achievement crisis.”   

“This must be America’s wake-up call. We cannot abide these poor results any longer,” DeVos said in a statement.

The NAEP is taken every two years by a sample of fourth- and eighth-graders in reading and math. This year’s results, based on the test scores of about 600,000 students in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, showed a decline in performance in almost all categories.

Average scores were on par with those from about a decade earlier, but lower-performing students fared even worse this year than they did in 2009. 

“Over the past decade, there has been no progress in either mathematics or reading performance, and the lowest performing students are doing worse,” Peggy Carr of the National Center for Education Statistics, which administers the test, told The Wall Street Journal

“Compared to a decade ago, we see that lower achieving students made score declines in all of the assessments, while higher achieving students made score gains,” Carr added. 

Eighth-graders’ reading and math scores both decreased from 2017. Fourth-graders saw a drop in just their reading scores. The average math score for fourth-graders was 1 point higher this year than in 2017. 

DeVos expressed alarm at the low level of reading proficiency among students nationally. 

Only 35% of fourth-graders were considered proficient in reading, according to the 2019 test results, a drop of 2 percentage points from 2017. Among eighth-graders, only 34% were proficient in reading ― also a decline of 2 percent.  

“Our Nation’s Report Card shows that two thirds of American students can’t read at grade level. Two out of three!” the education chief decried, noting that 31 states had seen a decline in their eighth-grade reading scores since 2017, while fourth-grade reading scores had fallen in 17 states. 

“Think about the mom or dad who cannot read, and so does not read to their own children at bedtime. Think about what that portends for their lifelong learning journeys. Think about what it means if they are passed along, grade to grade, not reading as they should,” DeVos said. 

As the AP noted, most states saw stagnating or worsening test scores, but there were a couple of “bright spots.” 

Mississippi and Washington, D.C., were the only two jurisdictions that improved in at least three of four categories. 

“Our achievement is at an all-time high in Mississippi,” celebrated state Superintendent Carey Wright. 

Some education experts suggested students’ worsening performance could be linked to spending cuts. 

In a pointed critique of DeVos, who has sought to slash education funding, Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), who chairs the House subcommittee that oversees federal spending on education, urged the education secretary this week to “join House Democrats and families across our nation by supporting increased investments in our public education system,” The New York Times reported

DeVos shrugged off such suggestions, however, and used the test results to push her argument for expanding alternatives to traditional public schools, including religious schools and privately run charter schools.

“Government has never made anything better or cheaper, more effective or more efficient. And nowhere is that more true than in education,” DeVos said. 

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Chicago Reaches Tentative Deal With School Support Staff, But Not With Teachers Union

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said Sunday night that the city has reached a tentative deal with striking public school support staff, but that there is no agreement with the teachers union.

The lack of a deal between Chicago Public Schools and the Chicago Teachers Union led to the cancellation of classes on Monday, making this walkout Chicago’s longest teachers strike in more than 30 years. More than 300,000 students will have missed eight days of school on Monday due to the strike, which is now entering its third week.

Lightfoot and schools CEO Janice Jackson said at a news conference Sunday that the city had reached a tentative agreement with SEIU Local 73, the union representing 7,500 school support staff who had been striking alongside CTU members. School support staff include bus aides, special education aides, custodial workers and security officers.

The tentative agreement with SEIU reportedly includes a 16% pay increase; more dollars an hour extra for bus aides, security and custodians after a certain number of years; more input from bus aides on routes; and better working conditions for special education aides, according to Chalkbeat Chicago.

“This is a victory for working people in Chicago and shows what is possible when we unite and take action,” SEIU Local 73 President Dian Palmer said in a statement. “The lowest paid support workers who are the backbone of our schools are going to see raises that mean their families won’t have to struggle living in an expensive city where costs keep going up.”

The support staff union’s bargaining team still needs to review and finalize the deal before the contract would end the strike. Palmer said that SEIU will be “on picket lines in solidarity” with CTU on Monday.

At her press conference, Lightfoot expressed frustration at the union’s failure to agree to her proposals. The mayor said she offered average teacher pay rising to $100,000 over the contract’s duration; no health insurance increases for three years; a full-time nurse and social worker in every school; and compromises on the large class sizes that teachers have been dealing with.

“This is by any estimation an incredible offer. Despite all of this, the CTU has not accepted it,” Lightfoot said. “We are enormously disappointed that CTU simply cannot take yes for an answer.”

The union responded to Lightfoot’s complaints on Twitter, stressing that it took Jackson 10 months and a strike to come to the bargaining table, and alleging that the mayor is pretending there isn’t enough money to fund the union’s demands. The union has asked for smaller class sizes, better pay and benefits, fully staffed support systems and restorative justice programs for students.

“Let’s just cut through the spin from City Hall and get to it: The money our schools need is there. The mayor isn’t bailing out CPS. She’s raiding her CPS piggy bank to avoid taxing the wealthy donors who put her in office,” the union tweeted.

CTU said that negotiations are now down to “some of the most important and thorny issues,” like pay for veteran teachers, salary increases for paraprofessionals and prep time. The union said that there’s a $38 million total in cost difference between its proposals and the district’s proposals, which it said amounts to about half of 1% of the annual CPS budget.

The city has pushed back against the notion that the cost difference is $38 million, alleging the union is asking for closer to $100 million in changes.

“She’s shifting nearly $100 million out of the Chicago Public Schools budget ― money that should go to students and classrooms ― and using it to plug the budget hole for the city,” CTU tweeted, citing the $60 million in a pension cost shift and the $33 million increase for the police department cited in Lightfoot’s new city budget proposal.

“A fraction of 1 percent of the annual CPS budget stands between us and an agreement. A number of demands would cost the district virtually nothing,” the union continued. “At this point, everyone is suffering but the person who could actually make a difference: the mayor.”

CTU got a positive boost of national spotlight over the weekend when Chicago native Chance the Rapper sported a CTU sweatshirt while hosting “Saturday Night Live.” The rapper said he fully supports the teachers union in their negotiations and mentioned that he donated $1 million last year to Chicago’s public schools.

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Felicity Huffman Released From Prison Three Days Early

Actor Felicity Huffman was released from federal prison on Friday after 11 days of a 14-day sentence for her role in a massive college admissions scandal.

The 56-year-old actor was set to be released Sunday from the Federal Correctional Institution, Dublin, a low-security facility for women near San Francisco. 

Instead, Huffman was released Friday morning, which Inside Edition said is prison policy for inmates who are scheduled to be released on weekend days.

Huffman pleaded guilty to honest services fraud in May in connection with a massive college admissions scandal that involved more than 30 parents including fellow actress Lori Loughlin.

Huffman admitted paying someone $15,000 to take the SATs for her daughter and earn a higher score.

Besides the jail time, Huffman will have to pay a $30,000 fine and perform 250 hours of community service, according to NBC News. 

Both Huffman’s husband, actor William H. Macy, and their daughter visited the actress during her short prison stint.

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Betsy DeVos Held In Contempt For Violating Order On Student Loans

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos was held in contempt of court by a federal judge on Thursday and ordered to pay a $100,000 fine after wrongly trying to collect on student loans taken out to attend a chain of now-shuttered for-profit colleges.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Sallie Kim wrote in her order that there was “no question” that DeVos’ Education Department “harmed individual borrowers who were forced to repay loans either through voluntary actions or involuntary methods.”

Around 16,000 people were affected by the department’s continued efforts to collect on the loans, even after the judge ordered it to stop. Of those, 1,808 faced wage garnishment or offsets from their tax refunds, and 847 saw their credit scores negatively impacted. The borrowers have since been reimbursed, according to the department.

Kim wrote that “the evidence shows” the department made “only minimal efforts to comply with the preliminary injunction.” 

The judge had ordered DeVos’ Education Department to stop collecting on the loans in May 2018. After discovering her order had not been followed, Kim issued a sharp rebuke of the department earlier this month.

“I’m not sending anyone to jail yet, but it’s good to know I have that ability,” the judge said at the time, Politico reported.

It is extremely rare for a court to hold a Cabinet secretary in contempt of court, and DeVos is facing fresh calls for her resignation over the issue. 

Because DeVos is named in the lawsuit in her official capacity as education secretary, the billionaire school-choice activist will not be personally responsible for paying the fine. The $100,000 will go toward debt relief promised to former students of Corinthian Colleges, who former President Barack Obama’s administration found were defrauded by the company.

Corinthian Colleges, which closed in 2015, was found to have inflated job-placement rates of graduates by counting students who were employed prior to enrollment as successfully placed, and by paying temporary employment agencies to hire graduates. 

“We’re disappointed in the court’s ruling,” the Education Department said in a tweet. “We acknowledged that servicers made unacceptable mistakes.”

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Why I Dropped Out Of An Ivy League College Just 3 Weeks Into Freshman Year

At the end of August, I packed my bags and said goodbye to the University of Pennsylvania after having moved into my new dorm as a first-year student only a couple weeks prior. I came home to Medford, Massachusetts, to shocked family and friends, everyone wondering where I had gone wrong, including myself.

I immigrated to the United States from China at the age of 6 with my mother and a much older brother more than a decade ago, with the primary purpose of me having access to an American education and job opportunities. From kindergarten through 12th grade, I buried my head in textbooks and homework, constantly working to be the best student I could be. My elementary and middle school teachers called me “exceptionally bright.” My high school teachers told my mother that I had a promising future. I was ranked number four in my class of more than 300 students; I was the president of the biggest community service program at the school; I had an amazing SAT score.

I was the “model minority.” Here and in China, I have always been the success story that my mother’s friends told their children. “You should be like Jenny,” they said, “she gets good grades and will go to a good college and will get a good job and will make lots of money.” That is the Chinese definition of success. So when I was accepted on a full scholarship to the University of Pennsylvania last December, everyone thought that it couldn’t get any better for me. 

But what people saw was an illusion that couldn’t be further from reality. Many nights were sleepless and when I did have time to sleep, I needed medication to help with insomnia. I was not the only one. I saw the cloud of pressure about grades and college loom over others, particularly within the top students in our grade, many of whom I am close with. I believe it is that pressure that has driven students like me to become as academically successful as we are, but it is also a pressure that constantly overwhelms us. It comes from the parents, the system and within ourselves as well.

I knew deep down that I was only following the path designated to me through expectations. I was following the promise of fortune and success as defined by my parents.

After being accepted into university, I put on a facade and submitted to the hype and excitement that others felt for me. Inside, however, the coming fall filled me with a sense of dread because I knew deep down that I was only following the path designated to me through expectations. I was following the promise of fortune and success as defined by my parents. Although I wasn’t sure what my own path and dreams were, I knew I would never find out if I kept following somebody else’s.

It seems like we have become so desensitized as a society that the depression and exhaustion that students face is treated as something that is completely normal. As the college application process becomes increasingly competitive, parents place more pressure on their children to work harder with the goal of getting into an elite school.

I believe that this is especially prevalent in Chinese and Asian families. When I scored lower than expected on my first SAT exam, my family pushed me to take an intensive course to improve my score. Hiring tutors is very common among our family friends and in Chinese households in general — not just for the SATs but for homework, essay writing, college interview prepping and just about anything else that could help their children get ahead. Looking outside of my bubble, I felt a pang of jealousy seeing how lenient non-Asian families and parents were with their children’s education. Pressures surrounding school and college exist within every culture, but it feels like it’s particularly extreme in many Asian families.

I never communicated the pressure and stress that I felt. Mental health was not recognized or discussed in my household. In fact, I’m not even sure how to say “mental health” in Chinese. I was conditioned to internalize these types of emotions, to deal with them alone. The problem is that these struggles are not dealt with. They are bottled up, and many of my Asian American friends have confessed the same. 

I’m not even sure how to say ‘mental health’ in Chinese. I was conditioned to internalize these types of emotions, to deal with them alone.

It took me being physically at Penn — there in the dorm, in classes and on campus — to really know that it was not for me. As I went through the motions of the first few days of classes and navigated through dining halls, recreational spaces, and even the city of Philadelphia, I couldn’t picture myself there for another day, let alone the next four years. With my state of mind at an all time low, I made the decision to leave with the help of my academic advisor at the university, who supported me and gave me the courage to tell my mother the truth. The three of us had a meeting where, for the first time in many years, my mom and I communicated how we felt.

I told my mom that I wasn’t going to be happy or fulfilled at Penn, and that I needed a break from the pressures of academia. She told me that as an immigrant, this path that she pushed me to stay on was the only one that she has known, and that she only wanted the best for me. With the help of my advisor, my mom opened up to the possibilities outside of the Ivy League, whether it meant a different school, a gap year or something else. It was a hard, emotional conversation, but it reassured me that beneath my mom’s expectations lie love and good intentions. Knowing that I had my mother’s support even in her disappointment drove me to keep moving forward despite this setback. 

In the weeks that I have been at home, I have been working, volunteering, spending time with people I love, and doing some serious reevaluating of where I want to be and what I would like to do. There are no clear answers to either question yet, though I do know now where I don’t want to be and what I don’t want to do. More importantly, I no longer feel an extreme sense of urgency to have it “all figured out.”

This is not to say that I have no ambition. I will be applying to university again, either for spring or fall of next year, but this time will be different. Though it might not be from one of my family’s first choice schools, I know that I will graduate in a field that I enjoy, and make my family proud nonetheless. I want students to know that whether you are applying to schools or feel unhappy at your current one, you are never stuck with only one option. And if you have no idea if college is for you or what career you’d like to pursue, take a break.

I know I made the right decision for me. I am only 18 years old. I have enough time. 

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Parenting Book Author Gets Prison For U.S. College Admissions Scam

BOSTON, Oct 23 (Reuters) – A marketing executive who authored a parenting advice book was sentenced on Wednesday to three weeks in prison for taking part in a vast U.S. college admissions cheating and fraud scheme in order to help her son gain an unfair advantage.

Jane Buckingham, 51, received less than the six-month prison term that federal prosecutors in Boston sought after she admitted to paying $50,000 to have a corrupt test proctor secretly take the ACT college entrance exam on her son’s behalf.

U.S. District Judge Indira Talwani rejected a request by defense lawyers to sentence the author of “The Modern Girl’sGuide to Motherhood” to probation after noting other wealthy parents also received prison time for their roles in the scheme.

“It’s a serious crime,” said Talwani, who also ordered Buckingham to pay a $40,000 fine.

Buckingham is among 52 people charged with participating in a scheme in which wealthy parents conspired with a California college admissions consultant to use bribery and other forms of fraud to secure the admission of their children to top schools.

William “Rick” Singer, the consultant, pleaded guilty inMarch to charges he facilitated cheating on college entrance exams and helped bribe sports coaches at universities to present his clients’ children as fake athletic recruits.

The 35 parents charged since March include “DesperateHousewives” star Felicity Huffman, who last week began serving a14-day prison term after pleading guilty, and “Full House” star Lori Loughlin, who is fighting the charges.

Prosecutors said Buckingham, the founder of a successful marking firm in California, in 2018 paid Singer $50,000 to have an associate take the ACT entrance exam in place of her son in order to inflate the score.

The associate was Mark Riddell, a counselor at a Florida private school who has pleaded guilty to taking SAT and ACT college entrance exams in place of Singer’s clients’ children or correcting their answers while acting as a test proctor.

In court, Buckingham apologized for her conduct, saying”nothing will ever make up for what I’ve done.”

“I really want to apologize to the families and children who didn’t have the advantages we did,” she said. “It was wrong, and it was unfair.”

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Student Lunch Debt Can Mean Prom And Field Trip Bans, New Jersey District Says

A New Jersey school district is under fire for a policy that permits its schools to bar students with mounting lunch debt from participating in extracurricular activities, including attending prom, going on field trips and buying yearbooks.

The Cherry Hill Board of Education, which oversees 19 schools and 11,000 students outside of Camden, said its principals are allowed to withhold certain privileges should a student’s lunch debt reach $75 without a timely response from a parent.

This penalty has also been levied against students who damage school property.

A policy in a New Jersey school district allows principals to withhold certain privileges should a student’s lunch debt reach $75 without a timely response from a parent.

“It is our greatest hope that, with the increased outreach to all families in arrears, we would never reach the point of revoking privileges to any student,” Barbara Wilson, a public information officer for Cherry Hill schools, told HuffPost in an email Wednesday.

The district’s controversial lunch policy gained nationwide attention earlier this week when presidential contender Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) tweeted out a report about the school activity ban, which she called “cruel and punitive.”

Fellow candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) also spoke out against the policy, tweeting, ”‘School lunch debt’ is not a phrase that should exist.”

Student lunch debt has been a longtime concern within the district. At a Board of Education meeting back in August, officials said student lunch debt had ballooned to $18,000. This followed a prior debt of $25,000 being erased in 2017.

Cherry Hill Superintendent Dr. Joseph Meloche, speaking at the meeting, argued against wiping out a list of debt owed by students as a solution to the problem.

“There are absolutely children on that list who are in financial need. We know there are issues, that they need our support,” he said. “Wiping out the debt, merely paying the money that the family owes, does not help the children because we’ve been feeding the kids and we’re going to continue feeding the kids.”

Wiping out the debt, merely paying the money that the family owes, does not help the children because we’ve been feeding the kids.”
Cherry Hill Superintendent Dr. Joseph Meloche

Wilson repeated that point, stating that students, regardless of how much debt is owed, will receive a non-discriminatory school lunch. Over the summer, the school district considered giving students who owed more than $10 tuna fish sandwiches for lunch. Students who owed more than $20 would have received nothing.

“All children are fed, and all who get in line for lunch are provided the lunch of their choice, regardless of whether they have money for it or not,” she said.

Wilson also attempted to strike down multiple reports that the district turned down a local businessman’s offer to pay off the students’ current lunch debt. StopRite grocery store chain owner Steve Ravitz said on Facebook that he sought to do so and was rebuffed. 

Ravitz “has not, at any time, contacted the school district with an offer of financial support,” Wilson told HuffPost, adding that Dr. Meloch tried to reach out to Ravitz about the offer but has not received a response.

Ravitz’s son, Jason Ravitz — who is the deputy mayor of neighborhing Voorhees Township, New Jersey — disputed Wison’s claim in a phone interview with HuffPost.

“The only thing I’ll say is I really don’t appreciate whether it’s the Board of Education or the superintendent’s office saying that my father never made a formal offer or serious offer, almost questioning his intentions or mocking him,” he said.

“It’s offensive and nobody’s going to buy it because people know that my dad has already been there to help families in need,” he added.

Ravitz said he and his family are currently busy organizing Thanksgiving meals for local families and that “it’s best for the school board and for the administration to do their jobs.”

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Chicago Teachers Are On Day Five Of A Tense Strike

Chicago teachers were still out of the classroom on Wednesday as their strike raged into its fifth day.

They’re largely fighting for lower class sizes and commitments from the district to hire more support staff, like nurses and counselors. But the mayor’s office has said that the price tag for these demands is untenable, especially in a city facing a severe budget gap. 

“Beyond what we put on the table, there is no more money,” Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said Monday, per CBS Chicago. “There needs to be an increased sense of urgency on the part of [the Chicago Teachers Union] so we can get the job done, we can reach resolution, we can get our kids back in school.”

Teachers have made gains since going on strike last Thursday, but mostly on peripheral issues. The city has tentatively agreed to add 24 new positions designed to serve homeless students, place a moratorium on new charter schools and provide increased protections for counselors, insulating them from having to perform teaching duties, the Chicago Sun-Times reports. But discussions about the issues of pay, class size and support staff numbers are still in flux. 

“There are resources the city can provide, there are choices the city can make in order to meet our demands,” Jennifer Johnson, chief of staff for the Chicago Teachers Union, said at a press conference Tuesday evening. “We’re reasonable, but we’re looking for a just contract in a district that serves 90% students of color.” 

Thousands of demonstrators circle Chicago City Hall in a show of support for the ongoing teachers strike on Oct. 23, 2019. Unionized teachers and staff are demanding more funding from the city to lower class sizes, hire more support staff and build new affordable housing for the 16,000 students whose families are homeless. 

Around 25,000 teachers are striking, along with over 7,000 support staff members on strike through a separate union. The work stoppage has gained national attention. At the press conference Tuesday, CTU President Jesse Sharkey described receiving a supportive phone call from presidential candidate Joe Biden. Presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren also rallied with teachers on Tuesday afternoon, telling them, “the eyes of this nation are upon you.” 

“They have turned to Chicago for you to lead the way, for you to show how the power of standing together is the power of making real change in this country,” Warren said. 

About 300,000 students are affected by the strike ― and very few have decided to attend school in the past five days, though the buildings are open and schools are providing supervision. On Monday, 507 schools reported that around 6,000 students were in attendance, Chicago Public Schools spokesperson Emily Bolton told HuffPost.  

In the meantime, not only have classes been canceled, but extracurricular activities have been suspended as well. Student-athletes have not been able to participate in state playoffs.

Jessica Contreras is the mother of a student who had to sacrifice playoff games as a result of the strike. 

“We didn’t sleep last night, staying up crying,” Contreras told HuffPost on Tuesday. “A lot of these kids depended on these games for a scholarship, for some of these kids, it was their ticket … out of the neighborhoods they live in.”

Contreras says she doesn’t blame teachers for her family’s pain, noting “the teachers deserve the best.” But she doesn’t see why all sides couldn’t come together to make sure students get their chance to shine. 

“It’s very shameful because it’s nothing but politics and it’s all about money,” she said.

At the bargaining table, CTU has been fighting for increased support for school sports teams, including money for equipment and facilities.  

“This is a point of real heartache for our families, for us; we do not take this lightly,” Johnson said at Tuesday’s press conference.  

Mayor of Chicago Lori Lightfoot speaks during her inauguration ceremony in Chicago. 

Mayor of Chicago Lori Lightfoot speaks during her inauguration ceremony in Chicago. 

A poll from the Chicago Sun-Times and ABC7 found that residents were more likely to blame the city for the strike than teachers, making it a high-stakes event for Lightfoot, whose tenure is still in its infancy. It has also strained the new mayor’s relationship with teachers. 

Teacher Shayna Boyd told HuffPost she voted for Lightfoot in part because the mayor made promises of improving student equity and pouring increased resources into schools. Indeed, throughout the strike, CTU leaders have accused Lightfoot of breaking campaign promises. (CTU previously endorsed Lightfoot’s opponent.) 

Boyd had faith that with Lightfoot at the helm of the city, the union’s contract issues would resolve swiftly. Instead, the process has been drawn out and contentious.

But Boyd has not yet given up hope that her vote was for naught. 

“I’m still optimistic that she said what she said when she was running because she meant it, and that she’s going to try to reconcile this in a way that is economically feasible for all parties involved,” said Boyd, a teacher at Ashburn Elementary. “I know other teachers who have changed their opinion.”

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Sen. Elizabeth Warren Joins Striking Chicago Teachers To Support Unions And Schools

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) flew into rainy Chicago on Tuesday morning to join the city’s teachers and support staff in their sixth day of striking for a better union contract deal with the city and Chicago Public Schools.

Warren, who is running for president in the 2020 election, joined the Chicago Teachers Union and Service Employees International Union Local 73 on the picket line at DePriest Elementary School on the West Side to voice her support for unions and public school educators.

“I’m here to stand with Chicago teachers. I’m here to stand with Chicago nurses. I’m here to stand with Chicago’s librarians,” Warren told the cheering crowd outside the school. Joining her were CTU President Jesse Sharkey and American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten. 

CTU and SEIU were in their sixth day of striking and fourth day of no classes on Tuesday as the unions continued negotiating with Mayor Lori Lightfoot and CPS on issues like smaller class sizes; more nurses, social workers and special education teachers; affordable housing; and better pay. There has been no academic instruction in the schools since Oct. 17, but buildings have stayed open to provide meals and safe places for children who need them.

CPS is the third-largest school district in the nation, with 25,000 teachers serving more than 300,000 students. The size of the district has given the strike nationwide significance as the relatively new mayor clashes with Chicago’s public school teachers. 

“I’m here because the eyes of this nation are upon you,” Warren said. “They have turned to Chicago for you to lead the way, for you to show how the power of standing together is the power of making real change in this country.”

In her campaign, Warren has called public education an issue that’s personal. The senator was a special education teacher at a public elementary school in New Jersey when she was in her 20s, but she said she left after being discriminated against for being pregnant.

“A long time ago, I stood where you stand. I was there on the frontlines with the children,” the senator said. “I remember what it was like to see a child’s eyes light up. I remember what it was like to be one of the most important people in a child’s life.”

Warren’s visit comes just one day after the presidential candidate unveiled her sweeping education plan to tackle segregation, high-stakes testing and for-profit charters for kindergarten through 12th grade. At the center of her plan is fighting continued segregation in the education system, a battle that schools in Chicago’s South and West Sides have historically dealt with.

“I believe in public education, and I believe it is time in America to make a new investment in public education,” she said. “And I got a plan for that.”

In addition to supporting public schools, Warren said she was also in Chicago to stress the importance of unions and worker rights.

“Because the unions are how we have a voice. The unions are how we have power. The unions are how we make sure that the needs of every one of our children are heard loud and clear,” she said.

Warren’s campaign did not immediately respond to HuffPost’s questions on whether she had spoken to Lightfoot about the strike and whether standing with the unions has affected her relationship, as a Democratic presidential candidate, with a major city’s mayor.

Lightfoot downplayed Warren’s alliance with the unions at a news conference Tuesday morning.

“She has her right to come in. I would expect all Democratic candidates for the presidency to support workers. That’s who we are as a party,” the mayor said. “But at the end of the day, what’s going to get it done is what happens at the bargaining table.”

On Monday, Lightfoot and school district CEO Janice Jackson wrote a letter to Sharkey urging the union to end the strike and go back to work while negotiations continue, and she said at a news conference that teachers are asking for too much money. Sharkey, who earlier hoped negotiations could wrap up by the end of the week, told reporters Monday night that the mayor’s remarks “dashed my hopes” on the walkout ending soon.

Chicago Public Schools announced that the union did not end its strike as of 4 p.m. Tuesday, leading to the walkout’s continuation Wednesday and students’ fifth day out of class. The teachers union is calling for a national day of action on Thursday, asking teachers nationwide to show support for Chicago’s teachers.

“The nation turns to you to show how people who fight from the heart, people who are told: ‘Quit now, give up,’” Warren told strikers, “[they] don’t give up. They stay in the fight for what they believe, and they change the course of American history.”

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Parents Dare 9-Year-Old To Dress As A Hot Dog On Picture Day

A fourth grader in Maine is having a viral moment thanks to his hilarious school picture. Nine-year-old Jake Arsenault made the unusual choice to wear a hot dog costume on picture day, and the result was LOL-worthy.

On Thursday, Jake’s dad, Craig Arsenault, posted a photo of Jake’s Biddeford Intermediate School ID card on Facebook. It has since been shared more than 30,000 times.

“My wife and I dared our son to wear a hotdog costume for school pictures. The school let him do it, and I couldn’t be happier,” he wrote.

Craig told HuffPost how his son’s amazing school photo came to be.

“Jake was wondering what he should wear for school pictures, and we had this costume laying around from two years ago when he wore it for Halloween. My wife Kari just blurted out that he should wear it,” he recalled. “Jake didn’t want to at first, so I told him I’d give him 10 bucks to do it, as it would be hysterical.”

Though the picture day outfit was ultimately Jake’s call, Craig and Kari wrote a permission slip for the school “just in case” he wanted to wear the hot dog costume. When the day arrived, the fourth grader opted to take up his parents on their dare.

“I’m not too surprised he went through with it, as Jake is a fun-loving, outgoing kid, and is usually the funnier out of the three of our kids,” said Craig.

When the dad saw his son’s school ID photo, he burst out laughing and decided to share it on the “professional account” he uses as a U.S. Army recruiter.

“In between posts about the military or Army stuff, I do the odd personal post just so that people know I’m a real person, you know?” he explained, adding that he figured the photo might get a handful of laughing reactions at most.

Needless to say, the viral response has been overwhelming for Craig, but in a good way. “I’m incredulous as to how far and fast this has gone. Never in a million years did I think this would ever happen,” he said.

Although the reactions have mostly been positive, he said has gotten a bit of negative feedback as well.

“There is a small minority getting all worked up about ‘all his info’ being online ― to which I can only say that ‘stranger danger’ as people perceive it does not exist, and to stop living in fear,” said Craig.

Ultimately, the dad is grateful his son’s school picture could make people around the world smile and laugh.

“The news doesn’t always have to be huge, life-changing issues,” he said. “I hope people can stop and appreciate the small things that bring them joy.”

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Lori Loughlin And Husband Among Parents Facing New Bribery Charges

Actress Lori Loughlin is among the 11 parents indicted on new bribery charges Tuesday as part of this year’s massive college admissions scandal.

The parents charged in the superseding indictments are among the 15 who’ve pleaded their innocence in the high-profile case that’s been ongoing since March. All of the 11 defendants are accused of bribing employees of the University of Southern California in order to secure their children’s admission to the elite school.

“The charge of federal programs bribery provides for a sentence of up to 10 years in prison, three years of supervised release, and a fine of $250,000 or twice the gross gain or loss, whichever is greater,” the office of the U.S. Attorney for the District of Massachusetts said Tuesday.

The “Fuller House” star and her husband head to court in Massachusetts. 

The “Fuller House” star, along with her fashion designer husband Mossimo Giannulli, are among the most famous people indicted in the scandal. They are accused of paying half a million dollars for a third party to get their daughters into USC by feigning their qualifications for the university’s rowing team. 

Tuesday’s indictments come after prosecutors warned the group of parents last week that if they didn’t plead guilty by Monday to the fraud and money laundering conspiracy charges they were already facing, they could be slapped with bribery charges as well. 

In addition to new charges against the parents, the prosecutor issued new indictments Tuesday against seven university athletic officials from various schools over charges of committing federal program bribery.

Meanwhile, actress Felicity Huffman, another of the scandal’s most high-profile figures, is halfway through her 14-day sentence at a federal prison in Dublin, California, for paying $15,000 to have someone alter her daughter’s SAT answers. She has also agreed to pay a $30,000 fine as part of her plea deal.

Andrew Lelling, the U.S. attorney overseeing the case against Loughlin and her husband, made an ominous warning toward the couple earlier this month, saying his office will probably ask for a “substantially higher” sentence than Huffman’s. 

Clarification: Language has been amended to describe the charges against Huffman more accurately.

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Chicago Mayor Urges Teachers Union To End Strike Before Reaching Deal

As Chicago’s teacher strike reached its third school day, Mayor Lori Lightfoot asked the Chicago Teachers Union to end the walkout and open up the city’s schools again before the two sides finish negotiating a contract deal.

In a letter Monday, Lightfoot and Chicago Public Schools CEO Janice Jackson urged CTU President Jesse Sharkey to “end the strike and encourage your members to come back to work” while negotiations continue. 

“While we have made progress at the bargaining table, it is unclear that we can reach an agreement today given the current pace,” Lightfoot and Jackson wrote in the letter, first reported by the Chicago Sun-Times. “The students and families of Chicago cannot afford to be out of school for any longer, which is why we are asking you to end the strike and encourage your members to return to work while bargaining continues.”

About 25,000 teachers, clinicians, nurses and librarians have been striking in Chicago since Thursday after months of failed negotiations with CPS, the country’s third-largest school district that serves more than 300,000 students. CPS support staff are also striking, and are represented by SEIU Local 73. CTU teachers have worked under an expired contract for more than 100 days.

The strike has led to citywide closure of school hours, though buildings have stayed open to provide meals and safe areas for students to stay. The school district developed a contingency plan for students to be supervised by non-unionized staff, but there has been no academic instruction or after-school programming with the exception of Chicago’s more than 100 charter schools, which are operating as scheduled.

“We could end this within a couple days, but there would need to be a commitment on the mayor’s part to do that,” Sharkey told local reporters Monday in response to the letter.

CTU took to Twitter on Monday to express frustration with Lightfoot’s letter, saying: “When we said ‘put it in writing,’ this isn’t what we meant.” 

“From lies about our salary, to her intransigence on makeup days, to cancelling classes Oct. 17 before delegates could convene, to chiding us about ‘urgency’ when she has yet to come to the table, to painfully obvious photo ops, to today’s letter,” the union tweeted Monday. “All bad.”

The union has primarily asked for smaller class sizes and more special education teachers, nurses and social workers, among other demands like fair pay and housing policies. The union said Sunday that the two sides have since the walkout made a tentative agreement for specific staff positions to support homeless students, and CTU got contractual language included that the district will follow Illinois law in maintaining a ratio of one adult for every 10 students in a pre-K classroom. Lightfoot also proposed investing about $2 million to get a nurse and a social worker in every school.

“It should be expected to have a social worker and nurse in a school community. [Lightfoot] mocked us when we talked about the 20,000 homeless students in the system,” CTU Vice President Stacy Davis previously told HuffPost. “The CPS has a history of segregation, and it has a history of inequity.”

Lightfoot said at a press conference Monday that CTU is asking for too much money, and that the union is being unreasonable by continuing to strike despite the mayor proposing solutions to two of the biggest demands.

“Beyond what we’ve put on the table, there is simply no more money,” Lightfoot told reporters. “We can only agree to what we can afford. There are not unlimited resources to fund everything in a single contract that CTU wishes. The money on the table is all there is.”

CTU stressed that its demands are not new, and the union has been bargaining all year. The union said it submitted proposals in January, but did not receive “responsive counterproposals in writing” until teachers went on strike.

“It shouldn’t take two days of being on strike to get students’ needs met ― needs in a school district that serves 90 percent students of color, and students who live in neighborhoods besieged by poverty, violence and Great-Depression era levels of unemployment,” the union tweeted.

In their letter to Sharkey, Lightfoot and Jackson stressed that student-athletes are missing out on tournaments, high school seniors are concerned about college applications and many students are put at risk without the safety, food access and structure that school provides.

Sharkey acknowledged that the strike has been difficult for families and school staff, but that “no one wants to get back into the classroom more than the teachers in the city of Chicago.”

Union members have also voiced anger that Lightfoot had campaigned on the very promises that teachers wanted when she was elected mayor earlier this year.

“The mayor ran on an education platform ― our education platform ― to improve our schools and the quality of life for students, parents, educators and school communities,” the union tweeted Monday. “Everything she has done as of late has been anything but an improvement, and has only made the situation worse.”

Lightfoot penned an op-ed Monday in the Sun-Times in efforts to assure residents that she is still committed to her campaign promise of promoting “educational equity,” specifically in public schools. In the op-ed, the mayor said she respects workers’ right to organize but is disappointed that CTU is striking when she believes her contract offers are “fair and respectful” of the union’s demands. 

CPS tweeted Monday evening that the union had not scheduled the vote necessary to end its strike, resulting in class cancellations for Tuesday, the fourth school day since the walkout began. Presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) will be in Chicago on Tuesday to support CTU’s strike, her campaign confirmed.

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Elizabeth Warren Unveils Education Plan To Fight Segregation And High-Stakes Testing

Presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) released a sweeping K-12 education plan Monday, unveiling proposals designed to chip away at school segregation, beat back high-stakes testing and crack down on charter schools.

The detailed plan also seeks to equalize school funding between low and high-income areas and decrease the influence of police in schools. It proposes a new education grant program funded at a whopping $100 billion over 10 years — the equivalent of $1 million for every school in the country — for schools to use on programs or resources of their choice. Her plan would be paid for by a wealth tax on fortunes above $50 million.

In recent months, Warren’s views of K-12 education have been a source of source of speculation and scrutiny. Soon after announcing a run for the presidency, she unveiled an expansive college and child care plan. But she disclosed fewer details on her plans for K-12, touching on an opposition to charter schools and pledging to appoint a public school teacher as the U.S. secretary of education.

However, her newly released plan is extensive, taking direct aim at some of the most entrenched sources of inequality in K-12 education.

On the issue of school segregation ― a polarizing issue that even liberal politicians often shy away from ― Warren pledges to encourage states to use a portion of their federal funds on school integration projects. Under a Warren administration, the departments of Education and Justice will crack down on wealthier, whiter communities that try to break away from their more diverse school districts and hoard resources ― a phenomenon called school district secession.

“Broad public affirmation of the Brown v. Board of Education decisions in the 1950s and recent debates about historical desegregation policies have obscured an uncomfortable truth ― our public schools are more segregated today than they were about thirty years ago,” states the plan, titled, “A Great Public School Education for Every Student.”

Notably, Warren also pledges to “eliminate high-stakes testing.” High-stakes testing came to prominence during the Bush administration, after the passage of the No Child Left Behind Act, which tied schools’ test scores to a series of carrots and sticks. The Obama administration continued to center high-stakes tests as federal officials encouraged states and districts to tie teacher evaluations to test scores.

Warren’s plan represents a stark departure from this line of thinking. She pledges to ban test scores as a significant determinant in personnel terminations, school closures and other “high-stakes decisions,” noting that “the push toward high-stakes standardized testing has hurt both students and teachers.”

The plan also sounds off on charter schools, one of the most controversial issues in education, by taking a hard line against them. Charter schools — public schools that are funded with taxpayer dollars but privately operated ―  were once a darling of both mainstream Democratic and Republican circles, but have faced increasing scrutiny from liberals in recent years. 

Warren pledges to fight to ban for-profit charter schools, which represent around 15% of the sector. But she also goes after nonprofit ones, promising to end a federal program that provides funding for new schools and opposing provisions that allow them to sometimes evade the same level of transparency and accountability as traditional public schools. The plan seeks to ban nonprofit charters that employ or outsource operations to for-profit service providers and calls for the IRS to investigate these schools’ nonprofit tax status.

“Efforts to expand the footprint of charter schools, often without even ensuring that charters are subject to the same transparency requirements and safeguards as traditional public schools, strain the resources of school districts and leave students behind,” the plan says. 

Presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who released his education plan in May, similarly took aim at charters in his plan, framing them as an issue of racial justice. His plan drew ire from some education reform groups that argued he was actually doing children of color a disservice.

“Senator Sanders is literally saying I’m going to stand in the schoolhouse door and prevent kids from going [to charter schools], like a segregationist,” Amy Wilkins, senior vice president of advocacy at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, told HuffPost at the time. He is trying to “prevent kids, many of whom are low-income, or of color, from having a choice.”

Sanders, like Warren, also focused on curbing school segregation. Their plans stand in contrast to another Democratic nominee frontrunner, former Vice President Joe Biden, who has historically supported programs that curtailed desegregation bussing.

Warren has framed public education as a deeply personal issue. She spent a short amount of time as a special education teacher when she was in her 20s, but said she left the classroom after being discriminated against as a pregnant woman.

Other aspects of Warren’s plan include quadrupling funding for Title I ― the federal program that provides money to schools with high proportions of low-income children ― as well as raising pay for educators, fully funding the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and helping to expand school employees’ collective bargaining power. She frames the recent wave of teacher protests around the country as a feminist issue, and she has pledged to enact a law that would make sure public employees can collectively bargain in each state. 

So far, “A Great Public School Education for Every Student” has garnered praise from the leaders of both of the nation’s teachers unions, the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association. 

“Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s plan for our nation’s public schools would be a game changer for our public schools and the 90 percent of America’s students who attend them,” Randi Weingarten, the president of AFT, said in a statement. “Like so many of the other candidates’ education plans we have praised, this one is bold and thorough and lays out tangible steps and resources that are critical for all students to thrive.”

“What distinguishes this plan is that it is obvious it’s drawn through the lens of someone who has spent time as a teacher in a classroom,” Weingarten added.

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High School Girls Soccer Team Gets Yellow Cards After Equal Pay Protest

A high school girls soccer team in Vermont tried to advocate for equal pay at a Friday game and managed to receive multiple yellow cards in the process.

After scoring their first goal of the night, several members of the Burlington High School girls team took off their blue uniforms to reveal custom white jerseys bearing the slogan #EQUALPAY, according to the Burlington Free Press. 

Referees responded by issuing yellow cards for unsportsmanlike conduct to the four players who took off their uniform jerseys, instead of just lifting them up, as other players did. The league’s rules prohibit players from wearing uniforms bearing slogans during official games, though they can sport them during practices and off-field events, according to WPTZ-TV.

At the Burlington game, the crowd cheered and chanted “equal pay” when the girls revealed the jerseys, more than 500 of which the team had already sold as part of a fundraising campaign.

The team’s coach told Good Morning America that the girls were inspired by the World Cup-winning U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team, whose players are vocal advocates for closing the gender pay gap, specifically in professional soccer leagues. 

“It’s appalling, and it’s ridiculous that that’s still a thing,” Burlington varsity soccer player Maggie Barlow told WPTZ-TV.

The team has sold the #EqualPay jerseys to other students, high school athletes and even Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and his wife. The Nike jerseys cost $25 — though male buyers were encouraged to pay 16% more to mark the average gender pay disparity in Vermont, according to the Free Press.

The school’s boys soccer team wore the jerseys in solidarity with the girls team at a recent game, but the Free Press reported that they managed to avoid yellow cards by lifting up their jerseys without taking them off.

The money raised from jersey sales will reportedly go toward diversifying girls’ youth soccer in Burlington.

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Students Protest Firing Of Black Employee Who Repeating Racial Slur Used Against Him

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Students at a Wisconsin high school skipped class Friday and marched through the streets of the state capital to protest the firing of a black security guard who was terminated for repeating a racial slur while telling a student not to call him that word.

Scores of Madison West High School students walked out of class around 10 a.m. to protest the firing. Madison Police Department officials didn’t respond to The Associated Press’ request for a crowd count but told the Wisconsin State Journal newspaper that about 1,500 people participated.

A WISC-TV livestream of the walkout showed what appeared to be scores of students marching through the streets. They walked to the Madison school district offices and marched laps around the building, chanting “Hey-hey, hey-ho, zero tolerance has got to go!” and “Do Better!”

Security guard Marlon Anderson, 48, said he was responding to a call Oct. 9 about a disruptive student at West. He said the student, who is black, called him obscenities, including the N-word. Anderson said he told the student multiple times not to call him that, repeating the slur during the confrontation.

Madison schools have a zero-tolerance policy on employees saying racial slurs. Anderson was fired Wednesday.

Anderson said he was just trying to defend himself and that context matters. The Madison teachers union has filed a grievance with the district on his behalf.

During his time at East and West high schools, Anderson said students have used that slur against him “many times,” and that it has resulted in “restorative conversations” in which he explains the history, context and meaning of the word.

Last school year, at least seven Madison School District staff members resigned or were fired after using a racial slur in front of students.

West Principal Karen Boran said the zero-tolerance approach has been applied consistently.

The district school board president, Gloria Reyes, said in a statement Friday that she wants the board to review its policy on racial slurs as soon as possible. She said she also has directed district staff to handle Anderson’s grievance quickly.

“This is an incredibly difficult situation, and we acknowledge the emotion, harm and complexity involved,” she said. “Many people in our community and our district are grappling with that complexity, and we will continue to do so as we go forward.”

Superintendent Jane Belmore issued her own statement saying the zero-tolerance policy is designed to protect students from harm, no matter what the circumstances or intent. But she added that “different viewpoints” from the community are emerging and the district will review the policy in light of Anderson’s grievance.

The singer Cher weighed on the dispute Friday, tweeting in response to a news story about Anderson that if he decides to sue the Madison school district, she would cover his expenses.

A message left at the Madison teachers union for Anderson wasn’t immediately returned.

Follow Todd Richmond on Twitter at

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Sarah Michelle Gellar Says Parents Should Thank Their Kids’ Teachers More

As the daughter of a teacher, Sarah Michelle Gellar knows the important role educators play in children’s lives.

The “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” star talked to HuffPost about parents’ relationships with teachers while promoting Lysol’s “Here for Healthy Schools” campaign — an initiative to equip classrooms with tools to fight germs, curb the spread of preventable illnesses and promote healthy habits among kids. Gellar and her husband, Freddie Prinze Jr., have a 10-year-old daughter, Charlotte, and 7-year-old son, Rocky.

“Often parents go into schools and complain, saying, ‘This child did this to my child!’ and, ‘We didn’t get this part in the play!’ But let’s just take a moment and appreciate what they’re giving your child because there’s nothing better than the gift of education,” said Gellar.

The actor encouraged parents to ask teachers if there’s any way they can help supply their classrooms or offer their unique skill set to enhance their students’ experience. “And just remember to thank teachers for what they do,” she added.

Gellar praised the #ClearTheLists campaign, which helps the public provide teachers in underserved communities with the supplies their classrooms need. “It’s one of the few times social media has been really good,” she said, noting that she was heartened by her followers’ response to a call to help a third grade teacher clear her supply wish list and even provide some copies of the “Harry Potter” books for her Wizarding World-themed classroom.

“Harry Potter” is also a big part of Gellar’s household. She said her kids love the series. And her daughter fittingly seems to be getting into some 1980s and ’90s nostalgia with her reading choices these days.

“They did this ‘Baby-Sitters Club’ redo, but it’s a graphic novel. It’s ‘Kristy’s Great Idea’ and all the same books I read as a child. My daughter is really into those right now,” Gellar said. “She was also into this book called ‘El Deafo’ about a bunny.” As far as children’s books, the mom said Dr. Seuss is her favorite author.

For Gellar, reading is a form of self-care. “That’s the one time I can shut my brain off and just put myself into another world.” She recently read “The Last Train to London” and is looking forward to diving into journalist Ronan Farrow’s new book.

Beyond reading, Gellar is also a fan of cooking, having released a cookbook called “Stirring Up Fun With Food” in 2018. When it comes to dinnertime, she said she’s not cooking separate meals for the kids.

“My kids are great eaters. We have a rule in our house that you have to eat something 10 times and then two times more before you can decide you don’t like it,” she explained. “So many kids say, ‘I don’t like that!’ But you have to develop a taste to find out. If you eat something 12 times and really don’t like it, odds are you really don’t like it. If you eat something once, maybe it’s the way it was prepared, maybe it’s the way you’re feeling that day so you have to give it time to understand. And food is such an important part of brain growth.”

That commitment to healthier options extends to Halloween.

“We’ve had a tradition since they were little, that we have a big bake day beforehand,” she said, noting that they make homemade treats and buy nice chocolate from a local, family-owned chocolatier.

“When we go trick-or-treating, we say, ‘You can take all the gross candy you want.’ But then when we come home, all the candy goes into a bin, and we ship it to the troops.”

She said her kids can have one or two pieces of candy from their trick-or-treating haul, but otherwise they enjoy their homemade treats and local chocolate.

Ultimately, Gellar believes that the key to promoting healthy habits is leading by example.

“I don’t want to tell them 50 times to wash their hands. When I come home, the first thing I do is wash my hands. They go, ‘Oh, yeah, I should do that,’ and then it becomes part of their habit, rather than me constantly just yelling something at them.”

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