I Grew Up In A City Where Busing Worked

Kamala Harris’ takedown of Democratic presidential rival Joe Biden over his past opposition to busingthe euphemistic name for America’s halfhearted attempts, in the 1970s and ’80s, to desegregate public schools — was undeniably compelling political theater. In the weeks since, Harris has risen in the polls, while Biden has struggled to contain the damage.

Less discussed in this scuffle is the fact that few politicians actually support court-ordered busing today — not even the California senator who later qualified her position by saying that busing should be considered but not mandated. The consensus opinion, it seems, even from those who benefited personally from busing like Harris, is that the policy had largely failed and is overwhelmingly unpopular.

That’s not always true. I know. I attended public schools in Louisville, Kentucky, from 1993 to 2006 and earned my education in classrooms that were among the most integrated in the nation. 

School buses at a compound for the Jefferson County Public Schools.

That wasn’t an accident or a product of the “voluntary” desegregation programs the former vice president said he supported. Louisville was the first major metropolitan area to implement a court-ordered busing plan to desegregate its city and county schools all at once, and in the four decades since the federal government first told Louisville to integrate its schools, the city has done so with an unrivaled commitment. Its desegregation efforts eventually became broadly popular among students, teachers, administrators and parents, white and black alike, and Louisville has kept at them, even as many other cities and federal policymakers — many current Democratic presidential candidates included — have abandoned the cause.

If you really want to understand the fight over desegregating public schools, you should take a look at the place that’s still committed to doing it.

Desegregation wasn’t popular when it arrived in Louisville. Forty-four years ago, a federal judge ruled that the city had failed to comply with Brown v. Board of Education ― the landmark 1954 case in which the Supreme Court ruled that separate-but-equal schooling violated the Constitution ― and ordered it to desegregate its schools. The ruling forced the merger of city and county schools into a single district, called Jefferson County Public Schools, and instituted racial quotas for student populations.

Six weeks later, on the second day of the school year, thousands of angry white students walked out of their classrooms and rioted. They torched school buses and chucked rocks at the police, who had been dispatched to help enforce the court ruling. Protests took place especially in the south end of the city, where largely white, working-class schools took in black students, some of them for the first time. 

It was a typical scene for 1975, in the midst of a national effort, led by the U.S. Department of Education, the Supreme Court and the federal courts below it, to desegregate America’s schools. 

Images like those from Louisville remain seared in the national conscience when it comes to those debates and help inform why so many seem to regard “busing” as a cosmic and total failure of American policymaking. 

Protesters in southern Jefferson County, Kentucky, march against school desegregation on Aug. 31, 1976, the day before t

Protesters in southern Jefferson County, Kentucky, march against school desegregation on Aug. 31, 1976, the day before the start of the second year of court-ordered school busing.

But it’s what happened next, in the weeks and years and decades after those protests died down, that should inform those debates instead. 

By the end of the first week, the majority of residents in Louisville seemed “overwhelmingly to be accepting, quietly if grudgingly, the busing of 11,300 black students from the city to the suburbs and of 11,300 white students — out of a total of 118,000 students of both races — in the opposite direction,” The New York Times reported at the time

Eventually, the National Guardsmen who had tried to help ensure smooth implementation of the busing program moved on to other causes, and, although some white Louisvillians fled the public school system for the surrounding counties or enrolled their children in all-white parochial and private schools, the city largely moved ahead with the busing program.

By the time I enrolled in kindergarten, in the fall of 1993, a program that had once been controversial enough to inspire a visit from the KKK had become as fundamental an aspect of Louisville education as textbooks and whiteboards. I was a mere generation removed from the busing fight ― my mother began her senior year at Westport High, the school that was featured in The New York Times story about Louisville, the year busing began. But when I started school, the ideal behind the district’s desegregation efforts ― that white and black kids benefited from going to school together ― enjoyed broader popular support across the city, from political stakeholders and black and white parents alike. 

My experience is not a perfect rebuttal to the arguments that busing skeptics make, perhaps, as I wasn’t sent across the city to a school in a mostly black neighborhood. Rather, I attended one of Louisville’s best schools, but it too was subject to racial quotas, and enrollment was based on a lottery system meant, in large part, to maintain racial balance. (The student body at my alma mater is now roughly 34% black and 40% non-white overall, according to ProPublica.)

And that experience still helps explain the program’s success and why Louisville has continued its efforts to desegregate even without the federal oversight that once compelled it to.

My trips to middle and high school included a stop at a bus compound at another school; arriving on time for the 7:40 morning bell meant boarding a bus a few minutes before 6:30 a.m. Anecdotal skepticism of hourlong, cross-county bus rides provides some of the most potent ― if often misguided and dishonest ― ammunition for forced integration critics, but what they see as a problem, I saw as a feature: The bus ride was a valuable piece of my education, a place to make friends and bond with classmates and kids from other schools outside the confines of a more rigid classroom environment.

That paled in comparison to my experience in school, though: Louisville’s aggressive desegregation efforts meant that I was exposed to an environment that didn’t exist in my corner of southeastern Jefferson County. 

In my neighborhood, at Little League games, at the pool or anywhere else, almost everyone I knew was white. My school, by contrast, looked more like Louisville itself: Roughly 40% of students in my graduating class were racial or ethnic minorities ― most of them were black. Our student body included rich kids from the exclusively white neighborhoods in the east end, students from the almost entirely black neighborhoods of West Louisville, and those of us from the blue-collar suburbs of the south and southeastern parts of the county. Inside those walls, we became classmates, friends, teammates, girlfriends and boyfriends, kids who were exposed to and able to learn from the things that made us different, and those that made us the same, too. 

Kentucky state Rep. Attica Scott, who is black and graduated from high school just a few years before me, left downtown Louisville and the Beecher Terrace housing project to attend duPont Manual High School, one of Louisville’s best schools. 

“I was traveling farther than many white students,” Scott told me last year when I asked about her experience with busing. “But it was worth it to me.”

When the national political mood was becoming inhospitable to school desegregation plans…in Louisville and Jefferson County a biracial integrationist coalition and eventually the school board itself fought to protect diversity in the local schools.
Tracy K’Meyer, University of Louisville history professor

Critiques of desegregation policies often focus on their effects on academic achievement, and on that front, districts like JCPS have acquitted themselves well: “The peak years of desegregation” saw “mixed test score results but a positive trend toward higher African American student achievement,” as well as “long-term academic and professional gains for African American adults who had attended racially mixed schools,” one review of school desegregation studies found. Other studies have suggested that students from all races make achievement gains when they attend diverse schools. 

And, although racial and ethnic achievement gaps still persist, research has shown that the gulf between black and white students is smaller in integrated schools. Black and Latino students who attend integrated schools also score higher on college entrance exams like the SAT, studies have suggested, and students in such schools are less likely to drop out and more likely to go to college than those who attend heavily segregated schools. White students, meanwhile, show no real change in pure educational achievement at integrated schools, so, although busing is often viewed by white parents as a zero-sum affair, the data suggests the downsides are virtually nonexistent. School integration is beneficial to black and white students who experience it alike.

The benefits, however, extend beyond achievement alone, and JCPS has never limited its evaluation of desegregation to its effects on test scores. It has also seen integration as an important tool of social integration and a crucial part of a comprehensive education, a point to which I can attest: Although the schooling I received in the classroom across 13 years in Louisville’s public schools was valuable, when it comes to the real world, what I learned on tests and in textbooks often pales in comparison to the lessons, life experiences and perspectives I gained from going to school with kids who came from backgrounds different from mine. 

Teachers, administrators and white and minority parents and students in Jefferson County tend to agree, according to a 2011 survey. And more comprehensive research has found that students who attend desegregated schools “benefit from access to integrated social networks and positive interactions with students of different races and ethnicities, and are more likely to live and work in integrated environments upon reaching adulthood.” It is said to reduce racial bias and prejudice, especially among whites. 

“Forced busing,” in other words, has had profound effects on the city as a whole and the people who live there, and almost immediately the Louisvillians who’d experienced it under the first iteration of desegregation became its biggest champions ― white students who were bused were later among those who started a nonprofit group that advocated for school integration.

Which may be why Louisville hasn’t given up on school desegregation efforts even when the federal government has given it a chance to. 

In the 1980s and then again in the 1990s, Jefferson County Public Schools, believing it had satisfied the federal requirements, attempted to make major changes to its desegregation policies in ways that many in the community feared would result in the re-segregation of its schools. But each attempt was met instead by broad and racially diverse coalitions of activists and organizations who “stood up for preserving integration and diversity in the schools,” as University of Louisville history professor Tracy E. K’Meyer has observed. “As a result, the school board over time altered but did not end the busing plan.”

So, during a period “when the national political mood was becoming inhospitable to school desegregation plans,” K’Meyer wrote in her book about desegregation in the city, “in Louisville and Jefferson County a biracial integrationist coalition and eventually the school board itself fought to protect diversity in the local schools.”

And instead of dramatic overhauls, JCPS constantly tweaked its approach to desegregation, giving parents slightly more choice in where their children went to school, attempting to reduce the inequitable burden busing placed on black students, reintegrating some aspects of neighborhood schooling and implementing magnet programs across the city to make schools more attractive — all while maintaining desegregation as an overarching goal of how it assigned students to various schools. 

Then, in 2007, the year after I graduated from high school, the U.S. Supreme Court invalidated the quota-based busing plan Jefferson County Public Schools had used to desegregate, giving forced integration skeptics yet another opening and the district an out. For the last decade, conservatives and well-funded education “reform” groups have pushed various policies that, whether by design or by accident, have rolled back a half-century of progress across the country, and today, many of the nation’s public school districts are as segregated ― and in some cases even more segregated ― than they were when Brown v. Board of Education was handed down in 1954. 

But Louisville and JCPS have remained committed to desegregation. School officials there responded to the Supreme Court decision by implementing a new student assignment plan meant to comply with the law but achieve the same ends: Instead of relying solely on race, it incorporated socio-economic and poverty statistics into its plans, too. 

It was, by and large, successful, and that persistence has earned Louisville plaudits as “the city that believed in desegregation” and made Jefferson County Public Schools, as Penn State education researcher Erica Frankenberg told me last year, “a real national model for commitment” to integration.

Despite the protests that occurred in the immediate aftermath of busing’s implementation, it seems that forced integration fostered support among Louisvillians for it ― especially as a generation that went to integrated schools became parents who wanted their children to learn in integrated spaces, too.   

In 1975, as many as 90% of local residents ― and 98% of white parents ― opposed the plan. A 2011 poll, however, found that 89% of parents who had children in Jefferson County Public Schools supported desegregation in theory, and surveys of students themselves found broad support as well. The same survey suggested that residents’ commitment to desegregation was more than philosophical, as nearly half of white parents said they’d support desegregation policies even if it meant their own child had to cross neighborhoods to attend school. 

It’s possible such polls overstate the popularity of specific desegregation policies, but Louisvillians have consistently shown support for the city’s actual plans at the ballot box: School board candidates who have run against the district’s student-assignment plan have faced overwhelming defeats even in the wake of the 2007 Supreme Court ruling, according to The Atlantic

In the years since, opaque organizations with nondescript names have poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into school board races to no avail. Two years ago, a Republican-backed “neighborhood schools plan” that would have effectively ended Jefferson County’s desegregation efforts stalled amid vocal opposition. And last year, a proposed state takeover of JCPS that threatened the district’s aggressive desegregation efforts drew widespread opposition in Louisville, in part because locals saw it as an effort to “effectively re-segregate our schools,” as Chris Brady, a member of the Jefferson County Board of Education, told me at the time. 

Students board a bus heading to Atherton High School on March, 2, 2017, in Louisville, Kentucky. 

Students board a bus heading to Atherton High School on March, 2, 2017, in Louisville, Kentucky. 

That’s not to say Jefferson County is perfect or that it doesn’t need to make substantial progress to achieve equality and improve its schools. Too many of its students, especially those in black neighborhoods, still attend schools with high concentrations of poverty, and its low-income schools ― which are largely located in the overwhelmingly black neighborhoods west of the city ― remain far behind in terms of equity and achievement. Its efforts at desegregation might not be ambitious enough, in practical or idealistic terms. And inside school, white kids like me were and still are more likely to wind up in Advanced Placement classes, meaning there were still pockets of segregation even in a broadly desegregated space ― a problem many integrated schools haven’t adequately addressed. Students of color are more likely to be suspended. And, though most black Louisvillians support desegregation efforts, there has long been concern that the district’s efforts still place an unequal burden on black children. The list goes on. 

A survey JCPS conducted last year suggested that the overall plan isn’t popular: Just 20% of Louisville parents believe the current method of assigning children to schools is working, and the numbers are even worse among black parents. Just 40% of white Louisvillians, meanwhile, expressed “high agreement” with the idea that the district’s guidelines should “ensure diversity” among its student bodies. But dig deeper, and the chief concern with the plan is its ability to get children into quality schools ― a broader problem JCPS needs to address ― rather than its focus on desegregation. Among students, parents and Louisvillians generally, the survey found that less than 10% disagreed with “using enrollment guidelines to ensure that students learn alongside peers from races and backgrounds other than their own.”

School officials in Jefferson County have, at least publicly, taken those shortcomings seriously, launching new policies aimed at addressing existing iniquities. And amid threats of a state takeover last year, they promised to re-evaluate, and possibly overhaul, its current processes for assigning students to schools ― a move that will keep the reform process in the hands of local officials who see desegregation as a priority. And whatever changes occur, it seems clear, a half-century after the federal government forced it to start desegregating its schools through busing, that Louisville remains committed to building on that foundation and keeping its schools from re-segregating.

There, at least, the question is one of how rather than if. But how Jefferson County reached that point still matters historically. 

“I think of busing as being in the toolbox of what is available and what can be used for the goal of desegregating America’s schools,” Harris said days after the debate in what some viewed as an effort to walk back her criticism of Biden. “I believe that any tool that is in the toolbox should be considered by a school district.”

Busing was in the toolbox in Louisville. But only because the federal government put it there.

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As Hate Incidents Grow, More States Require Schools To Teach The Holocaust

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Claire Sarnowski of Lake Oswego, Oregon, met Holocaust survivor Alter Wiener at a school event five years ago when she was 9 years old.

Because her aunt had arranged the talk by the Holocaust survivor, and served as his escort to the school and back, Sarnowski got to ride along when Wiener was driven home. The two started talking and formed an immediate bond. They kept in touch, with Sarnowski often persuading someone to drive her to see Wiener at his home in Hillsboro, Oregon, about an hour away from where he spoke. They shared meals and stories. Sarnowski became increasingly interested in Wiener’s tales of living under Hitler during World War II and his life since then.

She thought other kids should learn about them too and began a campaign to get a state law requiring Holocaust education in Oregon schools. Last month, Democratic Gov. Kate Brown signed that law, with Sarnowski, now age 14, looking on. Even though Wiener died late last year at 92, Oregon students will continue to learn the lessons he shared.

Oregon is the 12th state to enact such a law, according to the Anti-Defamation League. Most of the states have acted in the past few years, and bills are pending in another dozen states.

In a telephone interview, Sarnowski said it’s very hard for young people to relate to the Holocaust, particularly in that there are fewer survivors around for them to talk to. It was the personal talks with Wiener, she said, that made it real for her. Surveys show that Sarnowski’s instinct is on target regarding young people.

Ignorance about the Holocaust is growing, particularly among young people. A survey last year showed that two-thirds of U.S. millennials were not familiar with Auschwitz, the largest Nazi death camp complex, located near Krakow, Poland. More than 1.1 million people were gassed, shot or starved at Auschwitz, including nearly a million Jews. Overall, the Nazis murdered 6 million Jews during the Holocaust, plus millions of Roma, homosexuals and others.

The Holocaust was the largest genocide in history, but not the last one. More recent examples include the Khmer Rouge’s killing of about 2 million Cambodian dissidents between 1975 and 1979; the Hutu slaughter of about 800,000 mostly Tutsis in Rwanda in 1994; and the Sudanese government’s killing of 300,000 civilians in the Darfur region, beginning in 2003.

“For me, being able to hear stories of survivors … that connection was the most valuable piece of my education,” said Sarnowski, who is not Jewish. “Just to know what happened, what led up to it … and that this is considered our recent history. It’s important to learn for the future and what we can do to make a difference in our own community. How we can stop the persecution of people in our schools for racial, religious [reasons] or just people who are different.”

She forged a special bond with Wiener, who was born in 1926 in Chrzanow, Poland, near the German border. When the Germans invaded Poland in 1939, Wiener, his stepmother and his brothers fled, leaving his father, a grocer, behind to supply Nazi troops with food. When the family returned three months later, their father had been killed. Wiener, then 13, was sent to several concentration camps and was eventually freed by Russian troops in 1945. The rest of his family died.

Wiener moved to what was then Palestine after the war and eventually joined cousins in the United States, according to the Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education. He moved to Oregon in 2000 and began speaking to student groups, eventually making about a thousand appearances in schools, the museum said.

Sarnowski visited Wiener nearly every week in the last couple of years of his life, she said, hearing his stories over and over and becoming special friends.

When the two approached Oregon state Sen. Rob Wagner, a Democrat, about passing a law, Wagner sensed that feeling too. “That friendship was pretty magical,” he said by telephone from his Lake Oswego home. He said the planned 15-minute meeting lasted 2½ hours and — along with work with Oregon Jewish groups and Holocaust educators — led to the bill that became law.

Wagner also said he was spurred to act by the rise of anti-Semitism in his neighborhood in suburban Portland. “Near a synagogue in my own neighborhood, there were anti-Semitic posters put up on light poles,” he said. “There’s definitely a rise in racism and anti-Semitism in the last couple of years.”

The point was underscored in hearings in the Oregon legislature on the bill. In a House hearing in May, several people presented testimony that denied the Holocaust took place and said the deaths were exaggerated. Salem resident Tom Madison, in his written testimony, said there were “no gas chambers capable of killing humans” and “Soviet propaganda created the Nazi ‘death camp’ myth.”

The testimony got so emotional that Education Committee Chairwoman Margaret Doherty, a Democrat, recessed the hearing to allow members to compose themselves. The bill passed unanimously.

Sondra Perl, director of U.S. programs for the Olga Lengyel Institute for Holocaust Studies and Human Rights in New York City, said most programs on the Holocaust, including her organization’s, stick strictly to historical fact so as “not to give fuel to deniers.”

That institute, the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, the Shoah Holocaust remembrance foundation and other organizations are creating a rich catalogue of survivors’ stories — many on video recordings — to preserve their experiences even after they die. “When they are gone, the eyewitnesses will be gone,” Perl said.

The Anti-Defamation League, which keeps tabs on hate crimes nationwide, and — along with the FBI — statistics on incidents, reported that anti-Semitic acts hit near record levels last year, with a doubling of anti-Semitic assaults, including the deadliest in American history: the shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in which 11 died.

The overall number of anti-Semitic incidents last year, nearly 1,900, was a slight decline from the nearly 2,000 reported in 2017. But it was still nearly half again as high as the number reported in 2016 and nearly twice as high as in 2015.

Michael Lieberman, Washington counsel for the ADL, said the purpose of the mandated Holocaust education courses should be as much about looking forward as looking back.

“If you can craft them in an age-appropriate way, it’s a study of democracy and the teaching of core values … and how anti-Semitism and racism can run amok even in a democratic country,” Lieberman said. “These are lessons that are not just looking back, but also looking forward.”

The relevance of such lessons was driven home earlier this month, when a high school principal in Palm Beach County, Florida, was removed from his post after the release of emails in which he refused to state that the Holocaust was a historical fact. Spanish River High School Principal William Latson was sacked following reports that he told a parent that “not everyone believes the Holocaust happened” and that he couldn’t say that it was a “factual, historical event,” the Palm Beach Post reported.

This, despite the fact that Florida is one of the states that require public schools to teach the Holocaust. The state laws vary widely — some provide funds or suggest curricula, others do not. Some specify when or how the lessons should be incorporated into courses, while others are less prescriptive.

The Illinois law is one of the most specific, saying that every public school “shall include in its curriculum a unit of instruction studying the events of the Nazi atrocities of … the Holocaust.” The Pennsylvania statute, in addition to curriculum guidelines, calls for in-service training for Holocaust teachers.

Nick Haberman, a Pittsburgh high school teacher who attended last week’s course on teaching the Holocaust here at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington,  said while Pennsylvania requires teaching the Holocaust, it doesn’t spell out just how it is to be taught.

“We were very excited to have the mandate, but it was unfunded,” Haberman said, and he called for more teacher participation in the process. He said the Tree of Life shooting spurred local residents to work on more community-based events to “teach the living history of anti-Semitism. The best weapon against anti-Semitism is education.”

The weeklong course here at the museum, called the Museum Teacher Fellowship Program, is designed to train teachers to create outreach projects on the Holocaust in their schools and communities. Most of the teachers attending the program this month already teach the Holocaust to their students and were hoping to expand their understanding and efforts.

An exercise involving looking at pictures taken during World War II was particularly instructive to the teachers who were attending, underscoring how, for example, an ordinary-looking family appearing to enjoy a swimming pool was actually a photo of a Nazi general, his wife and kids, taken just outside the boundary of a concentration camp where he worked to slaughter thousands.

“It just shows how our perceptions can be wrong,” said Kelsey Cansler, who teaches sixth and seventh grade in Townsend, Tennessee.

Lisa Clarke, who has been teaching middle school units on the Holocaust in Maryland for 16 years, said her students can relate to exclusionary laws, like those aimed at Jews in Germany in the 1930s, because “middle schoolers are all about who’s in the club and who’s not in the club.”

“I’d never say that ‘the Holocaust is just like middle school’ but I want them to get the sense that it is human,” Clarke said. “Part of the things that happened in the Holocaust are human nature. We want to be part of a group … even if that goes against our values and morals.”

Many of the units on the Holocaust talk about the difference between “bystanders and upstanders,” and how students may respond either way to bullying, for example.

Massachusetts state Rep. Jeffrey Roy, a Democrat who represents the near-western suburbs of Boston, is sponsoring a bill in his state that would require Holocaust education, despite the fact that the topic already is included in the state’s education “framework” that forms the basis for instruction in many of the state’s schools.

“The frameworks are voluntary, local school committees have the option to adopt the frameworks as much or as little as they want,” he said. “The legislation would require them to incorporate it into the curriculum.”

Roy said he did not know how many of the 351 local school districts in the state teach the Holocaust, but he suspects it’s a pretty large number.

“No child should graduate from a high school in Massachusetts without being exposed to this type of curriculum,” he said, noting that the ADL reported a more than 90% increase in hate crimes in Massachusetts from 2016 to 2017.

James Waller, a professor of Holocaust and genocide studies at Keene State College in New Hampshire who taught a session at last week’s seminar for teachers here at the Holocaust museum, said there is merit to teaching in “ways that connect the Holocaust and genocide with everyday people … in dehumanizing, ‘other-izing,’ discrimination and so on.”

“I think when teachers are intentional about those connections, I think it can do some good,” he said. “It is when the course is just taught as history that it makes it easy for students to say, ‘It happened then, it happened there, it has no relevance here.’”

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Jeffrey Epstein Was Their Teacher. He Became A Monster.

Some remember him as a caring teacher; others remember him as lousy. Some remember him as a creep. Some remember him as just one of many young faculty members, who barely would have stood out if not for his penchant for dressing in long, flamboyant fur coats. 

In recent days, former teachers and alumni from The Dalton School in New York City have been reconnecting via long group email chains and Facebook comments to discuss memories of the infamous financier Jeffrey Epstein. Epstein, who was charged with the sex trafficking of minors on Monday, worked as an educator at the private school for two years, teaching math and science to students who were just a few years younger than he was at the time, according to The New York Times

In conversations with 15 former Dalton students, parents and teachers, HuffPost learned that some are reconciling the fond or amusing memories they have of Epstein with allegations of monstrous misconduct. Others recall seeing red flags in Epstein’s behavior, even as teenagers. Some are using the present moment to reconsider certain memories of their alma mater, where sexual student-faculty relationships were occasionally an open secret at a time when the Me Too reckoning was still decades away. 

And many are in awe that their former headmaster Donald Barr ― a man who was known for being strict, polarizing and conservative ― is suddenly a relevant part of Epstein’s story, too. Barr, Dalton’s headmaster throughout the late ’60s until the mid-’70s, is the father of Attorney General William Barr. As the nation’s highest law enforcement officer, William Barr oversees the office that is prosecuting Epstein.

The joke has been this is the Epstein-Barr problem at Dalton,” said Harry Segal, a senior lecturer at Cornell University and Weill Cornell Medical College who graduated from Dalton in 1974. The Epstein-Barr virus, which is a type of herpes that can cause mono, coincidentally contains the name of the men at the center of Dalton’s latest controversy. 

Karin Williams, who left Dalton before her junior year in 1976, never had Epstein as a teacher. But she can still picture him clearly in the hallways of Dalton, standing by the school elevators, often surrounded by a gaggle of female students, with whom he seemed to have flirtations, she said.

“He stood out as this young guy in this weird coat,” said Williams, who now lives in Sweden and works in consulting, and has largely fond memories of Dalton. “You noticed him.”

Jeffrey Epstein at The Dalton School during the 1970s.

The elder Barr hired Epstein to teach at Dalton when Epstein was merely a 20-year-old college dropout from both Cooper Union and New York University. Epstein only lasted at Dalton two years before he was hired by the investment bank Bear Stearns after tutoring the chairman’s son.

Now, Epstein stands accused of sexually abusing dozens of underage girls in New York during the early 2000s. In 2018, the Miami Herald also identified about 80 women who said Epstein abused them around the same time

Dalton is one of New York City’s most storied and prestigious private schools, known for its sky-high cost and enrollment of the sons and daughters of New York’s richest and most influential families. And while even in the ’70s the school had an outsized reputation, former students describe a largely supportive environment where they were encouraged to pursue intellectual curiosities ranging from ancient Greek to Russian literature. They took classes with notable figures like Yves Volel, a Haitian presidential candidate who was assassinated in 1987.

Still, teachers like Epstein weren’t totally unusual at Dalton during the 1970s, according to seven former students. Barr liked to hire young people in their early-to-mid-20s whom he saw as smart and energetic and full of potential, they say. 

It was, however, unusual for a teacher to be as young as Epstein. And to lack a college degree. 

And while some Dalton alumni don’t remember him at all, some say he stood out for his youth.

The Dalton School did not respond to HuffPost’s request for comment about the circumstances behind hiring Epstein and whether the school’s hiring policies have changed today. Epstein’s legal team did not respond to a request for comment by press time. 

Epstein was known for his informal dress and casual relationships with students, whom he could sometimes treat more as peers than pupils, according to four former students. Indeed, as he was only 20, his general immaturity stuck out, they say.

He has garnered mixed reviews about his abilities as an educator. 

Dr. Susan Cohn, class of ’75, recalls Epstein telling students not to stress over the class because they were all going to get A’s. Cohn is now a professor of medicine at Northwestern University. 

“I didn’t learn a whole lot. He didn’t take the classes very seriously,” said Cohn, who said Epstein seemed more concerned with having fun. She described him as someone who seemed like he had just walked off the movie “Saturday Night Fever” and was “a bit smarmy.”

Now, some alumni wonder how Epstein could have gotten hired at Dalton. Though private schools don’t require staff to have the same credentials as public schools, they imagine such a young, inexperienced hire would be unheard of in the present day.

But at Dalton, Epstein ― a young man who seemed to enjoy the company of his female students ― existed within a specific context. It was just a few years before the release of Woody Allen’s “Manhattan,” which told the story of a 17-year-old Dalton student in a relationship with a much older man. 

Students from the ’70s recall a boundary-pushing atmosphere at the school during a particularly sexually permissive period in American history. Student-faculty relationships were generally seen as eyebrow-raising rather than abusive. 

“What’s sickening is that a creep like Epstein took that and never let go of it,” said an alumna from the class of ’74 whose name is not being used for privacy reasons. 

Indeed, In the years since, a similarly situated private school in New York City, Horace Mann, has come under scrutiny for widespread issues of sexual abuse during the ’70s and ’80s. 

“There were a number of teachers who looked at the student body as their next meal,” said Mark Robinson, class of ’74. Robinson, who is writing a book about his experience as one of Dalton’s few black students, recalled having wonderful educators overall. 

Donald Barr, too, existed in a specific context at Dalton. The headmaster is credited with transforming the school from a progressive bastion into an elite prep school where uniforms were strict, only certain hairstyles were allowed, discipline was emphasized and leadership was conservative. 

After years of strained relations with the school’s board of trustees, he resigned in ’74 and passed away in 2004. 

But if, at the time, students liked rock n’ roll, Donald Barr liked bagpipes. He even had students gather at one point to watch his son William perform the instrument for them, according to Mickey Rolfe, class of ’74. 

And if students were protesting Vietnam, then Barr was threatening to suspend them if it interfered with class time, according to Segal. 

Indeed, Barr was not shy about his conservative beliefs. In a 1968 New York Times article, he sounded off on the youth activism of the time. 

“They think they can cheat on tests, steal from one another’s lockers and exploit each other emotionally so long as they have the right opinions about the war or civil rights or something else. That is not morality,” Barr said. 

Segal even recalls learning as a young person that Barr had a son in the CIA. Amid the anti-war fervor and the school’s young men fearing that they would be shipped off next, this fact felt like a betrayal. 

It was only during the time of William Barr’s confirmation hearings for attorney general that Segal realized who the headmaster’s son had grown up to become. The resemblance ― father and son had similar glasses ― was uncanny.

For some, the connection between Epstein and Dalton seems random and useless. For others, it’s fascinating. And others find it entirely unpleasant. 

“It’s a little icky; you want to have positive memories, clear, clean, nostalgic memories of your school days,” said Robinson. “You don’t like to remember the things that are unpleasant. And this kind of pushes it up in your face.”

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Teacher Fired For Pro-Choice Facebook Posts Sues Catholic School, Citing Free Speech

A teacher who says she was fired from a South Carolina Catholic school for sharing progressive Facebook posts about abortion has filed a lawsuit alleging the school violated her freedom of speech.

Elizabeth Cox says she was fired from Bishop England High School in Charleston, South Carolina, at the end of the last school year because of three Facebook posts, the Charlotte Observer reports. 

Two of the posts called out hypocrisy within the anti-abortion movement, and the third was about efforts to oppose Alabama’s strict new law banning abortions in almost all circumstances — including in cases of rape and incest.

The lawsuit, filed Monday, argues that the Catholic school and its principal “committed a criminal offense” by firing Cox because of her “political opinions, free speech and/or exercising the political rights and privileges guaranteed by the United States and/or the South Carolina Constitutions.” She is seeking an unspecified amount in damages, lost wages, and reinstatement. 

Cox was a teacher at the Roman Catholic school in the Diocese of Charleston for about 16 years, according to the lawsuit. She accepted the school’s offer to renew her employment for the 2019-2020 school year. But in early June, Cox received a letter from principal Patrick Finneran stating that she was being fired because she had supported abortion on a public Facebook account that identified her as a teacher at the school. 

“When we confronted you with the post, you admitted to it and, moreover, reacted in a manner leading us to conclude you would not do differently in the future,” Finneran wrote in the letter, which was included in the complaint.

“Parents send their students to our school expressly because they want a Catholic teaching and upbringing, and your public expression of disagreement with Catholic values undermines that,” he continued.

In a Facebook post from May, Cox shared a quote about abortion popularly misattributed to the feminist activist Gloria Steinem. The quote points out how differently conservatives treat young women who seek abortions and young men who want to buy guns. 

How about we treat every young man who wants to buy a gun like every woman who wants to get an abortion – mandatory 48-hour waiting period, parental permission, a note from his doctor proving he understands what he’s about to do, a video he has to watch about the effects of gun violence … Let’s close down all but one gun shop in every state and make him travel hundreds of miles, take time off works, and stay overnight in a strange town to get a gun. Make him walk through a gauntlet of people holding photos of loved ones who were shot to death, people who call him a murderer and big him not to buy a gun.

Cox commented that the quote was “brilliant,” according to a copy of her Facebook post included in the complaint.  

Cox’s second post also called out double standards within the anti-abortion movement. 

I’ll start believing you’re pro-life when you:

– ban guns

– have free healthcare for all

– stop separating families at the border

– offer cheap, prescribed birth control

– raise minimum wage

– improve the quality of education in schools

– act on the climate crisis

– improve mental health care

The third Facebook post mentioned in the lawsuit was a link to an article from The Washington Post with the headline, “Leslie Jones leads the charge against Alabama’s abortion ban in the SNL season finale.”

Bishop England High School’s teacher employment contract contains a line stating that all teachers and employees are considered active ministers who understand they must “at all times publicly speak and act in accordance with the mission and teachings of the Roman Catholic Church,” according to the complaint. 

Cox’s lawsuit names as defendants the high school, Finneran, and four unnamed individuals involved in the decision to terminate her employment. 

The Diocese of Charleston told HuffPost on Friday that it and the school are reviewing the complaint and will “file a response to the lawsuit with the court in due time.” 

Catholic leaders often speak against abortion, but studies show that Catholics in the pews are divided on the issue. About 22% of Catholics believe abortion should be illegal in all circumstances, according to a 2018 Gallup poll. About 53% said it should be legal in certain circumstances.

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Fired Gay High School Teacher Sues Indiana Catholic Archdiocese

A gay teacher who was fired from an Indiana Catholic high school for getting married has filed a lawsuit against the Archdiocese of Indianapolis. 

Joshua Payne-Elliott, who was booted from his job at Cathedral High School in Indianapolis last month, claims the archdiocese interfered with his employment contract by demanding that the school fire him.

Payne-Elliott, who worked at Cathedral for 13 years, is seeking unspecified damages for lost wages, benefits, emotional distress, and damage to his reputation, according to a lawsuit filed on Wednesday.

“We hope that this case will put a stop to the targeting of LGBTQ employees and their families,” Payne-Elliott said in a statement obtained by the Indianapolis Star.

Joshua Payne-Elliott is married to Layton Payne-Elliott, a teacher who works at the nearby Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School. The pair were married in 2017. Both men have been at the center of a debate in the Indianapolis archdiocese over whether Catholic schools can employ gay, married teachers. The Payne-Elliotts had refrained from publicly identifying themselves before the lawsuit was filed on Wednesday.

Joshua Payne-Elliott (right) and his husband, Layton Payne-Elliott, were both employed as Catholic school teachers in Indianapolis. Joshua Payne-Elliott was fired from his job last month.

The Archdiocese of Indianapolis gave Brebeuf the same ultimatum about employing Layton Payne-Elliott ― threatening to cut ties with the school if it didn’t fire the gay teacher. Last month, Brebeuf announced that it was standing its ground, claiming that firing the “highly capable and qualified teacher” math teacher would violate its “informed conscience on this particular matter.” The Jesuit school, part of the global religious order’s Midwest province, also resented that a local archdiocese was interfering in an employment decision.

As a result of Brebeuf’s stance, Indianapolis archbishop Archbishop Charles Thompson has kicked the school out of his archdiocese and is refusing to recognize it as Catholic.

Cathedral’s leaders say that its situation was different. The school relies heavily on its local archdiocese, according to leaders, and risked losing its nonprofit status, its diocesan priests and its ability to offer the Eucharist, a key Christian rite, if it disobeyed the archbishop.

Archbishop Charles Thompson leads the Indianapolis archdiocese. 

Archbishop Charles Thompson leads the Indianapolis archdiocese. 

Joshua Payne-Elliott, a social studies and world language teacher, worked at Cathedral from August 2006 to June 23, 2019, according to the lawsuit. In May, Cathedral allegedly offered to renew his teaching contract for the 2019-2020 school year. But a month later, the school told him it was terminating his employment “at the direction of the Archdiocese.”

Cathedral’s president, Robert Bridges, told Joshua Payne-Elliott that he was a “very good teacher” and that there was no performance-based reason for the termination, the lawsuit states. Bridges allegedly asserted that Payne-Elliott  was only getting fired because the Archbishop mandated that the school couldn’t employ a teacher in a “public same-sex marriage here and remain Catholic.”  Bridges apparently told the teacher that he felt like the school was making the decision “with a gun to our head.” 

Joshua Payne-Elliott’s lawyer announced Tuesday that the teacher had reached a settlement with Cathedral High School. In it, the teacher reportedly expressed that he did not wish Cathedral any harm. The archdiocese was not part of that settlement, according to the Indianapolis Star.

Joshua Payne-Elliott has also reportedly filed a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, claiming he was discriminated against because of his sexual orientation.

The archdiocese has said that Catholic school teachers are “ministers” who are required to uphold church teachings, which prohibit same-sex marriages. The archdiocese maintains that, because of its right to religious liberty, it should have the ability to decide what conduct is appropriate for employees. 

In a Q&A on the issue published in a diocesan newspaper earlier this month, Archbishop Charles Thompson suggested that society “has pushed the Church to the margins and peripheries.”

“We must continue to engage the world, engage society and engage culture with our message, with that Good News, with those teachings, and what we believe the word of God and the tradition of the Church has revealed and brought to us—and calls us to take to others,” Thompson said.  

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Florida Principal Could Lose Job Over Email Defending Holocaust Deniers

A Florida high school principal, now reassigned to a school district office, may lose his job completely for telling a parent in a shocking email that “not everyone believes the Holocaust happened.” The email, sent in 2018, was made public this week after the Palm Beach Post reported on its public records request for the email.

In a filmed statement on Wednesday, Palm Beach County Superintendent Donald Fennoy said he recommended the school board not renew the contract of William Latson, who was principal of Spanish River Community High School in Boca Raton.

The school district reassigned Latson on Monday after his 2018 email was uncovered, but he still has 11 months left on his contract, according to The Associated Press.

Fennoy said on Wednesday that Latson’s remarks caused “real distress” at his school and said that people in Boca Raton and beyond are deeply concerned by them. 

“Our children need to be taught the facts of our history, period,” Fennoy said. 

He also reaffirmed that “all students are taught about the Holocaust as an established fact.”

“Our schools can never be fact-neutral environments,” Fennoy added. “It’s our job as educators that our students learn the facts and know our history. This is non-negotiable for a strong society.”

In 2018, a parent sent an email to Latson asking if the school made lessons about the Holocaust “a priority” for its students, the Palm Beach Post reported. 

Latson replied that the school offered a one-day lesson to 10th-graders but noted that the lesson wasn’t mandatory since some parents wouldn’t want their children to participate, according to the Post.

When the parent countered Latson’s email, saying the Holocaust is a “factual, historical event” and “not a right or belief,” Latson disagreed, the emails show.

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

Latson offered an apology in a statement to the Post this week, saying he regretted “the verbiage” used in the emails. He also claimed that his emails “did not accurately reflect my professional and personal commitment to educating all students about the atrocities of the Holocaust.”

However, in a message to school staffers on Monday, Latson falsely accused the parent he exchanged emails with of misrepresenting his emails, according to The Associated Press ― even though the Post had obtained those emails in a records request.

“I have been reassigned to the district office due to a statement that was not accurately relayed to the newspaper by one of our parents,” Latson reportedly wrote to school staffers. “It is unfortunate that someone can make a false statement and do so anonymously and it holds credibility but that is the world we live in.”

Between 1933 and 1945, an estimated 6 million Jewish people were murdered under the Nazi regime of Adolf Hitler in Europe. The Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate and extremist groups in the U.S., notes that some influential people who deny the Holocaust “seek to rehabilitate the Nazi regime” and bring the ideology of national socialism and anti-Semitism “to new, broader audiences.” 

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Catholic School Promises To Help Fired Gay Teacher Find New Job

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — An attorney says a Catholic high school teacher fired for being in a same-sex marriage has reached a settlement in which the Indianapolis school will help the teacher with future employment options.

Attorney Kathleen DeLaney announced the settlement with Cathedral High School in a news release Tuesday. In it, the teacher thanks Cathedral for the opportunities and experiences that he has had teaching there and does not wish the school any harm. Cathedral thanks the teacher for the years of service, contributions, and achievements.

It wasn’t immediately clear whether a monetary settlement was included.

Archbishop Charles Thompson pressured Cathedral High School into firing a gay teacher in a same-sex marriage.

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Preschool For Children With Disabilities Works. But Federal Funding For It Is Plumeeting.

SURPRISE, Ariz. — Lindsey Eakin’s son Corbin was only six months old when she started to suspect something was wrong. Corbin, her third child, wasn’t babbling or cooing like his two older siblings had at his age and he was experiencing chronic, painful ear infections. His pediatrician at the time wasn’t concerned. But by the time he turned 1, Corbin wasn’t meeting developmental milestones in speech and Eakins was frustrated that nobody seemed to have answers for her.

“I didn’t know where to go with him,” she said. “I knew he wasn’t getting the help he needed.”

For her son’s 12-month appointment, Eakins took Corbin to a different pediatrician, who immediately agreed with her concerns. The doctor thought the ear infections could be affecting Corbin’s hearing. Tubes were placed in Corbin’s ears to help drain fluid and improve his hearing, but Corbin’s speech did not improve. Just before his third birthday, he was tested for speech delays and diagnosed with childhood apraxia of speech, a speech disorder that can lead to a delayed or limited ability to make sounds or form words.

Eakins soon learned that Corbin qualified for speech therapy and also for a preschool program offered through her local school district, Dysart Unified, about 20 miles northwest of Phoenix. The federally funded program, often called developmental preschool, serves young children ages 3 to 5 with disabilities. The goal of the program is to give kids with disabilities the services they need and a head start in school.

Dysart Unified’s preschool program for students with disabilities, which is offered at each of its elementary schools and staffed with teams of teachers, therapists and paraprofessionals, has become a model for Arizona. It’s the kind of inclusive, widespread program that experts say is ideal for young children with disabilities and can lead to impressive outcomes. Some children do so well in these programs they no longer need special education services by the time they enter school.

Corbin attended Dysart’s preschool five days a week for two-and-a-half hours a day. It wasn’t long before his speech skyrocketed.

“It’s had a major impact,” his mother said. “He went from not talking to full blown sentences.”

But comprehensive programs like the one in Dysart are a rarity, especially in a state where public pre-K is not yet widely available for all students, let alone children with disabilities. In 2016, Arizona offered public preschool to only 4% of its 4-year-olds and 2% of 3-year-olds. Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), every state in the country is required to offer, at a minimum, services like speech or occupational therapy for preschool students with disabilities, beginning at age 3. But the local school districts that must provide the programs are receiving fewer federal dollars: Federal funding to support these efforts has been declining steadily for decades.

The government’s overall appropriation of funds for special education preschool programs has varied by year, but generally decreased between 2002 and 2015, from $390 million to $353 million, before getting a slight bump to about $368 million in 2016 and 2017. At the same time, the number of children served by the programs more than doubled from the early 1990s to 2017, when 753,000 children ages 3 to 5 were served.

The growth in enrollment without adequate federal funding means per pupil spending has decreased sharply, by 40% per child from 1994 to 2014. Without funds, states may struggle to offer a robust special education preschool program and services, which means kids who could greatly benefit from having a head start in school are missing out and losing valuable time to catch up with their peers.

Experts say this delay can impact kids when they finally do enter school. “We know ‘wait and see’ doesn’t work,” said Amanda Morin, an expert at Understood, a nonprofit that gives parents resources and information about learning and attention issues. “So kids who are not getting services at younger ages will most likely need services when they get into school.”

The lack of adequate federal funding also means these federally required special education programs and services must often be subsidized by state funds and local sources, and thus vary widely by state and district. In Indiana, for example, preschool funding for children with disabilities has not changed in almost 30 years.

While some states and districts lean more toward offering piecemeal services for kids, such as therapy at home or at school, others have rearranged funding to invest in brick-and-mortar preschool classrooms that give kids with disabilities the opportunity to attend a pre-K program while also getting services catered to their needs.

There is also wide variability within pre-K programs. Some districts offer just one special education preschool classroom for the entire district, while others offer several. Some are inclusive and enroll students without disabilities as well, while others only serve children with disabilities.

Ashley Navarette reads a book to her morning preschool class.

Nicol Russell, deputy associate superintendent for early childhood at the Arizona Department of Education, said the lack of funding hamstrings many districts that recognize the long-term benefits of developmental preschool and want to expand their programs.

“We believe [districts] really want to offer children the best setting possible,” Russell said. “Many of them, because of the level of funding, just don’t know how to make that happen. It is costly to do quality in any situation when it comes to early childhood, but especially when it comes to special education services.”

Dysart’s developmental preschool program is funded by its maintenance and operation budget, which is cobbled together from state per-pupil allocations for each child enrolled in the district and local taxpayer dollars. The maintenance and operation funds mostly cover the salaries for preschool teachers in the program. The district covers the preschools’ other costs by pulling from the budget for all special education programs and by charging tuition for children without disabilities who attend the preschool program.

Marydel Speidell, the district’s director of finance, said the district has not done anything drastic to fund its special education preschools; administrators have simply prioritized spending money on the program, which cost $2.5 million this fiscal year. The finance department starts as early as possible to create the next year’s budget, working closely with district department leaders, Speidell said. She added that the special education department has a budget specialist who helps the district’s special education director identify where to shift funds within the overall special education budget to cover shortfalls.

In the district, which serves about 25,000 students, about 400 students with disabilities participate in special education preschool classes in 25 classrooms, with at least one classroom on each of the district’s 19 elementary campuses. Therapists serve an additional 40 students with disabilities outside of the preschool program. The program is free to students with disabilities, but a fee is charged to general education students. Beginning this fall, those students will be charged $250 a month, a $100 increase from the tuition in effect for the past five years.

On a recent morning in Ashley Navarette’s developmental preschool classroom at Surprise Elementary, nine 4-year-olds were busily engaged in activities at three pint-sized tables. Half the children had disabilities and attended the school for free; half did not, and paid to participate in the program.

At one table, a boy wearing a striped shirt carefully lined up plastic dinosaurs. “This is a ‘dramadasaurus,’” he said matter-of-factly. “It’s red.”

Another boy sitting next to him picked up a green stegosaurus and roared as he pretended his dinosaur was eating the red one. “Ms. Ashley! He’s trying to scare me!” the first boy said. Navarette swooped in and crouched down. “Why don’t we arrange the dinosaurs by color,” she suggested.

As Navarette guided the students to play together, a speech therapist walked into the classroom and found a little girl at another table.

“Are you ready for speech?” she asked the girl. The girl nodded and got up from the table.

“What’s that pink thing?” another student asked, pointing to a tiny device in the little girl’s ear.

“That helps her hear better!” the speech therapist said with a smile.

“Ohh!” the other student said, returning to her activity.

Typically, a child being pulled out for special services is the only clue that a student in Navarette’s class has a disability. And often, therapists will come into the classroom and run a center, allowing all students to receive exposure to speech therapy or work on their fine motor skills.

 A student in Dysart Unified School District’s developmental preschool program works on an activity during class.

A student in Dysart Unified School District’s developmental preschool program works on an activity during class.

Research shows providing opportunities for students with disabilities to attend preschool programs works: An analysis of data by the Early Childhood Outcomes Center found over 75% of children who participate in federally-funded special education preschool programs and services show “greater than expected growth in knowledge and skills, social relationships and taking action to meet needs,” according to a 2014 report. Nearly every state reported that at least 70% of kids enrolled in special education preschool and services showed a substantially increased rate of growth in positive social-emotional skills, according to a 2016 report by the Early Childhood Technical Assistance Center.

Clark Crace, director of exceptional student services for Dysart, said many students who leave Dysart’s developmental preschool program and enter the district’s kindergarten program no longer require services or are able to exit special education completely “because those early intervening services helped close those developmental gaps.” This year, 40% of the district’s developmental preschool students will start kindergarten either without the need for any special education services, or needing only services to improve speech. Twenty percent exited special education completely.

And while every child may not be able to exit special education, educators say the preschool program better prepares students with disabilities to be comfortable and confident in school, which is especially important for students who may start behind their peers in academic or developmental skills.

“The first week of school, the kindergarten teacher will be like, ‘That kid was in preschool.’ They know how to navigate the classroom. They know how to line up, go to the bus, go to the playground,” said Crace.

Nationwide, most kids in developmental pre-K qualify under one of two disability categories, developmental delays and speech-language delays. Heather Fogelson, a preschool liaison for the district who helps children transition into preschool, said the presence of peers without such disabilities is especially helpful for children who have speech delays. Those children are able to hear speech from their peers and learn how to converse despite challenges. “You really see that communication blossom,” Fogelson said.

But developmental preschool has traditionally separated kids with disabilities from their peers, according to Suzanne Perry with the Arizona Department of Education. In 2016, 35 states reported that fewer than 50% of children ages 3 to 5 with disabilities were served mostly in a regular education setting.

Perry said there has been some recent momentum to prioritize inclusiveness, after the release of a 2017 “Dear Colleague” letter from the U.S. Department of Education’s office of special education and rehabilitative services, encouraging districts to expand inclusive practices.

 Dysart preschool teacher Megan Jones waits for students in her afternoon class to arrive at school.

Dysart preschool teacher Megan Jones waits for students in her afternoon class to arrive at school.

Dysart preschool teacher Megan Jones said inclusion immediately integrates kids with disabilities into the school community. “They have a sense of belonging,” she said. “They become close as a class.”

On a recent afternoon in her inclusive developmental preschool classroom at Sonoran Heights Elementary, she stood by the entrance as her students filed in. “Can you find your name?” Jones said to the first student who entered the room. The girl looked at a large reader board and found a colorful card with her name on it. She moved it to the top of the board to show she was present.

“Let’s go wash our hands,” said a paraprofessional, gently guiding the student toward the sink.

The rest of Jones’ class filed in, found their names, washed their hands, and chose their seats from three tables, with various toys and activities scattered on top, set up on the side of the classroom. While most children sat down, eager to play with the toys, others were distracted.

One little boy in a red shirt sat for a few seconds before jumping up from his chair, grabbing some colorful plastic bears off a table and throwing them across the classroom. Jones turned and walked over to him. “Go get those bears,” she said in an upbeat but firm voice. The child laid down on the ground. “Pick up!” she said again, helping him stand up. “Can you put them in the bucket?” The child turned and tried to go sit at a table. “Pick up first!” she reminded him. The child ran over, picked up the bears, and took them back to the table.

“He just started in January,” Jones said as she watched him play at a table. “We’re still learning.”

Jones’ goal is to expose children to concepts like letter names and sounds, but also to skills like how to line up, how to transition to new activities, and how to follow rules. Fifteen minutes later, after every student had arrived, Jones instructed the children to clean up and join her at a brightly-colored carpet in the middle of the room. Kids quickly wiped off small white boards and threw plastic body parts from a Mr. Potato Head game back into buckets and meandered over to the carpet, each choosing their own colorful square to sit on.

Jones sat at the top of the carpet on a small chair and started to lead the students in a song. “Here we are together, together, together, here we are together,” Jones sang as the children joined. The little boy in the red shirt sat briefly, then got up, running circles around the classroom with the plastic bears stuck on five of his fingers. “He can get up,” Jones said quietly to a paraprofessional, who was deciding whether to encourage him to sit or let him run around.

“It’s so crucial to get these kids served early,” Jones said later. “It makes the world of a difference. It sets them up for the rest of their lives.”

Lindsey Eakins, whose son is in Jones’ class, said Corbin has continued to progress during his first year of preschool. He’s learned his shapes, numbers and colors and has made friends with his classmates. His speech has improved to the point where he no longer gets frustrated because people can’t understand him. “Now he talks too much,” Eakins joked.

She’s encouraged by his growing self-esteem. “I want him to be confident,” she said. “This is a lifelong diagnosis. But I want him to have that confidence to say, ‘I have apraxia, but I can overcome it.’”

This story about developmental preschool was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news organization focused on inequality and innovation in education. Sign up for Hechinger’s newsletter.

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Florida Principal Removed After Defending Holocaust Deniers

A high school principal in Florida who defended Holocaust deniers in an email to a parent has been removed from his position.

William Latson, who as head of Spanish River Community High School in Boca Raton told a parent that “not everyone believes the Holocaust happened,” was reassigned effective immediately, the Palm Beach County School District announced Monday.

“In addition to being offensive, the principal’s statement is not supported by either the School District Administration or the School Board,” the district said in a statement. It added that its Holocaust curriculum is “based on historical fact.”

Latson has been reassigned to an unspecified job as the district searches for his replacement at the high school.

A high school principal in Florida who defended Holocaust deniers to a parent when asked about his school’s Holocaust curriculum has been removed from his position. A Jewish cemetery in Krakow, Poland, is seen.

Latson, in an April 2018 email exchange with an unidentified parent who asked how his school teaches about the World War II atrocity that killed 6 million Jews, said he had to be respectful of those who don’t accept the Holocaust as historical fact.

“Not everyone believes the Holocaust happened and you have your thoughts but we are a public school and not all of our parents have the same beliefs so they will react differently,” Latson told the mother, according to copies of emails obtained by the Palm Beach Post through a public records request. “I can’t say the Holocaust is a factual, historical event because I am not in a position to do so as a school district employee.”

Not everyone believes the Holocaust happened and you have your thoughts but we are a public school and not all of our parents have the same beliefs so they will react differently.

He added that instruction and an assembly about the genocide were not mandatory for students, as some parents “don’t want their children to participate.”

Latson was privately counseled by district administrators shortly after the emails, but he was not disciplined. He later visited Washington’s U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum to educate himself, the Palm Beach Post reported.

It wasn’t until the Palm Beach Post obtained and published the emails on Friday that the principal’s comments made national news, generating calls for his removal.

″(The) fact that someone charged with educating children would be unable to speak unequivocally on the realities & horrors of the holocaust is incredibly concerning,” Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) tweeted. “Our children and communities deserve better. There’s no excuse for anti-Semitism in any form.”

Politicians leading the Holocaust remembrance "March of the Living" for the six million for Holocaust victims walk through th

Politicians leading the Holocaust remembrance “March of the Living” for the six million for Holocaust victims walk through the “Arbeit Macht Frei” gate at the former Nazi German death camp of Auschwitz-Birkenau in Poland in May.

Latson, who did not respond to a request for comment, issued an apology to the Palm Beach Post last week, saying his emails did not reflect who he is.

“I regret that the verbiage that I used when responding to an email message from a parent, one year ago, did not accurately reflect my professional and personal commitment to educating all students about the atrocities of the Holocaust,” he said.

The school district in its statement called Latson’s leadership “a major distraction for the school community.”

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Former Wharton Admissions Officer Says Trump Benefited From Family Connections

“I went to the Wharton School of Business,” he’ll have you know. “I’m, like, a really smart person.”

However, a former admissions officer at the school said that the president got into the prestigious school mostly due to his genes rather than his genius.

James Nolan told the Washington Post that he was working in the admissions office in 1966 when a good friend, Fred Trump Jr., called asking for a favor.

“He called me and said, ‘You remember my brother Donald?’ Which I didn’t,” Nolan, 81, told the paper in an article published Monday.“[Trump Jr.] said, ‘He’s at Fordham and he would like to transfer to Wharton. Will you interview him?’ I was happy to do that.”

Nolan recalled that when he met with the future president, he saw no signs he was dealing with a world-class intellect.

 “I certainly was not struck by any sense that I’m sitting before a genius,” he said. “Certainly not a super genius.” 

Nolan said he wrote a report about Trump and said he doesn’t remember the details, but “it must have been decent enough to support his candidacy.”

Although it was common for children of wealthy and influential people to be admitted before other applicants ― especially if there were big donations made to the school ― the Post said there is no evidence that Fred Trump Sr. made a large donation to the school to help his son.

Still, the interview is just another example of how Trump, a self-proclaimed self-made man, benefited greatly from family connections and wealth.

Last year, the New York Times reported that, contrary to the president’s claims that he transformed a “small loan” of $1 million from his father into a “massive empire,” Fred Trump Sr. actually loaned his son at least $140 million in today’s dollars.

Trump’s dad also helped his son avoid financial ruin more than a few times, such as in 1990 when he sent one of his bookkeepers to Atlantic City in 1990 to buy $3.5 million in casino chips so his son could make a bond payment.  

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Malala Would Have To Remove Her Headscarf To Teach In Quebec: Education Minister

Quebec’s education minister is facing criticism for tweeting a photo of himself with Nobel Peace Prize recipient Malala Yousafzai after his government banned public employees from wearing headscarves like hers.

Education Minister Jean-François Roberge then further enraged critics by tweeting that, if the 21-year-old educational activist were to teach in Quebec, she would not be able to use the religious head covering she normally wears.

Roberge’s comment comes less than a month after Quebec passed Bill 21 — a controversial piece of legislation introduced by Coalition Avenir Québec, the province’s new anti-immigrant, center right, government. The bill bans public servants such as teachers, police officers and judges from wearing religious symbols, including hijabs, kippas, turbans and crosses.

Critics say the ban unfairly targets Muslim women, while its supporters argue that the legislation is meant to uphold the province’s secular nature. 

Yousafzai, the youngest Nobel Prize Laureate and an advocate for girls’ right to education, gained international attention in 2012 after Taliban gunmen shot her in the head for going to school. She met Roberge in France to discuss “access to education and international development,” according to the politician, who is in Paris for a series of education meetings before the G-7 summit next month.

After Roberge shared the photo of himself posing with Yousafzai on Friday, Montreal-based journalist Salim Nadim Valji asked the minister how he would respond if Yousafzai wanted to become a teacher in Quebec. 

Roberge responded that having Yousafzai teach in the province would be an “immense honor,” but “that in Quebec, as is the case in France (where we are now) and in other open and tolerant countries, teachers cannot wear religious symbols in performing their duties.” 

Roberge did not respond to HuffPost’s request for comment, and Yousafzai was unavailable to comment, according to her spokespeople.

“It’s frankly hysterically and tragically absurd,” Mustafa Farooq, executive director at the National Council of Canadian Muslims, told HuffPost of Roberge’s tweet. “It just stands to show the nature of what happens when you start introducing legislation that strips away from the civil liberties of people.”

“It leads to absurd, unconstitutional consequences that have devastating effects on the way that people can live and how they can feel as citizens,” Farooq added.

Alongside the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, NCCM is set to challenge the legislation in court on Tuesday with Ichrak Nour El Hak, a hijab-wearing Muslim student at the University of Montreal studying to be a teacher. Hak said she fears the law will stop her from teaching in public schools. 

Hak is one of possibly hundreds of Muslim women who could be affected by Quebec’s ban. Even before the legislation passed, Muslim women in the region said they faced an increase in hate attacks. 

For decades, Quebec has long struggled with Islamophobia in the name of secularism. In 2017, a gunman killed six worshippers and injured 19 others at a mosque in Quebec City in what is now Canada’s worst mass murder in a house of worship. Nonetheless, the current premier of Quebec insisted early this year that the province didn’t have a problem with Islamophobia.

Outside of Quebec, members of far-right hate groups entered a mosque uninvited and harassed worshippers on their way to Friday prayers in Edmonton, Albertaearlier this year, stoking fears in the Muslim community.  Reported hate crimes against Muslims in Canada nearly tripled between 2016 and 2017 alone, with many civil rights organizations noting that the number of crimes is likely higher. 

Were you a victim of an anti-Muslim hate crime? Get in touch: rowaida.abdelaziz@huffpost.com

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Florida Principal: ‘Not Everyone Believes The Holocaust Happened’

A Florida high school principal appeared to defend Holocaust deniers when he was reportedly asked by a parent how his school teaches about the World War II atrocity and wrote that “not everyone believes the Holocaust happened.”

The surprising response was revealed in emails between the parent and principal at Boca Raton’s Spanish River Community High School sent in April of 2018, The Palm Beach Post reported Friday, citing the results of a public records request.

The parent, who did not want her name published, told the Post that she had reached out to Principal William Latson about how his school prioritizes that part of world history. The mother mentioned a 1994 Florida mandate that requires Holocaust education in public schools. Oregon most recently passed its own such mandate.

Participants in the Jewish event of Holocaust remembrance walk in the former Nazi World War II death camp of Auschwitz in Oswiecim, Poland, in May 2019.

Latson replied by saying that the school offers a one-day lesson to 10th graders but he said it’s not mandatory as some parents “don’t want their children to participate.”

“The Holocaust is a factual, historical event,” the mother reportedly responded to him. “It is not a right or a belief.”

Latson, however, protested.

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

I can’t say the Holocaust is a factual, historical event because I am not in a position to do so as a school district employee.
William Latson, principal of Boca Raton’s Spanish River Community High School

He added that the school presents information about the Holocaust to the students and allows them to make their own decisions about it. He said it does the same when it comes to slavery.

The mother and a second parent later met with Latson and discussed incorporating the Holocaust memoir “Night,” by Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel, into the school’s required reading list. A request to have assemblies about the Holocaust for every grade level did not come to fruition, however, the mother told the Post. Deputy Schools Superintendent Keith Oswald told the paper that was because of a time constraint and said the assemblies would happen in the upcoming school year.

Latson, in a statement to the Post, apologized, saying the views he expressed in his emails “did not accurately reflect my professional and personal commitment to educating all students about the atrocities of the Holocaust.”

Portraits of Holocaust survivors are displayed in April 2019 at New York's Museum of Jewish Heritage, as a vintage German tra

Portraits of Holocaust survivors are displayed in April 2019 at New York’s Museum of Jewish Heritage, as a vintage German train car, like those used to transport people to Auschwitz and other Nazi death camps, is seen in front of the building.

Latson, who was reportedly not disciplined over his conduct, visited Washington’s U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in the summer following the email exchange so that he could learn more about the tragedy.

He did not immediately respond to a HuffPost request for comment.

The Holocaust Memorial Museum considers Holocaust denial to be a form of anti-Semitism. Those that preach it are “generally motivated by hatred of Jews and build on the claim that the Holocaust was invented or exaggerated by Jews as part of a plot to advance Jewish interests,” the museum’s website states.

Intentionally denying or distorting the historical record threatens communal understanding of how to safeguard democracy and individual rights.
From the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum website

The museum argues that it’s essential to confront such denial to prevent similar horrors from happening again.

“A society that tolerates antisemitism is susceptible to other forms of racism, hatred, and oppression,” the museum’s website states. “Intentionally denying or distorting the historical record threatens communal understanding of how to safeguard democracy and individual rights.”

Social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube recently started to remove content from conspiracy theorists and deniers of such tragedies, including the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

YouTube, which began removing the content in June, did not say why it had decided to take this action now.

“We’ve been taking a close look at our approach towards hateful content in consultation with dozens of experts in subjects like violent extremism, supremacism, civil rights and free speech,” it said in a blog post.

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Democratic Presidential Candidates Vie For The Teachers’ Vote

Ten Democratic candidates for president courted the votes of educators on Friday afternoon at a Houston forum hosted by the nation’s largest teachers union. Each candidate was asked a different set of questions, but all took pains to emphasize the need for increased education funding, and many referred to their plans to raise teacher pay.

The National Education Association forum included former Vice President Joe Biden, former Housing Secretary Julián Castro, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, Sen. Kamala Harris (Calif.), Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (Minn.), former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (Texas), Rep. Tim Ryan (Ohio), Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.).

Though questions over school segregation and busing have dogged Biden and Harris in the past week, neither was asked about the topic. Only Castro was asked explicitly about the issue. He called for investments in “tools like voluntary busing” and also emphasized the need to address housing segregation.

“I know from firsthand experience the impact of growing up in segregated school districts. The challenge is that today we’re still grappling with so many of the same issues,” Castro said.

Three candidates also followed Warren’s lead in pledging to nominate someone with a background in public schools and teaching as education secretary. In May, Warren promised to appoint a public school teacher to the job. Biden, de Blasio and Harris pledged Friday to do the same.  

Candidates were asked about topics that included the rising costs of health care, the opioid crisis, predatory for-profit colleges and teacher retention.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren at the forum hosted by the National Education Association.

Several 2020 candidates were also asked about their views on charter schools, of which teachers unions have been critical. Charter schools are a type of public school that is privately run.

O’Rourke, whose wife has run a charter school, was the most favorable to charters, saying he believes there is a place for nonprofit charter schools. 

Sanders pointed to his previously released education plan, which calls for a ban on for-profit charter schools and a moratorium on federal funding for the opening of new nonprofit charter schools until there is a study on their effect. 

De Blasio took a similarly tough stance on charters ― a type of school he has worked to diminish in New York City ― saying there should be no federal funding for charters.

No one should be the Democratic nominee unless they’re willing to stand up to Wall Street and the rich people behind the charter school movement once and for all,” de Blasio said.

For months, Democratic presidential candidates have been courting the votes of teachers. And, in a testament to the power of this voting bloc, especially amid a year of teacher protests throughout the country, several have released plans that specifically address pay increases. 

During the forum, Sanders said his plan is to make sure every teacher in America earns at least $60,000 a year. Harris pointed to her comprehensive plan to increase educator pay across the country. 

“You are not paid your value,” Harris said. 

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10 Movies That Will Teach Kids Empathy, Inclusion And Other Good Lessons This Summer

The summer box office is known for action-packed hits, beloved remakes and long-awaited sequels. This year is no exception with Spider-Man: Far from Home, the Lion King and Toy Story 4 hitting the big screen. Of course summer movies have high entertainment value, but some can also offer valuable opportunities for out-of-school learning.

Students benefit from experiences that expand their knowledge, not just from math or science but also from the world around them. We all have a framework of attitudes and beliefs that define our worldview. Sometimes to see life for what it truly is, we need to break away from these notions. Movies can remind kids that we all have different perspectives, that human rights matter, that cultures can share many fundamental values, and that kindness and compassion are key qualities in a just, civil and inclusive society.

We’ve put together several movie recommendations to get kids thinking and reflecting this summer. The selections here can help students see the world from new perspectives, giving them an introduction to people, cultures, events and beliefs that may be new to them. And though movies aren’t always 100% historically or scientifically accurate, they can still be a great starting point for rich conversations.

With references to the 1950s, there’s a lot to unpack about technology vs. nature in The Iron Giant. But what kids (and even adults) will really learn from this tale of robot/kid friendship is acceptance, the consequences of being too quick to judge and the many forms of heroism.

Discussion questions: What do you know about the Cold War of the 1950s? How might the characters have acted differently if the story had been set in another time period (like post-9/11)? Where do you see statements about technology v. nature? How does paranoia drive the plot of the film?

This Disney flick about human excess and environmental decay manages to be relatable to kids. An adorable robot and his quest to connect with another are the backdrop for a reflection on the impact of our collective actions.

Discussion questions: What does Wall-E learn from the movie Hello, Dolly? How is satire used in the movie to drive home the messages about the environment and big business? What similarities do you see in the movie and in our consumption of media today? Do you think this is our future?

Coco explores the Day of the Dead and a kid’s desire to become a musician despite his family’s wishes. A moving tribute to Mexican traditions and customs, this movie will get kids contemplating the ways we remember and honor our departed family members.

Discussion questions: What about learning the traditions of the Day of the Dead surprised you? How does your family pay tribute to relatives and loved ones after they’ve passed away? How do you think the practice of honoring the dead might factor into how tight-knit Mexican families make important decisions?

Based on the real-life 1940s All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, this classic film will get kids thinking about the value of female athletes throughout history. Students will also see how both individual strength and teamwork play a factor in success.

Discussion questions: What is women’s role in most professional sports ― and their role in the film? Have all those changes been good? To keep the game popular with fans, the players flaunted their femininity. Do you think this was all in good fun, a sign of the times, or somewhat demeaning?

Remember the Titans tells the inspirational true story about the struggles and victories of a newly integrated high school football team in 1971. Themes of segregation and prejudice will help students think critically about race relations.

Discussion questions: How did playing football help the students better understand the prejudice of the time? Do you see segregation or racism today in schools or neighborhoods? How might you apply the lessons from the movie (change is inevitable, teamwork and attitude are important) to the issues of today?

The main character in this satirical movie is an insurance salesman who discovers that everyone around him is part of an elaborate “show” and that every aspect of his life has been orchestrated. Kids will inevitably begin to question the consequences of our media-driven world.

Discussion questions: How does this movie address the reality of those who spend hour after hour of their free time watching TV or movies? Does the proliferation of social media make the story outdated today? What lessons can we still learn about how we consume ― and are influenced by ― media?

With a strong female lead, this sci-fi alien tale leaves out the action scenes in favor of a reflective look at how we communicate as a species. It’s great for class discussions, and students will end up having lots to say about the political and personal choices we make.

Discussion questions: How might you have started to communicate with the aliens? What are the benefits of communicating through symbols rather than words? How does this movie compare with other movies or stories about aliens?

Despite some controversy surrounding a central white character in a civil rights-era film, this movie adaptation still demonstrates how oppressed people have a story that needs to be told. It will get kids thinking about segregation and class differences in our society, and what it takes to break the legacy of racism.

Discussion questions: Why do you think people might be critical that the story is anchored in the coming-of-age tale of a white girl? Do you think the characters are realistic representations of the time, or are they stereotypes? How do we know?

A girl living in England struggles to pursue her soccer dreams while also respecting her parent’s traditional Indian values. This feel-good story grounds the popular “follow your heart” theme in relevant discussions about second-generation immigrant families and cultural identity.

Discussion questions: How much should you preserve the traditions of a culture when you’re no longer living (or never lived) in that place? What are some strategies for helping to build up your own sense of self-worth and for coping with pressures from family members or society?

While this lighthearted tale isn’t based on a historical event and doesn’t delve into deep intellectual themes, it does give insight into the emotional turmoil of a young man trying to come out. It’s a rare slice of cinema that gives kids a chance to relate to and empathize with the struggles of a gay man and the gay community.

Discussion questions: How does the film compare to the novel it’s based on (Simon v. the Homo Sapiens Agenda)? How do you think these childhood experiences might later affect someone as an adult? What other type of secrets do you think students may be struggling with in high school? How might it affect their relationships with their classmates?

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How To Raise A Kid Who Loves To Learn

“Look! When I mix these paints, I get a whole new color!” Hearing your kids get excited about learning feels like glitter bombs exploding in your heart. And it’s a confirmation that school and report cards are really only one sign that your kids are learning. While grades and test scores are important, what about the sparkle in their eyes when they discover a “new” bug in the backyard, see a painting that inspires some art of their own, and overcome frustration to go hand-over-hand across the monkey bars? In the end we want their love of learning to go beyond school and sustain them throughout their whole lives.

Unfortunately, lots of kids start to lose their passion for learning as they grow up. Some research indicates that 40% of U.S. high school students have little or no interest in school. How do they get to that place? For some kids school becomes less about learning and more about achievement, right answers and grades. When that happens, they can start to think learning isn’t fun. And as they get older, they want to play it cool and avoid showing a sense of awe about pretty much anything ― at least to us. Even kids with exceptional grades are sometimes in it for the letters on report cards and have lost sight of learning.

The good news is that even when kids claim they don’t like to learn, they really do. Maybe their hand isn’t the first to go up, maybe their grades (whether A’s or F’s) don’t reflect what they know (and don’t know), and maybe they can’t articulate what they love to learn. But there are things we can do to combat this trend. And the media and technology that’s literally at kids’ fingertips can help. Though it’s best to start encouraging kids to be lifelong learners when they’re little, it’s never too late. Here are some tips to keep your kid’s love of learning alive.

1. Start early, inspire often

Babies and toddlers find everything fascinating: It’s often enough just to play with sand, stack blocks and even just stare at their hands. Parents can build on this natural inclination in lots of ways. First, you can share their wonder at the world. If your kid is amazed by a spider web or delighted by the garbage truck, let yourself mirror that enthusiasm and build on it by asking questions and noticing things: “The truck’s wheels are circles. What other shapes do I see?” or “I wonder what kind of spider made this web?”

Getting out into the world to have adventures is also a great way to inspire learning. Nature hikes, museums, road trips and even your own street can have tons of opportunities to discover things and wonder at what you see. Other than showing and sharing excitement, parents can help kids make sense of what they experience. Watching, playing, exploring and talking with your kid helps them connect some dots and continue a dialogue.

Using media to inspire learning

  • Reading to your kids not only inspires learning and lays a foundation for literacy, but if you comment and ask questions as you read, it shows kids that reading can be an active process.

  • And don’t discount kids’ favorite online pastimes, such as watching video clips on YouTube or social media as potential learning opportunities. Check out videos that examine unique concepts, such as the ones on Khan Academy, Vsauce and SciShow. Ask kids what subjects they’re interested in, what their friends are sharing and what’s trending to get ideas.

2. Model learning

In addition to being open about your own wonder and curiosity, you can also be a role model for the learning process. Once you’re curious about something, what do you do next? We’ve gotten so used to Googling or simply asking Alexa for answers, but sometimes it’s fun to ask more questions and try to figure things out without the help of technology. And sometimes, an unsolvable mystery is part of the fun!

Talking through the learning process with your kid not only shows some ways learning can happen, but also that it’s for grown-ups, too. This can be as simple as sharing what you’re learning from a movie or TV show. It’s especially great to walk kids through what happens when you hit obstacles. For example, if you’re reading articles or manuals to learn a new skill at work or you’re trying a new workout, talk through the tough parts and what you do to overcome obstacles: “I’ve never done this type of exercise, so I’m making lots of mistakes. But I asked for some help and am being a good friend to myself by being patient as I practice.” And when you make mistakes, show how we can learn from them and sometimes even turn them into a “beautiful oops.”

Using media to model learning

3. Don’t be so sure

Too often, learning is about having the “right” answer, and adults are the keepers of knowledge. Instead of always being the expert, be an explorer with your kid and let them teach you along the way. If they stun you with knowledge and insights, don’t just say, “Wow, you’re smart,” since research shows empty praise can backfire. Reinforcing their effort and process with specific observations makes a bigger impact.

Even if you do have some hot wisdom to drop, try to stay open and curious about other positions or further facts about a topic. Foster problem solving and critical thinking by going deeper, examining opposing points of view, and finding connections. Asking, “What do you think?” is always a good place to start when a kid is curious about something to find out what they already know and where they want to go next.

And if there’s a problem you can solve together ― repairing a bookshelf, researching potential pets, using a new recipe ― go for it! Working through steps, finding information and untangling tricky moments shows kids that we keep learning throughout life.

Using media to explore what you don’t know

  • Discover different angles or viewpoints ― not to condone or justify things that oppose your values ― but to help kids learn to think critically about what they see and hear. Read or watch current events together and fact-check the stories to discover additional information to inform your opinions.

  • Watch documentaries on various subjects such as history, animals and space. Sharing new discoveries increases knowledge ― as well as bonding.

4. Work on soft skills

Sure, we want our kids to be great at math, reading and science, but what about the so-called soft skills like kindness, empathy and perseverance? While they can be hard to measure, we want our kids to keep learning about how to be the best human being they can be. Like more concrete skills, building these character traits lend themselves to modeling and narrating so kids can see how grownups work through interpersonal issues: “Someone at work said something that made me angry, so I had to use some chill skills to calm down, and then I used ‘I’ statements when I talked with her about it.”

Taking responsibility for mistakes, making amends and showing self-awareness about strengths and weaknesses is also a good way to demonstrate how we keep working on ourselves and are never perfect.

Using media to foster soft skills

  • Check out our lists of TV shows and movies that emphasize specific character traits. Use the conversation starters in the “Talk to your kids About …” section of the reviews to reinforce messages.

  • Role model responsible online behavior so kids are respectful to others when they start interacting online. Digital citizenship skills as just as important as academic skills ― not only for drama-free social lives, but also for kids’ potential careers. Learn more social media basics to set your kids up for positive online experiences.

5. Encourage autonomy

It’s important to let kids try things, fail and try again. Even as they get older and want to attempt things on their own, you should still let them ― within reason, of course. Making choices and having some independence teaches them special lessons they can’t get anywhere else, such as resilience.

When kids are mostly told what they need to learn in school, being able to explore their own interests can be really powerful. Not only can they piggyback on their own passions, but they can also learn things that are especially relevant to their real lives, like changing a tire, organizing a toy drive or cooking.

It’s also helpful to get kids to examine their own learning process. Self-reflection, mindfulness and metacognition ― understanding how you learn ― let kids gain a deeper understanding of themselves and how to approach new topics and circumstances.

Using media to encourage kids to learn on their own

  • Let’s say your teen is on Instagram marveling at Rihanna’s new makeup line. Ask what sets it apart, how it’s being marketed and why Rihanna might be taking time to do it in the first place. Maybe you can tap into your teen’s interests and turn them into a discussion about branding and being an entrepreneur.

  • Have a nightly challenge where everyone has to share one fascinating fact they learned that day at dinner. Twitter is a gold mine of facts. Try following: #AP_Oddities, Bill Nye the Science Guy or #wokeletter.

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Harris Backs Away From Busing As A Federal Mandate After Biden Attack

WEST DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Sen. Kamala Harris said Wednesday that busing students should be considered by school districts trying to desegregate their locations — not the federal mandate she appeared to support in pointedly criticizing rival Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden last week.

Harris had a breakthrough moment at the candidates’ first debate when she criticized Biden for his opposition to mandatory school busing when he was a senator in the 1970s. Harris said she benefited from busing as an elementary school student in Berkeley, California, in the early 1970s.

“That’s where the federal government must step in,” Harris said, looking at Biden and winning a burst of applause from the auditorium in Miami.

On Wednesday, though, Harris characterized busing as a choice local school districts have, not the responsibility of the federal government.

Busing, while not central to the Democratic primary, has become a proxy issue for the debate between Biden and Harris over race as well as broader questions about whether the 76-year-old former vice president is out of step with his party.

After a Democratic Party picnic Wednesday in West Des Moines, Harris was asked by reporters whether she supports federally mandated busing.

“I think of busing as being in the toolbox of what is available and what can be used for the goal of desegregating America’s schools,” she responded.

Asked to clarify whether she supports federally mandated busing, she replied, “I believe that any tool that is in the toolbox should be considered by a school district.”

In a tweet Wednesday, Biden deputy campaign manager Kate Bedingfield knocked Harris for her response, writing, “It’s disappointing that Senator Harris chose to distort Vice President Biden’s position on busing — particularly now that she is tying herself in knots trying not to answer the very question she posed to him!”

Harris’ comments Wednesday were far from the indictment she delivered during the debate last week.

Under attack on the debate stage, Biden appeared stunned and dismissed Harris’ comments as a mischaracterization of his positions. He has notably begun his remarks to fundraisers by talking about how civil rights spurred his entry into public life more than 45 years ago.

To be sure, Biden’s record on busing is complicated.

Biden has insisted he only opposed busing ordered by the federal Education Department, and said allowing local governments and school districts to implement busing was “one of the things I argued for” at the time.

During an appearance at a conference last week in Chicago, Biden told the audience he “never, never, never, ever opposed voluntary busing.”

But Biden was an outspoken opponent of federally mandated busing in the 1970s and ’80s, sponsoring a congressional measure that would have limited funding for federal busing efforts.

The issue spilled into Iowa as Harris and Biden returned Wednesday for the first time since the debate. Both will need some success in Iowa’s leadoff nominating caucuses to build momentum heading into South Carolina, the first Southern primary, where they are vying aggressively for a robust African American voting bloc.

Biden and Harris also have been aggressively courting members of the Congressional Black Caucus, with Harris edging Biden in endorsements, picking up support from Reps. Bobby Rush of Illinois and Frederica Wilson of Florida. Biden last week landed the support of popular Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms.

In Iowa, where African Americans are a small minority, endorsements from black leaders are magnified. Harris got the backing of two popular black ministers after her debate performance last week.

Appearing Wednesday evening in Waterloo, Iowa’s most densely African American city, Biden received the backing of one of that city’s most influential black ministers.

Beaumont contributed from Waterloo, Iowa.

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Ex-Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder Turns Down Harvard Fellowship Amid Backlash

Rick Snyder, the Republican former governor of Michigan whose administration was accused of playing a key role in Flint’s water crisis, has decided to turn down his Harvard Kennedy School fellowship.

Snyder on Wednesday announced on Twitter that he would not be joining the Taubman Center for State and Local Government, where he was set to begin studying and teaching this week.

“It would have been exciting to share my experiences, both positive and negative; our current political environment and its lack of civility makes this too disruptive,” he wrote. “I wish them the best.”

Backlash began brewing on social media over the weekend as users condemned Harvard’s offer with the hashtag #NoSnyderFellowship. Critics urged those opposed to write letters to the school in protest.

A school news release announcing the fellowship left out any mention of Flint’s toxic lead pollution, instead crediting Snyder for “significant expertise in management, public policy, and promoting civility.” 

Later Wednesday, the Harvard Kennedy School sent the following letter to HuffPost, which was shared by Dean Doug Elmendorf with the campus community.

Last Friday, Harvard Kennedy School announced that former Michigan Governor Rick Snyder would become a fellow at the School’s Taubman Center for State and Local Government for the fall semester.  Governor Snyder has now withdrawn from the intended fellowship.

The people of Flint, Michigan—and especially low-income Black residents—have suffered acutely because of their poisonous water supply, and I have been deeply moved by the personal and thoughtful messages I have received from people in Flint.  I believe the Kennedy School needs to study both failures and successes of government, and we anticipated that students would have learned from engaging with and questioning Governor Snyder about his consequential role in decisions regarding Flint and many other issues during his eight years in office.  We appreciate Governor Snyder’s interest in participating in such discussions in our community, but we and he now believe that having him on campus would not enhance education here in the ways we intended.

Harvard Kennedy School will continue to look for ways to learn from and address failures of government in Flint and elsewhere.

Reports of Snyder’s fellowship offer arrived only weeks after The Associated Press reported that his cellphone was confiscated in a criminal probe of the catastrophe led by Michigan and Wayne County.

Though the crisis began in 2014, the deadly consequences are still being felt today, and dozens of residents have suffered from an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease. According to PBS, the death toll is likely far higher than the 12 counted by state officials.

This article has been updated with a response from the Harvard Kennedy School.

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NYC Student Who Was Set On Fire In Chemistry Accident Awarded Nearly $60 Million

A former New York City student has been awarded more than $59 million after a 2014 chemistry demonstration engulfed him in flames.

On Monday, a Manhattan jury granted the hefty payout to 21-year-old Alonzo Yanes, who was just 16 when the life-altering accident occurred at Beacon High School, the New York Daily News reported.

In January 2014, during Yanes’ sophomore year, instructor Anna Poole was showing her students the so-called “rainbow experiment,” which involves combining a flammable liquid ― in this case, methanol ― with mineral salts, then igniting the mixture to produce colorful flames. 

According to The Associated Press, Poole used a gallon jug to pour the methanol. A fireball shot out, enveloping Yanes, who recalled “hopelessly burning alive” as he felt the fire “charring me the way a piece of meat chars in a frying pan.”

Hospitalized for five months, the teen had to endure skin graft surgeries for injuries that covered 30% of his body, stretching from his face to his neck, arms and hands.

Yanes’ parents, Claudio and Yvonne, wept while describing how they were unable to identify their own son in a hospital burn unit, the Daily News reported.

The jury found both the Department of Education and Poole at fault for the accident. According to The New York Times, the financial restitution is intended to cover Yanes’ pain and suffering as well as his medical bills.

The rainbow experiment has long been deemed a safety hazard in classrooms as accidents have been documented in other states.

In 2015, two students suffered serious burns in a Fairfax County, Virginia high school and three others were hospitalized when the demonstration went awry

In 2006, an Ohio teen was left with severe burns covering nearly half her body in a similar case.

In 2004, authorities say a teacher and student at a high school in Federal Way, Washington, suffered third-degree burns on their faces, heads, arms and hands due to the experiment. A second student was also burned, though not as extensively.

According to the AP, attorneys for New York City said the experiment is no longer being conducted in any of its schools as a result of Yanes’ experience.

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How One State Is Effectively Tackling Its Vaccine Problem

As public health officials continue to fight the greatest outbreak of measles in the United States since the disease was declared eliminated in 2000, there has been a lot of talk about how to stop its spread.

California might hold an answer.

In 2014, after vaccine refusal helped fuel the Disneyland measles outbreak, the state instituted a series of interventions to increase the number of kindergartners who were up-to-date on their vaccines.

First, legislators passed a bill requiring parents talk to their children’s doctor about the risks of not vaccinating their children for personal beliefs.

Then the state rolled out a campaign teaching educators about conditional admission of non-up-to-date kindergartners, or those who can’t attend if they do not get vaccinated within a certain timeframe.

Then in 2016 the state took its boldest step, banning parents from not immunizing their children due to personal beliefs.

And according to a new study published in JAMA on Tuesday, it all worked.

In 2013, so before the trio of interventions, the rate of California kindergartners who were not up-to-date with their vaccines was 9.84%. In 2017, after the interventions had gone into effect, it dropped to 4.87%.

Not only that, the findings revealed a decrease in geographic clusters of under-vaccinated children, which pose a particular threat to herd immunity and can fuel wider outbreaks. Because the measles is so contagious (about 90 percent of people who are unvaccinated and come into contact with the disease will catch it), the percent of people who must be vaccinated in an area in order to sustain herd immunity is very high.

“In the 2012 through 2013 school year there were 3,206 schools located within a cluster, and this decreased to 1,613 schools in the 2016 to 2017 school year,” study author Cassandra Pingali, an ORISE fellow at Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the Immunization Services Division, told HuffPost.

“By decreasing the clustering and contact of not-up-to-date kindergartners, there is an improvement in community immunity,” she explained.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that children need two doses of the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine: One when they are between 12 and 15 months and another when they are between the ages of 4 and 6.

In June, New York cracked down on exemptions for vaccines, eliminating the religious exemption. And in May, Maine did the same.

Currently, 15 states have personal or philosophical exemptions to school immunization policies, and 45 states and Washington, D.C., allow for religious exemptions.

The authors of the new study caution about what they call the replacement effect, a phenomenon they documented in another analysis of the California policies they published last month. For a time after the personal belief exemption was eliminated, the rate of non-up-to-date kindergartners increased as medical exemptions jumped instead.

In other words, parents who are vaccine skeptics are likely to try and find other ways to skirt the system. In June, actress Jessica Biel generated a rash of headlines for lobbying against a California bill that would require parents who want a medical exemption to immunization to get approval from a state health officer, cracking down on fake health exemptions.

“Unintended effects such as this need to be carefully evaluated,” Pingali said, “and policymakers should consider such consequences when creating
new legislation.”

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Alaska University System May ‘Never Recover’ From Governor’s Budget Cuts, Leaders Warn

Alaska’s public university system, which educates almost 30,000 students, may “never recover” from the governor’s decision to massively slash state funding, the system’s leaders and faculty warned.

Programs will be cut, thousands of students could be lost and hundreds of staff — including tenured professors — are expected to lose their jobs. 

“It certainly comes as a shock,” Scott Downing, an associate English professor and Faculty Senate president at the University of Alaska at Anchorage, told The Washington Post of Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s decision last week to cut 41% of state appropriations for the University of Alaska system. 

“It’s going to be devastating,” Downing continued. “The effects on programs, on the students, on staff and faculty are just going to be — it’s kind of unthinkable.”

Alaska has struggled with multibillion-dollar budget deficits since the 2014 oil market collapse. Dunleavy, who was elected last year, promised to address this shortfall without raising taxes or slashing the Alaska Permanent Fund dividend, an annual payout to the state’s residents from oil revenue. 

To achieve this, the governor said he would be making extensive cuts to Alaska’s operating budget ― a vow he fulfilled on Friday by using his line-item veto power to slash more than $440 million from the budget passed by the state legislature.

As Anchorage Daily News noted, the biggest loser was the University of Alaska system, which lost an additional $130 million in state funding thanks to the governor’s line-item veto. The legislature had already approved a $5 million cut to the system’s state appropriations, and university leaders said they had not expected additional cuts. 

“We can’t continue to be all things for all people,” Dunleavy told reporters of his decision to cut funding to the universities.

University system president James Johnsen likened the governor’s veto to a “bomb.”

“Simply put, if not overridden, today’s veto will strike an institutional and reputational blow from which we may likely never recover,” Johnsen said in a Friday statement.

The budget cuts ― which took effect on Monday ― could lead to the layoffs of more than 1,300 staff and faculty, and a loss of an estimated 3,000 students. Johnsen warned earlier that the system, which includes three universities, could even be forced to shutter some campuses.

Johnsen said he was preparing a “financial exigency” plan that would allow the system to “more rapidly discontinue programs and academic units” and “start the unprecedented process of removing tenured faculty.” 

As educator Marshall Shepherd pointed out in a Forbes op-ed last week, the public universities of Alaska pump more than $1 billion annually, directly and indirectly, into the state’s economy. The schools are also a major provider of talent for the local workforce ― and are a leading force in climate change research nationally. 

“It is clear that a 41% cut places all of these things at risk,” Shepherd wrote. “It also threatens university leadership in serving the energy, seafood, natural resources, health, transportation and education sectors of the region. Candidly, gutting higher education will not be an effective tool for recruiting bright new talent and industries to the state either. In fact, it probably belongs on ‘a top 5 list’ of how not to attract new people to the state.”

With these risks looming, university leaders, staff and students have begun a grassroots lobbying effort to convince lawmakers to override the governor’s veto.  

“We’ll work very hard to try to get the necessary three-quarters of the legislature,” Downing told the magazine Inside Higher Ed, referring to the 45 of 60 votes needed for a veto override. Experts say an override is unlikely.

Still, Downing said there’s “hope that we can encourage legislators to see all the things that the University of Alaska system does for the state in terms of generating economic activity to get to that override number they need.”

Johnsen has urged all Alaskans to “raise your voice” to help the university system.

“There is no strong state without a strong university,” he said in a video plea.

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Historians Ask Holocaust Museum To Stop Condemning Migrant Crisis Comparisons

Almost 150 historians who specialize in genocide are asking the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum to retract its statement condemning the use of Holocaust analogies when describing inhumane conditions in migrant detention centers.

The scholars penned an open letter on Monday acknowledging support for the museum in Washington, D.C., but also expressing concern regarding its June 24 statement.

“The Museum’s decision to completely reject drawing any possible analogies to the Holocaust, or to the events leading up to it, is fundamentally ahistorical,” read the letter, published in the New York Review of Books.

“It has the potential to inflict severe damage on the Museum’s ability to continue its role as a credible, leading global institution dedicated to Holocaust memory, Holocaust education, and research in the field of Holocaust and genocide studies,” the letter stated.

The clash came after Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) spoke out last month saying the Trump administration has established “concentration camps” along the U.S.-Mexico border where migrant families and children are “brutalized with dehumanizing conditions and dying.” She also used the phrase “Never Again,” a slogan associated with the Holocaust and other historical instances of widespread human rights violations.

Republicans like Rep. Liz Cheney (Wy.) attacked Ocasio-Cortez’s comparison and the Esquire article she shared that cited concentration camp expert Andrea Pitzer. Pitzer has emphasized that concentration camps ― sites for “the mass detention of civilians without trial” ― are very much in place at the border.

While people often equate concentration camps with Nazi death camps, the definition is broader than that, the Esquire article points out. Historical organizations like Densho note that the term “concentration camp” can be a euphemism when a term like “death camp” more truthfully describes a place where people were rounded up and systematically murdered. “Not every concentration camp is a death camp,” the Esquire article states.

Reports have long detailed the horrific conditions that migrants, especially children, are experiencing in Customs and Border Protection facilities at the U.S.-Mexico border. After more than a dozen House Democrats, including Ocasio-Cortez, visited detention facilities in El Paso, Texas, on Monday, they said detained women there were called derogatory names and told to drink water from a toilet. According to CBP, detained migrants drink from a sink attached to the toilet.

In May, a Homeland Security watchdog found that detained migrants have been kept in unsanitary and overcrowded conditions in which some people have to stand on toilets to be able to breathe. A group of lawyers recently filed a lawsuit against the Trump administration after interviewing minors at the facilities who described being hungry, cold, sick, sleep-deprived and lacking basic hygiene.

Last month, four toddlers were so sick and neglected at a facility in McAllen, Texas, that lawyers had to force the government to hospitalize them last week. Five migrant children have died in Border Patrol custody since December, and a sixth was recently discovered to have died in September.

On Sunday, dozens of Jewish protesters were arrested after blocking an Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention center in New Jersey. The protesters are part of the Jewish organization NeverAgain Action.

“As Jews, we’ve been taught to never let anything like the Holocaust happen again,” the group wrote on its Facebook page. “Now, with children detained in unacceptable conditions, ICE raids targeting our communities, and people dying at the border while seeking safety in the U.S., we are seeing the signs of a mass atrocity. We refuse to wait and see what happens next.”

The group of historians on Monday urged the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum’s director, Sara J. Bloomfield, to reverse the museum’s position based on careful historical analysis.

“The very core of Holocaust education is to alert the public to dangerous developments that facilitate human rights violations and pain and suffering,” the letter read. “Pointing to similarities across time and space is essential for this task.”

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Ex-Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder Who Oversaw Flint Water Crisis Named Harvard Fellow

Former Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R), whose administration has been blamed for negligence in the Flint water crisis, has been handed a Harvard fellowship.

The Kennedy School’s Taubman Center for State and Local Government said Snyder on Monday began a role as senior research fellow, teaching state and local government topics.

A press release made no mention of Flint’s struggle with dangerously high levels of lead in its water. Snyder, who left office in 2018, has apologized for the crisis, which he blamed on state government functionaries.

The announcement comes weeks after Snyder’s cellphone was seized in a criminal investigation led by Michigan and Wayne County, The Associated Press reported. The probe also is looking into a Legionnaires’ disease outbreak that killed at least a dozen people.

Jeffrey Liebman, Taubman Center director and public policy professor, expressed confidence in Snyder, praising “his significant expertise in management, public policy, and promoting civility.”

Snyder called the fellowship “an honor.”

“I look forward to sharing my experiences in helping take Michigan to national leadership in job creation, improved government performance, and civility,” he said.

Snyder came under scrutiny in the Flint crisis in January 2016, when he publicly released a massive batch of emails revealing that he became aware of water quality issues as early as February 2015. In April 2019, a PBS Frontline investigation showed that Flint residents are still suffering the deadly consequences of the lead-laced water.

On Twitter, critics of Snyder tore into Harvard, using the hashtag #NoSnyderFellowship.

Snyder isn’t the only controversial figure to walk Harvard’s halls. Former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, former National Economic Council director Gary Cohn, and former White House press secretary Sean Spicer also received fellowships from the Kennedy School’s Institute of Politics.

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They’re Progressive, Fighting For Social Justice, And Under Scrutiny From Fellow Democrats

When Sydney Chaffee was named the winner of the 2017 National Teacher of the Year award, fellow educators and advocates warned her that because she taught in a charter school, other teachers might not feel like she represented them.

After all, charter schools are often accused of siphoning resources away from traditional public schools and cherry-picking students.

She recalls one time, after giving a talk about the importance of social justice in education, an audience member asked: If you believe in these causes, then why do you work in a charter?

While Chaffee thinks of teaching as inherently political, she never viewed her choice to work in a charter as a political statement ― she went to work and graded papers, planned lessons and mentored students like everyone else. But suddenly her life choices were under scrutiny, especially from those with similar belief systems.

In recent years and even more so in the lead-up to the 2020 election, charter schools have become a political talking point, especially in progressive and Democratic circles. Many charter school educators, like Chaffee, are also progressive. But as the election cycle ramps up, they are watching from the sidelines as their livelihoods have become more politicized.

HuffPost spoke to over a dozen left-leaning charter school educators and advocates to hear how it feels to be under scrutiny from fellow Democrats. Some teachers said they’re paying close attention to Democratic candidates’ rhetoric on this issue and will remember politicians’ specific stances when they go to the ballot box. But others are happy to see their employers under fire and expressed ambivalence about their own involvement in education reform causes. Most started working at charters by happenstance and got into education for reasons of social and racial justice ― some of the same reasons the charter school sector is under scrutiny.

Charter schools, a type of public school that is privately managed, include small nonprofit institutions and large for-profit chains. While they have been controversial since the first one opened in 1992, for many years they were able to retain a rare bipartisan sheen, gaining the endorsement of Democrats like President Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, and Republicans like George W. Bush.

But the sheen has started to fade among both Democratic voters and politicians. Polls from pro-charter groups show that support for charter schools among white Democrats has plummeted, though it has held steady for black and Hispanic Democrats.

So far in the 2020 cycle, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) has offered an education plan that specifically targets charters, calling for a moratorium on their expansion and a ban on for-profit ones. Other front-runners like Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and former Vice President Joe Biden have also offered measured criticism, attacking for-profit charter schools ― which only represent about 15% of the sector ― and in Biden’s case saying that these schools take resources from traditional schools. In general, around 6% of all public school students in the country attend charter schools, and they are disproportionately black and Hispanic

Sydney Chaffee (center) being honored by President Donald Trump after winning the 2017 National Teacher of the Year award.

Twelve years ago, when Chaffee signed up to work in a charter school fresh out of graduate school, she didn’t even quite understand what it meant. She just knew she liked the Boston-based high school and its kids, and thought she could make a difference as a humanities teacher incorporating issues of social justice into her curriculum. But after serving as teacher of the year ― which required her to travel and act as a spokesperson for the profession ― she’s not surprised by the current discourse. She’s become experienced in finding common ground with other educators and advocates ― even those who may treat her with initial wariness ― and tells them that, for her, it’s less about the type of school you work in than the work you do in that school.

Now, she’s looking for a presidential candidate who will approach issues of education with the same degree of subtlety. She is most interested in candidates’ overall plans for education ― as opposed to their specific takes on charters ― and is watching their willingness to engage with parents and teachers.

“This conversation gets framed in really divisive ways … [as if] you have to be one camp or the other. If you support charters you must not support traditional public education, if you work at a charter you must be anti-union. It’s so much more nuanced than that,” said Chaffee, a ninth grade humanities teacher in Boston’s Codman Academy Charter School.

The conversation has only become more divisive. Since 2017, President Donald Trump and U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ support of charter schools has further painted charters as a conservative issue. At the same time, teachers unions ― long critical of charters, which are rarely unionized ― have seen a bump in influence. Even Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), a presidential hopeful who has championed charters throughout his political career, has started to distance himself from the cause.

While Chaffee is optimistic about finding common ground with critics, seventh grade teacher Lucas Lyons is not so sure he disagrees with all the judgment. Lyons is a teacher at KIPP Infinity Middle School in New York City. He also attended a KIPP middle school as a student.

He believes a national conversation about the flaws of charter schools is overdue.

Back when Lyons was a student at KIPP ― one of the largest nonprofit charter school chains in the country ― rules were strict, pressure was high, and test scores were paramount. The school was constructed out of the “no excuses” model, which emphasizes harsh discipline and academic rigor above all else. The model is still a mainstay in many charters.

But for Lyons, the militant nature of the school ― which primarily served students of color ― felt discriminatory, even as teachers actively avoided the topic of race. Later, as Lyons went on to attend a predominantly white high school and college, he struggled with forging a sense of identity as a black man.

It’s not so much about taking from one and giving to the other. It’s about making sure everybody has.
Abdul Wright, Minnesota’s 2016 teacher of the year

“I would be 100% down with KIPP’s mission if it did a better job focusing on the issue of race and deconstructing what it is to be black in this country so our children can have a voice and can advocate for themselves,” said Lyons, the school’s seventh-grade learning specialist and grade-level dean who takes pains to discuss race with his students.

Lyons never thought he would become a teacher ― let alone work for KIPP. Some of his friends question him about his decision. And while KIPP has taken active steps to incorporate anti-racism work, Lyons still feels unsure of his place in the organization. He tries to make change from the inside, but in explaining his conflict, he quotes well-known author and poet Audre Lorde: “Master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.”

So when people like Bernie Sanders call for a moratorium on the expansion of charter schools while the impact of these schools is studied, Lyons isn’t sure he’s entirely opposed. There are a lot of bad charter schools out there that have opened quickly and without proper oversight, he concedes. But there are a lot of good ones too that specifically serve black children, and serve them well.

“As far as a moratorium goes, I’m not sure,” said Lyons. “I don’t think completely stopping is helpful ― it’s kind of like throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Some are doing well compared to others.”

Educators like Abdul Wright, the winner of Minnesota’s 2016 Teacher of the Year award, find Sanders’ framing of the issue utterly baffling. Sanders has presented the issue as one of racial justice, noting that the NAACP previously called for a moratorium on the expansion of these schools. Wright is in his eighth year of teaching at a charter school in Minneapolis that specifically preaches empowerment for students of color. Wright, who is black and from Chicago, got into education to give back to kids who are facing the same struggles he did, having grown up in a low-income family and surrounded by violence.

He says he sees a lot of unfair generalizations about charters ― and has a particular grievance with the idea that they’re racially segregated, saying it’s not a “charter thing, it’s system thing.” (Notably, Sanders’ education plan also includes provisions that would help decrease segregation in traditional public schools.)

To Wright, the whole debate seems circular. Candidates claim that charter schools are taking away resources from traditional public schools. So is the solution to then take away from charter school kids? Either way, someone loses.

“They are painting a picture that doesn’t articulate the real message that needs to be communicated in education. It’s not so much about taking from one and giving to the other. It’s about making sure everybody has,” says Wright, who teaches eighth grade English language arts.

But when push comes to shove, even if this issue becomes more visible, he doesn’t expect teachers to have much of a say in the matter.

“We’re the tokens, we’re in pictures. But we don’t get to influence policy,” he says. “And we should have a seat at that table.”

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Where Are All The Black BookTubers?

In March of this year, YouTube aired an original special called BookTube: A Discussion With Michelle Obama to promote her autobiography, “Becoming.” I was super excited to watch because #ForeverFlotus, but also because it seemed that the niche YouTube community for book lovers that I have long adored was finally getting some mainstream attention.

The former First Lady was amazing as usual, and the discussion about her autobiography was engaging. But none of the BookTubers in the special were Black. Yes, there were Black women in the room but they weren’t BookTubers, or YouTubers who make content specifically about books and reading. Everyone else in the room was white.

“The Michelle Obama thing, my mouth just dropped. It was such a missed opportunity. Why wouldn’t you get a Black female BookTuber for Michelle Obama’s book?” India Hill Brown, who’s been making BookTube videos on her channel “Books and Big Hair” for five years, told me.

It does seem strange that the many Black BookTubers who’ve been making content for years wouldn’t get to participate in a BookTube special with the first Black First Lady of the United States. Perhaps the powers that be ran into the same problem that I and other BookTube fans and content creators have run into far too often over the years: They can’t find any popular Black BookTubers.

“For the person being introduced to BookTube for the first time, especially if you’re a Black viewer, the thing that I always say is just be prepared to have to look for yourself,” said Christina Marie, a Black BookTuber who’s been making videos since 2006. “You have to really look. It’s not going to be the first you see, not first five or the first ten, it might not even be on the first friggin’ page. You always have to do more in order to find, honestly, less!”

Marie isn’t the first person to bring up this issue. Multiple Black content creators across genres have noted they lack the same exposure and promotion as their white peers on YouTube. YouTube responded to criticism from Akilah Hughes of the Youtube channel “Akilah Obviously” in 2016 by hosting their inaugural YouTube Black event, a conference specifically for and about Black content creators. Google declined a HuffPost request for comment on its current plans to promote diverse content on YouTube.

“Reading is the Blackest thing I can do. My ancestors fought for the right for me to know how to read. If my channel isn’t growing because of my diversity, I don’t think that’s right.”

– India Hill Brown

It’s no surprise that it’s difficult to find and elevate Black BookTubers when Black authors, editors and book characters are hardly over-saturating the literary world. Only 4 percent of employees across major publishing houses identified as Black, according to a 2015 diversity survey conducted by Lee & Low Books. The same study showed that only 1 percent of book reviewers utilized by these publishing houses identified as Black.

“The Black female community is the biggest consumer of books yet the industry still doesn’t give us the range,” explained Jennifer Baker, a writer, editor and host of the podcast, Minorities In Publishing. “Book bloggers aren’t getting access to [review] materials because to publishers, they’re not seen as a viable marketing tool. The industry is not even reaching out to the alternate communities that are available and [is instead] focusing on the large, white dominant ones. So if you’re a Black blogger or BookTuber, that’s even more work. And that’s segregation and that’s racism and that’s all these things whether people want to say it or not.”

The BookTube community of all races is vocal about the lack of diversity in publishing and especially on the platform. Still, the racial disparity persists. Some of the most watched non-Black BookTubers like Jesse The Reader, Katytastic and Ariel Bissett (all of whom were invited to interview Michelle Obama) boast an average of over 100,000 subscribers each. The most popular African American-identifying BookTuber, Naya Reads And Smiles, has just over 56,000 subscribers, not even a fourth of the most popular BookTuber, Christine Riccio of PolandbananasBOOKS, who has over 400,000 subscribers.

So how can a Black BookTuber and book lover find success when the publishing industry, the Youtube platform and societal inequities seem to be working against them and keeping them in the margins?

HuffPost reached out to four Black BookTubers to find out how and why they keep making videos about their love of books and reading despite their ongoing lack of exposure. Below, they share in their own words what it’s like to be a Black reader and reviewer, and what they’d like to see change not only on YouTube, but in the literary world and society as a whole.

On Youtube since 2014, 6.7K subscribers

I would say BookTube has a diversity problem. When I started my channel, I did feel like people were very welcoming and friendly but I noticed immediately I could not find any other Black person. I felt like I was the only Black person on BookTube. It still feels like there’s just not as many Black BookTubers or their channels are just harder to find.

I watched one BookTuber’s video discussing the lack of diversity. When I was reading the comments, a lot of people were saying that they don’t want to subscribe to someone just because they’re “diverse.” The way they were phrasing it, it was making it seem like the diverse BookTubers aren’t getting enough love and sponsorships and opportunities because they just aren’t as good. What makes someone’s channel better than the other when we’re all doing the same thing? A lot of Black BookTubers don’t have as many subscribers [as white ones] but if they had more opportunities, maybe they would get more subscribers.

Reading is the Blackest thing I can do. My ancestors fought for the right for me to know how to read. To go into a library and pick up a book, to write my own book for other Black women to read. This is something I was meant to do. If my channel isn’t growing because of my diversity, I don’t think that’s right. I feel like people don’t want to face the hard truth about things. For there to be real change, everything has to be put on the table. We have a lot of work to do.

On Youtube since 2006, 8.8K subscribers

The way I see it, if you have a platform whether it’s Twitter, Facebook, Youtube, whatever it is, you have a social responsibility to speak against injustice. My real life and online life kind of collided when Black people started dying. The shooting of Philando Castile … it almost kind of woke me up to a level where I felt like I have to speak on this.

I was so angry and so sad watching people who look like me and sound like me being gunned down for no reason, and it just got to the point where I was so tired of people not being angry with me. So I made a video pretty much being angry at BookTube. I challenged other BookTubers to be more vocal. I challenged people to recognize that what’s going on in our world online and offline.

If somebody off the street was to just ask me, “Hey, do you think your subscriber count is low because you’re Black?” My automatic answer would be, “Yeah.” It is a struggle for Black BookTubers and Black content creators to attain the kind of viewership and subscribership that anybody else is attaining in the community. It’s still an issue, it’s always been an issue.

“I don’t care about the BookTube formula. My goal is to be a representation for somebody else.”

– Christina Marie

The typical BookTuber has always been a white young woman or girl talking about the latest young adult book she read or a book haul or a TBR (To Be Read) pile. I don’t care about the BookTube formula, I don’t care about having tons and tons of books behind me [in videos], I don’t care about my camera quality, I don’t care if I’ve read the latest book. My goal is to be a representation for somebody else. Knowing that if my face or my video scrolls across somebody’s page, and a young Black girl who loves books just happens to click on it, my job is done! I’m doing this because I love books, I love reading, I love representation. I want people to be able to connect and see themselves because I didn’t have the opportunity to when I was their age.

People always think, “I’m just one person, I can’t do much.” Well if everybody thinks like that then nothing gets done. You have an opportunity to utilize your channel, utilize your love of books to bring that same love to other people that may not know how great reading is, or they know how great reading is but can’t access the books or don’t know where to go or how to start or they can’t find characters that look like them.

I love that we are even able to have these kinds of conversations and able to just lift each other up and encourage each other, especially right now. Whether it’s on BookTube or just in life in general, we just need to remember that it takes a village. The power is in our hands.

On Youtube since 2014, 4.2K subscribers.

When I first started thinking about seriously starting my channel, I was trying to find Black BookTubers. I was looking for anybody who looked like me. My family reads, my friends read and the majority of them are Black so I wasn’t understanding why I wasn’t finding that connection and representation online. I thought maybe somebody else is missing that representation, too.

Some people will subscribe to my channel and leave a comment like “Wow! There’s so little diversity on BookTube. It’s so nice to see a person of color!” So I feel like people notice [the lack of diversity]. It’s hard not to. When I go to a festival or a convention or something, there’s me and maybe two other Black people at the place. When you look at TV or just the media in general, you don’t really get to see a lot of images of [Black] people reading or talking about books or anything like that. Outside of my home, there was really nothing that I saw that showed we’re readers.

“If you’re a diverse creator, you have to do Beyoncé-level work to get the same subscribers or viewership.”

– KaShawn Archer

There are more diverse BookTubers than there were in the past, but there’s still that same issue of visibility. You have to work hard if you’re searching for diverse BookTubers. I feel in the Youtube community, in general, it’s hard for anybody of color to grow at the same speed or capacity as our white counterparts. If you’re a diverse creator, you have to do Beyoncé-level work to get the same subscribers or viewership [as white people].

I feel like we’re in the very, very beginning stages of BookTube diversifying. Certain people get uncomfortable if you start talking about diversity or diverse books too much. But we’ve been having these conversations our whole lives. It’s normal and natural for us. If I mention anything [about race] on my channel, that video will automatically have more dislikes than any other video. If something makes you that uncomfortable, you really need to take a look in the mirror. If you don’t feel like you’re part of the problem then why are you so uncomfortable?

There’s just something different about watching Black BookTubers. It’s something about seeing yourself. It brings a better understanding to people, especially people who are so confused about the Black community. I feel like that is a platform that I can use for so much good. I want to be a part of the conversation.

On Youtube since 2014, 56K subscribers.

When I was younger, I kind of lived in the library. I would try to join in book clubs and it’d be a bunch of older white women and I’d be the little teenager over here with my afro. They’d be reading older, classic books like Jane Austen, a lot of these books where there weren’t any Black characters. So I found it really hard when I was younger to connect with the characters in books.

I always felt like the most successful characters in books, the character that ends up finding the thing that they need to find or saving the world, they were always white! There was never a woman of color with an afro going out and saving everyone. They were always the best friend that you meet for a few seconds in a chapter and then they just disappear.

“Black BookTubers, Black authors, stories with a woman of color as the main character, they’re out there. They exist.”

– Nai’a Perkins

Angie Thomas has recently become one of my favorite authors because before, all the authors I knew were primarily white. And I don’t mean that is a bad thing in any way, but it’s nice to see women from our community that are successful. It makes me think “If she can do this, I can do this, too.”

And the same thing with BookTube and bloggers. When I joined BookTube, I knew who all the top bloggers were: all white, middle-class teens. I’m happy that I can help diversify BookTube in a way and review books from the perspective of a woman of color.

Black BookTubers, Black authors, stories with a woman of color as the main character, they’re out there. They exist. I like to call them Hidden Gems for the way that we’re not as a community promoting these books enough, promoting Black BookTubers enough, promoting these other authors enough or speaking about these books and these creators as much as we should.

I think that right now BookTube is in a really good position. It’s grown even more than I expected. There weren’t really many other BookTubers [of color] and even if there were, their channels were really small even though they’ve been on BookTube for three plus years. I didn’t expect much going into it. [My channel is] just continuing to grow and it surprises me every day, and I’m just extremely blessed and thankful that I can be a voice in this community and share my perspective on things.

I hope we continue to get diversity. I hope the next time I type “BookTube” on the internet, I hope there’s an equal amount of every ethnicity and not just primarily one ethnicity. I hope I can go to an author event and see more than just one author of color. I don’t want there to be a gap anymore. I want more of everything.

These quotes have been edited and condensed for clarity.

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Wanted: Lawyers For Rural America

After an early career modeling in Los Angeles and New York City, Furonda Brasfield returned home to pursue her passion: practicing law in rural Arkansas.

Brasfield had graduated from high school in 1999 in Stuttgart, a town of 7.2 square miles known for its fertile soil, good for growing rice, and the migratory ducks that draw serious hunters. She left the state to become a contestant on “America’s Next Top Model,” returned to attend the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville, and left again to pursue her modeling career. But her legal ambitions, rooted in memories of growing up during the war on drugs, pulled her back.

“Every summer there would be a wave of mostly African American men who were taken from the community,” Brasfield, 38, recalled in a recent interview. “And then there would be a new group trying to reintegrate [from prison] into the community, most of the time unsuccessfully.”

With the support of a program encouraging more lawyers to practice in Arkansas’ underserved areas, Brasfield finished law school in 2015 and went on to do her part to fill a national shortage of attorneys in rural America.

National data on the legal profession can mask the problem: Overall, the population of lawyers increased by 14.5% since 2009, according to a 10-year survey from the American Bar Association. Only Alaska and Massachusetts saw modest declines.

But there is no national repository on the number of lawyers in each county, according to ABA communications manager Marc Davis. The association did not make anyone available to discuss the shortage of attorneys in rural America. According to a 2014 study in the South Dakota Law Review, about 2% of small law practices are in small towns and rural areas. (Around a fifth of the U.S. population lives in rural areas, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.)

State-level data from Arkansas, California, Georgia, Maine, Minnesota, Wisconsin and several Plains states underscores that lawyers cluster in urban areas. Their disproportionate coverage creates “legal deserts” or patches of the state with few, if any, lawyers in private practice. Meanwhile, many of the existing rural lawyers are approaching retirement age, with too few law school graduates moving in to replace them.

Legal deserts disproportionately affect rural and especially poor people, who may have to travel hundreds of miles, or experience lengthy and expensive delays for routine legal work. Lawyers often handle complicated cases, but also standard fare such as divorces, contract disputes and eviction threats. With limited access to legal representation, vulnerable populations may be exploited by those in positions of power.

“You see the gap in services and the lack of legal knowledge,” Brasfield said. “People who are entrenched in the legal system — it’s astonishing how little they know about this system that they are engaged in all the time.”

Law schools and some states seek to encourage more graduates to fill the rural attorney gap. But the reasons behind legal deserts are much like the other problems plaguing rural America: population shifts, often due to the loss of industries; a tight job market with urban centers promising higher salaries; and a desire to avoid the isolation that can come with being the new person in a small town. Even rural lawyers acknowledge the job is a tough sell.

“Nobody wants to do it,” Brasfield said.

‘Modest success’

In 2012, the American Bar Association called on federal, state and local governments to curb the decline of rural lawyers, and South Dakota responded. The following year, it became the first state to enact legislation to recruit lawyers to rural areas.

The five-year pilot program, which became effective in 2017, pays lawyers about $13,000 a year on top of their salary to practice in eligible counties, whose populations are 10,000 or less. The state pays for half, the local government funds 35%, and the South Dakota Bar Foundation covers the rest. So far, no other state has enacted similar legislation.

The program currently contracts with 24 lawyers, including an early recruit who’s completing his five-year commitment this year, according to a recent report from the South Dakota State Bar Association.

Many legal advocates would like to model their state programs after South Dakota’s. But leaders in Arkansas say their program needs more time to collect data, or indicators for success, such as the type of attorney who’s most likely to locate to a rural area, to make their case.

Bradley Myers, interim dean of the University of North Dakota School of Law — where a rural justice program was started in 2012 and received dedicated funding starting in 2015 — tried to attract state support with no success this past legislative session. Instead, the program is working on identifying private funding or a publicly funded system of loan forgiveness, Myers said.

But states are taking varied approaches to filling their attorney gaps, whether it’s recruiting incoming college freshmen, supporting law school students or helping lawyers set up rural practices.

Of North Dakota’s 53 counties, seven have just two lawyers, six have one lawyer, and three have zero, Myers said. In response to the ABA’s call, and a desire to tackle the state’s needs, the law school began funding summer clerkships in 2014 so students can experience living in rural communities firsthand.

“I’m going to sound really old, but kids these days really are more attracted to larger practice areas, so it’s much harder to get them to take opportunities in smaller communities, particularly if they’re not yet married or not in a stable relationship,” Myers said. “It’s hard to move to a town of a thousand people.”

In Nebraska, 12 of its 93 counties have no attorneys, and most counties have fewer than 20, according to a 2017 count by the Attorney Services Division of the Nebraska Supreme Court.

So in 2016, three state schools — Chadron State College, the University of Nebraska at Kearney and Wayne State College — began recruiting rural incoming college freshmen to pursue legal careers outside Nebraska’s urban areas. The students receive free undergraduate tuition and guaranteed admission to the University of Nebraska College of Law in Lincoln, so long as they maintain a minimum 3.5 GPA and meet admissions standards.

“Statistics showed us that we have a much better opportunity of getting law students who are from the rural areas to go back and practice in the rural areas as opposed to taking a student who grew up in the more populated areas of the state,” said Thomas Maul, a former president of the Nebraska State Bar Association who helped start the program.

While Nebraska considered South Dakota’s funding model, Maul said organizers weren’t convinced the state would provide enough support to entice students to participate.

Arkansas is taking a different approach. Brasfield is among the first cohort of lawyers to participate in the Rural Practice Incubator Project, an 18-month program at the William H. Bowen School of Law at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.

The pilot program, funded by the attorney general’s office and donations, provides continuing education programs, introduces participants to rural attorneys and judges and offers training and resources on how to run an office. Most participants have set up solo legal practices. Brasfield and others launched theirs in the rural counties where they grew up.

But each program, regardless of structure, shares common challenges. Small-town lawyers must be generalists, while the legal profession is becoming more specialized. Rural areas often have poor broadband access, creating technical challenges to accessing legal information.

A March 2015 survey of Arkansas students and lawyers commissioned by the Arkansas Access to Justice Commission found distance from the nearest city with its various entertainment options and a perception of limited career growth opportunities among respondents’ primary deterrents to working in rural areas. Other discouraging factors included the perception of a “good ole boy” system and lack of acceptance as an ethnic minority or member of the LGBTQ community.

In North Dakota, a field placement may be 10 hours away from campus, making it impossible for students to attend classes during the semester, Myers said. However, beginning this fall, students in faraway internships can take additional classes online.

The North Dakota program has had “modest success” with rural placements, Myers said. At least eight of the couple dozen scholarship recipients since 2015 who have graduated, including those who received support for rural placements, are working in rural parts of the state, Myers said.

“In an era where we have so many law graduates who cannot find jobs, it’s always disheartening when we have a rural law firm who wants to come and interview and hire somebody, and very few people will sign up to the interview,” Myers said.

Once lawyers set up shop, some say it’s difficult to make a living. Jarred Kibbey, who commutes twice a week from Little Rock to his hometown of Glenwood, Arkansas, said he cuts his rates, sometimes in half, and doesn’t bill for certain services. Rural clients often still consider the rates astronomical, he said. The Glenwood office, which is part of a larger practice, breaks even, but Kibbey doesn’t expect it to grow.

“We would love to say it’s going to do great, we’re going to all move down there. But I just don’t see that happening,” Kibbey said. He added, “A town of 1,200 people cannot service a full-time attorney.”

Among the Arkansas incubator cohort, several have fulfilled local needs and padded their incomes by taking part-time contracts as a prosecutor, court-appointed guardian or public defender, said Amy Pritchard, the project director.

“They’re still meeting that justice divide,” Pritchard said, “but they’re doing it with a consistent, state-provided paycheck and then some with their private practice.”

On top of that, the lawyers say they’ve had to adjust to different norms and slower lifestyles. People in rural communities tend to be chattier. Sometimes, there’s an expectation the lawyers will offer free legal advice. Some clients are comfortable showing up unannounced and without an appointment. Being from Glenwood helped kickstart Kibbey’s practice because rural people are generally distrusting of outsiders, he said, but the work is still tough.

“If you were just somebody from out of state thinking you were going to go to a small town and hit it big, that’s probably not going to happen,” Kibbey said.

His advice: Get involved in the community.

“You’re not there to skim all the money, you’re there to offer a service that’s needed,” Kibbey said. “A lot of people don’t know they need an attorney.”

Shrinking attorney pool

The number of attorneys in private practice in Arkansas’ 25 least-populous counties declined roughly 18% between 2010 and 2014, according to a case study in the University of Arkansas Little Rock Law Review. The attorneys also tend to be closer to retirement age.

“The trend of rural communities losing lawyers is clearly continuing,” said Amy Dunn Johnson, executive director of the Arkansas Access to Justice Commission.

Limited-scope legal services , which Arkansas began offering in 2017, help make attorney services more affordable. Attorneys may unbundle their services, whether it’s just drafting a plea or motion, or representing a client in court.

“Rather than say, ‘I’m going to provide representation from start to finish,’ and that being cost-prohibitive for the individual, finding a piece they can provide at the rate the individual can pay for,” Pritchard said.

Arkansas should adopt creative solutions to meet its justice gaps, Johnson said. Just as the medical profession has deployed physician’s assistants and advanced-practice nurses to address certain ordinary medical issues, the legal profession should similarly empower paralegals, librarians and court staff to demystify a complex system, Johnson said.

“Front-line court staff and librarians are information experts,” Johnson said. “They know what the process is at the court, they know what the steps are to follow, and providing that information in a neutral way is not giving legal advice.”

A draft administrative policy, which the Arkansas Access to Justice Commission submitted to a committee of the Arkansas Supreme Court, guides librarians and others to provide legal information and stop short of giving legal advice.

Other states have gone further. Washington recently became the first state to expand the scope of its “limited license legal technicians,” who can advise people going through divorce, child custody and other family law issues, including completing and filing court documents, assisting in certain types of hearings and participating in mediation, arbitration and settlement conferences.

Since 2014, the Court Navigator Program in New York has deployed and supervised non-lawyers to provide general information, written materials and individual assistance to eligible unrepresented plaintiffs in the city’s civil courts. In a 2016 report, the American Bar Foundation and the National Center for State Courts recommend replicating the program across the city and state, and in other states too.

“Our system is designed with the expectation that every case that comes through necessarily needs to be adversarial in nature, and there will be a lawyer on both sides,” Johnson said. “And that’s just not the prevailing reality, nor is it ever going to be again.”

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Nearly 160,000 Former For-Profit College Students Sue Education Secretary Betsy DeVos

More than 158,000 former students at predatory for-profit colleges sued Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos and her department on Tuesday, demanding that the Department of Education continue reviewing applications for federal loan relief. 

The former students had applied for “borrower defense,” which would allow them to have their federal loans canceled if their college misled them or violated state laws. But their applications have been left untouched. Since June 2018, the Department of Education has neither granted nor denied the “borrower defense” application of any plaintiff, according to the complaint ― leaving the former students waiting and in debt. (The department did not respond to a request for comment on the lawsuit.) 

The plaintiffs now hope the lawsuit will give them a second chance. They are represented by the Project on Predatory Student Lending at Harvard’s Legal Services and Housing & Economic Rights Advocates (HERA). For-profit colleges implicated in the suit include the ITT Technical Institute, Corinthian Colleges, DeVry University and Brooks Institute of Photography.

Alicia Davis, a former student at Florida Metropolitan University, now called Everest University, said she and the other plaintiffs “have been pretty much scammed and defrauded and ruined when trying to go and do something with ourselves and better ourselves.”

“Literally 160,000-plus people cannot move on with their life because of this non-decision by Besty DeVos,” she added later.

Davis worked as a bartender for a few years after high school until her early 20s, when she decided on the career she wanted to pursue: crime scene investigation. She saw an ad on television for Florida Metropolitan University, which boasted of its online degree in criminal justice. So she emailed them and heard back from a “counselor” there, who sold her on the school.

The woman highlighted that the program was online and claimed that a bachelor’s degree was necessary for crime scene investigation careers — both were selling points for Davis. The woman said her credits could be transferred if she decided to pursue an education elsewhere.

The counselor never told Davis how much the program would actually cost. Instead, according to Davis, the counselor said she would qualify for scholarships and that anything that wasn’t covered with financial aid would be covered with grants and scholarships within the college. 

Davis was convinced, and she enrolled at FMU in 2006 to pursue a degree in criminal justice. She didn’t know that the school was taking out loans on her behalf ― loans that she didn’t learn about until 10 years later.

After Davis tried to transfer to a community college and apply for financial aid, she had to switch schools because FMU “ghosted” her in 2008 ― no longer contacting her about the program or replying to messages. At that time, FMU was bought by Corinthian, and Davis could no longer log into its online campus. Everest is now run by Zenith Education Group — Corinthian was shut down in 2015. Zenith Education Group did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the allegations. 

“Not a single credit transferred” to the community college. She wound up taking out even more student loans. After earning a master’s at the University of Central Florida, Davis was about $100,000 in debt.  

Davis says FMU never sent her notices or information about the loans, which she said ruined her financially and could hurt her when applying for jobs if the company runs a credit check.

“It’s dropped my credit score, I can’t get a car loan, I can’t refinance credit cards—which I need to do to lower my payment — I can’t get a good interest rate,” she said. “I’ll never be able to buy a house.”

But it’s not only Davis who is experiencing the effects of predatory for-profit education. “It’s an entire country full of people. And it’s terrifying. It’s terrible, honestly,” she said.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is being sued by more than 158,000 former for-profit college students.

The Obama administration attempted to help former students like Davis in 2016, when it announced regulations against misleading and predatory practices by colleges by clarifying the “borrower defense” regulation that had been implemented in 1995. The changes were meant to take effect July 1, 2017.

But in June 2017, now under the Trump administration, DeVos announced that her department would postpone the date of implementation because of pending litigation against the Borrower Defense to Repayment regulation.

DeVos said later that year that “under the previous [borrower defense rules], all one had to do was raise his or her hands to be entitled to so-called free money.” 

Nineteen states and the District of Columbia sued, and in September 2018, a federal judge ruled that Devos could not delay the plan for debt relief. But the Department of Education has not processed any claims for federal debt relief since June 2018, according to the Project on Predatory Student Lending. 

“We’re suing Betsy DeVos and the Department of Education to hold them accountable and protect students across the country,” Toby Merrill, the director of Project on Predatory Student Lending, said in a statement. The group is asking former for-profit college students who have filed applications to submit testimonies for the lawsuit.

Many of the plaintiffs say they were misled by the for-profit universities they attended. The complaint cites a study by the progressive think tank Century Foundation that showed that in multiple for-profit schools in the U.S., from August 2016 to January 2017, less than 30% of tuition money was spent on instruction ― at Capella University in Minneapolis, that figure was only 10%.

“Given the predatory nature of this industry, and the Department’s failure to regulate it, it is no surprise that students of for-profit colleges accounted for approximately 98% of all loan cancellation applications sent to the government between 2016 and 2018,” reads the complaint.

The attorneys for the former students are arguing the agency is violating the Administrative Procedure Act, which requires federal agencies “to render responsive decisions on matters within its purview in a prompt and definite fashion.” In other words, federal agencies shouldn’t stall. 

Federal agencies “have a duty to decide” so that former students can make decisions about how to move forward with their lives, according to Natalie Lyons, senior attorney for Housing & Economic Rights Advocates.

“We’re not saying that they have to grant every application, but they have to make a decision on the merits,” she said.

DeVos “by all appearances doesn’t like this particular set of regulations, particular set of rights,” Lyons said. “But simply because she doesn’t like them doesn’t mean that she can not act on them.”

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Private Catholic School That Fired Gay Teacher Received Over $1 Million In Public Money

An Indiana Catholic school that is under fire for terminating a gay teacher received over $1 million in public funding in 2018, according to a report reviewed by HuffPost. The school said it fired the teacher so that it would not be forced to cut ties with the Archdiocese of Indianapolis.

Cathedral High School announced its decision to fire the employee in a letter it posted on its website Sunday. Though the institution is private and religious, student scholarships to the school are heavily subsidized with public money through the state’s school voucher program. Over 230 students received $1,136,258 in taxpayer dollars to attend the school during the 2018 – 2019 school year, according to a report from the Indiana Department of Education. In total, over the past three years, the school has received $3,457,075 through the voucher program. 

Indiana’s voucher program, called the Choice Scholarship Program, provides low and middle-income students with publicly funded scholarships to attend private schools. But the program does not require that participating schools prohibit discrimination based on gender identity or sexuality when it comes to students or employees. Public schools, on the other hand, are beholden to more rigorous anti-discrimination rules, of which religious institutions are exempt ― even those receiving public funding. 

Indeed, Indiana’s voucher program is hardly unique in allowing such discrimination. A previous HuffPost investigation from 2017 found that at least 14 percent of religious schools in voucher programs across the country maintain policies that explicitly discriminate against LGBTQ staff and students. Another previous analysis found that not a single voucher program prohibited discrimination based on gender identity or sexuality. 

Across Indiana, over 36,000 students participate in the state’s voucher program. It cost $161,445,099 in 2018, per the state department of education report. 

In a letter, leaders from Cathedral High School explained their decision to terminate the educator because the teacher was in a public, same-sex marriage. According to the school, the Archdiocese of Indianapolis would have cut ties with it had the teacher not been fired. If this happened, the school could no longer refer to itself as Catholic, and it would lose its nonprofit status. 

The decision was made after “22 months of earnest discussion and extensive dialogue with the Archdiocese of Indianapolis about Cathedral’s continued Catholic identity,” according to the school.

The school’s president did not immediately respond to HuffPost’s request for further comment. 

Just last week the Archdiocese of Indianapolis cut ties with another school over the same issue, per The Indianapolis Star. That school, Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School, had decided to continue to employ a gay teacher against the Archdiocese’s objections. However, Brebeuf is less closely tied to the Archdiocese and will not lose its nonprofit status as a result of the move.

Brebeuf also receives public funding through the state’s school voucher program. In the 2018-2019 school year, it received $375,583. 

The Archdiocese of Indianapolis told the Indianapolis Star that it does not oppose homosexuality, but same-sex marriage. 

“To effectively bear witness to Christ, whether they teach religion or not, all ministers in their professional and private lives must convey and be supportive of Catholic Church teaching,” the Archdiocese told the newspaper, referring to Brebeuf. 

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has championed school voucher programs. While these programs are currently operated at the state level, she has worked to put federal funding behind private school choice efforts. In 2018, DeVos said that federal funds should not flow to schools that discriminate against LGBTQ students, reversing an earlier position on the issue. 

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Young Americans Are Becoming Less Comfortable With LGBTQ People, GLAAD Finds

A new survey shows that overall acceptance of LGBTQ people among young adults has dipped for the second year in a row. 

Released Monday, GLAAD’s 2019 Accelerating Acceptance Report asked 1,970 Americans over the age of 18 a series of questions with regard to their reactions to several different situations involving LGBTQ people. Participants were asked how they felt about seeing a same-sex couple hold hands, learning that a family member or a doctor identifies as LGBTQ and learning that their child has been placed in a class taught by an LGBTQ teacher, among other situations. 

The survey ― conducted in January 2019 by The Harris Poll, a New York-based research firm ― found that non-LGBTQ adults who said they felt “very” or “somewhat” comfortable in all of those scenarios was 49%, reflecting no change from 2018. For the 18 to 34 demographic, however, that percentage fell from 53% to 45%.  

As GLAAD representatives pointed out, 2019 marks the second year in a row that LGBTQ acceptance among Americans aged 18 to 34 has dropped. In 2017, that figure was at 63%. The most striking drop in acceptance appeared among young women, whose comfort level dropped from 64% last year to 52% in the newly published report.  

In a statement issued Monday, GLAAD President and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis linked the two-year decline to “divisive rhetoric both in politics and in culture.” 

“Last year, when we saw an erosion in LGBTQ acceptance, GLAAD doubled down on our formula for making positive culture change,” she said. 

Though Ellis didn’t cite specifics, GLAAD has reportedly documented more than 40 incidents of anti-LGBTQ hate violence since the start of 2019. Policy setbacks, such as President Donald Trump’s ban on transgender people in the military, as well as religious liberty laws that essentially allow businesses to discriminate against LGBTQ customers, were also likely to have an impact, she said. 

“As we commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots, LGBTQ people and allies must urgently address today’s cultural crisis by being visible and vigilant,” she said. 

Harris Poll CEO John Gerzema felt similarly, noting that the results were at odds with younger Americans’ clear support of other progressive issues like climate change and gender equality. 

“We count on the narrative that young people are more progressive and tolerant,” Gerzema told USA Today. “These numbers are very alarming and signal a looming social crisis in discrimination.” 

In an email statement, he added, “In this toxic age, tolerance––even among youth––now seems to be parsed out. Nothing today should be taken for granted.” 

Read the full results of GLAAD’s 2019 Accelerating Acceptance report here

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Bernie Sanders Unveils Sweeping Bill To Cancel All Student Debt

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who is running for the Democratic presidential nomination, is unveiling one of his signature policy proposals Monday, a plan to make public college free ― with a new element of eliminating all the student debt in the country. 

The legislation is the most sweeping college affordability plan to date. It eliminates tuition and fees at public four-year colleges and universities, as well as community colleges.

It also would wipe out all the existing student debt ― $1.6 trillion, covering 45 million Americans. 

Sanders’ plan, which was shared in advance with HuffPost, goes further than what Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) ― who, along with Sanders, occupies the progressive lane in the 2020 race — has proposed. While the two will be on different nights for this week’s first Democratic presidential debates, it introduces a key difference in approach on a prominent policy issue. 

The Sanders bill eliminates all student debt, whereas Warren’s plan ― while still substantial ― covers $1.25 trillion for 42 million people. The difference is that Warren’s plan has caps.

Warren’s proposal forgives $50,000 in student loan debt for every person with a household income of $100,000. People between $100,000 and $250,000 in household income would have a portion of their debt forgiven, and people above that amount would get no cancellation. 

Once she released her plan in April, Warren made forgiving college debt a major issue in the presidential campaign. It’s been one of her most high-profile policy proposals.

In the House, Sanders is joined by Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), whose Student Debt Cancellation Act would cancel all existing federal and private student loans, and Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), whose College for All Act would cover the free college aspect.

The three will be holding a news conference Monday morning outside the Capitol, with Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers union, and several people who would have their student debt forgiven under the plans. 

Sanders’ bill would also cap student interest rates at no higher than what the federal government pays for its debt ― so that the government isn’t profiting off student loan programs ― and provide at least $1.3 billion per year to eliminate or reduce tuition and fees for low-income students at two- and four-year, private nonprofit historically black colleges and universities.

In a statement, Sanders called his proposal “truly revolutionary.” 

″[I]n a generation hard hit by the Wall Street crash of 2008, it forgives all student debt and ends the absurdity of sentencing an entire generation to a lifetime of debt for the ‘crime’ of getting a college education,” he said.  

Sanders’ proposal to forgive all student debt, versus Warren’s proposal to cap the amount and base levels on income, highlights a key debate among supporters of debt forgiveness. 

Supporters of the Sanders approach argue that even people who currently may make a lot of money could also use financial assistance. They weren’t wealthy growing up, which is why they had to take out student loans to begin with. (Children of billionaires aren’t taking out loans for college.) They may have gone to school and done well ― becoming a doctor or lawyer, for example ― but that type of education is lengthy and expensive and can still take many years to pay off. 

Critics of this approach say that taxpayers shouldn’t be paying off the student loans of the wealthy. In 2015, the public policy group Demos put out a report finding that debt forgiveness would increase the median net worth of both black and white families.

But Demos also concluded that blanket, all-encompassing debt forgiveness would exacerbate the gap between black and white wealth, since white individuals tend to seek advanced degrees in greater numbers ― and therefore may benefit more from a loan reduction policy that does not take income into account. The group argued that “targeted relief and scholarship programs may be preferable.”

Of course, this sort of legislation is also expensive. Sanders, Omar and Jayapal say they expect to give a significant boost to the economy. A February report from the Levy Economics Institute of Bard College found that wiping out $1.4 trillion in student debt would lower the unemployment rate, create new jobs and boost the gross domestic product by as much as $108 billion per year for the 10 years following the debt cancellation.

Sanders, along with Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), has already put forward legislation to pay for the plan, by imposing a small tax on the trades of stocks, bonds and derivatives, which would generate, they estimate, up to $2.4 trillion over 10 years. 

“In 2008, the American people bailed out Wall Street,” Sanders said. “Now, it is Wall Street’s turn to help the middle class and working class of this country.”

Warren would cover her plan through her ultra-millionaire tax ― a 2% annual tax on the 75,000 families with $50 million or more in wealth.

Warren is expected to release her college debt plan legislation in the coming weeks, with a companion bill in the House introduced by Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.), the highest-ranking African-American member in Congress.

Julian Castro, a Cabinet official under President Barack Obama, has also put forward a proposal that offers partial loan forgiveness based on income. 

But sweeping debt cancellation has not been embraced by many of the other candidates. Joe Biden, who is currently leading in the polls, expressed support for free college when he was vice president. But in a January interview, he scoffed at and mocked millennials ― many of whom are struggling to buy a house and achieve financial stability because of the student debt they face. 

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Man Who Took On Westboro Church Just Gave Trans Hero Gavin Grimm A College Scholarship

Aaron Jackson’s first foray into LGBTQ activism was a bold one: In 2013, he purchased a house across the street from the notoriously anti-queer Westboro Baptist Church, painted it the colors of the gay pride flag and aptly named the new symbol of love situated directly in the face of hate the Equality House

It was another way for Jackson, who runs the multipronged environmental and humanitarian charity Planting Peace, to give back ― and it was just the first of many campaigns he launched to benefit members of the LGBTQ community.

Aaron Jackson, founder of Planting Peace, outside the Equality House. 

Jackson, who identifies as an ally of the LGBTQ community, has also sent a pride flag into outer space and planted another pride flag in Antarctica ― both acts aimed at raising visibility ― and after the Pulse nightclub massacre in 2016, Jackson gave a college scholarship to a young woman who was a victim of the horrific mass shooting.

“I got an update about her progress, and it reminded me of the importance of giving someone a chance to make something of themselves,” he told HuffPost Wednesday. “If we can, we should all help lift each other up.”

Gavin Grimm (above) received a gift to pay for his education from LGBTQ activist and ally Aaron Jackson.

Gavin Grimm (above) received a gift to pay for his education from LGBTQ activist and ally Aaron Jackson.

It’s that attitude that recently led Jackson to offer yet another scholarship to a deserving young queer person ― this time to transgender teen and activist Gavin Grimm. Grimm first made headlines in 2018 when he filed a lawsuit against his school to use the bathroom aligned with his gender. In May, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia denied a motion to dismiss the case, and a hearing is now scheduled for July 23.

In a Facebook post, Grimm expressed his gratitude to Jackson for the scholarship.

“I received word of this just this evening and my heart still hasn’t stopped racing,” he wrote. “I can’t express how grateful I feel to have my work and my life supported in such a significant way. The enormous gift of not staring down crippling educational debt as I enter the workforce as a teacher is something I can never hope to pay forward enough.”

Grimm also explained to HuffPost just how transformative the experience of college will be now that worrying about the financial aspect is a non-issue. “Removing the anxiety from the equation completely changes the way that I will experience college and give me more opportunities to learn and grow while I’m there,” he said.

Jackson talked with HuffPost about how he chose Grimm to receive the scholarship, why he’s dedicated so much of his time to fighting for LGBTQ rights and what he believes makes a good ally.

How did you pick Gavin Grimm to receive such an incredible gift?

I made a Facebook post asking if anyone knew of any queer or trans kids that wanted to go to school but could not due to financial reasons. I received many requests, but Gavin stood out right away. I know his story well. To me he is like the Rosa Parks of the trans bathroom debate. I was really surprised to learn that after all he has been through, no one was helping him. 

You already know how he reacted to the scholarship, but what do you want others to take away from this experience? 

I hope that this inspires others to act and make a difference where they can. Not everyone has the resources to give financially to others, but there are a million different ways you can make a positive impact. I also hope people like Gavin, who stand up for what is right no matter the cost, see that others will take note and rally around them. 

Why, as a straight man, have you devoted so much of your life to queer rights?

When I started to learn that LGBT kids kill themselves due to this narrative that they are somehow less than, it really became important to me to use my platform to try to simply do my part in helping the LGBT community not only come into full rights but to help change the hearts and minds of people. Becoming an LGBT activist is one of the best decisions I have ever made.  

What, in your opinion, makes a good ally?

I feel a good advocate, whether it be fighting hunger in Haiti or LGBT rights here in America, is listening to the community’s problems and doing what they can to help. It’s not about what I want or what you want. It’s about what people need. Seeing them. Hearing them. And then taking action. Being loud with your support.

What compels you to do charity work? How do you pick your causes? 

Since I started Planting Peace 15 years ago, I get asked why I do so much for charity. And truth be told, I didn’t have an answer then and don’t have an answer now. It’s just my passion. I keep busy.

How has advocacy affected or changed your life?

I love meeting people. My work has led me to meet the poorest people on earth to some of the most powerful people. It’s opened a lot of doors and incredible experiences that have made me a better person. It’s truly a blessing.   

Head to Planting Peace to learn more about Jackson’s work, and follow Grimm on Twitter to keep up with his activism, his schooling and beyond. 

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