When Schools Use Child Protective Services As A Weapon Against Parents

CHICAGO and NEW YORK — Tiffany Banks sat in her living room, a ruby-red wall decorated with family photographs behind her, listing all the ways her life had unraveled over the past year. Her 6-year-old son had been removed from her care for more than a month. She was forced to close an in-home child care business, and she’d been temporarily displaced from her preschool teaching job, which she’d held for 17 years. Her teenage daughter refused to talk to the 6-year-old, blaming him for the family’s troubles.

Banks didn’t blame her little boy. She blamed his school, and the investigators from the state’s child welfare agency they’d sent to her door.

Until last fall, Banks had only good things to say about her children’s school. She’d carefully chosen the K-8 institution, a magnet school across town from her single-family house on Chicago’s West Side, for its academic rigor and diverse student body. Her daughter, now 16, had thrived there, she said, and her middle son did well too. But when her youngest son entered first grade last year, he started misbehaving and making trouble for teachers. “He really struggles behavior-wise,” said Banks, a tall, self-assured woman who’d attended neighborhood public schools in Chicago and desperately wanted something different for her kids. “And at this school they have a low tolerance for it.”

The school wanted the boy to enroll in classes exclusively for students with disabilities. But Banks felt differently: Despite his behavior problems, for which he was eventually diagnosed with attention deficit and mood disorders, he did well academically, she said. Banks pushed back, going so far as to make complaints to the city’s education board and entering mediation with the school.

This was unfolding around the time the workers from the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, or DCFS, began investigating her for alleged child abuse and neglect.  

School employees in most states have a legal obligation to report any suspicion of abuse and neglect, and they can play a critical role in helping keep children out of harm’s way. But in nearly three dozen interviews conducted by The Hechinger Report and HuffPost, parents, lawyers, advocates and child welfare officials said that schools occasionally wield this authority in inappropriate ways. Fed up with what they see as obstinate parents who don’t agree to special education services for their child, or disruptive kids who make learning difficult, schools sometimes use the threat of a child-protection investigation to strong-arm parents into complying with the school’s wishes or transferring their children to a new school. That approach is not only improper, but it can be devastating for families, even if the allegations are ultimately determined to be unfounded.

Banks’ first brush with DCFS came after the school sent her son to the hospital because he was acting out, she said. They wanted him to receive a psychiatric evaluation, she said, but Banks refused because he already had an appointment with his doctor for the following week. The second time a caseworker investigated her, she said, it was because her son’s doctor had prescribed him a new medication and the school hadn’t been properly notified. Next came an investigation after her middle child wrote a paper that Banks was told contained troubling content. One time, she gave her youngest son a spanking for running away from school. After he told school employees about it the next day, he was removed from her home for more than a month and sent to live with her sister-in-law while the child welfare agency investigated her for abuse, according to Banks. The most recent case was the most incomprehensible to her: Banks said she was investigated for letting her middle child go to school with a bad haircut he’d given himself. The haircut, Banks said she was told by an investigator, could amount to emotional abuse.   

As a teacher, Banks herself had sometimes called the state child welfare hotline over the years, when she worried that her students were being abused or neglected. But in her case, she believes the school simply wanted her son gone. Banks said she’d heard from a handful of other parents who’d found themselves in similar situations, all of whom are African-American like her and whose children have disabilities. “All I’m looking for is a good education for my kid,” said Banks. She felt the allegations against her had been twisted and exaggerated to fit a narrative that she was a bad mother. “It severed the relationship that we’re supposed to have as a parent and teacher community.”

Calling ACS is one of the tools in [a school’s] repertoire to make the parents comply.
Irene Mendez, a staff attorney with New York Lawyers for the Public Interest

Emily Bolton, a spokesperson for the Chicago Public Schools, wrote in an email that the agency cannot comment on specific cases but that employees take seriously their responsibility as mandated reporters of abuse and neglect, and that there is no evidence of widespread misuse of the DCFS child-welfare hotline.

But even some former child welfare officials say the practice isn’t as rare as they’d like. “If schools don’t get the parents to agree to what’s being recommended — not all the time, but sometimes — they will call ACS [the Administration for Children’s Services, New York City’s child welfare agency] to pressure them,” said Don Lash, a former lawyer with ACS and author of the book, “ ‘When the Welfare People Come’: Race and Class in the US Child Protection System.”

He and many other experts also note that because of legitimate fears of overlooking kids at risk and vague definitions of abuse and neglect, school workers may sometimes be overzealous, calling in allegations over relatively minor issues such as broken eyeglasses, inappropriate clothing or small scratches. In interviews, more than a dozen lawyers said these investigations disproportionately affect low-income families of color, who tend to live in neighborhoods and attend schools that have bigger police and social services presences and whose children are more likely to show markings of poverty that can be confused with neglect.

Such families also have fewer resources to fight back. When a family in a wealthy Brooklyn neighborhood learned roughly two years ago that their child’s school had initiated an ACS investigation against them, they sued the city education department. Parents from lower-income, majority-black and Latino neighborhoods, few of whom can afford that option, say such investigations can be a regular, even expected, part of parenting. According to ACS data, there were 2,391 abuse and neglect investigations last year in East New York/Starrett City, a low-income neighborhood in Brooklyn, compared with 255 in the affluent, and far more populous, Upper East Side.

Race, and racial bias, can also play a role in whether families are referred to and investigated by child protective services, research suggests. Nationally, black children are roughly twice as likely as white children to enter foster care, and in New York and Illinois, more than four times as likely. Research reveals racial disparities at every step, from the numbers of calls to the child welfare hotline to the numbers of investigations and court findings of neglect.

“I don’t think I can think of a white family where I’ve ever seen it arise,” Chris Gottlieb, co-director of New York University’s Family Defense Clinic, which represents clients in child welfare cases, said of these types of school-driven investigations.

An Intimidation Tool?  

Accusations that officials with Success Academy Charter Schools have sometimes threatened parents with ACS involvement have been a focal point of legal and civil complaints against the charter school network, New York City’s largest. One lawsuit against a Success Academy school in the Fort Greene neighborhood of Brooklyn alleges that the school unfairly singled out kids with disabilities for discipline. In an August ruling allowing the suit to proceed, a judge said allegations that school employees called police or child protective services on 4- and 5-year olds, would, if true, help to demonstrate enough “bad faith or gross misjudgment” to sustain the discrimination claims.  

Nicey Givens, one of the parents in the suit, said she was told at least twice that Success might involve ACS if she didn’t quickly pick up her child from school in the middle of the day. The boy, who’d been given diagnoses of attention deficit and oppositional defiant disorder, often misbehaved, and Givens said she felt the school was pressuring her to remove him. Once, she said, the threat to involve ACS came after she’d sent the boy to school in boots instead of his uniform shoes on a cold, wet day.

Our focus is always on the student, the child. Not to say that the parent doesn’t matter and those kinds of investigations can’t be awkward and disruptive, but it’s better to be safe than sorry, and there are just too many examples that you read of something that was overlooked.
Ann Powell, executive vice president of public affairs, Success Academy charter network

“Calling ACS is one of the tools in their repertoire to make the parents comply,” said Irene Mendez, a staff attorney with New York Lawyers for the Public Interest, one of several groups that filed the suit. A 2016 civil complaint filed with the federal Department of Education includes an allegation that a Success school in Manhattan initiated an ACS investigation against the mother of a 6-year-old as part of an effort to encourage her to send him to another school. Another lawsuit alleges that one of the network’s Bronx schools repeatedly threatened to call ACS to pressure a parent to remove her son from the school.

Success Academy officials dispute the suggestion that any of the network’s schools misuse calls to ACS. Ann Powell, executive vice president of public affairs for the charter network, said she could not comment on the specifics in the lawsuit involving the Fort Greene school because it is ongoing, but said that the network disagreed with the way Givens described her interactions with the school. Success also disputes the allegations made against the Manhattan and Bronx schools. Powell noted that as legally mandated reporters of child abuse, school employees must report any suspicion of abuse and neglect, and that “using that in a threatening way is just not credible.”

Damon Dahlen/HuffPost

The Hankinses with their son David. A family court judge rejected the New York City Department of Education’s allegation that the couple had neglected their child by keeping him out of school and having “unrealistic expectations” for his education.

A Legal Obligation

Mandated reporter laws date to the 1960s, and in most states, school employees are among the professionals (along with doctors, social workers and others) obligated to report any suspicion of abuse or neglect. Mandated reporter trainings remind school employees that it’s not their responsibility to decide whether abuse is taking place but simply to pick up the phone if they have a concern, and the child welfare agency will take over from there. Mandated reporters typically have immunity from prosecution for making needless calls, so long as those calls are made in good faith.

“All of the pressure on mandated reporters is to report, report, report,” said Richard Wexler, executive director of the nonprofit National Coalition for Child Protection Reform.  

If they fail to report their suspicions, and something terrible happens to the child, they can face fines or even jail time and wind up on the front page of a newspaper. Child welfare is often described as being caught in a scandal-reform cycle, with reports of neglect and entrances to foster care rising after high-profile child deaths. Both Chicago and New York are dealing with the repercussions of recent scandals — Chicago Tribune reporting on sex abuse in schools is spurring fresh resources and protocols, while in New York, calls to the child abuse hotline spiked after the deaths of two young boys under ACS monitoring in 2016.

“Our focus is always on the student, the child,” said Powell, the Success Academy VP. “Not to say that the parent doesn’t matter and those kinds of investigations can’t be awkward and disruptive, but it’s better to be safe than sorry, and there are just too many examples that you read of something that was overlooked.”

School officials also note that they have a unique responsibility in policing child neglect in many states. Child welfare laws in New York and 23 other states (not Illinois) list the denial of education as a form of abuse or neglect. In some parts of New York, school employees are required to initiate educational neglect allegations if a child has a prolonged absence and parents don’t respond to the school. Last year, school personnel in New York City made 16,301 reports to ACS, more than any other type of mandated reporter, according to agency data provided to Hechinger/HuffPost. Of those, about 43 percent involved an allegation of educational neglect.

But critics say these too are misused or fall into gray areas of the law. Phillip and Tina Hankins, a couple in the South Bronx, have been tussling with the New York City Department of Education for more than a decade over where and how to educate their son David, who has a disability. They’ve been investigated at least seven times by ACS, including on occasions when they kept David out of class while fighting to get him into what they considered to be a more suitable institution, documentation shows.

“The schools have the right to call in whatever they think is not appropriate,” said Baffour Acheampong, an ACS worker who investigated several of the Hankins’ cases. “But in dealing with Mrs. and Mr. Hankins, what I saw was they have the best interests of their son.”

On the one occasion that ACS substantiated an educational neglect allegation against the Hankinses, a family court judge later overturned that finding. The judge noted that David’s intelligence test scores actually improved when the boy was kept out of school awaiting placement, and that the Hankinses had been doing all they could to fight for educational services. “In light of the Appellants’ year-long battle to get the child into an appropriate school, it is not clear what else they could have done to have enrolled David,” the judge wrote, adding that the agency did not provide a “single credible instance where they failed to exercise the required minimum degree of care.”

In response to questions about this case, spokesperson for the New York City schools Miranda Barbot said that the Department of Education works “closely with families to support them,” and “when there is reasonable cause to suspect abuse or neglect, we have clear policies in place that ensure it is reported.”

Michael Arsham, executive director of ACS’s Office of Advocacy, which responds to complaints from those involved in the child welfare system, said the agency acknowledges that hotline calls from schools do not always contain serious safety concerns, and it is working more closely with the education department to minimize needless reporting. Two years ago, ACS developed a “tiered response” system with the DOE to prioritize urgent matters and reduce the impact on families of investigations over smaller concerns. “We do want people to call potential dangers to children to our attention,” Arsham said. “But I think it’s fair for us to expect other human services professionals — whether they be in education, health care, anybody who is a mandated reporter — to use their independent judgment and discretion and understand there are consequences to making that call.”

It’s very hard because the whole system isn’t adequate in addressing families’ needs. It would be much easier to call ACS if you could count on them as a holistic agency to families that are marginalized.
Leila Ortiz, social worker in New York City public schools

Part of the challenge facing school officials, according to Leila Ortiz, a social worker in New York City public schools, is that ACS is primarily oriented to investigate families, not provide support. Chronic absenteeism could indeed be the canary in the coal mine, she said, signaling deeper troubles within a family. “If you don’t call that in, something could potentially be happening to the student,” she said. “You don’t know, they’re not in the building.”

“But at the same time,” Ortiz added, “you could be adding more stress and damage to a family that already has a lot on their plate. It’s very hard because the whole system isn’t adequate in addressing families’ needs. It would be much easier to call ACS if you could count on them as a holistic agency to families that are marginalized.”

Antagonistic Approach

Despite ACS’s efforts to be more sensitive to families facing investigations, parents don’t tend to experience child welfare investigations as even remotely helpful. A New York City parent named Gabriela — who is going by her middle name for this article because her case is still ongoing and she fears retaliation — knows the type of havoc that a call to ACS can wreak on a family. Over the course of her decades-long career as an advocate for immigrants in East Harlem, she has developed an acute understanding of ways in which families can get unfairly wrapped up in an opaque process. Some of these cases have made sense to her. Many more have seemed unfounded, with cultural differences in child-rearing clearly playing a role.

But she never expected to have to use this ACS expertise with her own family.

Last January, when Gabriela received a knock on the door of her Bronx home from an ACS caseworker, she was shocked to learn that she was the subject of a child abuse investigation. Even more surprising was the source of the complaint: her 10-year-old child’s school.

Days prior, Gabriela’s daughter had gone to her teacher with a secret: That her daddy — amid grief from the death of his mother — had started regularly drinking. Gabriela said that she had tried to keep this behavior from her daughter, and thought she hadn’t noticed the new wrinkles in family life.

What happened next was a whirlwind. The child, hysterically crying and scared, was pulled into a room with several adults and questioned about her home life. Under pressure — and wanting to provide the right answer — she said that her mom, Gabriela, had hit her, a charge that Gabriela denies.

Gabriela recognizes that the school was trying to help — and in some ways was carrying out a professional duty — but says they brought a “nightmare to my house.”

A Mexican immigrant who came to America as a teenager, Gabriela has been deeply involved in the education of her daughter at every step. Over the years, Gabriela has taken the time to get to know her daughter’s teachers and school principal, while advocating for the school’s immigrant families who need extra services. How could the school’s leaders, whom Gabriela knew so well, see her as anything less than a devoted parent?

“Why didn’t they use the social worker outside? Why didn’t they call me with concerns? Why did they go straight for the kill and call ACS?” questioned Gabriela.

She wonders if, in the delicate balancing act of being an involved parent but trying not to overstep her role, she landed on the wrong side of the equation. Or if, in her role as an advocate for immigrant families, she pushed too hard.

She also wonders if this process would have played out differently if she had a different ACS caseworker. (Charges against her were sustained and she is currently amid the appeals process.) This caseworker has asked her on three separate occasions about her immigration status, apparently unable to believe that Gabriela is an American citizen, Gabriela recounts.

“When you go through this, it’s not just a nightmare for you, it’s a nightmare for your child, because the stress level it creates for our family is horrible,” said Gabriela, through tears, one Tuesday afternoon in August.

A representative for the school said that all employees receive training on child abuse and follow state law regarding reporting.

After an employee at her child’s school reported Sandra for alleged abuse, she went from being very involved in her son

Caroline Preston/The Hechinger Report

After an employee at her child’s school reported Sandra for alleged abuse, she went from being very involved in her sons’ education to being fearful of teachers and administrators.

Even for parents who have their records cleared, the pernicious consequences of investigations can be permanent. In 2015, Sandra, a mother of three in Chicago, was investigated by DCFS after her youngest son went to school with what she describes as a minor scratch he sustained from roughhousing with his brothers.

After a DCFS worker arrived on her doorstep, her entire life was thrown under suspicion. The flowers that were a Valentine’s Day gift from her husband, for example? The investigator asked if they were evidence of her husband trying to repair damage from a marital fight.

Ultimately the abuse allegation against Sandra was overturned. But three years and $15,000 in legal fees later, she said she’s still reluctant to meet with or talk to school employees. Recently, the assistant principal at her youngest son’s school called Sandra and her husband in for a meeting to discuss the boy’s behavior, as he’d been getting frustrated in class and acting out. When the administrator suggested she take a stronger disciplinary approach, Sandra pushed back hard: “I am not going to yell at him or touch him because you guys already put me through this one time.”

Growing Awareness

According to NYU’s Gottlieb, there needs to be a greater understanding of the damage caused by needless investigations and the higher rates at which parents of color are caught up in them. “You want to help parents make better choices for their kids,” she said, “and starting out by saying, ‘You’re abusive,’ is not the way to do it.”

One step forward, say critics of child welfare, could be to modify mandated reporter training — by using it in part to educate people about implicit racial bias, for example. The training that has long been offered to Illinois’ school employees is a one-time online course that takes 60 to 90 minutes to complete and includes no mention of race. Chicago Public Schools says that starting this year, it has begun offering an in-person, annual training.

Meanwhile, experiments to reduce racial and socioeconomic inequities in the child welfare system have shown some success. New York’s Nassau County was able to significantly reduce the numbers of black kids put in foster care after placing an emphasis on workforce diversity among human services employees and withholding children’s demographic information from staff meetings. A second New York county, Onandaga, began removing fewer black kids from their parents after investing in afterschool and other school-based programs.

In New York City, ACS is rolling out a new approach to responding to low-risk calls that focuses on assessing which services fragile families need, said ACS’s Arsham.

Neil Skene, a spokesperson for the Illinois DCFS, wrote in an email that while a child welfare investigation is a “painful experience for anyone,” the agency feels it has a “particular obligation to be responsive to the concerns and professional knowledge of mandated reporters.” Skene added: “We are starting to work with local communities to identify cultural and racial disparities and how we can respond better.”  

Out Of Options

Change can’t happen soon enough for families embroiled in school-driven investigations. For them, transferring schools can feel like the only way out.  

In 2015, after the harassment Givens says she endured at Success Academy, she sent her son to a different elementary school nearby. “From first to fourth grade, no problems, no incidents, no suspensions, no fighting, no nothing,” she said.  

When you go through this, it’s not just a nightmare for you, it’s a nightmare for your child, because the stress level it creates for our family is horrible.
Gabriela, advocate and mother investigated by ACS

Gabriela’s daughter has also switched schools, after feeling uncomfortable and mistrustful of the adults who called ACS on her parents. “She went from asking me, ‘Please don’t take me to school, can I stay with you?’ ” Gabriela said of her daughter, “to getting up in the morning, getting ready, excited to participate.”

Banks considered removing her two boys from their magnet school after the child-protection investigations began. Relatives, colleagues, even her kids’ pediatrician — they all warned that the hotline calls wouldn’t stop until her children left the school. Because she worked with kids, the investigations were particularly worrisome for her, she said, even though ultimately none of the cases against her had been substantiated.

But at the same time, she was reluctant. The magnet school offered four foreign languages, math teams and movie nights, things she worried her kids wouldn’t get at their neighborhood school. “I feel like they are winning,” she said. “I understand his behavior is poor,” she said of her youngest son, “but he does deserve to be at a school where he can get a good education.”

Plus, by the time she came to grips with the unrelenting nature of the investigations, the December deadline for applying to specialized schools had already passed. She looked into private schools before deciding they were too expensive.

This fall, feeling out of options, she sent her boys back to the magnet school. On the second day of the semester, she texted: “I am praying it is better this year.”

This story about schools and child protective services was produced by HuffPost and The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news organization focused on inequality and innovation in education.

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Betsy DeVos’ New Title IX Guidelines Prioritize Schools Over Sexual Assault Survivors

Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos released her long-awaited proposed Title IX guidelines Friday morning, and there’s a lot to unpack. 

The proposed regulations essentially provide more protections for the accused and make it harder for survivors of sexual violence to report harassment and assault by narrowing the definition of sexual misconduct. Additionally, the guidelines essentially prioritize schools above all by creating fewer sexual misconduct cases, which reduces costs (saving colleges anywhere from $286 to $368 million over 10 years, according to estimates included in the proposed guideline).

“The Trump Administration’s proposed rule is designed to let schools off the hook for sexual assault and harassment,” Sage Carson, manager of the anti-sexual violence organization Know Your IX, said in a Friday morning statement.

“These proposals signal the Department of Education’s decision to prioritize schools’ bottom line over survivors’ right to an education,” she continued. “If these draft rules become law, more survivors will be forced out of school by harassment, assault, and their schools’ indifference to their complaints.”

These proposals signal the Department of Education’s decision to prioritize schools’ bottom line over survivors’ right to an education.
Sage Carson, manager of Know Your IX

Title IX, the federal civil rights law created to ensure gender equality in education, applies to all schools that receive federal funding, including nearly all colleges and universities, all public K-12 schools and a few private K-12 schools that receive federal dollars. The regulations differ slightly for K-12 schools versus college and university campuses. 

The suggested guidelines are similar to a copy partially leaked in August which faced swift criticism from survivor advocacy groups for making it harder for victims to report harassment and assault.

Below are the provisions that could have the largest impact on how sexual misconduct is handled in school settings across the country:

1. Narrowing The Definition Of Sexual Misconduct

Keeping with the leaked copy, Friday’s suggested guidelines narrow the definition of sexual misconduct, defining it as “unwelcome conduct on the basis of sex that is so severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive that it effectively denies a person equal access to the recipient’s education program or activity.” 

Jess Davidson, executive director of survivor advocacy organization End Rape on Campus, described this portion of the regulations as “one of the most harmful parts of the rule.”

“The definition is extreme and it’s going to require that students are harassed multiple times before they are able to receive any form of accommodation,” she told HuffPost.  

2. Schools Are Only Responsible If Assaults Take Place On Campus

Under the proposed guideline, a school “is only responsible for responding to conduct that occurs within its ‘education program or activity.’” The Education Department loosely defines “education program or activity” as “all of the operations of” a school including anything that has “any academic, extracurricular, research, [or] occupational training.”

This definition, however, does not include off-campus housing or bars and other settings within a school environment where assault and misconduct often take place. This is one of the most worrisome provisions of the entire 149-page proposal because 87 percent of college students live off campus.

Davidson noted that this provision could prove disastrous for marginalized students, specifically community college and commuter students who spend a majority of their time off-campus.

Additionally, this would allow schools like Michigan State and Ohio State, both currently embroiled in sexual assault scandals, to sidestep misconduct perpetrated by staff at off-campus events. 

“Would it make sense for Larry Nassar not to be held accountable if he only abused student athletes at off-campus events? It’s absurd,” Sejal Singh, policy coordinator for Know Your IX, said to HuffPost in August

3. ‘Mediation’ Instead Of Investigation

Under the proposed provisions, the accused can participate in a live cross-examination of the alleged victim through a third party (although this does not apply fully to K-12 incidents).

Unlike the earlier leaked copy, Friday’s proposed rule would not allow the accused to cross-examine their accuser personally. Additionally, the accuser is allowed to request that their alleged perpetrator watch the live cross-examination from a separate room which prohibits “any unnecessary trauma that could arise from personal confrontation.” 

This process, known as mediation, encourages schools to simply work it out themselves instead of following a regulated investigation protocol.

“Before the 2011 Dear Colleague Letter (DCL), schools pushed survivors to ‘work it out’ with their rapists, fostering a climate where students were afraid to come forward” anti-sexual violence organization Know Your IX said in a Friday statement. “The Department’s decision to revert back to a harmful status quo will allow for schools and rapists to intimidate survivors into silence.”

Additionally, the Education Department has not offered any guidelines on how this mediation process would potentially play out. 

4. Victims Can Only Report To Certain People 

The guidelines would restrict whom a victim can report to in order to implement corrective measures through the school. College students would only be able to report a Title IX issue with the school’s Title IX coordinator which, Davidson said, is cause for concern.

“The lived experience of most college students don’t set them up to go first to the dean of students or to the Title IX administrator directly,” she said. “Most students want to talk to ― as anybody does ― students want to talk to a campus official or an adult who they trust, who will be on their side, who will affirm them, and will help them find safety and an answer.”

“To see this definition go forward ― that would essentially give a free pass to OSU and Michigan State and Larry Nassar ― is really horrifying,” Davidson added.  

It’s worth noting that mandatory reporting laws still apply, but for a student to receive help and protection from their school specifically, they would need to seek out a Title IX coordinator. 

This provision would not apply to students K-12. 

5. A Higher Standard Of Evidence Needed To Prove Guilt

The proposed guidelines state a school can use “either the preponderance of the evidence standard or the clear and convincing evidence standard.” Many survivor advocate groups, however, highlighted that using a “clear and convincing” standard would treat sexual misconduct survivors more harshly than victims of other discriminatory campus crimes.  

“Instead of imposing discriminatory procedural hurdles for campus sexual harassment cases, schools should use the same standards that they use for other serious campus wrongdoing, such as physical assault or arson,” Know Your IX noted

The Washington Post via Getty Images

Meghan Downey of Chatham, New Jersey, protests in Arlington, Virginia, as U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos announces changes in federal policy on rules for investigating sexual assault reports on college campuses on Sept. 7, 2017. 

Many politicians and Title IX advocates were up in arms over the proposed guidelines. Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney (D-N.Y.) urged Congress to stand against the proposal, writing that it’s “intended to make college campuses safe spaces to commit sexual assault and harassment instead of safe spaces to learn.”

In a Friday statement, Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) called on “every woman, man, mom, dad, and anyone else who cares about campus safety and preventing sexual assault to make your voices heard and demand that Secretary DeVos and President Trump withdraw this proposal immediately.” 

Lara Kaufmann, Director of Public Policy for Girls Inc., pointed out how damaging this proposal could be for K-12 girls specifically. 

“All girls should be able to grow up safe, respected, and valued,” she said in a statement to HuffPost. “Unfortunately, these new proposals will lead to fewer students reporting assaults and harassment, more dangerous K-12 schools, and more girls being denied their civil right to equal access to education.” 

President of the American Federation of Teachers Randi Weingarten also condemned the proposed rules in a Friday statement. 

“This rule abdicates the responsibility to protect every student’s right to safety on campus,” she said. “It tells academic institutions that they needn’t bother helping to protect students; they won’t be liable. These changes once again demonstrate that students are not DeVos’ priority.”

Since she was confirmed as Secretary of Education last year, DeVos has been on a mission to overhaul the Obama-era Title IX guidelines and regulations. 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, The Dear Colleague Letter.

“It’s worth noting that the secretary has talked a lot about the importance of a fair process but that’s not what this reads like to me,” Davidson said. “This isn’t somebody trying to create fairness in the process, this is somebody who is trying to prevent the process from taking place at all.” 

Legally, the Education Department is required to consider all comments from the public and publicly respond to criticism before making a decision.

Head here to read the Education Department’s proposed Title IX guidelines in full. 

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The Creative Way One Family Is Diversifying Bookshelves Across The Country

Troubled by the lack of diversity in children’s books and the literacy gap involving kids around the country, a mom and her two kids have set out to send 50 diverse children’s books to each of the 50 states.

Charnaie Gordon is the mind behind Here Wee Read, a platform that highlights the importance of representation by recommending books for kids that include main characters of color; focus on various races, cultures and religions; and teach kids about subjects like immigration, voting and more.

For her latest project, 50 States 50 Books, she’s sending these kinds of books to groups in every state with the help of her two children, Madison, 6, and Barrington, who is almost 5.

The Connecticut family chooses an organization or institution ― a school, a library, a literary-focused group, a nonprofit or something similar ― in every state to receive the books. Gordon also hopes to donate brand-new books to children’s hospitals.

While Gordon and her kids head up the project, many other people are helping. Gordon told HuffPost she hasn’t had to buy new books thanks to several book donations, mostly from people who bought titles from Here Wee Read’s Amazon Wish List, which is divided into sections like “Muslim-Themed Books,” “Adoption & Foster Care Books” and “Civil Rights & Activist Books.”

Gordon has received donations from children’s book authors, and on Monday, she posted on Instagram that Hachette Book Group has plans to donate 800 books to her family’s cause. Madison and Barrington also won a Kid Kindness Grant from the nonprofit Kindness Grows Here to help with the project.

The siblings chip in with one of their favorite parts of the project: adding an ink stamp to every book that designates it as a donation from 50 States 50 Books. They also help collect the titles and prepare them for delivery.

“Our book mail days are Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays,” Gordon said. “Their job is to use the key to open [our P.O. box] up. They’re in charge.”

When Gordon started planning the project this past summer, she set a goal of completing the donations by the end of 2020. Now, she figures her family will be able to get it done at some point next year.

“This has just turned into much more than I expected,” she said.

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Florida Principal Accused Of Stealing $900 From Boy With Disabilities

A Florida educator is accused of stealing nearly $1,000 from a child with disabilities.

Edward John Abernathy, 50, principal of Connerton Elementary School in Land O’Lakes, was arrested on Nov. 8 and charged with grand theft, according to the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office.

A copy of the police report obtained by HuffPost alleges a 9-year-old boy with a mental disability brought $2,100 of his parents’ money with him to school on Oct. 23. When a teacher realized the child was carrying the large sum, she collected it and notified school administrators, authorities said.

Abernathy was absent from school the day the discovery was made, so the assistant principal counted the money in front of witnesses before placing it in the principal’s office, according to the police report.

Authorities allege Abernathy returned the following day and told his staff “he would take care of the situation.”

On Oct. 26, the parents of the child learned he had taken the money without their knowledge and the boy’s mother went to collect it.

“The principal handed a wad of money to the child’s mother,” according to the police report. “As the mother was walking to her vehicle, she counted the money and learned she was only given $1,200.”

Pasco County Sheriff’s Office

Florida elementary school principal Edward John Abernathy, 50, of Land O’Lakes, was arrested after he was accused of stealing $900 from a child with a mental disability, police said.

When the mother contacted her son’s teacher, she was told the assistant principal had counted the money and verified it amounted to $2,100. She was also allegedly told that Abernathy had counted again the following day. Concerned about the discrepancy, the parents filed a complaint with the sheriff’s office.

Questioned by police on Nov. 8, Abernathy allegedly denied counting the money himself and made “multiple inconsistent statements.” Police said the principal claimed he had hidden the money in a speaker in his office and said it was possible a student took it. When an investigator pointed out the speaker was on a shelf that was about 6 feet high, Abernathy allegedly admitted it would have been “a bit of a reach” for an elementary school student.

Abernathy, whose salary is $91,112, according to the Tampa Bay Times, was booked into the Land O’Lakes Detention Center and freed after posting $2,000 bail. He’s since been placed on paid administrative leave, pending a review of the allegations by the school district, the media outlet reported.

It was unclear Tuesday whether Abernathy had retained an attorney.

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Coaches Are Not Heroes | HuffPost

If I asked you to describe the quintessential college head football coach, you’d tell me about a man, most likely one who is middle-age and white, wearing a headset and a hoodie or a polo shirt (depending on the team you root for) while pacing a sideline.

Behind a microphone and in front of cameras, he’d be folksy, stoic unless he’s angry, probably attends church and lets you know it, and is sparse with his words but well-versed in vague coach-speak about teamwork, his love of the game, and the toughness, the effort, the discipline, the pride, the grit with which his teams play.

You might believe he spends endless hours at practices, drawing up plays and recruiting. He likely makes good money, but you’d probably feel obligated to say that he does what he does because he wants to make the lives of these young players better, help mold them into men with good characters. He is, overall, a good man who has dedicated his life to the sport.

And so, when a college football coach makes harmful decisions, exploits the bodies and labor of his players or brushes aside someone vulnerable or less powerful, we struggle to make sense of this behavior, even if we understand that this coach is operating inside of a giant money-making machine of toxic masculinity that flattens anyone who fails to win enough games or to make boosters happy. In order for us to imagine him doing a bad thing, we first must overcome our ingrained belief that to be a coach is the same as being a good person.

We must overcome our ingrained belief that being a coach is the same as being a good person.

It is time to rewrite this narrative. We need a new story because the one we’ve become used to provides way too much protection to powerful men who use their authority to their advantage in order to disenfranchise, abuse and manipulate the people they have power over.

How else do you explain the tragedy at University of Maryland under the leadership of their head football coach, D.J. Durkin?

In May, 19-year-old Maryland offensive lineman Jordan McNair collapsed on the field after struggling to do wind sprints during an off-season practice session. It took about 30 minutes for trainers to take him off the field, another 30 after that to call for an ambulance, and yet another 30 before the ambulance left for the hospital. Just over two weeks later, McNair died from preventable heatstroke that no one in the Maryland football program tried to prevent.

The fallout from the death of a university student from an extreme workout overseen on university property by university employees took two external investigations and about five months to play out. The recent report from one of those investigations found that the program had “a culture where problems festered because too many players feared speaking out.”

The investigators, of course, wrote, “we believe [Durkin’s] concern for his players’ welfare is genuine.” The Washington Post noted that “the sentiment from players varied,” and included some players who believed Durkin should not return and former players stating that he should never coach again.

The Board of Regents didn’t want Durkin to go and advocated for him, reportedly threatening the president’s job if he fired the coach. They also didn’t want to punish the trainers whose failures led directly to McNair’s death. If you are under the impression that this had to do with winning, let me assure you that Durkin’s 10-15 record at Maryland could not have been the reason for this cowardly move. Regardless, when the investigation concluded, Durkin was reinstated as head football coach.


Students at the University of Maryland quickly protested Durkin’s reinstatement.

The good news is we are getting better at seeing through this facade about coaches. Protests immediately greeted Durkin’s reinstatement, including from Maryland’s governor, university alumni, members of the media, students at the school and players on his own squad who walked out of a team meeting.

And so, the university president fired Durkin late last month, days after reinstating him. Last week, they fired two of the trainers who failed in their treatment of McNair (Rick Court, the strength and conditioning coach who oversaw that tragic practice in May, resigned back in August).

It’s not only coaches who benefit from this kind of thinking that one’s chosen profession says something positive about their inherent character.

And it is not only coaches who benefit from the kind of thinking that one’s chosen profession says something positive about a person’s inherent character.

No matter how many reports reveal that police lie, we mostly take their accounts of events, even those involving police violence. Too many doctors across the country can be classified as “predatory physicians” but The Atlanta Journal-Constitution found that there are a whole host of ways that their behavior is swept aside even if reported to authorities (Larry Nassar is perhaps the most obvious case). One thinks about the horrific and huge ongoing reckoning in the Catholic Church, or the continued problem of gendered violence among soldiers.

Enough with this. We have to begin to sketch out new narratives about who college football coaches are (or, at the least, who they could be). We must question our assumptions every time they crop up because these assumptions favor the people who already have power, who often have money and normally a whole host of other privileges. The least we can do is remove this one other layer of protection from their rather bulky defenses.

We have a long way to go before we finally take control of this. But the toughness, the effort, the discipline, the pride, the grit that goes into this work will be worth it in the end. Because what really are we preserving otherwise? A system that finds it hard to punish someone whose program failed to prevent the preventable death of a college student under his care. And that is unacceptable.

Jessica Luther is a freelance journalist, an author and a co-host of the feminist sports podcast “Burn It All Down.”

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Wisconsin Student Speaks Out On Nazi Salute Prom Photo: ‘It Was A Scary Moment’

A Wisconsin high school student who refused to raise his arm in an apparent Nazi salute for a controversial pre-prom photo told CNN on Tuesday that he had felt “very scared” and “uncomfortable.”

Jordan Blue, now a senior at Baraboo High School, said that in May of this year, he and his male classmates had been posing for pictures in front of a local courthouse before their junior prom when the photographer told them to “raise your hand.”

“The way the students had taken [that direction] was out of control,” Blue told CNN’s “New Day” on Tuesday. “My peers should not have raised it in this specific way that was the offensive way and hurtful way.”

The photo, which appears to show dozens of male students from Baraboo High’s 2019 graduating class throwing up a Sieg Heil, went viral on Sunday after it resurfaced on Twitter. Blue was one of several boys who did not join in.

The Baraboo School District, in coordination with the Baraboo Police Department, announced Monday that they were investigating the incident and planned to pursue “any and all available and appropriate actions, including legal.”

“Knowing the outcome of this situation, I would not have gone up there,” Blue told CNN. “It was a scary moment and it was very shocking and upsetting. It was a huge misrepresentation of the school district and the community of Baraboo.”

“In that moment, I was uncomfortable,” he added. “I was very hurt. I was very scared for the future. …  It was wrong. It shouldn’t be OK and it’s not OK.”

Peter Gust, the photographer who took the picture, has defended himself, saying he told the students to wave goodbye to their parents, not to make the Nazi gesture.

“I didn’t tell them to salute anything,” Gust said in a statement to CNN. “There was nothing that diminished the quality of anyone’s life. There was nothing that diminished anyone’s stature in society, nothing that was intended to point a finger at anyone in their class that may have some kind of difference. There was none of that.”

The photo was available for purchase on Gust’s website until he removed it on Monday, citing public backlash.

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How To Talk To Your Kids About Death And Grief

Death and grief are natural parts of the human experience, but mourning a loss is also an incredibly complex process.

When a young child loses a loved one, parents often grapple with the challenge of explaining the concept of death and helping their little one through the grieving process (all while grieving themselves).

To help inform these difficult conversations, HuffPost spoke to a number of child mental health experts. Of course, a family’s cultural and religious background may steer the discussion, but there are certain guiding principles that are helpful for everyone to keep in mind.

Here are some expert suggestions for parents and caregivers when they prepare to talk about death and grief with children.

Be Honest And Straightforward

“Tell them the ‘facts’ about the death,” clinical psychologist John Mayer told HuffPost. “Don’t sugarcoat what death is or use ‘baby talk’ with a child. Do not use phrases like, ‘Grammy is sleeping.’ This is an opportune time to teach them about death. Don’t shy away from it.”

Board certified licensed professional counselor Tammy Lewis Wilborn echoed this sentiment, noting that using “cutesy language” and euphemisms in an attempt to protect kids from the realities of death and loss can actually do more harm than good.

kali9 via Getty Images

Avoid using euphemisms when explaining death to children. 

“Children tend to think concretely, not abstractly, so when you use language that’s euphemistic, it can actually be more confusing or frustrating,” she explained. When people say things like “Dad is in the clouds” or “Your dad is taking a really long nap,” a young child may not understand the permanence of the fact that their father died and might even look for him in the clouds or expect him to wake up at some point.

Words like “death,” “died” or “dying” may sound harsh, but this is still developmentally appropriate language, Wilborn noted, and it’s important for children to have the language to understand the permanence of death.

Ask And Answer Questions

The kind of conversation a parent has with a child following the death of a loved one depends on the child’s relationship with the person who died. It should also vary based on the child’s developmental age and their understanding of what happens when someone dies. To that end, it’s useful to ask kids questions or offer to answer any questions they might have.

“Starting with questions can be a way in,” said Wilborn. “And you don’t necessarily need to give the specific details of how the person died, particularly if we’re dealing with traumatic grief. They don’t need all of the information, but they need enough age-appropriate details to understand that a person has died and isn’t coming back.”

“Parents should try to shrink themselves down to the size of their child and walk through what they’ve experienced.”

Sometimes children may have witnessed something related to the loved one’s death, like being present at the scene of an accident or visiting the person in the hospital. In these cases, they need help understanding what they saw, said Chandra Ghosh Ippen, an expert in early childhood trauma and the associate director of the Child Trauma Research Program at the University of California, San Francisco.

Parents should try to shrink themselves down to the size of their child and walk through what they’ve experienced. Seeing someone in a hospital with tubes coming out of them or watching paramedics perform lifesaving procedures may be frightening for a small child, so it’s necessary for adults to appreciate how scary things might look to them.

“Create space for them to share how it might’ve affected them, and try to help them understand that doctors and paramedics were trying to help their loved one,” Ghosh Ippen explained.

sot via Getty Images

Know that the conversation around death and grieving will be ongoing.

It’s an ongoing conversation. “Young children will often come back to you after your very excellent explanation of death and still ask, ‘Am I going to see so-and-so?’” Ghosh Ippen said. “It’s not that they didn’t understand you, but little kids tend to repeat their questions. It’s sort of their way of mulling it over and making meaning. This can be painful for caregivers, but appreciate that the child did hear you and is just having a difficult time wrapping their head around the concept of death.”

Know That Their Emotions Are Complicated

“Grief is a complex process, so it comes with a range of thoughts, emotions and behaviors,” Wilborn explained. While parents may expect their child to feel sad, angry, confused or even guilty about a loss, there are other behavioral changes that can be harder to understand, like changes in sleeping and eating patterns or school performance issues.

Sometimes parents may feel confused about a perceived lack of sadness in their kids. “Young children have a short sadness span,” said Ghosh Ippen. “A child can suffer a devastating loss and feel really sad, and then they can go play. You may be thinking, ‘Were they really affected by what happened?’”

While adults tend to immobilize and sink into sadness, kids often discharge it by running around or trying to do something else. “They kind of go in and out of sadness, and that can put us at odds with them if we’re thinking, ‘Oh, my God, do they not care?’” she continued. “But recognize that they did care.”

“A child can suffer a devastating loss and feel really sad, and then they can go play. You may be thinking, ‘Were they really affected by what happened?’”

– Chandra Ghosh Ippen, associate director of the Child Trauma Research Program at the University of California, San Francisco

Be Patient

Wilborn noted that grief is a long process, so parents should reject the tendency to want to rush past it and wonder when their kids are going to be over it.

“Grief is a process that you cannot go around. You have to go through it. So you need to be OK with the pace of the process,” she said. “It can take some time for a child to return to his or her normal.”

Mayer emphasized the power of this experience and of talking to kids about death as a way to build major developmental coping skills. “This is a positive and helps them cope with loss in their life in the future and even transitions in their life, such as leaving one school to another, advancing to high school or college, and losing relationships.”

Encourage Expression

“Children need to see that their parents are a resource; home is a resource where grief is welcome,” Wilborn said, noting that parents should encourage age-appropriate expressions of grief.

“For example with a school-aged, play is their language, so you want to lean into ways that children play to promote communication ― things like drawing pictures, playing games, dolls, puppet shows at home,” she added. “With older kids, you might encourage them to journal, draw, write songs, create poems.”

Mayer noted that being a resource for your child creates a sense of safety and security that will serve them in later life events. “They know they can depend on you, and it is wonderful modeling for them.”

Create Rituals

Creating rituals around remembering and honoring a loved one who died is another significant form of expression. “Explain that this person may not be here with us, but we can still remember him or her and celebrate their life as a family,” said Wilborn.

“When the death is really traumatic, sometimes caregivers stop talking about the person who died,” Ghosh Ippen explained. “And what’s hard in those cases is that children lose their ‘angel memories’ ― times when they really felt loved and cared for with that person. It’s normal for grown-ups in mourning to find it hard to talk about the person who died, but it’s important to memorialize them.”

asiseeit via Getty Images

Losing a loved one offers an opportunity to talk to your child about your cultural and religious beliefs. 

Many cultures and religions promote rituals around saying goodbye and making meaning of death. Mayer noted that losing a loved one presents an opportunity for parents who have religious belief systems to explain these tenets to their children.

“Religious or not, it is also very helpful to teach your children that all the experiences and memories you have had with this loved one do not get erased with their death. People always live in our hearts and our minds forever, and no one or nothing can take that away,” he explained. “Say something like, ‘Where’s Aunt Susie right now? She’s not in this room with us right now, correct? That doesn’t mean she doesn’t exist.’ Aunt Susie is here (point to your head) and here (point to your heart). We have to keep our memories and good times with Aunt Susie alive.”

Make Sure They Know It’s Not Their Fault

“Sometimes children have this really uncanny way of assigning blame to themselves for things that have nothing to do with them,” said Wilborn.

With that in mind, caregivers need to help kids understand that the death is in no way their fault, and it’s not their responsibility to put on a strong face or hide their feelings.

“Religious or not, it is also very helpful to teach your children that all the experiences and memories you have had with this loved one do not get erased with their death. People always live in our hearts and our minds forever, and no one or nothing can take that away.”

– clinical psychologist John Mayer

Use Books And Other Resources

There are many great resources for parents navigating this difficult topic with their children. Ghosh Ippen and Wilborn both recommend Sesame Street’s online grief toolkit, which provides talking points, videos, activities, storybooks and more. Ghosh Ippen and Wilborn also pointed to the National Child Traumatic Stress Network as another great source of online resources.

Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

There are many children’s books that cover the experience of loss. 

Beyond books and online resources, Wilborn emphasized the value of community resources, such as school counseling, support groups, play therapy and peer counseling.

Let Them See You Grieve

The way a child’s parents or caregivers respond to a loss is instrumental in helping them cope. “They need to see you grieve,” said Wilborn. “But they also need to see you taking care of yourself and engaging in self-care, which may or may not include professional help. If you don’t, they may feel like they have to take care of you because you’re not managing grief in a way that’s healthy.”

It’s OK to cry in front of your children and show the value of expressing emotions and having shared emotions among family members. It’s OK to say things like “I’m feeling really sad because my dad died” or “Daddy is sad because he misses his mom.”

“Within our culture, we often have a sense that we have to be tough, so many parents are trying to help their kids by putting on a brave or overly cheery face,” said Ghosh Ippen. “But that can seem really odd and confusing. The child is feeling sad because it’s devastating that this person is gone, but then the parent is cheery ― which can feel eerie and weird.”

Ultimately, it’s about conveying the idea that “Mom is sad, and Mom is also strong,” she continued. If the feelings of grief become overwhelming, parents should seek help from other sources because it’s not their child’s role to help them.

“It’s important for little kids to believe that grown-ups are bigger, wiser and stronger,” said Ghosh Ippen. “We are not going to fall apart, and if we are going to fall apart, other grown-ups are going to help us.”

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9 Gender-Neutral Toys That Aren’t Pink Or Blue

Unfortunately, many toy aisles still specifically designate interests based on what they think little boys and little girls should like. Though there are a few gender-neutral toys at places like Walmart and Target, a lot of toys in their selections are still pretty gendered, which means it can be nearly impossible to find home-related toys that aren’t pink or action figures that are female.

Little kids can and should play with whatever toys they like, which is why giving them gender-neutral gifts gives the freedom to explore their interests without the pressures and stereotypes created by society’s gender norms. That’s something we can get behind.

With that in mind, we’ve gather nine gender-neutral toys for kids that aren’t pink or blue and cover a wide variety of interests. Take a look below:

HuffPost may receive a share from purchases made via links on this page.

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Wisconsin High School Students Appear To Give Nazi Salute In Junior Prom Photo

A photo of Wisconsin high school students appearing to give a Nazi salute went viral over the weekend, prompting the school district and local police to investigate.

The photo appears to show dozens of male students from Baraboo High School, about 40 miles northwest of Madison, performing the Sieg Heil, a gesture used as a greeting in Nazi Germany.

The photo, reportedly taken during the school’s junior prom earlier this year, drew controversy Sunday after it resurfaced on Twitter. Carly Sidey, a former student in Baraboo, tweeted a screenshot of the photo shared to a private Twitter account, @GoBaraboo. 

″This post has since been deleted, but i just want [Baraboo School District] to be aware of the disturbing actions that are represented in this photograph,” Sidey tweeted Sunday. ”This is BEYOND sickening.”


Citing Sidey’s tweet, journalist Jules Suzdaltsev tweeted a request for more information about the photo, noting that one of the students was giving the “white power okay sign.”

Baraboo School District administrator Lori Mueller condemned the photo in a tweet on Monday.

The photo “is not reflective of the education values and beliefs of the School District of Baraboo,” Mueller wrote. “The District will pursue any and all available and appropriate actions, including legal, to address.”

The Baraboo Police Department is “actively investigating” the case with the school district, police Capt. Rob Sinden told HuffPost on Monday.

“It’s brand-new to us,” Sinden said. “At this point, I really can’t comment too much because it’s an active case.”

“I’ve been here quite a while and I can’t recall ever having something like this happen in Baraboo,” he added.

One student in the photo, at the top far right, appeared to refrain from joining his classmates in the gesture. The student, Jordan Blue, gave a statement about the incident to Suzdaltsev.

“The photo was taken during our Junior Prom Photos,” Blue wrote. “I clearly am uncomfortable, with what was happening. I couldn’t leave the photo as it was taken within 5 seconds. The photographer took the photos telling us to make the sign, I knew what my morals were and it was not to salute something I firmly didn’t believe in.”

Blue did not immediately respond to HuffPost’s request for comment.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story misstated the location of Baraboo relative to Madison. It is to the northwest of Madison, not the northeast.

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How Schools For Kids In Foster Care Act As ‘Educational Black Holes’

PHILADELPHIA and GREENVILLE, Pa. — Back when he still lived with his family, when school was across the street from his home in West Philadelphia, Johnathan Hamilton used to plow through reading assignments and research religious questions online. He stumbled over fractions — math was always a struggle — but started getting into philosophy as an early teen.

Then, at 15, his relationship with his parents grew violent, and Hamilton went to live in a city shelter for foster youth. When a bed became available at a residential facility in suburban Glenmoore, Pennsylvania, run by the nonprofit Devereux Foundation, Hamilton was sent to live there. For roughly nine months, he went to school on the grounds of the facility — and he says it was mostly lost time.

Classes were full of kids of different ages. The material he was assigned seemed many grade levels behind. In one class, he remembers playing a lot of Bingo. “It just felt like day care,” said Hamilton, who added that the experience left him with a senseless designation for a disability and gaps in his academic knowledge. “It was terrible. It wasn’t school.”

Young people in foster care across Pennsylvania — and the country — say that being sent to residential facilities often plunges them deeper into academic trouble instead of getting them on track. Schedules are filled with electives like movement therapy, art therapy and “values.” Worksheet- and computer-based education proliferate. The schools too often operate like educational black holes, failing to help kids earn relevant credits. Students complain of being kept on campus when they could be attending neighborhood schools. And government oversight is lacking.

“The city of Philadelphia and the School District of Philadelphia expend enormous sums of money for the treatment and education of children in residential facilities and overwhelmingly get poor outcomes as a result,” said Helen Gym, a Philadelphia city councilwoman and a former teacher who helped to start a new task force to reduce the city’s reliance on residentials. Gym said local school districts sometimes reject foster youth — if the foster care facilities let them attempt to enroll at all — so they are “being educated in the residential facility itself, which is not really equipped nor is it certified to really be a quality educational institution.” (Pennsylvania has a law entitling every child in a residential facility to attend a local public school unless a court or, in certain circumstances, guardians and school officials override that decision, but many states do not. Advocates question whether the Pennsylvania law is followed.)

The number of children living in group homes, treatment centers and other institutions has shrunk in recent years as the residential warehousing of kids has fallen out of favor. According to a national 2015 study, on a single day in 2013, the most recent comprehensive data available, kids in those facilities numbered 55,916, 37 percent below the figure for 2004. Federal legislation passed earlier this year is designed to nudge states to further reduce the number of kids in residentials.

Data analysis by The Hechinger Report

But older youth still end up in residential facilities in significant numbers. According to the 2015 study, of the approximately 51,000 children 13 or older who entered foster care in one year, roughly half spent time in institutional settings. Some of these children have serious mental health needs or behavioral issues that child-welfare agencies say can make it difficult to place them with families. Some are consigned to residential schools because of truancy. In some, mostly rural, parts of the country, the opioid epidemic is driving more young people into residential care.

“That’s 65 percent of the problem,” said Cinnamon Evans, executive director of the Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) for Venango County, which assists foster youth. Overdose deaths in the northwestern Pennsylvania county rose by 300 percent between 2015 and mid-2017. Evans said she has started to see more children enter residential facilities in her area, like those run by Keystone Adolescent Center and Pathways Adolescent Center, because of parental drug abuse.

In Pennsylvania, lawyers say, many of the residentials are regulated like private schools, which is to say, hardly at all. While private schools are essentially monitored by affluent, tuition-paying parents who opt into them, no such checks exist for schools that serve foster youth, who by definition have been cut off from their families.

“They treat them like prep schools,” said Maura McInerney, legal director of the Education Law Center, a Philadelphia nonprofit that advocates for educational equity. “They can do whatever they want.”

The Pennsylvania Department of Education does visit residential schools. But under its state education plan, it’s only required to check in once every six years, and the agency’s monitoring only concerns children with disabilities. When asked in a survey about the monitoring and sanctioning of residential schools, the Pennsylvania Department of Education told Hechinger/HuffPost to contact the state Department of Human Services. The education department declined further interview requests. DHS, meanwhile, said review of educational services fell to the education agency.

“It’s out of sight, out of mind,” said McInerney.

Parts of the country hard hit by the opioid epidemic, like Oil City, in Western Pennsylvania, have seen an increase in young

Caroline Preston for The Hechinger Report/HuffPost

Parts of the country hard hit by the opioid epidemic, like Oil City, in Western Pennsylvania, have seen an increase in young people entering group homes and other facilities for foster youth

The disregard for educational quality within these facilities is a national issue. Of 44 state education departments that responded to a Hechinger/HuffPost survey, most indicated that they sent foster youth to residential schools. But only 15 said their agencies conduct site visits and just one said it had sanctioned a residential school in the last three years. Of those state education departments that said they do conduct visits, only four do so at least once a year; the majority visit less often.

“It is completely unacceptable for education agencies not to be monitoring and overseeing educational institutions that are receiving public funding,” said Jesse Hahnel, executive director of the National Center for Youth Law, a nonprofit in Oakland, California, that advocates for disadvantaged children. “That is what these are; let’s be clear about that.”

A 2013 report commissioned by the School District of Philadelphia and provided to Hechinger/HuffPost, found numerous concerns in its study of residential facilities run by three organizations — Horsham Clinic, Devereux Foundation and VisionQuest — where the city was sending hundreds of students. “Academic programs at the residential institutions lack rigor, are not meaningfully linked to state or national standards, and could not demonstrate acceptable student progress,” the report says.

And residential schools are expensive. Gym, the councilwoman, said that placement for one child at a facility today costs taxpayers roughly $140,000 per year. According to the 2013 review, Devereux Brandywine, where Hamilton attended, charged $85,886 per student for an academic year of special education services (that amount rose to $128,756 if the child required an aide). The group’s president, who oversees facilities in 13 states, earned more than $875,000 in salary and other compensation in 2015, the most recent year for which the organization’s tax forms were available. (Devereux declined an interview request for this story.)

When Hamilton first arrived at Devereux Brandywine, he was sent to an alternative school off-campus. There he loved the teacher with whom he spent most of the class day, he said, though the academics often felt like review. But after about six months he was expelled following a disagreement with a teacher, he said, and began attending the on-grounds school. “There just wasn’t a whole lot going on,” said Hamilton, now 21 and tall, with a resonant voice and a full beard. “It was more like activities to occupy us during the day.” He longed to leave campus for a martial arts class, as he’d been watching Jackie Chan since he was little. But he said that Devereux staff denied his request, telling him that he was too old for the class and might use the moves he learned against employees.

Johnathan Hamilton, 21, experienced a lack of academic structure in the foster care system growing up. He is now a a freshman

Michelle Gustafson for HuffPost

Johnathan Hamilton, 21, experienced a lack of academic structure in the foster care system growing up. He is now a a freshman at Cabrini College. 

Eventually Hamilton was sent to a group home in Pennsylvania’s Carbon County where he attended a public school. But the designation for special education he’d been assigned at the Devereux school, which he says was both unnecessary and de rigueur for the facility’s students, trailed him. As a result, Hamilton says he was placed in segregated classes that were far too easy. After weeks of negotiations with school officials, he was allowed to enroll in all general education classes save math. The next spring, he graduated from the school, Jim Thorpe Area High School, after making the honor roll.

Another foster student, M.S., a 15-year old in the Western Pennsylvania city of Greenville, hopes to have the chance to graduate from a public school like the one she used to attend. She spent junior high and most of her freshman year at a mid-sized public school, earning A’s and B’s in algebra, her favorite class, and playing on the volleyball team. But this past spring her relationship with her grandmother, who’d been raising her because her mother suffers from addiction, fell apart. M.S. started getting into drugs and missing school. She was sent into foster care and her academic future was thrown into question. (The full names of some minors in this story have been omitted to protect their privacy.)

At the shelter where she was sent to live, run by the nonprofit Keystone Adolescent Center, the staff were nice and caring but the education was abysmal, said M.S. The school day was a long stretch of sitting before a computer in a room with a single teacher who provided very little support. “The shelter school was horrible. They expected you to do everything online and get everything done within a short amount of time.”

After roughly a month, M.S. moved to Keystone’s transitional living program, which sends most of its children to a nearby charter school run by the same family that operates the residential program. By then, however, the school year was wrapping up.

Sitting one July day in a Pizza Hut near the brick house she shared with seven other girls in the program, M.S. turned to watch as a set of elderly women greeted each other for lunch. “Oh my gosh, they are so happy,” she said. “So cute.” On unscheduled days like these, her main activity was sitting on the front lawn of the transitional living home, on a residential street, and watching passersby, she explained.

If M.S. stayed at Keystone, she would likely attend its charter school. But she was hoping that her cousins would foster her, and she could attend the high school near them.

The Keystone Charter School is a day school in the local school district and it serves kids in foster care and those who’ve struggled in traditional public schools. The adolescent center and the school are big business for the family who runs them: In 2016, the last year for which tax returns were available, Robert Gentile, Keystone’s executive director, earned roughly $158,000 in salary and other compensation; his brother, James T. Gentile, the finance director, earned roughly $157,000. Another brother, Mike Gentile, runs the charter school and serves as educational director of the Keystone Adolescent Center.

Their late father, James Gentile, who started Keystone and once led the school and adolescent center, was fined by the state ethics commission in 2013 for using his positions with those organizations to benefit a private company he also ran. At the time, James Gentile told a local newspaper that he took responsibility for the violations cited by the ethics commission. An attorney general’s report in 2015 again raised similar questions about these arrangements, which involved lease agreements between various organizations operated by the Gentile family.

In a phone interview with Hechinger/HuffPost, Mike Gentile noted that the state education agency has approved these agreements and that he was proud the organization was a “family business.” He also said the shelter school was a “great learning environment” with direct instruction from a teacher and computer-based courses provided by the A+ online curriculum. Gentile emphasized that children remain in the shelter school only for short periods, adding that decisions on where to educate youth who live longer-term in Keystone’s residential facilities are based on “what’s in the best interest of the student.”

Critics of residential facilities, meanwhile, include former staff. Roberta Trombetta left her job as head of Carson Valley Children’s Aid, a nonprofit provider of residential services for vulnerable children, in frustration after coming to believe that facilities for children in foster care do more to hinder children’s education than help. In 2015, she started C.B. Community Schools, a private institution funded by donations that serves foster youth in a former factory in a gentrifying section of northwest Philadelphia.

Ashley F., an 18-year old who spent time in residential schools including Carson Valley and VisionQuest, hopes to graduate this December from C.B. “Horrible,” said Ashley of the education at Carson Valley. “Hor-ri-ble. I literally did nothing.” Kids were disruptive, teachers just handed out worksheets and one class consisted of watching movies, she said. (In an emailed statement, Diane Kiddy, chief executive officer of Carson Valley Children’s Aid, defended the organization’s services: “Our educational program is distinguished by a trauma-focused approach to instruction which is individualized and includes therapeutic supports.”)

Ashley’s transcript is a confusing jumble. She received two final grades of 67 even though her semester grades in those courses added up to different numbers. An ecology course was renamed biology. And it’s not clear why the school district gave her three math credits since the rest of her transcript suggests that she hasn’t taken that many math classes.

“It’s made-up stuff,” said Trombetta. “You’ll see kids who’ve spent a year at residentials and core content subjects aren’t on their transcripts. … You’ll see a lot of electives. You’ll see kids identified at residential programs as special ed who had not been special ed before.”

Employees of residential programs argue that their schools play a critical role in helping vulnerable children who’ve struggled in other environments. They also say that staff ensure that kids attend school in the least-restrictive settings possible and note that courts often are the ones ordering kids into residential facilities and on-grounds schools.

Falling under a patchwork of classifications within the state’s education code, residential schools are a mix of family-run institutions, large for-profit and nonprofit providers, religiously affiliated organizations and smaller nonprofits. Carson Valley and Devereux Brandywine are situated on big, relatively secluded campuses. Pathways Adolescent Center is a cluster of nine or so drab, tan buildings on the outskirts of Oil City, a former petroleum-industry hub that’s been shedding jobs and residents. The educational services there are meager and don’t prepare students for life outside, according to reports from two former students as well as local officials involved with the child welfare system. (Pathways staff declined an interview request.)

Residential campuses that serve foster youth are a mix of large for-profit and nonprofit providers, religiously affiliated or

Caroline Preston for The Hechinger Report/HuffPost

Residential campuses that serve foster youth are a mix of large for-profit and nonprofit providers, religiously affiliated organizations and smaller groups, like this one, run by Pathways Adolescent Center, in Oil City, Pennsylvania.

The 500-acre campus of George Junior Republic, which serves young men who are involved with the juvenile justice and child welfare systems, is flecked with brown brick buildings (called “cottages”), “special needs units” that provide education in a restrictive environment and a big school building that serves teens who have earned the right to be educated in that setting.

Unlike most residentials, George Junior is run by its surrounding school district, so it follows Grove City’s curriculum, employs its teachers and offers sports and other extracurriculars, according to Jim Anderson, the principal. It has six shop classes — including auto body, carpentry and food service — a music room and a classroom where new students spend a week of orientation. Boys who request to take Advanced Placement classes can do so at Grove City High School; two took AP classes this past year, said Anderson.

Yet Philadelphia recently stopped sending foster and delinquent children to the facility. Heather Keafer, a spokeswoman for the city’s Department of Human Services, said in an email that the agency wasn’t “satisfied with the service delivery” at George Junior and is trying to keep more youth closer to home. She also noted that her agency is not responsible for evaluating the facility’s educational services. Anderson said George Junior and the Philadelphia government butted heads over how to care for these kids.

“They are being sent here because the public schools couldn’t handle them,” said Anderson of the boys who come to George Junior. “We are a facility that’s designed to handle the tough-behavior kid, to handle the child who doesn’t like to come to school. Most of these kids get excited about education if they are here long enough.”

One of those students is Oliver Francis, 18. A native of West Philadelphia, he was placed in foster care after missing roughly half his sophomore year at a public high school. A judge sent him to George Junior because it was more than 300 miles from home — too far to run, Francis said.

He’d heard about problems at George Junior and didn’t want to go. But his outlook changed not long after his arrival, he said, sitting for an interview one day this summer in the George Junior school building. Francis started to enjoy schoolwork, especially carpentry, and he caught up on credits through an online credit-recovery program George Junior offers before and after school hours. Six months in, he said, his family court judge offered him the chance to return to Philadelphia. But Francis petitioned to stay.

“I thought that if I stayed here, I was guaranteed to graduate,” said Francis, who expects to enroll at Northampton Community College this year. “If I went home, the temptations of being out on my own, I didn’t think I was ready for it.”

But Francis, who was on George Junior’s basketball and track teams, and won third place statewide in the high jump, said he wishes his courses had been more challenging. “I did feel as though I could probably learn a higher subject, at higher levels of math and English and biology.”

Oliver Francis, of Philadelphia, was placed in foster care because he was truant. He graduated from George Junior Republic, a

Caroline Preston for The Hechinger Report/HuffPost

Oliver Francis, of Philadelphia, was placed in foster care because he was truant. He graduated from George Junior Republic, a residential school in Grove City, Pennsylvania, this spring.

As Pennsylvania and other states try to thin the ranks of kids in residential facilities, they may find that simple solutions are elusive. California has shuttered many of its residential facilities and channeled more money to community-based alternatives.

But California continues to send some of its foster youth (approximately 300 at any one time) to facilities out of state. Occasionally they wind up at George Junior. (There’s no federal data publicly available on foster youth sent across state lines, but advocates say the practice is relatively rare.)

Kate Burdick, a staff attorney with the Juvenile Law Center, a Philadelphia nonprofit that advocates for youth in the juvenile justice and child welfare systems, said that her group would like to see a day when no city foster children are educated in these facilities. Until then, she said, stricter oversight is desperately needed. 

“The real solution is going to be ultimately getting kids out of placements, out in general. But we’re not giving up on improving quality for the young people who remain.”

Sitting in the Pizza Hut this summer, M.S., the teen in Greenville, said she doesn’t regret being placed in foster care. Her relationship with her grandmother needed mending, and she has learned to value herself and worry less about other people’s opinions. “I’ve changed a lot as a person,” she said. She missed her former school’s principal and her old biology teacher, who had recently taken her out for Chinese food, but she was also ready for a fresh start.

Most of all, she said, she hoped to get her academics on track so she could study to become a school psychologist. “I want to be able to help people and make sure they have what they need for life instead of having them go through what I went through.”

In August, her cousins agreed to foster her, enabling her to start the school year at the local public high school.

After brief stints at a community college in rural Pennsylvania and in military training, Hamilton moved back to Philadelphia. He found an apartment in West Philadelphia that he paid for with money from a job in security and the help of an independent living program in foster care. (Pennsylvania is one of more than two dozen states that enable youth to stay in foster care until they turn 21.)

One afternoon in May, Hamilton sat at a small table in the one-bedroom apartment as his cat, Chun-Li, named after the female street fighter from one of his favorite martial arts series, circled his feet. The day before, Hamilton had received big news: He’d been accepted to Cabrini University, a small, four-year college in Radnor, Pennsylvania. Despite some trepidation about returning to school, he felt certain he’d enroll.

He planned to study communications, so he could one day produce martial arts films and other multimedia content. He is drawn to how the noble warriors in martial arts films use their moral and physical authority to halt misdeeds and misbehavior, in contrast to real life. “Most people are bystanders,” he said, “and if not bystanders, enablers.”

Hamilton had visited Cabrini and said he was impressed by its multimedia equipment — the college has a broadcasting center and radio station. He was also heartened that the university is one of a handful in Pennsylvania to participate in a new effort to help foster youth succeed in college. He expected that given his uneven education he’ll need that extra support. 

“I feel like I am not prepared,” said Hamilton. “But that doesn’t mean I can’t do it.”

Sarah Butrymowicz and Nichole Dobo contributed reporting.

This story about the opioid crisis and foster care was produced as part of a series, “Twice Abandoned: How schools and child-welfare systems fail kids in foster care,” reported by HuffPost and The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news organization focused on inequality and innovation in education.

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More Than 1,000 Educators Won Elections On Tuesday, Teachers Union Says

More than 1,000 teachers and other education professionals won state legislative seats across the country in Tuesday’s elections, the nation’s largest teachers union said Friday.

More than 1,500 current and former teachers and education professionals sought office in the 2018 elections, the National Education Association announced in October. Teacher-led protests swept states from West Virginia to Arizona last winter and spring, leading to an exceptional influx of candidates.

The group said the final tally before Election Day numbered more than 1,800 such candidates. Of those, the union said, 1,081 won their races for state legislative seats on Tuesday.

That success means teachers and educators will hold roughly 15 percent of all state legislative positions nationwide next year, based on the number of such positions counted by the National State Legislative Council. An additional 42 races have yet to be called, the NEA said.

A lack of historical data makes it hard to compare this year’s numbers or success rates to previous elections, or to draw a direct connection between those victories and the earlier protest movements.

But the NEA and the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, the Democratic Party’s state legislative campaign arm, said before Tuesday’s vote that the number of teachers pursuing office had increased from previous electoral cycles. A DLCC spokesperson said before the election that it had counted more than 1,200 educators running for office as Democrats in 2018, an increase of roughly 200 from two years ago. 

Not all of those included in the NEA or DLCC counts are teachers. The union used a broad definition to compile the numbers, counting current and former classroom teachers and professors at the K-12 and postsecondary levels, as well as candidates who had worked as administrative or support staff in schools, districts and universities. Many of them were incumbents, and the vast majority of the candidates ran as Democrats. But more than 400 candidates included in the initial count sought office as Republicans, according to the union’s data. 

States like Kentucky, where teachers walked out of schools amid pension reforms and budget cuts in the spring, saw a record number of educators run for office this year. Fourteen of those 51 teachers and educators vying for office won Tuesday, according to the Louisville Courier-Journal

Educators won other high-profile victories that were not included in the NEA’s list, which only counted state legislative races. Jahana Hayes, a former National Teacher of the Year, won a U.S. congressional seat in Connecticut. U.S. Rep. Tim Walz, a former high school geography teacher, won Minnesota’s gubernatorial race. And former school superintendent Tony Evers beat Gov. Scott Walker (R) ― a longtime target of teachers and unions ― to become Wisconsin’s next governor.

Voters in Arizona also rejected a ballot measure that would have expanded the state’s education voucher program.

Union leaders said this week that they were also encouraged by victories for candidates like Gretchen Whitmer and Michelle Lujan Grisham, who won gubernatorial contests in Michigan and New Mexico, respectively. Both ran on pro-public education platforms.

NEA leaders said this week that they hoped the success of educators could help shift debates around funding for public education and teacher pay across the nation, especially after teacher walkouts in West Virginia, Kentucky, Arizona, and Oklahoma turned attention to cuts to education budgets in those states and elsewhere.

“Education had a good night [on Tuesday],” NEA President Lily Eskelsen Garcia told HuffPost. “Nobody expects to win every race there is. But we saw wins up and down the ballot, and we are on fire.”

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The Best Kids Books Of 2018 To Not Raise A Jerk

With everything going on in the world, parents have to make a lot of decisions about how they teach their kids about other cultures. Raising tolerant and accepting children is a complicated task, but a vital part of it is teaching kids to appreciate the differences among us all, and exposing them to it all at an early age.

If you’re not sure how to approach certain subjects like diversity, feminism, immigration and special needs, books can provide many teachable moments about the world they live in. Stories expose us to different places, people and lifestyles in a comfortable and entertaining way. They also allow children to put themselves in the character’s shoes and learn to empathize with people who are different.

Whether it’s representation for minorities or strong female leads, learning to be an ally for LGBTQ, immigrants, and disabled communities, or embracing body positivity, all of these books can teach your child about acceptance of themselves and respect for others.

We’ve rounded up some of our favorite children’s books that promote acceptance and tolerance — but remember, these books are just a start on the path to raising a kid who’s not a jerk.

And just so you know, HuffPost may receive a share from purchases made via links on this page.

1. Children’s Books With Diverse Representation

Books To Help You Raise An Accepting Child – Representation

2. Children’s Books About Immigration

Books To Help You Raise An Accepting Child – Immigration

3. Children’s Books About Feminism

Books To Help You Raise An Accepting Child – Feminism

4. Children’s Books With LGBTQ Representation

Books To Help You Raise An Accepting Child – LGBTQ

5. Children’s Books About Disabilities And Special Needs

Books To Help You Raise An Accepting Child – Disabilities/Special Needs

6. Children’s Books About Body Positivity

Books To Help You Raise An Accepting Child – Body Positivity

7. Children’s Books About Embracing All Differences

Books To Help You Raise An Accepting Child – Embracing All Differences

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Some Students Got To Watch Their Teachers Win Big On Tuesday

When Allyssa DiGiovancarlo was in high school, she remembers, she had a teacher who would always preach the importance of civic engagement, and remind students of the power of the ballot box.

On Tuesday, DiGiovancarlo, now 20, got to put those teacher’s words into action. She showed up to vote in the midterm elections. She cast a vote for a Connecticut candidate named Jahana Hayes, whose ideas she loved.

The best part? Hayes was that teacher.

The 2018 midterm elections featured at least 1,500 former or current teachers and education professionals running for office, according to the National Education Association, the country’s largest teachers union. Pundits and policymakers watched those races closely, seeing them as a referendum on the ideas that bolstered the teacher protests that swept states like Arizona and West Virginia this spring.

The teachers’ students, former and current, were watching too.

For DiGiovancarlo, watching Jahana Hayes run for ― and win ― a seat in Congress felt like a personal triumph. Hayes’ story of starting off as a single, teenage mother, before going on to have a successful career in education, had always resonated with DiGiovancarlo. The candidacy only cemented her admiration of Hayes.

“It shows me that just because I’m living in Waterbury, Connecticut, it doesn’t mean I can’t grow and be great,” said DiGiovancarlo, who is now in college.

The NEA had no official tally of how many current and former educators had won their races as of Wednesday afternoon. But the early view from union leaders is that the 2018 elections delivered a victory for public education nationwide, despite pockets of disappointments around the country.

“Education had a good night last night,” NEA President Lily Eskelsen Garcia told HuffPost on Wednesday. “Nobody expects to win every race there is. But we saw wins up and down the ballot, and we are on fire.”

Hayes, a former National Teacher of the Year, is heading to Congress from Connecticut. Rep. Tim Walz (D), a high school geography teacher by trade, won the race to become Minnesota’s next governor. Former teacher and state school Superintendent Tony Evers will become Wisconsin’s next governor after defeating incumbent Scott Walker, who earned the ire of teachers in 2011 for attacking their right to collectively bargain.

Current and former educators won races for state auditor in Minnesota, secretary of state in Michigan and even state land commissioner in New Mexico ― a position that oversees vital school land trusts that in recent years have been sold off to oil companies and other businesses, to the dismay of teachers and public education advocates. In Kentucky, where teachers shut down schools in protest amid budget and pension cuts in April, a record 51 educators ran in state legislative races Tuesday. Fourteen of them won, according to the Louisville Courier-Journal.

Democrats’ success in flipping governors’ seats ― seven so far ― also led to wins for Govs.-elect Gretchen Whitmer in Michigan and Michelle Lujan Grisham in New Mexico, both of whom campaigned as public education advocates.

“Everyone who flipped a gubernatorial seat ran on a platform of health care, infrastructure and public education,” said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, the union that represents nearly 2 million educators nationwide. “It is a good day when you have eight more governors who want to actually make public education and student success a priority, and want to work with teachers, not against them.”

The results weren’t uniformly rosy, however. There were also significant letdowns.

In Arizona, David Garcia ― an Arizona State University professor and former state Department of Education official ― lost his race to unseat Republican Gov. Doug Ducey. In Florida, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum (D) appears to have fallen just short in the governor’s race after campaigning on a pro-teacher, pro-public education platform. (The race could still receive a recount.) In Oklahoma, site of a high-profile teachers’ strike earlier this year, Republican Kevin Stitt defeated Democrat Drew Edmondson, who’d supported tax increases to fund raises for teachers. 

But even those setbacks were accompanied by signs of progress for public education advocates. Arizona voters rejected a ballot measure that would have resulted in a massive expansion of the state’s education voucher program. In Florida, voters approved new taxes to fund public education and teacher pay in several major counties.

Looking ahead, the more intangible effects of teachers’ involvement in this election cycle could echo far beyond statehouses, and far beyond 2018.

Christine Marsh, a Democrat in Arizona who has spent decades as a high school English teacher, is still locked in a battle for state Senate, her race too close to call. On Wednesday, while the votes were still being counted, she returned to the classroom.

But for her former student Judith Giller-Leinwohl, winning is almost besides the point. Marsh created opportunities for herself. She was ballsy. She got legions of students to pay attention to a state Senate race. And she stuck to her values.

Marsh had always been a force of good in the classroom. To see her take her energy outside of school ― while remaining a fierce advocate for her students ― was heartening, said Giller-Leinwohl, 26.

It’s so powerful for her students to see she isn’t just talk about some of this,” Giller-Leinwohl said. “She really put it into action.”

CORRECTION: A previous version of this story misstated the year Walker earned the ire of teachers. It was 2011, not 2015.

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Teachers Are Serving As First Responders To The Opioid Crisis

WAR, W.Va. ― Middle school teacher Greg Cruey can explain the most harrowing details of his students’ lives with matter-of-fact precision.

That smart sixth-grader who had her hand raised last period? She’s homeless and has, in the past, been suicidal. That middle school student who seemed on edge during class? As a young child, his parents used him to make pornography; they needed the money for their drug addictions. That sassy eighth-grader with the long hair? Her mom just got out of jail and seems to be allowing her to smoke pot in the house.

Many of these details are ones that, after 15 years in the classroom, Cruey has learned to pick up on, through careful tracking: what students are wearing, hunger levels and emotional states. But sometimes students will offer up these deeply personal details after class with shrugs, as if it’s information as casual as what they ate for lunch. When Cruey still has questions, he will glean information through listening to the constant murmur of student gossip in hallways, tracking social media posts and keeping his ear to the ground at church.   

It’s Cruey’s job to keep track of these particulars, even more than lesson planning or standardized test preparation.

“My job as a teacher is to be a first responder to poverty,” said Cruey, a 58-year-old middle school social studies teacher at Southside K-8 school. “If my students learn other stuff, too, that’s great.”

Cruey’s school, in War, West Virginia, in McDowell County, has long been held up as a living example of how poverty can limit educational attainment. So when the opioid crisis hit, it hit McDowell County particularly hard. In 2014, the county led the state in opioid-related hospitalizations. In 2016, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ranked McDowell County as second-most at-risk in the country for an HIV outbreak due to intravenous drug use.

It’s why, over the course of Cruey’s years in the classroom, he has become used to stories of families torn apart over drugs, as parents and guardians shuffle between hospitals and jails. He cites estimates that nearly half of students live with someone other than their parents. Others are being raised by grandparents, relatives, friends and foster parents.

In War, atypical family structures are the norm.

Nelson Spencer, who retired last month as superintendent of McDowell schools, said that in some of the county’s schools, as many as 40 percent of students don’t live with their parents. And though many of these arrangements are informal, with students casually bouncing between the homes of family members and friends, West Virginia has seen a spike in foster care entrances compared with the U.S. average. In 2016, there were 1,221 foster care entrances per 100,000 youth, compared with the U.S. average of 369. 

Data analysis by The Hechinger Report

It’s a pattern that teachers and school administrators are seeing emerge in many communities, as some states have seen drastic spikes in the number of foster care entrances in recent years. Around the country, the number of kids in foster care increased by about 10 percent from 2012 to 2016. At the same time, the number of children being removed from their homes because of parental drug use has also increased, according to data from the Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System.

And in many places, teachers like Cruey are on the front line of this crisis, working to counteract the effects this trauma has on students’ lives.

For this story, HuffPost/Hechinger Report spent several days shadowing Cruey at his school at the end of the last school year. The time spent showed that teachers, just as much as medical professionals and addiction counselors, serve as first responders to the opioid crisis. Cruey’s story is unique ― in a particular area where rates of addiction and poverty are high ― but it’s also representative of what teachers are experiencing in many communities.

Only 58 percent of children involved in the foster care system finish high school by 19, compared with 87 percent of the general population. Helping deeply traumatized students to succeed in school can be a tough battle.

The decline of coal production started a downward spiral in War, West Virginia.

Damon Dahlen/HuffPost

The decline of coal production started a downward spiral in War, West Virginia.

A Cycle Of Crisis

War was once a center for coal production ― a town where “everybody worked” ― but it spiraled downward as the industry declined.. By 1990, the population in McDowell had fallen to about 35,000 people after a high of nearly 100,000 in 1950.

For schools in the area, this means frequent visits from the Department of Child Protective Services and an abnormally small number of students who live with mom and dad, Cruey said. It also means having students at the center of a crisis that they did nothing to help create. It means high rates of students in special education ― about 40 percent of middle school students have individualized education plans ― a phenomenon Cruey attributes, in part, to the high rates of pregnant mothers on drugs.

On the outside, Southside K-8 school is almost idyllic. Plush mountains surround the recently renovated building, there’s a new jungle gym where young kids swing around and an impressive green football field sits nearby.

But upon closer inspection, the subtle contours of the opioid crisis are undeniably present.

The football field, once a source of community pride, previously served as a place where student-athletes and local coaches could ascend to the status of community legends. It’s where Homer Hickam, famed NASA engineer portrayed in the movie “October Sky,” tried his hand at sports before moving on to rocket science. It was previously attached to Big Creek High School.

But in 2010, the school was closed down over a decline in student enrollment. In 2015, the abandoned school was burned down in an act of arson.

Southside K-8 students now use the field for their football team, but most of the time they can barely get enough students to fill the roster.

Teacher Greg Cruey keeps track mentally of where all his students are living and in what circumstances.

Damon Dahlen/HuffPost

Teacher Greg Cruey keeps track mentally of where all his students are living and in what circumstances.

Cruey, a gregarious man with warm eyes and a friendly smile, attributes the team’s lack of stability to his students’ transience and an overall drain in population. Families are constantly shuffling in and out of the area in hopes of finding a coveted job in the coal mines. And as students with drug-using parents bounce between staying with grandparents, great-grandparents, foster parents and neighbors, Cruey never knows when a student will suddenly stop showing up or will come back after months away.

As a teacher, that means Cruey has to learn to roll with the punches, even though those punches so rarely involve the stuff he was trained to do, like devise lessons, assign homework and monitor learning progress. Cruey maintains a constant mental tracker of which students are living where, which students recently left, and which students are on their way out. He has directly called Child Protective Services at times.

On his way to school in the morning ― he lives about a 30-minute drive away in Virginia ― he watches for parents hitchhiking on the side of the road. He keeps track of which boys are dating which girls ― lamenting that he often sees kids sexually active at young ages, without an understanding of the consequences. Several years ago the school had a pregnant fifth-grader ― she ended up getting an abortion.

It’s inevitable that sometimes these traumas make their way into the classroom.

Lessons in the classroom sometimes have to be customized for kids who face myriad crises in young their lives.

Damon Dahlen/HuffPost

Lessons in the classroom sometimes have to be customized for kids who face myriad crises in young their lives.

During a second period class on a Thursday morning last May, Cruey taught a lesson on Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the politics of the New Deal. The class was mostly engaged, aside from a boy laying his head on a desk, attempting to sleep. Cruey let him. It’s not something an educator would typically allow ― especially one like Cruey, who closely monitors and stomps out classroom misbehavior. But this time Cruey let it slide. He knew enough to know the boy needed the rest.

“He was taken by Child Protective Services two weeks ago, and we didn’t think we’d ever see him again, and he came back,” said Cruey of the boy after class. “He’s one of those situations where ― CPS will show up here because this is the one spot where they don’t have to confront the parents to get the kid. They know our address.”

After school and on weekends, too, the work continues. Cruey’s wife, Cheryl, who was principal of Southside K-8 until retiring at the end of the 2017-2018 school year, mentors three siblings in the district. Cruey’s involved, too. He and Cheryl started helping out after the family of seven spent a winter together in a home where the only adequate heat was a fireplace.

About twice a month, Cruey and his wife take the kids shopping, to church and out for pizza. They bring them bags of food and check on them throughout the school day.

Greg Cruey and his wife, Cheryl, a former principal, often work together to help kids in need.

Damon Dahlen/HuffPost

Greg Cruey and his wife, Cheryl, a former principal, often work together to help kids in need.

But sometimes mentoring is not enough. Sometimes the pain of a child is so great that Cruey feels compelled to do more. Several years ago, Cruey ― who has grown children from a previous marriage ― was in discussions to adopt one of the school’s students, who was in fifth grade at the time.

The student was one of six children, born to a single mother with an addiction to drugs. The eldest sibling, who is now in her 20s and whom Cruey’s wife had had as a student, was in prison at the time. The second eldest was on drugs. The three youngest ended up getting adopted by a local family, leaving a middle boy to mostly fend for himself.

Discussions about an adoption were moving smoothly along until the boy’s legal stepfather was killed, and the boy was granted survivor’s benefits, Cruey said. Suddenly mom wanted to be involved again, and the adoption process was halted.

Six months later, Child Protective Services took the child away and sent him to live with relatives in a different part of the state.

“Occasionally we see him on Facebook. He’s maybe in the ninth grade now. As far as I can tell, he’s doing OK from this distance. His life has changed radically just from not being here,” Cruey said.

Pride And Pain

Amid these issues, there are stories of hope, joy and pride. The district has worked hard to improve its academic outcomes, and there certainly have been improvements. Overall, there’s been an increase in graduation rates and a decrease in dropouts. Spencer, the former superintendent, also points to a decline in teen pregnancies.

“I see a growth in our students. They are proud of where they come from. They’re proud of their heritage. They look people in the eye when they speak,” Spencer said. “If given the right opportunity, our kids can compete with anyone.”

But Cruey isn’t sure that many of his students have the luxury of dreaming about the long term.

“For many of them, the horizon is much closer than ‘When I grow up.’ They think in terms of the instability of their life circumstances and who they’ll live with next year, whether they can get a better deal for themselves by living with grandma,” Cruey said.  

Still, he has high hopes for his kids. He hopes they graduate high school. He hopes they develop a skill. He hopes they experience a life that includes love and support. And he hopes they stay in the area and help revitalize it, stemming the tide of transience and instability.

He hopes the same for their parents and those in his community. He has seen the opioid crisis terrorize generations, turning grandparents into caretakers at ages too old, and siblings into caretakers at ages too young.

The cycle plays out on a Friday afternoon in May.

It’s the last period of the day before the weekend, and students are squirming in their seats with anticipation. Over the loudspeaker, a voice calls for “Friday kids” to come to the cafeteria. A group of students suddenly rushes the hallways.

Greg Cruey says his students are realistic about their lives. “For many of them, the horizon is much closer than &

Damon Dahlen/HuffPost

Greg Cruey says his students are realistic about their lives. “For many of them, the horizon is much closer than ‘When I grow up.’” 

The “Friday kids” club is not one kids want to join. “Friday kids,” as the school calls them, are those who are given a bag of food to take home for the weekend because otherwise they’d go hungry. It’s up to the students how much they want to share with their siblings.

A few minutes later, an older janitor comes to collect Cruey’s classroom trash. He wishes her a happy Friday.

“I wish it was,” she tells him.

A judge has just ruled that her grandchild can go back to living with her dad, who recently got out of jail for drugs, she explains between tears. Cruey offers to help her write a letter to appeal the decision.

Cruey doesn’t know what the students at Southside did in a previous life to be born poor in McDowell County. But he doesn’t see a realistic way to stop the cycle of pain, no matter how well he teaches or how many services the school provides.

“We really don’t make a dent in the most basic problems we have. We achieve some level of educational success. But there are limitations. Because the need is too broad.”

This story about the opioid crisis and foster care was produced as part of a series, “Twice Abandoned: How schools and child-welfare systems fail kids in foster care,” reported by HuffPost and The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news organization focused on inequality and innovation in education.

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Teachers’ Trump Border Wall Costume Leaves Don Lemon Temporarily Lost For Words

The “CNN Tonight” host was at a temporary loss for words Friday night when fellow anchor Chris Cuomo asked him to explain why the costumes had “crossed the line.”

“I don’t know what to say. It’s a sign of the times,” said Lemon, who claimed the outfits worn by the Middleton School District educators were “overtly” and “blatantly” political.

The district’s superintendent has since apologized for the “clearly insensitive and inappropriate” stunt. But Lemon asked, “What is the wall meant to do? Meant to keep out a certain group of people from coming into the country.”

“If you’re educated you should know better,” he added.

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Idaho Elementary Teachers Dressed Up As Mexicans And The Border Wall For Halloween

A group of elementary school teachers from Middleton School District in Middleton, Idaho, dressed up as Mexicans and President Donald Trump’s U.S.-Mexico border wall for Halloween

A photo of about a dozen staff members wearing the costume was posted to the Middleton School District’s Facebook page Thursday evening, the Idaho Press reports. The border wall reads “Make America Great Again,” while the staffers who dressed up as Mexicans are wearing sombreros, ponchos and holding maracas. One woman even wrote “MEXICAN” in big red letters on the top of her sombrero. 

The Thursday post read in part: “It was a great day to be a Heights Hawk! We celebrated our RESPECT character winners, single and double marathon runners.”

Although the Facebook post has since been deleted, screenshots of the racist Halloween costumes were taken and circulated across social media. Many people from the district and other social media users were furious with the costume. 

The Idaho DACA Students Facebook group denounced the Halloween costumes in a Friday morning Facebook post, shared via Elizabeth Almanza, a member of immigrant advocacy group PODER (Protecting our Dreams and Empowering Resilience) of Idaho.

“These photos are extremely disheartening,” Almanza wrote. “ALL children should have the right to a learning environment that celebrates all backgrounds. Imagine how some of the students felt when they walked into their classrooms on Halloween and saw their teachers (people they look up to) dressed like this? This is NOT funny. This is heartbreaking. Students deserve better.”

Middleton School District’s superintendent, Dr. Josh Middleton, addressed the controversial Halloween costumes in a Facebook Live video published Friday morning. He said he only became aware of the staff costumes when a parent contacted him on Thursday, offering his “sincerest and deepest apologies.”

“I was shown those photos and [was] deeply troubled by the decision by our staff members to wear those costumes that are clearly insensitive and inappropriate,” he said, adding: “Do I think there was a malicious intent in this poor decision? No, I don’t. Was there a poor judgment involved? Absolutely.”

“We are better than this. We embrace all students,” Middleton continued. “We have a responsibility to teach and reach all students, period.”

He added that the school district is investigating the issue. The Middleton School District did not immediately respond to HuffPost’s request for comment. 

Middleton announced during a Saturday morning school board meeting that 14 employees have been put on paid administrative leave following the controversial costumes. 

“This type of behavior has no place in education and certainly is not tolerated here at Middleton School District,” a statement from the school district’s board of trustees reads

“This situation is being taken very seriously. We are in full support of our superintendent and administrative staff as a full investigation is being conducted, and are awaiting the results of the investigation,” the statement continued. “This is an unfortunate incident of very poor judgment. Yet it is not indicative of the Middleton School District or our teachers as a whole.”

This article has been updated to include information about the employees’ suspension. 

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These Girls Are Suing Their School For The Right To Wear Pants

Bonnie Peltier, a 47-year-old stay-at-home mother of two in Leland, North Carolina, was thrilled when her 4-year-old daughter got into Charter Day School, a publicly funded K-8 with a good reputation in her conservative small town. But she was taken aback at school orientation in the summer of 2015, when she learned that the charter school’s dress code prohibits girls from wearing pants or shorts as part of its standard uniform.

Her daughter dislikes wearing skirts and dresses, Peltier told HuffPost. And Peltier didn’t understand why she’d have to force her child to wear clothes that make it harder to play freely, and are less warm when the weather gets chilly.

To understand the school’s reasoning, Peltier emailed its founder, Baker Mitchell, a conservative entrepreneur who owns a company that manages four public charter schools in the state.

In his reply, Mitchell said the dress code was about “chivalry” and claimed it helped instill traditional values, making for better manners and better-behaved children. A fairly standard response, at the outset. But then, he suggested that the dress code could help prevent school shootings.

The email kicked off a years-long battle with Charter Day that has yet to be resolved. All this time, Peltier’s daughter has been dutifully wearing her school uniform.

Charter Day is the best public school in the area, Peltier said. She didn’t see why her daughter should be denied the opportunity for a good education. “I figured if I have to get the policy changed, that’s what I’m going to do,” she said. “She belongs there; the teachers are wonderful; her friends are there.”

With the help of the American Civil Liberties Union, Peltier and two other mothers sued Charter Day in federal court in 2016 on behalf of their daughters. Their aim is simply to give girls at the school the option to wear pants or shorts. They argue that the restrictive dress code discriminates against girls and violates Title IX, the part of the federal civil rights law that covers public education.

“They get public money. And they need to abide by the law,” said Erika Booth, a 47-year-old paramedic who joined the suit on behalf of her daughter. “They need to go ahead and treat girls equally. That’s it. That’s the bottom line.”

Dress codes in the U.S. have been increasingly subject to controversy for various reasons, but HuffPost only recently learned about the Charter Day case, which hasn’t garnered much national attention. A ruling could come soon on the school’s motion for summary judgment.

Lawyers for Charter Day declined to comment for this story, instead referring HuffPost to the arguments the school made in its motion for summary judgment last year. There, the school said the uniform dress code is part of its “traditional values” framework, and noted that it’s legal to have differing dress requirements for boys and girls. The policy fosters classroom discipline and “mutual respect between boys and girls,” the school argued, pointing out that parents choose the school.

Further, the school said the policy doesn’t adversely impact girls, who outscore boys at the school in standardized math tests.

Charter Day also claimed it would hurt the school to get rid of a policy that parents like. But it’s not clear parents are so fond of the code, Peltier and Booth told HuffPost. “I’ve had a lot of support,” Booth said.

A petition to change the dress code garnered more than 100 signatures, according to a 2016 blog post from a student on the ACLU’s website.

“When we go outside for recess, the boys in my class will sometimes play soccer or do flips and cartwheels,” wrote Keely Burks, who was an eighth-grader at the school. “But I feel like I can’t because I’m wearing a skirt.”

She said she’d been put in a timeout in the first grade because she sat with her legs criss-crossed, rather than curled to the side as was expected of girls.

In its arguments to the court, Charter Day does not touch on the reasoning Mitchell offered Peltier in his email in 2015, possibly because it is so outrageous. In that email, Mitchell linked the dress code to the Columbine school shooting, which he pointed out happened the year before Charter Day’s founding. He told Peltier that some of the victims were female.

In the wake of Columbine, where two high school boys killed 12 of their classmates, one teacher and themselves, Charter Day’s founders were “determined to preserve chivalry and respect among young women and men in this school of choice,” Mitchell wrote to Peltier. Young men should hold doors open for young ladies and even carry umbrellas for them, he said. Students should say “ma’am” and “sir” when addressing adults.

And today, when bullying and harassment are big issues, as well as teen pregnancy and casual sex, Mitchell said, the dress codes are just important.

The argument essentially seemed to be that dressing nicely and behaving politely will somehow prevent school violence and other social ills.

He couldn’t really be saying that Columbine wouldn’t have happened if girls wore skirts, Peltier thought while reading his email. “But that was what he was saying,” she told HuffPost.

In the court documents, Charter Day distanced itself from Mitchell’s email, saying it wasn’t an “official pronouncement.”

Mitchell and the school both emphasized that the dress code encourages a culture of respect, but Peltier and Booth say the unequal policy is actually disrespectful to girls, who are treated as the fairer, and thus less capable, sex ― outdated tropes that perpetuate sexism.

“I think it teaches girls they’re second-class citizens. They take second place to the boys. And it’s not right,” Booth said. “My daughter has aspirations to do things that are traditionally men’s jobs. She wants to be a soldier. I’ve never seen a soldier in a skirt.”

This Charter Day eighth-grader, identified in the suit as “I.B.,” would just rather wear pants or shorts to school.

If schools are really concerned with fostering a culture of respect, they should make sure that students are comfortable, welcome, safe and happy in their learning environment, said Adaku Onyeka-Crawford, senior counsel for education at the National Women’s Law Center.  

But gendered dress codes don’t actually work toward those goals. Skirts and dresses are indeed less comfortable, it’s harder to play when ensconced in fabric past your knees, and in the winter months, girls are colder.

Dress codes also can work against the notion of respect ― particularly for girls, who are treated more like fragile, sexualized objects than autonomous human beings. “There tend to be more rules for girls than boys,” Onyeka-Crawford said. “It tends to be another way to police girls’ bodies.”

There’s no nationwide data on the use of gendered dress codes in schools, but they’re not uncommon. Schools often mandate the length of girls’ skirts or prohibit certain kinds of tops ― spaghetti straps, for example. Meanwhile, boys are allowed to get away with a bit more ― say, playing basketball shirtless.

Over the past year, these prohibitions have been called out for sexualizing, stereotyping and harming young women. Black girls, in particular, are often burdened by dress codes, which can ban styles specific to their cultures, such as certain hairstyles.

Gendered dress codes also help reinforce damaging stereotypes about boys and girls. Girls at the Charter Day school have been told to “sit like a princess” or “sit like a girl” in the classroom, and have been reprimanded for turning cartwheels on the playground (and inadvertently showing their underpants), according to the lawsuit.

“We’re having to tell our daughters, even though this is what they’re teaching you, this is not the way the world works anymore,” Peltier said.

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Lawsuit Accuses Betsy DeVos And Her Deputies Of Being Motivated By Sexism

A new filing in a lawsuit against the Trump administration accuses Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos and a top deputy of being motivated in part by sexism in their policy decisions.

The lawsuit, originally filed in January, challenged DeVos’ elimination of Obama-era Title IX guidance on how sexual assault cases are handled on campus. But an amended complaint submitted Wednesday says that DeVos’ decision was influenced by discriminatory and stereotyped views of women. 

DeVos scrapped the Title IX guidance in September 2017, issuing her own interim guidance on the subject. Her version raised the standard of evidence used in campus sexual assault cases. At the time, DeVos said that the Obama administration’s directive was an example of federal overreach. 

But plaintiffs in the filing say DeVos and her deputies had more nefarious motivations, and they use new Freedom of Information Act records as evidence. The records indicate that Department of Education leaders had solicited input from groups and academics who push inflated and widely discredited statistics regarding the prevalence of false rape allegations. A National Sexual Violence Resource Center study found that false reports account for only about 2 percent to 10 percent of such allegations, a range that it said was likely inflated.

“What you see is that this administration is buying into the sex stereotype that women and girls lie about these types of things, and they’re making policy based on that view,” Karianne Jones, counsel for Democracy Forward Foundation, told HuffPost. Democracy Forward is representing the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, along with the National Women’s Law Center, National Center for Youth Law and Equal Rights Advocates. 

According to the lawsuit, the records also show Candice Jackson, then acting head of the department’s Office for Civil Rights, recommended a book to her staff, Unwanted Advances: Sexual Paranoia Comes to Campus by academic Laura Kipnis. The book describes Obama’s Title IX guidance as allowing women to seek legal recourse for “awkward sexual experiences” and then ask for protection from “sexual bogeymen,” per the filing.  

A spokeswoman for the Department of Education wasn’t able to comment on the specifics of pending litigation but pushed back on the lawsuit’s assertions, noting that department leaders met with a wide range of stakeholders on the issue at the time.

“This lawsuit is nothing more than a baseless, politically motivated attack on the Secretary,” spokeswoman Elizabeth Hill said by email. “She and OCR staff met with a number of people on this important issue including survivors, falsely accused students, college presidents and university GCs and the message was very clear from all of them — we have to get this right on behalf of students and the current process isn’t serving students well.

“The Secretary is committed to Title IX reforms that will ensure survivors feel empowered to come forward, all students are afforded due process and universities have clear rules to follow.”

The lawsuit says that, although the department solicited the views of those who were critical of Obama’s Title IX guidance, “the Department met with organizations that advocate for Title IX’s protections for survivors only after repeated, collective requests from those organizations.”

The FOIA records also show that Jackson had consulted with figures such as professor Gordon Finley of Florida International University on the issue. Finley is a member of the National Coalition for Men, a men’s rights organization, and has referred to Obama’s Title IX guidance as a “war on men.” 

Records also show Jackson was in close contact with the group Families Advocating for Campus Equality, requesting they publish op-eds before a speech by DeVos, according to the lawsuit. The group was started by parents whose children had been accused of sexual assault on campus.

DeVos previously publicly met with representatives of the National Coalition for Men and Families Advocating for Campus Equality. 

The plaintiffs in the case, which include groups like SurvJustice, Equal Rights Advocates and Victim Rights Law Center, say these documents, along with other statements and actions taken by DeVos and Jackson, show they had “discriminatory motivation.” 

An original lawsuit filed by the plaintiffs challenged the Trump administration’s overall rescission of Obama’s Title IX guidance. An overall challenge to the rescission was dismissed, with the judge saying you cannot challenge a nonbinding piece of guidance. But the amended complaint takes a different approach, instead focusing on the mindset of administration officials.

At the time DeVos rescinded the guidance, she said the old process lacked due process. A report from the Wall Street Journal on Wednesday says that DeVos is gearing up to release new rules on the matter, which will require that accused students be allowed to cross-examine their accusers and will narrow the definition of sexual assault cases that schools must arbitrate. Advocates worry that such a process will make victims more reluctant to come forward. 

The lawsuit mentions President Donald Trump’s previous comments and behavior toward women, accusing him of sexism.

Jackson previously said that 90 percent of sexual assault accusations are a result of drunken regrets or misunderstandings, a remark noted in the amended complaint and original lawsuit.

At the time of the original lawsuit, a lawyer for the federal government said this did not prove intentional sexism on Jackson’s part.  

CORRECTION: A previous version of this story mischaracterized the guidance Betsy DeVos issued for campus sexual assault cases; her version raised, not lowered, the standard of evidence used.

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Hilarious Video Compares Moms On Halloween In 1988 And 2018

A hilarious viral video is highlighting the difference between parenting on Halloween in the 1980s and in 2018.

Meredith Masony of “That’s Inappropriate” teamed up with Tiffany Jenkins of “Juggling the Jenkins” to create “1980′s Mom Vs 2018 Mom Halloween Edition.”

The too-real video compares a no-fuss mom of the ’80s with a Pinterest-loving, highly protective mom of 2018. For example:

Mom of the ’80s: “Alright guys, I got you pillowcases. Go head on over to the rich end of the neighborhood. If their lights are off, bang harder. I know they’re home.”

Mom of 2018: “OK, children, I hand-crafted these collection baskets for your candy tonight. I learned how to do it from a nun in the hills of India.”

The video has reached nearly 40,000 views on YouTube and more than 5 million views on Facebook. Watch it above.

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New Jersey ‘Pooperintendent’ Pleads Guilty To Public Defecation

A former high school superintendent in New Jersey has pleaded guilty to public defecation on a local high school’s track and football field.

Thomas Tramaglini pleaded guilty to the charge on Wednesday as part of a plea deal with prosecutors to dismiss charges of public lewdness and littering, according to The New York Post.

He will also have to pay a $500 fine and court costs.

The 42-year-old Tramaglini was the superintendent of the Kenilworth School District until his arrest in May for lewdness, littering and defecating in public. The district accepted his resignation in July.

It seems the athletic coaches and other staffers at Holmdel High School, which is not in Tramaglini’s former school district, were repeatedly “finding human feces” at or near the track and football field “on a daily basis,” according to The Asbury Park Press.

Staffers monitored the field until they identified Tramaglini, 42, as the No. 1 No. 2 suspect.  

Holmdel Police Department

Thomas Tramaglini was arrested in May for lewdness, littering and defecating in public. He said he had a one-time case of “runner’s diarrhea” on the day of the incident.

After the alleged offense, the media tagged Tramaglini the “Pooperintendent,” but Tramaglini’s attorney, Matthew Adams, insisted his client is no serial pooper.

“Today’s facts are contrary to the narrative that was spun about this person that was supposedly a serial offender doing things on the open track,” he told The Asbury Park Press.

Adams blamed Tramaglini’s public pooping on “runner’s diarrhea,” which NJ.com describes as “the sudden urge to go as you’re pounding the pavement on a multi-mile jog.” 

Tramaglini had a “medical emergency” at the track field of the day of his arrest and dealt with it under the bleachers, obscured from public view, and “cleaned up after himself,” Adams claimed, according to NJ.com

“There’s no evidence he was ever a serial offender,” Adams told the website. “We were ready to go to trial on some of the allegations about certain dates with GPS evidence from his Garmin running watch. That story needs to be told.”

Though Tramaglini pleaded guilty, he is planning to sue the Holmdel Township Police Department for releasing his mug shot after his arrest, according to CrimeOnline.com.

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Meet The AP Biology Teacher Who Could Flip The New York Senate

SYRACUSE, N.Y. ― John Mannion wants to shift the balance of power at the statehouse in Albany. But before he could even try, he had to get approved for leave from teaching four periods of high school biology ― and buy three reasonably priced suits for the campaign trail.

“Long before I ran for office, I would hear this phrase, ‘Parents trust their kids’ teachers,’” Mannion said on a recent October afternoon, hurrying between campaign events in his Chevy Volt. “I’ve been teaching for 25 years. I’ve had 2,500 students. Those students have parents. They have aunts and uncles who vote.”

Nearly 1,500 current and retired educators across the country have tossed their hats into state-level races this year, flexing their political muscle after an unprecedented series of strikes in West Virginia, Kentucky, Oklahoma and Arizona. But few of them have the potential to shake up state politics as quickly as Mannion could.

A 50-year-old AP biology teacher and father of three, Mannion is competing for an open New York State Senate seat that has been in Republican hands for half a century, even though the district went decisively for Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. Republicans hold a thin one-seat advantage in the state Senate. If Mannion wins, he could help tip control of the chamber to the Democratic Party.

Like Mannion, many of those teachers-turned-candidates are political neophytes navigating a foreign world, new to the alliances, compromises and relentless phone-banking needed to reach the statehouse. Teachers may have won broad public support when they went on strike, but whether voters are willing to elect them en masse to state legislatures is a different matter.

Bob Antonacci, Mannion’s Republican opponent, is far more seasoned, as the elected comptroller for Onondaga County. An accountant by trade, Antonacci has been calling for lighter government regulation and a permanent cap on taxes. (There is no public polling available on the race.)

Mannion said his plunge into politics required “just enough egomania and not enough decision-making skills.” His quasi-political experience comes from helming his 400-member local teachers’ union for the last five years, negotiating contracts, handling grievances and putting out other labor-management fires by late-night text.

“I’m in the media a little bit, and I’ve got a big mouth, so somebody asked, ‘Will you consider running for this?’” he said. He waffled a bit and talked it over with his wife, Jennifer Mannion, who teaches in an elementary school in the same district. The timing felt right for an outsider campaigning on honesty, ethics and a fair economy. “I had to convince the county Democratic committees that a teacher with no experience could do this,” he said.

The 50th District seat that John Mannion seeks is being vacated by John DeFrancisco, a 72-year-old Republican who was first elected to it in 1992. DeFrancisco is retiring after an unsuccessful run for the governor’s mansion this year.

The GOP’s lock on the 50th may well end with DeFrancisco’s departure; registration in the district is almost evenly split between Democrats and Republicans, 61,498 to 62,316. In a sign of the stakes, the two campaigns together have raked in more than $700,000 in contributions, and a teachers’ union political action committee has spent an additional $233,000 to boost Mannion.

I had to convince the county Democratic committees that a teacher with no experience could do this.
John Mannion

Working his way through a packed itinerary this particular afternoon, Mannion delivered a speech to about 100 retired teachers ― an adoring crowd that would make for his easiest event of the day ― before rushing to a rollout of his jobs plan at Digital Hyve, an online marketing agency based in Syracuse. (“I want [Syracuse] to become the Silicon Valley of the Northeast,” he said as the firm’s employees, seated on couches in an open-office layout, typed away on their laptops.)

When he hopped back in his car, his daughter Quinn, a high school junior, texted to say she needed a ride to her soccer game. As he detoured home, it became clear how his decision to run has, as he put it, “upset my family’s apple cart.”

When the Mannions walk out their front door, the first thing they see is an Antonacci sign directly across the street. If they turn to their right, they see another Antonacci sign in the adjacent yard. Mannion doesn’t take it personally, saying these are Republicans who vote Republican — next-door neighbor on the ballot notwithstanding.

As he drove down his street, the ratio of Antonacci to Mannion signs tilted decisively in his favor. He smiled.

“Are you feeling better?” he asked. “I’m feeling better.”

Dave Jamieson/HuffPost

Mannion is one of the nearly 1,500 current and retired educators across the country who have tossed their hats into state-level races this year.

After dropping off his daughter, he headed to his cramped campaign office, which sits on the back side of a stained-glass studio. Inside were his campaign manager, Ian Phillips, and a handful of volunteers. Three of them, including a retired teacher, were at the phones calling voters ― a grassroots effort Mannion believes will give him the edge he needs. Unaccustomed to seeing him dressed up, one of them remarked that he looked sharp in a suit.

“It’s a lot of people that have never volunteered for a political campaign before,” Mannion said of his team. “It’s a lot of friends and a lot of teachers. There are certainly some members of the town Democratic committees that are helpful, but a lot of these folks have never made a phone call or knocked on a door before.”  

To prepare for his campaign, he went through a training program run by the National Education Association and designed for first-time candidates, called See Educators Run. The two-day crash course in Atlanta introduced him to like-minded teachers from Kansas, Oklahoma and Kentucky, many of them campaigning against deep cuts to education funding and most of them running as Democrats. Mannion learned about messaging, fundraising and time management.

But no course can replicate the trail. After his stop at the campaign office, Mannion headed out to knock on some doors. The first house he visited belonged to a prominent lacrosse coach whose kids Mannion taught and who guaranteed a vote in Mannion’s column. Mannion left door-hanging literature at a few empty homes before rousing a woman from her nap. She was excited to see him.

“You’ve got two votes in this house,” she assured him.

In what turned out to be his longest doorstep chat of the day, she talked about how difficult it has become to park at her Catholic church on Sundays. He nodded in sympathy but said his hands were tied.

“There’s not much I can do on that one, with the whole separation of church and state,” he said diplomatically.

With no time to spare, Mannion hustled over to a Q&A with construction workers at the local carpenters’ union training center. Although the union already gave him its endorsement, the event wouldn’t come off as a coronation. It would turn out to be his toughest crowd of the day.

I’ve had 2,500 students. Those students have parents. They have aunts and uncles who vote.
John Mannion

The workers wanted to know where Mannion comes down on a deeply divisive issue: what to do with the I-81 viaduct that cuts through the town’s core. Urban-planning types want to replace it with a community grid, a network of streets aimed at bridging neighborhoods and spurring development. A lot of the carpenters would rather replace the stretch of highway with a new viaduct — an easy guarantee of many construction jobs.

Mannion’s sympathy for the grid plan didn’t go over well, prompting head shakes and pushback. It seemed he was losing the room ― until the conversation steered toward guns. He said gun regulations are already tight in New York and he wouldn’t seek tougher ones, a line that might displease left-leaning Democrats but went over well with the gun owners in the room.

“You just appeased a lot of people with that answer,” one worker said with a smile.

Greg Lancette, the president of the local building trades council, stood up to reassure the workers about Mannion and the community grid. No candidate is perfect, Lancette said, but Mannion is with them on the vast majority of issues. (Lancette had warned Mannion about the likelihood of fallout from his I-81 position.)

Mannion shook hands with workers and left with dinner ― his second campaign sandwich to go of the day ― as well as a check from the union. Organized labor has been one of the pillars of his campaign, recognizing that a Mannion victory could make for a more union-friendly Senate in Albany.

“Well, that got really interesting,” he said, climbing into his car.

He was pleased with himself for laying out his concerns with rebuilding I-81, even if it comes at a political cost. People trust their kids’ teacher, after all, and he doesn’t want to make assurances he can’t keep, he said. He even seemed to relish the back-and-forth inside, suggesting maybe he was cut out for this politics thing.

“I could have just told them what they wanted to hear, but I didn’t do that,” he said.

Mannion lasted only about 15 minutes at Quinn’s soccer game before having to rush to a candidate forum in a church basement a few miles away. The space holds just a few rows of chairs ― and most of them would be empty ― but he made a commitment to be there and didn’t want to be late.

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Kids Aren’t Getting The Full Reality Of Climate Change From Their Textbooks

Back in 2007, the world’s foremost body charged with assessing climate change stated with “very high confidence” that humans were a primary driver of climate change.

But you may not get the message that humans are responsible for climate change if you peered into some of the most popular high school curriculum materials that were produced in the following years.

Many school materials back then did not communicate the scientific consensus that human activity was a major driver of climate change. That was one of the major findings of our line-by-line analysis of five science textbooks, four social studies textbooks and eight sets of supplemental curricular materials produced in the five years after the 2007 report. These 17 resources – all designed for high school classrooms – were selected based on their widespread use so that we could best understand the climate change-related content seen by the greatest number of U.S. students.

The three of us are researchers of education interested in how to prepare youth for well-informed civic participation. Casey Meehan came up with the idea to analyze how curricular materials deal with climate change, considering this a major civic issue. After doing this as part of his dissertation at the University of Wisconsin, Brett Levy and Lauren Collet-Gildard helped him to expand his analyses.

We published our findings in Science Education earlier this year. The main takeaway is that many American curricular materials communicate a skewed or incomplete view of the seriousness, scope and cause of global climate change. In addition, these resources present a small range of options for addressing the problem.

We examined how each resource portrayed three major dimensions of climate change: causes, impacts and potential responses.


Nine resources in our study did reflect the scientific consensus that human activity is a major driver of climate change, but we found that another six – including several science textbooks – were hesitant, communicating uncertainty about the conclusions expressed in the 2007 landmark report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

For instance, one earth science textbook published in 2010 says that “researchers are trying to determine if the [temperature] increase is a natural variation or the result of human activities.” Similarly, one geography textbook published in 2012 states that scientists “do not all agree on the nature of global warming and its effects.”

“Some claim that a natural cycle, not human activity, is causing rising temperatures,” this particular textbook states. “Others claim that the evidence for global warming is inconclusive.”

Such messages suggest that humans may not be responsible for climate change -– and that global warming itself could be a myth. These ideas were common in some of the curricula we examined. Two sets of supplemental materials directly challenge the idea that human activities cause climate change, with one calling this notion “far from settled.”

These curricula helped shape the views of young Americans who are now in their 20s. Perhaps more importantly, there’s a good chance many of these materials are still in use now, given that some schoolteachers have access only to aging textbooks.


Beyond the fact that some publishers hedged when it came to the cause of global climate change, we also found that they provided limited content about the impacts of climate change. Twelve of 17 curricular resources made little mention of extreme weather events, such as droughts and hurricanes.

Only two of the resources we examined had more than five sentences about the growing challenge of access to fresh drinking water. About half ignored the issue altogether. And when materials did explore the impacts of climate change, they often portrayed these problems as quite distant – for example, affecting Alaska and northern Canada but not the mainland U.S.

Although many of the most severe impacts of climate change have been outside the mainland U.S., in our view it’s important for young people to recognize the current shifts closer to home – such as more frequent floods. Some materials in our study elaborated on how such impacts could affect us, but many provided only vague information about these topics.

Potential responses

The last thing we found is that the materials in our study focused almost entirely on mitigation strategies, such as energy conservation. This is significant because the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and other leading scientific organizations agree that addressing global warming and its impacts will also require adaptation – and perhaps geoengineering.

Since adaptation strategies, such as modifying land use and developing drought-resistant crops, will be helpful for coping with the impacts described above, we believe school materials should explore these ideas.

However, many materials focused only on individual responses – such as turning off lights and driving less – instead of collective or policy responses. Social studies materials more frequently highlighted the need for government action, but we are concerned about how much exposure students get to policy solutions when they are in science class.

As the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and other leading scientists have made clear, society needs to take substantial action to prevent the worst consequences of climate change.

It’s true that some states are working to improve climate change education and to convey the seriousness of the issue to young people. For instance, as part of a major climate science initiative in Washington state, approximately US$1 million is being awarded through competitive grants to nonprofit community-based organizations to work with school districts “to build student understanding and problem solving around local environmental challenges.” And researchers at Indiana University are training teachers in the “science of climate change and its predicted impact on the state.”

It will take these kinds of efforts and more to prepare young people for future challenges. There’s still time, but schools should make sure that curricular materials communicate what scientists have been saying for well over a decade now –- that is, humans are responsible for climate change, the impacts will be serious, and we need to respond wisely.

Brett Levy is Assistant Professor of Educational Theory and Practice, and Lauren Collet-Gildard is a Social Studies Educator at the University at Albany, State University of New York. Casey Meehan is Sustainability Coordinator at Western Technical College.

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Nearly 1,500 Teachers Are Running For Office In November’s Elections

The widespread teacher protests that swept through states like Kentucky and West Virginia this spring have given way to an unprecedented wave of educators pursuing political office in November’s elections, the nation’s largest teachers union said in a memo released this week.

Nearly 1,500 current or former teachers and other education professionals are running for elected offices across the country, the National Education Association said in the memo. That updated an analysis from September, when the NEA said more than 500 teachers and educators had decided to run for office. The new number is a record for the number of educators seeking office in a single election cycle, the union said.

The new figure includes at least 1,455 teachers and educators who are seeking state legislative seats, and counts current and former teachers from K-12 and higher education, as well as administrative and support staff. More than 1,000 of them are running as Democrats, with another 433 running as Republicans, the NEA said. Most of them are women.

“Our students deserve better than tattered textbooks and leaky ceilings,” Carrie Pugh, the NEA’s senior political director, said in the memo circulated among its members. “Educators deserve better than bottom-of-the-barrel pay and having to pay out of pocket for basic classroom supplies.”

Along with running for office, teachers are also providing a groundswell of grassroots support for other pro-public education candidates: A union spokesman said its members have more than doubled their activism this election cycle compared with 2016, as measured through time put in phone-banking and canvassing.

We fully expect those numbers … to go up as we head down the stretch,” he added.

Massive teacher walkouts, protests and strikes took place in West Virginia, Kentucky, Oklahoma and Arizona this spring, as educators pushed back against decades of cuts to public education budgets, teacher salaries, and in some cases, changes to public pension and retirement plans. Walkouts also occurred in Colorado and North Carolina.

Those walkouts, which were largely organized at the grassroots level and became known as the #RedForEd movement, won some immediate gains in states like West Virginia and Arizona, and staved off deeper cuts elsewhere.

The bulk of teachers seeking office are doing so in the states that experienced protests, according to the union ― a phenomenon that became evident amid the walkouts. Kentucky’s protests helped inspire a record number of teachers to sign up to pursue state legislative seats.

But the protests and the issues underlying them have also inspired teachers in other states. There are also at least 20 current or former teachers running for U.S. Congress or Senate seats, and multiple other educators involved in governor’s races and other statewide campaigns.

The teachers running for office include incumbents like Sens. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and Bob Casey (D-Pa.), as well as first-time candidates like Jahana Hayes, who is running for a congressional seat in Connecticut, and John Mannion, who is pursuing a New York state senate seat.

The teacher movements have already shaken up Democratic primaries and other races across the country, from Colorado to Georgia. In Kentucky, a high school teacher defeated the state’s House majority leader in a GOP primary upset in May. And in response to the walkouts, congressional Democrats also unveiled a plan to devote $100 billion in federal funding to state school budgets. The proposed legislation would also guarantee teachers the right to join unions and collectively bargain.

Victories for teachers in November could further reshape state legislatures and debates over public education at the state and local level. But the NEA is also hopeful that increased activism among its members and other teachers will help boost candidates who have made improved public education a centerpiece of their campaigns.

Teachers in Pennsylvania, where the NEA considers Gov. Tom Wolf’s (D) re-election a top priority, have knocked on more than 40,000 doors during canvassing drives, the union said. In Minnesota, where former teacher and U.S. Rep. Tim Walz (D) is running for governor, the NEA said it has trained more than 1,100 educators to help in voter turnout drives.

And because many (though not all) of the protests targeted Republican-controlled state governments that attempted to cut education spending, the increased political engagement among educators could also assist Democrats in their efforts to regain control of the House of Representatives. In Kentucky’s 6th congressional district, for example, retired fighter pilot Amy McGrath (D) told HuffPost last month that anger among teachers in the state has aided her effort to win a close race against incumbent Rep. Andy Barr (R).

“The people who are going out canvassing are mostly teachers and education professionals,” Paula Setser-Kissick, a Kentucky teacher who is running for a state senate seat that sits in the Barr’s district, said in September. “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.”

Dave Jamieson contributed reporting.

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Black Students Sue Texas County Over Limited Early Voting Locations

A group of students at a historically black university in Texas is suing county officials for not providing enough early voting locations on campus, saying they are discriminating against students based on their race and age.

The five students at Prairie View A&M University filed the lawsuit in federal court in Houston on Monday, the first day of early voting for the 2018 midterm elections in the state. It noted that election officials had failed to establish a single early voting location on campus during the entire first week the polls are open. While there is early voting on campus during the second week, it’s only for three days and ends at 5 p.m. There is additional early voting at a community center, but the lawsuit alleges that’s not a place students regularly visit. There’s also no early voting during the weekends in Prairie View.

The suit says the limited early voting in Prairie View, home to Prairie View A&M and where 79 percent of the voting-age population is black, is illegal because nearby towns in the county with more voters who are white and less who are ages 18 to 21 have more early voting opportunities. They say the county’s early voting locations violate the Voting Rights Act as well as the 14th, 15th and 26th amendments, the last of which guarantees the right to vote to anyone over 18.

This town that is majority black, that is majority students, this is the town that sort of has been denied the opportunity for early voting for this first week and is given less of an opportunity than every other community in the county.
Deuel Ross, an attorney at the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund

The suit comes as a U.S. Senate race in the state between Republican Sen. Ted Cruz and Democratic Rep. Beto O’Rourke is one of the most closely watched in the country. Nearby Harris County, home to Houston, set a record on Monday for the most ballots cast there on the first day of early voting in a midterm election.

In the city of Waller, which is close to Prairie View and where 69 percent of the voting age population is white, there are two early voting sites during the first week of voting. Both sites have weekend hours and, in the second week, evening hours. About 10 percent of eligible voters in Waller are ages 18 to 21, compared with 66 percent in Prairie View.

In Katy, another nearby town also in Waller County, there are three days of early voting during the first week (but none during the second) from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. There, 77 percent of eligible voters are white and just 7.4 percent are ages 18 to 21.

The suit says that the early voting in nearby towns is not an adequate substitute for students on campus because they might not have the transportation or time to travel to them.

“This town that is majority black, that is majority students, this is the town that sort of has been denied the opportunity for early voting for this first week and is given less of an opportunity than every other community in the county,” said Deuel Ross, an attorney at the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, which is representing the students. “We think that they’re entitled to, at the very least, parity. Some sort of early voting this week and early voting on the weekends as other towns have.”

The early voting locations were jointly proposed by the local Democratic and Republican party chairs and subsequently approved by a board of county commissioners. While some commissioners acknowledged there were some issues with the plan, they approved it by pointing to the fact that it was proposed by the local parties, early voting during the first week would conflict with homecoming, parking could be difficult on campus and that some members of the community did not feel comfortable going on campus, according to the complaint.

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Early voting has begun in a number of cities, but Prairie View A&M University doesn’t have any voting locations on campus during the first week of early voting in the state.

The complaint also notes that there’s a history of targeting students in Waller County. Following the passage of the 26th Amendment, county officials tried to allow students to vote only if their families owned property in the county. In 2003, the county tried to cut early voting hours when a student was running for office. In 2007-2008, it limited the number of registrations volunteer deputy registrars could submit. In 2016, the county also tried to cut the number of early voting sites, making it more difficult for people in Prairie View to vote, but eventually reversed course when facing the threat of litigation.

Waller County also has a history of allegations of racial discrimination and the Justice Department monitored voting there in 2014 and 2016. The county drew national attention in 2016 when Sandra Bland, an alumna of Prairie View A&M, was stopped for failing to properly signal a lane change and then arrested. Bland committed suicide in the Waller County jail days later. 

County officials did not return a request for comment. Rosa Harris, the chair of the Waller County Democratic Party, did not respond to a request for comment, and someone managing the Waller County Republican Party Facebook page declined to comment, saying they hadn’t seen the lawsuit.

Ross said it was not surprising that both parties had agreed to a plan that negatively affected black students. 

“People often think as voting rights as being between Democrats and Republicans,” he said. “Often what happens is that black voters get caught in between the two major parties when it’s beneficial to either one of them to either deny them the opportunity to vote or to make it more difficult for them or to compromise on black voting rights when it’s beneficial to one party or the other. I don’t think from our perspective, there’s nothing unique about the parties agreeing on a plan that ends up harming black voters.”

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How To Teach Your Kids About Other Cultures

As racist and xenophobic sentiments fill news headlines, many parents are wondering how to instill values of acceptance and cultural understanding in their children.

“It’s important to me for my sons to understand that people around the world are just like them and to have empathy for those people, understanding and real global awareness,” Florida mom Akeelah Kuraishi told HuffPost.

Kuraishi ― who was born in England to a Pakistani father and Scottish mother ― put her mission into practice by creating Little Global Citizens, a subscription box meant to teach kids about different cultures and people around the world.

“Young children don’t have societal preconceptions and I think sometimes we forget that,” she explained. “It’s very imperative to take a stand right now to impact the next generation and make sure they are open-minded, compassionate and aware.”

To offer parents some guidance on this front, HuffPost spoke to Kuraishi and Sonia Nieto, author of Affirming Diversity and professor emerita of language, literacy and culture at the University of Massachusetts Amherst College of Education. Here are their tips for teaching kids about cultural diversity.

Start with books

Both Kuraishi and Nieto recommended having reading material at home that reflects the diversity of our world, from magazines to children’s books.

“Books offer a great opportunity to teach kids about different countries and cultures to expand their horizons, even just to get them to say unfamiliar names,” Kuraishi noted.

While reading books that involve different cultures, parents should help their children empathize with the characters. They can ask questions like, “Oh, isn’t it interesting that this person lives with their grandparents or their aunties?” or “Wow, they have chickens at their home. Do you think it would be fun to have chickens? What would that be like?”

“Ask them to think about the differences and make sure to highlight the similarities, like ‘This little boy likes soccer just like you!’ or ‘This child is enjoying a book just like you!,’” Kuraishi said.

Westend61 via Getty Images

Expose children to characters from diverse backgrounds.

Find opportunities in your community

“Expose your children to experiences that they might not ordinarily have and that they can learn from so that as they grow older. They will be comfortable in these situations where they are the only one of whatever background they might be,” Nieto explained. “Exposure is so important. Let them see things they aren’t familiar with yet.”

Nieto recommends taking advantage of community experiences like theater performances, concerts, lectures and museums, which provide a wealth of diverse learning opportunities. While these kinds of experiences are more abundant in large cities, it’s still possible to find them in smaller communities. “You just have to look for it,” she said.

Finding local places of worship can be a helpful route, as they often put on cultural festivals to teach the community about their traditions and allow people from diverse backgrounds to engage with each other.

And although kids might be reluctant to try new things, Nieto noted that it’s all about getting over that initial hurdle.

“It’s just like with food. I’d always ask my kids to try something and said, ‘If you don’t like it, you don’t have to have it,‘” she explained. “But often they would like it, and say ‘Oh yeah this is pretty good.’”

Go to different restaurants

“I think it’s very important to make sure you’re learning from a culture and not about a culture,” said Kuraishi. Going to different kinds of restaurants that are embedded in cultural communities gives kids the opportunity to taste new food, hear other languages and see what people from different cultures wear.

Before visiting restaurants that serve cuisine from a less familiar culture, Kuraishi reads up on it with her sons. “My boys love to learn a few new words in that language and then try them out at the restaurant if we’re lucky enough to go to a restaurant where the staff is actually from the country of origin,” she explained. “People respond so well to it, too. Just dive into restaurants you wouldn’t normally go to.”

“Exposure is so important. Let them see things they aren’t familiar with yet.”

Kuraishi also noted that restaurants are a great entry into diverse communities that you can engage with outside the dining experience.

Foster their curiosity

It’s an all-too-common situation: A parent and child are walking down the street when they pass someone wearing unfamiliar cultural garb or speaking another language. And when the child asks about it, the parent shushes them.

Nieto and Kuraishi advise parents not to do, as it assigns a negative connotation to differences. Rather, they should to take an open and positive approach and encourage those kinds of questions as a way to normalize differences.

“Don’t act like it’s a negative thing that you have to speak in an embarrassed fashion about or be concerned to address. Look at it as a learning opportunity ― to open their minds and expand their horizons. It’s so exciting and fun for them,” said Kuraishi. “Your children are not coming at this from a negative perspective, so make it a positive thing by saying, ‘Oh that’s so cool. I don’t know why she’s wearing this type of clothing, but why don’t we go and learn about it together?’”

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Kids are naturally curious about other people and cultures. 

These moments can also open the door to learning. “If a child asks about a woman wearing a hijab, for example, you can just say honestly, ‘Women in other religions sometimes cover their hair as part of their religion and a sign of respect. In other religions, men wear yarmulkes, for example.’”

Know there’s nothing wrong with differences

Pretending not to “see race” or “see differences” doesn’t serve kids well. After all, they learn about differences like colors and shapes early on in their education.

“I think we have a problem here in our country of not wanting to notice differences,” said Nieto. “I’ve met many teachers who say ‘Oh, I don’t see differences black or white. All of my kids are the same to me.’ But all of your students are not the same. They come with their beautiful differences, and we should acknowledge those because it’s not as if by avoiding them they cease to exist. They do exist.”

Parents set the tone for how children think about people from other cultures and shouldn’t be shy about differences, Kuraishi noted. “We can set their norms,” she said.

Ultimately, parents need to teach their children that people in the world look different, wear different clothes, eat different foods, listen to different music and more. Kuraishi added that laying this foundation can help prepare kids to succeed in this globally connected world, develop better emotional intelligence skills, feel greater flexibility and creativity, and build more confidence in understanding their role and place in life.

Make it natural

“I think the best way for parents to make sure their children experience diversity is to make it a natural part of life,” Nieto said. She cautioned against taking an overly contrived approach. “It’s not to say ‘Go out and make a black friend!’ because that’s not the most natural way.”

“Work for change in housing policies. Neighborhoods are really segregated by race, ethnicity and social class.”

Ideally, all families would live in highly diverse communities that naturally exposed their kids to differences, she noted. But as that’s not the reality in the U.S., Nieto advised parents to get involved politically.

“Work for change in housing policies. Neighborhoods are really segregated by race, ethnicity and social class,” she said. “If we live such segregated lives, parents may feel like they need to import diversity, which is not very natural.”

Use other media

There helpful digital resources to help kids learn about differences. Kuraishi recommends language learning apps like Gus on the Go, Little Pim, and Duolingo. “There are also some great TV shows, like ‘Super Wings,’ which takes kids on a journey to a different country in every episode,” she said. “As parents, it’s important to be intentional about what your kids are watching and making sure the children characters are representative of a diverse spectrum.”

Nieto pointed to the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Teaching Tolerance project, which includes resources for educators and other caring adults ― as well as a magazine. She is also a fan of Teaching For Change and Rethinking Schools.

Educate yourself

If you don’t feel comfortable having these conversations as a parent, it’s important to educate yourself.

“Often I think we’re stuck in our own silos, and we’re afraid to venture out,” Nieto said. Reading, taking classes, seeing different movies or joining a book club with diverse selections are good ways to start.

“If you read the news right now, you see that our world needs a hefty dose of empathy, and it’s not really taught in schools,” Kuraishi explained. “It’s something we have to teach as families.”

The Little Global Citizens CEO draws inspiration from a quote by author Rachel Naomi Remen: “When we know ourselves to be connected to all others, acting compassionately is simply the natural thing to do.”

“I think that should be a guiding force for our generation of parents to make sure the world is better for our kids,” Kuraishi added.

Parenting is harder than ever, and there’s no one way to do it right. So on November 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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America Needs More Doctors With Disabilities

I was in my almost-30s when I came home from an appointment with a new primary care doctor at a fancy concierge office ― the kind who has an app you download to schedule appointments and who takes conference calls for common colds.

Excitedly, I told my fiancé about the experience: The female doctor was familiar enough with hypermobile Ehlers-Danlos syndrome (a degenerative connective tissue disorder I was diagnosed with when I was 26 years old) that she didn’t have to Google it! She sent me home with a slew of referrals! She gave me answers when she could and promised to follow up when she couldn’t!

I felt elated. For once, my disorder’s complications and many co-morbidities didn’t frighten a doctor away. I had finally secured a functional medical team and adequate health care.

A few months later, the same incredible doctor gave me the bad news. 

“Hopefully, you won’t think I’m unprofessional for saying this,” she said, “But I feel like we’ve really developed a rapport. I also have hypermobile Ehlers-Danlos syndrome. It’s not as severe as your case, but my caseload and stress of this job have caused serious flares, and I’m stepping away from medicine for a little bit. It’s just too much.”

My heart crashed and burned on the chic exam room’s linoleum floor. When I told my fiancé the news, the reality that the system had failed both patient and doctor hung silently between us.

American society has this common and pervasive misconception that doctors are infallible. When we see a white coat, we assume a combination of degree and knowledge places the wearer of that coat in an elevated position. We’ve heard stories about the grueling gauntlet that is medical school, and as such, we have a tendency to view doctors as the apex of robust wellness. 

And when we put doctors on a pedestal of perfect health, the assumption quickly follows that our doctors must be able-bodied in order to adequately treat what ails us. This leads to the false presumption that disability is synonymous with inability. As Lisa Iezzoni, a health policy researcher and the director of the Mongan Institute Health Policy Center at Massachusetts General Hospital, quipped in an article for NPR, “[The medical] profession historically has viewed themselves as able-bodied in the extreme.” 

There are three problems with such presumptions:

First, people with disabilities are far more capable than typically presumed by other people.

Second, accomplishing a task in a way that differs from how a person without disabilities completes it is not the same as failure.

Third, no doctor ― with or without disabilities ― is capable of performing all medical tasks.

Running a code isn’t simply chest compressions or intubating the patient, and doctors with disabilities can perform many necessary tasks outside the realm of the physical.

Disability is a spectrum with wide variation, and a blanket assumption that all disability of any type should disqualify a student from medical school stems directly from ignorance and ableism (discrimination against people with disabilities) without granting thought to reality. As society has worked to exclude other types of bigotry from school entry processes, so too must go ableism. People with disabilities have done every incredible thing humans without disabilities have: We’ve been presidents, senators, actors, Olympians, Paralympians, dancers, musicians, inventors, theoretical physicists, mountain climbers … You name it, we make it happen ― just maybe not the same way people without disabilities do. 

People without disabilities come up with a variety of excuses for why accommodations in any number of situations should be avoided. One of the most popular? Accommodations amount to privileges.

Humans have come to equate “fairness” with “equal treatment,” but “equality” and “equity” are not synonymous. Amy Sun breaks this down beautifully in a piece for Everyday Feminism: “Equality” is treating everyone the same, which actually erases our differences and promotes privilege. “Equity” is giving everyone what they need to be successful ― including accommodations for the various disabilities that may affect one’s experience of attending med school.

Another argument against accommodations is that things are done the way they are because that’s how it’s always been; disrupting the status quo for people with disabilities runs outside the realm of norm. Yes, repetition can be a key to learning — and to mastery. But we can’t expect exceptional results if we perform tasks the same way every single time. Accommodations for med students with disabilities are just one example of looking outside the box; flexibility in one area may even shake off the dust in other areas that no one realized needed change. 

When we put doctors on a pedestal of perfect health, the assumption quickly follows that our doctors must be able-bodied in order to adequately treat what ails us.

In the argument against including disability, many people without disabilities are all too willing to focus on the fact that medical students or doctors with disabilities may not be physically able to perform specific sets of tasks in certain situations. But running a code isn’t simply chest compressions or intubating a patient, and doctors with disabilities can perform many necessary tasks outside the realm of the physical: identifying proper treatments, monitoring a team’s actions and figuring out what the heck went wrong with a patient to begin with.

No one expects a primary care doctor to perform the work of a cardiac surgeon. Med students with disabilities should be and are capable of specializing in areas that best suit their needs and talents. So long as society is willing to accept that the potential for doctors with disabilities is limited only by the assumption of automatic inability, students with disabilities have every right to attend medical school and flourish as doctors. 

The issues of ableism and accessibility in medicine raise the chicken-or-egg question. Does medicine have a dearth of students with disabilities (and therefore doctors with disabilities) because of inaccessibility and rampant ableism, or do inaccessibility and rampant ableism occur because there are not enough med students with disabilities (and resulting doctors with disabilities) to upset the prejudicial status quo? 

Approximately 1,500 medical students in the U.S. have disclosed a disability to receive formal accommodations ― approximately 2.7 percent of students ― according to Elana Gordon of NPR. This number is significantly lower than the 11 percent average seen in other undergraduate programs. She writes that many students hide their disability out of fear of “judgment, bias, and skewed perception of ability.”  

No one expects a primary care doctor to perform the work of a cardiac surgeon. Med students without disabilities should be and are capable of specializing in areas that best suit their needs and talents.

Prejudices against disability run fast and deep; a 1994 study found that 22 percent of clinicians reported they wouldn’t want life-sustaining treatment if they experienced a spinal cord injury and 41 percent said they felt their ER staff tried “too hard to resuscitate or save” patients with new spinal cord injuries. In serious contrast, 92 percent of respondents with such injuries said they were glad to be alive.

Training alongside fellow doctors who can safely identify as disabled helps unravel stereotypes about disability and facilitates learning that can be transferred to real-world settings. Increasing the number of physicians with disabilities could help improve health care outcomes for patients with disabilities; research suggests that when patients can identify with their physician, compliance increases. Increased diversity is concomitant with positive outcomes across the board, from increasing company value to augmenting accuracy in scientific research to measuring greater impact of academic papers.

Physicians with disabilities share lived experience that can inform more competent care for their patients with disabilities. By working alongside doctors with disabilities, doctors without disabilities begin the process of learning how to properly treat and interact with people with disabilities. Specific instruction that focuses on learning how to provide appropriate care to patients with disabilities will further that knowledge. Each time doctors without disabilities care for a patient with disabilities, they better learn how to provide care for the next patient with disabilities.

A primary care doctor who shares my exact diagnosis will inarguably always have a better understanding of my life experience than any doctor without disabilities ever could. Disability is not a tragedy, and its inclusion in the medical workforce is an indisputable necessity for safe, ethical and diverse 21st-century medicine.

Ace Ratcliff lives with hypermobile Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, dysautonomia and mast cell activation syndrome, which all make for a particularly rebellious meat cage. Her advocacy is centered on intersectional feminism with a focus on disability rights. 

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Ellen DeGeneres, Adam Lambert And More Go Purple For Spirit Day

Hollywood stars and advocacy groups alike helped turn social media into a sea of purple Thursday in support of LGBTQ youth. 

The occasion, of course, was Spirit Day (Oct. 18). Now in its eighth year, Spirit Day was first observed in 2010 in response to a spate of queer youth suicides, including that of New Jersey teen Tyler Clementi. Since then, GLAAD has called on celebs, activists and media personalities to share photographs of themselves wearing purple clothing to both honor victims of suicide and show visible support for LGBTQ youth during National Bullying Prevention Month in October. 

Ellen DeGeneres was among the A-list stars to express her support, sharing an animated, emoji-style image of herself on Twitter. 

Also chiming in was Adam Lambert … 

… and Mariah Carey, who looked stunning even as she opted against the suggested violet attire in a floor-length, sequined yellow gown. 

Britney Spears, Barbra Streisand and the “Will & Grace” cast were among the stars who also paid tribute. Meanwhile, the Kellogg Company unveiled a special edition “All Together” cereal at its New York café for the occasion.

GLAAD President and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis said in a statement that such visible signs of LGBTQ youth support were especially necessary given America’s current political climate. 

In addition, the organization presented statistics from GLSEN’s 2015 National School Climate Survey that showed how deeply affected LGBTQ youth remain when it comes to bullying. For example, 85.2 percent of queer students reported having been verbally harassed, while 48.6 percent said they’d experienced cyberbullying of some sort. Similarly, 57.6 percent of LGBTQ students said they chose not to report an incident of bullying because they doubted anything would be done. 

“Spirit Day is a day of national importance that highlights the serious issue of bullying and its disproportionate impact on LGBTQ youth,” Ellis said. “It also sends powerful messages of support, letting LGBTQ and other marginalized youth know that they are not alone — something sorely needed in our culture today.” 

Check out how many stars supported Spirit Day on social media below. 

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Kesha’s Haunting March For Our Lives Video Exposes ‘Vicious Cycle’ Of School Shootings

A haunting new music video turns the sequence of events after a school shooting into a predictable cycle of death, memorials and debates that ultimately lead nowhere.

Then, the “most vicious cycle” starts all over again. 

“Safe” by Sage, featuring his sister Kesha and rapper Chika and released with March For Our Lives, shows the chain of events as a Rube Goldberg machine, triggered by a series of bullets fired down a school corridor in slow motion. 

To amplify the message of the cycle and its predictability, the video repeats two more times: 

Sage and Kesha sing:   

In a mad man’s world, happens every day
I don’t understand why the rules can’t change
I don’t wanna be a moment of silence
I don’t wanna be an early grave
When I’m walking through the halls
I don’t wanna be brave, I just wanna be safe

March For Our lives was founded by survivors of the Feb. 14 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, which left 17 dead. The organization is urging voters to choose candidates who back gun control laws in next month’s midterm election. 

Sage’s YouTube channel said he was a high school senior at the time and wrote the first version of the song in response to the Parkland massacre. He played it for his sister, who “instantly felt the power of the track and wanted to help the cause by lending her voice to the song and movement.” 

Kesha also wrote about the song, and her decision to team with March For Our Lives, in an essay for Teen Vogue. 

“It’s sad to me that many politicians, pundits and everyday Americans dismiss gun violence, not just mass shootings in schools, as just another part of the culture in our country,” she wrote. “I wish it wasn’t. It doesn’t have to be.”

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How To Talk To Your Kids About Porn

The idea of talking to your child about pornography may feel terrifying, humiliating or just straight-up awkward. But it’s a necessary conversation for parents who want to raise kids with a healthy understanding of sex.

“It’s frustrating to me how slow society is in getting on board with how important porn literacy is for young people,” sexuality educator Robin Wallace-Wright told HuffPost. “I teach in many middle and high schools and it is very apparent that students are getting a lot of their sex education through viewing porn. I see from the questions they ask me how it skews what healthy relationships and sex should be like, causes body image issues and unrealistic performance expectations.”

Although porn is a tough topic, it’s a reality in our world, with kids as young 5 years old being exposed to sexually explicit media thanks to smart devices, video games and other mainstays of the digital age. Fortunately, parents have the power to shape their children’s worldview through meaningful discussions about these issues.

To offer some guidance, HuffPost spoke to sex educators about the best ways to talk to kids about porn. Here are 11 things to keep in mind.

Start Early

“We know from preliminary research that the average age of first viewing of porn is between 10 to 12 for boys and 11 to 13 for girls. So it’s best to get ahead of that,” sex education teacher Kim Cavill told HuffPost.

Many kids come across porn accidentally while searching for something unrelated on the internet or when they’re feeling curious about puberty and their bodies, but kids often show it to younger kids on the playground or even at school as well.

kupicoo via Getty Images

Speaking calmly and in a neutral tone of voice makes a difference in these kinds of sensitive discussions.

“Talking with children helps prepare them and can help minimize potential harm. It also allows the parent to give the child some insight into what they may see,” said Wallace-Wright, who advised parents to be mindful about giving their children smartphones and tablets and setting rules for internet use.

Remain Calm

Speaking calmly and in a neutral tone of voice makes a difference in these kinds of sensitive discussions, according to Wallace-Wright. “Parents are understandably concerned, but this fear cannot creep into their voices during discussions, or their child will sense this and become anxious,” she noted.

Wallace-Wright also offered a general script for parents who want to broach the subject:

“If you ever come across naked bodies doing sexual things like touching each other’s private parts, rubbing against each other ― this is called pornography or porn. I know it seems weird that I’m bringing this up with you ― I feel awkward talking about it. I bring it up because you might accidentally see porn and I want you to know these images and videos are for adults and don’t show what real, loving relationships and sex are. If you see these, please know that you are not in trouble. I’d like you to close the computer or turn off the phone and come talk with me so I can help explain what you have seen.”

Reassure Them That Their Curiosity Is Natural

“Always let them know that their curiosity about sex, about nudity, about bodies, about porn is normal,” sex educator Melissa Carnagey explained, noting that parents should reassure their children that they’re glad they came to them to ask about these curiosities. Shame and secrets should not be part of the discussion either.

“Always let them know that their curiosity about sex, about nudity, about bodies, about porn is normal.”

– Sex educator Melissa Carnagey

“It’s important that parents create that safe space so that no topic is taboo essentially. Parents often underestimate their influence when it comes to this area,” she continued. “Make sure kids understand that porn is not sex education. So if kids want to know more about these different topics, then the best place to go is the parents, and there are also safer places online where they can get accurate information about sex.”

Don’t Get Too Personal At First

When it comes to older kids or teens, Cavill believes it’s better to enter into the discussion from a digital ethics perspective, rather than bombarding your child with deeply personal questions like “Have you watched porn?” “What kind of porn do you watch?” and “Where are you watching it?”

“The internet feels very private to each of us, when in reality, it’s not, so bursting through that shroud of perceived privacy can be really confronting, which is not a great way to start off a conversation,” she explained.

Instead, she recommends asking open-ended questions about what friends and classmates are doing. It can also be helpful to feign a little bit of “old-people ignorance,” by asking questions like, “I heard this story on the radio today about these sexting rings. Have you heard about anything like that happening at your school?” That allows parents and young people to start the conversation in a non-confrontational way and see where it takes them.

asiseeit via Getty Images

It’s important to emphasize to young people that pornography has little to do with sex in real life.

Emphasize That Porn Is Entertainment, Not Reality

“I always make sure to say that pornography is sex as entertainment. It is not sex in real life,” said Cavill. “Some of that sex as entertainment is made to simulate real life, but it is entertainment. It has very little to do with sex in real life.”

The sex educator added that she usually follows this declaration by joking that watching pornography and feeling like you’re ready for real-life sex makes as much sense as watching “Star Wars” and insisting to NASA that you’re ready to pilot the shuttle.

In explaining that porn is entertainment, it’s important to emphasize that it’s not a healthy way to learn about sex. Carnagey noted that mainstream pornography transmits mixed messages and harmful ideas about the human body, about what’s natural and what’s enhanced, about consent and about safety.

“Oftentimes in mainstream porn, they’re not showing condom use or other contraceptive use, so it’s not a healthy representation of sex,” she explained. ”Porn is an industry that’s for profit, not sex education. It’s not going to give a curious child accurate information about relationships, bodies and sex.”

Break Down The Ways Porn Differs From Real-Life Sex

Wallace-Wright offered a number of talking points for parents of older children to break down the ways porn is not like sex in real life.

“In a healthy sexual relationship partners talk to each other, they find out what feels good for both of them and check in: ‘Does this feel OK?’ Before doing any kind of sexual act, they get consent from their partner: ‘Are you OK with us doing this?’” she explained. “Partners treat each other with kindness and respect throughout.”

“[W]atching pornography and feeling like you’re ready for real-life sex makes as much sense as watching ‘Star Wars’ and insisting to NASA that you’re ready to pilot the shuttle.”

Other talking points include the fact that the bodies in porn usually don’t look like most people’s bodies (penises are often larger than average, breasts have been enlarged, etc), consent is seldom asked or given, the sex can be violent and there’s rarely equality in gender roles in heterosexual porn as women are “servicing” men with little consideration to their own pleasure.

“Porn is acting. Actors are paid to do what they do. This is not what real sex looks or sounds like,” she stressed. Wallace-Wright also suggested that parents tell their kids, ”The only thing that appears to be of value in porn is how sexually desirable a person’s body is. Your value is so much more than what you look like ― it includes your personality, character, interests, talents ― all the things that make you you!”

Teach Them Everyone’s The Boss Of Their Own Body

When it comes to sexual matters, young children generally have two main fears: “Do I have to do that?” and “Does it hurt?” When it comes to porn, little kids may worry that the people in the video are in pain because of the moaning sounds they make.

After clarifying that the porn actors are not hurt, parents can take the opportunity to remind their child that they are the boss of their own body.

“I’d reassure them that you never have to do anything with your body that you don’t want to do,” said Cavill. “So if you don’t want to watch videos like that or if you don’t want to do the same things with your body, you don’t have to do that. You’re the boss of your body.”

Regarding the pain concern, she added, “Most people choose to have sex because most of the time, sex feels really good. But you don’t have to do anything with your body that you don’t want to do.”

Use Resources

Carnagey and Cavill both recommend Amaze.org’s YouTube videos to help guide the discussion about pornography. “There’s a video called ‘Porn: Fact or Fiction’ that’s short, fun and age-appropriate,” Carnagey said.

“A parent watching something like that with their young person is a great way to spark a conversation, and it can offer some language to parents feeling nervous about how to say what they need to say,” she added.

Carnagey also recommends the book Screenwise: Helping Kids Thrive (and Survive) in Their Digital World by Devorah Heitner, who also offers resources online to help parents raising digital natives.

Additionally, Carnagey is an ambassador for The Porn Conversation, an organization founded by ethical porn producer Erika Lust to help parents have meaningful conversations with their children about these topics. She also has a free downloadable resource on the Sex Positive Families website called “Porn Talks: A Cheat Sheet for Parents & Caring Adults.”

Make It Clear They Can Come To You

“It is key that the parent reassures the child they can come to them any time they see something upsetting or have any questions,” Wallace-Wright said. She advised parents to tell their children: “If you ever see anything you don’t understand, or that makes you uncomfortable, please let me know. I’m here to talk to and help you.”

Ideally, before the porn discussion comes up, parents will have already started having small conversations about sexuality with their children on topics like body parts, gender, puberty and relationships.

“This gives their child a foundation of knowledge the parent can build upon ― i.e., they’ve already discussed how loving relationships involve communication, tenderness, respect, so it makes more sense to the child about how porn does not convey a loving relationship,” Wallace-Wright explained.

Kids often have questions about what exactly porn is, or the specific acts they saw when they came across porn, said Carnagey. Although there are ethical forms of porn on the internet, the videos and images kids see tend to be mainstream porn, which gives off a lot of harmful and toxic messages about consent, gender roles, dynamics, race, ableism, etc.

“[Y]ou can’t really effectively parent from a place of fear, as understandable as it is.”

“What we have to do as parents and caring adults is open up those conversations, so we make sure that we give them the tools and lens to be able to interpret what they see and to know they have a safe place to go to if they have questions or if something comes up,” she explained.

Know It’s About More Than Online Videos

Cavill emphasized that the pornography discussion shouldn’t revolve solely around PornHub-type media.

“That’s not the only way young people are experiencing pornography,” she explained. “Because of the normalcy of sexting and digital life and sending nudes back and forth, there have to be conversations around the laws that intersect with those kinds of behaviors.”

In many states, there are laws that criminalize teenagers sending nude photos back in forth as manufacturing and disseminating child pornography, and although enforcement is inconsistent, Cavill believes it’s important for middle and high schoolers to be aware of what their state’s legal system says.

Parents can broach this topic by asking their kids if classmates engage in sexting. “Then you can say, ‘I think we should probably look up what the laws are in our state about this, just so we know, right? Why don’t we look those up together?’”

That way, families can frame the discussion in terms of internet ethics and being responsible online. From there, Cavill recommends talking about specific family values when it comes to sex: “This is what the law says is legal, but this is what our family believes is the moral thing to do and not to do on top of those legal standards.”

Teach Them To Reduce Digital Risk

Parents can ask their kids to refrain from risky digital behavior, but issuing commands like “Never send nudes!” is not particularly effective. Cavill noted that it’s important to send the message that it’s illegal to ask for nude photos as well.

“Many young girls have reported feeling harassed and coerced into this kind of behavior. They’re not choosing it but get a lot of persistent messages until they finally just send a photo to make it stop,” she said, adding that young people also don’t know what to do if they’re being harassed in this way.

Westend61 via Getty Images

The conversation around nude photos should cover the risk in sending nudes but also in asking for them. 

Ultimately, Cavill advised parents and caring adults to be realistic about the kinds of behaviors young people engage in and give them the information they need to reduce their risk ― like the laws in their state, what to do if they feel harassed, how to deal with nude photos after a consensual relationship has ended, who to talk to if they’re in a tough situation, etc.

“My main caution for parents who are understandably fearful about this kind of stuff ― though I’d argue you can’t really effectively parent from a place of fear, as understandable as it is ― is not to go into it with a kind of authoritarian rule-passing,” she explained.

“Parents want to go into the conversation like, ‘Let me see your phone!’ ‘Where’s your fake Instagram account?’ ‘Let me check your phone every day!’ ‘Don’t do this!’ For some kids, that does work, but not for most,” she continued. “For most, you get what looks like compliance. But they just get better at hiding it, and then you haven’t really talked about risk in a way that feels connected to what young people are dealing with on the ground.”

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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Groups To Sue Department Of Education For Information On Issue Of Arming Teachers

A coalition of advocacy and teacher groups will sue the Department of Education on Wednesday morning for information related to its decision to allow schools to purchase firearms using federal funds. 

The American Federation of Teachers, the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence say the Department of Education is violating federal law by not releasing records related to the decision in a timely manner. 

In August and September, the groups filed two Freedom of Information Act requests for more information on the decision. The requests, filed on behalf of the groups by Democracy Forward, were designed to glean information on issues such as whether the Education Department was influenced by the National Rifle Association and other gun-rights groups. A request also sought information on which school districts were interested in arming teachers using federal funds. 

The government is required to determine whether to comply with a FOIA request within 20 days. But according to the lawsuit, also filed by Democracy Forward, the government has fallen short of its statutory obligation. The plaintiffs are requesting expedited processing of their information request, which the government previously denied.

“The information sought by Plaintiffs’ FOIA requests, which will shed light on whether lobbyists associated with the firearms industry or gun-lobby groups including the National Rifle Association were involved in the Department’s decision and reveal communications between the Department and states or local school districts and within the Department concerning the use of these funds to arm teachers, is plainly of great public importance,” says the lawsuit. 

Controversy over the issue started in August, when The New York Times first reported that Education Secretary Betsy DeVos was weighing whether to allow states and districts to use federal grant money under the Every Student Succeeds Act to arm school staffers, after representatives from Texas asked if it was permissible. The grant money is intended to provide academic support and improve conditions for student learning. But in late August, DeVos said she would not restrict how these grant funds are spent, writing that she had “no intention of taking any action concerning the purchase of firearms or firearms training for school staff.” The law, as she interpreted it, gives schools substantial flexibility in this area.

Critics said her move undermines the intent of the act, since Congress has expressly prohibited schools from using federal funds on firearms in separate laws. The groups filing the FOIA lawsuit also say that using federal funds in this manner is unlawful.

“She wants to turn the U.S. government into an arms dealer for schools. That’s insane,” said American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten in August of DeVos. 

Weingarten, in a press release Wednesday, also said she has heard from gun-owning teachers around the country who are concerned about the safety effects of bringing more guns into a school setting. 

“It’s time Betsy DeVos starts standing up for kids and teachers, not the NRA,” said Weingarten. 

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