Trump Admin May Cut Funding Of Duke, UNC Middle East Program For Focusing On Islam

The Trump administration is threatening to cut funding for a Middle East studies program run by the University of North Carolina and Duke University, arguing that it’s misusing a federal grant to advance “ideological priorities” and unfairly promote “the positive aspects of Islam” but not Christianity or Judaism.

An Aug. 29 letter from the U.S. Education Department orders the Duke-UNC Consortium for Middle East Studies to revise its offerings by Sept. 22 or risk losing future funding from a federal grant that’s awarded to dozens of universities to support foreign language instruction. The consortium received $235,000 from the grant last year, according to Education Department data.

A statement from the UNC-Chapel Hill says the consortium “deeply values its partnership with the Department of Education” and is “committed to working with the department to provide more information about its programs.” Officials at Duke declined to comment. The Education Department declined to say if it’s examining similar programs at other schools.

Academic freedom advocates say the government could be setting a dangerous precedent if it injects politics into funding decisions. Some said they had never heard of the Education Department asserting control over such minute details of a program’s offerings.

“Is the government now going to judge funding programs based on the opinions of instructors or the approach of each course?” said Henry Reichman, chairman of a committee on academic freedom for the American Association of University Professors. “The odor of right wing political correctness that comes through this definitely could have a chilling effect.”

More than a dozen universities receive National Resource Center grants for their Middle East programs, including Columbia, Georgetown, Yale and the University of Texas. The Duke-UNC consortium was founded in 2005 and first received the grant nearly a decade ago.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos ordered an investigation into the program in June after North Carolina Rep. George Holding, a Republican, complained that it hosted a taxpayer-funded conference with “severe anti-Israeli bias and anti-Semitic rhetoric.” The conference, titled “Conflict Over Gaza: People, Politics and Possibilities,” included a rapper who performed a “brazenly anti-Semitic song,” Holding said in an April 15 letter .

In a response , DeVos said she was “troubled” by Holding’s letter and would take a closer look at the consortium.

The inquiry joins a broader Education Department effort to root out anti-Semitism at U.S. universities. Speaking at a summit on the topic in July, DeVos attacked a movement to boycott Israel over its treatment of Palestinians, calling it a “pernicious threat” on college campuses.

Last year, the department reopened an investigation at Rutgers University in which an outside group was accused of charging Jewish attendees for admission while allowing others in for free.

In the UNC-Duke case, the department’s findings did not directly address any bias against Israel but instead evaluated whether the consortium’s proposed activities met the goals of the National Resource Center program, which was created in 1965 to support language and culture initiatives that prepare students for careers in diplomacy and national security.

Investigators concluded that the consortium intended to use federal money on offerings that are “plainly unqualified for taxpayer support,” adding that foreign language and national security instruction have “taken a back seat to other priorities.” The department cited several courses, conferences and academic papers that it says have “little or no relevance” to the grant’s goals.

“Although a conference focused on ‘Love and Desire in Modern Iran’ and one focused on Middle East film criticism may be relevant in academia, we do not see how these activities support the development of foreign language and international expertise for the benefit of U.S. national security and economic stability,” the letter said.

Investigators also saw a disconnect between the grant’s mission and some academic papers by scholars at the consortium. They objected to one paper titled “Performance, Gender-Bending and Subversion in the Early Modern Ottoman Intellectual History,” and another titled “Radical Love: Teachings from Islamic Mystical Tradition.”

The letter accused the consortium of failing to provide a “balance of perspectives” on religion. It said there is “a considerable emphasis” placed on “understanding the positive aspects of Islam, while there is an absolute absence of any similar focus on the positive aspects of Christianity, Judaism or any other religion or belief system in the Middle East.”

It added that there are few offerings on discrimination faced by religious minorities in the Middle East, “including Christians, Jews, Baha’is, Yadizis, Kurds, Druze and others.” Department officials said the grant’s rules require programs to provide a “full understanding” of the regions they study.

Jay Smith, a history professor at UNC and vice president of its chapter of the American Association of University Professors, said the letter amounts to “ideologically driven harassment.” He said the Education Department official who signed the letter, Robert King, “should stay in his lane and allow the experts to determine what constitutes a ‘full understanding’ of the Middle East.”

But Holding, the Republican who sparked the investigation, said it’s clear the consortium stepped outside the bounds of the grant. The Education Department has an obligation to ensure its funding is used as intended, he said, adding that other schools should make sure they’re following the rules.

“This has fallen through the cracks, and this could be going on at other educational institutions,” he said in an interview. “If the department’s providing the money and giving guidance on how the money is to be used, I think they can be as in the weeds as they need to be.”

The National Resource Center grant program provided a total of $22 million to language programs at about 40 universities last year. Of that total, about $3.5 million was for Middle East programs.

Along with its objection to the nature of the UNC-Duke offerings, the department also said it is concerned that, out of 6,800 students enrolled in the consortium’s courses, just 960 were enrolled in Middle East language classes, and that only 11% of the program’s graduates pursue careers in government, while 35% takes jobs in academia.

Department officials instructed the consortium to provide a “revised schedule of activities” for the next year and to explain how each offering promotes foreign language learning and advances national security interest.

Follow Collin Binkley on Twitter at

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5 Teacher-Approved Apps To Boost Your Kindergartener’s Skills

If you have a brand-new kindergartner, you may be wondering or worrying about school readiness. Many parents of this age spend the weeks leading up to the first day of school practicing academic basics like counting and prereading. And while those are certainly important, most kindergarten teachers will tell you that soft skills like cooperation, empathy, self-awareness, and focused attention are just as essential for a successful transition to school.

Fortunately, several high-quality apps are available to help kindergartners start the year off right. Best of all, each has the approval of the teacher community on our site for educators, Common Sense Education. Here’s a solid “app kit” for kindergartners that includes both academic skill builders and soft-skills strengtheners.

Teaches: Numbers, simple addition, logic, letters, early reading and storytelling

This fantastic early learning app uses games, videos, books and creative activities to teach kids a wide range of skills in an engaging way. Khan Academy and developers worked in partnership with the Stanford Graduate School of Education to ground all the activities in effective learning.

Common Sense reviewer and education researcher Mieke V. appreciates how the app balances structured activities with creative ones: “The sweet, friendly animal guides and huge library of varied things to do make it easy for young kids to jump in and immerse themselves in learning.”

Teaches: Language skills, reading comprehension and love of literature

Access more than 25,000 high-quality (and recognizable) kids’ books from your mobile device with this digital library and e-reader app. Books are available for multiple reading levels, some even with a read-to-me option for nonreaders. Although the app is free only for teachers, parents can get a monthly subscription to the full library for less than the cost of most books.

Teaches: Ocean science, ecology and animal and plant life

This gorgeously animated, realistic ocean-exploration app introduces key scientific ideas to kids in a fun, immersive way. Young users learn about the relationships among different coral reef species by exploring several undersea environments.

Common Sense reviewer Jenny B. appreciates how the open-ended nature of the app allows students to “take on an active role in the inner workings of a coral reef by adding and interacting with plants and animals in the ecosystem.”

Teaches: Number sense, basic arithmetic and number lines

Kids will hardly realize they’re learning about numbers while exploring the games and challenges in this playful app. Colorful creatures called “Nooms” represent the numbers from 1 to 10, and kids can solve puzzles by stacking them, slicing them (subtraction), and having them “eat” each other (addition).

DragonBox Numbers is part of a stellar series that seamlessly combines math concepts with fun games. Elementary school teacher Maggie O. loves using the DragonBox app series: “Students beg to play DragonBox, and it’s a powerful learning tool!

Teaches: Getting along with others, friendship building and following directions

This collaborative app turns the iPad into a virtual table, complete with tablecloth, teacups and treats. Kids are empowered to make choices as they create their tea party and as they pretend to host or attend the tea party with their friends or parents.

Educator Tamara K. appreciates the way Toca Tea Party uses the power of imaginative play for learning: “I have seen many children practice play skills in open-[ended] play apps and translate skills successfully to the classroom play area.”

Frannie Ucciferri contributed to this article.

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New Mexico Unveils Bold Plan To Offer Free College For All State Residents

New Mexico has announced an ambitious plan to make its public colleges and universities free for all in-state residents, no matter their income. If approved by the state’s legislature, the plan would be the first of its kind in the United States.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, a Democrat, formally introduced the initiative — which she described as a “moonshot for higher education” — at an education summit in Albuquerque on Wednesday.

The program would help cover “100% of undergraduate tuition” at New Mexico’s 29 public colleges and universities for some 55,000 students annually, Lujan Grisham’s office said. The program — dubbed the New Mexico Opportunity Scholarship — is estimated to cost the state between $25 million and $35 million every year.

Lujan Grisham’s announcement at the New Mexico Higher Education Summit was met with a standing ovation and applause, CNN reported

“It means better enrollment. It means better student success,” the governor said in a statement of the program. “In the long run, it means economic growth, improved outcomes for New Mexico workers and thinkers and parents. It means a better trained and better compensated workforce.”

The ambitious plan will first need to be approved by the state’s Democratic-controlled legislature, which will also need to decide how to appropriate the funds needed for the program.

Some of the money will come from existing federal grants and scholarships that already cover some students’ tuition; but it remains unclear where the remaining resources will come from. The New York Times said the state plans to use its growing oil production revenues to defray some of the costs.

Sara Goldrick-Rab, a professor at Philadelphia’s Temple University who studies higher education costs, said she was confident that New Mexico’s plan could “pay for itself.” 

The program has a high return on investment, she told NPR, adding: “Right now [New Mexico is] losing talented people dropping out of college because their families are too rich to be able to qualify for the [federal] Pell grant and too poor to be able to finish college, that’s economically inefficient. You want those people to get their credentials and get out into the workforce.”

As NPR noted, New Mexico has one of the highest poverty rates in the United States ― and also one of the lowest rates of college participation among low-income students.

A January study found that the college participation rate for students from low-income families is only 22% in New Mexico; the national average is 34%.

Lujan Grisham said the introduction of the higher education plan in New Mexico would be “an absolute game-changer” for the state.

“Higher education in this state, a victim of the recession, has been starved in recent years,” she said in a statement. “We are pivoting to a robust reinvestment in higher learning — specifically and directly in our students. By covering the last dollar of tuition and fees, by making college significantly more accessible to New Mexicans of every income, of every background, of every age, we are putting students first.” 

Not everyone, however, is convinced.

Republican state Rep. David Gallegos lambasted the plan as not “sustainable.” 

“Where do we take the money from? Public safety? Public education? I just don’t know where we continue the money,” he told CNN.

As concerns mount nationwide about the rising costs of higher education and the crippling student debt saddling millions of Americans, several states have introduced programs to make it easier for some students to attend college. 

Citing data by the National Conference of State Legislatures, the Times reported that, as of last year, 17 states had programs offering free tuition ― mostly at 2-year colleges ― to at least some students. 

In 2017, New York became the first U.S. state to make tuition free for two- and four-year public colleges for students from low- and middle-income families. 

Last month, California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) signed legislation to provide first-time, full-time students in the state free tuition for two years of community college.

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Betsy DeVos To Promote School That Bans Transgender Students And Staff

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos hit the road this week for what her department calls a “2019 Back-to-School tour.” Her itinerary includes a school that bans transgender students and staff.  

DeVos on Thursday is scheduled to visit Harrisburg Catholic Elementary School in Pennsylvania, part of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Harrisburg. The diocese has a specific policy for students and staff who may be experiencing “gender identity questions,” applicable in situations where a person wants to “chemically and/or surgically alter” their biological sex. 

“This is understood in Catholic moral terms as self-mutilation and therefore immoral. To attempt to make accommodations for such persons would be to cooperate in the immoral action,” says the policy, posted on the diocese website. 

The policy says students will be unable to enroll or continue to attend diocese schools if they undergo or have undergone such a procedure. The policy similarly applies to staff. 

The diocese also forbids its schools from employing any individual “who promotes, procures, assists, or performs an abortion.”

The diocese did not immediately respond to questions about the policy. 

U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is scheduled to visit a Roman Catholic elementary school Thursday in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. The school is part of the Catholic Diocese of Harrisburg, which has policies addressing students and staff experiencing “gender identity questions.”

Harrisburg Catholic Elementary School will host DeVos for a roundtable discussion promoting the expansion of a Pennsylvania tax-credit program that provides low and middle-income families with publicly funded scholarships to attend private schools. 

DeVos has championed programs that help funnel public dollars to private schools in the form of vouchers or tax-credits. She has been dogged by questions about whether taxpayer funds should be going to schools that actively discriminate against LGBTQ students.

A previous HuffPost investigation found that at least 14% of religious schools that participate in state voucher or tax-credit programs have policies that explicitly target LGBTQ students and staff. 

Over half of U.S. states have a private school choice program. However, as secretary of education, DeVos has made it a mission to create a federal program

During congressional testimony in March 2018, under questioning from Rep. Katherine Clark (D-Mass.), DeVos conceded that private schools that discriminate against LGBTQ students should not be eligible for federal dollars. 

The Pennsylvania Educational Improvement Tax Credit, or EITC, gives businesses tax credits if they donate to a scholarship-granting organization that helps families afford private schools. During the 2017-18 school year, over 37,000 scholarships were awarded to families in Pennsylvania through the program. Diocese schools are among those benefitting. 

DeVos’ Thursday roundtable is billed as a discussion of the program. She is to be joined by the speaker of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives and Harrisburg diocese officials.  

The secretary’s visit is focused on the legislature’s efforts to expand the EITC-funded scholarship program,” Elizabeth Hill, a DeVos spokesperson, said in an email. DeVos “was disappointed” that Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf (D) vetoed Republican-passed legislation that would have expanded the program, she added.

“More than 50,000 kids who wanted access to the state’s scholarship program were turned away due to lack of funding last school year alone,” Hill said.

Hill did not respond to a question about the Harrisburg diocese policy regarding LGBTQ students and staff.

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We Can’t Ignore The Mental Health Of College Students Of Color

The first year of college can take a toll on students’ mental health. This is especially true for students of color who are often marginalized on campus and are less likely to seek mental health services due to issues of access and stigma. Schools, in turn, are often not equipped to provide adequate attention or unaware of these students’ particular challenges.

HuffPost has partnered with the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health to talk about these challenges and solutions during a panel discussion, “Mental Health and Wellness for Students of Color: Transitioning to College,” which was livestreamed on Wednesday. HuffPost Black Voices Editor Taryn Finley moderated the conversation with the following panelists:

  • Stephanie Pinder-Amaker, founding director of the College Mental Health Program at McLean Hospital, an affiliate of Harvard Medical School

  • David Rivera, associate professor of counselor education at Queens College-City University of New York

  • John Silvanus Wilson, senior adviser and strategist to the president of Harvard University

  • David Williams, chair of the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health

The panel, also presented by The Steve Fund, brought these experts together to explore what colleges can do to best support the emotional and mental health needs of students of color, especially those transitioning into college life. 

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Kids Use Back-To-School Supplies To Escape Shooter In Shocking Gun Safety Ad

Gun safety group Sandy Hook Promise released a terrifying ad this week that shows fictional students using their back-to-school supplies to defend themselves against a school shooter. 

Sandy Hook Promise, a nonprofit created in the wake of the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, produced the minute-long public service announcement to raise awareness about the signs of potential school shooters.

The commercial, which aired for the first time Wednesday morning during NBC’s “Today” show, begins like a typical ad for back-to-school supplies, with students showing off their new backpacks and folders. But the students find new ways to use their supplies as a shooter terrorizes their school.

“These new sneakers are just what I need for the new year,” a young boy says as he runs away from the shooter in the school hallway.

“This jacket is a real must-have,” a young girl says as she uses it to fasten a set of doors shut in the gymnasium so the shooter can’t enter.

Another student describes his new skateboard as “pretty cool” as he uses it to break through a window in his classroom to escape as students scream in the background.

Two more students can be seen hiding in their art class, gripping new scissors and colored pencils in case they need to defend themselves. Another girl uses her new socks as a makeshift tourniquet on her classmate’s wounded leg.

In the final scene, a crying girl crouched in the darkness sends a text on her phone: “I love you mom.”

“I finally got my own phone to stay in touch with my mom,” she says through tears before the sound of a door opening is heard in the background. The girl closes her eyes as footsteps grow louder.

White words on a black background in the ad conclude, “It’s back to school time and you know what that means. School shootings are preventable when you know the warning signs.”

Nicole Hockley, whose 6-year-old son was one of the 20 children killed during the 2012 massacre, co-founded Sandy Hook Promise to curb gun violence and lobby for legislation to help make schools safer. She said her group’s new ad may be hard to watch, but it’s necessary to effect change.

“People might wonder why do a PSA that is hard to watch,” she said during an interview with “Today” that aired Wednesday. “We don’t want people to run away from it. So pretending it doesn’t exist is not helping to solve [the issue of school shootings.]”

Since the Sandy Hook shooting, more than 400 people have been shot on campuses nationwide, according to a New York Times report. To address the epidemic of gun violence sweeping the nation, Sandy Hook Promise has called on Congress to pass classroom safety and gun safety legislation.

The group is also urging everyone to recognize the signs of a potential shooter, including a fascination or obsession with firearms, social isolation and over-reactions to seemingly minor issues.

Sandy Hook Promise has released several “Know The Signs” PSAs over the last few years, though this year’s “Back-To-School Essentials” ad is the most graphic and is the group’s first one to show blood. 

Several presidential candidates have signed on to share the video on their social media, and a few networks, including CNN and AMC, have donated media placements, according to the Times.

When asked how she’s holding up seven years after her son’s death, Hockley told “Today” that she’s “still standing” and hopeful that the ad will ignite change.

“I’m still filled with hope because I know that we can save lives along the way while we get to where we need to be as a country,” she said.

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Famed Computer Scientist Resigns From MIT After Doubting Epstein Accuser

Famed computer scientist Richard Stallman has resigned from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology after attempting to discredit an alleged sex trafficking victim of convicted pedophile Jeffrey Epstein

In a terse email to his colleagues Monday, Stallman announced he was immediately stepping down from his position as a visiting scientist at the school’s Computer Science & Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, known as CSAIL. 

“I am doing this due to pressure on MIT and me over a series of misunderstandings and mischaracterizations,” he said. The note, which Stallman shared on his website, contained no further details on the matter.

Salam Jie Gano, a robotics engineer and recent MIT graduate, last week revealed in a Medium post an email thread in which Stallman cast doubt on allegations by Virginia Giuffre that she was among the young women that  Epstein treated as sex slaves. In her 2016 testimony disclosed in a deposition unsealed last month and obtained by The Verge, Giuffre said she was forced to have sex in 2002 when she was 17 with late MIT professor Marvin Minsky, an expert in the field of artificial intelligence.

Stallman in his email sought to undermine her credibility, debating the definition of sexual assault and asserting that Giuffre likely gave her consent to a sexual encounter with Minsky, who would have been in his mid-70s at the time.  

“We can imagine many scenarios, but the most plausible scenario is that
she presented herself to him as entirely willing,” he wrote.

Stallman’s resignation is the latest fallout for MIT from the Epstein scandal. Earlier this month, Joi Ito abruptly left his position as head of the school’s Media Lab after The New Yorker reported that he had a hand in covering up Epstein-linked donations to the research facility. Epstein gave hefty sums to the Media Lab and directed other billionaires to do the same, according to the New Yorker exposé.

Gano said she obtained Stallman’s email from a friend who received it through the CSAIL mailing list in response to a planned student protest against MIT’s past relationship with Epstein. Shortly after Gano’s blog post appeared, Vice published a copy of the email thread containing Stallman’s statements.

Stallman has also resigned from his post as president of Boston’s Free Software Foundation, which he founded in 1985, and stepped down from its board of directors, the organization announced Monday. The group advocates for software users to have the right to study, run, copy, distribute and alter programs, rather than being bound by proprietary restrictions.

Epstein died in August by what has been ruled a suicide while jailed in New York on federal charges of sex trafficking minors. He was 66. Minsky died at age 88 in 2016.

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Here’s What’s Happening With All The Recent Jerry Falwell Jr. Scandals

Political evangelical leader, dedicated Trump supporter and Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr. has recently been generating more headlines than usual, and each additional report makes it harder to keep up with the scandals.

Falwell, one of America’s most prominent right-wing Christian leaders, is under scrutiny after a string of news stories accusing him of shady real estate deals, hypocritical personal choices, alleged self-dealing to profit his family and creating what employees call a culture of fear at his Lynchburg, Virginia-based school. 

Last week, nearly a decade’s worth of email exchanges with university colleagues that were reviewed by Reuters revealed that Falwell had disparaged students and staff at the Christian university, referring to one student as “emotionally imbalanced and physically retarded” and calling the campus police chief a “half-wit.” Liberty’s general counsel, David Corry, told Reuters that the school wouldn’t respond “without knowing the details or seeing email chains in their entirety.”

Just days earlier, Politico published an exposé in which more than two dozen current and former unnamed Liberty officials described “a culture of fear” at the school, with various individuals alleging that Falwell would discuss his sex life with employees in graphic detail and that he improperly diverted school resources to projects in which his friends and family would make personal financial gains.

Unnamed school officials said in the Politico story ― written by Liberty alumnus Brandon Ambrosino ― that Falwell’s behavior does not match the standard of conduct that they expect from someone leading one of the world’s largest conservative Christian universities.

Politico’s Sept. 9 story also included allegations that Falwell and members of his family visited a Miami Beach nightclub in 2014. Falwell denied the visit and said the photos were “photo-shopped,” but one day after the Politico story appeared, the owner of Miami photography firm World Red Eye published even more photos of such an incident. Liberty University does not allow students to engage in co-ed dancing or drinking.

Falwell told The Associated Press that he wasn’t going to “dignify the lies that were reported” in Politico’s piece and dismissed the reporter as a “little boy.” He also said he’s asking the FBI to investigate what he claimed was a “criminal” smear campaign against him by disgruntled former employees as part of an “attempted coup,” which he further claimed was at least partially motivated by his support for President Donald Trump.

Dozens of students at Liberty University protested last Friday in the wake of the Reuters and Politico reports, some calling for an investigation and others defending the university president. Falwell tweeted after the protest that he was “so impressed” with how students behaved at the demonstration. That was a half-hour after he tweeted a meme making fun of people who protest against him. 

Corry, the general counsel, provided HuffPost with the university’s lengthy statement in response to the recent media reports. The university alleges that it provided that information “on the record” to Politico, Reuters and The Washington Post for their stories.

Liberty University was founded nearly 50 years ago by Falwell’s father, the Rev. Jerry Falwell Sr. The senior Falwell was a Southern Baptist pastor, televangelist, Moral Majority leader and political activist who helped fuel the rise of today’s religious right

Falwell Jr. has followed in the footsteps of his father ― who died in 2007 ― by combining religious, educational and political activities. Liberty, an influential institution in conservative politics, has more than 100,000 students (most of whom are enrolled online, according to Politico).

Unlike his brother, Falwell Jr. never became a pastor. When their father died, Falwell Jr. took over the university while Jonathan Falwell took over Thomas Road Baptist Church, the megachurch in Lynchburg that their father helped found in the 1950s. But in the larger public sphere, Falwell Jr. is still seen as a leader in the evangelical community.

He is an ardent supporter of Trump, who has divided the evangelical community, with progressive evangelicals and evangelicals of color speaking out against a president they believe doesn’t fit their moral standards. Trump has spoken at Liberty University several times, at one point encouraging students to rally in Washington in support of then-Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.

President Donald Trump speaks with Jerry Falwell Jr. during commencement ceremonies at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia, on May 13, 2017.

But the recent allegations against Falwell have almost nothing to do with his support for Trump, and the reporting dates back further than the stories published last week.

Last year, BuzzFeed reported that a Florida lawsuit highlighted the relationship between the Falwell family and Giancarlo Granda, a young pool attendant they befriended while staying at a Miami Beach hotel in 2012 and later backed in a business venture involving the purchase of a hostel. Falwell filed an affidavit saying he used his own money to lend $1.8 million to the $4.65 million hostel project, which is co-owned by his son.

In January, The Wall Street Journal reported that Trump’s former personal fixer Michael Cohen hired Liberty employee and private consultant John Gauger to manipulate some polls to favor Trump ahead of his presidential campaign. Half a dozen high-level sources at the university told Politico that Gauger was accompanied by Falwell’s son Trey when traveling to New York to collect payment from Cohen.

In May of this year, Reuters reported that Cohen ― who helped arrange Falwell’s endorsement of the president during his campaign ― gave Falwell a hand in getting rid of what Cohen reportedly called racy “personal” photos in someone else’s possession in 2015. Cohen, who is now in prison, recounted the alleged favor in a March 25 recording secretly made by comedian Tom Arnold and reviewed by Reuters. Falwell declined to comment to the news organization, though he told Todd Starnes of Fox News Radio that there were “no compromising or embarrassing photos.”

On Aug. 27, Reuters reported that Falwell and his wife, Rebecca, helped steer a $1.2 million piece of university property to their personal trainer and Liberty graduate Benjamin Crosswhite. Records reviewed by Reuters showed that Falwell had approved a deal in 2016 to sell Crosswhite an 18-acre fitness facility owned by Liberty. The deal was reportedly financed by the university, with the trainer putting no money down. Liberty told Reuters the deal was beneficial for the school. The university’s response regarding Crosswhite is also detailed in its media statement.

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Esmeralda Santiago: A Critical Voice In The Puerto Rican Diaspora

After seeing the destruction that Hurricane Maria left behind in Puerto Rico, all that Esmeralda Santiago wanted to do was get the first flight out of New York to the island. The storm had left thousands without electricity, food and water. It was later determined to have been the cause of more than 3,000 deaths in Puerto Rico. 

“We, the diaspora, wanted to get on a plane and start doing something. And then we realized that we are not enough,” she told HuffPost in an interview. “There’s this sadness that I constantly have, that I wish I could do more.”

Santiago is the author of “When I Was Puerto Rican” and “América’s Dream,” two seminal works in Puerto Rican literature published in the 1990s. She has a long list of awards and accolades that she’s quite modest about. Each of her books is a nod to her connection to the island — to its waters, mangoes, and “jibaros,” or countrymen.

The renowned writer is one of the hundreds of thousands of Puerto Ricans who left the island to look for a better life in the post-World War II era. As a teenager, she boarded a plane with her mother and eight siblings to head to Brooklyn, New York in the 1960s.

Despite her desire to help people back home, she knows there are things that Puerto Ricans in the U.S. just can’t understand about life on the island, which is currently facing political uprisings and environmental catastrophe. 

We love Puerto Rico, but we’re not there,” Santiago said. “We’re of it, but we’re not in it. And when we are in Puerto Rico, many of us are suspect to the ones who live there because we’re not there. We’re not suffering the way they’re suffering.”

In her memoirs, Santiago details life on the island as a child, as well as her family’s long heritage there. 

“My great grandparents were enslaved people in the sugar fields of Puerto Rico,” Santiago said. “That history is very much a part of my identity as a puertorriqueña. The fact that I was born there makes a very big statement to me about who I am. The fact that I speak the language, dance the salsa, eat the arroz con gandules. I am that place when I’m here. I’m Puerto Rico when I’m in my house, when I’m by myself. Wherever I am, I’m Puerto Rico.”

Like many boricuas living on the mainland, she knows they don’t have much power over what goes on in the island, “but that does not mean that you do not feel a sense of responsibility,” she argued. 

Santiago’s stories also describe her migration to the contiguous United States as a teen and her struggles with assimilation into Anglo-American culture. 

“It was uncomfortable to be in many places to be the only one like me,” Santiago said. “You try to adjust who you are and how you think and how you see the world from this new reality.”

She hates that word, “assimilation.” When she was young, she tried to adapt to her new home, but as she grew older, she got tired of trying to conform. She doesn’t feel accepted by this “Euro-centric society,” and in this current political climate in the U.S., she’s happy to not be a part of it.

Following Trump’s election, Santiago started walking around with her passport in case she’s stopped for the way she looks and the language she speaks. She reports having been asked for extra identification when voting in local elections. She’s acutely aware of her vulnerable position in this xenophobic moment when the president exudes racism on stage before hundreds of chanting fans and viral videos show people arguing over whether someone can speak Spanish in public.

“The rhetoric coming from the highest level is that I don’t belong here, that I am not welcome here,” Santiago said. But she refuses to let anyone define her ties to her culture, even other boricuas.

“When I went to Puerto Rico, the Puerto Ricans didn’t think I was Puerto Rican enough, because I had lived in the United States for so long, because I speak English, because ’Oh my God, she wrote a book and it’s in English, not in Spanish,” Santiago recalled.

This sense of cultural disconnect and longing has been explored by other Latinx writers and poets. Take Noel Quiñones’ viral poem, “8 Confessions of My Tongue” for example, in which, he speaks on his inability to connect to the culture because of the language barrier. Even Latinx stars, like Jennifer Lopez, Lauren Jauregui and Gina Rodriguez, have also been criticized for not looking or acting Latinx enough.

Santiago says no Latinx people, — or anyone, from any ethnicity — should feel like they don’t embody their culture “enough.” It doesn’t matter if you are Brown, Black or white; it doesn’t matter if you speak the language or if you’ve visited your home country; you are enough, she says. 

“At a certain point, I gave up on the idea that I’m not enough for other people,” said Santiago. “You are enough for you if you believe that you are enough for you. Whatever they say — you’re not Latina enough, or feminine enough or smart enough, you know …  just say ‘fuck you.’ That’s their problem.”

Nuestras Voces Unidas (Our Voices United) is a HuffPost series created to honor Hispanic Heritage Month and amplify the diverse voices within the community. Find all of our coverage here.

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How 9 Latinx Small Business Owners Celebrate Their Culture

When these Latinx entrepreneurs looked at the landscape of wellness, beauty, clothing, books and even stickers, they saw a gap in Latinx representation — and an opportunity to fix it.

We talked to nine Latinx small business owners who view their work as an opportunity to celebrate culture and serve their community.

Loquita Bath and Body founder Yamira Vanegas is famous for her bath bombs, with scents and shapes evoking conchas, flan, horchata, tamarindo and elotes. But she also sells other pampering necessities, all of them vegan and cruelty-free.

“Loquita was created with the purpose of Representation, with the hopes to create products that as a Latinx we would feel more related to,” Vanegas wrote in an email. “To hopefully encourage us to practice self-care more often, since as [women of color], we tend to put it on the back burner.”

So sientate, relaja, and check out some of Loquita’s lotions or creams for a calming night in.

Loquita Bath and Body founder Yamira Vanegas wants to serve the Latinx community with her skin care products.

Stickers can tell a story, and that’s exactly what Alondra Carbajal and Remi Silva of Blank Tag Co. hope their merch does for customers.

Their culturally conscious stickers sport phrases like “Me Vale” and transcend nationalities ― some are shaped like conchas and elotes; others like banh mi and ramen.

“Growing up as a Salvadoreña, it was difficult to find products that I felt represented me and my background. As a Korean-Mexican American, Remi faced the same problem,” Carbajal told HuffPost. “It seemed as if the products out there were not validating who we were as individuals because we didn’t fit the mainstream identity. The demographics of the U.S. are changing, but unfortunately, many retail businesses are not adapting to cater to us in an authentic way.”

Vive Cosmetics is made by Latinas for … everyone! 

Joanna Rosario and Leslie Valdivia, the Mexican-Puerto Rican duo who run the brand, hope to fill a gap they see within the makeup industry and build a brand based on “la cultura.” They want to serve the diverse Latinx community with their vibrant palettes and an endless list of beauty products online.

In a joint statement to HuffPost, the founders said they see creating Vive Cosmetics “as an opportunity to highlight the beautiful diversity that exists within the Latinx cultura and also tackle and address issues that are damaging in our community, like homophobia, colorism and more.

The cruelty-free, vegan products from Vive Cosmetics were created by Latinas for Latinx people.

The cruelty-free, vegan products from Vive Cosmetics were created by Latinas for Latinx people.

Sherly Talvarez, a fashion stylist and creative director of Hause of Curls, saw that Eurocentric beauty standards dominated the beauty and fashion industries. The Dominican Afro-Latina was determined to change that. 

Her statement clothing slams the notion of “pelo malo,” or bad hair ― the idea that her curls and big hair are things to be ashamed of. She hopes to make girls and boys everywhere proud of their hair and heritage.

“As a first-generation Dominican raised in the United States, I feel it’s important to have a business that recognizes our culture because it shows our authenticity and it is a part of our story and journey,” Talvarez told HuffPost. “It shows that you aren’t just creating a business to make a profit; you’re building something we can all be proud of and make a difference with. For me, it was all about creating something we could all relate to and change the narrative.”

There is no such thing as "pelo malo," according to Hause of Curls founder Sherly Talvarez. 

There is no such thing as “pelo malo,” according to Hause of Curls founder Sherly Talvarez. 

In launching a brand that offers “makeup for today’s Latina,” founder Regina Merson was inspired by telenovelas and her mother’s makeup routines. She brings her Mexican roots into each look she creates, channeling the colors and exuberance of her homeland. 

Merson’s makeup is meant to be versatile ― for queens (“las reinas”), rebels (“los rebeldes”) and everyone in between.

“My hope is that Reina Rebelde can make a positive contribution in this regard, serve as an example of authenticity and remind people that being your true self, unapologetically, is highly encouraged and always welcome,” Merson said.

If you’re looking to instill Hispanic pride “en sus hijos y hijas,” look no further than Lil’ Libros. The publisher’s books take your children back to your Latino homeland, wherever that is for you. A new series explores Havana, San Salvador and beyond. 

“A business that recognizes your culture is also acknowledging your existence, value, contributions and worth,” said Lil’ Libros co-founder Patty Rodriguez. “Our children cannot be what they cannot see.”

Lil’ Libros books can also teach kids about famous Hispanic, Latinx and indigenous figures throughout history, including Celia Cruz, Cuauhtémoc and Selena Quintanilla.

Lil’ Libros co-founders Patty Rodriguez and Ariana Stein are telling the stories of great Latinx figures for children o

Lil’ Libros co-founders Patty Rodriguez and Ariana Stein are telling the stories of great Latinx figures for children of all backgrounds to learn from.

These shirts, sweaters and accessories make a simple yet powerful statement: The wearers of these garments are proud to be first-generation daughters of immigrants. This Latina-owned business aims to help customers celebrate where they come from.

“We don’t just recognize our cultural stories; we center and celebrate them,” Leslie Garcia told HuffPost. “If we do not do it, who will? We must be the tellers of our stories because only we know the truth about the immigrant community. It is a community of resilience and incredible love.”

This Venezuelan-owned leather goods brand offers unique, hand-crafted accessories, from wallets to makeup bags. Founder Luz Northrup’s long background in design has helped her expand her business’s selection and style.

“Our brand of quality reflects not just who we are, but who you are — intelligent, confident and polished,” her website reads.

Made in Mayhem founder Luz Northup makes leather goods that will "stand the test of time."

Made in Mayhem founder Luz Northup makes leather goods that will “stand the test of time.”

Bella Doña is the home of big hoops, long nails and dark eyeliner. Chicana culture runs deep in this shop loaded with jewelry, clothing and fun accessories. LaLa Romero and Natalia Durazo have adorned their merchandise with low-riders, girl power slogans and nods to the Chicana lifestyle.

“Chismosas, brujas y chingonas” are all welcome, and the two amigas have the clothing for all of those who identify as such.

Their online biography reads: “We love our Homegirls, the City of Angels, candy painted Low-Riders, bumping Mary Wells on repeat, micheladas, long, hot summer days and looking fly.”

Nuestras Voces Unidas (Our Voices United) is a HuffPost series created to honor Hispanic Heritage Month and amplify the diverse voices within the community. Find all of our coverage here.

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Felicity Huffman Is Sentenced In College Admissions Bribery Scam

Actor Felicity Huffman was sentenced to 14 days in prison on Friday for her involvement in the notorious elite college admissions bribery scandal. 

“I am deeply ashamed of what I have done,” Huffman said in tears in court ahead of her sentencing by U.S. District Judge Indira Talwani. “I take full responsibility for my actions … I am prepared to accept whatever sentence you deem fit.” 

As part of her sentence, Huffman will also have to pay a $30,000 fine, have supervised release for one year and do 250 hours of community service. 

Huffman was the first parent to be sentenced in the college admissions scam, and had husband and actor William H. Macy with her in court. 

Prosecutors had previously recommended a one-month jail sentence for Huffman, plus a $20,000 fine and one year’s probation.

In May, the “Desperate Housewives” actor pleaded guilty to a single charge of conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services mail fraud, after being accused of paying $15,000 to cheat on her daughter’s SAT exam.    

Huffman was one of dozens of wealthy parents who were charged earlier this year in a nationwide college admissions scam, for allegedly paying bribes to get their kids into elite universities, including Yale; Stanford; the University of California, Los Angeles and more. 

“The outrage in this case is a system that is already so distorted by money and privilege in the first place,” the judge said in handing down Huffman’s sentence in court Friday. “In a system in that context, that you took the step of having one more advantage to put your child ahead.” 

As part of the bribery scheme, known as Operation Varsity Blues, wealthy parents allegedly paid to falsely boost their children’s exam scores or to have their children apply as student-athletes even if they had no skills in the relevant sport. “Full House” actor Lori Loughlin and her designer husband Mossimo Giannulli were also charged in the scam and both pleaded not guilty.

Huffman recently wrote in a letter to the judge that she was just trying to give her kid a “fair shot.” 

“In my desperation to be a good mother, I talked myself into believing that all I was doing was giving my daughter a fair shot,” she wrote. “I see the irony in that statement now because what I have done is the opposite of fair.”

In a memo filed last week, prosecutors wrote: “All parents want to help their kids get ahead, yet most manage to steer clear of conspiracy, bribery and fraud.” 

On Friday, the judge said: “Trying to be a good mother doesn’t excuse this.” 

Felicity Huffman departs federal court in Boston, where she pleaded guilty to charges in a nationwide college admissions bribery scandal.

After news of the college admissions scandal broke, many pointed out that higher education admissions are already rigged to favor wealthy and white students ― even before reaching the point of criminality ― whether in the form of donations to schools or extra tutors, essay coaches and interview prep professionals who help the elite get their kids into Ivy League schools. Legacy status, in particular, tips the scales heavily in an applicant’s favor ― and disproportionately benefits white students. 

Earlier this year, California lawmakers proposed a series of bills that aimed to reform college admissions in the state. The first of the bills to reach the governor’s desk would require colleges to disclose whether they give preferential treatment to applicants related to donors or alumni (the bill is still awaiting Gov. Gavin Newsom’s (D) possible signature before it would become law). 

Before delivering Huffman’s sentence on Friday, the judge said she didn’t believe the elite college admissions scheme Huffman was part of had undermined the entire college admissions system more broadly. She noted that the system already “has cracks in it,” pointing to legacy preferences and other advantages often accrued to the wealthy. 

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14-Year-Old Kenyan Girl Dies By Suicide After Teacher Allegedly Period-Shamed Her

A schoolgirl in Kenya reportedly died by suicide last week after a teacher allegedly period-shamed her for bleeding through her pants and kicked her out of class. 

Jackline Chepngeno, 14, reportedly got her period for the first time last Friday while attending school in Kabiangek, a region in southwestern Kenya, local outlet the Daily Nation reported. The girl did not have a sanitary pad readily available and bled through her pants, her mother, Beatrice Koech, said. 

Koech told the Daily Nation that the teacher taunted her daughter for getting her period and called her “dirty.” 

“She had nothing to use as a pad. When the blood stained her clothes, she was told to leave the classroom and stand outside,” Koech said.

Local police told BBC the girl’s death is currently under investigation. 

Female members of Parliament came together on Wednesday to protest at the Ministry of Education in the wake of the girl’s death. 

“Together with fellow Women MPs, we’ve laid siege at the Ministry of Education in protest of the 14 year old girl who committed suicide after a female teacher publicly ridiculed her for soiling her clothes with her [period],” MP Esther Passaris tweeted.  

Chepngeno’s suicide set off protests outside of the school on Tuesday, with over 200 parents demanding the female teacher who allegedly shamed the young girl be punished. Five people were arrested after police used tear gas to disperse protesters, the Daily Nation reported. Due to protests, the school has been temporarily closed. 

Kenya passed a law in 2017 requiring all schools to provide free menstrual products to female students to ensure that they are able to attend school while on their periods. The program, however, is still not rolled out completely, according to local reports.  A 2014 UN report estimated that 1 in 10 girls in sub-Saharan Africa miss school during their menstrual cycles. 

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Colorado State Won’t Punish Students For Blackface, Citing First Amendment

Four Colorado State University students who posed in an Instagram photo wearing blackface will not be punished because of First Amendment rights, the school said.

The image shared over the weekend shows one woman and three men looking at the camera with their faces painted in black. Two have their arms crossed against their chests. The caption reads, “Wakanda forevaa,” a reference to Marvel’s blockbuster film “Black Panther.”

In a statement released Tuesday and signed by university President Joyce McConnell, Vice President for Student Affairs Blanche Hughes and Vice President for Diversity Mary Ontiveros, administrators expressed an awareness of the photo’s racism, but said they will not take action against the students involved.

“Because of the long and ugly history of blackface in America, this photo has caused a great deal of pain to members of our community,” they said. “We have heard from many of you ― and we hear you. Moreover, we respect your voices. We know that images like this one ― whether consciously racist or not ― can perpetuate deliberate racism and create a climate that feels deeply hostile.”

Explaining why they’re not punishing the students, administrators said “personal social media accounts are not under our jurisdiction,” and that both students and employees “can generally post whatever they wish to post on their personal online accounts in accordance with their First Amendment rights.”

“This recent post runs counter to our principles of community, but it does not violate any CSU rule or regulation, and the First Amendment prohibits the university from taking any punitive action against those in the photo,” the letter said.

Leana Kaplan, who has identified herself as one of the students in the photo, told local NBC affiliate KUSA-TV in a statement that it was taken on Sept. 7 while in a dorm room where she and her friends “were experimenting with cosmetic facial masks.”

“I understand how awful this photo looks,” Kaplan said. “The history of blackface is real and cannot be denied. I am sorry. I hope this incident can be used as an opportunity for dialogue and learning.”

The blackface incident is just one of several reported cases of racism and bias at the university over the past year. In March, a men’s restroom on campus was defaced with racist graffiti. In October of last year, homophobic messages were scrawled on a whiteboard in a residence hall, including “body-shaming phrases” and “phallic graphics.”

In its latest statement, the university said it has asked staff to offer their thoughts on race and identity in light of the blackface image, and plans to share details in the coming days on “planned events and conversations.”

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25 Books That Teach Kids To Care About The Environment

25 Books That Teach Kids To Care About The Environment | HuffPost Life

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New Coalition Seeks To Make Education A 2020 Election Issue

A new coalition is announcing its plan to make education a central issue in the 2020 elections. The announcement Wednesday comes a day before Democratic presidential candidates debate in Houston.

The coalition of more than 20 education and children’s welfare groups includes two national teachers unions, the Center for American Progress and the Children’s Defense Fund. The coalition, called Education 2020, will release its platform Wednesday of dozens of specific policies related to early childhood education through college. 

The group is calling for presidential candidates to put forward their own comprehensive education plans. And while Education 2020 does not plan to endorse a candidate, it will work to schedule briefings with Democrats and Republicans

Education 2020 is pushing six principles: the need for a comprehensive system focusing on birth through career; equity; access to quality and affordable early childhood education; a strong K-12 system; access to postsecondary education; and investments in the educator workforce. 

Among the dozens of proposals suggested by the coalition are that candidates take a nuanced approach to charter schools, noting that, although high-quality ones exist, there are also legitimate critiques of the system. It is also pushing comprehensive immigration reform and investments in a diverse teacher workforce.

Members of the coalition say that they see a window of opportunity in this election cycle. In a country characterized by divisions, polls show that both Republicans and Democrats support increased funding for public schools. Still, education hasn’t broken out as one of the more significant issues on the campaign trail so far. 

“There’s a lot of need and opportunity to advance education, but it’s not really getting the attention or focus of the presidential candidates,” said Laura Schifter, policy director for Education 2020. 

Some Democratic candidates have already put out detailed education plans, Schifter said, but the coalition is looking for ones that are more comprehensive and don’t focus on one aspect of the system over another. 

There’s a lot of need and opportunity to advance education, but it’s not really getting the attention or focus of the presidential candidates.
Laura Schifter, policy director for Education 2020

“Many of the candidates do have proposals in various areas, but we are not seeing them developed and elevated in a comprehensive way ― birth through career,” she said. 

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers union, says it is meaningful to see a range of education groups pushing the same agenda. In previous years ― under the Obama administration, for example ― there might have been a divide about how to approach issues like high-stakes testing. The coalition is united in its support for public schools and public school educators. 

“You think about what would have been an agenda of some of these groups 8, 10, 12 years ago. It’s quite different than this kind of agenda,” Weingarten said. “Together you can accomplish what is impossible to accomplish alone.” 

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New State Law Requires New York Schools To Take Moment Of Silence For 9/11

Every public school in New York state will be required to take a moment of silence on Wednesday in remembrance of the devastating attacks on the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and United Flight 93 on Sept. 11, 2001, according to new state law.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) signed a bill into law on Monday establishing September 11th Remembrance Day at all public schools in the state in order to “ensure we never forget ― not just the pain of that moment but of the courage, sacrifice and outpouring of love that defined our response,” the governor said.

The legislation requires schools to take a “brief moment of silence” at the beginning of the school day on Sept. 11 every year. The bill was introduced into the New York Senate by state Sen. Joseph P. Addabbo (D) this year as another generation of students born after 2001 enters the school system.

“I am hopeful that this new law will mean that the significance of the tragic events of September 11th, whether it be the loss of loved ones or the largest rescue operation our nation ever witnessed, will be forever acknowledged by school students too young to have witnessed this life-changing day,” Addabbo said in a statement.

On the day of the attacks, nearly 3,000 people in the U.S. were killed when terrorists hijacked four commercial airplanes. Two of the jets crashed into the Twin Towers in New York, one was flown into the Pentagon and one crashed in an open field in Somerset County, Pennsylvania.

An estimated 343 Fire Department of New York firefighters and 71 police officers died while responding to the attack on the World Trade Center. According to CNN, 200 firefighters died in the years afterward from illnesses linked to their search and recovery efforts at Ground Zero.

“9/11 was one of the single darkest periods in this state’s and this nation’s history, and we owe it to those we lost and to the countless heroes who ran toward danger that day and the days that followed to do everything we can to keep their memory alive,” Cuomo said in a statement.

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GOP State Lawmaker Claims Call For End Of Higher Education Was ‘Hyperbole’

A Republican Tennessee state lawmaker is now backtracking on his call for the elimination of higher education ― claiming he was speaking in “hyperbole.”

State Sen. Kerry Roberts deemed colleges and universities a “liberal breeding ground” during a furious rant on his radio show Sept. 2 while discussing SB 1236 ― a proposal for a total ban on abortions in Tennessee, which would outlaw the procedure from the moment a woman knows she is pregnant.

Using his conservative platform to rally support for the bill, Roberts recalled a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing he attended in August in which a woman testified against the measure.

“We got some woman in there who just goes off,” the state senator said, giving his account of the scene in footage of his program posted on Facebook. “And it’s all about — pick every, every liberal bit of indoctrination that you can get in a university setting today. Far left — I mean, you’ve got all of these ‘intersectionalities’ and ‘white supremacy’ and ‘oppressive this’ and every buzzword in the liberal lexicon is being thrown at us by some woman who’s not even talking about the legal argument; she’s just going off on something.”

Becoming visibly angered, Roberts then began shouting into the microphone, declaring it was time to do away with colleges and universities.

“If there’s one thing that we can to do to save America today, it is to get rid of our institutions of higher education right now, and cut the liberal breeding ground off,” he said. “Good grief!”

Though Roberts did not identify the woman he was describing, it appears to have been Cherisse Scott, CEO and founder of SisterReach, a pro-choice nonprofit organization based in Memphis. During the hearing, Scott spoke out against the bill and was repeatedly interrupted before being cut off completely.

The source of Scott’s views, Roberts suggested, was higher education.

“She’s learned all of this stuff that flies in the face of what we stand for as a country, and here we are as legislators paying for this garbage to be taught to our children,” he said, claiming that the “murder” of innocent people is “the price we pay.”

However, on Monday, he downplayed his tirade, arguing that it was meant to be taken as a joke.

“My listeners clearly understood the humor and hyperbole of it,” he wrote in a Facebook post. “That was a week ago. But today, it’s a news story. ‘Tennessee Lawmaker Calls For Elimination of Higher Education’ the headline screams! That’s hyperbole, too.” 

According to The Washington Post, the anti-abortion bill is likely unconstitutional, but for Roberts, that’s the idea.

Just before the hearing, the state senator told CBS News he believes it could become “a vehicle to lead the Supreme Court to consider, I hope, overturning or at least chipping away at Roe v. Wade,” the landmark case that established access to safe and legal abortion as a constitutional right.

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California Gov. Gavin Newsom Signs Vaccine Bill Restricting Medical Exemptions

California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) signed a hotly debated vaccine bill on Monday that is expected to significantly tighten vaccine exemptions for children going to school.

Senate Bill 276 requires public health officials to review exemptions at any school found to have an immunization rate of less than 95%. The new law also mandates a public health review of any doctor who grants more than five medical exemptions in a calendar year. The state is now authorized to revoke any exemptions it deems fraudulent or medically inaccurate.

Newsom also signed SB 714, which included revisions to the original bill that the governor requested last week. The changes allow for a delay in the state review of some medical exemptions as well as incorporate Newsom’s proposal that all existing medical exemptions are grandfathered in by Jan. 1, according to the Los Angeles Times.

It also requires that families obtain new medical exemptions upon their child entering kindergarten, seventh grade or changing schools.

SB 276 was first amended after Newsom raised concerns in June about the government interfering with doctor-patient relations. The initial version of the legislation, introduced by Democratic state Sen. Richard Pan, would have required the state health department to review and then either approve or deny all medical exemptions to school immunization requirements.

Children in California must be vaccinated in order to attend public or private schools, though the state permits exemptions if a physician identifies a medical reason for a child to skip some or all vaccines.

California is one of just three states in the country, along with West Virginia and Mississippi, that don’t permit vaccine exemptions for religious or philosophical reasons. West Virginia also authorizes its public health department to vet medical exemptions.

Although immunization rates for children entering kindergarten in California are high ― currently about 95% statewide, according to data from the California Department of Public Health ― the rate of medical exemptions has risen in recent years, and public health officials are on high alert.

The bill’s passage comes amid the worst measles outbreak in the country in decades, with over 1,240 cases of the highly-contagious disease confirmed this year across 30 states, according to the CDC. California has confirmed at least 67 measles cases this year.

The anti-vaccine movement has grown in recent years, often fueled by misconceptions about the safety of immunizations. One popular conspiracy theory about a supposed link between the MMR vaccine and childhood autism stems from a debunked 1998 study and has been exhaustively proven false in numerous medical studies.

The bill generated considerable backlash in the state, with some opponents saying it could violate patient-physician confidentiality and others arguing the government shouldn’t be involved in making medical decisions.

Hundreds of protesters gathered outside the Capitol in Sacramento on Monday in a last-ditch attempt to convince lawmakers to kill the bill.

Several demonstrators were arrested for blocking entry into the government building, including three women who were obstructing a garage entrance used by lawmakers.

Protesters unfurled an upside-down American flag from the state Senate’s public gallery and chanted “My kids, my choice” and “We will not comply,” according to The Associated Press.

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

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Protests Over California Vaccine Bill Block Capitol Ahead Of Governor’s Signing

Hundreds of protesters blocked entrances to the California state Capitol on Monday as lawmakers approved changes to a controversial bill to curb medical exemptions to school vaccine requirements.

The California Highway Patrol arrested several demonstrators for blocking entry into the government building, including three women who were obstructing a garage entrance used by lawmakers.

The state Assembly and Senate passed Senate Bill 714 on Monday, sending the legislation to Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom’s desk after a hectic day of protests. The bill is a retooling of the contentious SB 276, which passed in the state Assembly and Senate last week. Newsom signed both bills on Monday evening.

Introduced by Democratic state Sen. Richard Pan, SB 276 requires public health officials to review exemptions at any school found to have an immunization rate of less than 95%. The legislation also mandates a public health review of any doctor who grants more than five medical exemptions in a calendar year, and it authorizes the state to revoke exemptions it deems fraudulent or medically inaccurate.

SB 276 underwent revisions in June after Newsom raised concerns about the government interfering with doctor-patient relations. The governor again expressed doubts about the bill last week, signaling he wasn’t ready to sign it as is.

“The governor appreciates the work the Legislature has done to amend SB 276. There are a few pending technical – but important – changes to the bill that clarify the exemption and appeal process that have broad support,” his office said in a pair of tweets. “The governor believes it’s important to make these additional changes concurrently with the bill, so medical providers, parents and public health officials can be certain of the rules of the road once the bill becomes law.”

Additional changes to the legislation, wrapped into SB 714, allow for a delay in the state review of some medical exemptions as well as incorporate Newsom’s proposal that all existing medical exemptions are grandfathered in by Jan. 1, according to the Los Angeles Times.

But it also includes provisions that have angered critics, including the requirement that families obtain new medical exemptions upon their child entering kindergarten, seventh grade or changing schools.

It also invalidates any medical exemptions written by doctors who have faced disciplinary action, even in cases not pertaining to immunizations.

“SB 714 did not make the underlying bill better; in many respects it made it much worse,” Leigh Dundas, a member of the opposition group Advocates for Physicians’ Rights, told the Times.

After the vote in the Assembly, protesters temporarily delayed the state Senate from taking up the bill by unfurling an upside-down American flag from the chamber’s public gallery and chanting “My kids, my choice” and “We will not comply,” according to The Associated Press.

Newsom’s office did not immediately respond to HuffPost’s request for comment on the bills.

The U.S. is currently experiencing the worst measles outbreak in decades, with over 1,240 cases of the highly contagious disease confirmed this year across 30 states, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. California has confirmed at least 67 measles cases this year.

This story has been updated to note the bill’s passage in the state Senate and Newsom’s signing of the legislation.

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MIT Attempted To Hide Deep Financial Ties To Jeffrey Epstein: Report

In yet another bombshell report in The New Yorker, journalist Ronan Farrow revealed Friday that the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Media Lab, which has faced backlash over its acceptance of contributions from financier and convicted pedophile Jeffrey Epstein, had a far more extensive partnership with Epstein than previously stated ― and attempted to keep it under wraps.

According to emails and other documents obtained by Farrow, Epstein had already been blacklisted as a “disqualified” donor when the lab continued collecting his gifts, marking them as anonymous and avoiding disclosing the full scope of his role in fundraising.

That included soliciting donations from tech mogul and philanthropist Bill Gates and investor Leon Black, each of whom gave $2 million and $5.5 million respectively at Epstein’s behest, according to The New Yorker. However, a spokesperson for Gates denied to The New Yorker that Epstein directed any contributions from him. Black declined to comment to The New Yorker.

Joi Ito, the lab’s director, confirmed to The New Yorker that the lab received $525,000 directly from Epstein. In addition, “Ito disclosed that he had separately received $1.2 million from Epstein for investment funds under his control,” Farrow wrote. The sums are much larger than the lab previously acknowledged.

The depth of Epstein’s involvement in providing donations and directing them was enshrouded in so much secrecy that Ito “referred to Epstein as Voldemort or ‘he who must not be named,’” Farrow wrote.

Epstein died by suicide at age 66 last month inside his New York City jail cell just before he was set to go on trial for sex trafficking charges involving minors. 

Days later, Ito addressed his relationship with Epstein in an apologetic statement, acknowledging that the lab “has received money through some of the foundations that he controlled.”

“I knew about these gifts and these funds were received with my permission. I also allowed him to invest in several of my funds which invest in tech startup companies outside of MIT,” he said.

In his mea culpa, Ito vowed to “raise an amount equivalent to the donations the Media Lab received from Epstein” and direct the funds to nonprofit organizations supporting trafficking survivors.

“I will also return the money that Epstein has invested in my investment funds,” he added.

Responding to the latest news on Friday, Time magazine editor Anand Giridharadas announced in a Twitter thread that he was stepping down from his post as a juror for the lab’s Disobedience Award, which presents $250,000 to “individuals and groups who engage in responsible, ethical disobedience aimed at challenging norms, rules, or laws that sustain society’s injustices.”

Though Giridharadas said the position “seemed like a good idea at first,” he called details of Ito’s ties to Epstein astonishing.

Neither M.I.T. nor Ito have publicly responded to The New Yorker’s report. Read the full New Yorker story here.

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Lifetime Releases Trailer For Its College Admissions Scandal Movie

And the aptly-titled “The College Admissions Scandal” will premiere on the network on Oct. 12.

Penelope Ann Miller, Mia Kirshner, Sarah Dugdale, Sam Duke and Kendra Westwood star in the film centered on the scandal, which saw dozens of wealthy parents (including actors Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin) accused of paying bribes in exchange for places at prestigious schools for their children.

IMDB, the online movie database, details the storyline as being about “two wealthy mothers, Caroline, a sought after interior designer and Bethany, an owner of a successful financial services firm, who share an obsession with getting their teenagers into the best possible college.”

In July, Lifetime said the film would see the mothers facing “the consequences of their crimes and the loss of trust and respect from their families.”

Check out the trailer here:

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5 Ways To Bring Back Screen-Time Rules After Summer

If you and your kids went a little overboard on screen-time this summer, you’re in good company. According to a Harris Interactive poll, about half of all parents say their kids watch more TV, play more video games, surf the Web more and watch more movies during the summer months.

With back-to-school season already upon us, it’s time to re-establish some limits on media. These strategies can help you get a jump on things:

Have a last blast

Plan a special media-centered event that the whole family will enjoy something you couldn’t do during the school year. A movie in the park, an all-day video game session, a binge-watching marathon of streaming shows are all fun ways to say, “So long, summer.”

Prepare your kids

Talk about the routine changes that come along with the school year. Discuss the concept of “balance” a daily mix of exercise, reading, social and family time, school work, and entertainment. A week before school starts, get serious about bedtime, and turn off the TV, games and electronic devices at least an hour before hitting the sack. The stimulation of media makes it hard for kids to settle down.

Create a school-year media plan

Take out a calendar and work with your kids to create a weekly schedule that includes homework, chores and activities plus TV, games, movies, etc. Kids don’t always understand the concept of “Thursday,” but if they see their activities written down, they know what to expect and when to expect it.

Raid the library

Go for the books, but also find out whether your local branch offers programs for kids like puppet shows, reading hours or other activities. It’s like a little baby step to school.

Remember you’re their role model

Sneak your iPhone under the table and your kids will catch you. Model the healthy media habits you’d like your kids to follow.

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Michelle Obama Shares School Photo, Asks For Help In Giving ‘Girls A Chance To Learn’

Former first lady Michelle Obama shared on Instagram an adorable photograph of herself from her school days in an effort to raise awareness of the “more than 98 million adolescent girls around the world” who are not in school.

“It’s so easy for us to take our education for granted, especially here in the United States,” Obama wrote in the photo caption, adding: “I believe every girl on the planet deserves the same kind of opportunities that I’ve had—a chance to fulfill her potential and pursue her dreams. We know that when we give girls a chance to learn, they’ll seize it.”

In light of International Day of Charity on Thursday, the 55-year-old stressed in her caption that when girls have the opportunity to learn, “our whole world benefits.”

“Girls who go to school have healthier children, higher salaries, lower poverty rates, and they can even help boost their entire nation’s economy,” she wrote.

In addition to asking others to share their own back-to-school photos, she implored followers to join the Girls Opportunity Alliance to “take action for global girls’ education.”

The program, which is run by Obama and former president Barack Obama’s Obama Foundation, has a goal of empowering “adolescent girls around the world through education, allowing them to achieve their full potential and transform their families, communities, and countries,” according to its website.

Obama ended her post with this hopeful message: “The future of our world is only as bright as our girls.” Hear, hear, Michelle.

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Ohio Teens Charged For Allegedly Tainting Crepes With Bodily Fluids

Seven Ohio boys will face charges for allegedly serving food tainted with bodily fluids to their teachers.

The students ― six of whom were age 14, one age 15 ― were charged on Tuesday with delinquency felony counts for an incident that occurred May 16 at Olentangy Hyatts Middle School in Powell.

During a “Global Gourmet” home economics class, the suspected students reportedly placed bodily fluids into crepes that were later consumed by several adult victims.

Three students are facing a delinquency felony assault charge for either putting semen on one teacher’s crepe, putting urine in barbecue sauce poured on crepes later served to four teachers, and bringing semen to school to put on a crepe, according to The Columbus Dispatch.

Meanwhile, four other students will face charges of delinquency complicity to assault a teacher for participating, aiding and abetting or doing nothing to stop it.

One of the teens also is accused of delinquency tampering with evidence for deleting video of the event along with text messages from his phone.

Officials for Olentangy schools released this statement to local station WBNS:

We are aware that charges have been filed in this case and we thank law enforcement for their due diligence. As a district, we are saddened that these charges are a result of actions that took place at one of our schools. Our teachers deserve respect and kindness, and anything less than that is completely unacceptable. We will continue to support law enforcement in every way possible.

Brad Koffel, who is representing the students, believes the they deserve a second chance.

He told The Columbus Dispatch that the students come from “very, very good families,” have admitted to the acts, have expressed remorse and “have suffered more at home than they’re ever going to get in the court system. The aberrant nature of this has left an indelible mark on them.”

He then blamed social media notoriety, “the idiotic stuff that other teens are watching to get clicks,” for inspiring the students.

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What Happens When Communities Create Their Own New, Whiter School Districts

When Penn State University professor Erica Frankenberg graduated from high school in Alabama, there was only one school district in Mobile County.

Now, over 20 years later, it is one of four districts. In the past decade, three communities have splintered off to create their own districts, and, in doing so, they have exacerbated segregation in the area.

The process is called school district secession. Around the country, it’s changing the nature of school segregation. 

A new study, conducted by Frankenberg, Virginia Commonwealth University professor Genevieve Siege-Hawley and researcher Kendra Taylor, looks at school secessions in the South with an eye on how new school district boundaries affect patterns of school and residential segregation. The study, which looks specifically at seven counties in the South where 18 new districts have formed since 2000, found that the practice increasingly sorts students into separate districts by race.

Thirty states allow for school district secessions, according to the nonprofit EdBuild. But only six are required to look at the socioeconomic and racial effects of these decisions. From 2000 to 2017, 47 communities across the country have successfully broken off from a larger district to form their own. 

Communities often secede from large, integrated districts to create white enclaves in the name of neutral-sounding causes like “local control,” said Frankenberg. New districts tend to be whiter and more affluent than the ones they leave behind. 

In the study’s seven districts, school district boundaries accounted for an average of about 60% of the school segregation of black and white students in 2000. But by 2015, this number had increased to about 70%. The remaining 30% can be attributed to school segregation within a district. 

The relationship between residential segregation and school secession, however, was less clear, at least in the short term. Researchers did find evidence, though, that it could have a longer-term effect. 

“Where you have enclaves, that can drive residential decision-making,” said Frankenberg. Also, “school district boundaries act as a sort of political and social boundary … it can carry social meaning.”

Secession has occurred in school systems where white students are in the minority ― accounting for about 33% of all students on average ― and where public school enrollment is increasingly non-white.

“Through the creation of new boundary lines, secession becomes a political mechanism for disproportionately White communities to maintain a relative advantage in terms of student composition and, likely, financial resources, given the funding gaps between predominantly minority and predominantly White districts,” says the study. 

In Mobile County, where Frankenberg went to school, between-district segregation increased from about 2% to about 9% from 2010 to 2015. 

These secessions have gained widespread media attention in places like Gardendale, Alabama, where discussions about race have been at the forefront. A federal appeals court there found that the community couldn’t start its own school system amid clear evidence that the attempted split was racially motivated

Still, this study was the first to uncover the systemic effect of new school district boundaries caused by secession.

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Palestinian Harvard Student Arrives On Campus After Initially Denied Entry Into U.S.

A Palestinian student from Lebanon began classes at Harvard University on Tuesday after immigration officials initially barred him from entering the U.S. last month.

Incoming freshman Ismail B. Ajjawi, 17, had been deported back to Lebanon shortly after arriving at Boston Logan International Airport on Aug. 23 ahead of the fall semester at the elite Cambridge, Massachusetts, school.

Ajjawi said U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents detained him for several hours at the airport, where they searched his laptop and phone and questioned him about his religious practices and his friends’ social media posts. 

An immigration official “called me into a room, and she started screaming at me,” Ajjawi wrote in a statement to The Harvard Crimson. “She said that she found people posting political points of view that oppose the US on my friend[s] list.”

Ajjawi, a resident of the coastal Lebanese city of Tyre, told the immigration agents that he hadn’t liked, shared or commented on the posts in question and shouldn’t be held responsible for other people’s views, according to his statement to the Crimson. 

Still, CBP officials revoked Ajjawi’s visa and sent him back to Lebanon. A CBP spokesman declined to provide details about his case, but said at the time that the student was “deemed inadmissible to the United States based on information discovered during the CBP inspection.”

Several organizations, including AMIDEAST, a nonprofit that awarded Ajjawi a scholarship to attend Harvard, as well as Harvard and the U.S. Embassy in Beirut helped Ajjawi successfully gain reentry to the U.S. on Monday.

In a statement to CNN, CBP confirmed that Ajjawi “overcame all grounds of inadmissibility and was admitted into the United States as a student on a F1 visa.” The agency did not provide additional details about the case’s resolution.

Ajjawi’s attorney, Albert Mokhiber, praised the “amazing efforts” that resulted in his client’s reentry, calling the case “one of the most rewarding.”

“Against all odds, a Palestinian refugee who attended [United Nations] schools in the camps of Lebanon earns a full scholarship to @Harvard, hits a road block, but is eventually granted entry to the US to pursue his educational dream,” Mokhiber tweeted. “It’s a classic sad tale with an exceptionally unique happy ending.” 

The student’s family members said they hope Ajjawi, who plans to study physical and chemical biology, “can now simply focus on settling into College and his important class work.”

“The last ten days have been difficult and anxiety filled, but we are most grateful for the thousands of messages of support and particularly the work of AMIDEAST,” according to their statement.

In recent years, other students have been temporarily barred from entry into the U.S. as a result of President Donald Trump’s travel ban on several Muslim-majority countries. Lebanon is not one of the countries included in the ban. 

Ajjawi’s case unfolded roughly a month after Harvard President Lawrence Bacow wrote a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo expressing his “deep concern over growing uncertainty and anxiety” regarding students’ reported difficulties obtaining visas or having their entry delayed or denied.

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Cory Booker Transformed Newark Schools. Some Residents Still Haven’t Forgiven Him For It.

NEWARK, N.J.Presidential candidate Cory Booker likens himself to a civil rights icon when describing his previous work with Newark schools.

“I was like Malcolm X,” Booker, a senator from New Jersey, told an Iowa crowd in February of his time as Newark’s mayor. He went on to cite a quote he has used for nearly two decades to justify his centrist brand of education reform. “By any means necessary, my kids were going to get an education.”

But when Newark resident Lisa Douglas hears of the comparison, she cringes.

“For him to even say he considers himself a Malcolm X and then to not consider those who he would hurt in the process of going with this whole [school] choice … I don’t think he’s Malcolm X at all,” said the mother of three.  

Newark Unified School District has undergone a massive overhaul in the nine years since Booker sat on a couch with Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and then-New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) on the Oprah Winfrey Show and famously promised to turn Newark schools into a national model for school improvement. They went on to change the way teachers were evaluated, dramatically expand charter schools and revamp the city’s enrollment system. Booker and his allies describe the efforts as an unequivocal success, citing research that shows district gains in reading achievement and graduation rates and arguing criticism is misleading and shortsighted.

But many residents and stakeholders remember the reform effort for the acrimony it created and are ambivalent about its accomplishments.

HuffPost attended Newark school board and community meetings, spent time in neighborhood hangouts and interviewed 39 stakeholders, parents and community activists about Booker’s education legacy. Some Newark residents said they are mistrustful of the data that has come out about the district; they claim that potential gains have occurred in spite of the changes Booker spurred, not because of them. They remain angry and resentful of their former mayor, who they say handed their schools and children over to money-hungry consultants in the name of national recognition. Others are more positive or conflicted about the changes ― critical of what took place, while nonetheless embracing the shiny new charter schools that have come to their neighborhood. 

Many of the people HuffPost spoke to said they resented the way the education reform efforts were implemented, sometimes even more than the changes themselves. 

“It kind of polarized the city in terms of those who were pro- and anti-reform,” recalled Princess Fils-Aime, an assistant principal at a charter school, who spoke in a personal capacity. “It took us a while to get to a place where we could, as a city, agree upon the direction we wanted to take our schools.”

All the while, the changes Booker championed, like the proliferation of charter schools, have increasingly fallen out of favor among Democrats nationwide, putting the candidate in a politically tricky position. Booker’s record of support for charter school-centered reform policies is too long to run away from, but he is under pressure to differentiate himself from conservative figures like Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos with whom he once served on the board of an education nonprofit.

At a presidential candidate forum in August, Booker decried lax charter school laws in states like Michigan, emphasizing that the “the next president, and I plan on being that person, must focus on empowering public education.”

A History Of Failing Schools

By the time Booker became mayor of Newark in 2006, the city’s schools had been under state control for just over a decade following a takeover prompted by city fiscal mismanagement, corruption and poor achievement rates. The district was in dire need of improvement. 

So in 2010, Booker and Christie, with the help of Zuckerberg, vowed to fix it. Zuckerberg agreed to donate $100 million to a no-holds-barred education reform effort run by the state in conjunction with his foundation. Booker would leverage Zuckerberg’s pledge to raise an additional $100 million from other donors.

The plan was to make “Newark into a symbol of educational excellence for the whole nation,” Zuckerberg said during the gift’s announcement on the Oprah Winfrey Show.  

Some Newark parents were shocked to learn about the impending transformation of their children’s schools, hearing about the proposed reforms at the same time as the rest of the nation ― on television. But the lack of warning was by design, according to journalist Dale Russakoff, who has chronicled Zuckerberg’s gift and its aftermath in her book “The Prize.” An early proposal of Booker’s reforms called for a top-down process to be imposed on schools, without input from stakeholders that could slow down the process. The goal was to make real change, Booker promised, in part by making Newark the “charter school capital of the world.”

The new charter schools ― public schools that are privately operated ― were supposed to upend the stagnation and complacency that Booker and other reformers thought plagued traditional public schools, by introducing competition and bypassing the messy bureaucracy endemic in large school systems. Indeed, in Newark, existing charter schools had already been vastly outperforming their traditional public school counterparts.

But putting market-inspired education policies into practice in Newark’s gritty political environment involved messy and prosaic dealmaking. A serious chunk of Zuckerberg’s money ― $48 million ― ended up going toward a new teacher union contract that upped teacher pay in exchange for making it easier for principals to hire and fire them. 

An even larger sum went to expanding charter schools, prompting a continued shift in student enrollment away from traditional public schools and toward charters. Enrollment in Newark schools had been dropping for years, based on a variety of factors, but by 2011, it dipped to a low. In response, appointed superintendent Cami Anderson oversaw budget cuts that prompted the layoffs of over 200 counselors, clerical workers, janitors and other support staff.

By 2013, Anderson announced plans to overhaul the district, in a project called One Newark. The plan was bold and complicated, designed to address enrollment declines, deteriorating facilities, budgetary constraints and demand for charters. It called for some schools to be shuttered, converted to charters, redesigned or given an influx of resources. It created a new, controversial district enrollment system in which students choose schools via a citywide lottery.

Cory was courageous and brave and took his lumps in the realm of school reform.
Chris Cerf, an architect of the district overhaul with Cory Booker

But some were again frustrated with the top-down nature of the changes. Community meetings had devolved into yelling matches as union members, in particular, mobilized their supporters against the school overhaul. Anderson, a white woman who was not from Newark, a city which is overwhelmingly of color, became the face of the reform effort and in turn, the greatest object of distrust. 

The school closures put teachers and staff out of work, and they devastated residents who felt connected to their neighborhood public schools. Parents feared their kids would have to travel far distances to reach their schools, even crossing dangerous neighborhoods. They worried siblings accustomed to walking to school together would be sent to different schools, even as they relied on older kids to keep their children safe.

What began as simmering discontent exploded into pandemonium. Anderson had a brick thrown through her window and found a bag of feces left on her porch.

With the state’s backing, One Newark continued apace, but so did the protests. 

The Reform Effort’s ‘Moral Leader’ Heads To Washington

Booker served as a fundraiser and public champion for the school reform effort from the beginning, letting Anderson and others manage implementation. Some of Booker’s critics say his rosy comments about the effort helped conceal the overhaul’s stumbles. 

“Some people look at him as a cheerleader, but I look at him as an actor,” said a former district employee who liaised with Booker around reform efforts and asked to remain anonymous. “He will pretend things are great knowing damn well they’re not.”  

As the Newark education overhaul went from national media darling to public relations debacle, Booker set his sights on sunnier horizons. After New Jersey Sen. Frank Lautenberg died in June 2013, Booker announced he would run for the seat. By the time that opposition to Anderson’s new One Newark plan exploded, Booker had effectively put the city’s education troubles in his rearview mirror.

Booker’s detractors believe his decision as mayor to play an active role in education policies was self-interested. They argue that he was willing to share in the publicity for the splashy rollout of the plan with Winfrey, but happier to make himself scarce when the project was no longer politically beneficial.

“Booker wanted to be able to have on his paperwork that he turned Newark into another New Orleans,” said Leah Owens, a former Newark school board member, referring to the wholesale transformation of New Orleans’ school system from traditional public schools to charter schools. 

Newark School Superintendent Cami Anderson welcomes a student on the first day of classes in 2014, amid controversy over the direction of the district.

Booker’s sudden absence complicated the rollout of One Newark. A plan that would have been controversial under any circumstances suddenly lost one of its key defenders, and the special election held for Booker’s seat became a referendum on the education overhaul.  Former public school principal Ras Baraka ― who had campaigned against charter schools and Booker’s brand of reform ― defeated Shavar Jeffries, a Booker ally and former head of the Newark advisory school board, in a landslide. 

The election heightened community tension, Anderson said. Though she supported Booker and his decision to run for Senate, it made for unfortunate timing. 

“Had Booker remained the spiritual and moral leader, I think we would have had pushback, there’s no question… but I think the tone and tenor of pushback would have been different,” Anderson said. 

Education reformers continue to fight against the idea that these changes were as unpopular as they seemed ― arguing unions fanned a fire of negativity. They also say that their reforms worked. A study funded by the Zuckerberg foundation shows that after initial dips, reading achievement has improved in Newark schools. Student enrollment in all public schools has seen an uptick after years of decline. Newark’s charters are excelling, according to studies from the Center for Research on Education Outcomes at Stanford University. 

Chris Cerf, who helped design the district overhaul with Booker and went on to serve as Newark’s superintendent after Anderson resigned in 2015, remains unapologetic about the district’s tactics and the reaction it provoked, maintaining that changing such an entrenched system was always going to be bitter.

“Change has casualties and change often occurs in an environment of high-decibel rhetoric,” said Cerf, who previously served as the New Jersey education commissioner. “There was a little bit of showboating … around Oprah for example, and in retrospect, I wish we hadn’t done that.” 

But overall, Cerf said, “Cory was courageous and brave and took his lumps in the realm of school reform.”

Newark Teachers Union President John Abeigon, on the other hand, says he has yet to see “anything positive” come out of the changes, noting, “I wasn’t a Wall Street investor.” 

“Any improvement has been based on the dedication of the teaching staff and has nothing to do with the education reformers,” he said. 

A Community Takes Stock

During a recent sunny afternoon at Independence Park in the Ironbound district of Newark, parents pushed their children on swings and watched them as they tackled the jungle gym.

It’s a working-class neighborhood populated primarily by Portuguese, Latin American and Spanish immigrants and their relatives, and is located in the East Ward, one of the city’s richer neighborhoods. It boasts a vibrant economy and has become a recent hotspot for real estate developers. 

The most cataclysmic aspects of the reforms spared this neighborhood. And on this day, three residents say they just wish more charter schools had opened. 

“I would send her to charter school, but there’s no space,”  Pedro Gaeote said of his elementary-aged daughter. 

Lucianna Duarte, a recent high school graduate who attended one of the district’s citywide magnet programs, recalls the unrest that the reforms spurred. Her teachers encouraged her and other students to take to the streets in protest. But other than that, she wasn’t impacted by the upheaval, and she certainly didn’t see the fruits of Zuckerberg’s philanthropy improve her schools, she says. 

“I didn’t see it in action in the schools I was going to,” she said.

Across town, emotions still run high. 

After a public safety meeting the West Ward neighborhood of Newark, residents expressed deep reservations about charter schools ― even if they chose to send their children to one and praised these schools’ educational superiority. 

The West Ward, which is mostly Black and Latino, was heavily impacted by school closures, consolidation and charters during Booker’s mayoral reign. In 2015, the U.S. Department of Education concluded African American students were disproportionately impacted by school closures during that time, and therefore racially discriminated against.  

The reality is people were heard and not listened to.
A former school district employee

Marie, a former teacher in the district who asked to be referenced by her middle name for privacy reasons, lost her job when her school was converted to a charter.

The 57-year-old feels like district leaders pushed their agenda at the expense of the most vulnerable students and the community members who had worked for years to make their neighborhoods better. Ultimately, the children with the most engaged parents moved to charter schools, while she and her hardworking peers served the hardest students with less. 

“Those in authority had a mission, and they stuck to it, and it wasn’t about listening to parents or teachers,” Marie said. “[Booker] had a charter school agenda, period.”

Marie said she was bitter but has since moved on, noting that she now understands “there were reasons for the decisions that were made that will hopefully help the city long term.” She supposes that local discourse around charter schools has evolved a bit too, noting that, “now it’s your sister, your niece, your brother that’s going to a charter school, so you can’t keep speaking ill.”

Chuckie Shepherd, a retired home renovator raising three children in Newark’s West Ward, exemplifies the ambivalence that many city residents have about the explosion of charter school growth. 

He switched his three children to charter schools after two of them were bullied in district schools. He found the charter schools a “little more secure.”

But he laments the scale of charter school growth, which he hypothesizes were part of a scheme to pad the coffers of a select few, rather than to benefit all students.  

“Instead of having all these charter schools, [Booker] could have had one or two,” he said. “How many charter schools you got all over the place now?”

Even community members who were sympathetic to efforts to restructure Newark’s schools admit that community engagement efforts fell short. 

“A lot of stuff could have been avoided if they had taken a little more time to do it right in terms of community engagement … They didn’t,” said Richard Cammarieri, a veteran anti-poverty advocate who works at a Newark nonprofit. “They were trying to do things quickly rather than do it as well as possible.”

Anderson says there was a comprehensive community engagement effort, though a small but well-organized group of detractors made authentic engagement more difficult. On a day-to-day basis, she says she generally heard from a range of everyday community members, including from those who wanted her to move fast.

The former district employee maintains that there was extensive community engagement. It’s just that residents’ concerns were ignored. This employee, who asked to remain anonymous, said Newark leaders treated kids as dollar signs, with callous indifference to their actual success or well-being. After leaving the job, this employee put their kids in private schools, out of fear that leaders in their children’s public schools had similar attitudes to the ones in Newark. 

“The reality is people were heard and not listened to,” the former employee said. “It was like, we hear what you want, but we know better, and you’re not going to get what you want.” 

A Mayor’s Legacy

When residents and leaders are asked who they blame for the education reform effort’s shortcomings, the reaction is mixed. Some blame Christie. Others point to Booker, or Cerf, the architect of the program. While Anderson was the subject of vicious protests as superintendent, the Newark teachers union president John Abeigon believes she “was the fall guy.” 

Now, as Booker runs for president, some residents are looking at him with suspicion. Many have a more favorable view of Baraka, Booker’s successor, even though he has maintained many of the changes Booker’s administration spearheaded because they see him as part of the community. Booker, meanwhile, has been plagued by claims that he’s an outsider since he first ran for city council in 1998. (Baraka declined to be interviewed for this piece.)

On the campaign trail, Booker has both embraced and shied away from his education record. He boasts about improvements in Newark schools, but does not employ terms like “charter schools” and “school choice” frequently, preferring instead to hint at it through comments disavowing “one-size-fits-all education.” When pressed at an American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Forum in August to clarify whether he still supports charter schools, Booker did not answer directly, instead he condemned Republican-backed schemes to allow unregulated charter schools to flourish.

He’s also backed away from his onetime support of vouchers, a policy that allows parents to send their kids to private school using public funding, which many education activists see as an effort to privatize public education. Booker supported vouchers as a Newark city councilman, prior to being elected mayor in 2006. When asked about it last week, he spoke only about his record as mayor, which did not include vouchers. 

“We didn’t support vouchers. That is a lie ― and not one of the strategies we pursued,” he replied. “What we pursued was a system of public education that was inclusive, that had equity and for every kid to have an opportunity to go to a great school system.”

HuffPost asked Booker’s campaign a number of questions about his education record in Newark and criticisms of his handling of the reforms.

Sabrina Singh, a spokeswoman for the campaign, provided a broad statement that mirrored Booker’s public defenses of his record. She did not rebut specific criticisms or clarify Booker’s stance on private-school vouchers.

“No matter what the critics and cynics say, the work Cory and others did to improve and support Newark’s public schools is a success story: student achievement is increasing, a higher percentage of kids are graduating, test scores are up, and more Newark children are going to college,” she said. 

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10 Books For Parents Who Want To Raise Kind Kids

10 Books For Parents Who Want To Raise Kind Kids | HuffPost Life

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Hundreds Of Young People Strike In Front Of UN For Climate Action

NEW YORK ― Hundreds of young people took a break from their summer vacations to strike for climate action on Friday, joining well-known climate activist Greta Thunberg outside of the United Nations headquarters in Manhattan.

The rally precedes a youth-led global climate strike to take place on Sept. 20, days before the U.N. Climate Action Summit.

Protesters ― many of them teenagers ― held signs that said, “In Greta We Trust,” and, “If You Won’t Act Like Adults We Will.” They chanted phrases like, “Sea levels are rising, and so are we,” in between speeches by young climate activists.

Thunberg, a 16-year-old from Sweden, had arrived in the U.S. earlier in the week by way of a solar-powered boat. Many of the teens at the rally were members of Fridays for Future, a global movement founded by Thunberg, in which students strike on Fridays for climate action.

Swedish environmental activist Greta Thunberg, center left, participates in a youth climate strike outside the United Nations on Friday in New York.

Olivia Payne, a rising senior at The Beacon School in Manhattan, says she often participates in strikes at her school. She’s been pushing her parents to be more aware of ways they could be more environmentally conscious, too. 

There’s always underlying dread because we know impending doom is coming, but at the same time it’s inspired me to be aware of my own personal actions,” Payne said.

Overall, though, she found the Friday strike comforting, especially seeing how many adults showed up.

Pada Schaffner, a rising senior at Dwight School in Manhattan, has been involved with climate action since he was a young child, when his parents used to take him to rallies. Now he works to get his classmates involved.

It can be hard to convince a classmate that going to a strike is more important than turning in whatever they have due Friday, but overall I think this generation does realize how important this issue is, specifically to us,” he said.

Gretta Reed, an environmental science teacher at Saint Ann’s School in Brooklyn, has dealt with worried middle-school students who see climate change as the issue of their generation.

“I think the kids are thinking about it, they have a lot of anxiety about it. It’s a part of their everyday life now,” Reed said. “Whether or not people are teaching it, the kids are needing it and learning it themselves.”

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Here’s What Kids Who Bully Often Have In Common

When parents, educators and mental health professionals talk about bullying, there is understandably a lot of emphasis on the victims. But in focusing solely on victims in anti-bullying efforts, an important part of the equation gets forgotten: the kids who do the bullying.

“Bullying is not a one-time event or a random act of mean behavior but rather a pervasive, ongoing pattern of aggression targeted toward another child who in some way has less power in the relationship,” explained school psychologist Rebecca Branstetter, noting that it’s important to distinguish it from other forms of aggressive behavior or typical childhood conflicts.

Obviously every child who bullies comes from different circumstances and has different reasons for this behavior. There is no one profile of a bully, as each child who engages in this conduct has a unique set of challenges. But there are many common traits and experiences among bullies, and examining them can be beneficial.

“When we identify common threads, such as being shame-prone and having trouble with social-thinking and social-communication skills, we can intervene early and in a proactive way,” Branstetter told HuffPost.

“Children’s personalities, integrity and inner-self are still developing ― they are not ‘finished’ yet,” said child psychologist Jillian Roberts. “The earlier we address these issues in both the aggressor and victim, the more opportunities we create for growth and healing on both sides.”

HuffPost spoke to Branstetter, Roberts and other experts to identify some of these commonalities. Here are 10 things many kids who bully have in common.

Lack Of Empathy

Children who bully often tend to be stunted when it comes to self-awareness and emotional intelligence, particularly with regard to empathy.

“A lack of empathy means that they aren’t able to put themselves in another person’s shoes and think, ‘I wonder how I would feel if someone teased me,’” said mental health counselor Kathleen Goodman.

Though it may seem like empathy and compassion are just natural personality traits, the truth is these are also skills that can be taught. Parents and educators can play a role in prevention by continuously teaching, modeling and practicing these skills.


“The trait that all bullies have in common is insecurity,” said family therapist Tom Kersting. “Intimidation and harassment is the wall they use to prevent others from seeing through them, seeing their insecurity.”

Tearing others down can be a dysfunctional coping mechanism to help kids with low self-esteem feel more secure. Sometimes bullies are even jealous of their victims.

Still, as Branstetter noted, while the common belief is that kids bully because they have low self-esteem, research paints a more complex picture.

“A lack of empathy means that they aren’t able to put themselves in another person’s shoes and think, ‘I wonder how I would feel if someone teased me.’”

– Kathleen Goodman, mental health counselor

“Actually, kids who bully are often seen as popular and self-report average to high self-esteem. However, kids who bully have been found to have high levels of shame and vulnerability ― meaning they are afraid that their shortcomings will be exposed,” said Branstetter. “So bullying behavior serves to puts the spotlight on others’ shortcomings and deflect what they feel ashamed about. It’s a subtle but important distinction: Bullies may actually be protecting their self-esteem by taking their shame out on others.”

Need For Control

“Many bullies seek to control everything and everyone because they feel that their lives are out of control, or they feel that someone can hurt them if they don’t have complete control of a situation,” said neuropsychologist Sanam Hafeez. “They seek to dominate others in order to make sure that no one can rise up and hurt them.”

Licensed educational psychologist Reena B. Patel echoed these sentiments, noting that kids who feel disliked or unsupported by peers often turn to bullying to gain some social control.

“Their irrational thoughts lead them to believe that controlling other kids equals having friends,” she said.


According to Hafeez, kids who bully often have poor impulse control. “They don’t think through what the consequences of their actions will be on another person’s physical or emotional state,” she explained.

Goodman noted that this impulsivity is not an indelible part of the child’s being.

“For example, a child’s impulsivity might be the result of not having a good set of problem-solving skills and thinking, ‘I don’t know how to get what I want,’” she said.

Desire For Power And Status

“Many bullies often feel a need for power and status in the social group,” said clinical psychologist John Mayer. “They have a deficit or ignorance in social skills and use bullying to gain status and power because they don’t have other means to do this.”

Bullying may help kids feel more powerful than their peers, particularly if they feel inferior in other ways. Patel noted that poor academic performance can cause kids to engage in this behavior. “Some kids bully in response to academic stress. They might be jealous of kids who do well,” she said.

Still, some recent studies have challenged conventional wisdom about the social experience and status of kids who bully. Licensed clinical psychologist Scott Symington pointed to research out of the University of California, Los Angeles, that found “cool” middle schoolers were more likely to be bullies than their less-popular peers.

“For a subsection of students who bully others, there is truth to the adage that ‘Hurt people hurt people.’”

– Rebecca Branstetter, school psychologist

“It turns out that it’s most often the popular kids who are doing the bullying. And they perceive, which may or may not be true, bullying behaviors as a way of expressing and maintaining their high social status,” said Symington.

“Kids who become popular because of the way they dress, their appearance, a unique talent or parental wealth that yields them material goods that other kids admire secretly believe that no one would care about them if these things were gone,” said Kim Metcalfe, a retired professor of early childhood education and psychology. “Consequently, they bully to maintain status.”

This “cool” factor is why Symington believes it’s critical to address bullying on a community level. When kids start to look down on bullying and no longer see it as something “cool” kids do, this behavior won’t carry the same social rewards ― a phenomenon he compared to the anti-smoking campaign.

Painful Childhood Experiences

“For a subsection of students who bully others, there is truth to the adage that ‘Hurt people hurt people,’” said Branstetter. “As a school psychologist, I’ve worked with many children and adolescents who engage in bullying behavior. Oftentimes, these children tell me stories about their lives that would break your heart.”

She pointed to a recent University of South Florida study which found evidence that bullying behaviors were more prevalent in children who had adverse life experiences, such as child abuse, neglect, household dysfunction or economic hardships.

Indeed, many bullies have been victims of bullying themselves. They may have experienced physical or sexual abuse from a parent, guardian, older sibling or another child. They also may have witnessed this behavior between family members or others in their community.

“It is important to remember that if the child is bullying, they have likely learned this behavior from somewhere,” said Roberts. “If the child is putting someone else down to make themselves feel better, they may have grown up in an environment where their self-worth has been diminished over time.”

Early Exposure To Violence

Kids who engage in physical bullying have often been exposed to violence from a young age. This can include interactions between family members or even violent and aggressive TV shows and video games

“Many bullies view violence in a positive way, such as a form of entertainment or a good way to get needs met,” Hafeez explained, adding that many kids who bully may have also grown up with parents who use harsh, physical discipline. “Parents who use corporal punishment or those who instill consequences that border on abusive may raise children to bully others.”

Difficult Parental Relationships

Even in non-abusive households, children can have unhealthy parental relationships that have been linked to bullying behaviors. “Bullies often lack warm, caring and involved parents,” said Patel. Sometimes this is because the parents are inattentive to their children and their interests. Other times, it may be due to living with an overworked and exhausted single parent.

“Parents of bullies may also be highly competitive and place unreasonable demands on their children to be superior to other kids ― academically, socially, athletically,” added Patel.

“When children are given few rules and little guidance, they may try to control their peers. Permissive parents don’t set limits, and they often make children feel entitled.”

– Sanam Hafeez, neuropsychologist

Goodman noted that a lot of research looks at bullying from a few different perspectives. “Attachment theory talks about bullying as a result of having insecure attachments with a caregiver at a young age. Family systems theory looks at behavioral patterns and relationship dynamics within the family unit, noting that exposure to domestic violence is a risk factor for bullying. For example, aggression is often seen as a learned response for handling conflict.”

Aggression Issues

“Most children experiment with aggression growing up but let it go as language and social problem-solving skills develop. For the kids who end up bullying, this progression appears to be impeded,” said Symington. “In response to conflict, they rely more on aggressive behaviors than prosocial ones, such as verbal cooperation and problem-solving.”

These kids don’t know how to regulate anger and other emotions, which points to a lack of healthy coping strategies.

“Part of a bully’s fear of being out of control is that their own emotions are not completely in their control,” said Hafeez, adding that they may be more easily frustrated and annoyed. “They may be emotionally unbalanced or under a lot of emotional strain and lash out more frequently because of this.”

Inconsistent Discipline

Many kids who bully lack consistent discipline at home. They may have parents who fail to set rules or boundaries or hold them accountable for bad behavior.

“When children are given few rules and little guidance, they may try to control their peers. Permissive parents don’t set limits, and they often make children feel entitled,” Hafeez explained. “Surprisingly, children want to be given rules and structure and feel like a parent cares when they are coming and going. Nonchalance can feel like lack of caring.”

In many cases, parents have trouble accepting that their kids are bullying. This is particularly true when this behavior materializes later and seemingly “good kids” morph into bullies.

Many parents and other adults also reinforce bullying behavior by being dismissive (“he’s just being a boy”) or flat-out ignoring it. By recognizing the reality, choosing to have conversations with their kids, refusing to tolerate bullying and modeling good behavior in their treatment of others, parents can make a difference.

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