Parents Of School Shooting Victims Decry ‘Moronic’ GOP Platitudes

Two parents who lost children to campus gun violence had strong words of criticism on Sunday for the GOP’s continued dismissal of responding with tougher firearm control measures and more emphasis on preventing shootings.  

Fred Guttenberg, whose daughter Jaime was killed in the Marjory Stoneman Douglas school shooting in Parkland, Florida, in February, joined Nicole Hockley, whose son Dylan was killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in 2012, to speak with host George Stephanopoulos on ABC’s “This Week.”

Both parents voiced their disappointment with Republican politicians for ignoring the topic of gun control in the wake of the school shooting in Santa Fe, Texas, on Friday in which 10 people died. 

Guttenberg and Hockley spoke shortly after Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R) appeared on the talk show and blamed the most recent school shooting on American culture, saying that “we have devalued life.” 

“I think those are the most idiotic comments I’ve ever heard regarding gun safety,” Guttenberg said in response to Patrick.

“I’m here this weekend on what was supposed to be my daughter’s dance recital, where they are honoring my daughter’s memory instead of having my daughter dance,” he said. “For that man to be making those moronic comments? Unacceptable.”

“I am raging right now,” Guttenberg, who confronted Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) at a heated CNN town hall after the Parkland shooting, told Stephanopoulos.

Hockley said that focusing on arming teachers and changing the layout of school campuses ― two things Patrick has advocated in response to Friday’s shooting ― avoids the root of the problem. 

″We’re simply focusing on the wrong thing here,” she said. She characterized the measures Patrick has been spotlighting as “mitigation,” not “prevention.” 

“While I disagree with much of what the lieutenant governor said, I do agree that we have a problem where we devalue life. … That this shooting is not receiving a significant amount of action, that’s devaluing life.” 

Both parents agreed that the pervasive issue of campus gun violence isn’t just about guns ― but they argued that firearms, and access to them, has to be a central aspect of the conversation. 

“This is not just about guns. It’s not just about school safety. It’s not just about mental health,” Guttenberg said.

But he added, “The problem is that when these shootings happen, the crowd that does not want to talk about guns wants to talk about everything else but guns.”  

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Oliver North Blames School Shootings On Ritalin

Just two days after a young man opened fire on his classmates and teachers at a high school in Santa Fe, Texas, the National Rifle Association’s incoming president, Oliver North, blamed Ritalin and a “culture of violence.”  

On “Fox News Sunday,” the controversial Iran-Contra figure told host Chris Wallace that the solution for the increasing number of school shootings ― there have been 22 so far in 2018, by one count ― is not gun control.

“We’re trying like the dickens to treat the symptoms without treating the disease,” he said. 

“And the disease in this case isn’t the Second Amendment. The disease is youngsters who are steeped in a culture of violence,” he said. “They’ve been drugged in many cases. Nearly all of these perpetrators are male. … Many of these young boys have been on Ritalin since they were in kindergarten.”

North’s comments on Sunday echoed those made by President Donald Trump after the Sandy Hook shooting in December 2012. Following the shooting, Trump tweeted about violent video games and the “glorification” of violence.

North, a retired Marine whose role in the Iran-Contra affair in the 1980s made him a household name, appeared in ads for the war-centered video game “Call of Duty: Black Ops II” and has also worked as a consultant for the game. 

Other prominent Republicans have blamed violent culture, and not lax gun laws, in the wake of recent shootings, including Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida and Ohio Gov. John Kasich.

North is due to start as NRA president in the coming weeks. 

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Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick Touts Need To Arm Teachers

Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R) on Sunday pushed for arming teachers and reducing the number of entrances into school buildings after the latest mass shooting at a U.S. school afflicted his state.

Patrick, a staunch conservative, appeared on CNN’s “State of the Union” and ABC’s “This Week” to discuss responses after a lone gunman opened fire at Santa Fe High School in Santa Fe, Texas, on Friday, killing eight students and two teachers.

“There was a teacher next door, a (former) Marine, who saw what was going on… Some feel had he been able to carry a gun, he could have stopped that shooter,” he told host Jake Tapper on the CNN program. 

Patrick said that as he visited a hospital on Friday night where some of those wounded in the shooting had been treated, students and parents alike said that teachers should be armed. 

He told “This Week” host Geroge Stephanopoulos that “our teachers are part of that well-run militia” referred to in the Second Amendment that concerns the right to bear firearms.

“It’s guns that also stop crimes,” he added.

Under a school marshal program in Texas that has been cited approvingly by President Donald Trump, teachers can carry guns on campus, with local officials ultimately making the call on whether that is allowed.

Patrick also said that the issue underlying the raft of school shootings plaguing the U.S. isn’t access to guns, but that “it’s about us.”

“We have devalued life, whether it’s through abortion, whether it’s the breakup of families, through violent movies, and particularly violent video games which now outsell movies and music,” he said.

He also reiterated the suggestion he first made Friday immediately after the shooting that school campuses be redesigned to have fewer entrances. 

“We need to get down to one or two entrances to our schools. We have to funnel our students into our schools so we can put eyes on them,” he said. 

Even before Friday’s shooting, several Republican politicians, including Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and Sen. Ted Cruz, have been calling for training teachers to carry firearms. 

Trump repeatedly pushed that idea after the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, in which 17 people were killed.

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These Are The Victims Of The Santa Fe High School Shooting

Students at Santa Fe High School in Texas spent Friday morning in fear as a gunman killed 10 people and injured 10 others at their school.

Law enforcement officials took a male suspect into custody later Friday ― a 17-year old believed to be a student at the school. 

The tragedy marked the 16th school shooting in 2018, according to a count by The Washington Post. It was also the 10th since the February massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, which left 17 dead and sparked a nationwide conversation about gun violence in America.

“Santa Fe High, you didn’t deserve this. You deserve peace all your lives, not just after a tombstone saying that is put over you. You deserve more than Thoughts and Prayers, and after supporting us by walking out we will be there to support you by raising up your voices,” tweeted Emma González, a survivor of the Parkland shooting.

A number of the victims’ identities have not been released, so this story will be updated as we get more information.

Sabika Sheikh

Sabika Sheikh was a YES program exchange student from Pakistan. The program’s manager, Megan Lysaght, confirmed her death via email to all of the YES program participants.

Cynthia Tisdale

Cynthia Tisdale was a substitute teacher at Santa Fe High School. Her brother-in-law, John Tisdale, confirmed her death in a Facebook post on Friday evening, saying she had been teaching an art class when the shooting began.

“Cynthia planned on one day retiring and being a full-time grandmother. It will never happen,” he wrote. She is survived by her husband, Rev. William Recie Tisdale, and four children, he said.

Chris Stone

Chris Stone, 17, was missing for much of Friday while his friends and family frantically called him and checked local hospitals to see if he was among the injured. Multiple outlets confirmed his death on Friday evening.

Photos the teen’s family released showed him smiling as he got ready for the high school prom just a week before he was killed.

Angelique Ramirez  

The family of student Angelique Ramirez confirmed to CBS-affiliate KHOU that she was killed in the shooting.

Araceli Ramirez, who identified Angelique as her “baby sister” in a Facebook post, wrote: “You deserved so much, you had so much planned for yourself and they took that away from you.”

Shana Fisher  

Shana Fisher’s aunt Candi Thurman confirmed on Twitter her niece didn’t survive the shooting. In a tweet earlier Friday, Thurman ― also a student at the school ― said Fisher was in an art class when the gunman opened fire, shooting her in the leg.

“Its hard to believe one of the sweetest kids you would ever meet had a punk kill her,” Tammy Fisher Whalen, who also identifies as Fisher’s aunt on Facebook, wrote in a post. “Shana i love you sweet girl sorry we couldnt help you.”

Kyle McLeod

The family of Kyle McLeod, a student at Santa Fe High School, confirmed to ABC News that the young man was killed during the shooting.

Kim Vaughn

Kim Vaughn’s mother, Rhonda Hart, said in a Facebook post earlier Friday that her daughter was in first-period art class at the time of the shooting. Her family later confirmed to ABC News that she had died.

Later in the day, Hart urged her Facebook friends to contact lawmakers in a post that included a hashtag of her daughter’s name.

“Folks―call your damn senators. Call your congressmen,” Hart wrote. “We need GUN CONTROL. WE NEED TO PROTECT OUR KIDS.”

This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.

Sarah Ruiz-Grossman and Carla Herreria contributed reporting.

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The Controversial Way Some California Schools Are Handling Students’ Misbehavior

The two 9th-grade girls heard the laughing the minute they walked into their third-period class that December morning at Oakland’s Fremont High School. And they knew why: a video of one of the girls being slapped by a classmate had gone viral among students on social media.

It was one of those moments that could have gone bad in a hurry — like so many others had at Fremont High, a school that had more suspensions last year than any other in the Oakland Unified School District.

Both girls (whose names are being withheld to protect their privacy) acknowledged later that their first instinct was to lash out at their snickering classmates. But they didn’t do that. Instead, they left the classroom and walked down the hall to Tatiana Chaterji’s room.

Chaterji is Fremont High’s restorative justice facilitator and among a growing number of educators in Oakland Unified charged with changing the district’s approach to behavioral issues through restorative practices. This work departs from traditional school discipline in that it focuses less on punishment and more on righting wrongs and building healthy relationships within the school.

During the previous period, the two girls had participated in a community building circle, a cornerstone of restorative justice in which students gather in a circle, talk about the difficulties of their daily lives and work on responding to them in a healthier way.

“What would have happened had you stayed (in the classroom)?” Chaterji asked the girls after they had told her their story.

“They would have said some things, then I would have said some things…then things could have gotten ugly,” said the more assertive of the two, who was wearing an ankle monitor from the Alameda County Juvenile Probation Department.

Had things gotten out of hand, punches might have been thrown. That would’ve led to an office referral and perhaps suspensions. Such an outcome would be an unfortunate but not uncommon occurrence at Fremont, which, according to district data, suspended 151 students during the 2016-17 school year.

Fremont High hired Chaterji last summer as part of a larger effort to improve the school’s climate and cut down on suspensions. The school also employs three case managers who work to alleviate conflicts that crop up in classrooms before they become office referrals.

“People’s trust in the process is growing,” Chaterji said. “The leadership has really shifted to prioritize [restorative justice]…we are at an exciting moment, but it’s just the start.”

A new approach to an old problem

Small victories like the one that morning at Fremont High are being won to varying degrees in schools throughout California. Over the past decade, a mountain of research has shown that the so-called zero-tolerance approach to misbehavior, characterized by stringent rules and harsh punishments, largely doesn’t work.

In particular, studies have shown unequivocally that students of color are suspended and expelled at disproportionately higher rates than their white peers, which has forced a reassessment of school discipline in many places throughout the nation.

Teachers and administrators have come to realize that a student’s range of experiences — their home life, their neighborhood and the overall atmosphere of the school — has an outsized impact on their behavior in class. Research shows that by gaining insight into these experiences and building stronger relationships with students, educators can address a number of behaviors without having to resort to suspensions and other punitive methods of discipline.

This awakening, along with intense pressure on districts from the state in recent years to cut down on suspensions, have spawned a number of behavioral support programs under the umbrella of social/emotional learning, including Positive Behavioral Intervention and Supports (PBIS) and Multi-Tiered Systems of Support (MTSS).

Interwoven in these approaches is the idea of restorative justice, which has both captured the imagination of many youth advocates and educators and generated controversy.

In recent years, some of the state’s largest districts have made significant investments in restorative justice:

  • Oakland Unified budgeted roughly $2.5 million for restorative justice in the 2017-18 school year, which pays for 35 facilitators and a districtwide coordinator.
  • The Los Angeles Unified School District budgets more than $10 million annually for restorative justice and has a goal of implementing the practices in each of its more than 900 schools by 2020.
  • Following the lead of Los Angeles Unified, the San Diego Unified School District board last year approved a “School Climate Bill of Rights” that is centered on restorative practices. The board also approved a nearly $800,000 budget for restorative justice in 2017-18, which pays for a districtwide program manager along with several other staff members.
  • The Santa Ana Unified School District received a multi-year, $3 million federal grant to implement restorative practices in schools throughout the district.

Although the terms restorative justice and restorative practices were largely unheard of in the school setting as recently as a decade ago, the work in many respects builds on conflict mediation strategies that schools have used since the 1990s.

Yet many see restorative justice as groundbreaking because at its core is a repudiation of the punitive model that has been the foundation of school discipline in this country since the days of the one-room schoolhouse.

A community building circle in Tatiana Chaterji's classroom at Fremont High School in the Oakland Unified School District

Because their use in the school setting is so new, there is scant research on the long-term effectiveness of restorative practices. But officials in districts that have devoted significant resources to them say they’ve led directly to fewer suspensions and better school climates.

“We have seen a drastic reduction in suspensions and RJ (a commonly used shorthand for the practices) is a big reason for it,” said Deborah Brandy, Los Angeles Unified’s director of district operations, which oversees restorative justice programs.

“We’ve also seen a reduction in truancy rates…and it goes beyond the data. Parents feel more welcome at their school sites; students remarked (in climate surveys) that their teachers seem more caring.”

While awareness of restorative practices is high among school officials statewide, relatively few districts outside major urban centers have well-established programs, EdSource found through interviews and a survey.

The most common sentiment expressed among nearly a dozen superintendents, principals and other officials interviewed was cautious optimism, with the caveat that finding resources to devote to it is a challenge.

“There is certainly an interest and heightened awareness,” said Tamara Clay, who is director of the El Dorado County Special Education Local Plan Area. “And system change can be easier in small rural areas like ours — but it’s harder in that our superintendents don’t have the capacity.”

While it is difficult to find anyone — administrators, teachers, students or parents — who disagrees with the core principles of restorative justice, a fair number of critics say it’s been oversold as a quick fix. And, in some instances, they say it’s contributed to more chaotic school environments.

Los Angeles Unified’s efforts have drawn criticism from some teachers’ union officials who say the district has launched an aggressive implementation plan without sufficiently taking into account how the timetable is affecting students and teachers at the ground level.

“The LAUSD idea is that in three years’ time we’ll just train all the teachers and we’ll be done,” said Daniel Barnhart, who is vice president of secondary schools for United Teachers of Los Angeles. “It is a recipe for resentment and for teachers to not make a change they may want to make because there is no real support.”

Belia Saavedra, director of restorative justice in schools for the Long Beach-based California Conference for Equality and Justice (CCEJ), said most teachers she works with embrace restorative justice — but she has encountered pockets of resistance in both Long Beach and Los Angeles schools.

“More than a few teachers will tell you that RJ is the removal of punishment without a replacement for accountability,” Saavedra said, referring to concerns that there aren’t sufficient consequences. “If RJ is coming to their school they see it as the wild, wild West.”

LA Unified’s Brandy does not dispute the reports of pushback, but says the concerns fade once teachers and administrators see the district’s commitment to the approach.

“Because the district has been very steadfast we are getting more and more buy-in,” Brandy said. “In the first year, we received a lot of pushback. In the second year, people started calling me, asking me ‘When am I going to get the RJ training?’”

The restorative justice room at Roosevelt High School in the Los Angeles Unified School District.

Brandy’s assertions notwithstanding, the issues being raised are real and indicative of the pendulum swinging too quickly away from traditional discipline, argues Max Eden, a senior fellow specializing in education policy for the Manhattan Institute, a conservative think tank based in New York City.

Eden says his research shows that students report feeling less safe when districts issue mandates to reduce suspensions and in their place offer alternatives like restorative justice and PBIS.

“There is more immediate evidence that the reforms are creating a crisis rather than solving one,” Eden said, pointing to studies done in New York City, Philadelphia and Virginia. “If it were being approached as a complement to traditional discipline I would be bullish, but given that it’s being looked at as a substitute, I’m bearish.”

Daniel Losen, who is director of UCLA’s Center for Civil Rights Remedies, takes issue with Eden’s arguments on a couple of levels.

First, Losen said Eden is cherry-picking indicators to make schools seem more unsafe than they actually are. Secondly, he sees in Eden a failure to acknowledge that there is strong evidence showing that suspensions and other isolating punishments are harmful to students, especially students of color.

“No one wants the reform efforts to yield something worse than before,” Losen said. “But we have to reject the status quo. Schools are doing things that are harmful to kids right now, and we need to stop that — their civil rights are being violated.”

A winding road to progress

It is because of disagreements like the one between Eden and Losen that Sonia Llamas, Santa Ana Unified’s assistant superintendent for school performance and culture, spends a lot of her time documenting her district’s success with restorative practices and showing how they help its bottom line.

Five years ago, Santa Ana Unified had nearly 9,800 days of suspensions, Llamas said, which cost the district about $680,000 because state funding is calculated based on average daily enrollment. Since then, thanks to a grant from the federal Department of Education, the district has invested more than $3 million in restorative justice and related programs and seen its suspensions drop by 75 percent.

“People can talk a good talk, but you need strong data to show what’s working,” Llamas said. “It is really hard to cut something that is showing impact.”

That being said, Llamas and other proponents emphasize that transforming a school’s climate and culture often happens in fits and starts and requires commitment and patience from schools and communities.

“The ability to do RJ is based on where a school and its community are at and start from there,” said David Yusem, Oakland Unified’s restorative justice coordinator. “Right now, there are some schools, just like some communities, that are ready for RJ and it can come in really nicely. Then there are other schools that are fractured and it’s tough to implement it.”

John Jones III recently moved to Oakland from Portland and his son, a 9th-grader at Fremont High, has had trouble adjusting to his new school. Jones, who works for a community group as a restorative justice facilitator, said the school’s handling of altercations his son had with a teacher showed the progress Fremont has made as well as how far it still has to go.

“My biggest critique is that I wasn’t notified of the situation until months afterwards,” Jones said. “Once there is the first inkling of a problem, parents should be brought in…the old proverb is true, it does take a village to raise a child — and it’s important that everyone is on the same page.”

While they acknowledge their progress has not gone in a straight line, the staff at Fremont High feel they are slowly getting on the same page. The school is on track to cut suspensions in half from last year, said Co-Principal Tom Skjervheim.

“Part of the challenge is we have lots of students who need support in any given day,” Skjervheim said. “[But] now that we have a system where RJ can live — it is setting us up for more success.”

When asked whether she learns more from being suspended or going through restorative justice when she gets in trouble for fighting, the 9th-grade girl who had sought Chaterji’s counsel after the problems in her third-period class rolled her eyes. “It’s all a waste of time,” she said.

But when pressed further, she gave a clear-headed comparison of the two approaches.

“I could be getting into a fight with someone and get suspended. Then I come back and it could still be a fight,” she said. “If I don’t get suspended and we talk it out, there is a higher chance of there being no more problems.”

This story is the first of a three-part series on restorative justice in California which originally appeared on

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Teacher Caught On Video Making Students Help Him Drown Raccoons

A Florida high school teacher is under investigation after being caught on video drowning raccoons with students on Monday.

Video taken by one of the students show an agricultural science teacher and a group of students at Forest High School in Ocala lift a raccoon inside a metal trap into a garbage bin, then fill the the garbage bin with water. The student shared the video with his mother, who told local news station WKMG that her son came home crying about the experience. 

The following local newscast, which contains some footage from the incident, may be disturbing to some viewers:

She said the teacher, identified by multiple media outlets as as Dewie Brewton, had students assist in drowning two raccoons, along with a possum.

“When the raccoons tried to come up for air, they had metal rods and they held them down with metal rods and when the raccoon would try to pop its head up they held water hoses in its face to drown it,” the mother told the news station.

The student told WFTV that raccoons had been killing chickens that students and staff members were raising behind the school.

The school placed Brewton on paid administrative leave Tuesday.

“Marion County’s education standards — in fact, Florida’s education standards ― do not include activities for the destruction of live animals, nuisance or not,” read a statement from Marion County Public Schools. “While law enforcement determines whether this teacher’s actions were legal or not, his actions before students are entirely unacceptable and cause us great concern.”

Superintendent Heidi Maier is recommending that Brewton be fired, according to a second statement.

Additionally, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is investigating the incident to determine if charges will be filed. It’s legal in Florida to kill “nuisance” wildlife, but the law stipulates it must be done “humanely.”

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Trump Judicial Nominees Threaten The Legacy of Brown v. Board

In March, Linda Brown, who as a third-grader lent her name to the fight to dismantle school segregation, passed away at age 75. While systemic inequality and racial disparities still exist, the landmark Supreme Court ruling in Brown v. Board of Education changed our entire nation for the better. The 1954 decision not only struck down state-sponsored segregation and became a cornerstone of our justice system; its principles of equality and opportunity are now foundational aspects of our democracy. 

If there was ever a Supreme Court ruling that nominees to federal courts should wholly embrace, it should be Brown. The doctrine of “separate but equal” has no role in today’s society. The case was famously decided by a unanimous Supreme Court. Although the ruling was initially met with massive resistance throughout the South, it was precisely because of federal judges on the lower courts that its mandate was respected. The decision is not about to be revisited by any court anywhere.

Brown is not subject to debate.

Yet today, as we celebrate the 64th anniversary of Brown v. Board, several of President Donald Trump’s judicial nominees have recently dared to challenge it. Wendy Vitter, nominated to a federal district court in Louisiana, was the first, saying at her April confirmation hearing, “I think I get into a difficult area when I start commenting on Supreme Court decisions which are correctly decided and which I may disagree with.” Next came Andrew Oldham, ironically nominated to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit, which was home to the unlikely heroes called upon to enforce Brown throughout the South. Then, four more district court nominees refused to answer the Brown question. 

Clearly, there was another answer, the right answer. All sitting Supreme Court justices endorsed Brown at their own confirmation hearings. Conservative justice Samuel Alito called it “one of the greatest, if not the single greatest thing that the Supreme Court of the United States has ever done.” Clarence Thomas stated, “[Brown] is certainly one of the cases ― even before I knew all of the legal ramifications, it is one that changed my life and changed the South.” 

The refusal to endorse Brown is a powerful symbol of the intensely xenophobic zealotry shared by many Trump judicial nominees that threatens civil rights jurisprudence in particular and the rule of law in general. These are lawyers on the fringes of society who, if confirmed, will willingly depart from widely accepted principles and may harm communities of color.

We know about Brett Talley, the failed nominee to an Alabama federal court, who allegedly praised an early leader of the Ku Klux Klan on a University of Alabama message board. The nation should also know about Thomas Farr, a nominee to a North Carolina federal court who has ties to white supremacists and personally engaged in activities to intimidate black voters in order to help segregationist Sen. Jesse Helms win his 1990 re-election bid. Both Farr and Kyle Duncan, who was recently confirmed to the 5th Circuit, appealed to the Supreme Court to overturn the 4th Circuit’s ruling in 2016 that North Carolina’s voter suppression efforts targeted African-Americans with “almost surgical precision.”

Oldham, the other appellate nominee who refused to support Brown, also refused to answer Sen. Kamala Harris’ question about whether voting discrimination exists today. As deputy solicitor general in Texas, Oldham tried to gut the Voting Rights Act in defending the state’s photo ID laws, which federal courts found to be intentionally discriminatory. But Trump has nominated him to the 5th Circuit, which now covers three states with a large percentage of residents of color.

A key part of making America ‘hate’ again lies in stacking the federal bench with people willing to do Trump’s bidding.

Trump’s apparent efforts to whiten the federal bench are central to reshaping the courts. Black nominees are rarely to be found among the scores of nominees the Senate is rushing through to confirmation. Of some 120 nominees to lifetime seats on the federal bench, only two are African-American. Courts such as the 7th Circuit, which covers Illinois, Wisconsin and Indiana, currently have no judges of color.

This lack of diversity comes at a severe cost to the nation. It could lead to the undermining of laws that have transformed our country and ensure democracy works for all of us. We have seen the direction the president wants to take our nation. A key part of making America “hate” again lies in stacking the federal bench with people willing to do Trump’s bidding ― judges willing to rubber-stamp partisan gerrymandering, voter suppression, inhumane immigration policies and laws that favor corporations over people.

Sixty-four years after the Supreme Court’s watershed decision, our nation still has much work to do to make sure that the promise of Brown is realized. We must never forget that judges who understood their role in maintaining the balance of power among branches of government helped bring about the positive transformation we have seen in our society. We must remain cautious of any who seek to utilize the courts to return us to an era before Brown.

Derrick Johnson is the president and CEO of the NAACP. Follow him @NAACP and @DerrickNAACP.

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Michael Keaton Ends Kent State Commencement Speech With ‘I’m Batman’

Actor Michael Keaton ended his commencement address at Kent State University’s graduation ceremony with two words: “I’m Batman.”

Keaton could have gone the more dramatic route and yelled “Beetlejuice! Beetlejuice! Beetlejuice!” at the Class of 2018 crowd during Saturday’s ceremony. But he went with his memorable line from the 1989 film “Batman,” and 1992′s “Batman Returns.”

“I’ve got two words that I want you all to remember. They’re very important, and if I leave you with anything, I’m going to leave you with these two words,” Keaton said in a clip of the speech that has now gone viral.

“And those two words are: I’m Batman.” 

Many in the crowd (and the internet) celebrated the “I’m Batman” ending.

But some Kent State students were less than thrilled at Keaton’s commencement speech. Some wondered whether he was drunk:

Keaton’s representative didn’t immediately reply to HuffPost’s request for comment. 

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Teachers Shouldn’t Have To Hoard Sick Days To Invent Maternity Leave

The subway ad glares at me from above during my morning commute in New York City: a mother kissing a baby boy in a sling, the father standing next to her.

“All parents deserve time to bond with a new child,” it reads. Then, in smaller letters: “Starting January 2018, New York State’s Paid Family Leave Policy makes sure you can get it.”

But each morning I see the ad, I think: Not me. Not us. Because I’m a New York public school teacher. 

If you’re curious about the NYC Department of Education’s current maternity leave policy, I’ll fill you in: We have none. Instead, we have to use our banked sick days if we want to continue receiving pay during leave ― the norm for most maternity leave is six weeks, or eight if a woman has a cesarean section. Many teachers do not have enough available days to cover that time, especially if it’s not a teacher’s first childbirth. So we end up borrowing future sick days from the Department of Education to keep an income, which sends our sick bank into negative numbers. Once we’ve exhausted those borrowed days, we get nothing.

The strain is enough to make many new mothers consider leaving the teaching profession altogether.

Of the 75,000 New York City public school teachers, 76.6 percent are female. We spend our days, afternoons and weekends doing the best we can to educate our city’s youth. We often end up nurturing them and becoming second parents to them. Sometimes, we’re more like first parents.

The maternity leave policies for teachers in Denver, Seattle and Boston resemble New York City’s: unpaid unless you use sick time.

The irony is glaring: We dedicate our lives to taking care of other people’s children, but when it’s time to have our own, we have to fend for ourselves. 

Just ask Meredith Formica, a teacher whose son was born with a congenital heart defect. She had to go off payroll in order to care for him until he was old enough for surgery; she lost almost $20,000 in pay as a result.

Or ask Andrea Cardinali, who was scheduled to return to work before her premature twins’ due date had even passed. She extended her leave for four weeks without pay. 

Rachel Sookram worked through the flu to hoard her sick days so she could afford to stay home for six weeks after her daughter was born.

Saphira Hendrix threw up into the garbage can in front of the school building each morning before teaching high school mathematics for the same reason — she had to save up her sick days for her daughter’s birth.

After my own daughters were born, I taught while dealing with two infected wisdom teeth and strep throat. I had run out of sick days and couldn’t take unpaid leave. I just didn’t have the money to spare.  

Having a baby is not a sickness, and borrowed sick time is not the same as maternity leave ― it’s a loan that many women are never able to pay back. Even after paying the Department of Education hundreds of dollars to try to buy back days, I am still in debt 11 sick days ― and my youngest daughter has just turned 3 years old.

In May 2017, I began a petition on calling for a change to this antiquated policy (or lack thereof). Within months, it had garnered more than 80,000 signatures, and the stories began pouring in.

Having a baby is not a sickness, and borrowed sick time is not the same as maternity leave ― it’s a loan that many women are never able to pay back.

My personal struggle paled in comparison with the hardships others had faced. Women wrote to me about their choice to have only one child because they didn’t have enough sick days saved up to afford going off payroll for a second child. One woman had been working a second job for two years in order to save money, putting off her pregnancy out of financial fear. Several women said they were too scared altogether to start a family, because they knew it would send them into a financial free fall. 

I spoke with women who missed rent payments and feared eviction. With women who had to seek help from local charities to pay their mortgage. With women who went on WIC, SNAP and other government programs to help them through. One adoptive mother wrote that she only got paid for three days after welcoming a new infant into her home, even though she had banked 30, because the current policy doesn’t recognize an adoption at all.

It’s easy to forget for a moment that we are talking about New York City, supposedly one of the most progressive places in the world.

Like the subway ad states, in January 2018, the New York State Paid Family Leave law took effect. Workers under this law are eligible for eight weeks of paid time off ― at 50 percent of their average weekly wage ― to take care of a newborn or ill family member. For unionized employees such as teachers to receive this benefit, however, it has to be negotiated through collective bargaining.

Our union leader, Michael Mulgrew, has held countless bargaining sessions with the city of New York, but as of now, nothing has been done. Mulgrew, who refuses to agree to concessions, told the New York Daily News that Mayor Bill de Blasio is trying to “manipulate a process, to try to create leverage for it, to try to get something else out of those workers.”

This, from a supposedly progressive mayor who has been cited multiple times as a supporter and advocate of paid parental leave, is absurd. Overworked and underpaid teachers shouldn’t have to shoulder the burden in order to attain this basic human right.

“We’re currently in discussion with the [United Federation of Teachers] over this very topic and hope to come to an agreement soon,” a de Blasio spokeswoman responded in the same article.

As of 2016, the U.S. was the only developed country in the world that didn’t have a comprehensive maternity policy.

This issue has become one of gender inequality. Male teachers often retire with extra sick days that they can not only cash in but can also use to calculate higher pension rates. When women retire, if we previously decided to have and raise children (and stay with them as newborns), we have many fewer sick days left over ― and a lower retirement payout and pension as a result.

In the era of Me Too and its emphasis on feminism, it surprises me this issue is not getting more attention.

As of 2016, the U.S. was the only developed country in the world that didn’t have a comprehensive maternity policy, according to The Washington Post. And although some major U.S. cities are doing far better than New York in terms of what they offer their teachers ― Chicago, for example, allows birth mothers to take 90 total days at full or partial pay ― this problem is not specific to just the Big Apple. The maternity leave policies for teachers in Denver, Seattle and Boston resemble New York City’s: unpaid unless you use sick time, under specific and often complicated circumstances. Houston teachers are actually forced to use their sick days when they take leave; they aren’t even given the option to take unpaid leave and save their sick days for an actual illness.

In my classroom, there’s a picture just like the one in the subway ad sitting in a frame on my bookshelf: me, my 1-month-old in a sling, my husband standing nearby. It’s been three years, and I am still trying to rebuild my savings to recover from the time I stayed home to care for and nurse each of my girls.

I know I’ll continue to work through illnesses and emergencies in an attempt to climb out of a negative sick day balance. And when I look at that picture, or into either of my daughters’ eyes, I never doubt the choice was worth it. But I also know I was never given a fair choice to begin with. It’s a choice I hope future mothers and teachers won’t have to make. 

The 84,614 people who signed the petition successfully got our union’s attention ― and gave it the necessary ammunition to fight ― but the stagnancy of negotiations shows that the buck stops at de Blasio. As a community, and as a nation that expects more for our working mothers, we will continue to reach out to the mayor and let him know we are watching and waiting for him to do the right thing.

Emily James is a teacher and writer in NYC.

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Video Shows 8-Year-Old With Autism Taunted, Abused By Bus Driver

The lawyer for the parents of an 8-year-old girl with autism released a disturbing video that shows a California school bus driver taunting and manhandling the child.

“I’ve been doing work on behalf of physically and sexually abused kids for 17 years ― many times against school districts – and it’s beyond disturbing to me,” the attorney, Micha Star Liberty, told HuffPost.

The video, recorded on Feb. 6 by a surveillance camera on a Vacaville Unified School District bus, led to the arrest of Kim Cheryle Klopson, 64. Vacaville police have charged her with felony child abuse, to which she’s pleaded “not guilty.”

Liberty said the family plans to file a lawsuit against the district in the coming months.

Klopson, according to police, was transporting a group of students with special needs to Browns Valley Elementary School when the 8-year-old a second grader was accused of blocking the aisle with her leg.

“If you stick your feet out again… you are going to be on the window,” Klopson can be heard saying on the video.

The incident appears to escalate when the bus arrives at the school. Klopson is seen on the video grabbing the girls backpack and ordering her to remain seated as the other students exit the bus.

When a paraeducator steps up to the bus, the driver is heard taunting the girl as she cries hysterically.

“She’s acting like she’s younger than her baby sister,” Klopson says. “She’s only two, how old are you? One? Oh no, a baby.”

Klopson can then be seen yanking the girl up.

“Okay, so I get to do that again? Help you sit up? Get up,” Klopson says as she throws the girl down. “You wanna crawl, you can crawl.”

The paraeducator does nothing to intervene and after a few minutes Klopson closes the bus door, saying, “Okay, we’ll be right there.”

Klopson can then be seen yanking the young girl around again as she continues to taunt her.

“Nah nah nah nah nah,” the bus driver says. “You done? Nah nah nah nah nah.”

Klopson then tries to force the girl’s backpack on her.

“Please stop it,” the girl cries. “I don’t want to. Stop it.”

Klopson replies, “No, I’m not gonna stop it.”

The video ends with Klopson dragging the young girl off the bus.

“It’s okay, I didn’t hurt her, guys,” Klopson can be heard saying to people outside the bus. “I mean you’re all like ― it’s okay. Bye… I’ll see you after school. That should be interesting.”

Vacaville police have charged Kim Klopson, 64, with "cruelty to child by inflicting injury." She's pleaded "not guilty."

The incident left the girl with scrapes and bruises, according to Liberty.

“Instead of being taken to the principal’s office or nurse, she was taken to her classroom,” the attorney said. “She complained about physical pain and eventually she was taken to the nurse and the nurse reported it to principle.”

Liberty said the family was not notified of the incident until the girl was bac on the bus later in the day and on her way home.

“The parents asked what happened and they were invited down to the school to see portions of the video,” she said. “They were heartbroken, appalled and shocked.”

The Vacaville Unified School District claims they fired Klopson, but court filings indicate Klopson said she quit. The paraeducator who appeared to witness some of the alleged abuse is still employed by the district, according to Liberty.

“I don’t know how you can watch a child go through that and then allow the bus driver to shut the door,” she said. “It’s clearly despicable.”

Liberty said the bus incident has caused the young girl deep and ongoing mental trauma.

“She’s started therapy for the first time at the young age of 8 to try and work through the trauma that she’s experienced,” she said. “She’s having regressive behavior, nightmares and aversions to certain things. This has had a very significant impact on her.”

A phone number for Klopson has been disconnected. In a statement to The Reporter News, the school district said, “Please know that we take this matter very seriously and will continue to be forthcoming and collaborative with our families.”

Liberty called it “heartbreaking” that “this little girl was educated and trained to use her words and to say if she doesn’t want to do something. She was crying and she’s telling the bus driver, ‘I don’t like you’ and ‘I don’t want to’ because she was doing what she was trained to do to help herself. Yet this bus driver clearly wasn’t trained appropriately and didn’t behave in any sort of accordance with norms or standards.”

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

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North Carolina Teachers Just Closed Schools With A Massive Protest

Thousands of North Carolina teachers poured into downtown Raleigh and marched to the state’s General Assembly on Wednesday morning in the latest in a series of red-state public school teacher uprisings across the country.

The demonstration was believed to be the largest teacher protest in North Carolina’s history, with educators creating a sea of red on Fayetteville Street and inside the assembly galleries as they demanded more public school funding and better salaries for school staffers.

The largest school districts in the state announced closures once it became clear that not enough teachers would be in the classroom. Roughly a million students were out of school as a result, according to the News & Observer, a Raleigh-based paper.  

The North Carolina Association of Educators, the group coordinating the protest, said teachers were marching because the state has cut taxes while public school per-student spending and teacher salaries lag national averages.

Our students deserve better,” the group said in a statement. “They deserve resources to help make them successful. They deserve professionally paid educators. They deserve safe schools and schools that are not crumbling and in disrepair.”

The group laid out a list of demands before the protest, calling on the state to meet the national averages in per-student spending and teacher pay within four years. It also wants the state to institute higher pay for teachers with advanced degrees and long tenures and to hire an additional 500 school nurses and counselors for the current school year. 

Echoing the frustration of teachers who have walked out in other states, the group has also called for a moratorium on new corporate tax cuts until teachers are earning the national average.

The teacher walkouts began in late February in West Virginia, where teachers shut down schools for nine days, leading to 5 percent raises for school staffers and state workers. Buoyed by the success of the West Virginia strike, teachers in Kentucky, Oklahoma and Arizona soon followed suit, closing down schools and flooding their state capitals to call for more funding.

What all these states have in common is flat or falling investment in schools paired with tax cuts that have primarily benefited businesses and the wealthy. The walkouts have largely been a revolt against the austerity of Republican-led statehouses, which has left the states with little money to devote to salaries and textbooks.

North Carolina slashed its corporate income tax rate in 2013, reducing it from 6.9 percent to its current 3.0 percent.

According to the National Education Association, North Carolina ranks 39th in public school teacher pay in the U.S. Teachers received a 4.2 percent pay bump last year, but they still earn less than what they were making a decade ago when adjusted for inflation. Per-student public school spending is down about 8 percent over the same period, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

This is a developing story and will be updated.

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Meet The First Openly Trans Man To Graduate From Spelman College

It’s fitting that Keo Chaad O’Neal was a history major, because the college graduate is already making it.

O’Neal says he’s the first openly trans man to graduate from Spelman College, America’s first private, liberal arts historically black college for women.

O’Neal shared two smiling snapshots of himself in his graduation attire on Twitter that subsequently went viral. HuffPost talked to the recent graduate about his journey at Spelman and what it’s like to be a trans man at an all-women college.

“My experience was up and down, much how I’d expect any college experience would be,” O’Neal said in an email.

O’Neal said he loved Spelman as a freshman, but he didn’t feel like he could come into himself, so he transferred to a predominantly white institution.

The 21-year-old had started Spelman identifying as non-binary and using they/them pronouns, but “no one could catch on to that so it was kind of hard to exist as myself,” O’Neal said. He added that in his experience, “black folks really only understood the binary.”

It was during the time at the predominantly white school that he “was able to grow and develop” himself the way he wanted to “without the pressures of other black folks telling me I couldn’t do or be something.”

“I came back to Spelman my junior year because although I could flourish in my queerness, I felt like I was denying my blackness and I was nothing more than a body to those folks,” O’Neal said.

Getting through junior and senior years was hard for O’Neal, who said that he received a lot of backlash from “current students, their parents and alum” after he came out during a convocation with author and activist Alice Walker, a Spelman alumna who was visiting as an artist-in-residence.

“Lots of people believed that because I was trans, I didn’t belong at Spelman but there was nowhere else I would rather be,” he said. “People still have their own opinions of me attending Spelman, but it’s because of Spelman why I am who I am.” The college did not immediately return a request for comment.

O’Neal said there were many who supported his decision to come out, which is only emphasized by the explosion of support from friends, family and fans on Twitter after his graduation photos went viral.

Odds are high that O’Neal will not be the only openly trans man to gradute from Spelman.

The school announced in September 2017 that it would revise its admissions and enrollment policy to “consider for admission women students including students who consistently live and self-identify as women, regardless of their gender assignment at birth.” 

“If a woman is admitted and transitions to male while a student at Spelman, the College will permit that student to continue to matriculate at and graduate from Spelman,” read the letter from the college president about the change.

On what’s next for O’Neal, the South Plainfield, New Jersey, native said that he’s been accepted into a Ph.D. program for this fall, but is thinking about “taking some time off to work and establish” himself before going back to school.

“Right now, I’m on the job hunt! Not necessarily looking to stay in my major but I definitely want to do something I love,” he told HuffPost.

The graduate wanted to thank his supporters.

“I could not have made it this far without the encouragement of others,” he said. “It truly takes a village. For everyone who played a part in my successes, this is a win for all of us.”

O’Neal also hopes that his experience will teach others to “never give up, no matter what people tell you.”

“You have to believe in yourself,” he added. “It is so easy to get down and out but it takes a lot of courage to keep fighting and that courage has always been inside of you.”

Cheers to you, Keo. Congratulations! 

This piece was updated to include information about Spelman College’s revision to its admissions policy.

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Caged Tiger At Florida Prom Prompts Outrage

Critics weren’t captivated by a Florida high school’s use of a caged tiger during a “Welcome to the Jungle”-themed prom.

Christopher Columbus High School in Miami-Dade County invited some wild guests to Friday’s annual dance at the Double Tree Hilton Miami Airport Convention Center ― the caged giant cat, along with a lemur, macaws and an African fennec fox, the Miami Herald reported.

Footage of the tiger pacing in its enclosure amid the bright lights and fire used by some prom performers caught the attention of Ron Magill, an animal expert and ZooMiami spokesman. He told the Herald the animal “was obviously stressed.”

“The tiger is clearly looking for a way to get out of that situation, it’s not difficult to interpret that behavior,” Magill said. “He was surrounded by people, cell phones, lights, jugglers juggling fire. I really don’t know what they were thinking. Exploiting animals for entertainment at parties — that time has passed. We know better; we’ve been educated.”

Marie-Christine Castellanos, whose brother attended the prom, posted clips on Facebook. “This poor tiger was used as an EXOTIC amusement for the mindless teenagers who were present,” she wrote, blaming the high school staff, not the students.

Castellanos’ post was flooded with messages affirming her condemnation of the school’s prom exhibit. However, one person who identified himself as a Columbus student asked others not to bash his school.

School administrators issued a statement defending the wildlife presentation in the Fox 4 segment above. They noted that police officers were present and that providers of the animals were licensed by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

“The tiger, which was displayed for a few minutes in a cage, was never harmed or in danger, was not forced to perform, was always accompanied by his handlers, and for the great majority of the time was lying down in a relaxed state facing away from the audience,” the statement read.

On Monday, however, the school did an about face after the backlash. 

“Upon reflection, we regret the decision to have live animals at our prom,” Principal David Pugh said in a statement to an ABC affiliate. “This decision in no way reflects the Marist values, teachings of the Catholic Church and/or the accomplishments of our young and that of our distinguished alumni. We remain proud of the work we do in our community by raising awareness for pediatric cancer, autism and our homeless veterans, to name a few.”

A HuffPost request for comment was not immediately returned by the school.

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College Costs Are America’s Cruel Graduation Gift

Springtime at the school where I teach is usually a celebration of how far so many of our students have come. After years of hard work, often overcoming massive obstacles — poverty, violence, fractured families, inferior educational opportunities that did not prepare them for demanding and not always sympathetic high school teachers like me — graduation is supposed to be a moment of victory, a launching pad to greater success and a life full of possibility.

But more and more, I find those celebrations are tempered by a sudden cold slap from an indifferent world that cares little about the hard work of impoverished young people.

These past few weeks, with commitment day looming, I’ve often found myself trying to console at least one — often three or four — students crying in my classroom or in the hallway outside. They are frustrated and hurt because they are coming to the conclusion that all that work was for nothing, that no matter their dedication, they cannot figure out how they will ever be able to pay for college.

Sticker Shock

According to the College Board, the average annual tuition for a private university has more than doubled over the last 20 years, from just over $15,000 to almost $35,000. The average tuition for a public university has more than tripled, from just over $3,000 to nearly $10,000 a year.

In more stark terms, the average expense for a year of tuition, fees, room and board at a public university is now more than 80 percent of the median annual wage of an American woman and more than 50 percent of the median annual wage of a man. The cost of college has risen almost three times as fast as wages.

When my wife and I filled out our first FAFSA more than a decade ago, we were surprised to discover that the income of two educators was above the threshold for receiving any need-based financial aid for our college-bound older daughter. It remained the case even a few years later when we had two daughters in college.

At the time, I understood the grim reality of limited resources. If there is only so much money available to subsidize college education, then it probably ought to go to those who need it most. But now, 12 years later, financial aid is covering less and less.

So you end up seeing what I saw last week — the financial statement of a student trying to become first in her family to attend college. Her federal financial aid determination was that her family contribution should be 0.

That’s ZERO. Nada. Not an unreasonable conclusion for a family living on less than $20,000 a year.

But that same student’s financial aid offer from the university she hoped to attend only accounted for about two-thirds of her tuition and expenses. Her family was somehow expected to come up with $5,000. Even the loans she was offered did not cover this.

Yes, some students still come out OK — those few who get a full ride based on merit and/or need and others who patch together enough scholarships and loans to get a degree without initiating a lifetime of debt. But that ought not obscure the very real crisis that is playing out right now, this week, in the halls outside my classroom and in other high schools across the country.

Following The Path, Only To Find It Blocked

Higher education has long been a fundamental element of America’s promise of economic prosperity and social mobility. And since the GI Bill following World War II, we had managed to make it largely attainable for those willing to work hard enough.

I’ve seen it firsthand. In my nearly three decades as a teacher, I’ve watched students defy all the risk factors of South Los Angeles to graduate high school, succeed in college and become engineers, educators, entrepreneurs, journalists, nurses, attorneys and so on.

Now, those dreams are dying amid the grim black ink of financial aid that doesn’t add up. Kids euphoric one day about the colleges that want them, devastated the next when they realize an educational institution has been taunting them, insensitive to the realities of poverty. These are kids whose families, in many cases, subsist on a minimum wage income in the city of Los Angeles where the median rent for a two-bedroom apartment is upwards of $1,700 a month.

They’re being told they are among the elite students qualified for some of the best universities in the world, and they will probably never be able to go.

What a humiliating thing to do to a 17- or 18-year-old who has spent a dull life in a tenement apartment or a converted garage or trailer avoiding the streets, studying every night in dim light only to feel the blunt force of this savage injustice.

Poverty means not having any extra money and sometimes it means not having any money at all.

I’m afraid that privilege is the collective consciousness of universities.

This disconnect has finally begun to get some attention with the Wisconsin Hope Lab’s shocking findings: more than one-third of all college students are “food insecure,” or “housing insecure,” and nearly 10 percent of students are homeless at some point during college.

I had a personal experience with this phenomenon a few years ago when I discovered that a student I’d helped get into college had been de-enrolled after failing to show up for a mandatory orientation. The orientation cost $140 and the student, recently homeless after her father was deported, only had about $20 to her name. She was too embarrassed to ask me or any of her other teachers for help. I called the university about it and was flabbergasted that our state’s largest university system, which serves an incredibly diverse student population, could be so oblivious to the realities of its most economically challenged students.

Poverty means not having any extra money, and sometimes it means not having any money at all. The admissions office of that university was not making exceptions. I finally managed to reach a counselor who was sympathetic, who had, herself, been a first-generation college student. She eventually took the young woman under her wing, got her re-enrolled and looked after her for a while. But it wasn’t in her capacity as a counselor; it was a personal gesture. Reforming the university so that it actually met the needs of impoverished students was beyond her.

Perhaps it is beyond any one person, but that would be tragic and shameful. If we are going to try to reduce poverty through education then we ought to make sure we understand what poverty is and provide a realistic path out of it.

For Now, We Are Going Backwards

I’ve wondered, seeing so many students crushed by the sudden impossibility of their educational aspirations, whether the current president and his administration was to blame. President Donald Trump and Secretary of Education Betty DeVos and Office of Management and Budget Director Budget Mick Mulvaney have called for slashing billions of dollars from financial aid programs. The recent congressional budget didn’t include such cuts, but if the administration gets its way then even those students who can manage college now might find it impossible in a year or two.

Perhaps that’s just the ups and downs of life in Dickensian America, but I have a suggestion for anyone who thinks we ought to cut financial aid or college subsidies. Come to my classroom or stand just outside the door. Listen to the stories of young people who’ve defied the odds, stayed out of trouble and overcome prodigious hardships, and then tell them to their faces that they don’t deserve a chance. Tell them you don’t care about their dreams. That their dreams are an inconvenience. That their dreams offend your ideology.

Help me explain why we’ve put them through this charade – filled them with hopes and dreams and then left them in free fall.

Or better yet, let’s put our money where our hearts are – or should be.

That student of mine for whom I advocated when she got de-enrolled over a $140 orientation had a tuition and housing gap of about $2,500, half of which my wife and I paid, half of which we helped her raise from sympathetic people we knew. She had a successful freshman year, then got bounced to the street because she could locate neither parent in order to file her FAFSA for the following school year. She drifted a few years until my wife and I gave her a room in our house and got her back into school at the local junior college. She’s worked while going to school in order to save a few thousand dollars and is about to transfer to a university.

There are probably thousands of other young people like her – smart, hard-working, a good investment. Find one or two and help them. Perhaps if we can get enough of this next generation educated they will somehow figure out how to fix what we have so spectacularly broken.

Larry Strauss is a veteran high school teacher and basketball coach in Los Angeles and the author of Students First and Other Lies.

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Gay Teacher Suspended For Showing Photo Of ‘Future Wife’ Sues Texas District

Award-winning Texas elementary school teacher Stacy Bailey was suspended and reassigned to teach at a secondary school after showing students last year a photo of the woman who is now her wife.

At a Mansfield Independent School Board meeting, some parents objected, with one accusing Bailey of promoting “the LGBTQ agenda,” according to Texas Values, which says on its website that it stands for “biblical, Judeo-Christian values.”

Now she’s fighting back in court.

Bailey, who teaches art, had worked at the Charlotte Anderson Elementary School near Dallas since 2008. She is a two-time recipient of its teacher of the year award and had been given excellent performance reviews.

She said she believes the school district, along with its superintendent and associate superintendent, discriminated against her because of her sexual orientation.

She filed suit with attorney Jason Smith in the Northern District of Texas federal court on Tuesday, seeking punitive damages, an apology and reinstatement at Charlotte Anderson, according to The Star-Telegram, based in Fort Worth.

“Stacy is filing this lawsuit and taking this action in hopes of pushing Mansfield out of the shadows of discrimination and into the sunshine of equal rights,” Smith told NBC 5, a local TV station.

The trouble began with that photograph.

Bailey included it with pictures of her family members, her closest friends and one of herself as a child in an Aug. 23 introductory PowerPoint presentation she used with new classes. Later in the week, according to the lawsuit, she was “informed by the principal that a parent complained to the school board and superintendent about plaintiff promoting the ‘homosexual agenda’ by discussing her ‘future wife.’”

“I don’t think you did anything wrong, but I don’t know what’s going to happen,” the principal said, according to the suit.

Bailey was suspended in early September. On Oct. 30, the school district asked for her resignation. She refused. 

“The school district suspended me because they were uncomfortable with my sexual orientation,” Bailey wrote in a letter dated April 4 to district superintendent Jim Vaszauskas. It was published by The Star-Telegram. 

In May, days after being notified that her contract would be renewed, Bailey received word that the district planned to transfer her to a secondary school.

“It is shocking and disappointing that Mansfield district officials treated my wife differently when she spoke about her family, just as every teacher does,” Julie Vasquez, whom Bailey married in March, said in a statement to the Star-Telegram.

The district said in a statement to NBC News that it is an “inclusive, supportive” place for LGBTQ teachers.

It said Bailey’s “actions in the classroom changed” last year and “prompted her students to voice concerns to their parents.”

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Cornell Student Delivers Thesis In Underwear After Professor Questions Her Outfit

Cornell University student Letitia Chai stripped down to her underwear while delivering a presentation this week after a professor reportedly told her that her shorts were “too short” just days earlier. About two dozen of Chai’s fellow students joined in.

“This topic transcends all of our social identities and taps right into the heart of who we are,” Chai, a fourth-year student, said to a room of nearly 50 people while presenting her thesis paper on May 5, as seen in a livestream of the event.

Chai began undressing as she held back tears, first removing her shoes, then her pants and, lastly, her shirt.

“I am more than Asian. I am more than a woman. I am more than Letitia Chai. I am a human being,” she said while undressing. “And I ask you to take this leap of faith, to take this next step, or rather this next strip, in our movement and to join me in revealing to each other and to seeing each other for who we truly are — members of the human race.” 

Then 28 of the 44 people in the room also took off their clothes, The Cornell Sun reported. Although Chai’s protest happened last week, her story didn’t hit national news until Thursday.  

The protest came just days after Chai was presenting a trial run of her thesis in her class “Acting in Public: Performance in Everyday Life” on May 2. When Chai went to give her trial run presentation, professor Rebekah Maggor questioned the student’s outfit choice.  

“Is that really what you would wear?” Maggor asked Chai, according to a Facebook post the student wrote later that day.

Chai, who was wearing a long-sleeve button-down shirt and jean cutoff shorts, said she was “shook” by Maggor’s alleged comments. 

“The professor proceeded to tell me, in front of my whole class, that I was inviting the male gaze away from the content of my presentation and onto my body,” she wrote on Facebook, noting that her professor is a white woman. “She said I was making a statement by wearing my outfit. I told her that I sure as hell wouldn’t change my statement to make her or anyone else feel more comfortable.”

According to Chai, a male international student then made a comment that a presenter has a “moral obligation” to the audience to dress conservatively, at which point Chai fled the room in tears. 

“I am not responsible for anyone’s attention because we are capable of thinking for ourselves and we have agency,” Chai told The Cornell Sun, referring to Maggor’s alleged comments that her outfit would invite the wrong type of attention. 

Maggor responded to Chai’s protest in an email to the Sun. 

“I do not tell my students what to wear, nor do I define for them what constitutes appropriate dress,” she said. “I ask them to reflect for themselves and make their own decisions.”

After Chai gathered herself, she came back into the classroom, stripped down to her underwear and gave her full thesis presentation. In a Facebook post, Chai said she would do the same for her actual thesis presentation and encouraged others to attend and do the same.

According to a statement written by 11 of the other 13 students in Maggor’s class that day, the situation may have gone down a bit differently than Chai wrote on Facebook.

They wrote that while Maggor made “an error in phrasing,” she had “apologized on more than one occasion.” The students added that Chai’s post did not “adequately represent [Maggor’s] past and continued advocacy for women and minorities.” 

“Our intention in writing this letter is in no way to invalidate any of Letitia’s experience,” the statement reads. “We strongly support and identify with Letitia’s fight for equality … The majority of us are students of color, from multi-ethnic backgrounds, who very much relate to Letitia’s frustration with systemic oppression that is part of the fabric of this country. We do not want to discredit her narrative. However, we feel it is important and our obligation to share our impression of Wednesday’s events to provide a fair representation of the situation.”

Below is an excerpt from the students’ statement detailing how the conversation in question happened (scroll below to read the letter in full):

Letitia stood up to give her speech. Before she began, our professor asked Letitia if she would wear “those shorts” to her actual presentation on Saturday. Our professor regularly asks all of the students, male and female, such questions to clarify appropriate attire for public speaking. Our professor went on to say that what you wear and how you present yourself make a statement. She noted that if you were to wear jean shorts to your thesis presentation, that is a statement. Her focus on attire was a means of noting the importance of professionalism in certain public speaking situations.

Our professor acknowledged the discomfort of speaking overtly about attire and perception, especially for women, and encouraged us to share our thoughts and opinions. Students began discussing their beliefs on the matter. Letitia became visibly upset by our professor’s earlier comments, and after one male international student’s comment (mentioned in her post), she left the room. From the initial comments to Letitia’s exit, only a few minutes had passed, and many people were speaking at once. Tensions were high, and neither our professor nor Letitia was able to adequately defend her position.

After Letitia left, our professor listened and agreed with many of the student’s comments and criticisms. She wholeheartedly agreed that her initial comment was about professionalism rather than the “male gaze” mentioned in the student discussion. She also apologized for her choice of words, acknowledging that the notion of “short shorts” on women carries a lot of cultural and political baggage. Unfortunately, because Letitia was not in the room, she was not able to hear these comments, and we believe this contributed to the miscommunication.

Maggor was unable to provide additional comment at press time, and Chai has not responded to a request for comment.

In her original Facebook post, Chai wrote why she chose to protest Maggor’s comments and the larger issue of policing people’s bodies. 

“This is for every Asian woman who was told to speak up lest others think she’s submissive,” she wrote. “This is for every POC man who was told to pull his pants to be taken seriously, and every POC woman who was asked to straighten her hair to seem intelligent. This is for every gay friend who was told to dress more ‘straight’ so that others didn’t feel weird around him/her/them. This is for us.”

Read the full statement from 11 of the other 13 students in Chai’s class below. 

Head over to The Cornell Sun to read more about this story. 

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Girls, 10 and 11, Accused Of Plotting To Kill Classmate

Officers in Virginia foiled a plot by two pre-teen girls to kill their 11-year-old classmate after a parent discovered a “cryptic” text message exchange, the Prince William County Police Department said.

Police arrested the suspects, ages 10 and 11, on May 3, and they were charged with one count of conspiracy to commit a felony.

The arrests came after someone contacted staff members at Prince William County School on April 25 and alerted them to the alleged plot, police spokesman Jonathan Perok said.

“It was a parent, but not a parent of those involved and the school notified us,” Perok told HuffPost.

While police did not disclose the content of the text messages, the department did report that the girls discussed in detail how they planned to kill the student. The suspects also allegedly encouraged each other to delete message threads related to those plans. A motive in the alleged plot is unclear.

While no threat to harm the victim was carried out, investigators decided to file charges after consulting the district attorney’s office.

“Obviously, we took it seriously,” Perok said. “This is not something we commonly see.”

The young suspects, whose names were not released due to their ages, have been charged as juveniles. Conspiracy to commit a felony in Virginia carries a maximum sentence of up to five years behind bars.

A court date for the girls is pending.

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

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What If We Loved Real HBCUs As Much As We Love Beyoncé’s?

Fists raised to “Lift Every Voice and Sing” is how my school kicked off football games, basketball games, convocations and graduations — you name it.

It was routine to hear the song right after “The Star-Spangled Banner” at many of these events. But even those who were only visiting Howard University could tell the difference in the posture of students and alumni when someone sang the black national anthem. There’s a sense of pride and belonging that renders a special connection to our history and culture in the lyrics.

The black national anthem always resonated with me more than “The Star-Spangled Banner,” but I took for granted hearing it so regularly. It had been a few years since I’d witnessed this song performed publicly. So when I stood amid a sea of mostly white festivalgoers alongside two fellow Howard grads at Coachella, I was surprised by the tears falling down my cheeks as Beyoncé sang “Lift Every Voice and Sing” not 10 minutes into the show.

I’m not sure if it was because the song was coming from the lips of the greatest performer alive or if it was a combination of the show’s elements incorporating the culture of historically black colleges and universities, but I was overcome with the same emotion I felt when I found myself, unapologetic blackness and all, at the mecca, Howard University.

After one semester at my beloved HBCU, I recognized what I was missing when looking at my identity. Pre-Howard, I was conditioned to always juxtapose my blackness against the concept of whiteness, not fully understanding how powerful it is to appreciate my background outside the context of oppression. That limited me to a very narrow and monolithic view of what blackness can be.

Contrary to popular belief, HBCUs do prepare students for the real world, and they do a damn good job at it.

But black colleges show their students the beauty and expansiveness that blackness already is on its own. For me and others who shared this mindset, Howard, Spelman, Morehouse, NCAT, Hampton, Fisk and any of the more than 100 other HBCUs are pivotal. Not only do they center blackness in academia (even my math classes would turn into black history lessons at times), but they also provide spaces for their students to be fully embraced by faculty and their peers alike, fostering a sense of community and mentorship.

Even outside the classroom at HBCUs, we’re free to unlearn the toxic ideals white supremacy taught us about our blackness. We’re free to embrace the diversity among the African diaspora, debunking the myth that we are monolithic. We’re free to heal from the microaggressive trauma we face in white spaces. And we get to do so while leaving code switching behind and not having to worry about grubby white hands and stereotypes intruding on our hair and lives.

And contrary to popular belief, they do prepare students for the real world, and they do a damn good job at it.

Many folks, both black and nonblack, believe that HBCUs are inferior to predominantly white institutions in academics, size, networking opportunities and career development. This couldn’t be further from the truth. All while defying stereotypes about our blackness, our intelligence and our drive, HBCUs have been community pillars in catering to students with faculty and other staff members who embrace diverse cultural experiences and with stellar degree programs that offer students a chance to get real experience in their field of study. For me and for the vast majority of others, attending an HBCU was never a last resort or back-up plan. It is the top choice for educational, social and cultural experiences you won’t find anywhere else.

HBCUs aren’t perfect, but they are necessary. It is up to us to destigmatize and support these schools to ensure their survival.

These things are no secret to alumni. That’s why homecomings at HBCUs are always a big deal. It’s a pilgrimage back to the schools that nurtured them and reminded them they matter.

So when Beyoncé came out with a drumline and dancers from various black colleges, a Divine Nine–inspired faux Greek organization and the gift of thickness ― accompanied by a swag surf, at that ― it felt like home. Her performance was done in such a sophisticated and artful way that made an important statement about how we should be revering HBCUs. Bey even punctuated her performances by announcing her donation of $100,000 in scholarship funds for eight HBCUs.

Beyoncé’s mom, Tina Knowles Lawson, shared an Instagram post explaining why her daughter decided to make the show so blackety black, despite Lawson’s fears that people wouldn’t get it:

“[Beyonce] said that her hope is that after the show young people would research this culture and see how cool it is, and young people black and white would listen to LIFT EVERY VOICE AND SING and see how amazing the words are for us all and bridge the gap. She also hopes that it will encourage young kids to enroll in our amazing Historically Black Colleges and Universities.”

Beychella wasn’t just a show. This was a record-breaking exhibition to remind us of the gems we already have in our communities that uplift, empower and reaffirm to us that we matter.

We have our own Wakanda. We have our own Beychella. We have our own black utopias in HBCUs.

Despite the love we showed for the fictional HBeyCU, real, beloved black colleges and universities are in danger and need just as much of our love and support. For decades, many of these these schools have been in dire financial trouble. Unequal state funding and student enrollment have led to many schools closing their doors or losing their accreditation. And though the 2018 omnibus spending bill may help current and future students secure more funding and resources and although student enrollment saw a spike in 2017, huge issues ― including low-income students’ securing enough financial aid to continue their studies ― still loom. Like any school, HBCUs aren’t perfect, but they are necessary. It is up to us to destigmatize and support these schools to ensure their survival.

“Lift Every Voice and Sing” will play once more this weekend as Howard University celebrates its 150th commencement ceremony with the king of Wakanda himself (also known as Chadwick Boseman) delivering the keynote address. It’s hard for black folks to make a place for ourselves in the world, and oftentimes, we look to fictional worlds for a place to call home. But we have our own Wakanda. We have our own Beychella. We have our own black utopias in HBCUs.

In a world that consistently tries to tell us that we don’t belong ― at predominantly white institutions, at the workplace, at Starbucks ― the purpose of HBCUs remains relevant. But judging from the societal myths and financial burdens plaguing many of these schools, many of us have forgotten how important these spaces are.

That message shouldn’t be overlooked.

Taryn Finley is the editor of HuffPost Black Voices.

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White Yale Student Calls Cops On Black Schoolmate Napping In Dorm Common Room

Lolade Siyonbola, a black graduate student at Yale University, had been writing a paper in her dorm’s common room when she dozed off. She awoke to a white schoolmate threatening to call the police if she didn’t leave.

Siyonbola, a 34-year-old African studies student, broadcast part of what happened next in two Facebook Live videos around 2 a.m. Tuesday. The first video shows her confronting the white student who ordered her to get out.

“I have every right to call the police,” the student, identified by Siyonbola as philosophy P.hD candidate Sarah Braasch, is heard saying in the video. “You cannot sleep in that room.”

Minutes later, two police officers arrive to begin what would turn into a 17-minute interrogation of Siyonbola, which she captured in her second video.

“I was sleeping in the common room and [Braasch] comes in and turns the lights on and was like, ‘Why are you sleeping here? You’re not supposed to be sleeping here. I’m going to call the police,’” Siyonbola told the officers.

Siyonbola told police the woman had called the cops on a friend a few months earlier, “because he was in the stairwell and he was black.”

Police asked Siyonbola to prove she lived in the building, so she showed the officers to her room and unlocked the door. Police said they needed more proof.

“I really don’t know if there’s a justification for you even actually being in the building,” Siyonbola told officers before reluctantly showing them her student ID. 

“I deserve to be here,” she can be heard saying as she waited for police to verify her ID. “I pay tuition like everybody else. I’m not going to justify my existence here.” 

After two more officers arrived and Siyonbola’s ID was verified ― her name was apparently misspelled in the student database ― police permitted her to leave.

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

Siyonbola’s recordings of the incident sparked outrage on social media, with thousands sharing and commenting on the videos. The controversy adds to recent national news stories of white people calling the police to report innocuous encounters with black people.

“This is so infuriating!” one person commented. “I’m so sorry you had to deal with this but you handled it better than I would’ve. She should have been arrested for making a call like that.”

Siyonbola, who did not immediately respond to HuffPost’s request for comment, wrote on Facebook Tuesday that she was “grateful for all the love, kind words and prayers.”

“Black Yale community is beyond incredible and is taking good care of me,
 Siyonbola wrote. “I know this incident is a drop in the bucket of trauma Black folk have endured since Day 1 America, and you all have stories.”

Yale officials addressed the incident in emails to students this week.

“I am deeply troubled by an incident that took place Monday night in the Hall of Graduate Studies,” Kim Goff-Crews, Yale’s vice president for student life, wrote. “One graduate student called the police to report another student in the common area, who had every right to be there.”

She continued: “All of us in senior leadership recognize that incidents such as this one are being framed within a difficult national context. I want to underscore our commitment to carry out our mission as a university in an ethical, interdependent, and diverse community of faculty, staff, students, and alumni, where all are respected.”

Other recent encounters involving police summoned by white people to respond to complaints about people of color include a white woman who this month reported a group of black women who had rented an Airbnb near San Bernardino, California. Last month, two black men were arrested at a Starbucks in Philadelphia while they waited for a friend to arrive.

UPDATE: 4:00 p.m. — Yale Police Chief Ronnell Higgins issued a statement Thursday appearing to confirm Siyonbola’s account of the incident. 

The responding officers “informed the caller that the student who had been in the common room was an authorized resident who had every right to be there,” according to the statement. “They also explained that this was not a police matter and were reporting the incident to the dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.” 

Read Higgins’ full statement below:

Yale Police responded to a call in the early hours of Tuesday, May 8 at 1:40 a.m. The caller reported that she was a student at the Hall of Graduate Studies (HGS) and said that there was a woman sleeping in the common room on the 12th floor, and that she did not know who the person was. Three police officers responded to HGS around 1:45 a.m., where the caller met them at the entrance and showed them her ID. She then let them up in the elevator, which stopped at the fifth floor where another student appeared.   

At this point, the caller pointed to the other student and said, “This is her.”  Protocol is for police to separate the parties involved, so two officers stayed with the woman on the fifth floor and the investigating officer went with the caller to the 12th floor.  

The investigating officer spent over 11 minutes initially with the caller to assess the situation, while the other two officers spent about 15 minutes with the other woman to assess the situation and to confirm her identity.  After reviewing the scene in the 12th floor common room and seeing a computer, books, and notebooks in addition to a blanket and pillow on the couch, the investigating officer determined that the person who had been sleeping in the common room was likely a student, so the officer asked the caller to wait in her room on the 12th floor. 

The investigating officer reported what she found to the other two officers on the fifth floor and to a supervisor who had arrived to assess the situation and determine whether assistance was needed. The officers were having a difficult time confirming the other student’s identification due to the use of the student’s preferred name in the system that was different from the official name on the ID.  The supervisor worked with dispatch and security to clear up the matter, taking down the student’s information and giving her a case number.  The assessment of the ID took about 15 minutes, which is longer than usual.

At that point, the investigating officer, with her supervisor, went to the 12th floor, where they spoke to the caller again for another seven minutes.  Another officer also followed. They informed the caller that the student who had been in the common room was an authorized resident who had every right to be there. They also explained that this was not a police matter and were reporting the incident to the dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.  Officers left HGS Studies at about 2:34 a.m.

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Why Is It Called ‘Prom,’ Anyway?

Prom is a classic rite of passage for American teenagers. In recent years, prom culture has inspired news stories about epic “promposals,” repurposed prom dresses, inspiring prom queens and more.  

But where did this tradition come from, and why do we call it “prom,” anyway?

The origin of the word prom is older than the tradition itself. It’s a shortened version of “promenade,” the French word for a walk or stroll, which dates back to the 16th century. Promenade came to refer to a place for strolling, whether on a ship deck or public walkway, and that meaning is still in use by English speakers today. 

By the 19th century, the term promenade was also associated with events. Promenade concerts were European classical music concerts in venues without seating, where guests could walk around while listening to the performance. 

In the U.S., the word promenade became associated with dance, whether as a ballet term or a form of partner dance in Western and country traditions. “Promenade position” refers to a dance position in which partners face the same direction of travel. 

Promenade also came to refer to the parading of guests into a ballroom before formal events. Many point to this use of the word as part of the origin of the American prom tradition ― which, interestingly, apparently began at the university level and drew inspiration from debutante ball culture

The Oxford English Dictionary traces prom to the Ivy League tradition of a “‘presentation week,’ during which formal dress and dancing accompanied a promenade concert.” The dictionary also cites a passage from an 1879 issue of the Harvard Crimson, which criticizes the students’ Yale rivals for being thrifty with their class prom, among other things.  

“Full many a dollar have they, bright and pure and clean, Which neither the Ball Club nor the Boat Club nor the Junior Prom … nor anything under heaven yet discovered, can from their pockets tear,” the passage reads.  

Students dance at the 1958 Mariemont High School prom in Ohio.

Another highly cited early reference to prom is an 1894 diary entry from Dwight Morrow, a student at the then all-male Amherst College who reportedly wrote that he had “been invited over to the Smith Junior Prom” nearby.

After graduation, Morrow went on to become a U.S. senator and U.S. ambassador to Mexico, and his wife, Elizabeth Cutter Morrow, became the first female head of Smith College when she served as acting president from 1939 to 1940. (Their daughter Anne married Charles Lindbergh, with whom she had six children, one of whom was the subject of the infamous Lindbergh kidnapping.)

Prom may have started as an event for students at elite universities, but by the early 20th century, it had expanded to the high school level. Though prom has been described as the “democratic debutante ball,” it often excluded teens of color thanks to Jim Crow-era practices and educational inequality. 

During the 1950s, prom culture thrived (among white students, anyway) in the post-World War II economic boom. Over the ensuing years, prom became so ingrained in the fabric of American culture, it even touched the presidency.

In 1963, President John F. Kennedy intervened to save a California high school’s senior prom after a Democratic Party event booked at the same hotel ― the Beverly Hilton ― threatened to oust the teens from the venue they’d reserved.

Kennedy insisted that the fundraising dinner take place in a different part of the hotel so the students could host their prom in the ballroom. He also paid them a visit during the festivities.  

President John F. Kennedy visits students at the 1963 John Burroughs High School prom.

In 1975, President Gerald Ford’s daughter Susan and her Holton-Arms School classmates attended prom at the White House. The promgoers dined on Swedish meatballs and quiche and danced along to bands called the Sand Castle and the Outer Space.

“I was told that we had to choose a band that didn’t have any kind of drug charge,” the prom committee chair later recalled. “They wanted to keep it squeaky clean, and it was pretty hard to find someone who met the criteria.”

Susan Ford dancing at her prom in the East Room of the White House.

Prom fervor apparently diminished a bit in the 1960s and 1970s, a phenomenon attributed to political turmoil, the counterculture movement and general teenage apathy and irony

However, the prom tradition was apparently back in full swing in the 1980s, as your favorite John Hughes movies might suggest. In fact,“’80s Prom” has even become a popular party theme.

Over time, prom has evolved into more than just a dance for teens. The past three decades have brought prom stories touching on racial segregation and integrationLGBTQ rights, police brutalitydisability inclusion, respect for women, cultural appropriation and more. 

In many ways, prom is an old tradition that feels antiquated, but as youth culture evolves, so too does this rite of passage. There may be fewer formal promenades into ballrooms, but at least there are hilariously awkward photos to keep forever.

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School Got Complaints About Teacher Even Before HuffPost Revealed Her Racial Bias

The Citrus County School District in Florida received two complaints about teacher Dayanna Volitich in the months before a March HuffPost article exposed her as the host of a white nationalist podcast, according to the results of a school district investigation.

One complaint, filed by a parent last August, expressed concerns that Volitich was injecting political bias into her middle school classroom. Another complaint, made anonymously, informed administrators of Volitich’s Twitter alias, Tiana Dalichov, and of her racially incendiary musings online. 

Following those complaints, the district monitored Volitich’s social media, made more visits to her classroom and interviewed students. But at the time, the kids did not substantiate the concerns about her teaching, and administrators did not notice anything out of line. 

Earlier this year, HuffPost informed the district of a podcast in which Volitich brags about bringing her political views into her social studies classes. Following the HuffPost report, Volitich was removed from the classroom and an investigation was begun. In April, Volitich formally resigned from her post. This week the results of the investigation were released and reported by the Citrus County Chronicle

The investigative report said that the inquiry had centered on whether Volitich violated “professional practices by being deceptive in changing her teaching practices when administration enters her classroom and by encouraging her students to go along with the deception.”

Indeed, in a Feb. 26, 2018, podcast, Volitich said that when parents complained about her inserting her white nationalist opinions into her teaching, she lied to school administrators and said it wasn’t true. 

The investigation found probable cause for disciplining Volitich. But because she has already resigned, the district will not be taking further action, according to the report. 

Investigators interviewed 16 students and four other teachers. Most of the interviewed students had positive feelings about Volitich’s class and her ability as an educator. Most also said that she had a habit of discussing her political views in class, but denied that they were told not to inform their parents or encouraged to change the topic when administrators visited. 

But five students said Volitich made them uncomfortable when she discussed topics like immigration, segregation, President Donald Trump and the Democrats.

One student, who is biracial, told administrators that Volitich described the Ku Klux Klan as “a good thing,” called for immigration to be “shut down” and said segregation should be restored in schools. Another student said that Volitich told the class that Democrats believe they need help raising pets or children, whereas Republicans don’t believe they need help with such activities. Another said that Volitich would sometimes talk about how Hillary Clinton should be in jail and claim that Democrats want to raise your taxes.

Of the four teachers interviewed, one expressed concern about Volitich injecting racial bias into her classroom practices and took issue with Volitich allegedly seating black male students together. The educator also described a tense conversation with Volitich about politics, in which the educator expressed fears that Trump would try to get rid of black people. In response, Volitich simply said, “Well,” the educator alleges. 

The parent who had filed the complaint last August told investigators about new comments made to his son. Volitich allegedly told the child that “Google is down because the Democrats were busy helping to delete all Hillary Clinton’s e-mails.” 

District officials did not immediately respond to HuffPost’s request for comment on the results of the investigation. Volitich’s lawyer, Charles E. Moore, also did not immediately respond to HuffPost’s request for comment.

Volitich’s answer to the allegations is included in the investigative report. She took issue with the inquiry’s results, suggesting that media coverage might have primed students to remember more innocuous comments. She also responded to many of the kids’ specific claims. In response to the allegation that she said Democrats need help raising pets and children, Volitich said she was teaching students about the two major political parties. Instead of arguing that Clinton belongs in jail, Volitich claimed that she said Clinton should be in jail if there is proof she committed a crime. Her comment about Google and Clinton’s emails was a joke, she said. 

“Over 85% of the students interviewed stated they learned a lot in my class, felt they were able to express their own opinions and views, denied my telling them not to talk to their parents about material discussed in class,” Volitich wrote.

She also vehemently disagreed with the one former colleague’s recollection of certain discussions. 

The other teacher “admits no one but she and I were present for these conversations, and that she never reported anything to administration or to the district. Everything she claimed is mere hearsay, a terrible warping of the truth designed to smear my character,” Volitich wrote. 

Jenna Amatulli contributed to this report.

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Teacher Resigns After Video Shows Her Pulling Black Student’s Locs

A teacher in Anderson, South Carolina, has retired after a video went viral showing her standing on a black student’s desk and pulling on his hair.

Lisa Houston, who is white, taught math for 27 years at Palmetto High School and voluntarily resigned this week after the episode came to light. A video posted on Snapchat showed her, among other things, tapping the student on the face, turning his head, pulling his hair and pushing him in the chest with the bottom of her foot, according to The State newspaper.

She said her actions were simply her way of waking the student in a lighthearted way.

“If you ask any kid I’ve taught, they’ll tell you I kid around with them, make them stay awake and laugh with them,” Houston told local TV station WYFF. “I know the video looks bad. If you don’t know the situation, you don’t know what’s going on, but it was not a malicious act. It was all in fun. I want the public to know that I love the student, and that our rapport with each other was great. I would have never done anything to hurt him.”

Anderson School District One officials said that as soon as they heard about the video, they started investigating but that Houston made the decision to resign on her own.

“The district wishes our community to know that the school administration immediately conducted an inquiry into what occurred,” Jane Harrison, an assistant superintendent for the school district, told The Greenville News in a written statement. “The individual has already separated as an Anderson 1 teacher. Although the district is unable to comment in detail about the matter, the administration took seriously what occurred, and the teacher, who has had an exemplary record of teaching performance, decided of her own accord that she would retire in the best interest of her school.” 

Houston’s attorney Ryan Beasley told reporters the video does not tell the whole story.

“There were many witnesses in the classroom as to what happened and the playful nature of her relationship with her students,” he said. “We are confident that as more facts come to light, her reputation as an excellent and loving teacher will be restored.”

Other students in the classroom can be heard laughing in the video.

Julian Johnson, the father of the student in the video, told Fox Carolina that his family never asked that Houston be disciplined for her actions.

“My son has nothing to do with this. He was tired and went to sleep,” Johnson said. “I didn’t call for her to be fired. I wish it would go away and that it never happened.”

Many other students, parents and officials are protesting Houston’s resignation, saying she’s getting a raw deal.

More than a hundred past and present students marched from the school to the district office to lament her leaving the school.

She is an amazing educator, an amazing woman in this community and Anderson District One lost a great teacher in her,” former student Marcus Coppola told WSPA TV.

On Wednesday, school board member Doug Atkins resigned from the board in response to Houston’s retirement, according to Fox Carolina.

As of Friday afternoon, more than 1,400 people had signed a petition demanding that she be restored as a teacher.

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Superintendent Accused Of Pooping At School’s Athletic Fields

A school superintendent in Holmdel, New Jersey, is facing some pretty crappy criminal charges after being accused of public defecation.

Thomas Tramaglini, the superintendent of the Kenilworth School District, was arrested Tuesday morning and charged with lewdness, littering and defecating in public, according to Patch New Jersey.

Holmdel High School staff and athletic coaches had alerted a school resource officer “that they were finding human feces” at or near the track and football field “on a daily basis,” according to the Asbury Park Press, and an investigation was launched.

School staffers monitored the field until they identified Tramaglini, 42, as a suspect, but Holmdel police Sgt. Theodore Sigismondi declined to tell CBS News how he was ID’d as the suspect or whether officers caught him in the act.

Although Sigismondi wouldn’t say how long the school’s athletic fields have been fouled, one community member told Patch New Jersey there had been at least eight poop detections in the past few months.

The accused “pooperintendent” has not responded to press inquiries, but he is due in court Monday to answer to the charges, according to

He has taken a paid leave of absence from his $147,504-a-year job with the Kenilworth School District, which posted this statement on Facebook:

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3 Black Teen Finalists In NASA Competition Targeted By Racist Hackers

Three teenage girls in Washington, D.C., came up with a way to purify lead-contaminated water in school drinking fountains that was so impressive it landed them among the finalists in a NASA-sponsored contest for high school students.

Mikayla Sharrieff, India Skinner and Bria Snell earned a spot in the contest finals ― the only all-female, all-black team to make it that far, according to The Washington Post.

To win the public voting part of the competition, the trio of 17-year-old juniors took to social media to raise awareness of their project. 

Their hard work looked like it was paying off. On Sunday, the girls were in first place with 78 percent of the vote, according to

But that’s when a group of users from 4chan —an anonymous Internet forum whose members have been known to spew racist and homophobic comments ― targeted the girls, according to the Washington Post.

The users alleged the teens’ project didn’t deserve to make the finals and that the voting was skewed because the black community was only voting for the girls because they were black, according to the paper.

The trolls also suggested methods of hacking the voting system to favor teenage boys.

The trollish targeting was successful enough that NASA felt obliged on Sunday to suspend the public voting. The institution explained why in a statement:

“Unfortunately, it was brought to NASA’s attention yesterday that some members of the public used social media, not to encourage students and support STEM, but to attack a particular student team based on their race and encouraged others to disrupt the contest and manipulate the vote, and the attempt to manipulate the vote occurred shortly after those posts.

“NASA continues to support outreach and education for all Americans, and encourages all of our children to reach for the stars.”

Organizers said they have accurate records of the voting results prior to the attempted trolling, and they will notify the top three Public Choice teams in each category. A panel of judges will make the final determination of who will win the top prize: A trip to NASA headquarters.

The winners will be announced later this month.

Sharrieff, Skinner and Snell didn’t comment on the controversy to the Washington Post.

However, the students did say they are pleased their project has received positive attention from people all over the country.

“In the STEM field, we are underrepresented,” Sharrieff told the paper while using the acronym for science, technology, engineering and math. “It’s important to be role models for a younger generation who want to be in the STEM field but don’t think they can.”

The project has inspired a GoFundMe campaign that hopes to raise $20,000 for the teen scientists. As of Thursday afternoon, it had raised more than $3,100.

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Arizona Passes Education Budget To End Teacher Walkout

Arizona teachers appeared ready to head back to their classrooms after the governor signed a budget bill Thursday that will pump more money into schools and give teachers the first of what should be two pay raises.

The massive teacher walkout, carried out under the banner #RedForEd, began a week ago and closed schools for a majority of Arizona students. Thousands of teachers flooded the Capitol and turned downtown Phoenix into a sea of red each day, urging lawmakers to restore education funding after years of deep cuts since the recession.

The legislation signed by Gov. Doug Ducey (R) early Thursday did not meet all the demands initially laid out by the groups coordinating the walkout, and some teachers had hoped to keep schools closed until legislators committed to a larger budget. But it was enough progress for union leaders to recommend teachers return to the classroom and prepare for another battle later in the year.

Joe Thomas, president of the Arizona Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union, told Phoenix’s 12 News that teachers overall were unhappy with the legislation but viewed it as a start. Many teachers, he acknowledged, were hoping for more money for their classrooms.

“I think they’re pretty frustrated. They wanted to see a more robust package,” Thomas said, adding that the bill would not reduce class sizes. “What we do see is a lot of promises by the governor that are not going to come true.”

But after a week of school closures, Thomas added, teachers will now “be moving toward the classroom” with an eye on the November elections.

The budget bill gives teachers a 9 percent pay raise next year, which, combined with a 1 percent raise already given, gets them halfway to the 20 percent hike they have called for. Ducey has promised that the second installment will come by 2020, though that is not guaranteed by the package he signed.

The plan steers bulk money to districts and gives them the discretion to dole out the raises as they see fit, meaning not all teachers will receive the same percentage pay bump. An analysis done by the Arizona Republic found that a minority of districts under the plan will not receive enough money to give all their teachers 20 percent increases.

The bill also hikes state spending on schools by $200 million per year more than Ducey originally proposed at the start of the year. Still, it comes up well short of the walkout organizers’ demand that funding be restored to 2008 levels, adjusted for inflation.

The Arizona protest came on the heels of similar walkouts in West Virginia, Kentucky and Oklahoma ― all red states that have seen education funding drop and teacher salaries stagnate in recent years. The Arizona walkout was being planned for weeks, after West Virginia teachers successfully negotiated raises by closing schools for nine days. A grassroots group, Arizona Educators United, organized the walkout in conjunction with the union.

As in those other states, Arizona lawmakers have carried out significant tax cuts over the years, leading to budget shortfalls and little money to devote to schools. Per-student funding has dropped by 14 percent over the past decade, when adjusted for inflation.

The unions leading the wave of teacher strikes around the country have had to make hard decisions about how long to hold out for their demands. Parents have largely been supportive of the walkouts and their aims, but public backing can flag over time as schools remain closed and family’s daily lives are disrupted.

While Arizona teachers did not get all they asked for in the budget bill, the union probably called for teachers to return to work for fear they would lose leverage over time, even if some teachers wanted to continue the walkout.

As one teacher put it on the Arizona Education Association Facebook page: “Keep fighting for the children, the future of education in Arizona!! Don’t throw in the towel, this is NOT over yet!!”

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This Michael B. Jordan Story Shows How DM-ing A Celebrity Can Pay Off

If you don’t ask, you don’t get.

So, when Temple University student Sylvia Wilson found out “Black Panther” star Michael B. Jordan was filming “Creed 2” on her Philadelphia campus, she cheekily direct-messaged him on Instagram, asking if she could buy him a smoothie in exchange for a photograph.

“I didn’t think he’d actually respond but I really wanted to meet him,” Wilson, 21, told HuffPost on Thursday.

To Wilson’s astonishment, Jordan actually responded to the Tuesday message — and ended up briefly hanging out with Wilson and her friends. Wilson later shared these photographs of the encounter to Twitter:

“I almost passed out when I realized he messaged me back,” said Wilson, who is studying public relations and plans to attend law school after she graduates. “I kept rereading the message not believing it was really him.”

Wilson’s snaps have now gone viral, causing the #pullasylvia hashtag to trend as other people on Twitter attempted contacting their own idols:

Wilson, who hails from Atlanta, described Jordan as “AMAZING.”

He was so sweet and nice,” Wilson told BuzzFeed. “He was more than happy to take pictures with me and my friends that came with me.”

Who knows, maybe Jordan will stop to see the Philadelphia high school senior who brought a cardboard cutout of him to prom? 

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Nation’s Top Teachers Tell Trump About The Importance Of Empathy

After a contentious meeting with Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos on Monday, several of the nation’s top teachers had the opportunity to meet with President Trump on Wednesday and delivered messages about the importance of empathy and kindness.

Jonathan Juravich, Ohio’s teacher of the year and one of the four finalists for national teacher of the year, said he told Trump during their short encounter, “I want you to know what I teach my students is about respect and empathy, and that’s how we as adults need to model those behaviors for our students,”

Trump told Juravich that he liked the message.

The 2018 state teachers of the year spent the day at the White House, attending events like a discussion with DeVos and Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta. Trump made brief remarks honoring the educators at a ceremony and briefly posed for photos with each of the finalists. The national teacher of the year, Mandy Manning, also spoke for a short while. 

On a call with reporters, the four finalists described the day as a remarkable experience, saying officials treated them with the utmost respect. Other state teachers of the year echoed this sentiment separately with HuffPost but said they were disappointed that they were not given the opportunity to take pictures with the president, as honorees were in previous years. 

Manning, from Washington state, works primarily with refugee and immigrant high school students. During her brief meeting with the president, she provided him with 45 letters from her pupils. In one letter, a Rwandan student described experiencing more hostility from those born in the United States in the last couple of years and her hope that he will model positive messaging about immigrant and refugee communities. 

Manning said the student “hopes [Trump] will consider his words have a lot of weight and they signal to people how they can and should act. She hopes he would take care with his words.”

Surveys have shown that since his election, schools have become more hostile environments for students of color and religious minorities.

Trump handed the letters to an aide, with the instruction to to put them on his desk because “he wanted to make sure to read the letters,” Manning said. 

His words have a lot of weight, and they signal to people how they can and should act.
Mandy Manning, 2018 national teacher of the year

Attendees said it went better than the polarizing roundtable with DeVos on Monday, when she faced questions from state teachers of the year about school choice, striking teachers and standardized tests, as first reported by HuffPost. Her responses disappointed many of the honorees.

She sparred with Jon Hazell, Oklahoma’s teacher of the year, who confronted her over the effects of school choice in his state. Increasing school choice is the centerpiece of DeVos’ agenda. 

At the roundtable, she expressed displeasure with teachers who were on strike this week in Arizona, saying that she hopes “adults would take their disagreements and solve them not at the expense of kids and their opportunity to go to school and learn.”

Her response frustrated teachers in the room.

“She basically said that teachers should be teaching and we should be able to solve our problems not at the expense of children,” said Melissa Romano, Montana’s teacher of the year. “For her to say ‘at the expense of [kids]’ was a very profound moment and one I’ll remember forever, because that is so far from what is happening.”

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Students Nationwide Walk Out Of Schools To Show Support For Second Amendment Rights

Hundreds of students nationwide walked out of their schools Wednesday to show support for their Second Amendment rights to keep and bear arms.

The national demonstration, dubbed “Stand for the Second,” was organized by high school senior Will Riley of Carlsbad, New Mexico, in response to the wave of student-led, gun reform protests held in the wake of the Parkland, Florida, school shooting.

“We have not ignored the huge movement of our peers against these fundamental human rights and liberties, but the American people must know not all of our generation shares in the shortsighted destruction of our Constitution,” according to the event’s website.

Participants planned to walk out of their school at 10 a.m. local time to observe 16 minutes of silence ― one minute less than their peers did on March 14, during the National School Walkout to protest gun violence.

National School Walkout participants rallied for 17 minutes to honor the 17 people killed on Feb. 14 during the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Stand for the Second’s website explained what the 16-minute walkout on Wednesday represented:

In the spirit of civility with school districts around the country, we are asking for one minute less than the other side received. Additionally, it is estimated that in the US each year 1.5 million people use a firearm to defend themselves. Break that down to 16 minutes, and you have 91 people using a gun responsibly and correctly. We want to draw attention to the people who are legally and effectively exercising their rights.

Stand for the Second marked the first cohesive, student-led national demonstration in favor of gun rights since the Parkland massacre. While the scale of the event was noticeably smaller than the recent student-led gun violence protests, which have drawn thousands of demonstrators and national media attention, students from at least 40 states were expected to walk out.

I am a concealed carry permit holder, and I am valedictorian of my high school. … I don’t fit the media narrative. There are a ton of people like me who also don’t fit that narrative.
Lucus Bendzsa, high school senior from Indiana

Lucus Bendzsa, a senior at West Vigo High School in Terre Haute, Indiana, said he planned to participate in the walkout Wednesday to “show that not all high school and college kids are leftists against” the right to keep and bear arms.

“We are all not ideologically aligned as much as the media portrays us as such,” Bendzsa told HuffPost in an email. “We are, as Kayne West said, ‘independent thinkers.’ We form our own opinions and we are stout in what we believe.”

Bendzsa said he believes the Second Amendment to be the “most imperative” of all the constitutional amendments.

“It is the amendment that secures all of the others,” he said. “It is the amendment that guarantees freedom of speech and freedom of religion. It is the amendment that guarantees the right of equal protection under the law.”

Not all students who support the Second Amendment were in favor of the walkouts. Kyle Kushuv, a survivor of the Parkland shooting and outspoken gun rights advocate, tweeted Wednesday that “disrupting” classrooms wasn’t the right thing to do.

For his part, Bendzsa said it’s important to challenge what he feels is the media’s incorrect narrative surrounding gun rights advocates.

“It’s not all a bunch of uneducated rednecks like the media portrays,” Bendzsa said. “I am a concealed carry permit holder, and I am valedictorian of my high school. … I don’t fit the media narrative. There are a ton of people like me who also don’t fit that narrative.”

“Us millennials are not cookie cutters,” he continued. “We are all unique and different with our own ideas.”

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California School First In The Nation To Be Digitally Mapped For First Responders

Among the many disturbing truths that came to light following the 1999 massacre at Columbine High School was that it took Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold only 16 minutes to kill 13 people and wound 21 others. But it took police three hours and 14 minutes to find all of them.

One of the contributing factors to the highly criticized law enforcement response to the shooting was that police were using outdated floor plans to guide them in their search. They mistakenly believed the cafeteria and library, where nearly all of the murders occurred, were on the east side of the school. But they had been relocated four years earlier to the west side.

More than 19 years later, police nationwide are still lacking crucial information about a school’s layout and what’s inside it when they respond to a shooting or other dangerous situation, experts say.

This, however, is no longer the case for Anaheim High School, the first school in the nation to have its every nook and cranny digitally mapped and the files made accessible to first responders on their computers, tablets or phones.

“This is a game changer,” said Julian Harvey, interim chief of the Anaheim Police Department in an interview. “It dramatically changes the way and manner in which we respond to incidents at schools.”

The system is the brainchild of David Sobel, a former Escondido cop who 18 years ago opened his own San Diego-based security consulting firm, The Sobel Group. Sobel said he came up with the concept a decade ago, but had to wait for the technology to catch up before his idea could be turned into something usable for first responders and affordable to schools and other institutions.

Sobel is debuting his system just over two months after the February massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., brought the scourge of school shootings back into the nation’s consciousness. Several new bills focused on school safety are currently circulating through Sacramento, including proposals to arm teachers, staff schools with mental health professionals and mandate the locking of classroom doors.

At Anaheim High, Sobel and his crew took more than 15,000 360-degree, high-resolution images — documenting every inch of the school where a human being can go, from hallways, offices and classrooms to closets, lofts and crawl spaces, Sobel said.

“The images are so high resolution that you can put them on a big screen in a command center and literally see something written on a whiteboard,” he said.

The images were then loaded into a system that also includes up-to-date floor plans of the school, making it possible for those on the scene and in the command center to see a split-screen, with the image of a room or hallway on one side and the floor plan on the other. This allows first responders to simultaneously do a virtual walk-through of the building and track where they are on the floor plan.

“It reduces the danger and response time for first responders, while assisting in locating a suspect,” Harvey said in a release that preceded a Tuesday news conference. “It won’t prevent a shooting, but we know that time is of the essence when dealing with those situations.”

The system would be especially useful in a situation where a suspect has barricaded himself, and perhaps hostages, in a room, Harvey said. Officers responding would not only be able to pull up information about what’s behind a door — including the number of desks, windows and rear doors — but also the material the door is made of and its locking mechanism.

Harvey added that the system could also be a lifesaver in the event of a fire. “We will know what materials are in there, what can burn, whether there are caustic chemicals,” he said. “It is just a big step in terms of our situational awareness.”

Sobel said it took between three and four weeks to do the digital mapping of Anaheim High and load the images into the system. The price tag for the product is between $25,000 and $30,000 for a large high school, with the cost going down for smaller schools and up for college and university campuses.

“Anaheim was first because the showed a lot of interest and moved quickly,” said Sobel, adding that several San Diego County schools are in the pipeline.

He estimates that if he were able to properly scale up the operation, it would take about five to seven years to implement the system in the majority of the nation’s schools. Next on the list are the North Orange Continuing Education campus, which is also in Anaheim, and Ramona High School in San Diego County.

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School Hangs Up ‘Modesty Ponchos’ To Ensure Students Abide By Prom Dress Code

A Catholic high school in Dearborn, Michigan, has come under fire for its plan to pass out “modesty ponchos” to female students if their dresses are deemed inappropriate at their upcoming prom dance. 

The colorful modesty ponchos appeared on mannequins in the halls of Divine Child High School on Monday morning. The ponchos look similar to rain ponchos and, according to a note left on a mannequin, are available in “short and long styles.” 

“If your dress does not meet our formal dance dress requirements ― no problem! We’ve got you covered ― literally. This is our Modesty Poncho, which you’ll be given at the door,” a note attached to another mannequin reads. 

The modesty ponchos came under swift criticism from students and parents alike, forcing the school to backtrack in a letter sent to the school community Tuesday.

High school principal Eric Haley wrote in the letter that the ponchos were not meant to make students feel uncomfortable and were meant “to remind all students and parents of our formal Prom dress policy.”

“To be clear: The poncho will not be passed out at Prom. It was on display to proactively remind students of our dress code policies and eliminate any confusion prior to this special event,” Haley wrote to students and parents. “We recognize that it has done the opposite for some members of our community and draws away from our goal of having students adhere to the dress code policy.”

According to the school’s dress code, obtained by local news outlet Fox 2, female students cannot wear low necklines or “cutouts below the traditional bra line” to the May 12 prom dance. 

The modesty ponchos were created by theology teacher Mary Pat O’Malley, who said she hoped the poncho would help people see “inner beauty.”

“We are trying to focus on the inner beauty of people and not draw attention to something that doesn’t really need to have attention drawn to it,” she said. “It’s really intended as a deterrent — and a lighthearted one at that.” 

An anonymous Divine Child student told Fox 2 on Monday that she thought the school had “gone very far” with the ponchos and was not comfortable attending her own prom. 

A parent added that the poncho would body-shame young girls. 

“It’s a method of shaming, a method of building and degrading to females and its interpretation what’s modest and what isn’t,” the anonymous parent told Fox 2. 

While the modesty ponchos will no longer be handed out at prom, Haley wrote that teachers will “provide wraps and shawls” ― as the school has done at past events ― to female students if necessary. 

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