The Ultimate Handbook To Help Children Start The New Year Right

We tell our kids that everyone makes mistakes and we mean it but if the last year was a rough one, it can be hard to bounce back. Past struggles with grades, organization and friends are easy to carry over into the new year. Even determined kids may find themselves playing out the same patterns, engaging in the same old conflicts or stuck in last year’s situations.

While there’s rarely one answer to a kid’s struggles and there’s no substitute for open communication sometimes media can offer a fresh approach to old problems. And if your kids really want to change course, finding what works for them can be a real self-esteem booster.

These books, apps, and websites can help kids gain perspective, as well as practice positive habits around communication, time management, self-regulation, and organization. Check out our Homework Help Apps, Time Management Apps, and Note-Taking Apps for Tweens and Teens for even more ideas.

Get organized

Do you need a hazmat suit to explore your kid’s backpack? Does note taking mean scribbling three sentences across a page? Does “I’ll do it tomorrow” really mean, “I already forgot what you said”? Use some tools to create a new routine.

  • Choiceworks Calendar (Age 8+) With lots of visuals to choose from, this planner empowers kids to organize their time.

  • 30/30 (Age 10+) Use this timer to help kids break larger tasks into smaller ones.

  • SoundNote (Age 14+) Because kids can sync audio with written notes, this app can help kids get information in multiple ways and keep them organized.

Study smarter

Press the reset button on study habits with some tools that might help build necessary skills.

Communicate clearly

Smooth out the rough edges with some social-skills practice that will help make a fresh start.

  • The Social Express II (Age 8+) This game helps kids understand the “hidden rules” of social communication and includes a social network.

  • LikeSo (Age 11+) When kids need to tone down teen-speak for formal presentations, this app tracks words and phrases they’d rather omit.

  • ConversationBuilder Teen (Age 13+) Through scripts and situations, kids can practice their communication choices.

Forge positive friendships

Leave the drama behind with social networks that encourage positive interaction.

  • Yoursphere (Age 9+) This social network is a safer starting place for younger users who want to practice their digital citizenship skills.

  • Kidzworld (Age 11+) Short articles, social networking, and self expression come together on this kid-friendly site.

  • Sit With Us (Age 13+) Created by a teen, this app helps kids find friends (and a place at a lunch table) without the risk of public humiliation.

Reflect and reframe ​

Put things in perspective and remind kids they aren’t alone through the pages of these books.

  • About Average (Age 8+) This anti-bullying book can help empower kids to seek solutions.

  • Addie on the Inside (Age 11+) Told through poetry, Addie’s story covers a lot of emotional ground and features a brave female protagonist.

  • King Dork (Age 15+) This realistic coming-of-age book is a relatable read for teens who don’t love high school.

Boost self esteem

Widen kids’ focus to helping others and creating a purpose outside of school.

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The Los Angeles Teachers Strike Puts Charter Schools Under The Microscope

LOS ANGELES ― Tuesday, on the second day of the Los Angeles teachers strike, tens of thousands of educators protested in front of the California Charter Schools Association building at a rally so crowded that participants were standing shoulder to shoulder.

Among the crowd of protesters were teachers from Accelerated Charter Schools, who started their own strike Tuesday morning, along with members of the United Teachers Los Angeles union.

As the Los Angeles Unified School District strike heads into its third day ― affecting half a million students and over 30,000 teachers ― with no immediate end in sight, charter schools are in the spotlight. Teachers are asking the district for smaller class sizes and more support staff, and in the backdrop are larger issues about charter school growth and how it affects district finances.

And educators from the Accelerated Charter Schools ― a network of three schools ― are standing in solidarity while fighting for their own needs.  

A strike of charter school educators is unprecedented in California and nearly unprecedented in the nation ― the vast majority of charter school educators are not unionized, unlike those from Accelerated Charter Schools. On Tuesday these educators joined the thousands of traditional public school teachers on strike, notably rallying outside the building of an organization that works to advance charter schools’ interests.

A strike involving charter school employees ― who are deeply critical of the system in which their schools operate ― only invites more criticism and is symbolic of the microscope that charters are currently under. The educators at Accelerated Charters are fighting for more job security, binding arbitration and health care benefits.

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Educators picket outside the Accelerated Charter Schools building. Among the protesters were teachers from the network’s schools, who started their own strike on Jan. 15.

“A lot of the things [LAUSD teachers are] asking for are things that we need but can’t ask for because we don’t have job security,” said Julia Weinrott, a fourth-grade teacher at an Accelerated school who protested on Tuesday morning with nearly all her colleagues.

The CEO of Accelerated Charter Schools has expressed disappointment with the move, saying it puts “our students and families in the middle of contract demands, according to the Los Angeles Times.

A lot of the things [LAUSD teachers are] asking for are things that we need but can’t ask for because we don’t have job security.
Julia Weinrott, fourth-grade teacher at an Accelerated charter school

LAUSD union leaders have framed their strike as a fight for the future of public education, one in which the creeping influence of charter schools is kept at bay. Union leaders have connected the district’s vast financial problems ― resulting in chronically understaffed and underresourced schools — with the growth of charter schools.

The first charter school in the country opened only in 1992, and since then, their numbers have grown at a rapid clip, especially in Los Angeles. Charter schools are publicly funded and privately run and therefore are not subject to all the same regulations and red tape as traditional public schools.

LAUSD educators who are on strike this week say that the system is unfair ― that when students transfer to charter schools, they take with them their per-pupil funding, leaving behind fixed infrastructure costs and draining a system that is designed to educate all students.

But painting charter schools as at the root of the LAUSD’s fiscal issues might be misleading, said Robin Lake, the director of the Center on Reinventing Public Education.

She has studied an independent financial review of the district from 2015. It’s true that the district’s traditional public schools are losing students at an alarming rate, but only half those kids are leaving for charters. The other shifts are due to demographic changes or students leaving the district for any number of other reasons. 

“I understand people being angry and confused, because it is complicated. But once you dig into the facts, charters didn’t cause this problem,” said Lake.

And much of the district’s financial woes can be attributed to mounting employee-related costs, like retiree benefits, amid an aging workforce. At the same time, the district receives comparatively little funding compared with others of its size around the country.

Still, there’s evidence that students in Los Angeles charter schools are outperforming their peers at traditional public schools. One study found that students in L.A. charter schools receive the equivalent of 50 more days in reading instruction and 79 days in math than their counterparts in traditional public schools.

But from an optics perspective, the reputational damage to charters may already be taking a toll. Throughout the week, a number of high-profile Democrats, some of whom are likely looking to run for president in 2020, tweeted their support for striking teachers.

And on Tuesday, when tens of thousands of teachers gathered to protest charter schools, the enthusiasm was conspicuous. Speakers and performers gave emotional accounts of the lot public school students have been handed.

The scene looked like an ocean of red-clad educators, who wore the color in solidarity with the national Red for Ed movement, as they danced with tambourines and chanted in unison, “The world is watching.” Speakers bashed Los Angeles Schools Superintendent Austin Beutner ― referred to as “billionaire Beutner” ― who is supportive of charter schools, as well as the major donors who have funneled money to pro-charter candidates on the district school board.

The crowd, including parents and students, was roaring.

“The politics around charter schools are going to really shift in California. And the union senses it. They are really vulnerable now,” said Pedro Noguera, a distinguished professor of education at UCLA, noting the election of union-backed candidates like Gov. Gavin Newsom and State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond.

But for students, the issue may feel far more nuanced. Carla Rodriguez, a senior at the Edward R. Roybal Learning Center, a traditional public school, rallied at City Hall in support of her teachers Monday. Her younger brother, though, attends a charter school and was in class.

She said that he’s really happy at his school, that it’s competitive and that he wouldn’t change his situation.

But she added that the whole dynamic has left a bad taste in her mouth.

“I guess in a way it’s not fair — the fact that they pay a lot of attention to them and not us,” said Rodriguez.

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Indiana State Senator Wants To Require ‘In God We Trust’ Posters In Classrooms

An Indiana state senator is pushing a bill that advances Christian beliefs in the state’s public and charter schools. 

Republican state Sen. Dennis Kruse’s bill, introduced last Thursday, seeks to place a poster reading “In God We Trust” in every public and charter school classroom in Indiana.

The bill, titled “Education Matters,” specifies that the phrase should appear on a “durable poster or framed picture” that is at least 11 by 17 inches, and that the display could potentially be purchased with school funds.

The bill would also allow public schools to teach creationism and offer a survey course on world religions. Curriculum for the survey course must be “neutral, objective and balanced” and not “promote acceptance of any particular religion,” according to the legislation, but it only lists the Bible as a specific text to be studied.

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The phrase “In God We Trust,” seen on a U.S. dollar bill, became the national motto in 1956.

Kruse, who represents portions of Allen and DeKalb counties, has a long history of proposing legislation that supports Christian beliefs. In 2013, he pushed a bill that would have required Indiana schools to begin each day by reciting the Lord’s Prayer, a foundational Christian prayer. 

Kruse has introduced a total of six creationism-related bills since 2000, CBS-affiliate WSBT reports. His previous five attempts failed. 

This year, Alaska, Kentucky, Missouri and South Carolina have already introduced “In God We Trust” bills that would allow the phrase to be placed on public buildings and vehicles, The Guardian reports.

Americans United for Separation of Church and State, a national advocacy organization, claims that the slew of bills is part of a larger campaign by Christian nationalist groups to enshrine America’s Judeo-Christian heritage in law. 

The phrase “In God We Trust” started appearing on U.S. coins during the Civil War, a period of heightened religious sentiment in the country. It re-emerged during the Cold War as a religious response to the atheism espoused by communist countries. The phrase became America’s national motto in 1956 and started appearing on paper money one year later.  

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Karen Pence Is Working At A School That Bans Gay Employees

Karen Pence started at a job this week, teaching art at Immanuel Christian School in Northern Virginia. It’s not a school where very everyone is welcome. The 2018 employment application, posted online, makes candidates sign a pledge not to engage in homosexual activity or violate the “unique roles of male and female.” 

“Moral misconduct which violates the bona fide occupational qualifications for employees includes, but is not limited to, such behaviors as the following: heterosexual activity outside of marriage (e.g., premarital sex, cohabitation, extramarital sex), homosexual or lesbian sexual activity, polygamy, transgender identity, any other violation of the unique roles of male and female, sexual harassment, use or viewing of pornographic material or websites,” says the application. 

The application says that the school believes “marriage unites one man and one woman” and that “a wife is commanded to submit to her husband as the church submits to Christ.” The application asks potential employees to explain their view of the “creation/evolution debate.” 

Karen Pence has been married to now–Vice President Mike Pence since 1985. His office did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the school’s discriminatory hiring practices. Karen Pence previously worked at the school for 12 years while her husband was in Congress, according to USA Today. The couple’s daughter Charlotte Pence attended the school, according to the school’s website. 

Immanuel Christian School, which is private, also did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Karen Pence will reportedly teach at the school twice a week until May. 

In Virginia and dozens of other states, it is legal for private employers to discriminate on the basis of sexual and gender identity.

“I am excited to be back in the classroom and doing what I love to do,” Pence said in a statement, the paper reported. “I have missed teaching art.” 

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I’m Only 9, And I’m Already In College. Here’s What Life Is Like For Me.

I was a 3-year-old preschooler when I corrected my teacher’s knowledge of the constitutional requirements to be U.S. president. In kindergarten, I learned that telling my friends that Bashar al-Assad was using chemical weapons against his own people would cause kids to cry on the playground. My parents received a call from an unhappy principal that day. And telling my third-grade science teacher that her knowledge of gravity lacked depth earned me a spot on her naughty list for the rest of the year.

Adults are constantly telling me how to think and what to say. But mostly what not to say! After my doctors tested my IQ to be above the 99.9th percentile in third grade and said my EQ (emotional intelligence) was also surprisingly high, everything changed and adults started taking me more seriously ― I finally felt that I was being heard. The tests showed that I was something called “profoundly gifted.” I was admitted into Mensa International, a program for individuals with a high IQ, and became a Davidson Institute Young Scholar. My parents started getting professional advice in order to learn more about the needs of profoundly-gifted kids, and they moved me to a specialized elementary school. Today we live in the San Francisco Bay Area suburb of Pleasanton, and I attend both fourth grade and college. I am having an awesome time.

People always ask if I am a “genius,” but my parents explain that genius is an action ― it requires solving big problems that have a human impact. Right now I am a 9-year-old boy with very strong skills in some areas. Mom says she’s the only genius in the house because it takes one to keep this house from falling apart! I roll my eyes! Mom also claims that IQ comes from the “X” chromosome. Dad rolls his eyes! My family is very funny.  

You probably have an image of ‘gifted’ kids as weird bookworms with no social skills. But I think of myself as any other normal, happy kid.

You probably have an image of “gifted” kids as weird bookworms with no social skills. But I think of myself as any other normal, happy kid. I collect Pokémon cards and know all the dance moves in Fortnite. I have a lot of friends, and we make naughty jokes and play basketball and games. I don’t always get A’s on tests; my family does not believe that grades are that important. I sneak in video games when my parents aren’t looking. And I get grounded for breaking rules. Actually, I am grounded right now from using the iPad. My parents lecture me all the time that I am failing something called a marshmallow test. But I think my parents are failing the patience test. Let’s just say I am glad to be too old for timeouts.

It’s true that there are some things that I am weirdly good at. The doctors call it “asynchronous learning.” That means I can learn academic subjects at an accelerated speed and even out of sequence. For example, I learned linear algebra concepts before I ever took a formal algebra class. My parents like to say that I literally “Khan Academy’ed” my way into college. But there are other areas where my brain is still catching up, like handwriting, spelling and taking notes. I am using spellcheck a lot for this essay! Also, I am just OK on piano, and I don’t learn foreign languages easily. I am trying to challenge myself by learning Bengali from my family and Mandarin from my very patient tutor Ms. Vienna. Please wish me luck!  

But I do have a knack for computer languages. I started Python programming at YoungWonks coding academy at just 7 years old. Today I am among the academy’s most advanced Python students, and I used my Python background to teach myself more than a dozen coding languages and interfaces. I am also taking an open-source masterclass on machine learning.

I am also obsessed with books. A good book makes me forget to finish my meals and get ready on time for school. This causes my parents to yell a lot. Wait, isn’t reading supposed to be a good thing? A few of my favorite books from 2018 were: Neil deGrasse Tyson’s Astrophysics for People in a Hurry, George Orwell’s 1984 and the Game of Thrones series. I tried reading Carl Sagan’s Cosmos, but the writing was dry and boring. But I also like reading books that many of my friends are reading, such as Captain Underpants, the Harry Potter series (I read all eight books in the eight weeks of summer break after first grade), The Percy Jackson series and Diary of a Wimpy Kid.

I learned linear algebra concepts before I ever took a formal algebra class. But there are other areas where my brain is still catching up, like handwriting, spelling and taking notes. I am using spellcheck a lot for this essay!

More than anything else, I am famous in our social circle for being a political junkie. I have watched every presidential debate since I was 3 years old, starting with Barack Obama’s re-election campaign. My favorite news sources are HuffPost, NPR and MSNBC. I am obsessed with Rachel Maddow. Maybe because she grew up in the same Bay Area city where I was born. I even had a chance to ask my congressman, Eric Swalwell, at a recent community meeting about the Democrats’ Supreme Court strategy. But I think he was more focused on my age instead of my question. By the way, he is 1 of 1,000 Democrats thinking about running for president!

In the daytime, I attend fourth grade at a specialized gifted school called Helios in Sunnyvale. Even though I am new to the school this year, I finally feel that I have teachers and friends who understand me and don’t try to change me. We sit on rocking chairs to help with our fidgetiness, and we can even go for a quick run or do jumping jacks during class if that helps us think better. They encourage us to be autonomous and accountable learners while working in groups. We don’t get homework, and the subjects are taught to fit the way our brains work. We learn mostly by researching and completing complex projects, and the subjects are integrated so that we understand real-life connections between math, science, economics and humanities. The best part is that I have not been sent to the principal’s office even once this semester! I even got elected to the Student Council, and my friends are so proud of me and brag to everyone that I attend college.

After day school, I attend Las Positas College, where I am working on my associate degrees in chemistry and math. Did you know that Sir Isaac Newton and Stephen Hawking were Lucasian Professors of mathematics at Cambridge University? I had to go through interviews and assessments to prove to the administration that I had both the scholastic aptitude and the executive functions to attend college. Now the administration and professors treat me like any other student. I follow the same rules, and the classes cannot be modified for me.

Being an extrovert has helped me make a lot of friends in college ― they even ask me to tutor them. Whenever I start a new class, other students give me curious looks, and I can see some people secretly taking photos and videos of me. I hear them whispering, “He’s so cute!” or “He’s so smart!” but I try to break the ice by introducing myself so they can see that it’s OK to talk to me and be my friend. I also send my professors an email before the first day of class so that they are not confused when I walk in.          

Before I started college, my parents used to let me try anything I wanted as long as I showed interest and commitment. But now my parents worry that I might get overwhelmed, and they encourage me to slow down. For my first college course, they forced me to enroll in baby math (aka algebra I) because they wanted me to develop soft skills and get used to being in a college setting. It was so boring that I spent a lot of time playing video games during class. Then I convinced my parents to let me take an assessment test so that I could take harder classes. My college assessment test showed that I was ready for calculus – that’s four levels above baby math! I think my parents are starting to believe that I actually do know what I’m doing. 

Being an extrovert has helped me make a lot of friends in college – they even ask me to tutor them.

So far, the content of the college classes has not really been a challenge since I process information easily. I don’t study much at all. I feel that my professors and classmates respect my abilities. But I have other types of challenges as a college student. Because of the asynchronous development, I do not have good time-management skills or strong note-taking skills, and sometimes I have trouble reading my own handwriting! My parents help me by typing out study notes from my textbooks, even though they might not understand the content.

Also, I do whine a lot over homework because it is boring and long. I think this worries my parents because they keep reminding me that work ethic and ethos are more important than IQ. They were concerned when I spent only one hour to study all 14 chapters for my chemistry final, but then I got a 101 percent. Remember their obsession with the marshmallow test? I hope to transfer to MIT in two to three years. Hopefully, MIT will disagree with my parents’ definition of work ethic.

My biggest challenge during class (and during this essay) is to train my brain to stay focused and keep from wandering off to random thoughts. At any time, I could be thinking about anything from the Yemen famine to how do get out of piano practice that day.

My parents always had an open and transparent philosophy with me. That means our family does not have any questions that are off-limits, though I do sometimes get low-quality answers on controversial subjects. I think they regret their open philosophy after being forced to explain to me some words and concepts from the Game of Thrones books. I have a provocative personality. So my parents “remind me” (more like, threaten me) that I have to respect the boundaries other parents might have and I should not share controversial knowledge with my friends.

I am excited that I will be interning next summer in the artificial intelligence division of one of the largest technology companies in the world. I used my charm offensive in the interview! My boss is a famous female scientist who worked with Stephen Hawking. For my fourth-grade spring research paper, my Helios teachers will allow me to choose a topic that is related to my internship. I have a big support system of parents, relatives, family friends, mentors, teachers and doctors who are happy to help me. But I also know that I am very lucky to have this kind of community because most kids with “special needs” have to struggle to find resources. Well, I wrote a lot, so thanks for reading!

You can follow me on Twitter and Instagram, but please remember to be nice!

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The Day Tens Of Thousands Of Teachers Took Los Angeles

LOS ANGELES ― Decked out in rain boots, ponchos and umbrellas, tens of thousands of teachers took to the streets of Los Angeles on Monday in a fight for the future of the city’s schools.

Groups of teachers, wearing red in solidarity with the Red for Ed movement, could be seen all over the city, taking shelter under storefronts as heavy rain poured down or congregating on street corners and getting supplies for the day’s events. In the morning, educators picketed in front of their schools with megaphones, cheering when passing cars honked in support. In the early afternoon, tens of thousands marched on City Hall, sometimes alongside parents, students and friendly community members. The march was a sea of red enthusiasm, complete with deafening cheers, topical costumes and damp signs.

It was day one of the first teachers strike in Los Angeles in 30 years. And it was big, wet and loud.


Teachers and supporters hold signs in the rain during a rally on Jan. 14, 2019, in Los Angeles.

The strike comes after 21 months of failed negotiations between the Los Angeles Unified School District and the teachers union, United Teachers Los Angeles, which is battling for smaller class sizes, increased support staff and pay raises. It comes only months after statewide teacher strikes in red states like Kansas, Oklahoma and West Virginia. But action in the second-largest school district in the country could be equally influential.

Los Angeles public schools have nearly half a million students and over 30,000 teachers. By comparison, there are only around 20,000 public school teachers in all of West Virginia.

Union leaders have framed the fight as one for the future of public education. But for teachers on the ground, it’s about getting day-to-day help so they might be able to pay more individual attention to their students.  

Teachers rallied at City Hall in Los Angeles on Monday.


Teachers rallied at City Hall in Los Angeles on Monday.

Sandra Marin-Lares is a psychiatric social worker for the district. Just several years ago, she was assigned to a single school, allowing her to build a sustained rapport with students and families. But last year, she covered three schools. Now she spends her week shuttling between four of them.

“A lot of the kids, when we get to the school, they’re like, ‘We needed to talk to you the other day but you weren’t here,’” said Marin-Lares, who has worked in the district for 10 years. “It’s not enough.”

Just last Friday, she met with an elementary school student she believes may be suicidal. But on Monday, Marin-Lares went on strike. The school leaders, who are not specifically trained to deal with such issues, are now in charge of making sure students, including that child, get the help they need.

Marin-Lares says she’s striking for that child and for others in similar situations.

Other teachers who have their own children in the district are striking as both educators and parents.

Laura Mazur teachers four-year-old students in the district. While she and her co-workers describe their workplace, Third Street School, as relatively affluent compared to many others, it still only employs a nurse for half of a single school day. Sick children are sent to an office staffed by secretaries, who split their time between supervising kids and doing their jobs.

Mazur’s child once spent an hour throwing up alone in the office at school. Office staff were present but occupied with other matters.

It’s not their job and it should not be their job,” said Mazur while taking shelter from the rain in a cafe with colleagues after marching on City Hall.

Union leaders have framed the strike as a fight for the future of public education. But for teachers, it’s about gettin

Associated Press

Union leaders have framed the strike as a fight for the future of public education. But for teachers, it’s about getting day-to-day help so they might be able to pay more individual attention to their students.

The district has kept schools open during the strike and encouraged parents to send their students to school. In a statement, officials said that at least around 141,000 students showed up Monday, although not all schools reported attendance numbers. School buses saw nearly 40 percent of average daily ridership, according to officials.

The district hired around 400 non-unionized substitute teachers to replace the more than 30,000 striking teachers. Some parents sent their kids to school by way of necessity. After Monday, some won’t be going back.

Liza Valenzuela sent her fourth-grader to school at Marianna Elementary on Monday because he asked to go. Valenzuela takes classes at night and has the ability to stay home with her son, but he was under the impression that you should only stay home if you’re very sick ― and she didn’t want to disabuse him of such a notion.

They’re going to discuss tonight whether he’ll be going back.

“He was adamant about coming,” she said, recalling apologetically passing his teacher on the picket line.

Yeraldy Jackson also sent her son to school at Marianna, even though she is a school aide and has been striking. She wanted to see what it would be like for him ― whether or not there would be any learning happening.

Instead, she found out that he spent most of the day in the auditorium with other students. He won’t be going back.

“I was like wow, for LA Unified to allow this. To not have people to teach them, and still ask us to bring them to school? So they could collect their money. There’s no point,” Jackson said.

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These Are The Democrats Supporting The LA Teachers Strike

Los Angeles public school teachers went on strike on Monday after 20 months of failed negotiations for higher pay, greater school funding and more support staff.

Unlike many of the teacher strikes that gripped red states in 2018, the LA strike pits the massive United Teachers Los Angeles union against the Los Angeles Unified School District, which runs public schools in the city of Los Angeles and many surrounding communities. The labor dispute reflects a bitter Democratic Party rift on education policy that splits unions and their allies from proponents of charter schools, whose influence on the LA school board has helped precipitate the strike.

A number of high-profile Democratic elected officials have nonetheless come out on the side of Los Angeles teachers, including Sen. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.), who announced her 2020 presidential campaign on Dec. 31, and Sens. Kamala Harris (Calif.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who are expected to announce presidential bids soon.

Some of the U.S. House’s biggest progressive stars have also declared their support for the city’s teachers union, with Congressional Progressive Caucus co-chairs Pramila Jayapal (Wash.) and Mark Pocan (Wis.), as well as Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (N.Y.) and Ro Khanna (Calif.) tweeting their solidarity.

Even Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez, a former secretary of labor, released a statement saying he stands with the striking teachers “fighting for the children they teach to have the resources they need to achieve and flourish.”

But other Democratic elected officials have been less eager to comment on the strike. In fact, some Democrats who want to diminish the clout of teachers unions, like former Education Secretary Arne Duncan, actually back the city’s school district against the union.

Of the 10 Democrats representing parts of the city of Los Angeles, Reps. Jimmy Gomez, Brad Sherman, Adam Schiff, Nanette Barragán, Ted Lieu and Tony Cárdenas have announced unequivocal support for the teachers union. 

“For the first time in 30 years, teachers from the LA Unified School District are on strike, fighting for fair pay, smaller class sizes, and better resourced schools for our kids,” Schiff said in a statement to HuffPost. “When we fail to support our public school teachers, we fail our students too. I stand with our teachers every step of the way.”

“To every teacher on strike today, I am with you,” he added. “I urge both LA Unified and United Teachers Los Angeles to negotiate and reach a comprehensive agreement to end the strike for the benefit of families, children, and our teachers.”  

Barragán cited the importance of her own education in LA public schools in explaining why she stood with teachers.

“It is crucial that we listen and acknowledge their concerns and pleas to address the inequalities and deficiencies that prevent members of [United Teachers Los Angeles] from serving our children to their fullest abilities,” she said in a statement to HuffPost.

Cárdenas also said his own attendance at LA public schools, as well as his children’s, informed his decision to back the strike.  

“I stand with the teachers during their strike to improve the education of our children,” he said in a statement to HuffPost, noting the need for smaller class sizes and better pay for teachers. “I hope that both sides can resolve these issues so that our dedicated teachers can be back where they want to be: Educating our children.”

Rep. Judy Chu (D-Calif.), who represents communities in Los Angeles County with students in the affected school district, said that as a former teacher, she knows the importance of “proper resources.”

“I am so disappointed that there could not be an agreement reached before this strike,” Chu said in a statement to HuffPost.

“But as a former teacher myself, I know how critical it is to have the proper resources that will give every student the ability to succeed in their education,” she added, noting the need for smaller class sizes, more nurses and mental health counselors for students, and fair wages for teachers.

Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard, another Democratic representative of the nation’s second-largest city, encouraged the two sides in the strike to “find common ground” that accommodates students, their families and teachers. 

Other prominent California Democrats likewise urged conciliation. 

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti (D), who is rumored to be considering a presidential run, expressed his disappointment that talks had broken down between teachers and the school district. 

“I strongly urge both parties to consider returning to the negotiating table for talks over the weekend for the sake of our children, our teachers, and our schools,” he said on Friday as a strike loomed.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) issued a similar statement on Monday, lamenting that the “impasse is disrupting the lives of too many kids and their families.” 

Former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa (D), an outspoken supporter of public charter schools, which are a point of contention in ongoing labor talks, declared that “both sides need to come together,” and argued that the state had resources the city lacked to improve school funding.

HuffPost reached out to the remaining three House members from LA, as well as Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro (D) and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii). Castro and Gabbard have announced plans to run for president. Thus far, none of them has commented publicly on the matter.

Kevin de León, the former California state Senate president who unsuccessfully challenged Feinstein from the left in November, met with striking teachers to express solidarity. Prior to entering politics, de León served as a teachers union organizer.

This article has been updated with statements from Perez and Cárdenas. 

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Family To Sue School After Teen Charged For Defending Self Against Bullying

The family of a teen who was criminally charged after fighting back against an alleged bully is planning to sue a Georgia school district.

“Where are we going to be as a society if we allow this to continue?” the teen’s father, Jorge Santa, asked the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Santa’s son, 15-year-old Jorge Santa-Hernandez, was suspended from Harrison High School in Kennesaw last year and faced five criminal charges, including felony aggravated battery and felony aggravated assault, before the charges were eventually dismissed.

The victim is victimized twice, once by the bully and then by the school system.
Jorge Santa, father of 15-year-old Jorge Santa-Hernandez

Police filed the charges after the teen, then 14, fought with one of two students who allegedly bullied him on the last day of the 2017-2018 school year.

“It was clear my son had been bullied,” Santa told Atlanta’s WXIA-TV. “He was called some racial slurs, they had stolen food from his backpack and pretty much ate it all in front of him, mocking him.”

The breaking point, Santa said, was when one of the alleged bullies pulled out a can of silly string.

“He gets sprayed in the face with it and immediately jumps up and strikes the bully,” Santa told WXIA-TV. “He held him in a headlock until help arrived.”

Harrison High School employs school resource officers, but it’s not clear if they arrested Jorge, the only student who was criminally charged. In November, the Cobb County District Attorney’s Office dismissed the charges against him. Because the case involved a juvenile, the office gave no official explanation and authorities cannot comment on the case.

However, the school accused Jorge of violating the student code of conduct, according to the Journal-Constitution.

“Jorge had options [and] he chose not to take those options,” assistant principal Art O’Neill told Santa during a meeting Santa recorded on his cellphone. “Your son had every opportunity to make the teacher aware of the harassing situation. Jorge could have wiped the Silly String off of him and gone to the teacher and said, ‘This needs to stop.’”

O’Neill did not refer to the alleged incidents leading up to the fight as bullying. He told Santa the older teens had been “picking at Jorge.”

Santa, an Atlanta police officer, disagreed. He said his son’s actions amounted to justifiable self-defense and he hired Marietta attorney Mitch Skandalakis to represent the family.

Skandalakis told Atlanta’s WGCL-TV that Jorge had no way of knowing what the other students might do after they sprayed him with silly string, and was not in the wrong when he chose to defend himself.

“That is the definition of a reasonable man put in fear for his safety for purposes of standing your own ground,” the attorney said.

The school, Skandalakis alleges, ignored state law, which requires school administrators to consider the possibility of self-defense.

“Many of the student witnesses … stated that the student who bullied and assaulted Jorge was a well-known bully throughout the school,” Skandalakis told WXIA-TV.

Skandalakis says the school district sought the “malicious prosecution” of Jorge. The attorney further alleges that the school district’s discipline records show that bullying incidents are minimized and students who fight back often receive the same punishment as the student who starts the fight.

“They just want to suspend everybody,” Santa told the Journal-Constitution of Skandalakis’ findings. “The victim is victimized twice, once by the bully and then by the school system.”

In a statement to WGCL-TV, the district said it takes bullying seriously:

“We strictly adhere to state and district guidelines concerning these issues.”

It will ultimately be up to the courts to determine who was in the right.  

Santa told WGCL-TV that his son still attends the school.

“He said to me, ‘Dad, that kid already bullied me [and] I’m not going to allow the school system to bully me too,’” Santa said.

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

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I’m An LAUSD Teacher. This Is Why We’re Striking.

My pregnant wife coughed and wheezed on Saturday as she fed strike signs into the laminator while fighting off a cold. I punched holes in our signs, handed them to her and trimmed each one as they came out of the machine. Behind us, a line of teachers from all over the city waited to do the same; The teaching supply store was providing free lamination for Los Angeles teachers in preparation for the Los Angeles Unified School District teacher strike, which began this morning.

I’m a 2018-19 Los Angeles County Teacher of the Year, and I love my job. I love it so much I spent my rainy Saturday laminating 40 signs and making a dozen strike-related phone calls. I love it so much I spent my Sunday sending out more than a dozen college recommendation letters for my graduating seniors. I’m also the United Teachers Los Angeles chapter chair for my school. This means I’ve been in charge of preparing and motivating our school’s teachers and health and human service workers to strike.

When people talk about the LAUSD strike, they should consider the fact that 98 percent of us voted to give our union permission to call the strike. This isn’t a battle between one union leader and a school superintendent. It’s a battle between 33,000 UTLA members, the vast majority of LA teachers and other school staff, who spend every day teaching and caring for our students, and the district leaders who are unwilling to work with us to meet their needs. We’re walking out because we feel like we’re part of a rigged game set up to undermine public education. And we’ve decided enough is enough.

We’re walking out because we feel like we’re part of a rigged game set up to undermine public education.

When the media discusses this strike, most reports focus on salary-related issues. But that’s not our sticking point. We are striking first and foremost for our students. One of my English classes has 38 students in it (I know many teachers with classes in the 40s). That means if I wanted to give my students a 15-minute read-and-response to the essay they spent two weeks on (a common practice for an English teacher), it would take me 9.5 hours. To grade one set of essays. I spent 11 hours over winter break overseeing optional writer’s conferences with my AP English Literature seniors, another full day facilitating a practice test, and yet I still don’t have time to give my students the attention they deserve.

Class size matters, both so our students can get the education they deserve, and also the care and attention they need. I spent a decade teaching in South Central Los Angeles, where so many of my students suffered from trauma. I’ve had students experiencing homelessness, students who struggled with suicidality, students who’ve survived molestation and physical and emotional abuse, and students with friends or relatives who have experienced gun violence or been incarcerated. I asked my school at the time to fund additional social workers for our kids. It took teachers and administrators three years to get funding for the additional support.

In LAUSD, the district allows schools to choose how to spend their allocation of money, but schools don’t have enough to buy everything students need. Does a school pay for a librarian to teach students to love reading, or for a full-time nurse in case our students get sick or injured? Does a school hire social workers for students who suffer trauma every day? In my district, schools can afford a few of those things, but not all of them. Seventy-six percent of our students are socioeconomically disadvantaged, but we have to choose which vital supports they get and which they don’t. How are nurses, librarians, counselors, psychologists and social workers considered luxury items in the richest state in the nation and the fifth-largest economy in the world?

This is what we’re fighting for, along with many other important demands to improve the lives of students.

Joseph Zeccola

A major teaching supply store provided free lamination to Los Angeles teachers last weekend in preparation for the Los Angeles Unified School District teacher strike.

LAUSD Superintendent Austin Beutner, an investment banker with no experience whatsoever in education, says the district cannot afford to meet our demands, yet the neutral fact-finder in our dispute confirmed that there is a $1.8 billion budget reserve. Still, the district claims it is in danger of becoming insolvent.

Pedro Noguera, a professor of education at UCLA, wrote a balanced op-ed last weekend in which he said that our demands were “important and legitimate,” that the district must invest in its schools, and that there was indeed a $1.8-billion reserve. He also said that without new money, the district would eventually face insolvency and suggested the district investigate a parcel tax, along with additional state funding.

Apparently, Noguera didn’t realize that both UTLA and two members of the school board already tried to do this. Scott Schmerelson and George McKenna introduced a motion to put a parcel tax on the 2018 ballot last June. Polling suggested it would’ve passed, and similar ballot measures statewide did indeed pass. But the motion was voted down by the very same school board members who voted to hire Austin Beutner. Why didn’t the school board vote to pursue new money from the voters if their financial situation was so dire?

It feels like district leaders want to use this “crisis” to implement austerity measures, which would allow them to break our union and privatize our district. It feels like disaster capitalism.

We’re risking our livelihoods to save public education while our district’s leaders pretend there’s no money to be had.

The Schools and Communities First Act, a ballot measure for 2020, would bring $5 billion in new money to California public schools every year. UTLA, almost every other major state union, the California Parent Teacher Association, and even LAUSD have endorsed this proposal. With a massive state budget surplus of nearly $30 billion, a willingness of newly elected state leaders to invest in public education, this promising ballot measure to bring even more funding, and a current budget reserve of more than $1.8 billion, it’s clear the LAUSD leaders could end this strike now if they really wanted to. Yet our students languish at the bottom of our nation in class size and per-pupil funding. Why doesn’t the LAUSD meet our demands and work together with us to get more funding for our schools?

Until this question is answered, more than 30,000 teachers will spend our days on the picket line instead of in the classroom, where we want to be. We’re risking our livelihoods to save public education while our district’s leaders pretend there’s no money to be had.

The results of the LAUSD teachers’ strike will affect public education in California and the U.S. for years to come. Will we fund it adequately, or will classrooms continue to be overcrowded? Will schools continue to be forced to choose between a nurse and a librarian, or a social worker and a counselor? I shudder at the thought of my son entering kindergarten in 2024 if we don’t stop the abuse and neglect of public education in the LAUSD and the United States before it’s too late.

Joseph Zeccola is a national board certified English teacher, a 2018-19 Los Angeles County Teacher of the Year, and soon-to-be father.  He teaches at Sherman Oaks Center for Enriched Studies, where he is also the UTLA chapter chair.

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Renting College Textbooks Can Be An Even Bigger Ripoff Than Buying Them

George Washington University graduate Alison Oksner learned her lesson. After she failed to return a rented textbook on time to Amazon, Oksner said she was fined $87.61.

That was more than she earned in a week as a resident dormitory adviser. All told, she spent $118.24 in rental and late fees — more than if she had bought the book new.

In theory, that might have been fair: When Oksner rented the book, she agreed to pay an additional fee if she returned it late. But in practice, consumer advocates argue, what happened to her — and to thousands of other students on college campuses across the country — could be against the law.

Even in the digital age, textbook rentals — which can run much less than the price of new or used books — are a big business. About 30 percent of college students are projected to rent at least one textbook this year, according to McKinsey & Co.

About 10 percent of the students who rent a textbook will fail to return it on time, according to spokespeople for Barnes & Noble College and the college textbook program at Shakespeare & Co. Bookseller. That’s where the big retailers get them: Most of these companies — including Amazon, Barnes & Noble College and Follett Higher Education Group — don’t charge late fees on a per-day or per-week basis. Instead, they levy a flat percentage no matter how late the materials are returned.

They are simply preying on students, who as a group can ill afford to pay excessive fees.
Arthur Levy, a consumer class action attorney

That kind of late fee may violate a basic premise of contract law, which holds that when someone breaches a contract — say, by returning a book late — they can’t be forced to pay penalties higher than the actual damage they caused. That suggests retailers can’t seek compensation that exceeds the value of what they actually lost from the late return of their books.

“They’re exploiting late fees as a profit center,” said Arthur Levy, a San Francisco consumer class action attorney. “A flat late fee is not based on any reasonable calculation of the rental company’s loss from having a book returned late. They are simply preying on students, who as a group can ill afford to pay excessive fees.”

Amazon said the company strives to provide students with affordable textbook options and offers them a 15-day extension on their rental deadlines — for an additional fee.

Read ’Em And Weep

Catholic University of America graduate Matthew Suhosky said he was stunned when he received a $315 bill from a collection agency last fall after he failed to return a rented Italian-language textbook on time to Cengage, an online provider of education materials. It took him about 25 hours of bartending at an on-campus restaurant to repay that charge.

Suhosky had already forked out $136 to rent the book and while he was entitled to keep it after paying those late fees, that was little consolation. “It was incredibly expensive and not worth it at all,” he said.

A book that expensive is an outlier, according to Todd Markson, chief strategy officer for Cengage. On average, he said the company’s textbooks cost $35 to rent and $160 to buy.

Markson also noted that while the company rents and sells books to students who prefer a hard copy, Cengage’s focus is now on its digital library, which students can access in its entirety for less than what Suhosky spent to rent one book.

In fact, one-third of college students no longer buy or rent hard-copy books, according to James Koch, an economics professor and president emeritus at Old Dominion University, who has advised the U.S. Department of Education on textbook pricing. But for the two-thirds who still do, textbook retailers set prices and fees that often have little to do with actual production costs, Koch said, adding, “This is classic profit-maximizing behavior.”

AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews

Student textbooks for rent sit on the shelves at the City College Bookstore in New York in 2010.

That’s the problem, according to Florencia Marotta-Wurgler, a contracts professor at New York University School of Law and co-author of Does Anyone Read the Fine Print? Consumer Attention to Standard Form Contracts.

Late fees that are “over-compensatory” can be seen as penalties, Marotta-Wurgler explained. And penalties, otherwise known as punitive damages, are generally rejected by courts in breach-of-contract cases, she said.

Under most state laws, Levy said, an across-the-board penalty for the late return of rented materials would be valid only if the rental company could demonstrate both that its damages from a late return could not be reasonably calculated and that the late fee was a reasonable estimate of the loss, Levy said. In the case of rented books, he argued, “neither seems to be true.”

Fees Upon Fees Upon Fees

The threat of late fees is not the same across the rental book industry. Companies have different policies on how much to charge for the delayed return of textbooks, and those differences come with financial consequences for students.

At LaGuardia Community College in New York, students can rent textbooks from the school’s bookstore, which is operated by Barnes & Noble College. That’s a valuable service given that more than 67 percent of LaGuardia undergraduates come from families with an annual income of less than $25,000.

But if students don’t bring those texts back by the due date, Barnes & Noble College will charge them 75 percent of what a new book would have cost, plus a processing fee equal to 7.5 percent of that new book price, according to the company website. That amounts to 82.5 percent of the new book price, plus the rental fee the student already paid.

People shop at a newly opened Barnes & Noble College bookstore at The College of New Jersey in Ewing Township in 2015.

AP Photo/Mel Evans

People shop at a newly opened Barnes & Noble College bookstore at The College of New Jersey in Ewing Township in 2015.

The tardy student might have paid less, however, by renting the same book from a competitor, such as the retail book chain Barnes & Noble. (Barnes & Noble Education, which operates nearly 800 campus stores nationwide under the Barnes & Noble College name, is a separate corporate entity from Barnes & Noble.)

A student who returns a book more than 15 days late to Barnes & Noble will be charged a fee that equals 100 percent of what a new book would have cost, minus the rental fee and the 15-day extension fee, according to the company website.

That’s a better deal, but some lawyers contend it still may not be legal.

“This is the kind of stuff Blockbuster did before it became history,” said Brian Bromberg, a consumer protection attorney in New York. The now-defunct video rental company faced dozens of lawsuits for charging customers late fees that bore no relationship to the actual damages that it incurred from the tardy return of movies.

In Barnes & Noble College’s defense, Lisa Malat, chief marketing officer and vice president of operations, said the company takes pains to make sure students do bring the books back on time.

“Through our extensive outreach, which includes multiple emails directly to students, we remind students of rental due dates and encourage them to return their books before they leave campus for the semester,” Malat said.

Additionally, students can be reimbursed for any late fee paid if they eventually bring those books back, she said, adding that the managers at the individual college stores have the discretion to waive the processing fee as well.

Barnes & Noble College did not respond to questions about whether it notifies students that it will reimburse late fees regardless of when they return the book.

‘The Book Is The Object’

Like Barnes & Noble College, Follett will also accept a late book back and reimburse students for charges incurred in the interim. Those charges, according to the company website, are 75 percent of the cost of a new book, plus an administrative fee equal to 7.5 percent of that new book price. The fees are in addition to the rental cost.

“The fee is not the object here. The book is the object,” said Thomas Kline, a spokesman for Follett, which serves more than 5 million students nationwide through its virtual and college-based bookstores. “The deadline is more important to us from a purely operational standpoint.”

But if getting the books back is the goal, Follett did not explain why it doesn’t directly notify students that they can bring rented books back after the due date for a full reimbursement of the late charges.

This is the kind of stuff Blockbuster did before it became history.
Brian Bromberg, a consumer protection attorney

When Hunter College graduate Don Kelly tried to return the used book he’d rented from Follett after the deadline, he said he was rebuffed.

According to Kelly, the Follett-employed store manager refused to accept the book on the premise that she could not find evidence of the rental transaction in the computer, even though Kelly said he had with him the original receipt from the transaction. That receipt indicated when and where he’d rented the book, how much he’d paid for it and when it was due. A few weeks later, he said, he received a bill in the mail from a debt collector that claimed he was responsible for Follett’s charges plus the debt collector’s own fees.

Kelly returned to the store. This time, the manager accepted the book but also charged him the late fee. Kelly said he ended up paying the full purchase price for a book that the store got back.

Mistakes can happen, Follett spokesman Kline said, urging students to contact the company’s customer service department if they have concerns about their rentals.

To Sue Or Not To Sue

Twenty million students were expected to attend college in the U.S. this academic year. If 30 percent rent at least one textbook and 10 percent of them fail to return it on time, that means some 600,000 students could be hit by late fees.

If they wanted to challenge the enforceability of those fees in court, many of them would have to go it alone. Of course, suing a large company in hopes of recovering, say, $87.61 is not likely to be a good financial gamble.

The legal system has an answer to this problem: class action lawsuits, in which consumers with small individual claims can band together in court.

Without a class action mechanism, no one is going to test the issue.
Brian Bromberg

To prevent such suits, the rental contracts from Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Follett have clauses mandating that customer disputes be handled through arbitration. Chegg, another well-known online retailer of education materials, has an arbitration clause that bars such suits unless students specifically opt out of the clause within a specified time frame. (Cengage and Barnes & Noble College do not have mandatory arbitration clauses or class action preclusions.)

Consumer protection advocates have long pushed to eliminate mandatory arbitration clauses, and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau struck a blow against them for a brief period in 2017. But the then Republican-controlled Congress killed the agency’s effort with President Donald Trump’s support.

And without the threat of a class action lawsuit challenging their fees, book rental companies have no incentive to reconsider their ways.

“Given a chance, a court might decide that these practices are illegal,” said Bromberg, the consumer protection lawyer, “but without a class action mechanism, no one is going to test the issue.”

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Los Angeles Teachers Set To Begin Massive Strike On Monday

Los Angeles teachers are set to strike on Monday, a plan that will impact about a half million students in the nation’s second-largest school district.

The move, which follows 20 months of failed negotiations, will involve more than 30,000 teachers at 900 schools.

The strike comes after a “red state teacher revolt” that rolled through places like Arizona, Kansas and West Virginia last spring. But this time, the teachers are fighting against Democratic leaders in a deeply blue state with union-friendly policies.

On the union side, United Teachers Los Angeles is fighting for pay raises, smaller class sizes and additional support staff. On the opposing side is the Los Angeles Unified School District, which says it simply doesn’t have the funds for such changes. On Friday, the union rejected the district’s latest offer, which involved pay raises, smaller class sizes and increased support staff, but did not meet all the union’s specific requests.

In the background is tension over the expansion of charter schools and questions over who gets to control the direction of the district. Its 2017 school board election was the most expensive in U.S. history, with outside groups ― including unions ― spending nearly $15 million.

Nearly every leader in this fight is a Democrat, with the two sides representing larger fissures within the Democratic Party about the future of public education. What happens with this teachers strike could set the stage for how these issues play out in the 2020 election and beyond.

“This conflict is forcing the issue of school privatization and charter schools in the Democratic Party,” said Lois Weiner, an independent researcher and consultant who has studied teachers unions.

Los Angeles teacher Gillian Claycomb argues that even though the superintendent of schools, Austin Beutner, is a Democrat, his approach to education makes him “just as bad as [Education Secretary] Betsy DeVos and [President] Donald Trump.”

“He is a billionaire. He spends a lot of time with other billionaires and people with very deep pockets who are really invested in privatizing public education,” said Claycomb, a high school history teacher and a chapter leader with the local teachers union.

At the heart of the strike is the issue of resource distribution. The state of California spends comparatively little on education per pupil. While United Teachers Los Angeles points to $2 billion that the school district keeps in a reserve fund as a way to pay for changes, Beutner contends that the district needs to maintain that cushion.

“A strike will worsen the culture and climate in our schools. What it won’t do is provide more money to reduce class sizes and hire more nurses, counselors and librarians,” wrote Beutner in a Los Angeles Times op-ed this week.

Los Angeles teachers complain of class sizes of up to more than 40 people, inadequate “wraparound” services for needy students and a severe shortage of school nurses. Many elementary schools only have a nurse for one day a week.

Beyond the specifics of the debate lie the larger philosophical questions of how Democrats think public funds should be distributed and what a large, diverse, public school district should look like.

“Trump has been defeated in California. There is no Trump constituency. They were defeated, but that doesn’t mean everything is hunky-dory. We have other battles,” said labor historian Nelson Lichtenstein, a professor at the University of California Santa Barbara.

Charter schools, in particular, have long been a contentious issue within the Democratic Party, pitting teachers unions against education reform groups. Staff at charter schools, which are publicly funded but often privately run, are rarely unionized.

To the dismay of some progressive groups and politicians, President Barack Obama’s two secretaries of education, Arne Duncan and John King, championed the growth of charter schools. In 2017, the NAACP called for a moratorium on these schools ― a stance that complicated the idea that so-called school choice is a civil rights issue, as education reform groups often argue.

Some groups like Democrats for Education Reform have pushed back against the portrayal of school choice as anything but liberal. The group only supports nonprofit public charter schools and is opposed to other forms of school choice, like voucher programs.

“We’re very clear about the legacy in which we operate. We operate within the legacy of Barack Obama. His agenda is our agenda, and it’s an agenda that hundreds of Democrats across the country support,” Shavar Jeffries, leader of Democrats for Education Reform, told BuzzFeed in February 2018.

But the election of President Trump and his selection of the pro-charter DeVos to be secretary of education have put these Democrats in a tricky spot. Charter schools quickly became associated with DeVos, whom many see as public education’s No. 1 enemy. The issue was suddenly a partisan one, with polls showing liberal support for charter schools dropping. In the 2018 elections, a new crop of liberal candidates criticized charter schools with zeal.

Last spring’s wave of teacher walkouts centered in right-to-work states, where unions have relatively little power. In Los Angeles, the local union is flexing its muscle, with 98 percent of voting members supporting a strike.

How the city’s Democratic mayor, California’s governor and its state superintendent for public instruction react to the strike will be watched closely.

“In the red-state rebellion, people were standing up and fighting against the pro-corporate policies of the GOP. In LA, people are going to be standing up and fighting against the pro-corporate policies of the Democrats,” said Claycomb, who has been teaching for nine years.

Lichtenstein sees the conflict as a sign of what’s to come if Democrats make greater gains in 2020.

“These are the kind of fights we’re going to have, over charter schools and raising taxes,” he said.

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YouTube’s Cool With Monetized Videos Promoting A Gambling Scam To Kids

YouTube’s top influencers have cashed in on highly lucrative sponsorship deals to promote an online gambling company to their young fans, and YouTube doesn’t have a problem with it.

In recent weeks, celebrity YouTubers Jake Paul, Bryan “RiceGum” Le and others have faced fierce backlash after uploading videos to their wildly popular channels featuring, a website that lets users pay for a chance to win a variety of prizes.

People who are 13 or older can sign up on to buy virtual “mystery boxes,” which range in price from $1.99 to more than $1,299.99, and are marketed to contain an item from brands including Apple, Ralph Lauren, Xbox, Gucci, Supreme, Nike and Rolex. After paying for a box, users can open it on-screen to reveal their prize, then either order the item for delivery or sell it back (typically at a much lower price than the cost of the box) to receive online credit and try again. They can also select prizes to create their own box with customized odds, which tend to be far more expensive. Little information about Mystery Brand is publicly available, though the website states its terms and conditions are subject to Polish laws.

“You could get a pile of shit or you could get a Rolls-Royce,” 21-year-old Paul, YouTube’s second-highest-paid star, told his 17.7 million subscribers in a recent video sponsored by Mystery Brand. “I want you guys to go to right now and play this game and tell me or tweet me or something if you guys win this, OK?” urged Paul, who said in 2018 that his YouTube audience is primarily comprised of 8- to 16-year-old kids.

Top prizes listed on include a $173,691.36 Louis Vuitton trunk.

‘It’s Just A Scam’, which is riddled with grammatical errors, quietly removed its top prizes ― including beach vacations, premium California real estate and luxury vehicles ― following a maelstrom of scam accusations on social media in the wake of Paul and Le’s viral videos. Its now-deleted photo of a $250 million “Most Expensive Los Angeles Realty” mansion was actually an image of a $188 million Bel Air home, The Daily Beast and others reported. And until recently, Mystery Brand’s prize list included a 2018 Lamborghini Centenarió ― only 40 of which have ever been produced (all prior to 2018). The same goes for its “Real Car Rolls-Royce Phantom 2018” ― no such car was made last year.

After people called the website out on Twitter, it took down a section of its terms and conditions that stipulated it could refuse to issue prizes to users who don’t claim them within one hour. Angry reviews on Reddit and Mystery Brand’s Facebook page claim some users received fake merchandise or never got their prize items at all. Critics, including controversial Swedish YouTube influencer PewDiePie, who has stoked outrage over his anti-Semitic videos in the past, have raised another issue: In their promotional posts, Paul and Le curiously won items of far higher value than unsponsored users did in their Mystery Brand videos. Le quickly won an $11,000 Chanel purse which, according to odds listed on, he had a less than 0.17 percent chance of doing.

Mystery Brand is like gambling. It was very addictive.
Ian Yael, 21, a YouTuber and former Mystery Brand user

Ian Yael, a 21-year-old university student from Mexico City, spent hundreds of dollars and opened nearly 20 boxes on before winning a $1,100 Louis Vuitton pocket knife and ordering it for delivery in mid-October. But three months later, the item has not even been processed for shipping, his account shows.

“Mystery Brand is like gambling. It was very addictive,” Yael said. “But it’s just a scam.” In messages viewed by HuffPost, he contacted the website several times to request an update or refund. A representative who goes by the name Tim Perk repeatedly assured Yael, month after month, “Everything regarding your order is fine,” and “[it] should be coming soon!”

Ian Yael ordered his Mystery Brand prize for delivery on Oct. 14, as shown above. It still hasn't shipped. courtesy of Ian Yael

Ian Yael ordered his Mystery Brand prize for delivery on Oct. 14, as shown above. It still hasn’t shipped.

In the U.S., gambling is generally defined as paying to place a bet or wager to win a lottery or other prize, and is restricted for minors. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit has ruled that internet gambling on a game of chance is not prohibited by law, however the Justice Department maintains that all internet gambling by parties in the U.S. is illegal. Within the European Union, there is no broad policy on gambling regulation, so each member state enforces its own laws.

Perk claimed in an emailed statement to HuffPost that the site isn’t a scam and its service is not equatable to gambling because other companies sell packages with unknown contents, too.

“Mystery Brand is not much different from those projects, except for the fact that we make the whole process of buying and receiving items from a Mystery Box fast and transparent in real time,” said Perk. He added: “Sometimes, shipping may take up to a couple of weeks since we mostly use the [online marketplace] StockX platform for purchasing and delivering prizes.”

StockX was completely unaware of, a representative told The Verge, adding that no formal partnership between the companies exists. Digital marketplace G2A cut ties with the website last week amid the scam and gambling allegations.

Mystery Brand videos have gone viral on YouTube.

Marco and Alvin/YouTube

Mystery Brand videos have gone viral on YouTube.

YouTube Unbothered

Yael, who spends several hours per day on YouTube, said he learned about from trending videos on “Marco and Alvin,” a popular YouTube channel that has featured the website dozens of times since early October. The videos are supposedly unsponsored, but still profit from ad revenue through YouTube’s general monetization program.

YouTube’s community guidelines claim the Google-owned company is “constantly working to keep YouTube free of spam, scams, and other deceptive practices that attempt to take advantage of the YouTube community.” But the video giant declined to answer why it allows monetized videos promoting a shady gambling website on channels geared to kids and teens.

“Creators should be transparent with their audiences if their content includes paid promotion of any kind,” a Google spokesperson told HuffPost, without addressing specific questions about Mystery Brand videos.

HuffPost confirmed that YouTube’s algorithm has promoted Mystery Brand videos, giving them traction and potentially increasing ad revenue for both Google and the content creators. As the hosts of “Marco and Alvin” explained in a recent post, mystery box content helped them go viral and earn money: “We were nothing before Mystery Brand. We were at 1,700 subscribers before we actually did our first Mystery Brand video,” they said. “Through Mystery Brand’s name we have been able to grow … and actually start doing YouTube for a living.” They now have nearly 70,000 subscribers, and recently apologized for pushing a scam.

Paul and Le respectively pulled in around 2 million and 2.6 million views on their promotional Mystery Brand YouTube videos in one week. Content creators can earn an estimated rate of up to $5 per 1,000 views on the platform from ads. After coming under fire, Paul addressed the controversy in a pair of snarky tweets last week before reminding children not to gamble. Le filmed a subsequent video acknowledging he was “somewhat in the wrong” for doing business with Mystery Brand, lamenting other YouTubers had done the same in the past without major scrutiny, and complaining the ordeal had been blown out of proportion. Neither Paul nor Le responded to HuffPost’s requests for comment.

Bryan "RiceGum" Le posted the Mystery Brand-sponsored video "How I Got AirPods For $4" on his channel.


Bryan “RiceGum” Le posted the Mystery Brand-sponsored video “How I Got AirPods For $4” on his channel.

‘Imagine How Much They Offered Me’

YouTube stars have made big money directly through Mystery Brand sponsorship deals. Daniel “Keemstar” Keem, a YouTuber with 4.7 million subscribers, claimed he declined a $100,000 offer from a similar company to promote its service on his channel. Le, who has 10.8 million subscribers, suggested Mystery Brand paid him well above that amount for his sponsored video.

“Apparently they only offered Keemstar $100K. My [subscriber] numbers are higher, so imagine how much they offered me,” Le said in his apparent apology post, attempting to explain why he had agreed to do the promotion. “The money was on the table and if I wanted the money I just had to open up a few Supreme boxes and shoe boxes and boom, I get the money. So I’m like, ‘Yo, that sounds easy enough.’”

Yeezy Busta, a YouTube influencer with 448,000 subscribers who asked not to use his real name for privacy reasons, confirmed to HuffPost that Perk from Mystery Brand offered him a sponsorship deal for tens of thousands of dollars in July. After doing some research into the website and deciding it was a scam, he turned it down.

“It was hard to say no to the money, but I felt like in my position it was better for me to save hundreds if not thousands of people from losing hundreds if not thousands of dollars,” he said. “It really hurts me to see so many kids losing their money. A hundred dollars to me or to other creators isn’t a whole lot, but to these kids it might be their savings or their holiday money.”

Content creators should do their due diligence and take responsibility for what they promote, he added. “Every YouTube creator wants to influence their fans in a positive way, but sometimes a check can change people’s minds.”

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How To Talk To Your Kids About Masturbation In A Healthy Way

Talking to your child about masturbation may feel a little awkward, embarrassing or even deeply uncomfortable. But these are necessary conversations for parents who want to raise kids with a healthy understanding of sex and their bodies.

“Masturbation is a really important part of human sexuality. It informs our individual conceptions of autonomy, pleasure, identity and intimacy,” sex education teacher Kim Cavill told HuffPost. “Trying to discourage, shame or eliminate it does young people a tremendous disservice. Instead of seeing it as a problem to solve, think of it as an opportunity to teach skills and concepts that empower young people to grow into sexually healthy adults.”

To help inform these conversations, HuffPost spoke to Cavill and two other sex educators about the best ways to talk to kids about masturbation, or self-touching. Here are their expert-backed guidelines and tips for parents and caregivers to keep in mind.

Start Early

Parents can lay the foundation for their children’s understanding of their bodies by fostering open discussions from a young age. These talks can encompass a number of topics, including masturbation.

“As with all conversations about sexuality, it should be something that’s addressed early and in gradual stages, not one big talk,” sex educator Lydia M. Bowers said. “We should also be talking about pleasure in nonsexual ways ― ‘I like how the wind feels on my face,’ ‘The color purple makes me feel happy’ ― so children develop both language and the knowledge that feeling good isn’t something to be ashamed of.”

Cavill recommended talking to children about self-touching before the onset of puberty, which typically starts at 9 to 16 years old. For many parents, the conversation arises much earlier on because their children start to explore their bodies at a very young age.

“Though we associate masturbation most commonly with teenagers, infantile masturbation is also very common for children between the ages of 1 to 5,” said Cavill. Many small children touch their genitals as a form of self-soothing, much like thumb sucking. This behavior is prompted not by erotic thoughts but by the fact that touching those areas simply feels good due to the large number of nerve endings.

“Masturbation at any age is not dirty, shameful or illicit,” Cavill said. “In fact, it’s a perfectly normal and healthy behavior for people to engage in.”

sot via Getty Images

Parents can normalize self-touching early on. 

Emphasize That It’s Normal

It’s crucial for parents and caregivers to normalize masturbation by talking about it in a shame-free way, particularly if their child has already started exploring self-touch.

“Disgust, scolding and rejection do not help children learn lessons and, in fact, can grow into internalized shame and self-loathing later in life,” said Cavill. “Communicating acceptance is simple and sounds like this: ‘I see you’re touching your penis/vulva/anus. That feels good, doesn’t it? Touching those body parts feels really different than touching other parts, like elbows or knees. I’m glad you’re getting to know your body, because bodies are really cool.’”

It’s also perfectly normal if a child or teen does not masturbate. Either way, opening up talks promotes a more positive understanding of self-touch, which can be beneficial for children as they get to know their bodies. These conversations can also be opportunities to discuss hygiene, the proper terms for genitals and how to address unsafe touch.

“When children are free to explore their own bodies, they develop a self-awareness that can keep them safer and more prepared to recognize unsafe touch if it ever occurs.”

– Melissa Carnagey, sex educator

“When children are free to explore their own bodies, they develop a self-awareness that can keep them safer and more prepared to recognize unsafe touch if it ever occurs,” sex educator Melissa Carnagey explained. “When young people are more informed and confident about their bodies, they are better positioned to advocate for consensual, safer and more pleasurable sex as an adult.”

Explain That It’s Private

After parents have communicated that self-touch is normal and natural, they can establish that it’s also private. This is particularly important for young children, who may rub against objects like pillows, furniture or toys.

“You can define privacy as something or somewhere other people can’t see, and public as something or somewhere other people can see,” Cavill said. “Teaching privacy sounds like this: ‘I’m so glad you’re enjoying your body by touching your penis/vulva/anus. That’s usually something people do in private, or in a space other people can’t see,’ then offer to take the child to their nearest private space and say, ‘Here’s a private space for you to touch your penis/vulva/anus. You can be private in here anytime you want.’”

For families who use augmentative and alternative communication because of disabilities or other factors, Cavill noted that picture symbols labeling public and private areas of the house can express these concepts as well.

Young children don’t always have the strongest awareness of what’s happening around them, so it’s up to parents to use reminders and gentle redirection to note when and where self-touching is appropriate. Bowers and Carnagey suggested statements like “I know touching your body feels good. Since your penis is one of your private parts, that’s something to do in private in your room instead of at the dinner table.” Or simply “Hands out of your pants while we’re in public.”

Use Books And Videos

There are many helpful resources that promote a healthy understanding of masturbation. Bowers, Carnagey and Cavill are fans of Amaze, which produces educational videos like “Masturbation: Totally Normal.”

Her Sex Positive Families reading list features over 100 books for children and parents to support sexual health talks, and she also likes the American Academy of Pediatrics’ child development resource at

“Cory Silverberg’s Sex Is a Funny Word book has some great explanations about masturbation,” Bowers said. She also recommended Scarleteen’s website as a resource for health and safety information about masturbation.

Don’t Worry Too Much

It’s common for parents to have concerns about how often their children are touching themselves. Cavill said that it’s only an issue if masturbation is causing bodily harm or interfering with daily life.

“If someone avoids school, activities, eating food and other aspects of day-to-day life in order to masturbate or repeatedly injures themselves, then it’s time to seek support from a professional, like a doctor or therapist,” she advised. “If masturbation isn’t interfering with daily life, isn’t causing injury and is done in private, then it’s not happening too often.”

If it’s interfering with daily life, Bowers suggested addressing the concern with your child in a shame-free way. “Acknowledge that bodies feel good but that things like homework, chores and even hanging out with friends shouldn’t be neglected,” she said. “Can masturbation happen during a daily shower? Before bed?”

Additionally, parents sometimes worry that masturbation may be a sign of sexual abuse. “Unless there are other concerns or red flags involved, it is often not a cause,” Carnagey said. “Parents should follow up with the child’s pediatrician if they ever feel concerned about their child’s sexual health or behaviors.”

Tetra Images via Getty Images

Parents may need to confront their upbringing and feelings about masturbation in order to have healthy conversations with their children.

Let Go Of Your Own Shame

Having parents or caregivers who speak openly about topics like masturbation and make it clear that no question is off-limits helps children stay safe and informed when it comes to their sexual health. For many parents, fostering this kind of environment requires some self-reflection.

“It’s important to think about how our feelings about masturbation are affecting our responses to our children. Many of us grew up without conversations about masturbation, so they’re uncomfortable to have with our children. For some with religious backgrounds, there is a level of shame when we talk about touching genitals,” Bowers explained. “Taking a moment to evaluate our own feelings allows us to acknowledge them, then decide what messages we want to share with our children instead.”

Cavill emphasized the importance of seeking help as a parent if you’ve internalized shame or experienced trauma that makes it difficult to communicate acceptance in conversations with children about masturbation. Working through these issues will benefit everyone in the family.

“Many of us bring shame to this conversation because of the way we were raised, because of past experiences, our relationships with our own bodies or because of trauma.”

– Kim Cavill, sex education teacher

“Many of us bring shame to this conversation because of the way we were raised, because of past experiences, our relationships with our own bodies, or because of trauma,” said Cavill. “Those feelings can make talking about this in a shame-free way seem almost impossible, but we don’t have to suffer those feelings in silence.”

“We, as parents, deserve support,” she continued. “Parenting is a really hard job, and kids have a way of forcing us to confront the parts of ourselves we’d rather ignore. We need to give ourselves permission to seek help when we need it, to know that we don’t have to have all the answers, and we don’t have to do this alone.”

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30,000 Los Angeles Teachers Are On The Cusp Of Going On Strike

More than half a million public school students in Los Angeles could soon be impacted by a massive teacher strike as a bargaining impasse continues between the city’s school district and teachers union over class sizes, salaries and other issues.

More than 30,000 members of United Teachers Los Angeles had been slated to walk out of classrooms as soon as Thursday, NPR reported.

On Wednesday, the union said it would postpone the strike until Monday due to a disagreement over when and whether it had filed the right paperwork giving formal notice of its intent to strike. 

If the walkout takes place, it’ll be the first teacher strike in the Los Angeles Unified School District — the nation’s second largest — in nearly 30 years. More than 600,000 public school students in 900 schools will be affected by the strike.

Negotiations have been dragging on for over a year between the teacher’s union and the LAUSD. Among the union’s demands include higher salaries, smaller class sizes and more support staff like librarians, nurses, counselors and social workers. 

“We want an agreement that works for our kids ― that gets to a place where we’re not dealing with 50 kids in a classroom, where we’re not dealing with 40 percent of our schools having a nurse for only one day a week,” union president Alex Caputo-Pearl told CNN.

The two sides have struggled to reach an agreement. District officials say they don’t have sufficient funds to meet all the teachers’ demands — an assertion that union leaders have refuted. 

“We have been in negotiations with LAUSD since April 2017. We have been working without a contract for almost one year,” the union said in a statement. “Even with $1.86 billion in reserves, LAUSD says it does not have the money to improve our schools.”

According to the district, schools will remain open, classes will continue and meal services will not be interrupted even if the strike occurs. 

More than 2,000 reassigned administrators and about 400 substitute teachers will take the place of the striking teachers, the district said. It remains unclear, however, how effectively this plan can be executed.

“It’s case by case, school by school,” Shannon Haber, an LAUSD spokeswoman, told CNN of the district’s plan. “We’re going to have to troubleshoot on the day of.”

This story has been updated with news that the strike was postponed.

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Video Shows Kentucky Teacher Dragging 9-Year-Old With Autism Through School

A Kentucky teacher, under investigation after a video appeared to show her dragging a 9-year-old student with autism down a hallway by his wrists, has been terminated and ordered to appear in court.

Trina Abrams is facing a charge of fourth-degree assault of a victim under 12 years old, Kentucky State Police Senior Trooper David Boarman confirmed to HuffPost on Tuesday.

The former special needs teacher has also been fired by the Greenup County School District, according to a statement obtained by WSAZ-TV.

The incident ― recorded by security cameras ― reportedly occurred at Wurtland Elementary School in October.

Disturbing video footage, uploaded Dec. 6 to Facebook, purports to show Abrams dragging the student down multiple school hallways. Police reportedly measured the distance and estimated that she dragged him approximately 160 feet.

Abrams recently defended herself before a three-member review board, saying the boy was being disruptive and had threatened another student and refused to walk, CNN reported. She also reportedly said he was “enjoying sliding down the hall and being the center of attention.”

The boy’s mother, Angel Nelson, wrote on Facebook that her son has been diagnosed with “autism, ADHD, PTSD, anxiety and depression.” She said his speech is limited and that he’s prone to “experiencing a meltdown.”

Nelson said her son sustained injuries to his wrist during the dragging incident and has to go through “more intense occupational therapy to regain his skills that took so long to grasp.”

The boy’s stepfather, Calep Nelson, told WSAZ-TV that he and his wife had previously met with Abrams and discussed the child’s needs.

“This is the same lady that looked us in the eye and said, ‘Your son is safe with me,’” he said.

The Kentucky Education Standards Board has been notified of the incident. It’s not yet known if they will seek to revoke Abram’s teaching license.

Abrams has not been arrested. She is scheduled to appear in court on Wednesday.

HuffPost’s attempts to reach Abrams for comment were unsuccessful. It’s not clear whether she is being represented by an attorney.

“I think she should possibly face the inside of a jail,” Calep Nelson told WSAZ-TV. “She didn’t beat him to a bloody pulp, but she did abuse a child. Anybody that does that to a child should go to jail.”

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

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For Students Of Color At Parkland, More Security Doesn’t Mean More Safety

The Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission unanimously approved its final report last week, with hundreds of pages’ worth of investigation and recommendations now going to the governor’s office and the Florida legislature for action.

“We will not wait,” the 439-page report reads in part. “We will be vigilant and we, like the legislature, expect compliance and change with urgency.”

The report is an in-depth analysis of the Parkland shooting in February 2018 that left 17 students and staff members dead. It documents extensive shortcomings in the school’s security measures prior to the shooting, and outlines deficiencies in the police response. It offers a searing critique of the school and sheriff department’s ability to stymie the bloodshed.

The commission was formed in March by the Florida legislature, and its 16 members include sheriffs, school board members, academics and parents of students murdered in the shooting. Its report offers dozens of recommendations about how the high school ― and school districts around the state ― could improve safety. It calls for increased funding for school police officers and training teachers to carry firearms.

The suggested solutions, though, are not an adequate response to the questions raised by the shooting, some Parkland students say.

Some students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas ― particularly those of color ― told HuffPost that the suggested changes, like heightened security and armed teachers, would make the school feel less safe. 

“We don’t necessarily trust police. We have a lot of reasons to not trust them,” said Aalayah Eastmond, a senior at Marjory Stoneman Douglas who survived last year’s shooting. “So having them at school makes it ten times worse and heightens the problem.”

Eastmond told HuffPost the school has already started to feel less welcoming for students of color with an increase in police presence. She describes seeing “new people on campus every day with really big guns.” 

“Some of them are really nice, but not all of them are nice,” she said. “We don’t really know them. It’s uncomfortable for a lot of people.”

While there have been a handful of instances where police officers prevented or mitigated school shootings, there is no comprehensive research suggesting that school police officers deter school shootings overall.

However, there is evidence suggesting that having cops in schools can help perpetuate the school-to-prison pipeline ― the cycle in which students, particularly students of color, are pushed out of school and into the criminal justice system when school authorities criminalize student misbehavior. A HuffPost investigation found that schools with police officers are significantly more likely to refer their students to law enforcement for incidents involving theft, vandalism and alcohol.

Stoneman Douglas employed a school-based police officer at the time of the shooting. Instead of confronting the shooter, he hid, according to the public safety commission’s report.

Still, research has shown that schools with police officers are more likely to have emergency plans in place in case of a shooting. These schools also receive more regular safety inspections.

“I think that increasing the police presence at the school doesn’t serve any long-term effects other than helping to increase racial profiling at school, particularly for minority students,” Kai Koerber, a senior at Marjory Stoneman Douglas and a survivor of the shooting, told HuffPost. “For me that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense because the fact of the matter is, most of the time, it’s not minority students carrying out these acts of mass murder.”

Photo courtesy of Kai Koerber

Kai Koerber, a senior at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, is opposed to the idea of arming teachers.

Koerber also said he’s deeply uneasy with the idea of his teachers carrying guns.

“It would not make me feel comfortable being a black young man in the South, in a mostly white neighborhood, with my teachers being armed,” said Koerber, who has started an organization to promote mental health education in schools.

Issues like gun control fell outside the scope of the commission’s report, notwithstanding the high-profile political activism from Parkland students in the past year. Instead, the commission tackled ideas like arming teachers.

But even within the commission’s ranks, there was disagreement over the recommendation. At least one member, Max Schachter, who lost his son Alex in the shooting, has said he doesn’t believe in arming teachers. In recent days, two members of the commission have caused controversy by going on NRA-TV to promote the idea of teachers carrying weapons.

Overall, though, Schachter praised the report for its thoroughness.

“The 17 families wanted to get to the bottom of what happened on Feb. 14,” he said, per the Sun-Sentinel. “And I think that we’ve done that.”

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College Athlete Jake Bain Reflects On His Coming-Out Journey On ‘Ellen’

Jake Bain made national headlines in October 2017 when he came out as gay to classmates at Missouri’s John Burroughs High School in a speech he delivered at an on-campus assembly. 

Now playing Division I football at Indiana State University, Bain still gets emotional speaking about his coming-out journey. In a Monday appearance on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show,” he recalled being very concerned about the impact his sexuality might have on his future as an athlete. 

“I had a lot of nerves coming out because, at that time, there weren’t very many out, openly gay football players,” he explained. “Or any,” DeGeneres clarified. 

Fortunately, Bain said, all of his nerves were set aside by the time he enrolled at Indiana State University. 

“Even before I committed there, I talked to the coach about my sexuality and that I wanted to be openly gay,” he said. “He assured me from the very beginning that I was gonna be accepted by the community at Indiana State and that my teammates were gonna treat me just like anybody else on the team.” 

DeGeneres introduced the audience to Bain’s boyfriend, Hunter Sigmund. The men have been together for two years and have learned to navigate being in a long-distance relationship, with Sigmund attending the University of North Carolina. 

Later, DeGeneres paired Bain with “Modern Family” star Jesse Tyler Ferguson for a lively game of “Holey Thrower.” While the guys aren’t equally matched in terms of athletic prowess, they proved themselves to be pop culture savants, answering trivia about cocktails, “Hamilton” and the Golden Globes with aplomb. 

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Free Money To Lure ‘Tech Bros To Gentrify Our Communities’?

For decades, cities and states have tried to create jobs and boost their economies by luring out-of-state employers. Now some areas are trying to attract workers — one worker at a time.

Starting in January, programs in Vermont and Tulsa, Oklahoma, will pay people to relocate to those places if they work remotely. Other resident recruitment strategies in Florida, Kansas, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota and Vermont include weekends that tempt tourists to stay, discounted rent, student loan assistance and free land.

“It’s a departure — very much a sharp departure” from Vermont’s traditional programs, said Joan Goldstein, commissioner of the Vermont Department of Economic Development. “We need people.”

The shift in strategy marks a recognition that as fewer people are tethered to brick-and-mortar offices, state and local officials can reap the benefits of workers’ spending and taxes no matter where their employers are based.

“You need the people to get the businesses to come, and a lot of small places are immediately out of the running because the people aren’t there. It feeds on itself,” said Doug Farquhar, program director for rural development with the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Farquhar sees “pay to move” as “somewhat of a desperate plea: We need educated people to come here and stay here.” He cautions that little research has been done on the effectiveness or sustainability of the strategy. And in Vermont, some advocates for the poor have criticized state officials for “luring tech bros to gentrify our communities.”

But in a state that is desperate for more people — Vermont has about 620,000 residents, with about 45 percent of them retired or about to retire — officials are willing to give it a try.

“The original idea was to give incentives to out-of-state companies to find people who want to live here,” said Democratic state Sen. Michael Sirotkin, chairman of the economic development committee. “We decided to give the money to the workers and let them find their jobs.”

Vermont Gov. Phil Scott, a Republican, signed the Remote Worker Grant Program last May. The legislature provided $500,000 over three years to reimburse expenses of remote workers from other states who relocate.

Each worker can receive up to $10,000 in grants over two years. Eligible expenses include computer software and hardware, internet access and membership in a coworking space.

Tulsa also is focusing on remote workers. Tulsa Remote will pay workers who pass a stringent online screening process and live in Tulsa for a year $10,000 in cash installments. Workers also will receive free membership in a coworking space and housing discounts. The pilot project is funded and administered by the private George Kaiser Family Foundation. No public funds are involved.

Tulsa’s population, about 400,000, has been flat for decades. The foundation was looking for ways to attract new talent to the city, said Ken Levit, executive director of the Kaiser foundation. The foundation has already brought 50 artists and writers to Tulsa for a year or more through the Tulsa Artist Fellowship, which pays stipends and provides free rent.

“There’s no fixed budget” for Tulsa Remote, Levit said. For now, it’s a one-year pilot program, but the overwhelming response means it could be extended, he said. More than 8,000 people have completed lengthy online applications.

Housing help

Ben Winchester, a rural demographer at the University of Minnesota Extension Center for Community Vitality, said people who leave small towns to attend college often want to return to their hometowns when they reach their 30s and 40s. For many of them, the challenge is finding a house.

That challenge led to a program in Harmony, Minnesota, a town of 1,080 that endured a years-long halt in construction during the Great Recession. In 2014, the local economic development authority started offering incentives of $5,000 to $12,000 to build houses, depending on the expected taxable value of the building.

Harmony Mayor Steve Donney acknowledged that the program “was very slow to take off.” So far, the town has paid out about $62,750 and has committed to paying out another $20,000 for eight buildings. This year, for the first time, the town has collected some new property tax revenue — about $2,200.

“I’m a 100 percent believer in the project. So far, it’s working,” Donney said. “It has encouraged people to build, and new people are a bonus.”

“One of my questions as mayor is, ‘When do we stop this?’” Donney said. But, he said, other members of the local economic development authority respond, “Why would we stop this?”

Marquette, in central Kansas, also turned to housing incentives after failing to attract businesses.

“Every town is looking to bring in jobs to their small town. You might as well beat your head against a wall,” said Steve Piper, the former longtime mayor. “We took the opposite approach. We thought: Bring the people and tell them to find their own job.” Marquette is within commuting distance of the larger cities of Salina, McPherson and Hutchinson.

But Marquette, population 650, had no buildable lots, so the local economic development commission bought 50 acres in 2002 and started giving lots away. The modern-day homesteading story made national news, and hundreds of people contacted the town.

“It helped. A lot of people are looking for a little Mayberry,” Piper said, referring to the quaint fictional town that was the setting for “the Andy Griffith Show.”

About 30 homes have been built in the Westridge Addition area, almost all by people from out of state, and two newcomers started small businesses in town, Piper said. “We still have land to give away, so that’s good.”

Student loan help

Student loan assistance programs, modeled on incentives for medical personnel, teachers and lawyers, may be a more promising strategy for rural areas to grow population, Farquhar said.

Two years ago, Maine expanded a tax credit that had been limited to graduates of in-state schools to graduates of out-of-state schools who live and work in Maine.

The new Maine Gov. Janet Mills, a Democrat, promised in her campaign to simplify the complicated tax credit system and to invest in a “Rural Return Scholarship” to give young people from rural Maine incentives to return to their hometowns.

In Michigan, the Community Foundation in St. Clair County, about an hour north of Detroit, joined nearby counties to start the Come Home Award, a “reverse scholarship” that pays up to $15,000 over three years to help graduates pay off student loans.

The foundation historically gives out about $300,000 a year in traditional scholarships. But donors said, “We’re just paying young people to leave,” said Randy Maiers, the foundation’s executive director. “We wanted to do something different.”

Since 2016, only 13 of the more than 50 applicants have been approved, almost all with recent STEAM degrees — science, technology, engineering, the arts and math. The ideal candidate is someone who has “met someone and wants to settle down and move back home,” Maiers said.

About $45,000 is currently available for the awards, but Maiers warned, “Don’t tell us you’re going to live with mom and dad or ‘I really don’t know what I want to do.’ This is not for everybody.”

Converting visitors to residents

States and localities also are looking to turn visitors into residents. Vermont hopes more young professionals and working families among its 13 million tourists a year will relocate, while Tallahassee is reaching out to baby boomers nearing retirement.

Announcing the Stay-to-Stay initiative in March, Vermont’s governor said, “We have about 16,000 fewer workers than we did in 2009. That’s why expanding our workforce is one of the top priorities of my administration.”

Four Vermont communities have sponsored Stay-to-Stay weekends. After a Friday night welcome reception with local leaders, tourists explore the area on their own before meeting Monday morning with entrepreneurs, realtors and potential employers. The Vermont tourism and marketing department is collaborating with local chambers of commerce and young professionals groups on the initiative.

“We literally put on white-glove service,” Tourism and Marketing Commissioner Wendy Knight said. So far, four people have relocated.

One is Jacqueline Posley, a 23-year-old from Mississippi. A recent graduate of Mississippi State University, Posley was working in an office in Starkville when she decided she wanted to live “somewhere cold and liberal.”

Posley and her then-fiance came to a Stay-to-Stay weekend. Her first day back at work in Starkville, she gave notice, and moved to Vermont in September. Her ex-fiance moved to New Hampshire.

But Posley’s story also illustrates some of the challenges that Vermont faces, such as attracting people of color and helping them feel at home. She is African-American, and Vermont is 93 percent white.

The Vermont tourism department highlights the state’s status as the first to abolish slavery and promotes a trail of African-American historic sites. And the website helps people of color connect and tell their stories about moving to and living in Vermont.

Posley found a job as a night auditor working the overnight shift at a ski resort, where she balances the day’s income and expenses and handles the front desk. But she hasn’t settled in yet. She finds Vermont’s housing costs higher than Mississippi’s, and her job pays less than what she made there. She loves seeing the stars at night — but not the 40-minute drive to the laundromat.

And Vermonters are less welcoming than she expected. Someone in a Walmart parking lot yelled at her to go back to where she came from, making her realize that Vermont “is not the liberal utopia it’s portrayed as.”

“I know Vermont wants new people,” Posley said. “They say they want millennials — but I’m a millennial and I’m not willing to commit long term.”

These days, she’s thinking about San Diego.

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Bennett College, One Of The Last Women’s HBCUs, Could Lose Accreditation Over Money

Bennett College, one of the last two historically black colleges for women in the U.S., is fighting to keep its accreditation after struggling financially for several years.

The private liberal arts school in Greensboro, North Carolina, was notified last month that the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools’ Commission on Colleges had voted to remove its accreditation due to failure to comply with the commission’s financial standards. 

Specifically, the SACSCOC found that Bennett did not meet section 13.1 of its Principles of Accreditation guide, requiring an institution to have “sound financial resources and a demonstrated, stable financial base.”

The commission also said that Bennett, which was founded in 1873 and has been a women’s college since 1926, had “exhausted its two-year period on probation for coming into compliance” with its requirements. 

Bennett College announced that it has appealed the commission’s decision. It will therefore remain an accredited institution on probation until a hearing in February, according to the commission’s guidelines. An appeals committee will convene between Feb. 18 and 20. 

In an NPR interview published Thursday, college President Phyllis Worthy Dawkins said that if Bennett does not win on appeal, it will file a lawsuit against the SACSCOC. 

“At the same time, we will seek other accreditation bodies to see if we can be accredited by them,” she said. “So our goal is to maintain our accreditation, keep Bennett College open for the future, so that we can recruit and retain students.”

In 2003, then-Bennett College President Johnnetta Cole led fundraising efforts that ultimately helped lift a previous probation, the Greensboro News & Record reported.

Dawkins told NPR that Bennett’s enrollment ― which now sits at less than 470 students, about half of what it was a decade ago ― was significantly impacted by the Great Recession and a 2011 tightening of lending criteria for federal loans that parents can take out to help pay for their children’s education. She said the change in underwriting standards greatly affected college enrollment from African-American families, who research shows were disproportionately hit by the Great Recession, too. 

The college, its alumnae and its supporters have turned to social media to raise funds for Bennett. Dawkins told NPR that the college is seeking to bring in some $5 million by Feb. 1.

“So far, we’ve raised over a million dollars towards the 5 million,” she said. “So we’re about 29 days out from the February 1 deadline, and so we’re stepping up our efforts in a variety of different ways to raise those funds.”

According to the school’s accreditation FAQ page, it needs to raise $5.7 million by Feb. 1 so that it can “make the case for reinstating Bennett’s accreditation.”

Bennett College reported surpassing a $4 million fundraising goal from 2017 to 2018 and saw an increase in first-year enrollment, according to the Associated Press. The college also said its financial audit for that year came back clean, per AP. 

“I think we’ve done well,” Dawkins said last month. “Apparently we need to do a little bit more.”

Actor Jussie Smollett has joined religious leaders, students and public figures in helping to bring attention to Bennett’s fundraising efforts, using the hashtag #standwithbennett.

“The legacy must continue,” Smollett wrote on Twitter. 

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Kamilah Campbell Fights Back After Her Improved SAT Score Is Invalidated

A Florida high school student who improved hundreds of points on her SAT questioned the aptitude of Educational Testing Service after the test maker invalidated her score, CBS reported.

“I won’t let ETS or anybody else take my dreams away from me,” Campbell, 18, said Wednesday at a news conference, shown in the clip above.

Campbell improved her original total score of 900 (out of 1600) to 1230 in a retest on the college entrance exam after taking a free SAT prep course.

But the testing firm notified her in a letter that it questioned the legitimacy of her score “based on substantial agreement between your answers on one or more scored sections of the test and those of other test takers,” CNN reported.

Her attorney, Benjamin Crump, said he was “outraged” by the accusation that “this young black woman” did anything inappropriate. He said he was looking into possible civil rights violations because there “may be some implicit bias that we plan to find out.”

Campbell, a Miami Gardens resident, has a 3.1 grade point average at Michael M. Krop Senior High School, the Miami Times noted.

The College Board, which sponsors the testing program, told CNN that a point-increase generally isn’t the only factor that raises a red flag. Campbell will have to retake the test if her score is rejected permanently.

“They tell you that you need to practice and work and study to do better, but then when you do better they question it,” Campbell said. “They’re saying I improved basically too much.”

Campbell said the deadline has passed for her to apply to her top college choice, Florida State University, and she is unable to apply for SAT score-based scholarships.

Crump demanded that The College Board review Campbell’s score in time for her to gain entry into FSU’s dance program.

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Betsy DeVos’ Title IX Changes Will Make Life Even Harder For Sexually Abused Boys

The U.S. Department of Education has angered women’s rights advocates by proposing an overhaul of Title IX, the landmark law that has been used since the 1980s to hold schools accountable for preventing and responding to sexual violence against students.

The proposed changes would strip away many protections against sexual violence that students have under Title IX. Now these protections are under threat not just for college students, but for child victims in K-12 schools, too.

While Title IX was intended to protect equal access to education for women and girls, it also protects the men and boys who experience the terrible consequences of sexual violence in schools, from kindergarten through college. To strip them of even these bare protections of the law does no service to boys and men.

One in 6 men in America is a survivor of sexual assault or abuse, and 1 in 20 boys is a victim of sexual abuse. In 2017 data covering the hundreds of thousands of child abuse cases handled by the nation’s 854 Children’s Advocacy Centers that year, 24 percent of perpetrators were cited as an “other known person,” like a neighbor or doctor. Or a classmate, teacher or coach.

The proposed new rules would make it harder to prevent that abuse from happening and harder to hold schools and perpetrators accountable when it does. They would ignore the “low-level” sexual misconduct like inappropriate comments or groping that research tells us is a precursor to child sexual abuse. They would also create safe spaces for abusers by limiting schools’ responsibility to address sexual assaults that happen off-campus, even when a child is assaulted by a classmate or teacher. They would even interfere in the neutral, fact-finding investigative process by subjecting child victims to cross-examination by their abusers, ensuring that the process of seeking justice and support services is as traumatic as possible and discouraging victims from coming forward.

One in 6 men in America is a survivor of sexual assault or abuse, and 1 in 20 boys is a victim of sexual abuse.

The agony of male survivors stalks the halls of the schools we attended as children. It lurks in the locker rooms where we went to football camp. It haunts classrooms where after-school tutorials turned to abuse. It infests the margins of our memories, crowding out the boyhood joys of scouting, of learning or of sports with private pain. That old poison, sexual abuse, leads men and women to despair, depression, drinking and even early death.

The first course of the antidote to this poison is belief — belief in the victims of sexual violence, the acknowledgment of their bravery, and the understanding that they risk so much, and often stand to gain so little, by telling what has happened to them.

The cultural conversation that peaked during the Brett Kavanaugh confirmation fight incorrectly pitted men against women and pitted victims of sexual violence against those who, for whatever reason, believe they may one day stand wrongfully accused. Yet false sexual assault claims are no more common than false reports of other crimes, estimated at 2-10 percent of all reported assaults — and most assaults go unreported.

A countermovement arose based on the false premise that false sexual assault claims, which are vanishingly rare, are commonplace. Now, the misinformation and fear-mongering of the #HimToo movement, which frightened parents and school leaders, has metastasized into a harmful federal policy.

The misinformation and fear-mongering of the #HimToo movement, which frightened parents and school leaders, has metastasized into a harmful federal policy.

This misguided policy shift focuses on the extremely rare instances of young men being falsely accused, rather than on the heartbreakingly common experiences of children and adults who disclose experiences of sexual violence with the virtual guarantee that someone important to them won’t believe them or will add to their trauma.

Survivors need belief. Their healing begins with the words: I believe you. The countervailing disbelief is at the heart of these heartless Title IX changes.

Another thing survivors need is a fair chance at getting justice and support services when something bad happens to them at school. Is the Department of Education really concerned that there’s too little sexual assault in our schools, or that it’s too easy for children to find a school leader who believes them and will do the right thing? This, in an era when institutions of all kinds are discovering there’s hell to pay for ignoring the truth? When as many as one-quarter of college women are sexually assaulted while in school? Twenty million men — and many, many more women and non-binary people — have been victimized by sexual violence. They don’t need fewer protections. They need more.

Keeping these protections for our nation’s schoolchildren in place is our collective responsibility, and I encourage individuals and institutions to submit comments opposing the rule changes before the Jan. 29 deadline. But in particular, I appeal to the parents who are so worried about their sons facing false accusations that they are in favor of throwing out these victim protections.

I can empathize with the many parents who have kept themselves up at night with this question: Who will believe my son if he’s accused? Yet if we ignore the crisis of sexual abuse and assault in our schools, we must be prepared to ask ourselves the more tragic question: Who will believe my son if he’s the one who gets hurt? 

Blake Warenik serves as director of communications at National Children’s Alliance, the nation’s largest network of care centers for child victims of abuse.

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All The Laws You Should Know About That Go Into Effect In 2019

2019 will see the enactment of a slew of new laws across the country (in California alone, more than 1,000 will be added to the books). In some states, minimum wages will go up, guns will be harder to obtain, plastic straws will get the boot and hunters will get to wear pink for a change.

Here are some of the noteworthy laws going into effect this year:

Tighter gun restrictions in several states


Following the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, last February, thousands of protesters across the nation demanded stricter gun control measures.

In the wake of the shooting massacre at a Parkland, Florida, high school last year, California passed several measures to prevent domestic abusers and people with mental illness from obtaining guns. Californians who are involuntarily committed to a mental institution twice in a year, or who are convicted of certain domestic violence offenses, could face a lifetime gun ownership ban.

Under an expanded Oregon law that went into effect on Jan. 1, domestic abuse offenders or people under restraining orders are banned from owning or purchasing a gun. In Illinois, authorities now have the right to seize firearms from people determined to be a danger to themselves or others. A similar “red flag” law will go into effect in New Jersey later this year.  

At least six states — California, Washington, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois and Vermont — and the District of Columbia are raising the minimum age from 18 to 21 for the purchase of long guns this year, CNBC reported.

Washington state will also be enforcing several other gun control measures, including enhanced background checks, secure gun storage laws and a requirement for gun purchasers to provide proof they’ve undergone firearm safety training.

New ‘Me Too’ laws

In 2018, the Me Too movement spurred many people to come forward with their stories of sexual harassment and abuse -- and pro


In 2018, the Me Too movement spurred many people to come forward with their stories of sexual harassment and abuse — and prompted several states to pass new laws targeting sexual violence.

Several states are taking aim at workplace sexual harassment. California has banned nondisclosure provisions in settlements involving claims of sexual assault, harassment or discrimination based on sex. California employers will also no longer be allowed to compel workers to sign nondisparagement agreements as a condition of employment or in exchange for a raise or bonus.

By the end of 2019, publicly held corporations in the Golden State will also need to have at least one woman on their board of directors. Depending on the size of the board, corporations will need to increase that number to at least two or three female board members by the end of 2021.

In New York, all employees will be required to complete annual sexual harassment prevention training. Larger businesses in Delaware will have to provide such training to their workers, and legislators and their staff in Virginia will need to undergo such training every year.

Minimum wages get a boost 

Though the federal minimum wage has languished at $7.25 since 2009, at least 19 states, including Arizona, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, New York and Washington, will be raising their minimum wages this year. Each will boost its minimum wage to at least $12. Some cities like New York, Seattle and Palo Alto, California, will see their wage floors increase to $15.

So long straws and stirrers!

Under a new California law, restaurant customers will have to explicitly ask for a plastic straw if they want to use one.


Under a new California law, restaurant customers will have to explicitly ask for a plastic straw if they want to use one.

As public awareness mounts of the hazards of plastic waste pollution, cities and states around the country have been targeting a major source of the problem: single-use plastic products like straws and food containers.

A new law in New York City bars restaurants, stores and manufacturers from using most foam products, including takeout containers, cups and packing peanuts.

Eateries in the District of Columbia are now prohibited from giving out single-use plastic straws and stirrers. In California, restaurant patrons will need to ask explicitly for a plastic straw if they want to use one. Restaurants can be fined $25 a day for serving beverages with plastic straws that aren’t requested by customers.

Former felons in Florida can head to the voting booth

In November, Florida voted to approve a ballot measure that enabled more than 1 million former felons to regain their voting


In November, Florida voted to approve a ballot measure that enabled more than 1 million former felons to regain their voting rights.

On Jan. 8, Florida will restore the voting rights of all former felons except those convicted of murder or a felony sexual offense. Some 1.4 million possible voters will be added to the rolls — an addition that could have a significant effect on elections in the swing state.

Utah implements strictest DUI law in the country

Utah has lowered its blood alcohol content standard for drunk driving to 0.05 percent — the lowest limit in the country.

Under the new law, a driver who exceeds that limit and causes the death of another person will be charged with criminal homicide, a felony offense.

As CNN notes, all other U.S. states have a blood alcohol concentration limit of 0.08 percent for noncommercial drivers. Since at least 2013, the National Transportation Safety Board has been pushing to lower the limit to 0.05 nationwide. 

Pets to get more rights in California

Pets in California will no longer be treated by courts as physical property in divorce cases. Instead, judges can decide who gets custody of the family pet.

Under a separate California law, pet stores will no longer be allowed to sell cats, dogs or rabbits that aren’t from animal shelters or nonprofit rescue groups. That law, which took effect on Jan. 1, also requires that store owners maintain proper documentation of the backgrounds of the dogs, cats and rabbits they sell.

Hawaii legalizes physician-assisted suicide

Hawaii’s new law allowing physician-assisted suicide took effect on Tuesday.

Tobacco targeted in several states

Some states and cities are taking aim at tobacco products this year.


Some states and cities are taking aim at tobacco products this year.

Smoking will be banned at all New Jersey public beaches and parks starting in July.

In New York City, a new ordinance bans pharmacies from selling cigarettes and other tobacco products. And Massachusetts has raised the minimum age to buy tobacco products from 18 to 21.

Nonbinary people can list their gender as ‘X’ in NYC

People who identify as neither male nor female can now list their gender as “X” on birth certificates in New York City.

New Jersey requires all residents to have health insurance

A health insurance law in New Jersey that came into effect on Jan. 1 requires residents to maintain coverage or pay a penalty. It’s the second state in the country, after Massachusetts, to enact an individual health insurance mandate.

Vermont is paying remote workers to move there

In an effort to promote economic growth, Vermont has offered to pay some remote workers to relocate to the state.

Qualified applicants can each apply for up to $10,000 in funding. The state has earmarked $500,000 for the initiative, The Associated Press reported.

Hunters in Illinois can wear pink if they want to

Not into the usual “blaze orange”? Hunters in Illinois can now wear equally eye-catching “blaze pink” under a new law.

Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner (R) said the new shade could be even more effective in helping hunters stand out.

“[In the fall] we’re hunting in trees and in some fields, there are orange leaves. There is orange in the background, so it’s not always easy to see orange,” Rauner said, according to the Illinois News Network. “So we’re adding blaze pink to be one of the colors.”

Ohio kids will soon be required to learn cursive

In an age of text messaging and email, Ohio is attempting to keep the handwriting tradition of cursive alive. A new state law will require students to be able to write in cursive by the end of fifth grade. 

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University Seeks To Banish One Of Donald Trump’s Most-Used Words

President Donald Trump likes to say and tweet the term “collusion” ― a lot.

An advanced Twitter search throws up dozens of instances over the last two years in which Trump has posted the word to deny that his campaign team colluded with Russia during the 2016 presidential election.

So, it’s possibly no surprise that Lake Superior State University in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, has included it on its 44th annual “Banished Word List” for 2019.

One contributor said “we all need to collude on getting rid of this word.”

The “OTUS family of acronyms” — such as POTUS and FLOTUS to refer to the president and first lady — also featured, and were dubbed “overused” and “useless.” Other terms included “wheelhouse,” “wrap my head around,” “ghosting,” “yeet,” “eschew” and “thought leader.”

The university describes the list as being “firmly tongue in cheek.” It invites people to suggest terms to be banished throughout the year, before whittling them down to its 18 non-favorites in December.

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5 Of The Wildest Conspiracy Theories YouTube Promoted In 2018

In the era of fake news and “alternative facts,” social media giants are facing tremendous pressure to keep disinformation off their platforms. Google-owned YouTube vowed this year to crack down on fake news, but the site is still rampant with wild and sometimes dangerous conspiracy theories ― including many that its algorithm recommends to users.

When I created a new YouTube account and typed “What is QAnon?” into the search bar, the top result was an MSNBC panel breaking down the far-right conspiracy theory movement that sprang to life in late 2017. As the video ended, YouTube’s autoplay function started a new video, guiding me down a path of recommended content. This one featured a man in a MAGA hat suggesting the late former President George H.W. Bush was a Nazi and child trafficker who was secretly executed to protect his family’s legacy. Next was a rant about a “mysterious envelope” some guests at Bush’s funeral were seen holding. Then came a video that reported “with absolute certainty” that the U.S. killed “a fake Bin Laden.” The next one argued 9/11 was an inside job and claimed President Donald Trump’s tweets contain hidden messages showing he’s known all along. Sixth in the automated queue was a segment with infamous conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, posted to a channel that appears to exclusively host Jones’ videos (which supposedly are banned from YouTube).


One of the highest rated comments on this 9/11 conspiracy theory video reads: “911 was an inside job and [2012 school shooting] Sandy Hook did not happen. It was a ploy to get gun control.”

YouTube’s algorithm “is extremely biased toward conspiracy theories. It promotes a huge amount of false information ― literally the crazier the better for the algorithm to recommend it,” said Guillaume Chaslot, who worked at Google for three years and helped design YouTube’s recommendation algorithm, but left after he found management to have “very little interest” in developing tools to recommend balanced content.

“It’s all about maximizing watch time,” Chaslot explained. “The more watch time you have, the more ads you can show the user,” which translates to more money for Google. YouTube also incentivizes content creators to keep people watching: Those with at least 1,000 subscribers and 4,000 watch-hours in a one-year period can earn money from ads.

The video giant’s dominance in the media world lends undue legitimacy to conspiracy theorists when it recommends their content, Micah Schaffer, a former YouTube policy analyst and community manager, said at a content moderation conference in November. More than half of adult users say the site is an important source for understanding what’s happening in the world, according to a new Pew Research study, and the number of users who turn to YouTube for news nearly doubled to 38 percent in 2018 from 2013. YouTube’s algorithm, which generates more than 70 percent of user traffic, takes fringe content “and pours gas on it,” Schaffer added.

The algorithm is extremely biased toward conspiracy theories … the crazier the better.
Former YouTube engineer Guillaume Chaslot

YouTube was forced to reckon with its conspiracy theory problem after “Pizzagate” in 2016, when an armed man targeted a Washington pizzeria after watching a YouTube video that falsely claimed the eatery was headquarters for a child sex-trafficking ring. The company subsequently committed to hiring additional content review staff, bringing the total to more than 10,000, as well as to adding “authoritative” context to videos covering topics often prone to misinformation. For those topics, YouTube will link to “trusted sources like Wikipedia,” it announced in July, apparently without giving advance notice to Wikipedia. (None of the conspiracy theory videos I watched had such links.) 

“While we’ve made good progress, we are still working to improve the news and information-seeking experience on YouTube,” a spokesperson told HuffPost. 

To highlight this continued struggle with the promotion and propagation of fake news, HuffPost found five of the wildest conspiracy theories YouTube’s algorithm wanted you to watch in 2018.


Mass Shooting Survivors Are Paid ‘Crisis Actors’

One week after a gunman opened fire in a south Florida high school in February, killing 17 students and staff members, a video falsely accusing a surviving student of being a paid “crisis actor” ― someone trained to portray a disaster victim ― had reached the top spot on YouTube’s trending page, with more than 200,000 views.

“This video should never have appeared in Trending,” a YouTube spokesperson told HuffPost at the time. The company said its system “misclassified” the video because it “contained footage from an authoritative news source.”

Disturbed by a maelstrom of disinformation surrounding the massacre, social media researcher Jonathan Albright traced YouTube’s recommendations from 256 videos on the subject of “crisis actors,” which led him to almost 9,000 conspiracy theory-themed videos with nearly 4 billion combined views, he explained in a Medium post. “The experiences of the least fortunate among us — including tragedy survivors, children and their families — are being used to algorithmically profit from the most impressionable,” he said. 

NASA Is Lying To You: The Earth Is Flat

Flat Earth videos have been popular on YouTube for some time now, and this year, the movement held an international conference in Denver. The Daily Beast’s Kelly Weill attended and published a deep dive into YouTube’s echo-chamber effect on users who became Flat Earthers after watching recommended videos on the topic. One man told Weill that autoplay Flat Earth videos “woke him up” to the movement centered around the belief that the earth is, well, flat.

“From the point of view of the algorithm, Flat Earth conspiracy theories are a gold mine,” Chaslot said.

Some theories circulating in YouTube-recommended videos claim NASA has been photoshopping images of a globe-shaped earth to deceive the world. Another with more than 650,000 views says there’s an enormous ice wall at the edge of the earth, as witnessed by a guy named David.


Government Laser Beams Started The California Wildfires

California’s Camp Fire was the deadliest and most destructive wildfire in the state’s history, killing at least 86 people in November and December. As the crisis unfolded, YouTube was also ablaze with conspiracy theories suggesting the government used laser technology known as directed-energy weapons to ignite the fires.

When YouTube users started typing “California fire” into the platform’s search bar, the top suggestions were “conspiracy 2018,” “agenda 21,” and “laser beam,” Motherboard’s Caroline Haskins reported in November. The search term “California wildfire” also led YouTube to suggest “lasers,” “directed energy weapon” and the corresponding acronym “DEW.”

YouTube in the past week was still recommending multiple conspiracy theory videos about California fires, according to AlgoTransparency, an algorithm-watchdog website Chaslot created to track YouTube’s video recommendations from more than 1,000 channels. One warned “a massive avalanche event of awakening” is “coming soon.” In less than 38 minutes, it was interrupted three times by mid-video ads. Another, which also suggests the government has used “silent, invisible” laser beams to ignite fires in California in the past, has 1.3 million views.

QAnon: Uncovering The Liberal Elite’s Deep-State Pedophiles

YouTube users searching for videos on Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg over the summer were directed at the time to QAnon conspiracy theories calling the Hollywood stars pedophiles, including multiple videos with hundreds of thousands of views, as NBC News reporter Ben Collins pointed out in July. QAnon, an anonymous troll referred to as “Q” who claims to have high-level government clearance, drops coded messages online that often hint at cover-ups, scandals and corruption among the “liberal elite.” Q’s clues have inspired all kinds of madness, though the main theory is that Trump and special counsel Robert Mueller are in cahoots to expose celebrity child molestors. YouTube, Reddit and other social giants have helped the fringe community gain traction and go mainstream. QAnon followers made appearances at several Trump rallies in 2018.

QAnon followers also spread rumors that Cemex, a Mexican cement company, owned a human trafficking site in Arizona. CNN informed YouTube in August that its top autocomplete result for the search term “Cemex” was “Cemex child trafficking,” prompting the video giant to derank those videos. Other wildly popular YouTube videos have spread conspiracy theories about Q’s identity, with some arguing John F. Kennedy Jr. faked his own death to become the group’s leader.


As insane and horrifying conspiracy theories go, “Frazzledrip” likely takes the top prize this year. The theory claims an “extreme snuff film” of Hillary Clinton and her longtime aide Huma Abedin raping and mutilating a young girl is circulating on the dark web. Code named Frazzledrip, the film is rumored to show Clinton and Abedin cutting off the girl’s face and wearing it as a mask, and preparing to drink her blood in a satanic ritual. This is, of course, demonstrably false, but that hasn’t stopped people from posting their own twisted takes on YouTube ― or YouTube from promoting them.

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Trauma Is The Norm For Many New Orleans Kids. This School Was Made For Them.

This story is a collaboration between HuffPost and The Lens

This year, the kids learned papier mâché. Their creations line the walls of the art and electives room. In the adjacent hallway, bright blue plywood covers the spots where students punched or kicked holes in the drywall as they passed between classes.

This is the middle school campus for the New Orleans Center for Resilience, a nonprofit K–8 school with two locations in the city. The 27 kids enrolled in the center’s program have some of the most extreme behavior needs in the city, often stemming from trauma or mental illness. A typical student may have exhibited verbal and physical aggression, caused property damage or refused to do classwork. It’s a place for kids who have almost nowhere else to turn — when they’ve been asked or told to leave their previous schools.

“A lot of the kids who are referred here have experienced significant complex trauma,” said Liz Marcell Williams, the center’s director. “Whether they themselves have been victims of trauma or they’re exposed to violence in the home or in the community or have experienced significant loss of a loved one due to long-term incarceration or death.”

New Orleans, a high-poverty, high-crime city, has particularly pressing needs when it comes to trauma and behavioral health.

A survey of about 1,200 New Orleans kids ages 10 to 16, released in 2015, found that nearly 40 percent had witnessed domestic violence, a shooting, a stabbing or a beating. About 18 percent reported witnessing a murder. And more than half said that someone close to them had been murdered.

The survey found that children in New Orleans displayed symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder at more than three times the national average. 

The center, which was known as the Therapeutic Day Program until Dec. 1, is a rare lifeline to the few who get in. When it opened in 2015, it was the first school of its kind in New Orleans, offering a blend of traditional classes like math and English, as well as therapy and counseling. In a city where student mental health resources remain scant, there are few places like it today.

L. Kasimu Harris for HuffPost

Misty Johnson does a warm-up activity with Jordan Coughlin, a math teacher at the Center for Resilience.

Kids who arrive at the center are usually three grade levels behind in math and reading, said Williams, who has a background in special education and designed the school’s curriculum. Her goal is to get kids back into the mainstream school system. Students attend the center for an average of 15 months.

Nine-year-old Misty Johnson, who has ADHD and bipolar disorder, has been in the program for two years. Her mom, Dawn Johnson, said Misty is almost ready to return to a charter elementary school.

Johnson admitted that she was worried when she first visited the center. “The other kids were just like Misty,” she said, adding that she thought it might be overwhelming for her daughter.

Over time, however, she saw improvements in Misty’s behavior and academics. Many of the classes here are tiny; some have just two students. Misty was getting lots of one-on-one attention. The school called Johnson regularly to give updates.

This year the center started assigning students a home base room, where they begin their day with breakfast. The home base is meant to be a safe room, and students may return there during the day if they need to opt out of a class or activity. In a typical school, students don’t usually have the option to walk out of class if they’re feeling overwhelmed.

Abel Thompson, a second-grader, displays his newly crafted Santa Claus beard. In addition to academic offerings, various acti

L. Kasimu Harris for HuffPost

Abel Thompson, a second-grader, displays his newly crafted Santa Claus beard. In addition to academic offerings, various activities — from sports to play to art — are integrated into a school day at the Center for Resilience.

“We’re always thinking about how do we minimize power struggles,” Williams said. The home base room really helped them with that, she added. From August to November last year, the center had 235 behavioral incidents requiring an adult crisis response, she said. This year in the same time frame, there were 77. The home base rooms were partly responsible for that, she said.

Despite the high rate of turnover at the center, most kids who apply for a spot at the tiny school never get in.

Only 45 kids have attended since the school opened. Erin LaFleur wanted her 14-year-old son, Brady, to be one of them. He has bipolar disorder, autism and Down syndrome and spent time in a state-run facility that was several hours away by car. She fought long and hard to navigate the New Orleans public school system for him, and she said she thought the center’s day program would be a perfect fit.

But he couldn’t get in.

He lacked the verbal communication and social skills necessary for the program, a rejection letter stated.

“It would benefit children with intellectual disabilities who have behavior disorders if [the center] accepted them,” LaFleur said.

Williams said the program is working to expand. She said that she wants it to enroll high school students and that she would also like to run a trauma-informed early childhood program. 

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Lauren McCluskey Sought Help Against A Dangerous Man. She Still Died.

Lauren McCluskey’s friends became deeply worried when the University of Utah college student began expressing deep distress related to a relationship with an older man earlier this year. They spoke to university officials about it. McCluskey herself reached out to the university and police multiple times. But nobody stopped the man who eventually killed her, two new reports reveal.

On Oct. 22, the 21-year-old senior was fatally shot by 37-year-old Melvin Rowland in a parking lot outside a residence hall. After a short police chase on foot, law enforcement said Rowland was found dead with a self-inflicted gunshot.

A convicted sex offender who spent over a decade in prison, Rowland had lied to McCluskey about himself, attempted to keep her from her friends and at one point tried to extort money from her.

Her friends, family and McCluskey herself had all reached out to authorities for help multiple times, according to reports released earlier this month from the Utah Department of Public Safety and the University of Utah Department of Public Safety.

But not enough was done to keep the 3.7 GPA student and standout track athlete safe.


An image of the late student-athlete Lauren McCluskey is projected on the video board at the University of Utah’s Rice-Eccles Stadium before the start of an NCAA match on Nov. 10, 2018.

The following account is drawn from the two reports.

On Sept. 30, two of McCluskey’s friends spoke to a university resident adviser to say they were “very concerned that Lauren is in an unhealthy relationship with an older man who was controlling her,” according to the university’s report. The friends sought help days after McCluskey told them she was sad because Rowland, whom she had met just a month prior at a sports bar, would no longer let her “hang out with friends.”

The university ultimately decided not to “overstep” in its actions unless McCluskey specifically asked for help.

More than a week later, McCluskey broke off her relationship with Rowland after discovering that he had lied about his name, age and criminal history. He told her that he simply had “many identities,” according to the university’s report. Following the breakup, Rowland sent her a text suggesting she “go kill yourself.”

On Oct 10, McCluskey’s mother called university dispatch and sounded “very upset and worried” that her daughter was going to try to get her car back from Rowland. A campus security officers accompanied McCluskey to retrieve the car and no major incident took place.

Two days later, McCluskey began receiving texts claiming that Rowland was in the hospital or dead. She believed this to be a trap and contacted the University Department of Public Safety, which ultimately decided there “was not much that could be done,” according to the state’s report. She called again the next day, Oct. 13, this time to report that Rowland was threatening to release embarrassing images of her publicly if she didn’t pay him $1,000.

That same day, she also made a 911 call to the Salt Lake City Police Department about the extortion. They referred her to the university’s public safety department, who assigned a detective to the case and took a report from McCluskey. The university police told her it would be a difficult case because the messages she had received came from different numbers and email addresses.

On Oct. 15, McCluskey saw her on-campus counselor.

On Oct. 19, she made another 911 call to the Salt Lake City police again hoping to get an update. Those calls, obtained by KUTV, reveal that McCluskey was worried that campus police were not responding fast enough to her problem.

According to the state’s report, McCluskey had received an email from an unknown person saying, “We know everything!”

“I’m worried because I’ve been working with the campus police at the U and last Saturday I reported and then, I haven’t gotten an update. But someone contacted me today, someone who … said that they know everything about the police,” McCluskey said in the 911 call on Oct. 19.

On Oct. 22, she contacted university police again after she received a text from an unknown number in which someone claiming to be a university police detective asked to meet her. She went to see her on-campus counselor again.

Later that night, her father called police to report that his daughter was missing. “She was abducted while she was on the phone with us,” Matt McCluskey told dispatch.

Jill McCluskey, Lauren’s mother, told KUTV that she was on the phone with her daughter, who was walking home just before 9 p.m., when she heard her daughter shout, “No, no, no!”

“That was the last I heard from her,” Jill McCluskey said. 

The 21-year-old was found dead that night.

In its report, the university concluded that it had “identified gaps in training, awareness and enforcement of certain policies rather than lapses in individual performance.” The report added that “we will never know that this tragedy could have been prevented without these deficiencies.” 

McCluskey’s parents disagree.

“We respectfully disagree with the conclusion that Lauren’s murder could not have been prevented,” Jill and Matthew McCluskey wrote in a statement to KUTV. “There were numerous opportunities to protect her during the almost two weeks between the time when our daughter began expressing repeated, elevating, and persistent concerns about her situation and the time of her murder.”

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No One Has Claimed That $1.5 Billion Lotto Jackpot, And The Clock Is Ticking

Someone, somewhere could lay claim to that $1.537 billion Mega Millions jackpot from October: We know the sole winning ticket was sold at a grocery store in Simpsonville, South Carolina. 

But as of Friday no one had come forward to claim the prize, HuffPost confirmed with the South Carolina Education Lottery.

The mystery almost-billionaire (the winnings would net out to around $900 million after taxes) has 180 days from the drawing date to claim the pot, said Josh Whiteside, director of marketing for the South Carolina Education Lottery. That would put the deadline to redeem it at April 21.

If it goes unclaimed, the money will be returned to each of the 44 states (plus the District of Columbia and the U.S. Virgin Islands) that participate in the Mega Millions lottery. 

South Carolina, for example, would receive about $11 million, according to local newspaper The State, with the money going into the state’s education fund. Each state determines for itself what to do with unclaimed lottery money.  Some funnel it into other lottery games. In Georgia, a portion of unclaimed money goes toward treatment for those with gambling addictions. 

And, yes, people do take their sweet time contacting the lottery commissions on occasion. In March 2017, a Wisconsin woman bought a winning $156 million Powerball ticket but did not come forward until the end of July that year. Had she not claimed the prize, the money would have gone toward property tax relief in her state.

But South Carolina lottery spokeswoman Holli Armstrong told The State that the October winner’s silence was “unusual,” considering the massive sum.

Perhaps the winner is simply figuring out how and when to get back to South Carolina ― The State theorized that the grocery store’s location could have meant someone bought a ticket and continued along one of two nearby highways out of state. Perhaps the winner is consulting with financial experts and learning how to manage such a large sum.

Or perhaps the winner accidentally threw the ticket away.

The winning numbers were 5-28-62-65-70, with a Megaball of 5. 

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Kansas Teen To Graduate From High School And Harvard In Same Month

ULYSSES, Kan. (AP) — A 16-year-old Kansas boy will soon earn his high school diploma — and a few days later he’ll travel to Harvard to collect his bachelor’s degree.

Ulysses High School senior Braxton Moral will attend both commencement ceremonies in May, becoming the only student to successfully pursue a four-year high school degree and a bachelor’s degree from Harvard at the same time, The Hutchinson News reported .

Harvard has changed the rules, Braxton’s father Carlos Moral said, so his son will “the one and only” reaching that milestone. Braxton Moral will be 17 when he gets his diplomas.

Carlos Moral said they began to realize their son was special when he was in the third grade.

“They told us: ‘You need to do something. He’s not just gifted. He’s really, really gifted,’” he said.

Braxton Moral skipped the fourth grade.

The Ulysses school district allowed him to take some high school classes while he was still in middle school. Before high school he took a class offered at Fort Hays State University. Then he was admitted into Harvard.

Braxton Moral simultaneously studied at the high school and the Harvard Extension School. The program typically serves adults who work and can’t attend classes on campus full time.

Ulysses High School math teacher Patsy Love served as the proctor for the Harvard program, administering Moral’s tests in Kansas. Moral spent the summer before his junior year at Harvard’s campus in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

“We constantly are monitoring Braxton to make sure he is not too overwhelmed,” said Julie Moral, Braxton Moral’s mother. “No achievement is worth him being unhappy.”

Braxton Moral is on track to graduate from the Bachelor of Liberal Arts program, with a major government and a minor in English, said Harry Pierre, associate director of communications for Harvard’s Division of Continuing Education.

Braxton Moral said he hopes to attend Harvard Law School next.

“Politics is end game for me,” he said, though he’s still too young to vote.

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School Bus Driver Who Went Viral Hopes His Act Of Kindness Will Inspire Others

For years, Texas school bus driver Curtis Jenkins has been getting the kids on his bus route little gifts ― pencils, pens ― for receiving good grades and doing good deeds.

But for his seventh year driving for the Richardson Independent School District, Jenkins told HuffPost he wanted to do something bigger for his kids, “to let them know I appreciate them.”

So on Dec. 21, the last day before winter break at Lake Highlands Elementary school, Jenkins packed his yellow school bus with presents for every single one of the kids on his route ― more than 50 children in total. 

The presents weren’t purchased at random; Jenkins had asked each child what he or she wanted for Christmas and went out to buy exactly those gifts. Some children got bicycles, others got headphones. Jenkins said he felt that kids who had asked for something smaller ― a mechanical pencil, for example ― should get a little bit more, like a coloring book, crayons, or a jump rope.

Ultimately, the bus driver said he and his wife bought and wrapped around 70 gifts.

“It was so amazing,” Jenkins told HuffPost about distributing the presents last Friday. “Just to let them know the spirit of giving and loving is still here.” 

Lake Highlands Elementary School posted a photo of Jenkins and his bus full of gifts to Facebook on Saturday. The post quickly went viral, gathering 15,000 likes within a week.

“This reminds us how much good there is in the world and how we should all strive to be a little more like Curtis,” the school wrote in its post.

Jennifer Wilcox, the elementary school’s PTA president, told HuffPost she believes Jenkins’ gesture came “out of the goodness of his heart” and not for the recognition. Still, the school’s PTA plans to acknowledge his generosity “in a special way soon,” she said.

“We are proud to have Curtis Jenkins as part of the LHE family!” Wilcox wrote in an email.

Courtesy of Lake Highlands Elementary / LHE PTA

Curtis Jenkins has been a bus driver for Richardson Schools for seven years.

Jenkins told HuffPost that he had been planning the gesture for a long time. Over the years, the driver said he has created a system he calls “Bus Bucks,” where the kids are given little rewards for keeping the bus clean, putting on their seatbelts, and watching out for each other during rides. He said he sings songs with them in the mornings and tries to teach them life lessons. 

“Every morning we say, ‘Listen, love and understand each other,’” Jenkins said, recalling one such lesson. 

Jenkins said his desire to be kind to his kids is partly inspired by his Christian faith. But he said he doesn’t talk to the kids about religion at all. 

“Believe in love. Love exists,” Jenkins said. “We can love each other. We don’t have to believe in everything the next one believes in.” 

Jenkins said he strives to be a role model and a mentor for the kids on his route. 

“I’ve been one of those children that didn’t have a lot when I was younger,” he said. “If I had a person like me as a younger man, I would have made better choices in life.” 

About a year ago, he said he started to put money aside from his paychecks to do something nice for the kids on his route. 

For Thanksgiving, he bought turkeys for students on his route whose families couldn’t afford one.

As Christmas drew closer, he told his wife he was thinking about forgoing their own presents this year to get gifts for the kids. Jenkins said his wife agreed that it would be really good for the couple to practice that kind of generosity. 

In the end, he said they also used the savings he and his wife had set aside for their honeymoon to buy presents. In addition, he said he got help from a fellow bus driver and a parent who heard about what he was planning to do. 

Curtis Jenkins ended up buying and wrapping about 70 gifts for kids on his bus route.

Courtesy of Lake Highlands Elementary / LHE PTA

Curtis Jenkins ended up buying and wrapping about 70 gifts for kids on his bus route.

The bus driver said that since his story went viral, he’s received some backlash online, with people questioning how he was able to afford so many presents.

“It doesn’t take money, it takes discipline,” Jenkins said, referring to how he would save a little bit from each paycheck. “You can have anything you want with a little discipline.” 

Jenkins said he’s hoping to do another nice gesture for his kids at the end of the next school year, before they go away for the summer.

Jenkins said he hopes his Christmas gifts inspire other acts of kindness in 2019. 

“Just take the time to look at yourselves and think, if you were in another position than what you are in right now, how do you want somebody to treat you,” he said. 

He said his own dream is to create a mentorship program for young people.

“I’m not rich at all. But I plan to one day be a blessing to people in need.”

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NASA’s Close Encounter With Mysterious Space Object Will Make History On New Year’s Day

As revelers on the East Coast celebrate the arrival of a new year, scientists will be crossing another kind of frontier ― 4 billion miles from the sun.

Early on Jan. 1, NASA’s New Horizons probe is scheduled to have a close encounter with the most distant planetary object that humans have ever studied. 

The spacecraft, which zipped by Jupiter in 2007 and Pluto in 2015, is now making its way toward 2014 MU69 ― a mysterious chunk of rock and ice in an almost entirely unexplored region of space.

The object is nicknamed Ultima Thule — “most distant” in Latin combined with the ancient Greeks’ name for the world’s northernmost place. The New Horizons mission team said the nickname refers to “a place beyond the known world.” Ultima Thule is roughly the size of New York City and orbits the sun once every 297 yearsaccording to National Geographic.

NASA/Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute

A rendering of the New Horizons probe and the celestial body it is rapidly approaching, Ultima Thule, provided by the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory.

But it’s Ultima Thule’s location that makes it interesting to scientists. The object resides 1 billion miles beyond Pluto, in the Kuiper Belt. This region stretches around the sun and is home to millions of icy bodies. Scientists believe these bodies are leftovers from the formation of the solar system 4.5 billion years ago and have remained largely unchanged since then. 

“It’s the oldest relic of the solar system we’ve ever studied,” New Horizons team member Marc Buie told National Geographic.

Alan Stern, the NASA mission’s principal investigator, said in a Facebook Live video that scientists aren’t sure what to expect from Ultima Thule. “When we fly past Ultima, we’re going to have a chance to see the way things were back at the beginning,” he said. “It’s completely unknown and unexplored.” 

New Horizons launched into space in January 2006. Four years ago, astronomers used the Hubble Space Telescope to pinpoint Kuiper Belt objects within the spacecraft’s reach and settled on Ultima Thule.

New Horizons is hurtling through space at 31,500 miles per hour (more than eight miles a second) to reach the object. As it passes Ultima Thule, it will take hundreds of photographs and other measurements to collect more information about the celestial body. The team hopes to map the object’s surface, figure out its temperature and determine if it has an atmosphere, moons or rings.

According to a schedule released by the New Horizons team, the spacecraft will fly by Ultima Thule at 12:33 a.m. Eastern time on Jan. 1. It will travel within 2,200 miles of the body, less than one-third the distance of its closest approach to Pluto.

An illustration of the New Horizons probe's path through space, provided by the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory

NASA/Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute

An illustration of the New Horizons probe’s path through space, provided by the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory.

There’s still some uncertainty, though; New Horizons’ images could come back blurred if Ultima Thule is rotating rapidly, National Geographic reports. And there’s also a chance that the spacecraft’s camera could miss it completely.

“We might get it, and we might not,” Stern said on Facebook Live. “And if we get it, it’s going to be spectacular.” 

The New Horizons team will be counting down to the spacecraft’s closest approach to Ultima Thule early on New Year’s Day. Some results from the encounter will be shared in the following days, but it will take the spacecraft until 2020 to send all the data from the encounter back to Earth. 

Michael Buckley, the New Horizons team’s media spokesperson, told HuffPost that the partial government shutdown that started Saturday will have no effect on the project’s mission or science operations. 

Coverage will be streamed on the laboratory’s YouTube channel and the New Horizons mission website

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