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

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

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

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

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

Carolina Moreno/HuffPost

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aja Harris/HuffPost

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Carolina Moreno/HuffPost

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Carolina Moreno/HuffPost

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

‘Everything Was Sadness’

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

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

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

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

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

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

Carolina Moreno/HuffPost

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Carolina Moreno/HuffPost

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

When Trauma Accumulates

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

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

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

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

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

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

Carolina Moreno/HuffPost

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aja Harris/HuffPost

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

The Loss Of A Safe Space 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aja Harris/HuffPost

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

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

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

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

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

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

Georgetown Prep yearbook

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

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

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

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

Brian Murkowski did not return a request for comment. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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How To Talk To Your Kids About Natural Disasters

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

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

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

Remain Calm

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

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

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

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

Limit Media Exposure

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

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

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

Hero Images via Getty Images

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

Find Out What They Want To Know

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

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

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

Keep It Age-Appropriate

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

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

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

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

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

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

Part of reassuring kids is offering a little TLC. 

Blend Images – KidStock via Getty Images

Part of reassuring kids is offering a little TLC. 

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

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

Be Honest

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

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

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

Kids are reassured by honesty and calmness.
Gene Beresin

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

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

Focus On Preparedness

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

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

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

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

Include Them In The Process

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

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

paul mansfield photography via Getty Images

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

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

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

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

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

Pay Attention To Nonverbal Cues

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

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

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

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

Use Resources

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

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

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

Talk About Community

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

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

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

Hero Images via Getty Images

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other students dress up in the name of representation.

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

And some seniors strive to be completely original.

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

Even teachers get in on the fun.

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

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

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

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

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

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How To Talk To Your Kids About Addiction

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

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

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

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

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

Start Early

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

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

Keep It Age Appropriate

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

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

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

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

Let The Conversation Evolve

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

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

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

Draw Connections To Things They Understand

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

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

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

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

kupicoo via Getty Images

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

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

Be Honest

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

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

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

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

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

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

Don’t Use Scare Tactics

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

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

Make It Clear That It’s A Disease

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

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

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

asiseeit via Getty Images

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

Use Resources

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

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

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

Take Cues From Your Child

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Westend61 via Getty Images

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Betsy DeVos Loses Lawsuit Over Obama-Era Student Loan Rules

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Ellen DeGeneres Gives Gay Valedictorian Rejected By Parents A Heartwarming Surprise

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Jen Beaudoin and Caitlin Zammuto

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

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

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

1. Trust

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

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

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

2. Respect

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

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

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

3. Time

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

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

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

4. Communication

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

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

5. An open mind

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

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

6. A simple thanks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Courtesy of Jessica Sanders

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

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

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

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

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

Katja Kollecker

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hope For Who?

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

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

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

Joe Raedle via Getty Images

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

First Day Fail

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Activists in Florida are starting to rally around the issue.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

JGI/Jamie Grill via Getty Images

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

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

– Pete in Jacksonville, Florida

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You don’t know what you don’t know.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Michigan College Students Sue Over Laws They Say Make It Harder For Them To Vote

College Democrats in Michigan are suing to block two state statutes they say target young voters and make it more difficult to vote.

The lawsuit, filed in federal court Thursday on behalf of Democrats at the University of Michigan and Michigan State University, as well as the Michigan Federation of College Democrats, takes aim at a 1999 state law that requires a voter’s registration address to match the one on their driver’s license. It also challenges a Michigan statute requiring anyone who registers to vote by mail or through a third party to vote in person the first time they go to cast a ballot.

The lawsuit claims that the statutes violate the First Amendment and the 26th Amendment, which guarantees anyone 18 or older the right to vote.

The laws are more likely to affect young voters, the suit argues, because they are disproportionately more likely to move and keep two addresses: one at home and one at school. College students are also more likely to be first-time voters and take advantage of registering by mail or via a voter registration drive, but they often lack access to reliable transportation, the suit says. 

“Young voters in Michigan have faced unequal and consequential barriers in registering to vote and voting for the first time, and they have even been denied the right to vote entirely for reasons that have nothing to do with their qualification or eligibility to participate in Michigan elections,” lawyers representing the group wrote. The suit also notes that state law allows people to register to vote wherever they regularly sleep, keep their personal belongings and have regular lodging.  

Young voters in Michigan have faced unequal and consequential barriers in registering to vote and voting for the first time.
Lawsuit on behalf of Democrats at the University of Michigan, Michigan State University and the Michigan Federation of College Democrats

A spokesman for Michigan Secretary of State Ruth Johnson (R), a named defendant in the suit, said the secretary’s office was “taken by surprise with what is seemingly an odd lawsuit.” He added it was easy for college students to update their addresses.

“For 20 years, residents have been able to conveniently update their address for both driver’s license and voting purposes,” Fred Woodhams, the spokesman, said in an email. “Michigan is by far the best state in the union in registering people to vote at our 131 Secretary of State (motor-vehicle) offices. Separating a person’s address for voting and licensing purposes would cause confusion and lead to different addresses for people who thought they had changed both.”

The Michigan students are being represented by a team of lawyers that includes Marc Elias, who served as general counsel to Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign. In July, Elias and his team represented a group of Florida college students who successfully sued the state to get rid of a blanket ban on early voting on college campuses. In that case, a federal judge said the state’s ban was intentional discrimination under the 26th Amendment.

No court had ever found a policy to be intentionally discriminatory under that amendment, leading some observers to speculate the amendment could be an emerging tool to fight voting restrictions.

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10 Common Back-To-School Struggles — And How To Deal

The backpacks are packed and the indoor shoes have been labeled. It’s time for our kids to go back to school. But sometimes it’s more complicated than picking out new pencil cases and lunch boxes: The start of school can result in anxiety, fresh logistical issues and burnout — for all parties. But just like the kiddos who will soon be studying for tests, a little preparation ahead of time on our part can help set everyone up for success. ?

We talked to teachers about what common struggles students face each September and how parents can help. (Don’t worry — there’s no pop quiz at the end!) Here they are:

1. Separation anxiety

For first-timers entering kindergarten and even older kids who’ve had tough summers, leaving mom or dad behind to go off to school can be scary and sad. If you suspect your child will suffer separation anxiety when they go to school this year, the Mayo Clinic recommends spending time apart before summer ends and touring the school together before the big day.

2. Dealing with all those unknowns

General anxiety can be just as stressful as separation anxiety. According to Monica Goncalves, a New Jersey State Teacher of the Year Finalist for 2017, September brings a lot of unknowns for kids. “Especially for the younger grades, I find, they get a little restless because they don’t know what’s next,” Goncalves says. “Parents just need to be very aware that students are going to be feeling anxious.”

If you suspect your child is feeling anxious, talk about what’s going on in their back-to-school transition. If they are nervous about a new teacher, classroom or school, you may be able to give them an early introduction or tour to ease some of that anxiety before the first day of classes.

3. When your child’s social group changes

Maybe your child is changing schools this year. Or maybe they’re in the same school, but their BFF moved. Whatever the situation, September brings changes to a child’s social scene — and a bad start can lead to a rough grade-long experience.

“Parents need to be aware of the new friendships that will be formed, and let them grow,” says Goncalves. “But keep an eye on them to a certain degree just to see if they are healthy relationships.”

If a friendship doesn’t seem healthy, talk to your child about why you’re concerned, but don’t blame their new friend. If a child understands what a healthy friendship looks like and why it benefits them, they’ll be more likely to seek those out and avoid friendships that could hurt them.

4. Becoming over-scheduled

According to Wisconsin teacher Amy Rosno, time management is one of the biggest struggles kids face in September. “Kids today have so much going on in their lives beyond the normal school day,” Rosno says.

For primary students, cutting down on extracurriculars near the beginning of the school year may help parents and kids balance the transition. Extra activities can be added back in once the school routine is firmly in place.

5. Too little tech

“Technology is always a point of frustration,” says Rosno, who teaches online. “It’s hard to believe that there are students who still struggle with some of the basics of how to use a computer.”

Parents can help their kids avoid feeling less-than-tech-savvy by finding out what kinds of technology they’ll be using in the school year and giving them some experience before hand. (For example, if the classroom is full of Chromebooks that will be foreign to your Mac-user, you may want to head to Best Buy and get a demo).

6. Too much tech

For some kids, not knowing how to use technology is the problem. For others, wanting to use it All. The. Time distracts from academics — especially after a summer spent online. hat’s when adults have to help kids find balance.

“Social media and technology is here to stay. It’s not going anywhere and we need to prepare our students,” Goncalves explains, adding that she’s not a big fan of taking tech away entirely, as it’s a skill kids are going to need for the future. Instead, she recommends parents talk to kids about limits and responsible use at school and at home.

7. Too much homework

It’s a common complaint in September (and really, all year). If your child feels they have too much homework, talk about why they feel that way before talking to the teacher. According to the National PTA, parents should determine if homework complaints are really due to volume — or if there’s something else at play.

8. Understanding the homework itself

Sometimes kids will complain about the amount of homework, but really the issue stems from unclear directions or the child not understanding material taught in class. Once you discover the root cause you can work with your child and the teacher to make homework less stressful.

9. When your child “hates school”

If your kid prefers homework to class, that may be an issue in itself. Kids who say they “hate school” are often having problems socially or academically. According to Rosno, it’s common for kids to stay silent when they are struggling with learning, so encourage your kids to speak up.

Same goes for social problems, though those may be a little tougher to solve. Kristen Record, the 2011 Connecticut State Teacher of the Year, says kids who are hesitant to tell their parents what’s going on will sometimes open up to a teacher or counselor. If this is the case, she says not to take it personally. “The most important thing you want [is for your child] to feel is that they could talk to you if they wanted to, even if they don’t.”

10. When a solid start becomes an academic slump

Some kids start off the school year with a hunger for knowledge — only to be coasting academically by Christmas break. If your child is experiencing this loss of initial enthusiasm, talk to them about why and what would keep them engaged year round. Losing steam after September may not be a problem in the early years, but it can have serious consequences by the time your child is a senior, Goncalves says.

Kids face a lot of struggles during the back-to-school season, but teachers say the first step in helping them is for parents to stay involved. If you’re aware of what happens between those ringing bells, you’ll be a partner and a participant in your child’s education not just in September, but the whole year through.

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‘Mom, I Didn’t Eat Alone!’ Mother Shares Post About Kind Students Who Included Her Son

For four years, Kay Kirby would sometimes cry when she dropped her son, Andrew, off at school. Every day during his lunch period, she would text him and ask if he was sitting with anyone. Each day, he would text back that he was alone.

“It’s been a constant over the years. He has sat alone and its always bothered me and my husband. I can picture him sitting by himself,” Kay told Fox News. “Over the years, he’s had administration … staff [sit by him], but he’s never had his own peers.”

But on the first day of his junior year on Aug. 20, Andrew didn’t respond to his mother’s lunchtime text.

When she picked him up at the end of the day, he explained why he failed to reply. “Mom, I didn’t sit alone!” he said.

Members of South Carolina Boiling High School’s student council noticed Andrew sitting alone and asked him to join them at their table.

“We just wanted to say thank you to them for not being afraid to be a friend to someone,” she said. “It gives me peace and it just helps me as a mother [to see him with friends].”

Damian Howarth, one of the students who invited Andrew to his table, told Fox Carolina, “We should have stepped up before and more people should have to.”

Kay told Fox that Andrew is adopted and that he was born with a crack cocaine addiction. He also has neurofibromatosis, which causes tumors to grow along the nervous system. “He’s had a lot of challenges,” Kay said, which include major back and neck surgeries. “He’s bright, but he’s just different.”

Now, Andrew is more confident. “He wants to go to school now,” Kay said.

Andrew sits with his new friends daily, and on Saturday, the group went to the movies together.

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Parents Outraged After 5-Year-Old Son Leaves School Alone, Walks Nearly 3 Miles Home

Parents of a boy are demanding answers after their 5-year-old son walked nearly 3 miles home from his first day of kindergarten on Monday at Fairview Elementary School in Hayward, Calif., unsupervised.

Duana Kirby spoke to KPIX about the phone call that she received from her son, Jackson, where he shared some surprising news that forced her to leave work early.

“He said, ‘Mommy I made it home,’” Kirby told the news outlet. “I was like, ‘Jackson, you are supposed to be at school. Why did you take your phone to school?’ I thought he took his phone. He said, ‘No mommy I’m at home.’ I said, ’Who brought you home? He said, ‘Nobody. I walked.’”

Kirby told KTVU that Jackson was supposed to be escorted to an after-school program on the school’s campus after his day ended. Kirby said her son went to the bathroom down the hall from his classroom when school got out at 12:20 p.m. While Jackson was in the bathroom, an instructor from the program stopped by his classroom to see if he was there and then went to get children from other classes, Kirby said.

When Jackson returned from the bathroom, no one was in left in his classroom. So he decided to walk home.

Photo: KPIX

The 5-year-old used familiar landmarks to find his way home.

After she met her son at home, Kirby mapped out the route from the school to her house, determining that her son had walked 2.6 miles. The 5-year-old didn’t know any street names but said that he looked for certain landmarks that helped him find his way back. And although he made it back safely, Kirby isn’t pleased with how her son was able to slip away from the school so easily.

“I felt he would be safe at school,” Kirby said. “But he wasn’t.”

The following day, Kirby and her husband, Larry, showed up at the school to ensure that Jackson made it to his after-school program.

“[I’m a] working mom of four kids,” Kirby said. “My husband works as well. And this is what I have to go through to make sure my kids are safe.”

The Hayward Unified School District sent a voicemail to all parents at Fairview Elementary to explain the situation and to promise that the district would be paying more attention to students. The school district also provided this statement to Yahoo Lifestyle:

The safety and security of our students is our highest priority. The district currently has policies and procedures in place to ensure the safety of children while at school and in our afterschool programs. We take this incident very seriously and are investigating to determine what steps need to be taken to ensure that this does not happen again.

Still, the Kirby family is pursuing legal action against the school, according to the East Bay Times.

“It’s hard to gauge where he’s at,” Kirby told the local publication about how her son has been doing since. “He’s only 5. I know it has had some effect. Yesterday, he didn’t eat his lunch or dinner last night. It’s having some kind of impact on him.”

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Here’s The Most Alarming Part Of Betsy DeVos’ Proposed Sexual Misconduct Guidelines

Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos is expected to propose a controversial set of sexual misconduct rules for schools across the country ― and victims’ advocates are not happy.

DeVos is preparing new Title IX policies that would “bolster the rights of students accused of assault, harassment or rape, reduce liability for institutions of higher education and encourage schools to provide more support for victims,” according to an explosive New York Times report published Wednesday.

The potential new regulations for Title IX (the federal civil rights law created to ensure gender equality in education) include several changes that have advocates up in arms, including narrowing the definition of sexual misconduct and allowing assailants to cross-examine their accusers during the mediation process. Title IX regulations apply to all levels of schooling, but advocates are focusing on universities due to the epidemic of sexual violence that takes place on campuses.

“What is reflected in the Times article is a tacit endorsement of campuses where it is safer to commit sexual assault than to be a survivor,” Jess Davidson, executive director of the survivor advocacy organization End Rape on Campus, told HuffPost.

Almost all of the known proposed regulations would put survivors at risk, but one stands out as particularly alarming. The potential new Title IX guidelines would only hold universities accountable for sexual misconduct that is “said to have occurred on their campuses,” according to the Times.

Title IX advocates and sexual assault survivors agree that this regulation could potentially be disastrous: A whopping 87 percent of college students live off campus. Additionally, many social events take place off campus at bars, Greek life houses, apartment complexes and sports teams’ houses.

“This is really just saying that ‘it doesn’t matter that you were assaulted three minutes off campus. You still have to share a classroom with your rapist. And you don’t have any rights,’” Sage Carson, manager of the anti-sexual violence organization Know Your IX, told HuffPost.

Title IX is not meant to be focused on where the assault occurred but how that violence is impacting someone’s education.
Sage Carson, manager, Know Your IX

“Title IX is not meant to be focused on where the assault occurred but how that violence is impacting someone’s education. And the impact of that doesn’t change depending on where you were assaulted,” Carson continued. “This was a really clear message that DeVos just doesn’t understand the point of Title IX at all.”

Although Title IX is best known as a broad tool to combat gender discrimination in education, it also provides important protections for survivors of sexual assault, including the right to an investigation and the ability to change class schedules so as not to interact with an assailant.

Davidson, who has previously blogged for HuffPost, said she was “absolutely outraged” by the off-campus provision. “Whether or not your assault happened in a campus facility or an off-campus facility ― students deserve just as much access to their Title IX rights as any other student,” she said.

Sejal Singh, policy coordinator for Know Your IX, brought up the sexual abuse scandal involving Larry Nassar, the former USA Gymnastics and Michigan State University team doctor accused of sexually abusing hundreds of athletes.

“Would it make sense for Larry Nassar not to be held accountable if he only abused student athletes at off-campus events?” Singh said. “It’s absurd.”

Mike Theiler / Reuters

A group of demonstrators gather outside Founders Hall where DeVos delivered a major policy address on Title IX enforcement at George Mason University in Arlington, Virginia, on Sept. 7, 2017.

Not only would this proposed rule ignore the rampant sexual violence that often takes place at fraternity and athletes’ houses, it would likely further isolate marginalized students who commute to campus.

“When you look at community colleges and commuter colleges ― this guideline would prevent marginalized students from having their claims considered,” Davidson said. “Especially when it’s already more difficult to report sexual assault if you are a student from a variety of historically underserved backgrounds.”

As a Title IX coordinator and sexual assault survivor herself, Taylor Parker knows just how dangerous the off-campus provision could be.

“A lot of assaults happen at off-campus parties,” Parker told HuffPost. “If off-campus misconduct creates a hostile learning environment on campus, then this provision completely misses the point of what a civil rights law is attempting to accomplish.”

“I feel like my government has basically abandoned me,” she added.

I feel like my government has basically abandoned me.
Taylor Parker, sexual assault survivor & Title IX coordinator

Education Department spokeswoman Liz Hill told The New York Times that the department is “in the midst of a deliberative process,” saying the proposed regulations obtained by the paper are “premature and speculative.” 

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

Title IX advocates and survivors told HuffPost they’re prepared to fight, and other supporters should be too. 

“This policy actually can be stopped,” Davidson said.

The Department of Education will likely release a final proposed Title IX regulation in the next few days or weeks. Legally, the department is required to consider all comments from the public before making a decision.

“Everyone has the opportunity to stop this from happening, but we absolutely have to participate and comment,” Davidson said. “It’s actually one of the best opportunities we’ve ever had to stop something created by the Trump administration in its tracks.”

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Teacher Helps Students Make ‘Skin Color’ Paints Beyond Brown And Tan

“Love the skin you’re in.”

That’s the goal that kindergarten teacher Aeriale Johnson wants to teach her class this year — and she’s well on her way.

Johnson, who kicked off the school year last week at Washington Elementary School in San Jose, Calif., shared her message in a tweet on Aug. 23, along with her first class project: skin-color paint. Not merely “brown” or “tan” skin color, either. Instead, Johnson had each student create a custom pigment to match their own flesh.

Along with the paint, she shared images of a bell hooks book titled Skin Again and another one titled The Skin You Live In, along with a conversation prompt that asked, “In what ways does the color of our skin influence who we are and what place we are in the world?”

People on Twitter applauded Johnson for her idea, with over 1,000 of them liking and retweeting her photos. Many said they loved the idea and would do the same with their own classrooms.

Aeriale told one of her fans that to make the paint, all the kids started with a base of brown or peach.

“Then, in small groups, added white, yellow, red, dark brown and/or green to get to just the right hue,” she wrote. “They looked like they were at Ulta trying to find foundation.”

She also tweeted that the conversations her project sparked were “great.”

With the beauty industry finally coming around to diversity, especially with women of color like Rihanna and her inclusive Fenty Beauty line, the equal importance of all skin tones is becoming more mainstream. But that market is an older makeup-wearing crowd — and the need for self-love among oppressed groups is still very much needed among kids.

It’s all to say that acknowledging skin color earlier, especially with younger children of color, can have a huge impact. According to Johnson’s own school’s School Accountability Report from the 2016-2017 school year, 95.7 percent of the students are classified as Hispanic while 1.3 percent are black and 1.1 percent are white.

“Thinking critically about stereotypes, prejudice, and discrimination takes away barriers to comfortable and respectful interactions with a wide range of people and gives children a tool to resist negative messages about their identities,” authors Louise Derman-Sparks and Julie Olsen Edwards explained in a blog for Teaching for Change, an organization dedicated to bridging the gap between classrooms and social awareness. The post is an excerpt from a book they’ve written on the subject, called Anti-Bias Education for Young Children and Ourselves.

They say that activities about racial differences like varying “skin color” paints can help students learn to value the differences amongst themselves, but also what makes them unique too.

One tweeter responded to Johnson’s post with her own story about skin color education in the classroom:

However, kindergarteners are still kindergartners, and the art project wasn’t a completely serious affair.

“My favorite was the little boy who said, ‘I look like chocolate cake!’” Johnson tweeted.

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As This School Year Begins, Please Teach Your Children To Be Kind

A fresh backpack, lunchbox, shoes and school outfit are waiting tomorrow for my child’s first day of school. There is an excitement in the air as we bought school supplies and met her teacher last week. She picked out her name tag like the other kids and picked her seat. She flashed a big smile to her new teacher and chattered endlessly about school starting again and how she was excited to go back and to learn. We went and got a new haircut and she told the stylist how she was starting third grade.

Tomorrow, I will take the traditional first day of school picture, and I will proudly post it on all of my social media accounts. I will probably scroll back and look at it a couple of times and wonder where my baby has gone and how this school-aged girl with long legs is standing on my front porch.

That is where the similarities will end. As many parents cheer and are relieved to get back to a routine, I’m left with only nerves and trepidation. The summers in my house are happy. My daughter is a child who can explore the outdoors and experience life as a carefree and curious kid. She plays with neighbor children until bedtime and explores campgrounds on the weekend. She makes mud pies and collects dirt under her fingernails that need to be clipped and scrubbed frequently.

Unfortunately, school brings other experiences. The child who played carefree until bedtime with neighbors is the same child who is frequently seen sitting with her teacher’s aid (TA) at lunch and playing by herself on the playground. The fingernails that grew long and collected dirt over the summer are replaced with nails that are bit, picked and chewed so much that her shirts frequently come home bloodied or on some really bad days, have to be changed completely.

The girl who chatted endlessly to family and friends is the same girl who is quiet and reserved at school, frequently clamming up when put on the spot or asked a direct question. The child who could explore during the summer and jump from varying activities is the same child who frequently loses focus and can’t concentrate on subjects at school.

My child has invisible learning disabilities.

However, underneath them, she is a kid just like everyone else.

This year as you talk to you children about their new teacher, new classroom, and new adventures, I beg you to talk to your kids about being kind. I beg you to explain to your child that children with disabilities are just like them, but it might take a little longer to understand or get to know them. If nothing else, please just teach your children to be kind. Maybe ask about something they did that was kind alongside your questions of who they played with or what they learned.

Our kids will thank you for it!

A proud mama to a child with hidden disabilities.

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I Crowdfunded My Classroom’s School Supplies. Here’s Why I Shouldn’t Have To.

This is not a feel-good story. Not really, anyway. While some of my anecdotes may sound similar to tropes in a feel-good story, overall this is a story of misplaced priorities, misappropriated funds and a broken system.

While this story fosters hope in the fellow man, it is still a story of children who need and deserve much more than they are given. This is a story of a teacher who begged the internet for classroom supplies.

It began in 2009, in the trenches of the recession. Shortly after I had my daughter, I was laid off from my corporate job when my company purged 1,000 employees right before Thanksgiving. I found myself frantically looking for work along with millions of others. Without a glimmer of hope, I continued to look for work while also taking graduate courses to earn a degree in secondary education, something I had always wanted to do.

With two degrees under my belt, I still could not find work. By sheer luck, I was hired as a long-term substitute in a coveted, affluent school district. For three years, I fought for a contract. Every year I was invited back as a long-term substitute, and every year a young, fresh-out-of-college boy was hired for a full-time role.

Feeling used and abused, I left education.

In 2016, a startup company I was working for cut my department and outsourced it to contractors. I was once again out of a job. I took a job at a small school in Philadelphia. I cannot lie and say I wasn’t nervous to go back to teaching, especially since this school was not in my former affluent area.

I didn’t know exactly what I was getting myself into. I’d heard stories about teaching in the inner-city schools in Philadelphia. I’d listened to firsthand accounts from educators who were assaulted by their students, who were verbally and physically harassed, and who were emotionally abused. I’d seen “Dangerous Minds.”

Last year flew by, as I dealt with a huge learning curve. In May, I knew I needed to do more the following school year. I knew I needed to completely commit to my role in this school and make it my permanent home. I loved my students, my co-workers and my school. However, as at every inner-city school, I knew I would have to purchase whatever I needed on my own.

I spent the summer looking for donations of used furniture. I purchased display tables from Toys R Us when the store went out of business. I browsed the sale and clearance sections in every store I walked into. By the time summer was coming to an end, I was horrified by how much money I had already spent.

“How did you find a job that pays you nothing and requires you to spend your own money on top of it all?” my husband somewhat-jokingly teased me when he watched me browse the local garage sale groups on Facebook. But he doesn’t understand, just like others who aren’t in education don’t understand.

No one understands what it’s like to have pieces of an office chair fly off your pants every time you stand up. No one sees the file cabinets without tops, held together by duct tape and pieces of plywood. No one comprehends the massive amount of tissues, pens, paper, snacks, Band-Aids and sanitary products teachers purchase for their students, especially for students from low-income households. No one gets it.

Instead, I hear exasperated and irritated parents complain about buying supplies for their kids every year. Every year I am told how the school district should provide “this and that.” I read about Betsy DeVos and her 10 yachts and how the secretary of education is considering using federal funds to allow districts to purchase handguns for their classrooms. I wonder: Will these be additional funds, or do we have to divide the current funds between binders and handguns?

I made it my mission to create a real classroom for my students. I wanted the type of classroom I imagine all kids should have: a classroom in which students feel comfortable and confident. I was no longer just looking for basic pens and pencils. Because why can’t my students sit in an inviting and cozy classroom? Why should children enjoy the comforts of a beautiful, clean, airy and bright classroom only in affluent areas? It’s not at all fair and it’s not at all how I want to teach.

Then, as if the internet were reading my mind (which, I’m not quite sure it wasn’t) I read about teachers crowdfunding for classroom supplies and I thought, “Why not me?” In the past, I have donated to every GoFundMe, animal shelter, new mother in need, homeless shelter, children’s hospital, and every other request for donation my friends, acquaintances and strangers have requested. I’ve earned some good karma, I thought.

So, I did it. I created a Wish List on Amazon. I asked for basics, like pens and pencils and paper, and I asked for some “luxuries,” such as posters, beanbag chairs and bookshelves. I shared it on Twitter and Facebook, and I went to sleep.

I woke up to an empty Wish List and hundreds of messages. I added more to the list; I added items for my colleagues who needed pencils, notebooks, staplers and clocks. Again, overnight, almost every item on my Wish List disappeared. Almost everything was purchased. Kind strangers and friends and family purchased nearly $5,000 in supplies for my classroom and my school. I was overwhelmed, to put it mildly.

It’s been a week since this incredible event happened to me and I am still in awe. I am amazed by the kindness of strangers. This experience taught me that while some may want to make us believe we are divided as a people, we are definitely more united than ever. When we see a common good cause, we all come together and help. And that kind of lesson is one I very much needed in today’s world and one I would like my students to learn.

Sometimes, we have to depend on the kindness of strangers, and those are the times that define how we view the world. Sometimes amazing things happen.

But once again, this is not a feel-good story.

This is the story that we need to retell because this experience should not have even been possible. If our politicians cared about our children, our education and our future, they would always allot enough funds for schools. But they do not, and thus teachers are forced to throw themselves at the mercy of strangers. This story is one you’ve probably heard before; however, this time, I really need you to listen.   

Do you have a compelling personal story you’d like to see published on HuffPost? Find out what we’re looking for here and send us a pitch!

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Teaching High School Journalism In The ‘Fake News’ Era

As a high school history and government teacher, I do my best to avoid feeding into partisan humor or offering unsolicited remarks about what politicians say and do. I want students to focus on the learning process, not on what I believe ― though, with this administration, I have grown more open to the idea of sharing my views when asked.

When it comes to teaching journalism and advising the student news site The Gator, however, I have no qualms about expressing my disappointment in President Donald Trump’s treatment of the Fourth Estate, which includes our nation’s most venerable newsrooms.

My budding reporters expressed particular disdain for Trump’s Feb. 17 tweet, which declared, “The FAKE NEWS media (failing @nytimes, @NBCNews, @ABC, @CBS, @CNN) is not my enemy, it is the enemy of the American People!

My students, many of whom I’d also taught in history classes, knew I wasn’t one to lose my cool ― or become overly partisan. In this instance, though, I found myself unable to hold back my thoughts on what I considered to be dangerous, even unpatriotic statements from the highest office in the land.

Members of our founding generation had their own issues with the press. John Adams signed legislation in 1798 limiting the media’s ability to criticize the president in a move Trump likely would’ve supported (though the decision later went on to blemish his career). Thomas Jefferson had a similarly turbulent relationship with the press.

However, both also acknowledged the media’s centrality to the state. Prior to his presidency, Adams enshrined in the Massachusetts Constitution, adopted in 1780, that, “The liberty of the press is essential to the security of the freedom in a state: it ought not, therefore, to be restrained in this Commonwealth.” And Thomas Jefferson wrote in 1786, while serving as the United States Minister to France (before defeating Adams to become America’s third president), “Our liberty depends on the freedom of the press, and that cannot be limited without being lost.”

It’s no coincidence that the architects of our constitutional republic ― even while feuding with journalists ― enshrined freedom of the press as item No. 1 in the Bill of Rights. Any president who calls the media “fake” makes me question how much he knows about the history of this nation, including the central role the press has played in making America truly great. To repeatedly call the news media “the enemy of the people” angers and disappoints me.

I found myself unable to hold back my thoughts on what I considered to be dangerous, even unpatriotic statements from the highest office in the land.

I shared these views with my students, also making plain that The New York Times is neither fake nor disgusting. Does the Times make mistakes? Certainly, as do all outlets. But the nation’s paper-of-record admits errors and does its best to make corrections.

Moreover, contrary to what the president might believe, just because the newspaper’s op-ed section leans left, its news coverage is not somehow thereby contaminated. Reporters there and elsewhere are serious about remaining objective, often working on a different floor of the building than the column and editorial writers — all to avoid accusations of real or perceived bias. Even my young reporters recuse themselves from being involved in any opinion writing about the news they cover.

I want my students to have faith in the news media, and I do my best to cultivate that faith. I accomplish this (I hope) by guiding students through the news-gathering and news-writing processes. Often, my new reporters are sent back to the field to gain another perspective, and editors work with them to hone their writing skills. Before news stories appear live online, copy is seen by at least four staffers ― including me ― to ensure accuracy and fairness. When rookie reporters comment on how much it takes to get a story published, I tell them to think about how journalists at major media outlets feel.  

All of this isn’t to say that fake news doesn’t exist. It certainly does, but established media outlets aren’t churning it out. There is a big difference between getting a story wrong and purposely deceiving people, which Trump seems not to understand. Neither is acceptable, but one is far, far worse than the other.

I tell my students I have faith that even if one news outlet occasionally doesn’t hold its own pages and reporters accountable, others certainly will. I’m more concerned about teaching my students to differentiate a credible news organization and sites clearly meant to fool them ― like Alex Jones’s Infowars, which thrives on rumors and propaganda to attract hits and advertising revenue.

As school begins, I urge educators around the country to condemn Trump’s repeated attacks on the media. As for me, I’ll be reminding my own students that negative coverage of the president doesn’t amount to fake news ― that’s just Trump’s thin skin and aversion to scrutiny talking. 

David Cutler teaches history, journalism and government at Brimmer and May, an independent PK-12 school in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts. Follow him on Twitter at @SpinEdu. 

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Betsy DeVos’ New Campus Sexual Misconduct Rules Would Strengthen Rights Of The Accused

(Reuters) ― U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos will issue new rules to colleges and universities for addressing sexual harassment or assault cases, lessening their liability for incidents that happen off-campus, the New York Times reported on Wednesday.

The new policies would also strengthen the rights of students accused of assault, harassment or rape and seek to provide more support for victims, the Times reported.

Department of Education spokeswoman Liz Hill declined to discuss the proposed recommendations with Reuters.

“We are in the midst of a deliberative process. Any information the New York Times claims to have is premature and speculative, and therefore we have no comment,” Hill said.

The report was published on the same day that officials said a former University of Southern California (USC) gynecologist, George Tyndall, accused of sexually assaulting hundreds of students, had agreed to a suspension of his medical license.

The Education Department is investigating how USC handled that case after the university acknowledged failing to properly act on at least eight complaints lodged against Tyndall between 2000 and 2014.

Last year, the administration of Republican President Donald Trump reversed guidelines established under President Barack Obama, a Democrat, on how colleges should handle sexual assault accusations, saying the prior policies led to too many students being falsely charged or disciplined.

The prior rules outlined a strict set of steps for schools to follow or risk losing funding under Title IX, the federal law that bars sex discrimination in education.

According to the New York Times, the rules being prepared by DeVos’ office would preserve much of Title IX but would also for the first time legally define sexual harassment on campuses and how schools were expected to address formal complaints.

The proposals would hold colleges and universities responsible only for incidents on campus or in their programs and call for impartiality in investigating allegations and using the presumption that the accused student or staff member is innocent until proven guilty, the newspaper reported.

“The proposed campus sexual misconduct policies from Betsy DeVos and her Department of Education are just the latest example of the Trump administration turning its back on women and victims of sexual assault,” the Democratic National Committee said in a statement.

“These proposed rules are a blatant and disturbing attack on every student who has experienced or could experience sexual assault or misconduct on a college campus, and they exemplify the misplaced priorities of DeVos and the Trump administration,” the DNC said.

(Reporting by Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles; editing by Grant McCool)

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Detroit To Shut Off Drinking Water At All Public Schools Because Of Contamination

(Reuters) Detroit authorities on Wednesday ordered drinking water shut off at all city public schools after elevated levels of lead and copper were found in water at more than a dozen buildings with antiquated plumbing systems.

Over the weekend, supplies were cut at 16 schools and bottled water was provided until water coolers arrive, Detroit Public Schools Community District Superintendent Nikolai Vitti said.

Although there is no evidence of excessive levels of copper or lead in other schools, Vitti decided to shut off water throughout the system “until a deeper and broader analysis can be conducted to determine the long-term solutions for all schools,” he said in a statement.

“We have no reason to believe that any children have been harmed,” said Chrystal Wilson, a spokeswoman for the district. 

About 50,000 students are enrolled in the district, which operates 110 schools, according to its website. Detroit public schools students are due to start classes on Tuesday, although teachers are already working.

The Great Lakes Water Authority and Detroit Water and Sewerage Department said in a statement that the water, after treatment, surpassed all federal and state standards for quality and safety. They attributed any drinking water contamination in the affected schools to the antiquated plumbing in the buildings.

Detroit’s drinking water comes from the Detroit River.

Water safety is a sensitive issue in Michigan, where lead contamination in the water supply of Flint prompted dozens of lawsuits and criminal charges against former government officials.

Medical research has linked lead to a stunting of children’s neural development. Exposure to copper can cause gastrointestinal distress and liver or kidney damage, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Flint switched its water supply to the Flint River from Lake Huron in April 2014 to cut costs. The corrosive river water caused lead to leach from pipes. Flint switched back to Lake Huron water in October 2015, but the contamination continued.

(Reporting by Suzannah Gonzales in Chicago; Editing by Cynthia Osterman and Peter Cooney)

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Seattle Teachers Vote To Strike If Deal Not Reached Over Salaries

Teachers in Seattle have voted to authorize a strike after contract negotiations between their union and Seattle Public Schools failed to produce a deal over pay.

The strike is expected to take effect on September 5 ― the first day of school ― if discussions don’t result in a tentative contract.

Matt McKnight / Reuters

In 2015, a teachers’ strike in Seattle delayed the start of the school year for more than 50,000 students.

According to The Seattle Times, the decision by the Seattle Education Association on Tuesday night followed strikes that have disrupted the first day of school in two southwest Washington districts. Additional educators are expected to take action in four more districts over the coming days. 

The action stems from an order by the Washington Supreme Court in 2017 that required the state to accelerate its plan to provide more money for teachers’ salaries. Since then, lawmakers have approved billions of dollars in school funding, including $2 billion set aside for salaries.

Negotiations with the union were focused on how the funding should be distributed. A spokesperson for the Washington Education Association said the discussions presented a “once in a lifetime” opportunity for teachers to ask for a substantial pay increase. 

Seattle Public Schools’ Superintendent Denise Juneau previously said in a statement that she was “optimistic there will be a positive resolution for staff, students and families.”

Another meeting is scheduled for Wednesday.

If the strike does go ahead, it won’t be the first time that Seattle teachers have walked out of class to demand higher pay. In 2015, a teachers’ strike delayed the start of the school year for more than 50,000 students.

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Controversial School Assignment Asks Students Who Is ‘Deserving’ Of Life: A Homosexual Pro Athlete Or Black Medical Student?

An Ohio middle school has apologized for an assignment that asked students to hypothetically save people’s lives depending on their race, ethnicity and sexual orientation.

A photo of the assignment, titled “Whom to Leave Behind,” was posted to Facebook on Wednesday by Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio 6th Ward City Councilman Adam Miller, who called the project “inappropriate.”

The assignment, which was given out by an unidentified teacher at Roberts Middle School in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, instructed students to examine a list of 12 people selected to fly on a spaceship to another planet to avoid the Earth’s destruction. However, due to the ship’s space limitation, students must cut four people, ranking the list into “most deserving” and “least deserving” of life.

  • An accountant with a substance abuse problem.
  • A militant African-American medical student.
  • A 33-year-old Native American manager who does not speak English.
  • The accountant’s pregnant wife.
  • A famous novelist with a physical disability.
  • A 21-year-old female Muslim international student.
  • A Hispanic clergyman who is against homosexuality.
  • A female movie star who was recently the victim of sexual assault.
  • A racist armed police officer who has been accused of using excessive force.
  • A homosexual male, professional athlete.
  • An Asian, orphaned, 12-year-old boy.
  • A 60-year-old Jewish university administrator.

According to Miller’s Facebook page, parents raised their concerns to the school on Aug. 20. On Thursday, Todd M. Nichols, superintendent of Cuyahoga Falls City Schools, released a statement: “They were just made aware of the situation and are investigating,” according to local news station WOIO.

Parent Bernadette Hartman, whose son received the assignment, told news outlet WKYC, “What does her being Muslim have to do with it? What does being female have to do with it?” She added, “It’s hard for me to put it into words. It’s just hard.”

“This paper divides,” she said. “It doesn’t pull anybody together.” And parent Denise Petron asked of the teacher, “What did he expect to get out of this?”

On Facebook, Miller confirmed that the assignment was part of a seventh-grade math class and that parents had reached out to the city councilman as a “last resort” after their complaints went unanswered by the school.

In the comments section of Miller’s post, parents reacted. “I’m honestly having a hard time believing that anyone thought this was appropriate to give to kids,” wrote one person. The assignment was also slammed as “very disturbing,” age-inappropriate, and a poor example of traditional ethical projects that encouraged critical thought. “Liberal or conservative, thinking about how damning your kids’ answers could be if the teacher didn’t agree with their viewpoints,” wrote someone. 

Since the maelstrom of criticism erupted over the assignment, the school has issued another statement. When contacted, the office of Todd M. Nichols, superintendent of Cuyahoga Falls City Schools in Ohio, directed Yahoo Lifestyle to an explanation posted on the website of Roberts Middle School. “With regard to the assignment recently issued by a teacher at Roberts Middle School, it is important to provide context,” the statement said. “One of the District’s goals this year is training in the areas of diversity awareness and social justice. In this case, the intent of this assignment aligned with the goals of the District and was issued in four seventh- and eighth-grade classes.” 

“The intent of this lesson was to engage in an activity in diversity designed to promote tolerance and break down stereotypes,” the statement said. “The activity, which was drawn from the University of Houston’s Diversity Activities Resource Guide, was used as an ice-breaker during the first full week of school such that students can better understand each other and participate in group activities more successfully.”

“Unfortunately, some parents were upset and concerned by this particular assignment and thought it was not age-appropriate,” the letter concluded. “The teacher and District offer their most sincere apologies for the offense caused by the content used in this assignment.  Future assignments on this topic will be more carefully selected.”

A representative from the University of Houston sent the following statement to Yahoo Lifestyle:

“The Diversity Activities Resource Guide is a collection of exercises, often developed by third-party sources. While UH did not create this specific activity, we use it as a resource for college students in an effort to create awareness about cultural bias with the hope of sparking productive discussions and enlightening self-reflection. We encourage facilitators of this exercise to be trained in diversity and inclusion issues to appropriately handle difficult conversations that could arise.”    

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10-Year-Old Punished For Calling Teacher ‘Ma’am’

A 10-year-old boy in North Carolina was punished for calling his fifth-grade teacher “ma’am” after she told him not to address her with that term, according to news reports.

Tamarion Wilson was disciplined by having to write the word “ma’am” four times on each line of a piece of notebook paper, covering both sides, WTVD reported.

Teretha Wilson, Tamarion’s mother, told the TV station that she noticed something was wrong when her son got home from North East Carolina Preparatory School. He told her he had been disciplined for calling his teacher ma’am. As part of the punishment, he needed a parent’s signature on the piece of paper.

Tamarion’s mother and his father, McArthur Bryant, told WTVD that they had taught their son to use “ma’am” or “sir” when addressing adults as a sign of respect.

Teretha Wilson met with the teacher and the school’s principal and requested that her son be transferred to a different school. The move was granted.

The school released a brief statement on the incident: “This is a personnel matter which has been handled appropriately by the K-7 principal.”

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