5 Ways To Prevent The Summer Slide

Summer brain drain. Summer setback. Summer slide. Summer learning loss. Most parents have heard a version of the idea that over summer vacation, kids lose some of what they learn during the school year. But they’ll be happy to know there are actually realistic (and affordable!) ways to combat it.

Dr. Katrina Lindsay, a clinical and pediatric psychologist at Akron Children’s Hospital in Ohio, is the director of the hospital’s School Success Clinic, which specializes in helping kids who struggle in school. She told HuffPost that students lose about one to two months of learning over the course of the summer. For kids with learning disorders, that loss can be even larger.

Reading is a go-to choice for keeping kids engaged, and many teachers encourage it by giving summer reading lists. Public libraries are also a helpful resource for families during the summer. We talked to experts about a few more ways to prevent the summer slide ― some of which are activities your kids probably already do.

Baking and cooking

Lindsay told HuffPost that cooking is “one of the best things you can do for kids” because it combines science, art and math. She encouraged families (and summer babysitters) to help keep the STEM skills sharp by discussing different measurements and physical processes, such as what happens when the food is actually cooking.

“If you think about the chemical reaction ― liquid goes in the oven and comes out a solid ― it’s amazing learning for kids,” she said.

She also noted that while she understands parents can get more done at the grocery store without the kids in tow, the supermarket can be an ideal place to discuss numbers while looking at prices and counting coins.

Playing video games

Hear us out. Screen time for kids is a highly debated issue, and there isn’t a lot of research on its effects on kids just yet. Hilary Scharton is the vice president of K-12 product strategy at Canvas by Instructure, an educational technology company. She noted that kids shouldn’t be wrapped up in screen time all summer, but suggested that parents occasionally lean into their kids’ love of video games by talking about the shapes of the characters.

“The animations in video games, those are all shapes, changing and morphing,” she said. “All of that shape-changing is like algebra and geometry and trigonometry.”

Lindsay also recommended video games and pointed out that there are many educational apps available to keep kids learning while they enjoy some screen time.

“If they have to be wired in on a rainy day, that doesn’t mean they have to stop learning,” she said.


Research shows that volunteering can teach kids a variety of important skills. According to the Corporation for National and Community Service, volunteering throughout the year can help kids develop leadership skills and become more patient. And as research from Michigan State University shows, working with others in this way can also promote social skills, which can be especially important for kids taking time out of the classroom during the summer.

Another benefit? Volunteering can make kids more empathetic and help them understand more about the world.


“Practice helps with anything,” Lindsay said ― including writing. Caretakers may want to promote an activity in which kids write often, especially students who may struggle with it. She’s seen the benefits of writing repetition firsthand with a patient of hers who wrote to a pen pal overseas. She also suggested having kids keep journals over the summer so they can both improve their writing and have a way to look back at everything they did.

“Spectacularly” failing

You read that right. As a summer activity, Scharton recommended “anything where kids have a chance to just spectacularly fail.” Why?

“We know from research that problem-solving skills really are one of the most important things that kids need to learn,” she said.

She noted that this doesn’t have to involve anything elaborate like a science experiment with a volcano. It can easily happen in the kitchen.

“My daughter has made chocolate chip cookies, making every possible mistake,” she said. “They’re always super fun, and it’s a great learning experience.”

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UVA Students Blast School For Hiring Trump Aide And Frequent Defender

A group of students and faculty at the University of Virginia is attempting to block President Donald Trump’s legislative director, Marc Short, from taking a teaching position at the school after he departs the White House on Friday.

Short, who has often appeared on television to defend some of the president’s most controversial stances, revealed his plan to step down earlier this month.

A Change.org petition has gathered hundreds of signatures in an effort to protest Short’s hiring. Petitioners moved their campaign to the public site after a version made through Google Docs counted well over 100 signees from professors, students and staff. The campus in Charlottesville, which witnessed a deadly white supremacist rally last August, is quickly approaching the anniversary of the infamous clashes.

“While we do not object to dialogue with members of this administration, we do object to the use of our university to clean up their tarnished reputations,” reads a petition with around 300 signatures. 

“More personally,” it continues. “As we approach the first anniversary of the white nationalist violence against this university, this town, and our friends, neighbors, students, faculty and staff — all of whom are represented among the injured — it is unconscionable that we would add to our university a person who served in a high-level position for the administration that first empowered, then defended, those white nationalists.”

In the wake of the rally, which left one counterprotester dead, Trump infamously claimed there were “very fine people on both sides” of the conflict. 

Short told Politico that he is “sympathetic” to the petitioners’ concerns and thought the administration “could have done a better job expressing sympathy for the victims and outrage at those who perpetrated this evil.”

He will serve as a fellow at the university’s Miller Center of Public Affairs, a nonpartisan affiliate studying the American presidency, where he will participate in conferences and engage with students and faculty. The former aide has ties to the university, as he received his MBA from its Darden Business School, according to Politico

William Hitchcock, a history professor at the Miller Center, told Inside Higher Ed that the university did not allow faculty to give input on Short’s hiring. He feels the former aide “doesn’t fit the values” of the center.

“He is extremely partisan, and this is a nonpartisan scholarly institution,” Hitchcock said. “We examine politics here but we are not participating in any political campaigns.”

A representative for the Miller Center defended the decision in a statement to HuffPost, stressing that the center is nonpartisan and Short’s inclusion “deepens our scholarly inquiries into the workings of the American presidency.”

Yet an associate history professor who signed the petition, Andrew Kahrl, called the center “pitifully naive” for its suggestion that Short will be a positive addition. The blowback was “not about silencing Short or imposing an ideological purity test on potential hires,” Kahrl added. 

“It’s about whether this university should be burnishing the reputations of members of an administration that has attacked America’s democratic institutions and attacked this community in particular,” he wrote.

Although Short was one of the longest-serving members of the Trump administration, his departure comes as Republicans risk losing congressional seats in the upcoming midterm elections. Short is also stepping away as the Trump administration prepares for a contentious Senate confirmation battle for its Supreme Court nominee, Judge Brett Kavanaugh.  

This story has been updated to clarify Short’s relationship with the University of Virginia. Although he may speak at its Darden Business School in the future, Short will not be teaching at that school, as Politico reported previously.

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This Heartwarming Twitter Story Shows The Power Of Representation In Media

A heartwarming viral Twitter thread involving a tender moment between children at a swimming pool and a Muppet with autism is being hailed for showing why media representation, specifically for children, is so powerful.

“Don’t tell me representation doesn’t matter,” wrote Twitter user @shiphitsthefan, who goes by Ship and uses the pronouns they/them. Ship shared the swim class story of their son, who’s nicknamed Action Kid, and a little girl who wanted to play with him because he reminded her of a character on “Sesame Street.”

Ship was “trying my best not to cry because I was so happy” watching the swimming pool scene, they told HuffPost, and wanted to share the story on Twitter. Ship has talked about “Action Kid” on social media since he was a baby, and knew friends and followers “would understand the significance.”

“I figured it might get a few retweets and help other parents know how to, I guess approach their own preschoolers, and where to look for guidance,” Ship said. “I wanted there to be something happy on the timeline.” 

Bill Clark via Getty Images

“I shared that little moment because it’s the opposite of discrimination,” Ship continued. “It’s an abled child not seeing a person to help, but someone to coexist with. The reason the story ‘feels good’ is because it’s active participation. Neither party is passive. It’s unqualified acceptance, because the playing field has been leveled through education and understanding.”

TV networks, Hollywood, and other parts of the media industry have long struggled to portray people of color, the disabled, the LGBTQ community, and others.

“Sesame Street’s” Julia shows the push for more inclusive representation. Still, the trend isn’t without convulsions. Last week, Scarlett Johansson pulled out of a movie project after backlash for signing on to portray a trans man, but retail chain American Eagle was celebrated for including a disabled model in advertising for lingerie brand Aerie.

Of Julia’s arrival on “Sesame Street,” Jeanette Betancourt, the senior vice president of U.S. social impact at Sesame Workshop, told People at the time: “Children with autism are five times more likely to get bullied, and with one in 68 children having autism, that’s a lot of bullying. Our goal is to bring forth what all children share in common, not their differences. Children with autism share in the joy of playing and loving and being friends and being part of a group.”

Ship said in a follow-up to the initial tweet-thread that they were initially “pissed at Sesame Street’s portrayal of an autistic child, because it hit so many tropes, and every autistic kid is different (It’s not a spectrum; it’s a sundae bar.)”

But that was “looking at it like an adult,” Ship tweeted. 

Many people cheered Ship for sharing the story. 

Ship was “blown away” by the response.

“I never expected it to go viral, or reach so many people, or instigate the conversations it has,” they said.

“In a span of hours, I’ve had to take on a more active advocacy―which is exciting! Terrifying, but heartening to think I get to help beyond calling my congresspersons and retweeting disability advocates.”

Ship said Action Kid’s interaction with the little girl in the pool lasted just a minute or so, and Action Kid didn’t acknowledge her.

“She took it in stride,” Ship said. “I encouraged her and encouraged him, and that was enough. A short but special moment.”   

There is quite literally a body of research and a term known as “symbolic annihilation,” which means that “if you don’t see people like you in the media you consume, you must somehow be unimportant.” 

As Ship’s story shows, on-screen representation operates as an important (if undervalued) way to glean information about the world.

The Aerie campaign featuring a woman in a wheelchair.


The Aerie campaign featuring a woman in a wheelchair.

“Kids are smarter than we acknowledge. The earlier we learn to accept and make the world accessible for people like my son, the easier it is for all of us. The story gives warm fuzzies for the right reasons. It isn’t inspiring; it just *is*, and that’s how it should be,” says Ship.

“I’m happy that Action Kid gets to continue his swim classes, because I want to foster that sense of independence. I want him to learn that it’s okay that he experiences the world differently, and that he doesn’t have to change himself in order to live his life. I want him to understand that he isn’t lesser, or lacking. I want him to have the confidence I never had as a child. And being an active character in his own story is the best way to teach him.”

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Most Public Schools Aren’t Even Checking For Lead In The Water

Periodic mass shootings aren’t the only source of lead in schools that the U.S. government doesn’t care about.

Even after America freaked out over toxic lead in Flint, Michigan, most school districts still aren’t checking to see if there’s lead in their water, according to a new study. 

Only 43 percent of school districts say they tested their water for lead in 2016 or 2017, according to the Government Accountability Office, and 37 percent of those districts found at least some of the toxic metal. The rest either didn’t test or couldn’t say whether they’d tested, though these districts contained far fewer students than the ones that did test.

Even tiny amounts of lead exposure can be dangerous, especially for children. “Lead in a child’s body can slow down growth and development, damage hearing and speech, and lead to learning disabilities,” the GAO notes in its report.

The Flint water crisis ― a national scandal in which Flint’s children suffered higher blood lead levels from contaminated water from 2014 through 2015 ― exposed the weakness of federal drinking water regulations, which don’t require cities to remove lead pipes connected to people’s homes.

Public schools are not even covered under those regulations. There is no federal requirement that schools watch out for lead in their water.

There is no federal requirement that schools watch out for lead in their water.

The good news is that states are picking up some of the slack. At least eight states require school districts to test for lead, according to GAO, and most of the laws came about in the last two years, presumably because of Flint. Thirteen more states are helping schools test their water voluntarily.

City leaders in Washington, D.C., for instance, created a new school testing regime after finding lead in the water in three public schools in 2016. The new law requires annual testing and filters on all sources of drinking water in schools. If a liter of water from a fountain contains more than 5 micrograms of lead, the school has to shut it off and take remedial action.

Five micrograms, or parts per billion (ppb), is stricter than the federal threshold of 15 ppb that utilities follow for household taps, but activists with the Campaign for Lead Free Water were disappointed that city lawmakers didn’t set the bar at one microgram ― any lead at all ― since even the tiniest exposure can harm a child.

“This risk is especially serious because the release of lead into water is highly variable, such that scientific research has confirmed that a tap that sampled below 1 ppb at one moment could dispense lead in the tens, hundreds, and even thousands of ppb in the next moment,” the Campaign for Lead Free Water said in a position statement opposing the new law.

Nationwide, most schools set a higher threshold, GAO found in its survey. Remediation efforts that schools took included removing fountains from service, replacing plumbing parts that contained lead, and simply running the water for a bit to flush the pipes.

Fully eliminating lead from plumbing materials is the only way to guarantee nobody will drink lead-tainted water. The Environmental Protection Agency has repeatedly delayed revisions to the Safe Drinking Water Act regulation that governs lead in tap water, though it could propose a new version this year. The EPA has not indicated whether requiring utilities to get rid of lead pipes will be a priority.

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San Francisco Now Allows Noncitizens To Vote In School Board Elections

San Francisco will become the first city in California to allow noncitizens to vote for certain positions in an upcoming election. 

On Monday, the city’s Department of Elections began issuing registration forms for the vote on Nov. 6 that allow noncitizen and undocumented parents, guardians and caregivers of students in the San Francisco Unified School District to vote in school board elections.

About one-third of the students in the district come from immigrant households, so the measure will give many parents a rightful voice, Hong Mei Pang, director of advocacy at the San Francisco-based nonprofit Chinese for Affirmative Action, told HuffPost in an email. Pang’s organization is involved in the Immigrant Parent Voting Collaborative, which partnered with the city elections department to spread awareness on the measure. 

“These newly enfranchised voters would now have a direct voice to influence decisions that impact their children’s needs that are often underrepresented, ranging from issues like language access to health and wellness,” Pang told HuffPost. 

Voters in San Francisco initially passed the measure, Proposition N, in 2016, with 54 percent of the vote. The San Francisco Board of Supervisors unanimously adopted the ordinance in May. 

“Voting is paramount to having a voice,” Stevon Cook, vice-president of the SFUSD Board of Education, told reporters. “Seeing our families feel like they have to go into hiding, like they can’t have their concerns heard because of the attacks from the White House, is something we want to stand firmly against. This is part of an overall strategy that assures that families in our city, whether they’re citizens or not, they have a voice in the direction and future of our schools.” 

This is part of an overall strategy that assures that families in our city, whether they’re citizens or not, they have a voice in the direction and future of our schools.
Stevon Cook, vice-president of the SFUSD Board of Education

The San Francisco Unified School District is home to a significant population of immigrants and minorities. Asian-Americans are the largest racial group in the district, making up more than one-third of the student population. Latino students make up the next-largest, with 27 percent. A sizable portion of students ― 24 percent ― are also English language learners. 

Community organizations including Chinese for Affirmative Action, the Central American Resource Center and others have been working to “ensure monolingual, limited-English proficient, and vulnerable immigrants can have linguistically and culturally adaptable access to the full picture,” Pang said. 

Prop N was met with resistance, and it took three attempts to pass the proposition. Some critics of the legislation felt the right to vote should be reserved for citizens.

But Pang argues that historically, communities of color have been disproportionately barred from voting or targeted by voter suppression, and civic engagement will only allow the district to progress. 

“With this initiative, we are democratizing citizenship that lays on the continuum of progress,” she said. “Non-citizens not only contribute to the society through social and political engagement and involvement through their communities, but also are economic stakeholders through their tax dollars that directly fuel institutions like public education.”

Though California is considered a “sanctuary state,” voting doesn’t come risk-free for some undocumented immigrants. The Department of Elections warned that any information it’s provided could be obtained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. 

Hong advises families to assess the risks and their own immigration status prior to participating in the vote “during these times of escalated federal attacks.”

The option to vote, however, is still important against the backdrop of the Trump administration’s crackdown on immigration and its zero tolerance policy toward undocumented immigrants. Though immigrant communities are already on edge, Pang said community organizations have been attempting to strengthen safety nets for immigrant families.

“The current Administration’s policies have already created a chilling effect on immigrant access to public services,” Pang said. “Given this political reality, community-based organizations have been working to strengthen the protections that exist for immigrant communities through the local ordinance that provides guidance to the Department of Elections based on language access, and immigrant rights.” 

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Anonymous Donor Pays Tuition For Medical School’s Entire Inaugural Class

An anonymous $3 million gift will pay for the full tuition of every member of the inaugural class of University of Houston’s College of Medicine, the school announced Wednesday. 

University of Houston President Renu Khator said the donation will have a significant impact on the lives of the 30 students in the class. 

“Student debt is the number one deterrent for students when applying to medical school,” she told local outlet ABC 13. “This generous gift will allow such students an opportunity to attend and ultimately lead the future medical workforce. As a result, the UH College of Medicine will increase access to primary care, enhance quality of life and strengthen Houston as a business destination.”

The money will also go toward the university’s “Here, We Go” campaign to raise $1 billion, according to ABC. 

Average medical school debt was estimated to be $190,000 as of 2016. Twenty-five percent of medical school graduates carry debts higher than $200,000.

Congrats to these lucky future doctors!

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Teacher Who Fired Gun Inside High School Classroom Sentenced To 2 Years

A former Georgia high school teacher has been sentenced to two years in prison for a firing a gun inside a classroom in February.

Jesse Randall Davidson, 53, learned his fate on Tuesday after pleading guilty to several charges related to the incident at Dalton High School.

Those charges included two felonies ― first-degree criminal damage to property and first-degree carrying a weapon within a school safety zone ― and disrupting the operation of a public school, which is a misdemeanor.

Authorities said the former social studies teacher barricaded himself inside his empty classroom as school was in session and then fired a .38-caliber revolver out a window when the school’s principal confronted him at the door.

No one was seriously injured in the Feb. 28 shooting, and Davidson surrendered without further incident.


Jesse Randal Davidson, 53, has been sentenced to two years in prison for firing a gun at Dalton High School in Georgia.

The shooting occurred the same day that classes resumed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, where a lone gunman killed 17 people two weeks earlier.

District Attorney Bert Poston, who announced Davidson’s sentence in a release, said detectives investigating the case determined that Davidson’s goal was likely to be killed by police.

“Davidson cooperated with law enforcement and his attorney, Richard Murray, indicated from the very beginning that he would be entering a guilty plea to the charges and taking responsibility for his actions,” Poston said.

Ahead of Davidson’s plea, Poston said the court heard from students, staff and family of those directly involved.

“There was no way to meet with each victim individually but every effort was made to ensure that any person wishing to be heard or to have a voice in the process was provided that opportunity,” Poston said. “Several individuals wrote letters and provided victim-impact statements to the court.”

Upon his release, Davidson will serve eight years of probation and owe a $1,000 fine, 100 hours of community service, and more than $16,000 restitution. He will also be unable to possess a firearm, must undergo mental health counseling and treatment, and will not be allowed to work, volunteer or set foot on public or private school property.

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Black Students From Atlanta Make History At Harvard Debate Competition

A group of 25 black students from Atlanta, competing against hundreds of young scholars from around the world, made history over the weekend with winning performances in a Harvard debate tournament.

The young scholars were the first backed by scholarships through the Atlanta-based Harvard Debate Council Diversity Project to participate in Harvard’s summer debate council residency.

Harvard Debate Council, which runs the annual summer program at the school’s campus in Cambridge, Massachusetts, divided nearly 400 participants, including high school students from Asia, Europe and Russia, into 12 teams for debate competitions. 

Harvard Debate Council

Jordan Thomas, from Atlanta’s Grady High School, won the competition. He said in a press release that he “was determined to represent my city and my story. I wanted people to see where I came from and how I could keep up with them.”

“Being a young, middle class, black, public school student from the South created a stigma that automatically set me back in comparison to the competition, most of who were international students or from preparatory schools in the Northeast,” said Thomas.

“To bring the championship back to Atlanta was the most satisfying feeling, and to walk onto the campus of one of the most elite universities in the world and meet personal and council goals, brings a unique and new satisfaction that I’ve never experienced.”

The 25 Atlanta scholars, selected for Harvard Debate Council Diversity Project’s inaugural class from about 150 applicants, began the residency program with a daily, 10-hour academic regimen to learn research, analysis, argumentation and political science. Then, using their new skills, they were split into teams for the competition with other high school students from around the world.

Harvard Debate Council

Thomas described the project as “not a competition between each other, rather it is an incubator of intellect and a cultivator of brilliance.”

Notably, most of the Atlanta students were inexperienced debaters. They were from 16 different schools in the region.

Brandon Fleming, a Harvard assistant debate coach who founded Harvard Debate Council Diversity Project, said the project aims to be a “pipeline that would recruit, train and send students of color to Harvard on full scholarship.”

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Delaware Mayor Apologizes After Muslim Kids In Shirts, Hijabs, Kicked Out Of City Pool

The mayor of Wilmington, Delaware, has apologized to a local Islamic school after a group of Muslim children wearing shirts, shorts and hijabs were pressured to leave a public pool.

Mayor Mike Purzycki admitted in a statement Saturday that city officials at the Foster Brown public pool “used poor judgment” in response to the students’ religious clothing requirements.

“We should be held accountable for what happened and how poorly we assessed this incident,” he said. “I apologize to the children who were directed to leave a city pool because of the religious-required clothing they were wearing.”

The statement was a reversal of the officials’ initial reaction, which was to speak of unspecified city policies about bathing suit requirements.

In his apology, Purzycki said that the city “referred to vaguely-worded pool policies to assess and then justify our poor judgement, and that was also wrong.” 

Screenshot from Delaware News Journal video

Tahsiyn Ismaa’eel, the camp director the Darul-Amaanah Academy summer program in Wilmington, Delaware, says children in the program were harassed multiple times about their swimwear at a public pool.

The children are part of a summer Arabic enrichment program run by the Darul-Amaanah Academy, a local Islamic school. For the past four years, students in the program have visited the Foster Brown pool.

Camp director Tahsiyn Ismaa’eel told HuffPost that some girls in the program prefer to wear T-shirts and leggings in the pool. Some also cover their hair with headscarves while swimming. The students’ pool attire conforms with their families’ interpretation of Islamic rules about modest clothing. 

Other religious groups, including some Orthodox Jews and Christians, also encourage members to wear modest clothing while swimming.

Ismaa’eel said she didn’t have any issues with pool management before. But on June 25, the first day of camp this year, facility managers reportedly had a negative reaction to the clothes that the kids wore in the pool.

She said the pool manager repeatedly told camp leaders that cotton clothing was not allowed in the pool. She said staffers at the pool asked her when she was going to leave.

Ismaa’eel said she eventually decided to pull the kids out of the pool.

“If you are making us so uncomfortable that we aren’t enjoying a public facility, if you’re pressuring us by asking what time we’re going to leave … I got the message,” she said. 

Ismaa’eel reached out to Wilmington’s parks and recreation department about the episode. Despite receiving assurance from the department that her kids could wear religious attire in the public pool, she said, she was harassed about the swimwear policy on three other occasions. 

She said no rule prohibiting cotton clothing is posted at the facility. She added that she believes management enforced regulations in a way that discriminated against her students. 

“The bottom line is, if you have a policy, it has to be written, posted and applied across the board ― not arbitrarily,” she said.

Ismaa’eel said she had taken kids from the program to the Foster Brown public pool for the past four yea

Screenshot from Delaware News Journal video

Ismaa’eel said she had taken kids from the program to the Foster Brown public pool for the past four years with no issues.

City officials initially told The Delaware News Journal that the cotton ban is a safety issue, since cotton becomes heavy when wet and could strain the pool’s filtration system. 

Cotton clothing isn’t explicitly banned at public pools by city rules, the Journal reportsState regulations state only, “It is recommended that all bathers should wear bathing suits.” 

Ismaa’eel said she believes pool management used the lack of clarity about the rules to target her students. 

“What happened at Brown pool, from my estimation, is that [the pool manager] weaponized an unwritten policy to target us and to try to keep us out of the pool, to antagonize us and get us banned from the pool,” she said. 

The city now plans to place signage around its public pools to clearly communicate that swimmers must wear proper swimwear made of nylon, spandex or polyester and refrain from wearing cotton or wool. 

For Ismaa’eel, that change may be too little, too late. She said she appreciated the mayor’s apology but believes many of her students may not be able to comply with a rule against cotton. Most come from poor families, she said, and can’t afford expensive swimsuits made to comply with Islamic modesty requirements.   

“Most folks will try to make do with what they have,” she said, which is usually T-shirts and leggings.

Children swim at the Foster Brown public pool in Wilmington, July 12. Mayor Mike Purzycki said in a statement that

Screenshot from Delaware News Journal video

Children swim at the Foster Brown public pool in Wilmington, July 12. Mayor Mike Purzycki said in a statement that city officials at the pool “used poor judgement” regarding the children’s attire.

She added that the atmosphere at the Foster Brown pool has gotten so hostile that she is considering taking her kids to other local swimming pools, like the YWCA’s. 

Perhaps most heartbreaking for Ismaa’eel is that her students seem to be hurt by what’s happening. 

“My campers are observing all of this, and they’re being picked on,” she said. 

She said it’s important for the children enrolled in her summer camp ― especially the special-needs kids ― to get an opportunity to play in the pool just like kids from other communities in the neighborhood. 

“It’s so important. It’s part of your summer experience. Kids love to go to the pool,” she said. “Our special-needs kids especially, they enjoy the water. This is therapeutic for them.” 

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What It’s Like To Be A School Therapist

Public schools across the United States are scrambling to manage students’ mental health ― and the problem is only getting worse.

One in five kids between ages 3 and 17 shows signs of a mental health disorder, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The nonprofit Mental Health America has noted a 3 percent increase in cases of children with severe depression over the past five years. And the number of kids hospitalized for thoughts of suicide or attempted suicide has been rising for the last decade, according to a new study.

Early identification and care are critical, and some schools have dedicated mental health professionals available for students ― but these workers are overstretched and budgets are tight, especially in rural areas, meaning many kids go overlooked. And families don’t always have adequate insurance coverage for treatment. Meanwhile, a staggering 63 percent of children with major depression reported that they did not receive care, according to Mental Health America, putting them at risk of lifelong learning issues and social problems.

Samantha Boatwright, a licensed clinical social worker who works with public school kids, knows these challenges firsthand. She offers counseling to students in Georgia ― ranked one of the worst states for mental health care access ― through the state-funded Georgia Apex Program (GAP). Launched in 2015, the program has partnered with local mental health organizations to bring services like Boatwright’s to more than 300 schools across the state. It has reached thousands of kids who said they’d never received mental health services before.  

Dustin Chambers for HuffPost

Boatright sits in her office in the Board of Education building in Thomasville.

The program focuses mostly on schools in underserved areas. Boatwright herself is based in the rural southwest part of the state. “Income is definitely a barrier to receiving mental health treatment in our area,” the 29-year-old therapist said. “We work with a lot of lower-income families.”

HuffPost spoke to Boatwright about how she’s hoping to help families struggling to understand mental illness in children and why working with children on their mental health is crucial for development.

This interview was edited and condensed for clarity.

Tell me about your work with GAP.

I’m a therapist and supervisor for GAP, working with children from ages 4 to 18, or until they graduate from high school. Most of my work has been with younger children, primarily those in kindergarten through middle school.

We take most of our referrals for students in need from guidance counselors or teachers. We start out by providing a behavioral health assessment that gives us a comprehensive overview of what’s going on so we can provide mental health services that fit the needs of the student. My work helps students going through anything from divorce to depression and anxiety. Some students have even come in with suicidal thoughts.

How can something like GAP help these children? What would happen if a child doesn’t receive the help they need?

It’s important to reach children with mental health issues early. Early intervention is important and it teaches children how to deal and cope with emotions during a stressful time. Depending on the issues they have, their mental health can potentially get worse or stressful situations can compound an already present issue.

Boatright displays art given to her by kids she works with.

Dustin Chambers for HuffPost

Boatright displays art given to her by kids she works with.

What does it feel like for you to offer these services to kids in an area where they’re not readily available?

It’s rewarding, fulfilling and challenging all at the same time. It’s rewarding to see the difference receiving services does for these kids during the most challenging times in their lives. Watching these kids grow and begin to cope with the stressors in their lives is fulfilling. It feels good to know and to be able to see that I’m making a difference.

We are able to provide services to children who otherwise wouldn’t be able to receive them whether it be due to financial reasons, lack of transportation or simply being unavailable. Some of the private providers in our area have waitlists that are several months out.

Have stressful situations like reports of gun violence played any role in the mental health of the children you’re working with?

The reports that are in the news do frighten the children. If their parents are watching television and the child sees it, that seems to become a concern for them. I have had kids ask questions about it and about safety. Some children have asked what to do when they feel unsafe. That’s something I’ve been working with them on.

In working with the children, what are some of the challenges that you’ve faced?

Sometimes within our program, we can struggle with getting parent participation. It’s not impossible, and it’s not all parents, but if we could increase parent participation that would help the children. Parents also need to learn how to cope with a child’s mental health issues.

Kids dealing with mental health issues need to have support outside of school. When children leave school, they need someone to remind them of how to use coping skills and to help them understand what they’re feeling.

Boatright outside of the entrance to the Board of Education building where she works in Thomasville.

Dustin Chambers for HuffPost

Boatright outside of the entrance to the Board of Education building where she works in Thomasville.

What do you think is important for parents or others to know about the struggles of mental health in children?

No matter the age of your child, it’s OK to ask for help. The more that we talk about mental health issues in children and the more it’s out in the open, the more it becomes normalized. It’s good for other parents to know that it’s not just their child going through this.

For parents reading that might not have a program like GAP, where should they turn and what should they do if they’re concerned about their child’s mental well-being?

Look for a mental health agency, like a psychiatrist or therapist in your community. Make sure to explain to them what’s going on with your child. In extreme cases for example, if a child is in danger of harming themselves or others, or a mental health situation is getting out of control with rapid mood swings, agitation, hallucinations or substance abuse, and parents fear they are no longer able to de-escalate the situation, then parents may want to consider making a trip to the emergency room for their child.

If you or someone you know needs help, call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. You can also text HOME to 741-741 for free, 24-hour support from the Crisis Text Line. Outside of the U.S., please visit the International Association for Suicide Prevention for a database of resources.

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Officials Fighting Release Of Parkland Shooting Videos

Roughly five months have passed since Florida’s deadly Parkland school shooting, and the public has yet to see exterior video surveillance footage that may shed light on the actions of law enforcement.

On Tuesday during a hearing before the Florida Fourth District Court of Appeal in West Palm Beach, a school board attorney and a lawyer representing the Broward state attorney argued against releasing the videos, The Miami Herald reported.

The school board attorney reportedly said releasing footage from the Feb. 14 attack, which authorities say was carried out by former student Nikolas Cruz, would jeopardize the “integrity” of security at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

The state attorney’s lawyer argued that the footage is “criminal investigative information” and therefore exempt from public records laws.

A coalition of nearly a dozen media outlets, including CNN, The South Florida Sun Sentinel and The Miami Herald, filed suit against the school board and Broward County Sheriff’s Office in late February after they were denied access to the exterior recordings. The lawsuit asked the court to compel the defendants to release the surveillance footage.


A still image in a video from WSNV.com shows students being evacuated from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Feb. 14, 2018.

Sheriff’s deputies have been under intense scrutiny for their response to the shooting after officers from the Coral Springs Police Department ― who were also dispatched to the school and the first to gain entry ― alleged that deputies took cover outside the building.

The media consortium lawsuit argues that the videos may reveal what actions responding deputies took. The gunman killed 17 people and wounded more than a dozen. Authorities did not enter the school until more than 10 minutes after the first shots were fired.

“First, there is a strong public interest in having the public — and more specifically Florida citizens — fully evaluate how first responders and police reacted during the most critical phases of this terrible tragedy,” reads the lawsuit, which was filed on Feb. 26 by Dana J. McElroy of Thomas & LoCicero.

The lawsuit adds: “Disclosing this video footage from exterior cameras (not the interior where the shooting occurred), lies at the core of understanding exactly how events unfolded and will provide critical insight into the propriety of the government’s response.”

In March, a judge ordered the release of four redacted video clips that show former Broward County sheriff’s deputy Scot Peterson standing behind a concrete wall during the mass shooting, The Sun Sentinel reported. Peterson resigned after an investigation by the sheriff’s office found that he’d failed to engage the shooter.

President Donald Trump heaped scorn on Peterson and theorized that he was either a “coward” or “didn’t react properly under pressure.”

“When it came time to get in there and do something, he didn’t have the courage or something happened,” Trump said after the release of the videos, according to USA Today. “But he certainly did a poor job. There’s no question about that. That’s a case where somebody was outside, they’re trained, they didn’t act properly or under pressure or they were a coward. It was a real shock to the police department.”

While officials did not appeal the judge’s decision to release the four video clips, they are challenging the release of additional videos.

The news organizations’ lawsuit requests only video clips from exterior cameras that captured law enforcement’s response, according to The Miami Herald. The suit does not seek the release of video from interior cameras.

Parkland shooting suspect Nikolas Cruz during a February court appearance.

POOL New / Reuters

Parkland shooting suspect Nikolas Cruz during a February court appearance.

“The footage is the only objective evidence of what occurred and when,” Barbara Petersen, president of the First Amendment Foundation, said Tuesday, according to The Miami Herald. “The whole purpose of our open government laws is oversight and accountability. Access to the video footage allows us to hold those accountable who may not have done their jobs.”

It’s unclear when a ruling on the videos will be issued.

Cruz is charged with 17 counts of first-degree murder, and prosecutors are seeking the death penalty. His attorneys have said he would plead guilty in exchange for a life sentence without parole.

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

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Top Universities Balk At Trump’s Rollback Of Affirmative Action Guidelines

At least a dozen top U.S. universities have turned up their noses at the Trump administration’s rollback of Obama-era affirmative action directives.

Between 2011 and 2016, President Barack Obama issued several guidelines recommending colleges use race as a factor in admissions to boost the number of underrepresented minorities in higher education. Last week, the Justice Department announced the rollback of the guidelines as part of the elimination of 24 federal guidance documents, saying they were “unnecessary, outdated, inconsistent with existing law, or otherwise improper.”

Colleges that defy federal guidelines could be subject to a federal investigation or lawsuit or lose funding from the U.S. Department of Education. Still, top schools from around the nation — including five Ivy league institutions — told HuffPost that they plan to continue using race as a factor in admissions. 

Harvard University, which is in the middle of a closely watched lawsuit about its admissions practices, said it plans to buck the federal government’s new guidelines to ensure the diversity of its student body.

“Harvard will continue to vigorously defend its right, and that of all colleges and universities, to consider race as one factor among many in college admissions, which has been upheld by the Supreme Court for more than 40 years,” a Harvard spokeswoman said.

Brown University said it will also maintain its current policies, adding that the school would oppose any laws that would prevent it from doing so.

“Through our race-conscious admission practices, Brown assembles the diverse range of perspectives and experiences essential for a learning and research community that prepares students to thrive in a complex and changing world,” a university spokesperson said.

Dartmouth College said it will continue to exercise its right to affirmative action, citing the Supreme Court’s multiple rulings upholding the controversial practice. The Supreme Court deemed affirmative action constitutional in two court cases in 2003, saying that diversity is a “compelling governmental interest” to justify the use of racial preferences in college admissions. In 2016, the court reaffirmed the ruling in Fisher v. University of Texas.

Schools in the South (College of William and Mary, Rice University and Emory University) and New England (Tufts University, Middlebury College) told HuffPost they would also continue to consider race as an admissions factor.

“We have found that a diverse student body adds to the breadth of perspectives that enhance student learning and contribute to constructive engagement with undergraduate life,” a Rice University spokesperson said. “In some cases, race or ethnicity may be considered as one factor among many.”

Two days after the government’s announcement, Gov. Andrew Cuomo directed the New York state system to adhere to existing diversity and inclusion plans.

“The new federal action should have no bearing on admission policies and should not interfere with SUNY’s and CUNY’s commitment to a diverse and inclusive student body,” Cuomo wrote in an open letter to university trustees. “We will continue to work together to dismantle barriers to social and economic mobility and extend the promise of equal opportunity to all New Yorkers.”

Together, SUNY and CUNY encompass 88 campuses serving more than 800,000 students in New York.

Several colleges are already restricted from affirmative action under state laws. California, which is home to the University of California system that currently teaches more than 235,000 students, has barred colleges from considering race in admissions. Seven other states also ban affirmative action at their public universities: Arizona, Florida, Michigan, Nebraska, New Hampshire, Oklahoma and Washington.

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Why ‘Child Care Deserts’ Remain, Even As States Increase Preschool Funding

Research suggests that early childhood education primes young minds for academic and social success. And yet in much of the country, many parents struggle to find any day care at all.

To get more young children into high-quality programs, an increasing number of cities and states are imposing academic standards and other rules on child care providers and using public money to expand access to them.

At least 16 states now offer preschool programs to more than a third of 4-year-olds, up from three states plus Washington, D.C., in 2002. And nationwide, states have increased preschool funding by 47 percent in the past five years.

“What we’re seeing is an influx of state policymakers starting to wrap their arms around the fact that learning doesn’t start in kindergarten,” said Bruce Atchison of the Education Commission of the States, a Denver-based nonprofit. “You have to have high-quality pre-K programs, and programs for younger children too.”

Closer scrutiny has come with a cost: In some places, stricter regulations for child care providers may be exacerbating the shortage of slots. Small providers who care for children in their homes also can find it difficult to comply with rules regarding sprinkler systems, radon detectors and fire escape plans.

In California, the number of licensed providers caring for children in private homes declined by 30 percent in the last 10 years, according to the California Child Care Resource and Referral Network.

“We’re trying to understand the barriers for home-care providers,” said Rowena Kamo, the network’s research director. “We want to build up the supply of what are really small businesses.”

In a 2017 study of 22 states that make up two-thirds of the U.S. population, the Center for American Progress, a left-leaning think tank in Washington, D.C., found that more than half of the children in those states lived in “child care deserts,” neighborhoods or communities with no child care options or so few providers that there are more than three children for every licensed child care slot.

Overall, child care deserts were most common in lower-income rural areas, but they could be found in urban areas too.

In Oakland, California, for example, 63 percent of children under 5 years old live in a child care desert, the study found. There also are significant child care shortages in San Jose (62 percent), Austin (50 percent), Miami (35 percent), Atlanta (33 percent), and Denver (27 percent).

The proportion of residents living in child care deserts ranged from 24 percent in Iowa to 62 percent in California.

“It shows just how ubiquitous the child care shortage is,” said Rasheed Malik, senior policy analyst at the Center for American Progress. “In big cities, it’s very common, as well as in low-density rural areas. But it’s also a problem in suburbs of all types and in all the states that we looked at.”

Many areas with child care shortages would get a boost from the federal budget President Donald Trump signed several months ago. The budget includes an additional $5.8 billion over the next two years for the Child Care Development Block Grant, money that states can use to help low-income families pay for child care so they can work or attend job training.

In Arkansas, Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson said his state would spend $26 million of its share of that money to wipe out its waitlist for subsidized child care.

Texas’ federal grant under the program would double to nearly $1 billion a year, according to Robert Sanborn, president and CEO of the Houston-based nonprofit Children at Risk, which advocates on issues affecting children.

“That will cause a huge push to help provide child care,” Sanborn said. But the new child care slots won’t all provide high-quality instruction, he cautioned.

“If parents don’t have a close-by relative, they are finding the cheapest, safest, cleanest place they can for their children, but it’s basically the warehousing of children,” Sanborn said. “It may be clean and safe, but there’s no learning going on.”

In the District of Columbia, widely considered a leader in providing child care to its residents, officials hope to avoid that problem by requiring that preschool teachers and directors have bachelor’s degrees or certificates in early childhood learning.

“We try to avoid the [term] ‘day care’ because this is about education,” said Elizabeth Groginsky, assistant superintendent of early learning in Washington, D.C. “It used to be babysitting, but it’s not anymore.”

Low Wages and Stricter Rules

Child care can be extraordinarily expensive, so much so that it was the top reason cited in a recent survey of young adults by Morning Consult for The New York Times about why they’ll have fewer children than they considered ideal. Child care is the highest single household expense in most regions of the country, and families are spending 20 to 30 percent of their incomes on it, according to the advocacy group Child Care Aware America. In 28 states and the District of Columbia, it costs more to send your child to day care than to a public university.

One reason for the shortage is that it doesn’t pay to be a child care provider. According to the Center for the Study of Child Care Employment at the University of California, Berkeley, the median wage for child care workers is about $10 an hour.

“People think it’s about holding a baby; it’s not,” said Judy Berman of the D.C. Appleseed Center for Law and Justice in Washington. “People think it’s just about changing a diaper; it’s not. A lot goes on when you’re changing a diaper.”

The first thousand days of a baby’s life are critical, said Lori Turk-Bicakci, a senior research manager at the Lucile Packard Foundation for Children’s Health in Palo Alto, California.

“You want a child care provider, whether it’s a relative or parent or whoever is touching the baby, to be looking at them, making eye contact, talking to them,” she said. “Those simple things are so important.”

But using public money to boost the salaries of child care workers can be a tough sell, even in liberal areas with a shortage of child care providers.

Voters in Alameda County, home of Oakland, narrowly defeated a ballot initiative last month that would have raised the sales tax a half-cent for 30 years, bringing in about $140 million a year to increase pay to $15 an hour for child care workers and expand access to child care for low- and middle-income parents.

Stricter regulations also can be a barrier to providing more child care opportunities, according to Carrie Lukas, president of the Independent Women’s Forum, a conservative nonprofit focused on economic issues facing women.

“All of these regulations sound like common sense, but you wonder how those are applied,” Lukas said. “If you’re having radon testing, and can’t have a baby sleeping in a room without an adult present, it needlessly raises costs.”

The Denver Fire Department recently barred new child care providers from caring for more than five children unless they have a sprinkler system. According to Liddy Romero, executive director of WorkLife Partnership, a nonprofit that is working with companies to create more child care in the city, a $30,000 sprinkler system is an expense that many at-home providers can’t afford.

Licensing issues are “going to prevent big change from happening” in child care availability, Romero said.

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Teacher Invites 80 Students To Her Wedding Because She ‘Couldn’t Picture Getting Married Without Them’

Newly married teacher Ashlyn (Houck) Kurtz considers her students family. So when it was time to send out the invitations to her Philadelphia wedding ceremony, it was a no-brainer that the third grade teacher would invite her “kids.”

“We spend a lot of time together during the school year and they become a very important part of my life, and I just couldn’t picture getting married without them as a part of it,” Kurtz tells Yahoo Lifestyle.

She invited the third grade class and a class of fourth graders she taught the year prior to her June 22 nuptials — about 80 students total — with superhero-themed invites to match her hero-decorated classroom. With the support of their parents, about 30 children showed up at the ceremony at St. Cecilia’s Church, the church associated with the school that Kurtz has taught at for the last four years.

Courtesy of Jacquelyn Gaffney Black

Guests and the photographer alike snapped photos of the blushing bride surrounded by a group of smiling students, who have been involved in the wedding festivities since the beginning. The teacher’s now-husband, Matt Kurtz, involved her class in his proposal in 2014 and the parents threw the couple a surprise superhero-themed bridal shower leading up to the big day.

The couple didn’t believe that their wedding should be any different.

“As a class, we share our lives. They tell me all about what is going on in their lives and I do the same,” she says.

She also wanted the students to know how amazing love is.

“They are not just students in my class during the school year, but at your wedding you want your special people there and that I want all my special people with me all the time. That they are ‘my kids, my heroes,’” she said.

Courtesy of Jacquelyn Gaffney Black

A mom of two daughters in the third grade class tells Yahoo that the wedding was a great experience for her twin daughters: “She is an incredible teacher.”

Of course, it wouldn’t be a full-on school affair if a school bus wasn’t involved, which the Kurtzes used as their wedding transportation.

Courtesy of Jacquelyn Gaffney Black

 “With my love of teaching and him proposing in my classroom, it just felt right,” she says.

Read more from Yahoo Lifestyle: 

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Here’s What School Is Really Like For Some Migrant Children Separated From Their Parents

Serious challenges, including a lack of experienced teachers, may be undermining the federal government’s efforts to educate undocumented children in its care, according to five former employees of Southwest Key Programs, a nonprofit network of shelters the government pays to take care of migrant children.

Although many teachers and staff at Southwest Key facilities deeply care about the kids, it’s not clear how much students are learning, and teachers sometimes serve more as babysitters than educators, the ex-employees said.

Southwest Key shelters thousands of unaccompanied immigrant children on behalf of the federal government until they are released to a sponsor, such as a relative. The government, which is legally required to educate undocumented kids, requires organizations like Southwest Key to provide the children with at least six hours of age-appropriate education a day, Monday to Friday, in basic academic areas like science, math and reading.

Like many other shelter organizations, Southwest Key has witnessed an influx of children in recent months as the Trump administration’s zero-tolerance policy on illegal border crossings led to thousands of children being separated from their families.

But at a Southwest Key shelter for migrant children in Channelview, Texas, teachers acted almost like a cross between prison guards and babysitters, said Julie Minerbo, who worked as a therapist at the center in February and March 2018. Minerbo was terminated after managers said her Spanish was inadequate — a claim she disputes.

Minerbo and the other former employees cited in this article didn’t have access to curriculums. But they witnessed students of all ages sitting in the same classrooms together. They often seemed to be lacking books or materials, with a teacher serving to make sure no one hurt themselves or ran away, she said.

“It never really seemed like there was much education,” Minerbo added.

A spokesman for Southwest Key directed all questions to the Department of Health and Human Services, which did not reply to HuffPost’s request for comment.

The kids barely learn anything; they’re watching number videos, listening to reggaeton and coloring.
Antar Davidson, former youth care worker in Tucson, Arizona

Southwest Key emphasizes that its shelters are not detention centers. Children are also only supposed to live in government-funded shelters for relatively brief periods of time before being reunited with family members. (The average length of stay for an unaccompanied minor in the program is about 57 days, the government says.)

Salvador Cavazos, Southwest Key’s vice president over education services, said that details of their education services are proprietary information, according to the Dallas Morning News. Southwest Key and HHS did not tell HuffPost why a publicly funded education service is proprietary.

It’s also not yet clear how the influx of kids under the zero-tolerance policy will affect education services. Overall, Juan Sanchez, president and CEO of Southwest Key, told NPR last month that they were “caught off guard by it ramping up so quickly. And we’ve hired now all the staff we need, but it took us a while to be able to do that.”

Migrant shelters are complex and challenging educational environments. Children come in with different education levels, and many have dropped out of school at a young age or been unable to safely attend schools in their home countries, said Fátima Menéndez, legislative attorney with the Mexican-American Legal Defense and Education Fund.

Many of the migrant children Menéndez saw when working for another organization were far behind their U.S. counterparts in school, she said, and may have had limited access to education in their home countries. Children may also speak indigenous languages other than Spanish that require specific instruction and spend varying amounts of time at the shelters before they are released. And they may arrive at the shelters deeply traumatized by their journeys across the border.

MANDEL NGAN via Getty Images

People protest as first lady Melania Trump visits Southwest Key’s facility for children in Phoenix on June 28, 2018.

Staff members might not know whether a child would be in the facility for 15 days or 12 months before being placed with a sponsor, explained Irma Gonzalez, who worked as an assistant lead case manager for Southwest Key in Texas from January to May 2017. Gonzalez wasn’t privy to individual lesson plans. Staff intentions were good, she felt, but she nonetheless saw kids “just sitting there coloring, the teacher standing there babysitting.”

Teachers are “really trying” and “working hard,” but they don’t have resources, echoed Antar Davidson, who was a youth care worker at the Estrella del Norte shelter in Tucson, Arizona, before quitting earlier last month. “The kids barely learn anything; they’re watching number videos, listening to reggaeton and coloring,” Davidson said.

This environment would be a challenge for any teacher, but according to some former staffers, Southwest Key only required minimal experience in education.  

A Southwest Key job posting for a teacher in Phoenix asks that candidates be least 21, have a bachelor’s degree in education or a related field, and 1-2 years of paid or unpaid experience working with youth. Teachers are expected to maintain a grade book and implement daily instruction in “all core subject areas,” including ESL, physical education and vocational courses. A posting for a lead teacher in Houston, Texas requires a combination of a bachelor’s degree with a state certificate, or a master’s degree.

Public school teachers in Texas, by comparison, are required to have a bachelor’s degree, to complete an approved teacher preparation program involving experience in the classroom and to pass teacher certification exams. In Arizona, a bachelor’s degree is also required to be a secondary school teacher, along with completion of a teacher preparation program or 30 semester-hours of education courses and a specific license. At the same time, both states are currently suffering from teacher shortages.

A Southwest Key spokesman told ProPublica the nonprofit has “rigorous hiring standards” and that staffers undergo a minimum of 80 hours of classroom and on-the-job training before they can supervise a child, with additional mandatory training each year.

Jose Elias Martinez was hired for a teaching job in a Southwest Key shelter in June. He studied engineering in college and spent some time tutoring younger kids and college students, but had never formally worked as a teacher before getting hired at Casa Phoenix, he told HuffPost. He had to leave the job after several weeks of training because his background check raised red flags. He is still hoping to return to a Southwest Key classroom.

“I was kind of going through a job transition,” said Martinez, 27,  who learned about the job through a LinkedIn advertisement. “I was intrigued by the fact that it was all over the news.”

Outside of the classrooms, too, students moved in a highly restricted environment that seemed like a mix of high school and prison culture, Martinez said. Other staff members had described it in a similar way.

Southwest Key would take kids on field trips and celebrate holidays, Gonzalez said. Job postings say there are activities for Cesar Chavez Day and the Fourth of July, and that there are visits to museums and a water conservation center.

At BCFS Health and Human Services, another nonprofit, kids could decorate a Christmas tree and receive little presents, recalled Gonzalez, who previously worked for the group in Harlingen, Texas. But she noted that staffers were “very careful not to give them anything that could be turned into a weapon.”

House Democrats sent a letter to Trump administration officials last week seeking additional information on how the government is ensuring that educational standards for unaccompanied minors are being met, and about the credentials and experience of teachers. They requested a response by Friday.

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Fraternity Accuses Restaurant Of Canceling Event Because Members Are Black

A predominantly black fraternity in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, is suing a local restaurant it says refused to rent an event space to members because, they were told, “we’ve had problems with your kind before.”

The Tuscaloosa Alumni Chapter of Kappa Alpha Psi filed a racial discrimination lawsuit in U.S. District Court on June 27 accusing the Cypress Inn of two counts of racial discrimination stemming from February, when the group attempted to rent a pavilion, according to Al.com.

The complaint accuses the restaurant of not offering the same services to the predominantly black organization that it would provide to white customers.

The suit claims the alumni group planned a social event and fundraiser at the Inn for Feb. 23 and paid a $1,500 reservation fee, according to the Tuscaloosa News.

However, the Cypress Inn canceled the event on Feb. 6 and refunded the deposit after meeting with chapter President Clifton Warren.

He said he went to the restaurant to make final arrangements only to have a staff member tell him that, due to security concerns, the inn would no longer host the event, according to CNN.

The lawsuit says the staff member, a white woman, told Warren she hadn’t known his organization was an “all black” group.

Warren said he explained that the fraternity’s membership consisted of “African-American professionals and business leaders,” and he offered to pay for additional security and to assume liability.

Despite that, the restaurant still refused, and Warren told CNN that the restaurant’s owner, Renea Henson, told him, “We’ve had problems with your kind before.”

The group ended up holding its event at another location, but the change of venue caused the fraternity to lose money from the event, which was supposed to raise funds for local mentoring programs, according to the lawsuit.

The restaurant insists the allegations of discrimination “are completely untrue,” and released a statement to The Associated Press on Tuesday:

“Our outside security firm recommended against hosting the party because the fraternity was proposing to sell tickets to the public and our security firm strongly recommended against hosting that type party out of concern for public safety.

“We look forward to presenting the complete facts to the Court. We are confident we will prevail.”

The fraternity chapter seeks monetary damages as well as an injunction barring the restaurant from discriminating in the future.

“This is 2018, and this is just not acceptable,” Roderick T. Cooks, an attorney representing the chapter, told CNN. “There’s no place for it, especially here in this state, where sensitivity should be heightened to this kind of thing.”

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Teachers’ Activism Will Survive The Janus Supreme Court Ruling

By Sherman Dorn, Arizona State University/The Conversation

The Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision in Janus v. AFSCME 31 will hurt public employee unions in both membership and funding.

The majority opinion, written by Associate Justice Samuel Alito, said that requiring public employees who are not union members to pay fees to a union for representation compels them “to subsidize the speech of other private speakers” – a union. That, the justices ruled, violates the First Amendment.

This decision essentially turns all of the United States into a “right-to-work” environment for public employees. That means unions in the majority of states can continue to represent teachers, police and other public workers, but those unions can’t require workers to join or pay representation fees. The ruling affects hundreds of thousands of teachers, public health workers and police officers in 21 states from Hawaii to Maine.

As a scholar of the history of post-World War II education policy, I see this decision as an important landmark in the history of teachers unions. The Supreme Court ruling is a serious legal and financial blow, but it will not kill public employee unions, teachers unions – or the ability of teachers to work together to amplify their voices for social change.

The choice for teachers unions

Collective bargaining is an important role for unions, but it’s important to understand that unions have long been about more than that.

Hartford History Project

Hartford teachers strike, 1968.

Starting in the 19th century, teachers – who were mostly womenfought for decades to gain the right of union representation. That fight was not just about fair salaries and treatment. There has always been a social and political side of unionism. The first major teachers’ union in Chicago allied with social reformers to sue for the collection of corporate taxes in the early 20th century, for example. The enforcement of those corporate taxes funded schools and city services in general.

Decades later, national teachers’ unions and union leaders often worked in collaboration with civil rights organizations. In the battle over voting rights in Selma, Alabama, teachers led by the Rev. Frederick Reesecomprised the first group of professionals to join the voting rights marches, in January 1965.

These two dimensions of union history – advocacy for workers of specific employers and a broader engagement about the terms of politics and the social contract –– have consistently been at play, true of local as well as national unions. Activist unions fight for parental leave and early childhood education – for values, in addition to salaries and a lunch that teachers can take by themselves.

Looking ahead

Activist unions can survive in a “right-to-work” environment.

I know this personally. When I worked in Florida, I recruited dozens of my colleagues to join my university’s faculty union. Since the revision of the state’s constitution in 1968, Florida’s teachers and other public employees have operated under the state’s “right-to-work” provision in the state constitution. In other words, the United Faculty of Florida thus had the same legal context all public employee unions now face after Janus. When promoting membership, I explained what our union did concretely. But many of my former colleagues joined because our union defended values shared by faculty.

Arizona teachers striking in April.

AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin

Arizona teachers striking in April.

This spirit of activism was on display this year as thousands of teachers in West Virginia, Arizona and Oklahoma effectively organized despite having no union. Arizona’s teachers shut down schools for six days. They pushed a conservative legislature and governor into making a down payment on increased funding for schools and teacher salaries.

Like their counterparts in West Virginia and North Carolina, Arizona’s teachers persuaded the public that they were walking out on behalf of their students and on behalf of what education could and should be.

In making the case about more than teacher salaries, Arizona teachers revived a long history of social movement by teachers. The teachers who started the movement to organize the walkout were not leaders of a union, but they made the type of impact on teachers’ lives and public policy that we usually associate with unions.

Legal status is not the only factor that determines what teachers unions and a public workers social movement can accomplish.

In my opinion, those who think the Janus ruling is irrelevant are fooling themselves. So are those who think this decision will kill all public employee unions.

The factors that pushed teachers to unionize in the past century will not go away. The tools at their disposal may change – but the drive to improve their careers and workplaces will continue.

Sherman Dorn is Professor of Education at Arizona State University. He wrote this article for The Conversation, a website bringing ideas from experts to the public. Read more analysis on education.

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Grown-ups Defend Teen’s Right To Cuss Out Congress Over Gun Laws

Months before protesters disrupted Kirstjen Nielsen’s dinner and the owner of a farm-to-table restaurant asked Sarah Huckabee Sanders to leave and hecklers confronted Pam Bondi at a movie theater, 17-year-old Noah Christiansen walked out of class, called his congressman’s office, and said lawmakers should “get off their fucking asses.”

By the phony standards of our national discourse, this was uncivil stuff — never mind that at the time of the call Christiansen was participating in a nationwide school walk-out to demand action on gun control, a civil cause in every sense. This was about a month after the mass shooting in Parkland, Florida, where a gunman killed 17 people at a high school. Christiansen had placed a call to Rep. Mark Amodei (R-Nev.), a National Rifle Association-endorsed politician, who has called for loosening restrictions on gun sales.

You might remember what happened next. Arturo Garzon, the staffer in Amodei’s office who’d taken the call, was unmoved by the high-schooler’s plea for life-saving intervention. But he was bothered by Christiansen’s use of profanity. And so he phoned up the kid’s school in Reno and tattled. Administrators at Robert McQueen High School suspended Christiansen two days for what it determined was an act of “defiance/disrespect/insubordination.” He was also told he couldn’t serve as the school’s class secretary.

The incident was an early entry in our dispiriting National Civility Debate, in which people with little power are scolded by elites for expressing themselves in a manner commensurate with the stakes of this fucking political moment. Emails obtained via a public records request show a fuller picture: of the pettiness of authority figures, sure, but also of what “civility” really means to the sort of people who don’t hang out in TV green rooms.

According to one email, the school’s principal, Amy Marable, justified the punishment by describing Christiansen as a student with a history of behaving uncivilly. In a letter responding to the American Civil Liberties Union, which had taken up Christiansen’s cause, Marable said that he used the “the F word repeatedly” at a debate tournament, had argued that the school’s dress code restrictions on women baring their shoulders promoted rape culture, and handed out condoms in the hallway after being told the school clinic would not provide them to students.

The school eventually removed the suspension from Christiansen’s record and allowed him to serve in student government — but only after hearing from the ACLU and a bunch of angry grown-ups from all over the country. Email after email to Marable chastised the principal for not seeing that the greater obscenity was the phenomenon the teen was addressing — the political cowardice that has created a generation of students like Christiansen who have to worry about getting gunned down in the middle of math class.

One man, who identified himself as an “educator,” advised Marable to tell Amodei and his staff to “fuck off.” (The school redacted Christiansen’s name from all the emails provided to HuffPost.)


Amodei is “a true snowflake,” another remarked.


A professor at Columbia University weighed in and said that Amodei should “get off his fucking ass” and pass gun legislation.


“If people are not passionate and willing to speak out about change more innocent children and people are going to die,” one woman wrote.


Schools should encourage students to call their elected officials, a lawyer wrote.


Even the more civilized adults who thought Christiansen shouldn’t have cussed thought the school went too far.



Teenagers say “fuck” all the time, one eighth-grade teacher helpfully informed Marable.


How can we expect a student to be more polite than the president, several grown-ups wrote.




People who wrote school administrators on Christiansen’s behalf received a carefully worded non-answer about the importance of free speech from the Washoe County School District.


The school’s response did not go over well.



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Why I’ll Still Put ‘Asian’ On College Applications Even If It Costs Me Admission

When it comes to identity, most think “who are you?” The question I’ve consistently heard is, “what are you?”

Some insist I’m Brazilian and others guess I’m from the Middle East, but my mom’s Indian and my dad’s white. While being biracial has kept me constantly aware of both my ethnicities, the college admissions process has sparked an identity crisis.

In seventh grade, it started. “You could apply for a Hispanic scholarship,” my sister said at the dinner table, half-jokingly, “since Mom’s maiden name is Fernandez and most people think you look Hispanic.”

There isn’t anything Hispanic about my identity; my mom’s maiden name only stems from Portuguese missionaries in her Indian village. Even in seventh grade, I knew who I was — part white, but not quite. I was aware my white friends probably weren’t wearing churidars to their Christmas celebrations. I could smell that their mothers’ cooking certainly had fewer spices. And as I gathered from their constant invitations to hang out, their parents weren’t nearly as strict about homework, grades or performance.

I was Indian-American and I had no problem with that.

I was realizing that according to colleges, however, to have Indian blood is to be robotic, passionless and devoid of personality. Harvard, for example, is the pinnacle of education but apparently not fond of the personalities of Asians. To suspect a bias against Asian-American students is one thing. But to realize that the perception of coming up short in having a “positive personality” and being “widely respected” contributes to a 24 percent decrease in accepted Asian-Americans is another.

Harvard’s dismissal of Asians feels like a high school popularity contest — as if the elite school is telling me, “No matter how hard or passionately you work on your education, unless you’re liked you’ll only be that nerdy Indian kid.”

Naturally, I dodged from these stereotypes and disadvantages and searched for other routes to my college dreams.

I was realizing that according to colleges, however, to have Indian blood is to be robotic, passionless and devoid of personality

The advice continued to float by in high school, though. An article popped up about a company that helps with college applications that advised top students to “appear less Asian.” The evidence was piling up — getting into an elite college meant hiding my ethnicity. It was a hurtful message. Apparently, the culture I loved and lived with was unappreciated and disdained. Still, college was my goal and so I convinced myself: I could just be white!

At the start of junior year, however, I stopped being so sure. As I perused college essay questions, the words “background” and “identity” kept popping up. I pictured paragraphs on being biracial and bilingual. I knew the adaptability, open-mindedness and cultural knowledge central to my identity was thanks to my heritage. Learning my mother’s native tongue, Malayalam, had opened me up to the world. I was so grateful and proud of my heritage.

Just as quickly as I had these fond thoughts, I deleted my imaginary paragraphs. It felt like I was deleting myself but if I answered these questions instinctively and truthfully, I’d give away my Asian ethnicity and, according to all my gathered statistics and advice, possibly cost myself a college admission.

Rebecca Stevenson

The author and her mother.

But here was my dilemma: There was no question I could figure out how to entirely answer without being Indian. I couldn’t communicate my personal identity with colleges without revealing my ethnicity. Since birth, I had been explaining my heritage to confused faces with pride, and my unpracticed attempt in hiding it only left me feeling ashamed.

I decided to take a different approach — I would be the very best Asian I could be. Khan Academy’s SAT prep replaced my social life and became a constant companion. The SAT transformed into a desperate idol and the numbers became the defining factor of my identity.

But numbers are not reliable and the identity sharply shattered when the marks for my first SAT came in more than 100 points below my target. I had failed in making a stellar SAT score part of my identity. Still, the relentlessly hard-working Indian culture predictably prodded me forward without hesitation. So I picked up the pieces of my fallen pride, studied again with renewed humility and received a score over my initial goal. But then what? My obsession didn’t stop. I wasn’t satisfied.

My supposed embracing of Asian stereotypes had led me to a path of dangerous idolization. Where I was once content with personal devotion and honest ambition, I became concerned with college success by whatever means necessary. My mother and her culture had, throughout my life, encouraged me to work hard, study hard and pursue what I love. However, I had pushed away my true heritage, as well as the words of my parents, and allowed the college and media stereotypes of a culture to pressure me and define my identity.

The truth — the truth I now realize — is that I am unlike any other Asian. No Asian is like any other Asian. Sure, some work hard on their standardized tests. Some play violin like maestros. Others don’t wish to go to college at all. Regardless, they are all Asian and so am I. How I look on a college application defines neither my identity nor my ethnicity. 

The truth — the truth I now realize — is that I am unlike any other Asian. No Asian is like any other Asian

My tumultuous journey with college applications during junior year did reveal that I was, whether I liked it or not, Asian. I wasn’t a stereotype but I did have my culture. If I didn’t have an Indian mother, I without a doubt would not have the work ethic that I have. I would not have the love of ancient stories and civilizations that I have. I would not have the awareness of poverty in both the United States and India. A life where I am not Indian is a life where I am not myself. 

Why should I hide the beauty of my Indian-American culture? Why should any Asian hide their magnificent heritage? The diversity of Asia includes cultures that no one should be ashamed of. The stereotypical pinpoints of Asian culture, diligence, discipline, and obedience, are only an aspect of Asian culture — and an often noble aspect at that. The stories that each individual Asian student and family have are bound to be more diverse and flavorful than colleges could expect.

My college application doesn’t define my identity. No college is worth hiding who I am. I will write about the beauty of being biracial and the stories from my family home in India. I will enthusiastically share how my Indian heritage has birthed my passions. I will confess who I am entirely, for I am not ashamed. I will be Asian and white and all that I am and if a college doesn’t want to accept that, I don’t want to be there. 

Whether it hinders my admission or not, I will be putting “Asian” on my college application.

Have a compelling first-person story you want to share? Send your story description to pitch@huffpost.com.

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Here’s What It’s Like To Write And Edit A Dictionary

When you hear the title “editor,” editing a dictionary is likely not the first thing to come to mind. How do you edit such a comprehensive work anyway? 

Peter Sokolowski, a Merriam-Webster editor-at-large, said that people who compile and edit a dictionary are also referred to as lexicographers. As editors, his team members, who work on the online and print versions of the dictionary, take on a lot of reading.

He told HuffPost that Merriam-Webster used to have an editorial program that required its staffers to read an hour a day. Employees coordinated with one another to ensure that everyone was reading different things, from magazines to newspapers to novels to academic journals. The program is much less formalized now, he said, but the team still reads a lot.

Nowadays, of course, editors also have online material to read ― not only social media posts but also online news sources and databases of historic documents. Sokolowski said that the addition of online reading has, in some ways, made a dictionary editor’s job easier.

“We can find so much more,” he said. “I wouldn’t go back. I’m just old enough that I started here writing the dictionary before there were any computers. There was only one computer on the editorial floor … It was for keeping pay stubs and time keep.”

Similar to Merriam-Webster’s editorial program, Oxford English Dictionary has a team dedicated to reading a variety of publications (in print and online) and identifying new words. With help from this team and her own research, Fiona McPherson, a senior editor for the dictionary’s new words group, decides which words should be added to the dictionary. 

“Each day starts with me looking at a suggestion for a word that isn’t yet in the Oxford English Dictionary, and my job is then to research and evaluate the evidence for the word,” she said via email. “Every word included in the Oxford English Dictionary has to pass the criteria for length and breadth of usage, and I ascertain this by looking on a number of databases to find examples of the word in use.”

She also is responsible for writing the word’s “all-important definition,” she said.

“This can be challenging in a number of ways; getting to the heart of a term with which you are familiar can be just as difficult as describing something unfamiliar,” she wrote.

So how does a word get added to the dictionary? Merriam-Webster and the Oxford English Dictionary have a few tests that a word must pass. The dictionary teams make sure it has widespread use in a variety of publications. (It can’t be repeatedly used by only one writer to be considered.) It also has to have long-term use or show promise that it will stick around and stand the test of time. Sokolowski said Merriam-Webster deliberately uses the vague phrase “long-term use” because in the digital age, words can meet this criterion much more quickly than before. 

“In the old days, it used to be decades. It would take time,” he said. “But I think ‘blog’ was in the dictionary within four years of its coinage. Also true for the word ‘AIDS’ in the 1980s for the same reason. It was very clear that it was a word that was going to stay that was in the news all the time, a word that we needed in our dictionary and a word that didn’t exist just a few years earlier. There is no easy answer [what long-term use means]. Every single word has its own pace.”

Some recently added terms include “binge-watch,” “clickbait” and “photobomb.” Sokolowski noted that the dictionary also must keep up with changing meanings of words. For example, Merriam-Webster added a definition of “bandwidth,” for the sense of “ability to take on a task.” 

Merriam-Webster also requires words to have meaningful use and a general agreement on what they mean. This is why, he said, Merriam-Webster’s dictionary doesn’t include “supercalifragilisticexpialidocious,” which seemingly satisfies the widespread and long-term use criteria but not meaningful use. The word “irregardless,” however, is included in the dictionary, with a note to use “regardless” instead, because above all, the editors want to be useful and make people aware of how words are being used, Sokolowski said. 

Becoming a dictionary editor doesn’t necessarily mean having studied words or literature in school. At Merriam-Webster, editors have a variety of backgrounds. Sokolowski said it’s important to have editors with expertise in physics, music, literature, art history and more so entries can be as accurate as possible.

As she adds words and succinctly puts together their definitions, McPherson is learning about a variety of topics as well.

“One [entry] might be an old word that is no longer in use, and then the next a regional slang term, and the next a new genre of music,” she said. “It keeps you on your toes and definitely stops you from ever feeling bored.”

Both editors are incredibly proud of what they do, although Sokolowski admitted that the work can be tedious.

“We spend all day, every day thinking about words,” he said. “Candidly, it’s a little bit boring. We’re word nerds. That’s who we are … and we own that.”

Even if the work doesn’t always give you an advantage on game night with friends. 

“One of the most satisfying things about the job I do is starting off with a blank page and ending up, if I have done my job properly, with an entry which contributes to the history of the English language,” McPherson wrote. “Contrary to popular belief, it doesn’t make me better at Scrabble, but it does make me proud.”

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Trump Administration Undoes Efforts To Boost College Racial Diversity

President Donald Trump’s administration announced on Tuesday that it is rescinding multiple policies made by former President Barack Obama’s administration to encourage race as a factor in college admissions.

The decision was announced in a joint letter by the Department of Education and the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Divisions. It specified seven guidances on affirmative action that had been made to increase diversity in schools.

The letter said those guidances went beyond legal limits and were based on ideas rather than facts.

“The documents advocate specific policies and procedures for educational institutions to adopt, analyze a number of hypotheticals, and draw conclusions about whether the actions in those hypotheticals would violate” citizens’ constitutional rights, the letter states.

The guidances were among 24 documents that were rescinded by Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Tuesday after they were deemed “unnecessary, outdated, inconsistent with existing law, or otherwise improper.”

“In the Trump administration, we are restoring the rule of law. That’s why in November I banned this practice at the Department and we began rescinding guidance documents that were issued improperly or that were simply inconsistent with current law,” Sessions said in a statement. “Today we are rescinding 24 more and continuing to put an end to unnecessary or improper rulemaking.”

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, in a statement obtained by HuffPost, also defended the administration’s efforts as sticking to what’s constitutionally legal.

“The Supreme Court has determined what affirmative action policies are Constitutional, and the Court’s written decisions are the best guide for navigating this complex issue,” DeVos said. “Schools should continue to offer equal opportunities for all students while abiding by the law.”

News of the Trump administration’s removal of those guidances was first reported by The Wall Street Journal.

zrfphoto via Getty Images

The Trump administration on Tuesday removed Obama-era policies that encouraged considering race as a factor in college admissions.

The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund (LDF) was quick to condemn initial reports of the guidance removals on Tuesday, calling the anticipated move “yet another attack on the principles of equal access and opportunity.”

“Racial diversity is not only key to preparing our nation’s young people for the global economy, but it also exposes students to new ideas and perspectives, which are essential to a well-rounded education,” Todd A. Cox, policy director for the LDF, said in a statement. “We urge all schools ― from K-12 to higher education ― not to be dissuaded in their efforts to pursue equal access and opportunity as part of their educational mission.”

Cox further expressed concern about the policy changes in the wake of Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy’s retirement news. Kennedy’s departure opens the door for Trump to appoint his replacement, who is expected to shift the balance of the court more conservative.

“This underscores the need to proceed slowly and deliberately in choosing and vetting the next Supreme Court justice, which should happen no sooner than the electorate has had a chance to exercise its voice in the next election,” Cox said. “Moving quickly with the nomination process threatens to jeopardize hard-fought civil rights advancements. We must ensure that the Court continues to advance diversity and protect equal opportunity for students of color.”

The Trump administration’s plans to change policies come as the U.S. Justice Department considers a case about whether Harvard University is illegally discriminating against Asian-American students by limiting the number it accepts. That’s despite those applicants generally achieving better academic records than other ethnic groups, according to the complaint under review.

Harvard has denied limiting its number of Asian-American students and accuses the lawsuit’s plaintiffs of oversimplifying its admissions process.

Harvard University is accused of discriminating against Asian-American applicants by conservative advocate Edward Blum. That

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Harvard University is accused of discriminating against Asian-American applicants by conservative advocate Edward Blum. That lawsuit will head to trial in October.

That lawsuit, first filed in late 2014 by conservative advocate Edward Blum, who is white, is expected to go to trial in October. It has been criticized as working to undo affirmative action measures that support historically disadvantaged minority groups.  

It isn’t the first major lawsuit to arise in recent years against such practices.

In 2016, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld that race can be a consideration for college admissions, following an argument by a white woman who felt discriminated against in her application to a University of Texas program in 2008. Blum was an advocate for that woman’s suit.

This story has been updated to include the justice and education departments’ announcement confirming the policies’ removal.

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New York, Virginia Become First States To Mandate Mental Health Education

New York and Virginia are the first states to enact laws that require schools to include mental health education in their curriculums.

The New York legislation, which was written in 2015 and enacted on Sunday, directs all K-12 classrooms to get instruction about mental health as part of the overall health curriculum. Virginia’s law, which is set to take effect this fall, is less wide-reaching, requiring mental health education for the first two years of high school.

The New York law does not specify an additional curriculum but clarifies that mental health falls under the purview of the state’s overall health curriculum.

“By ensuring that young people learn about mental health, we increase the likelihood that they will be able to more effectively recognize signs in themselves and others, including family members, and get the right help,” the New York law reads, adding that the new education requirements seek to open up dialogue about mental health and combat the stigma around the topic.

Glenn Liebman, CEO of the Mental Health Association in New York State, one of the lead groups that lobbied for the law, said, “We didn’t fight for specific curriculum because we recognize that what is taught in one part of the state might not be relevant in another part of the state.” The association developed nine core concepts that should be incorporated into the mental health curriculum, including identifying appropriate professionals and services, and the “relationship between mental health, substance abuse and other negative coping behaviors.”

The Virginia law says that the state’s board of education will collaborate with mental health experts to update education standards.

“Such health instruction shall incorporate standards that recognize the multiple dimensions of health by including mental health and the relationship of physical and mental health so as to enhance student understanding, attitudes, and behavior that promote health, well-being, and human dignity,” the law reads.

More than 90 percent of youth who die by suicide suffer from depression or another diagnosable and treatable mental illness, and students who have mental illnesses are less likely to succeed in school, according to the New York law.

In 2017, 11.01 percent of youth ages 12 to 17 reported experiencing at least one major depressive episode that year, according to Mental Health America. For people 10 to 24 years old, suicide is a leading cause of death, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The Virginia law was passed after state Sen. R. Creigh Deeds (D-Charlottesville) saw that three high school students had researched, developed and presented the proposed legislation, which struck close to home for the legislator, who had lost his son to suicide in 2013. He introduced it in the Virginia General Assembly earlier this year, and the legislation was signed by Gov. Ralph Northam in March.

Debbie Plotnick, vice president for mental health and systems advocacy at Mental Health America, said that the laws are a major step forward in addressing mental health. She said she hopes other states will follow suit.

“We think it is essential that mental health not be something that is spoken about in whispers but is something that is part of overall health, both practice and education,” Plotnick said. “Major mental health conditions are almost always manifest in, if not childhood, certainly by adolescence.”

Young children also experience mental health conditions, though they don’t always know how to speak about it.

Regarding the Virginia law, Plotnick said, “It’s never too early to have folks being educated.” 

If you or someone you know needs help, call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. You can also text HOME to 741-741 for free, 24-hour support from the Crisis Text Line. Outside of the U.S., please visit the International Association for Suicide Prevention for a database of resources.

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As A Mental Health Crisis Sweeps Across Colleges, Students Step Up To Fix It

For Sara Valente, the transition from high school to her freshman year at Harvard was rocky. She was homesick, anxious about making new friends and, as she puts it, “obsessively comparing myself to my classmates.”

“The stress of Harvard quickly overwhelmed me,” the computer science major explains. “I felt I had nowhere to turn.”

After a year, the teen reached out to the Ivy League school’s on-campus mental health providers and began attending weekly therapy sessions. She also met with a psychiatrist who diagnosed her with anxiety and depression, the two most common concerns brought to professionals at campus counseling centers, according to a 2017 report by the Center for Collegiate Mental Health.

Treatment at counseling centers has been found to reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression in students, according to the report, and the past four years have seen a growing number of students present these concerns. Prior reports have found that demand for campus treatment centers was rising faster than enrollment growth at universities across the country.

But many students still don’t get the help they need. For one thing, campuses often lack the resources found at well-endowed schools like Harvard. When schools do have services available for students, it’s not always obvious how to access them. And stigma surrounding mental health issues can deter young people from speaking up and reaching out.

Students like Valente, however, are taking action to improve access to care and address the culture that makes their peers reluctant to seek help. Some have formed clubs and support groups, others educate fellow students about mental health offerings on campus. And new research suggests that these efforts have made a difference. 

Valente’s experience inspired her to join the Student Mental Health Liaisons, which serves as a link between Harvard’s mental health resources and the student population. A rising senior, Valente now serves as the co-president of the organization.

“At Harvard, we’re surrounded by high-achieving students who seem to not break a sweat, who are excelling at everything from academics to sports and extracurricular,” says the group’s other co-president, Sofia Cigarroa Kennedy. “It can be isolating to feel like you’re the only one who is having a hard time, but in reality everyone has something that is going on.”

For many students, their first brush with mental health challenges will happen on campus, according to Dr. Marcia Morris, author of The Campus Cure: A Parent’s Guide to Mental Health and Wellness for College Students.

“With three-quarters of mental health disorders developing by age 24, college campuses are places where a young adult can experience a mental health problem for the first time,” Morris told HuffPost. The academic, social and financial pressures placed on this age group are a massive trigger for an array of conditions, she added.

Having served as a college psychiatrist for two decades, Morris watched the issue of student mental health balloon. And as it grew, so too did efforts to curb it.

Harvard’s Student Mental Health Liaisons is just one of five peer-driven counseling groups that have popped up at the university in recent years. And campuses across the country have similar student-run endeavors.

Certain groups have even spread beyond their parent campus to other schools.

In 2003, Alison Malmon, then a junior at the University of Pennsylvania, launched the student-run group Active Minds following the suicide of her brother. She wanted to build a community that would hold campus-wide events, distribute information on mental health resources, collaborate with the school’s counseling centers to refer students reaching out for help, and bring in speakers to discuss their own journeys seeking treatment. Active Minds now has a presence at 600 campuses across the country, including the University of Southern California, Georgetown University and Northwestern University.

“Research shows that students first tell another student when they are struggling,” says Laura Horne, director of programs at the Active Minds national office in Washington, D.C. “By educating students and engaging them in mental health programming and discussions, we are really preparing students for when another student is likely to come to them and tell them that they are struggling. The students can then spot those signs and help.” 

A new study that examines Active Minds groups across 12 California schools found that students’ efforts are working.

The presence of an Active Minds chapter on a campus was found to foster an increase in general knowledge and positive attitudes about mental health.

“Stigma on campus has decreased alongside the Active Minds movement,” Horne explains, noting that each year, more and more students say that they wouldn’t think less of someone who sought help for a mental illness. 

Active Minds

Active Minds event at San Diego State University.

Sarah Seabrook-DeJong, a psychiatric nurse practitioner and administrator at Rowan University in Glasborough, New Jersey, says she has noticed students becoming more empowered.

“I see the college students as being verbal about their mental health needs and asking for it,” she tells HuffPost.

“They are not only advocates for themselves but also their peers. They will guide their peers to services and also provide education about their experiences. They talk about mental health,” she explains, adding that today’s college kids are more likely to seek out treatment and partake in self-care rituals like yoga, mindfulness and meditation.

And with progress come evolving priorities for organizations like Active Minds, which has begun assisting students who want to make policy changes at their schools, such as increasing mental health funding and adding crisis hotline numbers to student ID cards. Over the last five years, the group has helped implement such changes on more than 60 campuses.

As peer-run organizations continue to drive demand for mental health care access, they are now preparing for their next challenge: overwhelmed counseling centers and long wait times to see on-campus therapists.

“We are in a new era now where campuses need to find innovative ways to be able to support their students as their students are seeking help,” Horne says. She’s working with Active Minds chapters to help student leaders work with their schools to meet new demands.

But every mental health victory, no matter how small, is a massive win.

“We are seeing sad and tragic stories across our country where students are dying unnecessarily because they don’t have the resources or outlets to be able to deal with the issues that we are all facing,” says Stefan Santrach, a rising senior at the University of Michigan who serves as the programming director of the student-led Wolverine Support Network, founded in 2014 in response to two student suicides on campus.

Santrach joined the group two years ago, after the death of a childhood friend.

“If the work that we are putting in … is making a little step forward to improve the mental health of students, if it can save one life, then all of that work is worth it.”

If you or someone you know needs help, call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. You can also text HOME to 741-741 for free, 24-hour support from the Crisis Text Line. Outside of the U.S., please visit the International Association for Suicide Prevention for a database of resources.

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Toronto Principal Faces Resignation Calls After Making A List Of Black Students

Toronto students and parents are calling for the resignation of a high school principal after she sparked outrage by creating and circulating a list that singled out black students for tracking purposes.  

People have accused Peggy Aitchison of racially profiling black students at the Etobicoke School for the Arts. She said she created the list and distributed it in November to teachers to track “achievement gaps” among all students of color, The Globe and Mail reported. When students found out about the list in February, they confronted her.

“In the context and with an objective of supporting success for all students, particularly those for whom we know as a group there are gaps, I shared a list of black students with our teaching staff at a November meeting,” Aitchison said earlier this month, as reported by The Globe and Mail.

Aitchison has since apologized for the “inappropriate” list, and the Toronto District School Board has transferred her to another school upon her request. But some students are calling for the district school board to impose a punishment. Students and alumni have both sent a petition to the school district board calling for Aitchison’s total resignation or for her to undergo equity and anti-racism training, the Globe reported on Thursday. The board received the petition on Thursday and has not yet responded to their requests.

I want my principal to know this has real emotional effects on people of color, and it is damaging to their well-being. It tells them they will be only seen by their identity and that they will be racialized for the rest of their life.
Noah, an ESA student

George Brown, a parent of an ESA student who was included in Aitchison’s list, filed a “human rights complaint” against Aitchison and the district school board in response to the list, CTV News Toronto reported.

“It took the photos of the black students in the yearbook and places it beside their names,” Brown told CTV News Toronto. “It is not being done on the basis of collected data. It is profiled.”

Brown’s son, Noah, told CTV News Toronto that the list made him feel like his academic and artistic accomplishments were less important.

“I want my principal to know this has real emotional effects on people of color, and it is damaging to their well-being,” he said. “It tells them they will be only seen by their identity and that they will be racialized for the rest of their life.”

Brown and his son are seeking for the school district to implement bias training and individual apologies for each student who was on the list.

“A mistake was made by the principal of Etobicoke School of the Arts that has hurt students and their families; the principal and the [school district board] apologize for this,” the board’s Director of Education John Malloy said in a statement to HuffPost. “Moving forward, we will be working with Principal Aitchison and all principals on appropriate training. In the meantime, the Board continues to investigate and review these issues.”

ESA is a “specialized, public arts-academic high school,” according to its website. Students must submit applications and audition to attend the school.

The scandal comes one year after a study by the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education at the University of Toronto found that specialized arts high schools in Toronto are mostly attended by white, wealthy students. The schools’ populations don’t reflect the city’s diversity, the study said.

Aitchison did not respond to a request for comment.

This article has been updated to reflect a statement from Malloy.

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Holocaust Survivor Deprived Of Formal Education Finally Gets High School Diploma

Growing up in a Polish Jewish family during World War II, Mordechai Miller spent years of his childhood hiding in attics, bunkers and even open fields to escape the Nazis. He said his parents could barely find him anything to eat during that time. A formal education was completely out of the picture. 

Decades later, the 87-year-old Holocaust survivor was finally given a chance to achieve his lifelong dream of graduating from school. 

On June 21, Miller received a special honorary high school diploma from Smithtown High School West in New York. Wearing a navy blue cap and gown, he walked across a stage erected in the school’s football field, shook hands with faculty, and posed for pictures ― receiving a standing ovation from the crowd. 

The East Northport resident told HuffPost the recognition he got was “very touching.” 

“It was a whole big thing,” Miller said. “It was hundreds of student graduates ― and then me. An 87-year-old graduate.” 

“I appreciated it very much, that I got some recognition,” he added. “I’m not used to these things, coming from my background.”

Leah Miller

The 87-year-old wants students today to appreciate what they have.

Miller was born in small town near Warsaw in 1931. He attended the first grade and finished just one year of formal education. When the Nazis invaded Poland in 1939, Miller’s life changed drastically. His family was forced to move into a Jewish ghetto. His father built a hiding space in the attic of the home they were staying in. Members of his family hid in that spot during the liquidation of the ghetto. Neighbors who didn’t escape the Nazis were taken to the Treblinka extermination camp, Miller said. 

For the next few years, Miller said his family moved around to different hiding spots in Poland. For a while, they lived in a Polish woman’s attic. They spent a short time in a bunker, which he said was like “sitting in a tiny grave.” His mother refused to stay in the bunker for long. 

Miller remembers his mother saying, “I’m going to be buried for a long time, I don’t want to be buried alive.”

Most of the time, Miller said, his family camped out in a forest, exposed to the rain and snow.

“Our eyelids were frozen,” he said. 

After the war ended in 1945, Miller’s father opened up a business in Poland. Life was beginning to return to normal ― until  anti-Jewish violence began breaking out again. When his father learned that over 40 Jews had been killed in a pogram, they decided to leave Poland for good. 

The family moved to Israel. In 1956, Miller immigrated to America. He got married and lived in Brooklyn for a while before moving out to Long Island. He started a business dealing with truck parts. 

Even though he was deprived of the opportunity to get a formal education, Miller said, “Don’t feel sorry for me.” 

“I’m OK. I speak a few languages, I read and write in some languages. I can hold on my own,” he said. “I read a lot of books. That was my education.”

Miller now has four children, six grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren. 

About 10 years ago, Miller began to share his stories about surviving the Holocaust with social studies students at Smithtown High School West. 

Miller told HuffPost that his biggest dream for students today is for them to live a good, “normal life,” free of the worries and challenges that he experienced as a young person.

He said he tries to remind students to be appreciative of life’s blessings.

“I tell them how lucky they are, that they have beautiful schools, libraries. All the knowledge is right in front of them, they just have to look it up and take it,” he said. “That’s what I tell them. To appreciate what they have.” 

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At Antwon Rose’s High School, Black Students Learned To Fear Police

Summer Lee planned to spend the night of June 20 protesting the police stationed within Pittsburgh’s Woodland Hills High School, her alma mater. Lee, 30, was upset about previous accounts of school cops brutalizing students of color: Tasering them without provocation, punching them in the face and dragging them down hallways.

Then an East Pittsburgh police officer killed one of the school’s standout students as he ran from a vehicle during a traffic stop a day before the planned protest. Suddenly there was a new, more pressing reason for Lee and others in the district to rally.

The brutal killing of 17-year-old Antwon Rose Jr. has brought Pittsburgh activists to the streets in protest over the last week. The police officer’s attorney has questioned why Rose would feel the need to run from police, insisting that the shooting never would have occurred had “everybody stayed calm and stayed in the car.” The officer was charged with criminal homicide on Wednesday.

But the experiences students of color have endured at the hands of police officers at Rose’s school shed light on why they might fear police. A 2017 lawsuit, currently in litigation, says that two officers from the local police department stationed in Woodland Hills High ruled the hallways with brute, violent force. Five current and former Woodland Hills students, all African-American and some with special needs, allege that officers physically or verbally abused them.

The relationship between students and law enforcement in the school is “not even strained,” said Lee, who graduated in 2005 and is now running for a seat in the state House as a progressive. “I would say it’s dangerous.”

“When you think about where Antwon went to school,” Lee said, “he saw his friends getting beat up by these cops and how the justice system works against their abusers. Would that not inform your interaction with police officers?” 

Justin Merriman via Getty Images

A woman holds a sign remembering Antwon Rose Jr. as she joins people gathered for Juneteenth celebrations on June 23 in Pittsburgh.

The details of the abuse outlined in the lawsuit are harrowing.

In one 2015 incident, a 15-year-old student referred to by the initials A.W. was sent to the school’s administrative office for talking back in class. There, a school police officer named Stephen Shaulis allegedly hurled verbal invectives at him, telling him neither he nor his mother were going to amount to anything. Within minutes ― and without apparent physical provocation, according to the suit and a surveillance video of the incident ― the officer grabbed the student, put him in a headlock, dragged him down the hallway and Tasered him at least three times.

The officer wasn’t punished as a result of the incident, but the student was charged with resisting arrest and disorderly conduct.

In 2017, the same officer knocked out a tooth of a 14-year-old student, Q.W., according to the lawsuit and news reports at the time. A video of the incident showed the pair chatting. But after Q.W. left the conversation, the officer grabbed the teen by the neck and slammed him to the ground. After the video cut off, the child was repeatedly punched in the face, according to the lawsuit. Q.W. was charged with aggravated assault and resisting arrest.

In another 2015 incident outlined in the lawsuit, Shaulis is accused of intentionally tripping a student. In 2016, he repeatedly slammed a 90-pound female student’s head against a table, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit claims school administrators were aware of ― and, in some cases, abetted ― this behavior. The school district is “a hostile environment for students of color,” said Todd Hollis, the attorney representing the plaintiffs in the case.

Representatives of the school, the police department that contracts with the school and Shaulis’ personal attorney did not respond to HuffPost’s requests for comment on the suit. The district attorney’s office, which is also investigating incidents involving the officer, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. 

Shaulis no longer works at the school, according to local outlet TribLIVE. In 2016, the Woodland Hills High School principal was placed on paid leave after audio surfaced of him threatening a child who was eventually named in the lawsuit. He was later hired as the high school football coach but resigned months later. District Superintendent Alan Johnson announced his intention to resign after the school year in February, saying that “the school district needs a new start,” according to TribLIVE.

Johnson claimed at the time the suit was filed that it represented a few isolated incidents, not a pattern.

“It is not an abusive school,” Johnson told TribLIVE. “We are proud of the things we do.”

But others say that there was a climate of brutality in the school where Rose once wrote that he didn’t want to become another statistic

I think it’s a culture of tolerance of this kind of behavior,” said John Fetterman, the mayor of Braddock, which sends students to Woodland Hills, and a candidate for Pennsylvania lieutenant governor. “When you have incontrovertible video evidence and people are still willing to carry water for these individuals, it’s appalling.”

Nationally, the number of police officers stationed in schools has shot up in recent decades. Civil rights activists contend that this trend helps perpetuate the school-to-prison pipeline, in which students of color are disproportionately punished for minor misbehaviors. They say stories like those from Woodland Hills are part of a larger, insidious pattern of officers physically brutalizing students of color and helping push them out of school.

The same dynamic is also evident outside of schools, where scores of unarmed black men have been killed by police in recent years.

But Fetterman is hoping that relationships will improve between the school and police as the issue receives more attention. Fetterman, whose wife was close to Rose, is also hoping for improved relationships between law enforcement and the community at large. 

“He deserves justice, and he deserves to make sure that there’s a lesson for everybody here,” Fetterman said. “This is the kind of conduct and behavior we can’t have if we’re ever to restore trust between law enforcement and communities of color.”

But in Lee’s experience, black students in the district have long been treated like second-class citizens. There weren’t uniformed police officers at Woodland Hills when she was a student, but there were metal detectors and security guards ― and the distinct sense that school leadership cared about some students more than others.

“In this present-day culture ― a culture where Antwon exists, where Tamir Rice exists ― to expect a black child to go into school and feel safe with officers who are armed … that’s violence against them,” Lee said.

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Georgetown University Alums Call On Fellow Alum Kirstjen Nielsen To Resign

WASHINGTON ― Hundreds of Georgetown University alumni are calling on Kirstjen Nielsen, a fellow alumna, to resign as homeland security secretary over her role in separating migrant children from their parents at the border.

“As alumni and students of the Jesuit tradition, we cannot stand silent as these atrocities are being committed,” reads a Change.org petition launched last week by Christian Arana, a Georgetown alumna. “The horrific family separations occurring at the U.S.-Mexico border requires us as Georgetown alumni to call on our fellow alumna — Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen (SFS ’94) — to resign as head of the agency that has inflicted so much harm on children and families at the border.”

More than 900 people have signed the petition so far. It’s unclear if every signer is in fact a Georgetown alumnus, but many have cited the year they graduated. Arana said his conversations with alumni on social media reflect overwhelming anger about Nielsen, who got her bachelor’s degree at Georgetown.

“It is clear that Georgetown alumni are outraged and speaking out against this and thus signing and sharing the petition,” he told HuffPost.

Nielsen has been one of the biggest defenders of President Donald Trump’s zero tolerance immigration policy, which has separated more than 2,300 children from their parents so the adults can be criminally prosecuted for crossing the border without documentation. Previously, authorities typically kept migrant families together and routed them to immigration courts.

Nielsen falsely claimed last week that “Congress alone” could end Trump’s family separation policy and insisted lawmakers had to act. But days later, facing intense public scrutiny, Trump signed a hastily drafted executive order halting his policy ― with Nielsen standing by his side. Awkward!

Mandel Ngan / Getty Images

Nielsen watches Trump sign an executive order to end a policy she said only Congress could halt.

The executive order still left Trump with a lot of discretion to keep splitting up families, though. On Tuesday a federal court ruled that the administration must stop separating families altogether and has 30 days to reunite them.

But Trump has no clear plan for reuniting them. Members of Congress have visited detention facilities where children are being held, but some have been turned away, and all are barred from talking to the kids or taking pictures. Photos from inside detention facilities show children lying in cages with mats and foil blankets. Leaked audio from one facility, obtained by ProPublica, features kids crying out for their parents as a U.S. Border Patrol agent jokes about an “orchestra” of wailing children.

Arana’s petition comes after one Georgetown alumnus who has known Nielsen for 30 years wrote an op-ed piece for CNN calling for her resignation. A handful of Democratic lawmakers, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) and Sen. Kamala Harris (Calif.), have also said Nielsen should step down.

More than 100 of Nielsen’s former classmates at the University of Virginia School of Law wrote to her last week urging that she end the family separation policy immediately.

“Many of us signing below know you personally,” reads their letter. “We are asking you to do the right thing.”

As alumni and students of the Jesuit tradition, we cannot stand silent as these atrocities are being committed.
petition calling on Kirstjen Nielsen to resign

The leaders of numerous Jesuit colleges and universities have condemned Trump’s immigration policy as immoral and despicable. Georgetown University President John DeGioia has been mum, however.

Arana is hopeful his university will speak out soon, particularly since many alumni are voicing their concerns about Nielsen.

“As graduates, we are collectively saying that she disgraces her education of serving the common good when she oversees the operation of terrorizing families,” he said.

A Georgetown University spokesman declined to comment on Nielsen or the petition but said the university supports passing an immigration reform bill in Congress that would end family separations.

“Georgetown has been deeply engaged in advocating for bipartisan legislation that prevents family separation and provides a permanent fix for Dreamers,” said the spokesman.

A spokesperson for the Department of Homeland Security did not respond to a request for comment.

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Supreme Court Conservatives Crush Workers, Again

The radical conservatives on the U.S. Supreme Court have twice now in two months ganged up on working Americans, denying them their right to band together to achieve mutual goals.   

Last month, the extremist court majority sided with big business to deprive workers of the right to sue collectively in class actions to redress violations like wage theft. This time, the same majority ruled against workers who organize themselves into unions, divesting public sector union members of the right to collect fair share fees from co-workers who don’t join but do receive all the benefits of union-negotiated contracts.

This is regression for the nation’s workers. In lockstep with the Trump administration and congressional conservatives, the high court’s right-wingers are shoving workers back to an earlier era, a time when corporations held all of the power and when workers, in what was supposed to be a free society, were in fact denied liberty.

Ideally, in the country that fought a war to rid itself of royal overlords, workers have the freedom to change jobs, even professions, to move across the country for better opportunities, to unite with co-workers, and to bargain collectively with corporations for better pay and benefits for the whole group.

But when money, and the power it spawns, are concentrated in the hands of a few, as it was with British royalty, these liberties are stripped from the majority. Indebtedness forecloses options to the ill-paid. The radical conservative cell on the Supreme Court is denying workers the tools that are vital for improving pay.

Labor unions are one of those tools.

Not that long ago, workers in this country were damned. Vast numbers were trapped. And so were their children and grandchildren. They had no way to achieve the liberty promised by their democracy. That is because they barely subsisted as wage slaves.

This included coal miners and textile workers and sharecroppers who lived in company-owned hovels and received company scrip, not U.S. currency, as pay. Though they worked 12-hour days, six days a week, they could never get ahead as owners raised rents and fees in the company store. Somehow, the sweat of their brow left them swamped in debt.

Bloomberg via Getty Images

Striking school workers hold signs and chant inside the West Virginia Capitol in Charleston on March 2.

For coal miners, the change agent was the United Mine Workers of America. Instead of individuals pleading with wealthy coal field barons for a better wage, the workers banded together under the UMWA banner and collectively sought more pay. If owners still refused, the workers, together as a unit, could shut down the mine until owners relented. And they did.

No individual has that clout. Only the group does. The wealthy mine owners objected to workers realizing and wielding this power, of course, and did everything they could to outlaw and destroy labor unions.

During Democratic President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s first term, a Democratic Congress passed the National Labor Relations Act to provide a clear legal pathway to collective bargaining. Union membership increased dramatically for the next 25 years until approximately 30 percent of all workers were members. During this time, workers’ wages rose in tandem with productivity. America’s great middle class was born and thrived.

By contrast, as the percentage of American workers represented by labor unions declined over the past 40 years, workers’ wages stagnated, even as productivity rose. Even though more public sector workers gained the right to unionize in the late 1950s, union density overall declined steadily after 1960.

Union representation shrank as legislation, regulation and Supreme Court decisions like the one issued Wednesday made collective bargaining increasingly difficult.

As soon as Republicans took over Congress in 1946, they moved to restrict workers’ bargaining rights, passing the Taft-Hartley Act in 1947. Still, the rate of union membership continued to rise until 1960, after which it declined steadily to 10.7 percent last year. Even with those small numbers, union workers continue to earn about 20 percent more than those who don’t collectively bargain.

The high court’s decision in the case of Janus v. American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, Council 31, could eviscerate public sector unions ― those representing government workers such as teachers, firemen and pollution monitors. Government workers are significantly more likely to be represented by unions than are private sector workers. And, of course, union extinction is the intent of both the right-wing organizations that bankrolled Janus and the right-wing jurists who decided it.

Unions must represent every worker within a unit. So, for example, the American Federation of Teachers is obliged to serve every educator in a school district, seeking better wages and working conditions for the entire group, filing grievances and hiring lawyers to pursue those cases even for instructors who choose not to join the AFT.

Union extinction is the intent of both the right-wing organizations that bankrolled Janus and the right-wing jurists who decided it.

Until now, in 22 states with legislation supporting workers’ rights, unions could charge nonmembers fair share fees ― amounts lower than dues ― to cover the costs of bargaining for them. In the Janus ruling, the Supreme Court’s conservatives said it was unlawful to collect those fees for public sector unions without the worker giving explicit consent. The upshot is this: The court’s radical conservatives have ordered union members to pay for services for nonmembers.

Such a system is sustainable only if the vast majority of workers in a unit choose not to shirk responsibility to the group. The union I lead, the United Steelworkers does have viable local unions in states that even before the Janus decision prohibited fair share fees.

But the union-hating conservative groups behind the Janus case have already launched a massive campaign to persuade public sector union members to quit and get free union services. This is destruction by subtraction. Backed by billionaires, these groups have the luxury of big bucks and unlimited time to pick off members, one by one, until a tipping point when the local union no longer has sufficient income to provide decent service and collapses.

Then, of course, no one gets services. No one will file a grievance for the teacher’s aide ordered by a principal to work an extra hour each day without pay. No one will conduct research and collectively bargain a labor agreement that will provide these highly educated professionals with decent pay and benefits. Compensation will fall. Fewer talented young people will choose teaching as a profession. The nation’s public schoolchildren will suffer.

And the rich will pay less in taxes. That’s exactly what radical right-wingers demand: less government, less taxes. Schoolchildren be damned! And their nonrich parents too.

Leo W. Gerard is the international president of the United Steel, Paper and Forestry, Rubber, Manufacturing, Energy, Allied Industrial and Service Workers International Union.

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How To Fix The Worst School District In The Country

By Emmanuel Felton, The Hechinger Report

This story about collective impact was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news organization focused on inequality and innovation in education. Sign up for the Hechinger newsletter.

EAST ST. LOUIS, Ill. — Lettie Hicks is a dreamer. The 33-year-old mother of three doesn’t just have big plans for her family but for her entire hometown.

Hicks used to clean balconies and private suites at Busch Stadium just across the river in St. Louis. But she had to quit after complications related to pneumonia nearly killed her, and the doctors couldn’t rule out the industrial cleaning products she used at work as the cause. Losing that job meant that Hicks joined the ranks of the 50 percent of adults in this city who are out of the workforce.

Government and philanthropy have poured untold millions into the former industrial powerhouse with the worst-performing school district in the nation. East St. Louis also has one of the nation’s highest per-capita murder rates as well as some of the highest rates of childhood asthma and lead poisoning. One Illinois Republican went so far as to call it “the shithole of the universe.”

But Hicks and dozens of other locals say that these depressing facts hide a deeper story about the people in a Rust Belt city working together to pick themselves up from the postindustrial wreckage of disinvestment and population flight.

“People come to East St. Louis and say, ‘East St. Louis is so dirty, it’s so poor, they aren’t trying to do anything,’ ” she said. “What I’m trying to do is prove them wrong.”

Student performance in this last-place district is improving. Over the last three years, the proportion of students passing Common Core-aligned national math and reading tests has inched up, growing from 3 percent to 6 percent. School administrators note that from 2014-15 to 2016-17, pass rates more than doubled, from 10 percent to 21 percent, on NWEA, another set of exams used by districts across the country. Since 2013, the district’s four-year graduation rate is up from 65 percent to 71 percent; and since 2014, the proportion of its students enrolling in college within a year of graduating has climbed from 46 percent to 59 percent.

Locals are certain the numbers will only get better, thanks to an innovative but simple new approach that is lifting people out of poverty: Connect all the various services available to families, from housing to counseling to job training, and use the school district, the entity that touches the lives of almost every kid in town, to help parents tap into that network. The concept draws from a reform strategy called “collective impact” that many other struggling American cities are trying in different forms.

Progress has eluded East St. Louis for generations; even as social service agencies flocked to the city to work diligently on their pet causes, the dial hardly moved.

Evan Krauss is the director of East Side Aligned, the initiative at the center of the city’s collective impact efforts. According to Krauss, “Several nonprofit executives who have been working here for twenty or thirty years got together and started reflecting. They could point to stories where they made impact, but when they looked at the city as a whole, outcomes weren’t changing and too many were actually getting worse, and so they began to ask, ‘How can we work better together?’ East Side Aligned provided a space to convene people who were literally a mile or less apart from each other, who had no idea what each other were doing.”

Now, after-school programs are connected to the school district’s data system, so kids can spend their time focused on the academic subjects in which they need the most help. The schools have opened their doors to Hoyleton Youth and Family Services, to provide student and family counseling. Another organization, Southern Illinois University Edwardsville’s East St. Louis Center, is working with parents and high school students to get them into workforce development programs that will lead to family-sustaining careers.

And this year the school district opened the Family and Community Engagement Center, which offers free uniforms and coats and a food pantry. The district is currently raising money to install a washer and dryer at the center. The idea is to draw in parents who need help with basic needs, and then get them thinking about higher-level needs, like job training.

Krauss says that East Side Aligned isn’t a new organization, but a new movement. He and a team of 10 backbone staff aren’t coordinating the services themselves, but instead are working to create “tables” where all of the city’s players come together to organize the services they’ve been providing for decades in isolation. There are several tables of teams working on different issues — one on reducing violence, one on early childhood education, another on after-school programs and others on improving how the city’s children navigate their schools and neighborhoods — all trying to reach a simple but ambitious goal in a city mired by profound generational poverty, “to create a place where kids can enjoy being kids.”

At Gordon Bush Elementary School, pass rates on state tests more than tripled last year. It’s a feat that Principal Brittany Green attributes both to work her teachers are doing and to the wider net that the district and its partners have created to uplift parents.

“We have been able to create this support system that surrounds the family so that when something happens we can refer them to the services they need,” said Green. “We tell them, all the time, this is their school. We aren’t just here for the students, but for the families too, whether it’s a sibling or the mother, father, we try to have wraparound services for everybody.”

Teenagers like Montez Holton, valedictorian of this year’s senior class at East St. Louis Senior High School, can personally attest to the benefits that come from different organizations working together. This May, Holton had two graduations. He not only received a high school diploma, but also an associate degree, thanks to a program called Running Start, a partnership between the school district and Southwestern Illinois College. The school district not only covered his tuition, but also gave him breakfast and lunch vouchers for the college’s dining hall.

Holton first got involved with East Side Aligned during the summer after his eighth grade, when the administrators at the after-school program he attended thought he’d be a good representative for the city’s youth. Today, he co-chairs East Side Aligned’s executive committee, working to get youth involved in decision-making. On top of his college schedule and East Side Aligned commitments, Holton usually works over 20 hours per week at a trampoline park in the suburbs.

“I thought this was a good opportunity for me to have a say-so in what was going on in the community and getting things implemented for future generations,” said Holton. Among his priorities, Holton argued for finding money to get more technology into the city’s schools. “We’ve actually started using iPads and Chromebooks in class,” he said. “That was pretty exciting.”

While Lettie Hicks sees promise in the new initiatives, she thinks more needs to be done to stabilize families. Her own family has struggled since she had to quit work. As hopeful as she is for her city, she gets emotional when she talks about the difficulties that residents like her have faced for as long as she can remember, and she worries about the future for her son and two daughters.

A city’s near death experience

From its founding in 1861, East St. Louis was designed explicitly to be pro-business — taxes were low and public health and safety regulations lax. The city’s first mayor, an attorney who represented the railroad companies whose tracks crisscross the city, pushed through a charter that lured industry to the flood-prone area just across the river from booming St. Louis, Missouri. The idea was to beckon the kind of noisy and dirty industries that St. Louis shunned. In its heyday during the first half of the twentieth century, the city hosted stockyards, steel mills, chemical and aluminum plants and oil refineries. These were labor-intensive industries and soon East St. Louis was known as a city where anyone could get a job. Despite the pollution, noise and filth, thousands of new residents arrived, including immigrants from central and eastern Europe and black migrants from the Deep South.

For years, companies used the threat of importing more black labor to dampen unionization efforts. That policy contributed to the racial tensions that fed a 1917 riot, one of the deadliest in the country’s history. In the aftermath, workers started to unionize, and the companies that built East St. Louis began to abandon it in search of cheaper labor. Scholars estimate that the city lost as many as 45,000 jobs in the decades after World War II; its unemployment rate skyrocketed. At the same time, white residents with access to credit began to pick up and head to newer, cleaner suburbs. Today, African-Americans comprise 97 percent of East St. Louis’ population, making it the blackest place in America with a population over 25,000.

In 1971, East St. Louis elected its first black mayor. Political scientist Andrew Theising said the milestone brought hope to the floundering city. But residents soon realized it was a hollow prize.

“Finally, African-Americans get in the seats of power and there’s nothing left,” said Theising, a professor of political science at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. It is a common story. “We can point to Cleveland and Detroit and cities around the country that by the time African-American leaders step in, the industrial base has collapsed, the tax revenues are down and the bills haven’t been paid.”

Since 1971, a succession of black mayors has turned to aid from the state and federal government to keep the city afloat. It was rarely enough. The city still struggles to keep trash from piling up on the thousands of vacant lots that dot its streets. The local police force can’t keep enough cops on the streets to handle the city’s sky-high crime rates. And in 2011, the state took over the city’s schools.

The state hired Arthur Culver, a veteran school administrator with decades of experience turning around low-performing, high-poverty schools. Culver says that the conditions that he found in East St. Louis were the worst he’d seen. After first serving as a liaison between the state and local school board, both sides agreed to make him superintendent. To get the district’s finances in order, he closed several schools and cut the district’s employee count by half, laying off hundreds.

“We cut staff that we knew we needed, and so it was hard to make academic progress,” remembered Culver. “We cut librarians, social workers, counselors, music teachers, PE teachers; we had to get to the bare bones because we didn’t have money.”

Culver says that some of that huge financial deficit was due to poor planning at the district level, but he also points to Illinois’ school funding formula, which has often been named one of the very worst in the country for students in poor districts. While Culver has made strides in turning around the district’s finances, one-time grants and appropriations have been key to filling the gaps. He was able to get more than $30 million from the state legislature alone he said.

Emerging from the bunker mentality

In the decades of distress that preceded Culver’s arrival, locals say school staff often kept their heads down.

“I’ve been working here for 32 years. When I came into this position, the schools were in a protective mode and thought they could handle everything from within the school system. That didn’t work very well,” says Renae Storey, a regional vice president at Children’s Home & Aid. “There was pressure to get test scores up, and so when we would come in to do counseling or crisis intervention, they felt it was taking away from that time.”

Ann Brown remembers feeling unwelcome at her children’s schools. She and her husband, who have three kids, are part of the city’s small middle class. Her husband was in the military, and Brown spent years working as an administrator at the region’s YMCA.

All three of Brown’s kids are now college graduates, and she believes East St. Louis’ schools prepared them well. But she also remembers being met with frowns and disapproval when she showed up at parent-teacher conferences, still dressed up from work, with a portfolio in which she furiously jotted down the teachers’ observations and read from notes to explain her own concerns.

“I know how the parents feel when the teachers will just say, ‘Oh, we need the parents more involved,’” said Brown. But “when I come in, the way you’re talking to me, it seems like you don’t want me around. Everyone wants to be respected.”

The tenor started to change in 2012, when the school district discovered a new idea being pushed by the Obama administration — a grant program known as the Promise Neighborhoods initiative, which could bring millions in funding. But one of the grant’s prerequisites was that communities show a demonstrated history of collaboration between schools and social service providers to improve childhood outcomes.

When Culver gathered the city’s social service providers for a conversation about applying, he quickly realized they had no track record of working together; it was one of the first times they’d ever had such a meeting. But the group, including nonprofit leaders, university officials and government agency heads, realized the idea’s potential, and the seeds for East Side Aligned were planted.

After East Side Aligned launched in 2013, the school doors swung open for groups like Children’s Home and Aid, which provides counseling to students. Now, the group is embedding a social emotional specialist in the district to work with teachers and social workers to create spaces to help children and families cope with the adverse childhood experiences that often come with living in East St. Louis.

In 2017, the school district hired its first director of parent and student support services, Tiffany Gholson. In that role, Gholson doesn’t just manage dozens of school district employees, a mix of social workers, nurses and truancy workers, she’s also responsible for coordinating how her staff works with all of the community partners clamoring to work in the schools. And she oversees the new Family and Community Engagement Center.

“This center is a place where you can get help furthering your education to get you on your feet. We’re going to help you with financial aid, we’re going to answer all those miscellaneous questions and refer you out to our partners,” said Gholson. “There are so many hidden gems here in East St. Louis that just aren’t advertised enough.”

And Brown, who complained that some of her children’s teachers rebuffed her as a parent, was hired as the district’s new family and community engagement coordinator. One of her main roles is to provide a caring ear in the new parent-facing office.

Lettie Hicks says parents are as excited about the district’s new responsiveness as they are about the rise in test scores. The parent group she works with, Community Organizing and Family Issues, got the district to bus every kid to school. Before, many children had to make their own way through sometimes dangerous streets, which are often lined with litter and poorly lit.

Now, “parents don’t have to stress or worry about how their kids are going to get to school or think, ‘Oh, I hope a car doesn’t hit my kid on the way to school,’ ” said Hicks. “We’ve had numerous victories, but that’s the victory that made people here actually see the work that we are doing and what was possible.”

Money isn’t enough, but it’s essential

Yet, just as East Side Aligned is hitting its stride, Republicans in Washington have slated many of the very programs it has connected for cuts. President Trump’s latest budget proposal included cuts to after-school and job training programs. And the proposed cuts to welfare programs like food stamps and Medicaid, for example, would fall hard on East St. Louis. More than 75 percent of children here use these programs, among the very highest rates in the country.

East St. Louis continues to pursue a Promise Neighborhoods grant, but is less hopeful of receiving one, although the city received a high score on its 2016 application. The Trump administration has shifted the program’s focus somewhat away from education and toward law and order. Culver has been able to land other grant funding, however, such as a federal School Improvement Grant for several of East St. Louis’ lowest-performing schools. But he worries that grants are not a sustainable source of funding.

Although the city has one of the highest tax rates in the state, the community’s meager tax base means that local funding represents just under 15 percent of the district’s revenue. In the average Illinois district, local dollars make up nearly 70 percent of the budget. “When you look at per-pupil wealth across communities, the state averages $225,000 per kid,” Culver said of Illinois. “We have about $18,000.” That means that East St. Louis schools are largely dependent on state dollars; and though Illinois passed a new school funding formula last year, Culver and other superintendents say it doesn’t address the needs of the state’s poorest communities quickly enough. As things stand, Culver says that the state money won’t be enough to sustain the district’s nascent progress.

Locals are the first to acknowledge that pouring more money into the city isn’t the only answer. For years, corruption and mismanagement meant much of the help they received was wasted or inefficient.

Evan Krauss, East Side Aligned’s director, struggles with how its work can transform the city without economic development. He said he’s been asked, “Are you working in a hospital or a hospice?”

“In a hospice, you’re trying to ensure that there is a quality of life until that end point,” he said. “Whereas in a hospital, you’re going to treat the problem, and it’s about improvement to sustain life. That’s a question I can’t answer. And I think people are split on which East Side Aligned is.”

Johanna Wharton, director of special projects at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville’s East St. Louis Center, is part of a team looking at matching East St. Louis residents to federally funded workforce training opportunities. Wharton says there has been a hesitation by some players in the area to reach out to East St. Louis residents. “They think they’re not going to finish the training program, they’re not to going pass the drug test, or they’re going to get one check and quit,” said Wharton.

She points to one county program, for instance, that works with the area’s laid-off steel workers, but not with the average East St. Louisan.

“They have money they can’t spend because they’re investing all of it in the laid-off, dislocated workers, and not on people on [welfare] or on food stamps,” said Wharton.

To address this, she says, her university has volunteered to do the recruiting and also “to hold hands with people who are ready and prepared to get certifications and work in living-wage jobs.” Wharton and her team are already working to connect Head Start parents and high school students with workforce development opportunities.

Montez Holton will be going away to college this fall. He plans to enroll as a junior at Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee, where he’ll study biology. He eventually wants to go to medical school and become a doctor.

While Holton isn’t sure if he wants to live in East St. Louis, he does want to support the community by opening up a practice in East St. Louis and giving jobs to youth interested in medicine. He thinks bringing jobs to East St. Louis is key. Like a lot of employed East St. Louisans, Holton has to leave the city to work: “It can be stressful thinking about how I’m going to get to work.”

Lettie Hicks doesn’t see a future for her city if jobs don’t return. In President Trump’s first State of the Union speech, he vowed to cut off programs to people who aren’t willing to do “a hard day’s work.” In fact, congressional Republicans just passed a bill that would include work requirements for food stamps. Hicks agrees that jobs and not a more expansive social safety net are the ultimate solution for her city and others like it. But she says before people in her community are thrown off the rolls, they need access to “decent jobs with real benefits like a 401k.”

“It’s like the system has it programmed where we will always need the system,” she said.

But Hicks believes that if anyone is going to come up with the solution, it’s going to be people like her who’ve lived it. Indeed, East Side Aligned, isn’t just about helping organizations work together, it’s also about giving residents like Hicks the tools to hold those institutions accountable.

“What we need is for the officials making decisions for us to listen to our stories,” said Hicks. “You can’t plan a strategy for me if you’re not asking me what my family needs. Include me in those decisions.”

Emmanuel Felton reported this story with the support of the Dennis A. Hunt Fund for Health Journalism, a program of the University of Southern California Center for Health Journalism.

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Michigan Democratic Governor Candidates Are Running Against Betsy DeVos

Before becoming U.S. secretary of education ― a position dedicated to enforcing and crafting national education laws ― Betsy DeVos spent decades in Michigan, carefully influencing education policy through millions of dollars in donations to politicians and philanthropy.

Now that DeVos has left her home state to join President Donald Trump’s administration in Washington, politicians back home are working to undermine her previous efforts. All three Democrats running for Michigan governor have specific plans to reverse her footprint on the state’s schools.

Abdul El Sayed, who announced his education plan on Wednesday, has the most direct, comprehensive and radical rebuke of DeVos. His plan, titled “De-DeVos Public Education” calls for new efforts to stifle DeVos’ pet causes, like school choice, and reverse the impact of school segregation.

“Betsy DeVos has destroyed Michigan’s education system. She’s trying to destroy the federal education system, and we’re going to have to show the country and the world how we de-DeVos an education system,” El-Sayed, former Detroit health director, told HuffPost over the phone.

The other two Democratic candidates for governor on the ballot ― former state Senate Democratic leader Gretchen Whitmer and businessman Shri Thanedar ―also say they intend to reverse DeVos-influenced policies as part of their education proposals. Michigan’s Democratic primary is Aug. 7. Four Republicans are vying to replace outgoing Gov. Rick Snyder (R) in the November election.

DeVos, a billionaire married to the former Amway CEO, helped vastly expand charter schools over the years ― both for-profit and nonprofit ones. Decades after DeVos began pushing the expansion of her favored policies, Michigan students post poor rankings on nationally representative tests. 

For Michigan politicians, the rebuke of DeVos appears to make sense. Polls rank DeVos as the Trump administration’s least-popular Cabinet secretary. Her nomination to lead the Education Department sparked outrage from families and teachers around the country. 

Progressive national education groups have benefited financially from opposition to DeVos, seeing spikes in donations after her confirmation.

Michigan Democratic gubernatorial candidates seem to be making the same bet.

The education plans of El-Sayed and Thanedar call for banning for-profit charter schools. Whitmer’s plan doesn’t go quite as far, but proposes an end to the expansion of these schools.

All three Democratic candidates emphasize the need for greater accountability for nonprofit charter schools ― with Sayed calling for an independent, statewide charter-authorizing council that would increase scrutiny and transparency. Thanedar said he’s not opposed to charter schools and school choice, but opposes charter schools with a “profit motivation.”

Beyond DeVos, the candidates are proposing universal preschool and pay raises for educators. Thanedar specifically calls out DeVos’ treatment of college sexual assault victims. El-Sayed wants to end early childhood suspensions. Whitmer emphasizes her time in the Michigan legislature, where she actively worked against the DeVos agenda.

The three candidates promote their commitment to college affordability, with El-Sayed proposing four years of debt-free college for families below a certain income.

The candidates’ plans represent a stark departure from where Michigan education has been headed under Republican leadership.

Charter school advocacy groups insist that policies favored by DeVos remain popular. A 2017 survey from the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, a conservative think tank, found that most Michigan families who participate in educational choice are satisfied with their schools. On a nationwide scale, school choice groups insist that enthusiasm for charter schools are still going strong, despite DeVos’ low popularity.

But Thanedar said that some people in Michigan consider DeVos an “enemy of public education” and believe “the unregulated expansion of charter schools is one of the reasons for our failing schools.”

Even DeVos acknowledged that Michigan schools need to raise their performance during a March interview with “60 Minutes.”

“I can’t say overall that they have all gotten better,” DeVos told journalist Lesley Stahl of the state’s schools. “Michigan schools need to do better. There is no doubt about it.”

Said said El-Sayed: “Betsy DeVos is the single biggest obstacle to improving education in this country and certainly improving education in the state of Michigan. The sooner we root out the approach she has embedded into a GOP-dominated legislature, the better off our kids are.” 

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