Do the Right Thing for DACA Educators

Today, in a legal brief filed with the U.S. Supreme Court, the National Education Association urged justices to protect the thousands of educators who rely on a federal immigration policy known as DACA to shield them from fear and deportation.

The Trump Administration’s inhumane termination of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program in 2017 “not only broke the law but, more importantly, threatens to sweep away the dreams and aspirations of hundreds of thousands of our students, educators, and our neighbors,” says NEA President Lily Eskelsen García.

“The result will be disastrous for students and public education,” says Eskelsen García. “Young children will suffer the abrupt departure of trusted teachers to the measurable detriment of educational outcomes, teacher shortages will worsen as thousands of DACA educators lose their status, and immigrant students will lose a lifeline to education mentors. Rescinding DACA will deprive young people of the protection and certainty they deserve.”

Since 2012, when it was introduced, DACA has enabled about 660,000 young people, known as Dreamers, to be sheltered in two-year increments from deportation. These are people who were brought to the U.S. as children—37 percent before age 5—by their parents. With DACA’s protection, they have stepped out of the shadows, getting work permits and Social Security numbers, going to college and living their dreams.

They include Areli Morales, an aspiring teacher who remembers “[feeling] voiceless” in the years before DACA, and Anayeli Marcos, a University of Texas graduate student who plans to work as a counselor or social worker to under-served clients. “[DACA] affects every aspect of my being,” she says.

Justices will hear arguments in the case on November 12, and decide DACA’s fate sometime in 2020. Lower courts in California, New York, and Washington, D.C., already have ruled the Trump administration’s actions were based on faulty legal reasoning, forcing the administration to continue administering DACA renewals.

NEA’s brief joins others from all corners of the country, including one this week from Apple CEO Tim Cook, who argues that his 443 DACA employees bring “stories of adversity [and] achievement” to the massive technology company.

“DHS swept away DACA, together with its recipients’ dreams and their communities’ needs, in one curt memorandum that failed to provide a reasoned explanation for the agency’s drastic change of course,” writes NEA attorneys. “DACA educators, students, and administrators can—and do, here in this brief—attest to the serious reliance interests engendered by DACA, as well as the disastrous results that will ensue if the program is terminated.”

The Voices of DACA Recipients

In NEA’s brief, the stories of students and educators speak directly to justices. California world history teacher Angelica Reyes remembers dreaming of becoming an educator, accumulating more than 1,000 hours of community service as a student—but being blocked in her professional dream until DACA.

“It was heartbreaking that I couldn’t be part of the system I had tried to enrich,” she says.

Morales describes “wanting to be invisible” in her New York City public school classrooms. Today, she works as a substitute teacher, earning her teaching certification. If she can renew her DACA status, her future classroom will “foster acceptance, understanding, and empowerment to educate future generations of children, so they can strive to reach their greatest potential.”

Schools are full of teachers like Reyes and students like Morales. Ousting DACAmented teachers would lead to costly teacher turnover, which is proven to negatively impact student achievement and cost districts money, NEA points out.

From Oakland, California, high school teacher Kateri Simpson describes how DACA gave hope to her students. Without fear of deportation, they can envision working someday in U.S. hospitals or schools as nurses, teachers, and other professionals. They see a path through college. And, with work authorization papers, they can get jobs to pay for tuition. Students “all of a sudden… were able to work for themselves and that was such a powerful thing,” she says.

“The basic sense of human dignity to be able to work for what you want—I don’t think can be underestimated,” says Simpson.

To learn more about Dreamers, visit NEA EdJustice to read their stories and access resources, including information on supporting immigrant students and families.

With their attack on DACA, the Trump administration threatens the academic and economic wellbeing of countless students, families, and communities. Stress has an impact on academics and behaviors, points out Superintendent Matt Utterback, of the North Clackamas School District near Portland, Oregon. His students’ ability to concentrate, as well as “their ability to excel is being hampered because they are worried about their safety…and that of their family members.”

Other educators agree: “The constant uncertainty that our DACA students and our students [and] families without legal status face has caused fear, stress, anxiety, [and] hopelessness,” reports Maile Valu, a Washington State counselor. In Marshalltown, Iowa, this has led to a “lack of ability to focus, more frequent absenteeism, and lesser achievement with coursework and on test performance,” says Superintendent Theron Schutte.

In addition to its legal advocacy, NEA also supports legislative solutions to the immigration crisis, including passage of the DREAM Act, which would open a pathway to citizenship for some Dreamers. (Tell your Senators and Representatives to support the DREAM Act, too!)

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Advocating for Racial Equity in our Schools

Ursala Pankonin and Thomas Carlson are two educators from Minnesota with vastly different backgrounds and experiences. Pankonin is American Indian and black and for the last 16 years has taught middle school.

Carlson is white and queer and has taught high school language arts for 31 years. Both work within a 20-mile radius, are union members, and operate within similar circles.

They don’t know each other. However, they share one strong experience: they had no teachers of color during their formative years of schooling and that has shaped the work they do today around racial equity.

Why does this matter? Pankonin, whose school was on a reservation, explains, “The first time I remember feeling really irritated about not having teachers of color was in middle school. When we would do the history lesson, the settlers were portrayed as the heroes while Native Americans were portrayed as these aggressive savages. How awful, to be presented a story where we were the bad guys.”

“People act like all the changes in America were due to white people and they did all this good, and that’s just not the case. If teachers don’t know that, then [a false narrative] continues to get taught.” – Ursala Pankonin

Later down the road, Pankonin asked her high school teacher (who is white) why they didn’t read authors of color. Pankonin recalls her response: “Black people weren’t allowed to write because they weren’t allowed to learn how to read. It was dangerous for them so we don’t have anything.”

“I think she believed that,” Pankonin says. “Her exposure to authors of color was limited, and she could only teach me what she knew.”

A teenage Pankonin went out on her own and found authors of color who were writing in the time of slavery.

“Imagine what a powerful message that could have been for students that despite not being allowed to learn how to read or write, look at what they were doing—and doing well—this subversive action of strength and bravery,” she reflects.

“People act like all the changes in America were due to white people and they did all this good, and that’s just not the case. If teachers don’t know that, then [a false narrative] continues to get taught.”

Understanding Pankonin’s experience is important—not understanding it is detrimental to the success of all students.

According to an article in The Hechinger Report, national studies have long underscored how black teachers produce better academic and behavioral outcomes for black students compared to their white counterparts, thereby leading to calls for the recruitment of more black teachers and/or asking where all the black teachers have gone. This extends to Latino, American Indian, and other racial groups that also benefit from educators who share their identity. Missing from these reports is an explanation as to why white teachers are not producing the same results. Some of the thinking around this centers on implicit bias.

To alleviate this thinking, Pankonin and Carlson belong to different cohorts of an anti-racism program called Facing Inequities and Racism in Education (FIRE), developed by Education Minnesota and administered by the association’s professional development academy.

FIRED Up for Racial Justice

Like many states across the country, Minnesota has no formal, consistent professional development pathway for educators to enter and/or continue their journey of living equitably and in turn, authentically disrupt systems of racism and racial inequities in the classroom. In comes Education Minnesota.

The FIRE program leads and organizes Minnesota educators in a movement to live equitably and practice recognizing and responding to racial inequities and injustices.

This includes the Racial Equity Advocate program, plus a series of trainings (see box below) that help Minnesota educators develop an anti-racism mindset and learn how to interrupt and dismantle institutional racism.

The program appeals to educators for a variety of reasons. Carlson, for example, found a shocking lack of curiosity among most white people around race and was looking for a place where the perspectives of people of color were present, centered, and honored.

“In my circles, people of color weren’t in the room, and I found that, in ways, I could never be really educated around race, bias, and racial understanding and competence surrounded by white teachers.”

Meanwhile, Pankonin found a group of educators, specifically of color, who understood the issues, were building community, and pushed forward the work around race equity.

“That was appealing to me because sometimes when you don’t have many people around you who understand the situation or who aren’t seeing things that you’re seeing because their life experiences are different, you feel isolated.”

To learn more about the program, visit the Minnesota Educator Academy. For more information on racial, social, and economic justice in education, go to NEA EdJustice, where you’ll find great resources, such as NEA’s Racial Justice in Education Resource Guide,. Hear from NEA activists who have launched a series of video “primers” for anti-racist, white, educators.


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When Natural Hair Wins, Discrimination in School Loses

Late last year, a video of a black high school wrestler in New Jersey hit a public nerve when he was given an ultimatum by the referee: cut your hair or forfeit the match. Several news outlets reported that Alan Maloney, who is white, told Andrew Johnson that the cover he had over his hair was non-compliant. Johnson’s hair raised no previous concerns during a match four days earlier, but under pressure, Johnson decided to have his hair cut by the team’s athletic trainer.

The problem here runs deep. “This is not about hair. This is about race,” tweeted the ACLU of New Jersey. “How many different ways will people try to exclude Black people from public life without having to declare their bigotry? We’re so sorry this happened to you, Andrew. This was discrimination, and it’s not okay.”

Anti-black hair sentiment in the U.S. has existed for centuries, with Eurocentric norms of beauty taking main stage. This sentiment is directly tied to institutional racism.

According to author Courtney Nunley, “school policies and microaggressions reinforce the idea that Black hair, as it naturally grows and as it has historically been styled, is ‘bad’ because it’s not white enough—and that those policies are part of a nationwide anti-Blackness problem,” she wrote in “Hair Politics: How discrimination against black hair in schools impacts black lives.”

black hair discriminination

Andrew Johnson has his hair cut by his wrestling team’s athletic trainer.

She added, “It goes beyond hair when across the country, school policies use the same language and reasoning to ban Black hairstyles…are grounds for discipline or removal from school entirely…[and] requires you to have ‘good’ straight hair that comes at the cost of your health. These policies and cultures of behavior surrounding Black hair have serious implications for Black health, Black educational access, Black self-love, and Black lives.”

Angel Boose, an elementary school teacher in New Jersey recalls seeing the video of Andrew Johnson and feeling infuriated.

“Students are coming to school to learn and participate in activities so they can become well-rounded individuals. These grooming policies make it difficult for students to simply feel comfortable and be their own authentic selves,” Boose says, “and they create another barrier particularly for African American students because clearly these rules don’t effect people of all races.”

While many, specifically black women, have fought against hair discrimination in the workplace by taking their employers to court, the problem is deeply rooted in our culture and it shows up in schools nationwide.

These grooming policies make it difficult for students to simply feel comfortable and be their own authentic selves, and they create another barrier particularly for African American students because clearly these rules don’t effect people of all races.” – Angel Boose, elementary school teacher, New Jersey

Black students have been asked to cut or straighten their hair to meet dress code policies. Some school districts have banned certain hairstyles, like locs and afros, while other districts have prevented students from attending school events—for example prom—for refusing to remove their braids. Kids have been kicked off school grounds, too.

“This is typical of those in power. They don’t see that something is an issue because they find themselves unable to relate, and since the issue is outside of their immediate experience, they doubt its validity,” explains Gerardo Muñoz, a high school social studies teacher in Denver, Colo.

“Oppression comes in many forms. We have to believe the victims of this type of oppression. We have to listen to them and make changes where necessary,” he adds.  Muñoz is also co-creator and co-host of the podcast “Too Dope Teachers and a Mic.”

Johnson’s incident, which occurred in December 2018, became a spark that led to California becoming the first state in the nation to ban discrimination against black employees and students based on their natural hairstyles.

Los Angeles Democrat Sen. Holly Mitchell wrote the language for the CROWN Act (Creating a Respectful and Open Workplace for Natural Hair) and said the law is about “inclusion, pride and choice,” reports the L.A. Times. The CROWN Act goes into effect on Jan. 1 2020.

“It’s a big win, because every systemic change to fight the effects of oppression and ignorance is a move toward a more just society. The type of body shaming that students of color and people of color in general endure requires a sustained organizing effort, which can only happen through policy changes that may build on the previous ones,” underscores Muñoz, an educator of nearly 20 years.

Banning Hair Discrimination

July 3, 2019 marked an important turning point for racial and social justice when California’s Gov. Gavin Newsom signed the CROWN Act into law, which now legally protects people in workplaces and K-12 public schools from discriminatory grooming policies.

This new law specifically protects African Americans who have historically experienced discrimination based on their hair. The act protects certain hairstyles, too, such as afros, braids, twists, cornrows, and locs.

“[This issue] is played out in workplaces, played out in schools,” said Newsom during the signing ceremony. “Every single day, all across America in ways subtle and in ways overt.” The act is meant to stop these behaviors and practices. California officials are not the only ones to consider such protections.

New York became the second state to officially ban natural hair discrimination. In August, lawmakers amended the state’s Human Rights Law and Dignity for All Students Act, which makes it clear that discrimination based on race includes hairstyles or traits “historically associated with race, including but not limited to hair texture and protective hairstyles.”

New Jersey currently has a bill in the works, too. If passed, it will include protections similar to that of California and New York laws.

New Jersey’s Angel Boose says laws that protect natural hair styles are necessary. “We need to name racism when we see it, call it out, and discuss it. Otherwise, we ignore it, pretend it doesn’t matter, and continue to perpetuate racism in a different form other than slavery and Jim Crow,” says the educator of 13 years.

It’s still too early to tell if other states will join California and New York. However, the CROWN Coalition, an alliance that includes the National Urban League, Western Center on Law & Poverty, Color of Change, and Dove, is planning to pursue legislation similar to the California measure in other states.

Color of Change is helping to expand federal protections to end hair discrimination nationwide and have created a petition to get more people involved in ending these unjust and racist practices.

Don’t Wait—Educators Take Action Now

While only two states now ban racial discrimination based on natural hair, educators don’t have to wait for legislatures to pass laws that address hair discrimination in schools. Hair discrimination is often included in dress code policies.

This year, for example, the Seattle School Board developed an inclusive dress policy districtwide for students. Previously, each school in the district set its own code, allowing for individual discretion and space for bias. Now, the same rules apply to all students.

According to Seattle’s new policy:

“Students should be able to dress and style their hair for school in a manner that expresses their individuality without fear of unnecessary discipline or body shaming; students have the right to be treated equitably [and] dress code enforcement will not create disparities, reinforce or increase marginalization of any group, nor will it be more strictly enforced against students because of racial identity, ethnicity, gender identity, gender expression, gender nonconformity, sexual orientation, cultural or religious identity, household income, body size/type, or body maturity.”

Adding inclusive hair policy explicitly to school board policy is an important protection against implicit and explicit bias. To learn more, go to NEA EdJustice.

school dress codesWhen School Dress Codes Discriminate
Student dress codes continue to unfairly target girls and students of color. Experts and educators weigh in on how to make them more equitable.

The Lasting Impact of  Mispronouncing Student Names
Overlooking or downplaying the significance of getting a name right is one of those micro-aggressions that can emerge in a classroom and seriously undermine learning.

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Why Educators Need to Vote in 2020

Teachers need the vote in order to have more schools and better schools…”

Teachers need the vote in order to protect the children of their district from the vicious interests that constantly exploit them.”

Any of this sound familiar? Nearly 100 years after these words were printed, teachers are still fighting to have their voices heard.

Back then, educators’ voices were instrumental in the push for women’s suffrage*, called to action by arguments like the one in this 1915 flyer:

Source: VCU Libraries

So many of the issues educators faced then are still challenging the education profession today, but educators, then and now, deeply care about the political issues that affect their students. They know that if they don’t have their rights protected, neither will their students.

The 99-year anniversary of the 19th amendment guaranteeing women the right to vote (thought the right didn’t extend to women of color until decades later) reminds us that there is a lot at stake for the education world during the 2020 election, and we’ve come up with our own list of reasons why educators need to use the vote they worked so hard to gain.

  1. Betsy DeVos – Do we even need to continue this list after mentioning her? Her lack of experience in public education, strong support for vouchers and online schooling, and attacks on our students’ rights and education funding make DeVos public enemy number one for educators. Our students deserve a Secretary of Education who wants to invest in their future not line her pockets.
  2. Public Service Loan Forgiveness – If educators and other public servants make 10 years’ worth of qualified monthly payments on their federal student loans, they can receive up to $17,500 in loan forgiveness. But that’s not what is happening, because the program is broken. Fewer than 1 percent of eligible public servants who apply actually receive the loan forgiveness they were promised. Educators deserve a government that fulfills their promises to public servants everywhere.
  3. Gun Violence Prevention – NEA members believe schools should be safe places for learning. They reject the idea of arming teachers and other educators and oppose using federal funds for that purpose. NEA members want a government that will expand mental health care in schools and research gun violence as a public health issue.
  4. Education Funding – All our students deserve access to a high-quality education, but funding for public education keeps decreasing. Public schools received $3.7 billion, or 19 percent, less for Title I students during the 2017-18 school year than they did in 2010. The federal share of IDEA funding is now less than 14 percent, far short of the 40 percent Congress promised to provide. Educators need a Congress that is willing to put students, and their right to a quality education regardless of zip code, first.
  5. Retirement Security – The Government Pension Offset (GPO) and Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) reduces the Social Security benefits of people who work in jobs regardless of whether they are covered by Social Security—for example, educators who take part-time jobs to make ends meet. Most of the people hurt by the GPO and WEP are public servants (read: educators), who should be rewarded with retirement security, after all their years of public service.
  6. Workers’ Rights – All public education employees deserve the right to negotiate a fair contract. Bargaining ensures that career education employees have a respected voice in the workplace and are involved in both identifying and solving school and classroom issues, which in turn promotes student learning. After the blow the Janus Supreme Court case dealt unions last year, we need a government that respects educators’ right to bargain.
  7. Voting Rights – The landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965 banned discriminatory practices and extended voting protections to millions of racial, ethnic, and language minority citizens. In 2013 the U.S. Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act. As efforts to suppress the vote continue—for example, through measures to deter student voting or limit absentee ballots—the need for protecting the vote persists.

We need your educator voice to be heard in the 2020 election. We know you’ll make the right decisions for educators and students everywhere. Take a moment to check your voter registration.

If you’re already registered, we ask you to register three of your friends and amplify your impact in 2020. Let’s make our educator voices heard!

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The Educator-Activist’s To-Do List – NEA Today

Whether you are a new or veteran educator, the start of a new school year can be overwhelming. The entire community counts on educators to set up the school, help students get situated, and solve whatever problems crop up along the way.

But your community is also counting on you to keep advocating for the resources your students deserve, by telling local, state, and federal policymakers what your kids need to succeed. The educator voice is trusted and needs to be heard.

For Alaska special education teacher Winter Marshall-Allen, being an educator-activist means calling for better school funding and restorative justice practices to ensure that her special needs students are treated fairly and receive the services they need.

Marshall-Allen uses more than just facts and figures to make her case with policymakers. It’s the personal stories that resonate, and her own story is a starting point.

“I would not have my current job and opportunities as an educator were it not for the efforts of social justice and civil rights activists who preceded me,” says Marshall-Allen. “I had an Individualized Education Plan for visual impairment thanks to the American with Disabilities Act. Now, I am able to advocate for those who might be seen as less able or undeserving because they differ from societal expectations.”

True, it can be hard to find time for advocacy work, which can be emotionally taxing. But it’s worth it, says Marshall-Allen.

“Fighting with one’s heart is the most rewarding and significant display of love we can show our students,” she says. “Advocating for education and seeing how that affects my community and my students reaffirms that the struggle is worth it.”

Here are some ideas to help you get started.

Add Everyone Who Represents You to Your Mobile Contacts

Include all elected leaders—from your district school board members to your members of Congress—with their D.C. and back-home office numbers! Be ready to hold them accountable, and thank them when they do right by public schools.

Get the News that Public School Advocates Need is an essential resource that helps busy educators stay in-the-know on state and national politics, legislation, and events that affect public education. It offers quick and easy ways to support good initiatives, speak out against bad ones, and to share your story with decision makers.

Follow EdVotes on Facebook and Twitter and you won’t miss a beat. For more on what’s happening on Capitol Hill, sign up for NEA’s Education Insider. You’ll receive federal legislative updates on the topics of most interest to you, plus action alerts to let you know when it’s time to reach out to the folks who represent you in Congress.

Finally, check out your state association website and make sure you’re taking advantage of the insights and information their political experts have to offer. Follow your state association on social media and sign up for legislative newsletters or text alerts.

Start Spreading the Word

Don’t underestimate the power of social media. Make sure everyone in your networks knows that you care passionately about public education—and show them how they can help us defend it!

“Like” Speak Up for Education & Kids, and share EdVotes articles on Facebook and Twitter (follow our feed!). And make sure you’re connected to your state association’s social media, too.

But don’t forget what always works best—face-to-face conversations are still the most potent tool for engaging others. Activism starts with the everyday conversations you have with friends, your family, colleagues and people you meet. By knowing your issues and actively listening to what others have to say, you are more likely to encourage others to get involved in the fight to invest in our public schools.

Make Your Voice Heard in the 2020 Presidential Election

November 2020 is more than a year away, you say? True, but the presidential candidates are defining their education policy right now, and will soon debate the issues.

That’s why NEA has already launched its Strong Public Schools 2020 campaign. Now is the time for educators to get involved and ensure that their voices are heard—by their union, by the presidential candidates, and within their own communities.

Go to to:
• Find information about the 2020 candidate and compare their positions on important issues;
• Find events hosted by presidential candidates and NEA;
• Learn about every step of NEA’s candidate recommendation process

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When Small Local Unions Make a Big Impact

While educators from big cities—like Los Angeles, Oakland, and Denver—have garnered national attention for their massive strikes, walkouts, work stoppages, and rallies over student learning conditions, wages, and benefits, educators in smaller towns have been just as successful.

Take California’s Lincoln Unified Teachers Association (LUTA), a mid-sized local of nearly 500 members who mobilized, held informational pickets, packed school board meetings, worked bell-to-bell, and won big.

In April, after spending 15 months negotiating and two years without a contract, LUTA educators ratified a landmark contract that improves the learning conditions for all 9,400 students. Negotiations weren’t over wages and benefits, according to the California Educator—both sides came to an agreement on those a year ago. Instead, educators bargained for more music programs for kindergarten kids and the restoration of music instruction for third graders.

The contract also includes district-paid induction costs for new teachers, which help to recruit and retain committed teachers. For new teachers, this goes a long way.

“Being a new teacher is hard enough without having to pay extra costs,” says Angela Quitasol, a science teacher at Sierra Middle School. “I’m so grateful to get reimbursed for the fees that I’ve already paid and that I won’t have to pay any more next year.”

Additionally, each K-8 class districtwide will receive a “classroom budget” of no less than $400. This will cover classroom supplies needed for students to be successful. Previously the amount would vary: some classrooms received only $100 while others received $400.

Wins like these don’t happen overnight. It takes time and intentional effort to engage members. LUTA President Tiffany Fuhrmeister said to the California Educator that “the victory wouldn’t have been possible without the commitment of all LUTA educators to fighting side-by-side for each other, their students, and the Lincoln Unified community.”

And when Fuhrmeister says “all,” she means all.

‘Let’s Empower People’

With small local unions, it’s not uncommon for a handful of leaders to task themselves with all of the work. LUTA leaders, however, made a long-term investment and a commitment in making the local more democratic by empowering its members to run their own contract bargaining.

Two years ago, NEA’s Center for Organizing and the California Teachers Association partnered with a few northern Golden State locals to help develop campaigns around their contract negotiations. With guidance from the national and state affiliates, LUTA leaders shifted its negotiation’s structure to include more voices in their decision-making process. This included parents, education support professionals, and new teachers.

“We keep talking about this notion of collective action,” says Fuhrmeister, an elementary school teacher with nearly 20 years of experience. “There are all these people who want to get involved and have deep-rooted insight on what their students need. If we’re going to empower people, let’s empower people.”

Additionally, public forums were held, school-site visits were scheduled, and a campaign plan was built to address the concerns of parents and educators throughout the district.

“Having three or four people wasn’t enough. We expanded the bargaining team to 25 people. This allowed us to focus on school- and student-friendly platforms, as well as speak on behalf of our entire membership.”

Inclusivity and the openness to share leadership roles have gone a long way. Initially, during the first public forum in the spring of 2018, 120 LUTA members were in attendance—less than half of the overall membership. By fall of the same year, after the new bargaining format was adopted, a board action drew 350 members to the meeting.

What’s next for LUTA? With Election Day fast approaching, the local now has the experience to organize around upcoming school board elections, as well as state and federal races.

“A teachers’ union is only as strong as its members. We need to continue to know our worth, the worth of our students, and the worth of our profession,” Fuhrmeister said. “This is just the beginning of a new day at [Lincoln Unified School District].”

On the Opposite Side of the Country

With more than 950 students, the Newport School District in New Hampshire prides itself on its small-town flavor: school Halloween parades down Main Street; Homecomings at the high school and the bonfires that follow; and pancake breakfasts to salute veterans. But even small districts like these go through difficult contract negotiations.

Previously, members of the Newport Teachers Association (NTA), a local of nearly 100 members, would go one year with a contract and then without the following year.

This swaying pattern lasted ten years, until this past March, when the district, local, and the town’s voting bloc approved a three-contract. (In New Hampshire, collective-bargaining agreements require voter approval.)

The main issue was teacher pay. The yo-yo effect of the bargaining agreement created a lag in salaries. Teachers were between one and eight steps behind the salary schedule. For small locals like Newport, this is “crippling.”

At the start of the 2018-2019 school year, for example, the district saw a 33 percent teacher turnover (33 of 100 teachers left). Some of them were new teachers who left a few weeks after the school year started. These turnovers left huge gaps in special education and elementary school positions.

“Teachers would turn down jobs once they found out what they were going to get paid—despite their years of experience and credentials,” says Melissa Mitchler, a 22-year veteran math teacher and co-president of the local association. “This was crippling the district’s ability to hire. It was crippling our profession because over time we were losing money to rising health-care costs, and it was crippling our students, who struggled to connect with new teachers every year.”

What Changed After a Decade?

Similar to California’s Lincoln Unified Teachers Association, the Newport local began to plan and organize long before leaders met with the district and voters. NTA Co-Presidents Mitchler and Lisa Ferrigno, an elementary school teacher with 14 years of experience, recruited more rank-and-file members, as well as community members, to be involved in their negotiation efforts.

NEA-New Hampshire staff offered guidance and support every step of the way, including a fact-finding brief that was hard to disprove. Additionally, a partnership with American Votes helped the local create a solid campaign plan that included targeted post cards, walking sheets for door-knocking efforts, and visibility via lawn signs. The local’s leadership attended select school board meeting, budget committee meeting, and took to the air waves to enlist public support.

Together, the trio launched a massive organizing effort that led to winning a three-year contract. The contract was its own item on the ballot, which included the school district budget and the collective-bargaining agreement for the Newport Support Staff Association. In March, more than 1,000 voters hit the polls. It was the largest voter turnout for a school budget vote on record, according to reports from district officials. NTA’s three-year agreement passed by 17 votes (629 to 612). The contract for support staff also passed and was a significant win.

The first-year cost of the contract, including salary and benefits is listed at $347,000. The second year is $301,000 and the last year is $140,000. At the end of the third year, all staff will be on a step that properly equates to their years of experience, instead of being one to eight steps behind.

“While this was momentous for the district, the association, and for our students,” says Ferrigno, “this is just the first step toward bringing our district pay closer in line with neighboring districts. We have more work to do to keep teachers in the profession, giving our students consistency in their education.”

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Energizing Educator Activism With Art Build

Art Build at the Experience Area during the 2019 NEA Representative Assembly in Houston, Texas. JULY 7, 2019

Wyoming art teacher Paige Gustafson found her happy place at the 2019 NEA Representative Assembly (RA) in the delegate experience area, where paintbrush in hand and dozens of cups of paints around her, she put the final daubs on a fabric panel saying “Fund Public Education.”

“I love it. I feel like, especially as an elementary art teacher, we’re often forgotten, and art is so incredibly important,” said Gustafson. “Creating images that go along with a movement, whether it’s racial or social justice [or the national #RedforEd movement], brings people together, and creates ownership in the movement.”

While attending the annual meeting, this year in Houston, Tex., hundreds of NEA members worked with artists from the Milwaukee-based Art Build Workers to create and contribute to graphic depictions of collective action. Together, they turned massive parachutes into protest banners saying, “Ready to Strike” and “Red for Ed,” or painted patches with slogans like, “Teachers—We Work for The People” and “Public Schools—The Heart of Our Community,” to take back to their classrooms and communities.

Paige Gustafson at the NEA RA Art Build

The RA-based “art build” is the latest in a line of art builds across the country, supported by NEA and organized jointly by Art Build Workers and local unions, such as the United Teachers of Los Angeles, California’s Oakland Education Association, and the Prince George’s County Education Association in Maryland. The way it works is that the professional artists associated with Art Build Workers first talk to union leaders and community members about the needs of their community, brainstorming slogans and images, and then they work with local educators, parents, students and others to create the art that amplifies their message and goals.

“I want them to feel connected to something larger,” said Paul Kjelland, a Milwaukee artist and Art Build Workers member who manned the screen printers in Houston, churning out hundreds of fabric panels that delegates could finish with their own brushed paints. “Especially when we’re working with unions prepping for strikes, we want to bring people together. We want to create a safe space where educators and community members can bridge gaps in their community, spend time together, and make something together that’s meaningful.”

Ashley Whyte

Often, what’s most important is not the art itself, but the process of making it, said Milwaukee art teacher Jeannette Arellano, who provided the template for the “ready to strike” parachute, based on an image of her sister, a Houston community organizer. “Gaining community, building relationships—that’s the powerful part.”

The first art builds were done in Milwaukee, in partnership with Voces de la Frontera, a local advocacy group. Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association (MTEA) members assisted with the process, and were inspired to do the same for state budget hearings, said Joe Brusky, a MTEA member who travels with Art Build Workers to document their work in photographs. In 2017, at the Wisconsin State Capitol, they built 600 picket signs and two parachute banners to carry through the streets.

Last year, art builds supported #RedforEd strikes in Oakland, California, and in Los Angeles, where hundreds of community members, over three days, created eight 24-foot parachute banners, 1,600 silk-screened picket signs, 1,000 posters, and 30 banners that decried school privatization and corporate greed, and championed smaller class sizes.

At the RA, Ohio kindergarten teacher Ashley Whyte selected a “Fund Our Schools” panel to paint. “I am crafty, but I am not an artist,” she said. “But I was attracted to this because it gives me some time to sit and relax and create art for my classroom.”

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50 Years After Stonewall: LGBTQ Pride in America’s Schools

NEA EdJustice 
Resources and stories for creating safe, affirming schools for LGBTQ students.

Take Action: Tell the Senate to Pass the Equality Act
More than half the states in the U.S. lack fully inclusive non-discrimination protections, leaving millions of people subject to potential discrimination in their daily lives.

NEA’s Read Across America Calendar
Educator-recommended, age-appropriate titles that explore identity and can blend effectively into existing classroom activities and units of study.

NEA Center for Social Justice Trainings
Designed for all NEA members, particularly those committed to addressing bias around sexual orientation and gender identity, this program teaches school personnel how to create a safe school climate for students and staff.


HRC’s Welcoming Schools Program
The nation’s premier professional development program providing training and resources to elementary school educators to embrace family diversity, create LGBTQ and gender inclusive schools, prevent bias-based bullying, and support transgender and non-binary students.

The national organization championing LGBTQ issues in K-12 education since 1990.

GSA Network
LGBTQ racial and gender justice organization that empowers and trains queer, trans and allied youth leaders to advocate, organize, and mobilize an intersectional movement for safer schools and healthier communities.

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How Closing Schools Traumatizes Students and Communities

A student walks down a hallway at the Jean de Lafayette Elementary School, on the final day of school Wednesday, June 19, 2013, in Chicago. The school was one of 50 slated to be closed by the city.(AP Photo/Scott Eisen)

Since 2004, Oakland Unified School District has closed 16 schools and is now targeting an additional 24 by the start of the 2019-20 school year. District officials call it “right-sizing,” a term borrowed from corporate America – appropriate given that many of the shuttered schools will be converted into for-profit charters. While policymakers see failing or “bad” schools, parents, students and educators see pillars of the community that have not been adequately funded and are worth fighting for.

Closing down his school, one Oakland seventh grader testified in January, “is like putting me up for adoption ..[My school] made me who I am.”

These are scenes that have been playing out in urban school districts across the country. In 2013, Chicago announced it was closing 50 schools, 90 percent of which served all-black student populations. The plan triggered massive protests from parents, educators, students and community members.  The mobilization to save their neighborhood schools is recounted in “Ghosts in the Schoolyard: Racism and School Closings on Chicago’s South Side,” by Eve L. Ewing.

In the book, Ewing, who in addition to being an assistant professor at the University of Chicago is also a poet and podcaster, vividly describes the anger, destabilization and sense of displacement felt by the families impacted most by school closings. 

These are the voices that need to be heard as policymakers make decisions that put children’s lives on the line, Ewing says. And, as she recently told NEA Today, no amount of  bureaucratic jargon and cherry-picked data can conceal the racist underpinnings behind the top-down, punitive policies that have dominated the education agenda over the past two decades.

“Ghosts in the Schoolyard” should be read by any official who actually makes these sort of decisions, but what other audiences do you most want to reach? Did you happen to see the teacher in Boston publicly handing out copies of your book to members of the School Committee who were considering closing the school where she works?  That must have been gratifying. 

Eve L. Ewing, author of “Ghosts in the Schoolyard.”

Eve Ewing: Yes, I did see that story. The photo of the teacher holding the book up was profoundly moving. So certainly I’m interested in lawmakers reading the book, but I also wanted to reach the people who have been closely impacted by these decisions to close schools – the parents, teachers, community members. Many have told me that the find the book to be validating. It makes them feel like they didn’t dream this up, you know?  It’s really unfortunate that the world we live in makes people feel that those sort of experiences are not being legitimated. I hope the book can be a lesson for researchers to take people at their word about how they are so deeply affected.

Another audience is young people. I want them to understand the history and context of the social system in which they find themselves, but also the history and context of struggle and how the people who came before them have worked really hard to try to make a better world.

You taught in Chicago public schools. How did that experience shape the way you approached the book and your work in general?

Ewing: With all the research I do, whether it’s about school closings or anything else, I’m always trying to think about how people on the ground who are actually living with the consequences of how things actually play out.

Every public school teacher has had the eye-rolling experience of being handed something to try in your classroom where you are like, “Ok, this is not going to work.” Had anyone talked to me or had any respect for me, I could have told them that, but no one ever asked.  So I don’t want to be that researcher. I try really hard to think closely, and to ask people about their actual lived experiences, rather than assuming my own expertise.

ghosts in the schoolyard coverI also worked as an aide in a couple of other schools on the South Side. All of them were 100% black and low-income, but I saw real differences in how the teachers approached the students. I saw teachers who were punitive and, frankly, cruel, and teachers who were what we call in the literature “warm demanders” – very loving, very caring,  but also had high expectations. So I saw how the tone, tenor and climate of the schools – and how what the students were able to do – changes when someone treats them like human beings.

Reading about the sense of loss felt by students, parents and educators was difficult. This was a traumatizing experience for them. Were you prepared for that when you interviewed them and listened to their testimony?

Ewing: I think I was intellectually prepared but I don’t think there’s any way to be emotionally prepared. Because some of these experiences were mirrored in my own life, I sort of knew what to expect. But I spent lot of time listening to recordings of children crying. On a very visceral level, that’s very difficult, but it’s important for me to have that perspective.

Yeah, people tell me all the time that reading the book was upsetting. But that affective reality, that sort of emotional reality, should be part of the calculus when we make these decisions that impact the lives of children so deeply. So no, while the trauma experienced by these families wasn’t surprising to me, it might be surprising to the people who were the engineers of this policy.

The avoidance to talk about the role of race in any of these decisions is pretty strong, right? 

This community’s choice to resist a school being characterized as “failing” is in fact about much more than the school itself: it is about citizenship and participation, about justice and injustice, and about resisting people in power who want to transform a community at the expense of the people who live there.” – From Ghosts in the Schoolyard: Racism and School Closings on Chicago’s Southside by Eve L. Ewing

Ewing:  People are comfortable talking about race when they are talking about how some racial groups are not performing up to par, when it’s through the lens of talking about deficits that are perceived in students of color, particularly black students.

It would be a different if we pushed ourselves to talk about race and education policy in terms of the way that current policies reinscribe and reinforce racial inequalities, and the way the education system interacts with other stratified systems in our society to ensure that students don’t have the same resources or opportunities based on race.

There’s a difference between talking about race and talking about racism. Scholars before me have established that that sort of deflection can in many ways be a racist tactic. The idea that it’s not racism, it’s this other thing, has been a very effective way of silencing any sort of critique.

As you say in the book, racism can be just as much, if not more, about the outcome as opposed to the intent. To what extent has it saturated our recent education policies?

Ewing: Well, the speaker goes to 11! To me, these questions are entirely about race. What underlies all these supposed reforms has so much to do with how much we control black people, how we control black children, how we assimilate immigrant groups, how we commit cultural genocide against native people. All of these in their way are the underlying projects of school reform.

“We Need to Be Disruptors of Institutional Racism in Our Schools”
To tackle institutional and systemic racism, NEA President Lily Eskelsen García told the South by SouthWest conference in March, we have to be aware of every part of the system, including the silence of implicit bias that blinds us to the larger system and what needs to be disrupted and dismantled.

So much goes uninterrogated about how and why our schools look the way they do. Why, for example, are people are so attracted to curriculum reforms that supposedly elevate test scores and graduation rates to astronomical levels simply by ensuring that children live under an intense disciplinary regime – one that minimizes their capacity for free expression and maximizes the degree to which their bodies are under control?

These are the costs that people are willing to pay for the supposed dividends of test scores, right? And even a lot of policymakers who identify themselves on the left and who are White still advocate for policies for children of color that they would never dream of implementing if their own children were in the classroom.

More room has been made recently for a serious discussion about funding inequality in our education system. How far can that conversation go without talking about race?

Ewing:It’s a start, but it depends on how much we want to scratch below the surface. If we want to talk about funding inequality, we have to talk about property taxes. If we want to talk about property taxes we have to talk about residential segregation. We have to start talking about wealth inequality, right? We have to start talking about the transference of wealth. We have to talk about opportunity hoarding.

I often bring up about the analogy and the sneeze and the cold. One is the symptom and one is the actual virus. At some point you have to talk about the virus if you’re sitting around sneezing all the time. What is it that is actually making us sick?

Are you optimistic about the heightened awareness of how many of these policies are affecting students? There’s been quite a bit of progress on some fronts, including charter schools and overtesting. 

Ewing: Well, I’m not really sure we’re seeing all that much progress yet. I do think we’re seeing rhetorical progress and that is a really important first step. And I do think that people across racial groups are beginning to see the brunt of some of these policies. So that’s a real potential for solidarity.

But I don’t know that the heightened awareness has been matched by the policy environment. Under Betsy DeVos, I think we’ve been regressing on quite a few areas, just thinking about vouchers for example. But there is a potential of something powerful happening there, for sure.

closing schools and race

The nine-day strike in February by the 3,000 members of the Oakland Education Association forced the district to put s temporary hold on its plan to close 24 schools.

You’ve said that people shouldn’t conflate “schooling” and “education.” Schooling are those institutional practices that, as you said earlier, emphasis control and standardization, whereas education is genuine discovery and learning. To what extent are competing visions or ideas about the role of public education getting in the way of transformative change?

Ewing: We live in a hyper-individualist society. So when many people think about schools, they see them as an engine to attain the most material gain that they possibly can for their individual child. And I think that’s fine. It’s a natural human impulse, especially for parents.

But we should expect policymakers to have a different lens. They have to think about how we build systems that work for all students, that are not based on principles of competition, but instead on principles of resource provision. So how are we meeting  our ethical and moral obligation to provide all children regardless of their social position with adequate resources?

But I think a deeply-rooted anti-blackness undercuts that. A lot of research bears this out. When people are choosing schools, when people are assessing what a good school is and what bad school is, when they are thinking about what kind of curriculum they want to implement in schools – if the children being served are black, the game changes from one of thinking about nurturing and resource provision to one of punishment and control.

People see blackness as a proxy for low-quality and the presence of black children as a proxy for badness. So that and hyper-individualism are two mindsets that have to change, but policymakers and politicians have to take a lead on that. We can’t sit around and wait for people to suddenly be better people in order for our school systems to be better. We have to demand courage and innovation to create the policies that are going to create conditions of equity. And then everybody else has to catch up or not.

“A System That Blames Children”
relay program for teachersMass school closures in Chicago, Los Angeles, New Orleans, and other cities has created a multi-tier system where academically strong schools at the top are located in higher-income neighborhoods and not readily available to all students. Closing schools not only has a negative impact on student performance but also creates hardship for communities already struggling with disinvestment.

Pushed Out: The Injustice Black Girls Face in School

Black girls make up 16% of girls in U.S. public schools, but 42% of girls’ expulsions. What forces have made these students targets?

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‘We Cannot Walk Away From That Commitment’

On May 17, 1954, the Supreme Court announced its decision in the case of Brown v. Board of Education. “Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal,” the Court ruled unanimously, declaring that schools and other institutions violated the equal-protection clause of the 14th Amendment.

The doctrine of “separate but equal,” which had been the law of the land since 1896 when Plessy v. Ferguson was decided, was audaciously overturned. Thurgood Marshall, a leading attorney with the case, recalled, “I was so happy I was numb.” He predicted that school segregation would come to an end within five years.

What happened? Did Brown matter?

“Why are we still in the same situation 65 years later,” asked Anthony Rebora, editor-in-chief of ASCD Educational Leadership Magazine, who moderated a panel discussion last week in Washington, DC titled, “Separate and Still Unequal: Race in America’s Schools 65 years after Brown v. Board of Education.

“We know our schools are still segregated,” said NEA Vice President Becky Pringle, one of four panelists. “But we cannot walk away from that commitment that was laid.”

The event was hosted by ASCD in honor of the 65th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education. Representatives from area public schools and universities joined officials with education associations in a robust discussion about how today’s educators and policymakers can better understand racial issues and work toward fulfilling the promise of Brown v. Board.

“We must know our (African American) history because we are getting very close now to where we were then (1950s),” said panelist Gregory Hutchings Jr., superintendent of Alexandria City Public Schools in Virginia. “We need courage because people are discouraged from standing up to racism.”

“When we talk about segregation, it’s not just what is happening in our schools. As educators, we have a huge responsibility but we can’t do it by ourselves.” – NEA Vice President Becky Pringle

In the 1954 decision, the Court declined to specify remedies for school segregation, asking instead for further arguments. The following year, in an opinion known as Brown v. Board of Education II, the Court declared vaguely that integration must occur “with all deliberate speed.”

Hutchings and other panelists stated that the American experience since that time suggests that educators cannot produce widespread social reform on their own.

“We’re putting too much weight on the shoulders of teachers,” Hutchings said. “We’re powerful people, teachers are … but we can’t solve society’s problems alone.”

Pringle agreed: “When we talk about segregation, it’s not just what is happening in our schools. We have to also address the structural racism in our country. We are one system in a collection of systems … housing, banking. As educators, we have a huge responsibility but we can’t do it by ourselves.”

Deborah Menkart is the executive director of Teaching for Change, an organization that works with educators and parents to create outstanding schools, and with students on social justice and other issues. During her opening statement, she said one aspect of Brown v. Board was that policymakers and other adults essentially commanded children of color to attend distant schools in unfamiliar neighborhoods by themselves.

“The legacy of that case is we didn’t include adults in the solution,” she said. “We sent children into those schools without adults to support them.”

As an example, Menkart mentioned the Little Rock Nine case when Orval Faubus in 1957, as the governor of Arkansas, used the state’s National Guard to defy the courts and stop African American students from attending Central High School. Their enrollment was followed by the Little Rock Crisis in which the students were initially prevented from entering the racially segregated school by Faubus.

NEA Vice-President Becky Pringle discusses the legacy of Brown v. Board of Education at a recent panel discussion hosted by ASCD.

On its own, the Supreme Court brought about little desegregation because it lacked the power to overcome local social conditions and resistance in schools, panelists stated. For example, the Court was powerless to remedy the lack of diversity among teachers, education support professionals (ESPs), school board members, and superintendents.

“We (African Americans) really haven’t had a seat at the table,” said Hutchings. “Even now, only three percent of superintendents (nationwide) are people of color.”

To counter “structural racism” found in some school systems, Pringle said minority school leaders and educators in particular must be encouraged to develop the skills, knowledge, and abilities to thrive within public school systems.

“We must do more work in the preparation of teachers of color,” she said. “That will make a difference.”

Panelist Dawn Williams, dean of the school of education at Howard University in Washington, stressed the importance identifying, nurturing, and recruiting minority educators so they are able to enjoy long, fulfilling careers in the education field.

“You have to be strategic,” she said. “You need a pipeline in school districts that encourages students of color to enter the education field.”

Hutchings added: “The more we can encourage people (to enter and remain in the education field) the more you are going to see a paradigm shift. A support system is also critical.”

Examining what schools offer to all students in all districts, such as advanced placement courses and after-school activities, needs to be tracked, said Williams, to enhance equity.

“That (data) needs to be more public,” she said. “We need to look inside schools to make sure they keep the promise of Brown v. Board.”

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School Districts Finding More and More Homeless Students

 As homeless education coordinator for Billings Public Schools, Sue Runkle frequently gives presentations to help raise awareness about the district’s homeless student population. Even after 18 years in this role, she still occasionally encounters a familiar puzzled look from participants.

“Some people will still ask me, ‘Wait — we have homeless students in Billings?’”

Five-hundred and three in the 2017-18 school year, to be exact, and 414 so far this year. These numbers can be an eye-opener, Runkle explains, because the homeless population in Billings is not on the street, huddled under a bridge, or waiting outside a soup kitchen.

“They’re invisible,” Runkle says. “Students and their families are living in shelters, motels, or doubling up with other families. They’re still homeless. Many people don’t understand that.”

Homeless children, as defined by the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act,  are those who “lack a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence.” McKinney-Vento was passed by Congress in 1987 to “ensure that each homeless youth has equal access to the same free, appropriate public education…as provided to other children.”

The number of students identified as homeless is on the rise across Montana. The increase has been particularly sharp in rural areas, where homeless students have previously been undercounted, and therefore not receiving the services and support they need.

According to new federal data, during the 2016-17 school year, 1.36 million public school students in the United States were homeless, a 70 percent increase since 2008. Furthermore, the national average graduation rate for homeless students is just 64 percent, significantly lower than the 77.6 percent rate for low-income students who are not homeless, and the 84.1 percent for all students. 

Education Leads Home, a national campaign focused on education and homeless youth, recently dug into graduation data from 26 states. It found that the gap between homeless students and all students in some states is over 35 percentage points in some states, and the gap between low-income and homeless students is over 20 percentage points. 

 “These gaps reflect the significant educational challenges — above and beyond poverty — that homeless students face,” said Erin Ingram, senior policy advisor at Civic, an Education Leads Home partner. “We can and must do more to remove these barriers. Students cannot afford to miss out on the critical first step of a high school diploma due to homelessness. “

Urgent Need to Identify

Higher numbers of homeless students and lower graduation rates is never welcome news. As Education Leads Home suggests in the summary of its report, however, reporting this increase could be a sign that some states are taking steps to confront the issue.

Improving systems of identification is a positive trend, although it “also points to a growing challenge for schools, and the need for increased supports for homeless students across the country,” the report said. 

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), passed by Congress in 2016 to replace No Child Left Behind, includes provisions designed to protect and support homeless students (see graphic below). The law also requires states to disaggregate and report graduation rates for homeless students.

The number of students identified as homeless in Billings has dipped slightly this year. As some in the community still wonder aloud about the existence of the problem, Runkle is vigilant about contextualizing any statistical noise, particularly as the definition of student homelessness is refined.

“I’m skeptical that we’ve had a real decline,” Runkle says. “I’m seeing just as many homeless and at-risk kids this year than in the past.”

Ensuring that homeless students are not undercounted can be a steep challenge, particularly in populous states. In 2018, one-quarter of California’s school districts did not report a single homeless student in a state that has seen a 20 percent increase over the past four years. Such flagrant underreporting means nearly 2,700 schools in California are not providing the services and supports to which homeless students are entitled. In February, state lawmakers announced an audit to investigate this gap.

Homeless Education and the Every Student Succeeds Act (NEA Center for Great Public Schools) Click to Enlarge.

“Student homelessness is not an issue that will simply go away if we pretend it isn’t happening,” said Assemblymember David Chiu, who co-sponsored the legislation. “If students experiencing homelessness are not being identified, they are not getting access to the services they need to be successful.”

Coming to grips with the problem also requires a better understanding of the many factors that drive student homelessness.

“Homelessness among students is more than a housing problem; its causes are complex, and cannot be remedied by housing alone,”  explains Barbara Duffield, executive director of SchoolHouse Connection.

Sue Runkle says increasing substance abuse among teens has exacerbated the problem in Billings.

School leaders in the Delavan-Darien district in Wisconsin, about 60 miles southwest of Milwaukee, blame “economic realities” — specifically lack of affordable housing — for the increasing numbers of homeless students. Between 2011-2016, student homelessness skyrocketed by almost 800 percent.

“When families’ basic needs and students’ basic needs aren’t being met, school is not the top priority,” Lisa McKay, a social worker at Delavan-Darien High School, told The Gazette. “It’s getting those basic needs met—that food, that shelter, the clothing piece—before we can even focus on attending at school.”

‘We Can’t Teach Them If They’re Not Here’

After the homeless education liaison position in Billings was created in 2001 (following the reauthorization of the McKinney-Vento Act), Runkle worked out of one school, Washington Elementary, with roughly 50 homeless students Her responsibilities expanded in the second year to incorporate the entire district, which now serves 16,000 students.

Runkle works directly with students and their families, connecting them with area resources. (In 2014, she was named the 2014 outstanding advocate by the National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth.) She is quick to underline, however, that schools cannot tackle this problem alone.

Sue Runkle (photo: Larry Mayer/Billings Gazette)

“They need to be a part of a network of community partners, service organizations, faith-based organizations,” she says. “Everyone has to come to the table. We rely on one another to provide services for these families.”

Collaboration with families and other stakeholders is a pillar of the community schools model, which, in addition to offering substantive academic programs, draws upon networks to support students before, during, and after school and on the weekends.

Homeless students are among the two-thirds of the  economically disadvantaged students who attend Walt Whitman Middle School, a community school in Fairfax County, Virginia.

“Community schools are plugged into the resource pool to help these families, to connect them to the services they need,” says Karisa Gearheart, a social worker at Walt Whitman.

Families in the area know that Walt Whitman is there to support them and that makes it easier, adds principal Craig Herring. “Parents aren’t as afraid to talk about [homelessness] as much. Community schools make supporting families a regular, ongoing conversation.”

For a homeless student, the importance of a supportive school environment, whatever form it takes, cannot be overstated.

“We have to help keep these students in the classroom, in the school they are familiar with,” says Sue Runkle. “We can’t teach them if they’re not there and school is the only stable place that they know. The best way out of homeless will always be education.”

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How Does Only One Nurse Keep 1,750 Students Healthy and Safe?

There are about 37,000 students in Oakland, Calif., public schools.

And 22 school nurses.

“It’s challenging. It’s nerve-wracking,” says Oakland school nurse Liz Hurt. “Nurses are going to work and they’re afraid. They’re just praying to get to Friday with nothing bad happening!”

The extreme lack of school nurses to keep Oakland students safe and healthy is just one of the reasons that the 3,000 members of the Oakland Education Association (OEA) have been on strike since February 21. Their demands at the bargaining table also include smaller class sizes, and greater student access to school psychologists, counselors, and teacher-librarians. (There are just four credentialed teacher-librarians in the district.)

“You can’t feed the minds of our students by starving their schools,” OEA President Keith Brown has said.

As school nurses come and go, the average caseload per nurse in Oakland is about 1,750 students, says OEA. It’s at least 1,000 more students per nurse than the minimum recommendation, which is at least one nurse per school, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, or one nurse per 750 students in “healthy student populations,” says the National Association of School Nurses (NASN). In places with high rates of poverty, hunger, and environmental stresses, NASN cautions, children will have more health issues and need more nurses.

That sounds a lot like Oakland, where 75 percent of students live below the federal poverty line, an increasing number live in homeless encampments called tent cities, and environmental hazards aren’t rare. In 2017, while researching Oakland’s sky-high rate of hospitalizations among children with asthma, a San José State University student found that seven of 10 schools in Oakland Unified are located 500 feet from a major freeway. Meanwhile, Oakland also has several industrial chemical and fuel release sites that may affect public health, an Alameda County Public Health Department analysis found.

Not surprisingly, as of 2015, nearly one in five children in Oakland had asthma. More than 700 students have severe allergies, 50 have diabetes, and almost 30 have sickle cell disease.

“We’re an urban district,” explains Hurt. “The incidence rate of everything—all pathology—is much greater here… Our asthma rate is higher. Our Type 1 diabetes is very high and growing. Lots of severe allergies. And we also have families who move here for the great medical care and climate for sickle-cell disease.”

The Life of a School Nurse

Hurt’s work begins with about 1,250 children in two schools perched along the fault line in Oakland’s hills—one elementary, one middle. These include “numerous children who are medically fragile, in wheelchairs for cerebral palsy or paralysis, or traumatic injuries, some the result of violence. Some are dependent on procedures, like catheterization every three hours, some require regular insulin…” she says.

Caring for those 1,250 students already represent a job and a half, but that’s not nearly the total of her work. The district is supposed to have 30 nurses—eight positions are currently vacant —so the 22 nurses also take up the schools and students that should be covered by absent colleagues. (Even if the district filled those jobs, the staffing ratio would be a still unacceptable 1,350 students per nurse.)

Oakland school nurse Liz Hurt

The nurses are constantly running from school to school, trying to distribute medications and treatments on time, attempting to triage the most critical cases. In their absence, in case of emergency, untrained office staff or school security staff may have to step in, says Hurt. “I got a call once about a kid who was having trouble breathing. I came in and his eyes were puffy, his face is all blown up, and I said, ‘this is a severe allergic reaction!’”

On top of that, school nursing today isn’t just patient care. Every week, Hurt and the others spend days working to develop accommodations for medical 504 plans, as well as all the individualized health plans that are developed for kids with leukemia, cancer, seizures, and other chronic diseases. They’re also responsible for vision and hearing screenings of every student, and work with families to get dental care, mental-health treatment, and proper nutrition. In Oakland, this is complicated by the 50 languages spoken in students’ homes.

“Time for lunch?” Hurt laughs. “During lunch time is when you’re providing direct care for students with diabetes. Most of us don’t take lunch, and definitely not breaks!”

The job is unfair. Unrealistic. Underpaid. And, under current conditions, undesirable. Many dozens of school nurses have come and gone from Oakland schools over the past six years, says Hurt. “The new people come in, see what’s going on, and say, ‘There’s no way!’ and then they leave.”

But the job also is so, so, so important to keeping kids healthy, in school, and learning. When a school nurse is present, researchers found, school principals gain nearly an hour and teachers gain an extra 20 minutes a day to focus on education instead of asthma inhalers. School nurses also are linked to better student attendance, which, in turn, is linked to better reading skills, higher graduation rates, and more.

It can be a life-or-death matter. In 2014, two student deaths in Philadelphia were linked to insufficient school nursing levels.

In late September, months before OEA members went on strike, school nurses and teachers showed up at an Oakland school board meeting to demand more nurses and to share statements from parents and pediatricians.

“You need to take this seriously,” Oakland Education Association treasurer Deirdre Snyder told the board. “You’re going to be sued by some parent! It’s a travesty. I have seen seizures in my room, all kinds of problems, more and more as the years go on. You cannot pretend this isn’t happening. You need to act now.”

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Educators Focus Attention on Merit Pay’s Glaring Failures

Pay for performance for teachers has been an unsound idea for decades. In Denver last week, educators put another nail in its coffin.

In the streets, on rally stages, and in marches outside more than 100 Denver schools, more than 3,700 educators delivered a potent message: Enough with Denver’s unreliable, unpredictable bonus-pay system. Teachers and students deserve a fair, transparent, and professional salary schedule that delivers stability to their classrooms.

“Bonuses have not proven effective, and our students are paying the price,” warned Denver Classroom Teachers Association (DCTA) President Henry Roman.

Not anymore. When the two-day strike ended, teachers had won a clear 20-step salary schedule that includes a 7 to 11 percent increase in base pay, plus cost of living raises, and the opportunity to earn more through professional development. Their strike had essentially gutted ProComp, a Denver-specific “professional compensation” system that had made teacher pay so unpredictable from year to year that teachers said they couldn’t qualify for mortgages.

Hailed as a ground-breaking national model for merit pay, ProComp was introduced in 2005, after negotiations between the district and Denver union, as a way of getting more money into educators’ hands. But, as the system developed, educators couldn’t predict their pay from year to year, and the size of the bonuses decreased.

Meanwhile, teacher turnover is through the roof as Denver’s educators leave for higher, more predictable pay elsewhere.

“What we got given is a system of Wall Street-style bonuses that mask the erosion of our salaries,” high school math teacher Jeff Buck—the first teacher to sign up for ProComp—told Chalkbeat. “People have finally figured that out. It’s why people are angry.”

DCTA’s furious rebuttal should serve as warning to other school boards or policy makers who want to resurrect, or double down on merit pay. “There is not one school district in the country that is going to look at Denver and think, ‘Oh, I think I’ll try that.’ No. They should have stopped this and changed this years ago, and they didn’t. And this is the result,” NEA President Lily Eskelsen García told Chalkbeat, while standing near the picket line last week.

NEA President Lily Eskelsen García addresses a rally for striking teachers in Denver.

Why Merit Pay for Teachers Should Be Avoided

Research—and common sense—has turned up a myriad of reasons why merit pay doesn’t work in education. Here are just a few:

  • Merit pay systems assume educators aren’t working as hard or smart as possible, and they need a little extra motivation to get the job done. This is hilarious. If teachers were motivated by pay, they wouldn’t be teachers. Writes retired teacher Peter Greene: “A merit pay system…imagines a world full of teachers who sit at their desk thinking, ‘I have the perfect lesson for teaching pronouns right over there in my filing cabinet—but I’m not going to get it out until someone offers me a bonus.”
  • When it comes to measuring success in schools, policy makers often look at student test scores. (These standardized tests are imperfect measures of student learning, and an even worse measure of teacher performance.) Among other issues, this focus on test scores has led to a narrowing of the curriculum—if it’s not tested, it’s not taught—and a handful of cheating scandals. Also, it overlooks all the things that teachers do for students that never show up on state standardized tests, like teaching art or music or physical education, not to mention mentoring their dreams or sustaining their creativity.
  • Teaching is a profession dependent on a network of teaching professionals, in which an individual student’s learning and academic achievement is gained over time through contact with many different teachers and other educators.
  • “Merit pay undermines collaboration and teamwork. It corrupts the culture of a school,” writes education historian Diane Ravitch in the Washington Post. Teachers work best when they work together—say, planning lessons as a grade or department or strategizing as a team over a particular student’s challenges. But merit pay creates a disincentive for teachers to share information and teaching techniques. This is especially true because, with the exception of the wealthiest districts, there is always a limited pool of money for merit pay. Thus, the number-one way teachers learn their craft—learning from their colleagues—is shut down. If you think we have turnover problems in teaching now, wait until new teachers have no one to turn to.

What Works When it Comes to Educator Pay?

It’s not a mystery what works when it comes to educator pay. Teachers must be paid a professional base salary, similar to other professionals. A well-constructed, single salary schedule that provides professional pay at its base, uniform and understandable steps, and as few steps as possible, has many benefits.

For one thing, it promotes equity. It ensures that pay will be based on objective criteria, like experience, rather than, say, gender. It promotes collaboration, instead of competition, among teaching colleagues. And, unlike Denver’s confusing labyrinth system, it’s transparent and predictable. You won’t have to guess in September what your pay will be in June.

For local unions that want to explore alternatives, NEA also supports the NEA Professional Growth Salary Framework (PGSF), which can provide a career ladder for teachers who seek new skills and responsibilities without leaving behind their students. Under this framework, educators can receive pay raises for taking on additional responsibilities, such as mentoring their colleagues, or improving their skills, say, through National Board Certification. To be effective, these career ladder systems must be adequately funded.

PGSF works. A single salary schedule works. And yet, despite the evidence, some policymakers still talk about merit pay and onetime bonuses as if they work, too. This fall, a Florida Education Association (FEA) review of teacher job vacancies found 4,063 job vacancies in the state. Even now, Florida still needs to hire 2,200 teachers. Earlier this month, Florida’s new governor proposed using bonuses to solve the shortage.

It’s not a promising idea. Nearly 40 percent of new teachers in Florida leave their jobs within five years, according to state records—a rate 15 to 20 percent higher than the national average. They need mentors, professional supports, and livable, professional pay.

With an average teacher salary of about $47,000 in 2017, Florida ranks 45th in the U.S. for teacher pay, according to NEA’s 2018 Rankings and Estimates. “A bonus package does nothing to impact teachers being paid 45th in the nation and we know that and the Governor knows that,” said Florida Education Association President Fredrick Ingram.

Teacher Pay Gap Reaches a Record High
teacher payThe overdue national attention on the erosion of teacher salaries across the nation couldn’t come at a more urgent time. According to a new paper by the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), the teacher pay penalty – the percent by which public school educators are paid less than comparable workers – has reached an all-time high.

Educators Push Teacher Pay Into National Spotlight

The widening pay inequities endured by educators for too long are finally front and center. So are the reckless tax cuts that helped create the crisis. “You’re seeing two factors—the debasement of the teaching profession and the erosion of wages and benefits to the point where educators are rightfully angry,” says economist. 

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At the Border, Teachers Protest Detention, Separation of Children

(photo: Rebeca Logan)

On a makeshift stage in El Paso, Texas, former Texas Teacher of the Year Leslie Anaya delivered a message to the roughly 15,000 immigrant children who are held captive in federal detention centers, where they are denied an education and separated from their mothers, fathers, and anybody else who loves them.

“Don’t cry,” she said. “Sing. Sing because you have so many people fighting for you, so many teachers who won’t stop fighting to make sure you’re treated humanely and that your families will be together.”

Hundreds of NEA members, including dozens of state Teachers of the Year, were in El Paso on Saturday, Feb. 17, for the “Teach-In for Freedom,” an all-day event organized by Teachers Against Child Detention (TACD) and led by National Teacher of the Year Mandy Manning to protest the inhumane detention of children and the criminalization of immigrant families.

“All children deserve to be in school,” Manning said. “All children have endless potential and deserve to reach that potential. All children deserve to be free.”

Educators and others have been outraged by the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy of separating immigrant and refugee children as young as 18 months old from their parents. Detained in more than 100 government detention centers across 17 states, these children have been denied access to public education, and likely will suffer irreparable, lifelong psychological damage, educators said. The practice also violates their fundamental right to seek asylum.

“The NEA family believes children belong with their families—not in cages,” said NEA Executive Committee member Robert Rodriguez, a California middle school special educator, to the crowd who gathered in El Paso’s San Jacinto Square. “We demand that the U.S. government never separate children from their families. Not at the border. Not ever!”

Since the Trump administration began its practice of separating children from their parents, NEA has made four specific humanitarian demands:

  • The U.S. government never separate children from their parents—not at border crossing, not in detention proceedings, not ever.
  • Immigrant children be provided with at least six hours of language-appropriate classroom instruction every day.
  • Child detention centers be open to visits from doctors, teachers, social workers, clergy, and other children’s advocates.
  • The U.S. government comply with the guidelines for basic standards of care for children, as set forth by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

“We have a moral responsibility to protect these children, especially these innocent immigrant children who are fleeing violence and war,” said Illinois teacher Gladys Marquez, chair of the NEA Hispanic Caucus. “Our actions matter. Our leadership matters. There must not be any doubt about where we stand.”

A Teach-In for Freedom

Across nine hours, as the sun made its way from one side to the other of the El Paso square, more than a dozen teachers from across the U.S. provided lessons on the history of immigration in the U.S., how asylum works, detention centers today, and more. They shared art, poetry, songs and letters written by their students, making sure their voices also were heard.

Although the data is hard to track, and the U.S. government has admitted to “losing track” of at least a thousand children, an estimated 15,000 children are being held today, found New Jersey Teacher of the Year Amy Andersen.

Ovidia Molina

The trauma of being forcibly separated from their mothers and fathers will be a lifelong burden, said Texas State Teachers Association vice president Ovidia Molina. She knows this because she was separated from her mother for four years when her mother first came to the U.S. to seek a better life. “It is still traumatic for me to have been separated from my mother, and I was with family that loved me and supported me. Imagine the trauma that the children today are going through!”

Carrying a photo of herself as a child, Molina told the crowd, “This is the face of an immigrant… This is not the face of a criminal. This is not the face of a person who needs to be in a cage.”

Kelly Holstein, Minnesota Teacher of the Year, also explained the proven psychological and educational consequences of traumatic experiences in childhood. “I have met hundreds of students who struggle because of trauma and it breaks my heart,” she said. “Please help us make this country better for our kids—all our kids, whether they’re documented or not—because all our kids are all our kids.”

The hundreds of educators and allies who attended the teach-in are committed to making a difference for all children, they said. Their fight didn’t end at sunset. “We’re not here for the free t-shirts or the selfies,” said Utah’s Chelsie Acosta, a 2017 NEA Social Justice Activist of the Year nominee. “Don’t just post and go home and be comfortable. Don’t ever get comfortable. Because the 200 to 300 families dropped off every day at one of these centers? They’re not going to be comfortable ever.”

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Denver Teachers Strike for Fair, Livable Pay

Teachers carry placards as they walk a picket line outside South High School early Monday, Feb. 11, 2019, in Denver. The strike on Monday is the first for teachers in Colorado in 25 years after failed negotiations with the school district over base pay. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

After 15 fruitless, frustrating months at the bargaining table, Denver teachers and education support professionals went on strike Monday, in an all-out effort for a fair, transparent, and professional salary plan that pays all teachers a living wage at the base level.

“For 15 months, we have shouted this injustice from the rooftops, but the district has chosen to ignore us… We have been saying for a year, ‘Our students deserve teachers who can afford to stay in Denver. Our teachers and SSPs [specialized service providers] deserve predictable, livable salaries,’” said Denver teacher Rachel Sandoval.

“You chose to ignore us for 15 months—but can you hear us now?”

By mid-afternoon Monday, after morning rallies and marches across the city, thousands of Denver Classroom Teachers Association (DCTA) members, parents, students, and other supporters had gathered on the west steps of the state Capitol where DCTA’s “#Red4Ed Rally Band” rallied the crowd and speakers included NEA President Lily Eskelsen García and Colorado Education Association (CEA) President Amie Baca-Oehlert.

“Let me tell you..the union is your power,” Eskelsen García told DCTA members. “The power of this union is to love somebody else’s child, to care about the future of Denver public schools. You should be so proud of yourselves! You are going to win!

This is the first teachers’ strike in Denver in 25 years, and it follows #RedforEd strikes and rallies last year in West Virginia, Arizona, Oklahoma, Washington, Alabama, and elsewhere, and a six-day strike last month by the United Teachers of Los Angeles that led to class-size reductions, limits on testing, and increased access to school nurses, counselors and librarians.

“I’ve been to West Virginia, Oklahoma, Arizona. A couple of weeks ago, I was in Los Angeles. You are a little bit unique here in Denver. Here you’re saying, ‘Can I just know what I’m going to be paid?’” said Eskelsen García. “But let me tell you what you have in common. You’re part of a powerful national movement, and what I’ve seen across the country, from the poorest rural communities in West Virginia to the inner-city of Los Angeles, I have seen people who have worked, in good faith, and been ignored… and they’re taking their voice to the people.”

In Denver, much of the problem stems from its commitment to a complicated, unique-to-Denver pay plan called Professional Compensation System for Teachers, or ProComp. Started in 1999, ProComp aims to use salary bonuses to reward teachers for performance. But the bonuses have proven to be unpredictable and confusing, and overall pay remains low—even as Denver becomes one of the most expensive places to live in the U.S.

As a result, too many Denver teachers are leaving their students and classrooms to go to higher-paid districts nearby, or leave the profession altogether. This kind of teacher turnover is harmful to their students, union leaders point out.

“Bonuses have not proven effective, and our students are paying the price,” said DCTA President Henry Roman. And yet, said Roman and DCTA lead negotiator Rob Gould, DPS has refused to accept the union’s proposals at the bargaining table, which would fix ProComp.

Consider DCTA member Katie McOwen, a sixth-grade math teacher who also nannies during the summer, who told CNN this week that she’s moving into a friend’s basement at the end of this month to save money. She drives a nearly 20-year-old Honda with 310,000 miles, and says, “I know if something really happens, I will be in big, big trouble.”

On Tuesday, the union’s bargaining team and a DPS team return to the negotiating table. “Bring us a proposal tomorrow that has a fair, transparent, and competitive salary schedule, that prioritizes base salary over bonuses that disrupt our students’ education!” said Baca-Oehlert. “Settle this contract now, so that we can go back to doing what we love, to our students who we love!”


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Black Lives Matter at School Spotlights Racial Justice in Education

(photo: Kristopher Radder-Brattleboro Reformer)

Jesse Hagopian is a teacher at Garfield High School in Seattle and a member of the Seattle Education Association (SEA)/Washington Education Association (WEA). As co-editor of Teaching for Black Lives, he helped organize Black Lives Matter at School (BLM at School), a national coalition of educators organizing for racial justice in education. Coalition leaders have encouraged educators, students, parents, union members, community leaders and others to join their annual “week of action,” this year set for February 4-8.

Hagopian explains the beginnings, objectives, and ever-widening scope of BLM at School.

Tell us how Black Lives Matter at School started as a grassroots movement.

JH: October 19, 2016, marked our formal beginning when thousands of educators arrived at John Muir Elementary School here in Seattle wearing shirts that read, “Black Lives Matter: We Stand Together.” Hundreds of families and students too. Many of the shirts also included the message “#SayHerName,” a campaign to raise awareness about the state of violence and assault against women in the U.S.

What role did educators play during the movement’s early stages?

JH:  Teachers, education support professionals (ESP), and community members came together in solidarity. It was educators at the school, along with a group called Black Men United to Change the Narrative, who expressed an interest in organizing an event to celebrate black students early that school year. An art teacher, Julie Trout, designed a beautiful shirt that said “Black Lives Matter, We Stand Together.” When white nationalists found out about these activities, they sent hate mail to the school. One hateful person made a bomb threat on the school.

How did you and SEA respond to the October 19 event?

JH:  Way before our day of action, several members of SEA’s social justice caucus, which we call social equity educators, met with educators at John Muir about the event. At SEA, we passed a resolution in support of this day of action, but we weren’t sure if people would really follow through and take action on October 19. Then the T-shirt orders started coming in, first by the hundreds and then the thousands. We ended up with somewhere around 3,000 educators in Seattle out of 5,000 who went to their schools wearing shirts that said “Black Lives Matter.” Many educators taught lessons about institutional racism that day. What’s incredible is that educators in Rochester, N.Y., and Philadelphia saw what we had done and organized their own BLM at School actions independent of us. Philly educators were the first to expand the day of action to a whole week of action.

That must have made you very proud.

JH:  Yes. We began coordinating with them in 2017 to have a national Black Lives Matter at School Week. Word got around. Last year, thousands of teachers in 20 cities across the country participated in the week of action.

How do leaders and activists in different states coordinate events related to BLM at Schools?

JH:  We communicate and organize around monthly national conference calls that anyone who supports the mission and goals of the movement can join. Through elections, we identified a steering committee that helps organize various activities and agendas for other various committees that have been formed. We have a curriculum committee, and a student creative challenge committee that helps kids create art that can inspire people to join this movement. We have a media committee, an outreach committee. It’s being organized predominantly by educators and some parents around the country who are doing this for free and with no budget.

How is NEA involved?

JH:  We got NEA to vote to support BLM at School week, for example. Many different union locals are also passing resolutions and debating these issues out city by city. There’s a tremendous amount of power in bringing together social issues and anti-racist movements with the power of labor. We’re beginning to see the red state teachers’ revolt move into blue states. I think the union’s ability to bring in issues of over-policing of black and brown kids into the message about fighting for funding and teacher pay will help them be successful in winning that strike and transforming public education.

black lives matter at school

Jesse Hagopian (courtesy of Jesse Hagopian)

What’s behind the new item this year that appears on some of your materials:  Fund Counselors Not Cops?

JH:  In 2018, various groups coalesced as a national movement. We identified three demands: End zero-tolerance discipline and replace it with restorative justice; hire more black teachers and offer black history and ethnic studies in the schools. In addition, we broke down the guiding principles of the BLM Global Network into teaching points for each day of the week. This year, we added a fourth demand, which is “fund counselors not cops.”

The demand is a response to the growing movement in this country introduced by a group called, Dignity in Schools. There are numerous examples over the last couple of years of brutality that some police bring into our schools. Recently, the ACLU won a settlement for third graders in Kentucky who were handcuffed by police officers … not around the wrists because their wrists were too small but instead around the biceps. These were special needs kids, Latino and black, who were having some trouble. Instead of getting help, they were further traumatized. We are now in a situation in America where there are 1.6 million children who go to a school that doesn’t have a counselor but that does have a police officer.

NEA: What are you hoping to accomplish regarding this year’s week of action?

JH:  We hope to engage tens of thousands of students across the country in lessons that illuminate the 13 principles of the BLM movement. In addition, we hope to help transform unions so they see how much more powerful our movements can be if we challenge anti-black racism head on, and bring in black struggle and incorporate it into the union struggle. With that in mind, one of the new features this year is that we’re calling on educators, students, parents and community members to hold rallies in their cities on Wednesday, or a day that makes sense for their local, at their school board building or city hall. We are asking for support of our four demands. We hope that this direct action and rally will pressure school districts to make the reforms that are so desperately needed.

National Demands for BLM in School Week of Action

End Zero Tolerance. Focus our Schools on Restorative Justice
The over-policing, out of control suspensions, and expulsions must be brought to an immediate end. To rebuild our structures, we will focus our resources on restorative justice-the organic appointment of community leaders; mediation and processing; and equitable perspectives on rehabilitation. Ending zero tolerance and focusing our schools around restorative justice will honor an autonomous voice and vision for students, staff and faculty.

Hire More Black Teachers in our Schools
Nine U.S. cities demonstrate a rapid decline in the number of Black Teachers: Boston, Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, Cleveland, New Orleans, Philadelphia, San Francisco and Washington DC. We must increase teacher retention and opportunities for teachers of color.

Black History/Ethnic Studies Mandated K-12
A classroom is incomplete if there is only one history taught to its students. The exclusion of Black History and Ethnic studies curriculum must end. Our students of color deserve to feel empowered in the classroom, by seeing themselves in the curriculum and reading materials. Black History and Ethnic Studies must be included in K-12 classrooms.

Fund Counselors Not Cops

This demand is simple: children need counselors not cops. Schools today spend an enormous amount of their financial resources hiring school resource officers and local police officers. These same schools often lack enough counselors for students to receive the support they need. The reality is our schools need counselors for children. The amount of racial trauma and adverse childhood experiences Black students experience continues to increase. We demand that schools provide counselors who have manageable caseloads that allow them to provide quality service to all students.

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‘Inspiring Children to Walk in Their Own Dreams’

It’s about 4 p.m. in Room 228 at Skyview High School in Billings, Montana, and resource teacher Deb Roesler is explaining her “action plan.” In the coming days, when she returns to her middle school across town, this white, middle-aged, rural Montanan will invite a student who doesn’t look like her to eat lunch together.

“I’ve been in the biggest groups all day. I’ve never been in a small group,” she says, referring to the “identity groups” that have formed and reformed in Room 228 around age, gender, race, religion, income, education, and more. “But I want to reach out, and I’d like to get to know better the students in the small groups,” she says.

Roesler is among the nearly 200 educators who spend time in Room 228 during the Montana Federation of Public Employees’ annual, two-day Educator Conference. The October event, which hosted more than 3,000 educators, offered more than 500 trainings and workshops—including six from NEA’s Center for Social Justice in the areas of social justice, cultural competency, diversity, and support for LGBTQ students.

These are free workshops, provided upon request, by NEA members—for NEA members. Since 2015, the union’s student-centered, research-based tools have been shared with more than 5,000 educators.

“NEA sends us out to do these trainings because the NEA mission and vision is a great public school for every student,” explains trainer Kevin Teeley, a retired teacher from the Seattle area, to the educators assembling in Room 228. “We want every single student to be achieving and successful in our diverse world.”

With Dreamers marking time, the school-to-prison pipeline thriving, and the divide between rich and poor growing, these may be dark days for educators who care about social justice. But the promise of public education, reminds NEA President Lily Eskelsen García, is “to prepare every blessed child to thrive—and succeed—to love living in a diverse and interdependent world.”

That’s why NEA has dedicated itself to erasing institutional racism, to protecting immigrant families, to standing up for LGBTQ students, and more. “The moral arc of the universe is long, and hearts and minds are bending towards justice. But if our institutions—our policies, our programs and practices—don’t change, then the oppressive conditions that people face will stay the same,” says García.

The educators in Room 228 understand this. Says Montana teacher Richard Montoya: “This is more than a job. We’re inspiring children to walk in their own dreams.”

‘We Should Do This!’

It’s 7 a.m. on the first day of the conference when Teeley and co-trainer Alicia Bata, a high school teacher who works along the North Dakota-Canada border, open the door of Room 228. Fifteen minutes later, the first participant enters. Dozens more follow. At 7:57 a.m., Teeley sends a message to conference organizers: More desks, please!

“Am I culturally competent? Perhaps. Do I know everything I need to do? Absolutely not! This is a skill that you need to practice every day,” Bata tells their classroom of 30 educators. “In three hours, we can’t make you culturally competent, but we can make a good beginning… The first step is to learn about yourself.”

Alicia Bata (center) with workshop participants.

Like many places in rural America, Montana lacks racial diversity in its teachers. Ninety six percent are white, according to federal statistics. By comparison, their student population is diverse: 78 percent white, 11 percent American Indian, and 5 percent Hispanic, with small fractions of other racial groups.

“My colleagues have good intentions, but they don’t always have the tools they need [around diversity],” says Billings Education Association officer Theresa Mountains.

It is critical for those teachers to develop “cultural competence,” as NEA calls it, to reach every student, no matter who they are or where they’re from. This depends on educators doing at least four things: valuing diversity, or letting go of the idea that their view of the world is the only one that is normal; being self-aware of their own culture and how it affects their perceptions; understanding how students also are cultural beings; and finally, using what they know to change their classrooms, schools, and districts.

Just by walking into Room 228, these Montana educators are proving they value diversity. Next up is cultural self-awareness. Who are they? At 9 a.m., kindergarten teacher Paige Bealer reads aloud a poem that she has dashed off: “My father’s side is German through and through…my mother is Jewish and Catholic Portuguese. I am of…cabbage rolls, borscht and sauerkraut we stomp ourselves.”

At 10 a.m., Room 228 is talking about culturally competent teaching and curriculum. Allan Audet is a metals manufacturing teacher whose students are working on a life-size, steel and copper, ceremonial Crow headdress, he tells his colleagues. “I just thought, ‘We should do this!’” says Audet, who worked with Billings’ American Indian instructional coach Jacie Jeffers. An hour later, everybody leaves with one idea that they’re willing to implement in their own classrooms.

Kevin Teeley

‘Do It!’

Cultural competency is just one workshop that NEA’s HCR-trained members provide to their colleagues. By lunchtime Bata and Teeley have moved onto social justice, and the educators in Room 228 are taking Post-its and jotting their real-life examples of marginalization, exploitation, cultural imperialism, and other forms of oppression.

There’s the female teacher who was asked by an administrator to attend an IEP meeting for a student—not her student—to be “eye candy” for the student’s father. There’s also the Eurocentric textbooks, the achievement gaps, and more.

“Identify actions at each level—individual, institutional, and societal—to combat these examples of oppression,” says Bata—and they do. For example, the next colleague who casually says, “you don’t look Native” will be challenged, say the educators of Room 28, who also pledge to make it part of their curriculum to celebrate the diversity within Native American groups.

And then it’s onward to “Understanding Diversity,” a two-hour workshop with retired Portland teacher Debra Robinson and California first-grade teacher Laura Ancira. “This is about honoring and understanding our students,” Robinson tells Room 228. It’s followed by two more hours on “Valuing Diversity,” and then an additional four hours with retired Wisconsin teacher Bonnie Augusta and retired Georgia teacher Toni Smith on creating safe spaces for LGBTQ students.

Every time the door opens, educators leave with a written action plan.

“Post it on your fridge, do not forget this. Do it,” urges Bata.

Photos: Mary Ellen Flannery

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Why Social Justice in School Matters

Social justice is about distributing resources fairly and treating all students equitably so that they feel safe and secure—physically and psychologically. Sadly, a look at schools across the nation makes it clear that fair distribution of resources and equitable treatment don’t always happen. Students in poorly-funded schools don’t have the technology, new books, or art and music programs that create a well-rounded education, while students in affluent areas have the latest academic resources, school counselors, librarians, and more to help them succeed. Bringing social justice into schools shines a spotlight on all sorts of important societal issues—from the myriad reasons that lie beneath the deep disparity between the suspension rates of black and white students to how current U.S. immigration policy separates families and violates student rights. Meet five educators who determined to make a difference in the lives of their students and within their profession by ensuring social justice is a topic that is addressed in their schools.

Audrey Murph-Brown
Springfield, Massachusetts

Audrey Murph-Brown is a member of the Springfield Education Association (SEA) in Massachusetts. She has been a school social worker for 26 years. She describes events that happened during the 2017 – 2018 school year as “a perfect storm at the perfect time.”  The storm swirled with nepotism, favoritism, and institutional biases that prevented highly qualified educators of color from becoming lead teachers or being offered lateral promotions. “Rarely were those opportunities given to educators of color,” says Murph-Brown. The Massachusetts Teachers Association offered training that led to the establishment of ALANA (African American, Latino, Asian, and Native American) Educators and Allies, an arm of SEA. The group focused on building a diverse and culturally proficient environment for educators of color, and when the opportunity arose to speak to school board members during a public meeting, they did.

“They’ve never had a collective raised voice before and we were bold,” recalls Murph-Brown, referring to the school committee. Educators and their allies filled a school board meeting with signs that read, “Fair Hiring for Everyone” and “No More Nepotism.” After powerful testimony from Murph-Brown and other educators, the door to communication was cracked open, and efforts have been made to level the playing field. For example, principals must add an applicant’s ethnicity to the hiring application as a way to keep track of who’s applying for teaching positions. The school committee’s human resource department is looking into better practices within its hiring process, too. It’s been slow going, “but it’s more than what’s ever happened before,” says Murph-Brown.

Jesse Hagopian
Seattle, Washington

Jesse Hagopian teaches ethnic studies and is the adviser to the Black Student Union at Garfield High School in Seattle. Hagopian established the Black Education Matters Student Activist Award after he sued the City of Seattle for being pepper sprayed in the face by a police officer on Martin Luther King Jr. Day in 2015. Recipients of the award demonstrate exceptional leadership in struggles against racism—especially with an understanding of the intersections between sexism, homophobia, transphobia, Islamophobia, class exploitation, and other forms of oppression—within their school or community. Since 2015, nine Seattle Public Schools students and one youth organization have been honored with the award.

“The bold and courageous work of standing up to racism is hard, and this award gives recognition for those with the courage to do it,” says Hagopian. “I wanted to create a space and an awareness that if you step forward for social justice, you will be lifted up in the community and by mentors who will support your work.”

Activism is at the heart of this award, Hagopian says, and “the examples are breathtaking.”

He points to seven black Seattle high school students who formed “New Generation,” a school activist group that led a walkout at Garfield High School to raise awareness about Charleena Lyles, a pregnant 30-year-old black woman who was fatally shot by two white Seattle police officers at home as her three young children looked on. One student organized a city-wide movement to get free bus passes for students from low-income families.

Another student started an Islamophobia global awareness day. One group got the Seattle School Board to endorse “Black Lives Matters at School,” which included a week of action. The movement has spread to other cities and districts. Another group of students fought for the addition of an Ethnic Studies program that is transforming Seattle’s schools.

“None of this would have been possible without student activism,” says Hagopian. “I wanted to find a way to recognize this critical work of young people who see that they are the changemakers—the ones who will have to bring about the changes they want to see.”

Angie Powers
Olathe, Kansas

Angie Powers, a high school English teacher in Olathe, Kan., says she defines success according to her ability to make school a place where students feel welcome and receive the tools that will help them navigate the complexities of the world with compassion and empathy. That’s why Powers sponsors the Olathe Northwest High School Gender Sexuality Alliance and mentors students in the areas of civic engagement, social justice, and advocacy. The latter draws on her training from the NEA, GLSEN, and the Human Rights Campaign. As co-chair of the Kansas NEA Social Justice Taskforce, and the Olathe NEA Social Justice Cadre, Powers leads her state affiliate’s social justice efforts. She has spoken to pre-service teachers in every college in Kansas about the challenges LGBTQ+ students face and how new educators can create welcoming schools for their future students. Powers also serves on THRIVE, an organization in the Kansas City area that creates LGBTQ+-specific policy recommendations for local districts.

Powers is committed to ensuring that every student has equitable access to a quality public school, and says, “Education and equity are inseparable. One cannot exist without the other. When inequity plagues the educational system, [the system] fails to serve the needs of each child. It is our most important work to battle inequity in each classroom across the nation, [and within] our educational institutions as a whole. Our children are worth this fight.”

Elizabeth Villanueva
Sacramento, California

With that goal in mind, Villanueva began an after-school class for Latina students when she was in her second year as a teacher. The goal of the effort was gang prevention, and most of the students enrolled in the class had some affiliation with gangs. But by the time the second cohort had enrolled, the group changed its name to New Age Latinas—NAL, for short—and focused on leadership skills, college readiness, community service, personal growth, and networking with other Latina college students and professionals.

With today’s uncertainty over immigration policy, NAL participants and many students in Villanueva’s classes share their fears and anxieties about the increase in ICE raids and deportations in their communities. To create a safe haven for her students, Villanueva reached out to the community, colleagues, and other students and started a group called the Luther Burbank High School DREAMers. The group meets weekly and features guest speakers, such as immigration lawyers, who provide “Know Your Rights” workshops, and college counselors, who share information on how to enroll in college and access financial resources.

“Providing good quality, transformative education to the underserved and underrepresented is an essential component of social justice. Every student is part of our collective society, and part of that which makes us all who we are,” says Villanueva. “Each one deserves the dignity, respect, and opportunity that is provided for every other member of our collective society. Education has the power to transform our collective consciousness and improve the well-being of us all.”

Erica Viray Santos
San Leandro, California

About a decade ago, educator and activist Erica Viray Santos drew upon her personal experiences—growing up in a poor working class, immigrant household, where her mother worked multiple jobs and her father turned to substance abuse and was in and out of the criminal justice system—to help develop San Leandro High School’s Social Justice Academy, a cohort that gives students the opportunity to explore their identities and cultural strengths and use them to transform their communities for a more socially just world.

As a teacher and program director for the academy, Viray Santos serves more than a hundred sophomores, juniors, and seniors with a team of teachers. Student projects and actions range from supporting undocumented students to challenging the rape culture. All of the projects, events, pieces of writing, and the curriculum reflect topics that interest and impact the students.

“I think it is essential that we not only give our students content knowledge and hard skills, but we also instill compassion and a sense of accountability to their local and global communities. As educators, we have the responsibility to help young people realize their value and power. It is our responsibility to teach them how to look at the world critically, challenge systems of oppression and discrimination, understand how they can be agents of transformation, and inspire them to take action.”

Last year, students addressed the gun violence in school. Viray Santos explains that they developed a new comprehensive discipline plan based on restorative and transformative justice. The goal was to improve relationships between marginalized students and the wider school community. The plan runs counter to the trend of discipline that punishes and pushes young people out of school. Ultimately, students presented their plan to the San Leandro School Board. “These types of lessons and experiences grant students the ability to navigate a landscape that places underserved youth at a disadvantage within the education system,” Viray Santos says.

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NEA and Social Justice: 60 Years and Counting

In 1857 100 teachers united as one voice on behalf of public education. NEA has worked since then to improve the conditions in which educators work and students learn.

When the organization was founded, reading and writing was a privilege for most children, and it was a crime for enslaved Africans to learn to read.

Today, public education and the teaching profession work to ensure that every American child receives a free education, despite race or gender, citizenship, religion or spoken language, social class or disability. Here’s a look at NEA’s important work through the decades:

1954: At the 1954 Representative Assembly in New York City, the Association adopted a resolution that urged all citizens to approach integration in public schools with the spirit of fair play and good will.

1965: NEA lobbies to pass the Civil Rights Act.

1966: Merger between NEA and the historically Black American Teachers Association takes place.

1968: NEA leads the effort to establish the Bilingual Education Act

1972: In the first case ever litigated on behalf of a gay K-12 teacher, NEA funds a federal lawsuit against Maryland’s Montgomery County Board of Education.

Education for All Handicapped Children Act passes in 1975.

1974: U.S. Supreme Court case backed by NEA makes it unlawful to fire pregnant teachers or force maternity leave. At the NEA Representative Assembly, delegates support Title IX by adopting a resolution that affirms the Association’s commitment to providing male and female students with an equal opportunity to participate in athletic programs at all educational levels.

1975: NEA works for passage of the Education for All Handicapped Children Act—now known as the Individual with Disabilities Education Act—which opens the door for many students with physical disabilities to attend public schools.

1984: NEA wins passage of a federal retirement equity law, which ends the ability of retirement funds to discriminate against women.

1987: NEA releases “And Justice for All,” a series of reports—and first of its kind— on the education of black, Hispanic, American Indian/Alaska Native, and Asian and Pacific Islander students. The report reveals serious barriers preventing students of color from obtaining an adequate/excellent education and underscores the need to create equality of educational opportunities for all students.

Shannon Faulkner

1993: NEA provides first local leader training to local presidents incorporating issues and concerns of gay, lesbian, and bisexual employees.

1994: Shannon Faulkner endures insults, intimidation, and death threats for trying to attend The Citadel—a state-supported military college that for more than 150 years barred admission to women. NEA signs onto friend-of the-court briefs supporting the challenges to single-sex institutions.

2005: As key provisions of the Voting Rights Act are set to expire, NEA lobbies for reauthorization.

2013: NEA is a vocal, unequivocal advocate of commonsense immigration reform, pushing Congress to stand by Dreamers; preserve the unity of family, and create
a realistic path to citizenship for the 11 million aspiring citizens who already call America home.

2016: NEA Representative Assembly delegates adopt a resolution to prevent acts of discrimination and violence targeted at people who identify as LGBTQ. The Association
files several amicus briefs challenging discriminatory laws, including North Carolina’s H.B. 2., which bans transgender people from using the bathroom of the gender with which they identify.

(AP Photo/Andres Kudacki)

2018: NEA files an amicus brief on President Donald Trump’s Executive Order banning
travelers and refugees from certain Muslim-majority countries, stating that the ban violates the Constitution’s Establishment Clause by disfavoring a religious group and gives oxygen to the fires of bias, bullying, and discord. NEA launches #BlackLivesMatteratSchool, a site that provides educators with resources for discussions about race, highlights stories of educators and students who have stood together for racial justice, and links to art and videos to support and inspire activism. NEA supports thousands of educators in #RedForEd, a national movement that lifts the veil on inequity in public education.

Visit NEA EdJustice to learn more.

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The Best and Worst of 2018 in Public Education

2018 was by most measures a pretty great year for public education. It seemed that finally – finally – the conversation about the future of public education was headed in the right direction. The country was actually listening to educators. There were many other successes for public schools in 2018, but also enough disappointments and outrages to splash a little cold water on any year end celebration.

Here are some of the highlights and lowlights for 2018. (It’s hardly an exhaustive list so use the comments field to add your own suggestions.)

Cheers – #RedforEd

The sweeping mobilization of educators demanding reinvestment in our schools and respect for their profession was the education story of 2018. In February, 6,000 teachers and education support professionals in West Virginia, fed up with empty promises by lawmakers and the exodus of their colleagues to neighboring states, launched a statewide strike and, in the process, a national #RedforEd movement to protect the future of public education.

In early April, educators in Kentucky, Oklahoma and Colorado took to the streets. Weeks later, Arizona educators voted to walk out in the largest state-wide action yet. Every one of these campaigns resulted in victories for increased funding for students and higher pay for educators. Momentum is only growing as more actions in a new crop of states are planned in early 2019.

Polls in 2018 also showed that the American public overwhelmingly support more money for schools, professional salaries for teachers and the use of strikes to bring about these changes.  After a decade of “blaming teachers first” – a message cultivated by privatization proponents and the national media  – the country, thanks to #RedforEd, got a look at the true safeguards of our public schools and liked what they saw.

Jeers – DeVos Dismantles Civil Rights Protections

In addition to pushing a national expansion of private school vouchers, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has been spending most of her time rolling back civil rights protections for our most vulnerable students. She wasted no time after her contentious confirmation in February 2017 when she rescinded the Obama-era guidance that schools should allow students to use restrooms consistent with their gender identity in accordance with Title IX.

In November 2018, DeVos undermined Title IX further when she weakened protections for sexual assault and harassment survivors in K-12 schools as well as colleges and universities.

In December, the Trump administration released the report from the Federal Commission on School Safety to address gun violence in schools. The report recommends stripping protections that seek to prevent racial disparities in student discipline. These guidelines were put into place to address the wide racial gap in school suspensions and expulsions.

The move by the Department of Education could reverse the progress schools are seeing as they introduce alternative, less punitive discipline policies, says Linda Darling-Hammond of Stanford University.

In a recent column co-authored with Christopher Edley, Darling-Hammond writes: “Given the extensive research base behind the guidance, and its capacity to help prevent exclusionary and discriminatory discipline practices, rescinding it will exacerbate the inequities in our education system, while rolling back progress on school safety and student attainment.”

Cheers – Election 2018

One of the offshoots of the #RedforEd movement was the unprecedented number of educators who decided in 2018 to step up and run for public office. Their efforts helped generate the enthusiasm that delivered major wins for students and public schools on election day. Nearly 15 percent of all state legislative seats in the United States will be held by elected educators, according to an NEA analysis. Come January, the majority of Americans will be led by governors with a proven track record of championing public education.

The lesson on November for lawmakers was simple, said NEA President Lily Eskelsen García. “You can either work with educators to address the needs of students and public education, or they will work to elect someone who will.”

Nearly 220,000 NEA members and education families were involved in getting out the vote in 2018 –  a 165 percent increase in activism engagement compared with 2016, a presidential year where activism is historically higher than midterms.

Jeers – Corporate Tax Breaks Breaking U.S. Schools

During the 2018 election cycle, no candidate from either party wanted to be seen as a champion of cutting education funding. Quite the opposite. Boosting spending on schools is a politically popular position, and the election of candidates who made this a central part of their platform  means the public wants them to deliver on this promise.

A good place to start strenghtening school revenue sources, said Eskelsen García at a recent post-election panel at the National Press Club, would be economic development tax incentives granted to corporations.  “It’s always called an ‘economic development program ‘ but study after study shows that the promised job creation and new revenues never materialize.”

And then there’s the jaw-dropping cost to public schools. According to a report by Good Jobs First, in 2017 schools lost $1.8 billion across 28 states through corporate tax incentives.

Although proponents of these tax giveaways argue these deals boost development and investment and grow local economies, they ignore the economic impact of starving the education system.

“It is no exaggeration to say that when tax abatements cause school districts to have fiscal stress and reduce school quality, they are undermining the local ‘business climate,’” the report states.

What could this money have been used for? If it were reinvested in hiring new teachers and reducing class size, the ten most affected states alone could add more than 28,000 teachers.

Cheers – Student Activists Show the Way

Student activist David Hogg speaks at the NEA Representative Assembly. (Photo: Calvin Knight)

The headlines were becoming numbingly familiar: “Another School Shooting Traumatizes Students, Community,”  followed days or maybe weeks later with “No Action on Gun Violence Expected.”  Thanks to the extraordinary efforts of student activists, however, politicians were not going to get off easily in 2018. Following the shooting in February in Parkland, Florida, student activists stood up and  revitalized the stalled movement to demand action to end gun violence.

Student are also making their voices heard in the #MeToo movement and the campaign to end zero tolerance and bring restorative practices to schools.

“We have been speaking up, mobilizing, and standing strong because our friends and family mean the world to us,” student activist David Hogg told NEA delegates . “We are young and that means we don’t have to accept the status quo. And we never will. We intend to close the gap between the world as it is and what it should be.”

Jeers – Arming Educators

The recent report by the Federal Commission on School Safety backed off from mandating schools arm and train teachers,although the proposal is still offered in the report as a possible solution to gun violence in schools. So while it was downplayed somewhat, this preposterous idea lives on.  President Trump and Betsy DeVos immediately floated the measure following the Parkland shooting in February 2018. Unfortunately, too many lawmakers, eager to divert the public’s attention away from real solutions to gun violence, were all too eager to run with it.

The response from educators, parents and many law enforcement officials was swift: arming teachers was a ludicrous and dangerous idea. According to an NEA poll, 74 % of educators opposed the measure. Eighty percent said they would not carry a gun in school. Even among NEA members who own guns, 63% said they would not agree to be armed in school.  Two-thirds said they would feel less safe if school personnel were armed.

Cheers – Unions Flex Their Muscle

In June, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Janus v. AFSCME Council 31, that requiring fair-share fees in the public sector violated the First Amendment of the Constitution. With the decision, the court weakened the right of educators and other working people to come together in unions and to bargain collectively, effectively siding with corporate interests intent on rigging the economic system further in their favor.

While the Janus decision has undoubtedly created a more challenging climate for unions, it has also served as a rallying point, said Eskelsen García. “We’re not going anywhere,” she said. “Unions will continue to be the best vehicle on the path to the middle class.”

Support for labor unions has risen to its highest level in years and millions of American workers have recommitted to their unions and launched new organizing drives across the country. Through their union, educators in West Virginia, Oklahoma, Kentucky, Colorado, Arizona and North Carolina spoke up and advocated for their students.

(AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

Opponents were hoping to see a downsizing of union organizing around the 2018 elections, which clearly didn’t materialize. Educator activism was at an all-time high as the NEA and its affiliates mobilized their members across the country – even helping many of them to run for office.

“Educators are still organized, still aware of their rights, and still ready to defend those rights when they deem it necessary,” Sarah Jones recently wrote in New York magazine. “Janus did not eliminate the incentives for union membership. Organizing still works, and as long as that holds true, people will continue to join unions.”

Jeers – State Policy Network

This mobilization by educators and their unions comes at a time when the same corporate interests that bankrolled the Janus case have turned their attention to conducting well-funded, deceptive campaigns that are urging union members to stop paying dues.

Their goal is no less than to “defund and defang” public service labor unions.

Credit: SourceWatch

The entity behind these campaigns is the innocuously-named State Policy Network, a coalition of 66 separate “think tanks” funded by the Kochs, Mercers, Waltons, and other billionaires who will not rest until the “public” is permanently taken out of public education. In addition to knee-capping unions and pushing school vouchers, the SNP is funneling millions of dollars into campaigns to undermine public pensions and Medicaid.

Cheers – School Privatization Takes a Hit

On election day, Arizona voters rejected Proposition 305, which would have expanded the state’s school voucher program to all of the state’s 1.1 million public school students. The vote wasn’t even close.

In California, former charter school executive Marshall Tuck was defeated by Tony Thurmond in the race for State Superintendent of Public Instruction of California. Thurmond opposes diverting public money to charter schools (“I intend to be a champion of public schools,” he said in his victory statement). The charter school industry spent more than $30 million boosting Tuck’s losing campaign, a stunning defeat in a state where charters had enjoyed almost unfettered growth.

Across the midwest, gubernatorial candidates cruised to victory running on platforms opposing any type of school voucher program and calling for more accountability and oversight over charter schools.

To be sure, school privatization remains a major force. It’s march across the United States over the past decade is going to be difficult to reverse. Still, there’s little doubt that momentum has stalled, perhaps significantly.  Despite school vouchers making inroads in many states, the majority of the U.S. public oppose the idea of siphoning off money from public schools to pay for private school tuition.  The proliferation of charter schools, on the other hand, has slowed down as scrutiny over mismanagement and mixed academic results has intensified. (The colossal failures of cyber charter schools have been a major embarrassment.)

Looking ahead to 2019, Jon Valant of the Brown Center on Education Policy at the Brookings Institution told the Associated Press, “There’s not a ton of optimism for charters and choice I think there’s a cultural and political shift on what charters are that actually presents a more fundamental problem.”

Jeers – Dreamers Still in Limbo

One year ago, in December 2017, the U.S. Congress adjourned for the holidays without taking action to find a permanent legislative solution for our nation’s Dreamers —young people brought to the U.S. as children, who received the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA.

The 800,000 Dreamers were hoping for an agreement that would provide them with permanent legal status.

One year later, Congress still hasn’t taken action.

In September 2017, President Donald Trump, in a callous move, rescinded the program, and then told lawmakers to come up with a solution. The move only sparked fear and uncertainty among  the 600,000 who are high school or college students, and the nearly 9,000 who are educators.

Despite overwhelming public support for the Dream Act, efforts to find permanent solution have been held hostage by political posturing over immigration policy and border security.

The grueling setbacks have not dashed the hopes of these hundreds of thousands of aspiring Americans.

“They don’t realize all the work we’ve done, the allies we’ve made, and the foundation we’ve built,” says Karen Reyes, a teacher in Austin, Texas. We’re not back to the beginning. We’re just on a detour.” (For more information and resources on supporting Dreamers, visit NEA EdJustice.)

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Community Support Helps Schools Recover from Disaster

Jones Middle School students march in their town’s Christmas Parade with donated instruments.

From east coast to west coast, the U.S. has endured several devastating natural disasters in 2018. It’s been a hard year for many people, and if the seemingly endless negative news cycle has you feeling grinchy this holiday season, read on. Though they suffered enormous loss, disaster-hit communities are still feeling hopeful.

When Hurricane Florence swamped Jones Middle School in eastern North Carolina, it wiped out everything, including all of the band equipment and music library, which had taken years to collect and curate. But even though the massive storm destroyed their instruments, it didn’t stop the music.

The middle schoolers found a new home in the neighboring high school, and band teacher Alexander Williams was determined to keep his music program alive.

The students drummed on buckets, clapped rhythms with their hands, and struck notes on the few xylophones that could be salvaged.

“We made it work and the kids hung in there and kept good attitudes,” Williams said, though he admits he was stressed about how to keep them engaged without the musical instruments he’d relied on for his 30-year teaching career.

Then, a holiday miracle. All of the band equipment was replaced, each and every instrument, along with the music the students had been rehearsing.

After hearing about the school’s loss, the North Carolina Foundation for Public School Children sent a call out to the community, and the community answered. People dusted off their trumpets and trombones and donated them. Others pooled their money together to buy new clarinets and cymbals, flutes and French horns, whatever was needed.

And just when they thought they’d have to skip it this year, the Jones Middle School band marched in the Christmas parade, proudly wearing school band t-shirts and jeans because they haven’t replaced the band’s uniforms yet.

“When the instruments came in the kids were so excited they wanted to start playing right away, but we hadn’t even put them together yet,” Williams says.

‘People Actually Do Care’

He was thrilled to have new instruments for the students and that they were able to play in the annual Christmas parade, but the best part, Williams says, was the generosity of the community.

“People actually do care. We hear so much bad news, we don’t hear about the good stuff often enough,” he says. “We are very grateful that so many people who don’t even know us still wanted to help us be successful. I’m hoping our students will remember this and pay it, and play it, forward.”

Williams said that though their community will be rebuilding for many years to come, “at least they had something to come back to.”

“In Northern California, there are no schools, no homes, no structures at all to come back to,” he says. “We’ve suffered a loss, but there are others who need our help.”

Hope in Paradise

In Paradise, California, all but one of its nine schools burned to ashes after the massive Camp Fire raged for more than two weeks across northern California. Like in North Carolina, the community stepped up to help. On Giving Tuesday when a California business man and restaurant owner hand delivered $1000.00 checks to each and every student and staff member in the Paradise district — most of them homeless, with the clothes on their backs.

“I felt terrible for them,” Bob Wilson said in an interview with The Washington Post. “I couldn’t stop thinking, ‘How can I help?’”

What the students need most is a sense of normalcy after the trauma of the fire that incinerated their town. Recognizing that need, educators are finding ways to provide it. They’re holding classes at their kitchen tables, in hotels where many students are now living, in libraries in neighboring towns, even in shopping malls.

Virginia Partain has taught English at Paradise High School for more than 20 years. Now she’s holding classes in a former LensCrafters at the mall in nearby Chico.

“We just want to bring a sense of healing back to our community,” Partain, who fled the campfire taking nothing but her cats and her students’ college essays because, as she told CBS News, “there’s some part of us where we’re always the teacher and they had to get their essays done to get into college.”

Third-grade teacher Robin is sharing one room at a school in Oroville with four other teachers but they’re remaining optimistic.

“We’re going to color, have PE, talk to each other…” she said. “It’s not about the academics for us. It’s about loving each other and building the kids up…The kids need to see we all made it. We are safe. We’re just going to move on.”

To find out how you can help visit the California Teachers Association Disaster Relief Fund for information.

NEA-Alaska Launches Online Fundraiser for Schools Hit By Earthquake

A few weeks after the Camp Fire disaster, Alaska was rocked by an earthquake, and once again the community stepped up to help.

NEA-Alaska in coordination with the Anchorage Education Association (AEA), the Mat-Su Education Association (MSEA), and Mat-Su Classified Employees Association (CEA) launched an online fundraiser to help defer some of the costs associated with replacing classroom materials that were damaged or destroyed in the November 30th earthquake. Fundraising information is available

“I want to thank every single teacher, classroom aide, and public school employee, for helping to keep our students safe during this traumatic event,” said Tim Parker, NEA-Alaska President. “The outpouring of support from parents, community groups, and educators is remarkable.”

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Educators Reinvigorate Organizing and Activism With Art Build

Photo: Joe Brusky

On a typically warm and sunny Saturday last week in Venice, California, Kristie Mitchell sat outside at a table surrounded by Sharpies and a pile of posters. Each one featured the same basic illustration – an outline of an African-American woman and three school-age children with the words “I Stand For” across the top. It was up to Mitchell and the other public school parents and children around the table to decorate the poster with whatever color or flourishes they preferred, but also to include what they believe their school needs the most.

Mitchell had already created two posters – one declared “I Stand For School Nurses Five Days a Week,” the second, “I Stand for Smaller Classes” – and was busy working on a third.

“We need to give teachers a stronger voice,” Mitchell said. “They don’t have the resources to teach our kids. Everybody in the community should help give them more power. When we get together like we are today, that’s what we are doing.”

Mitchell was just one of the many parents who joined hundreds of educators, students, artists, activists and who converged on a three-day community Art Build hosted by United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA) to create protest art supporting public education. The event was held at the Social and Public Art Resource Center (SPARC), a popular community arts center housed in an old art deco building that until the mid-1970s was the Venice Police Station.

A few feet in front of Mitchell at a longer table, a row of educators, parents and students were dipping into tins of black and orange paint to decorate a large banner adorned with the proclamation “Fight For the Schools LA Students Deserve.”

A little further away, a few students had begun applying the first layers of color to four 24-foot parachute banners that cloaked the  outdoor parking lot. At the studio inside, artists were churning out silk screen picket signs with messages denouncing school privatization and corporate greed and championing smaller class sizes and solidarity with educators.

Parents, teachers and students at UTLA’s community Art Build for public education.

“Anyone here is reminded of how much kids love art,” said teacher Julie Van Winkle, “and why we need it in our schools.”

By the time the event wrapped up on Sunday night, participants had produced 8 parachute banners, 1,600 picket signs, 1000 posters, and 30 banners. Every last piece will be carried at a the March for Public Education in downtown Los Angeles on December 15, and a possible UTLA strike in January.

Events like Art Build, said UTLA President Alex Caputo-Pearl, are a demonstration of the power of art in social movements and how passionate the people are about public schools  “and the fight we are in.”

“We should take confidence from this. The community is with us.”

Art in Action

Art Build is a “transformative experience” for educators and their allies, says Nate Gunderson, an organizer with the National Education Association. Gunderson, who organized the UTLA event, witnessed the first Art Build in Milwaukee in 2017, and helped coordinate subsequent events in Minneapolis and St. Paul.

Gunderson believes Art Builds, regardless of the location, inspire educators and communities and open up new paths for advocacy and union organizing.

“It’s the creativity, the collaboration, the inherent power of art, and the democratization of images and messages,” says Gunderson.

Joe Brusky, a fourth grade teacher in Milwaukee and member of the Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association, was instrumental in organizing that city’s Art Build and was onhand in Los Angeles documenting UTLA’s event on social media. He recalls how Art Build became “entry point” into the union for many educators.

“The event energized them,” Brusky says. “Afterwards, people were getting involved for the first time. I remember seeing them at Art Build and then suddenly they were at school board meetings.”

UTLA Art Build 2018


Where there is grassroots support for public eduction, there is potential for an Art Build. The Oakland Education Association (OEA) will be hosting its own event on January 18-20. OEA President Keith Brown visited UTLA’s Art Build to lend his support and preview some of the logistics.

The Social and Public Art Resource Center was an ideal partner. SPARC not only provides studios for silk screen and digital printing and the necessary outdoor space to unfurl 24-foot parachute banners, but offers invaluable guidance to organizations looking to create public art for social change.

Last November, Gunderson put out a call for educators, artists and activists to submit images and slogans promoting public education. The Art Build Committee reviewed the submissions and selected those that would go on to form the basis of the posters, banners, picket signs and parachute banners that were delivered to SPARC in December.

Gloria Martinez, UTLA Elementary Vice President, was struck not only by the creativity of students and parents in bringing these objects to life, but by the conversations they were having.

“You ask students what they wanted for their schools, and they came up with these long lists,” Martinez recalled. “Smaller class sizes, more art, or just more money for schools in general. And their parents are listening to them. It’s great to hear them and their children talk about our issues and then use those discussions creatively.”

A LAUSD student gets a silkscreening lesson at Art Build. (Photo: Joe Brusky)

For elementary school teacher Maria Miranda, it was important that everyone understood that the chronic underfunding of schools wasn’t isolated in one particular area.

“Projects like this, when we come together with the community, show that our challenges are the same. In my school, we don’t have nurses every day or librarians. But it’s not just in my neighborhood. This is a problem for schools across the city,” Miranda explained.

There’s something else about Art Build, said Cecily Myart-Cruz, UTLA/NEA Vice-President, that shouldn’t go unnoticed.

“Yes, it takes our activism and our visibility to the next level. But you know what? This is a also stress-reliever for our members. They need this. It’s fun and will build resiliency. It’s been a difficult time and we may have a lot more work to do in January.”

“We All Want the Same Thing”

Myart-Cruz is referring to a possible strike early in 2019. In August, UTLA’s 33,000 members voted overwhelmingly (98%!) to authorize such an action if an agreement between teachers and Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) cannot be reached.

After two years of negotiations, educators are refusing to retreat from their demand that LAUSD end an era of austerity and privatization that has starved public education across the city.

The situation was exacerbated in May when the Los Angeles school board selected  Austin Beutner as district superintendent. Beutner is the quintessential corporate “reformer”: a billionaire investment banker with zero experience in school or district leadership and a tireless appetite for school privatization. He has dismissed calls to slow down the expansion of charter schools (which currently cost the district more than $600 million annually) and refuses to tap into the district’s $1.6 billion reserves to properly fund the city’s schools.

“We are in a battle between Austin Beutner’s vision to downsize the public school district and our vision to reinvest in the public school district,” UTLA President Alex Caputo-Pearl wrote to the membership in November.

Unless UTLA stays strong, he warned, Beutner will be back for “another pound pound of flesh every year in a downsizing plan that includes layoffs, school closures, cuts to services, and healthcare cuts.”

From the start, the successful forging of partnerships – a tenet of “bargaining for the common good – has strengthened UTLA’s resolve and its position. The bond between parents, their children and educators at Art Build is striking, said Julie Van Winkle.

“We’re all on the same side. We want the same thing. We don’t want our schools to be starved out skeletons, we want them to be vibrant hubs of learning for our kids,” Van Winkle said as she motioned to a group of students hard at work on a banner that read “Give Our Kids a Chance.”

By Sunday night, that banner would be complete, ready to be added to the abundant stockpile of strike ready art. Next stop: downtown Los Angeles for the March for Public Education.

If a massive rally of educators, students, parents and community members doesn’t push the district into an agreement with UTLA, then there will be a strike, but “it will then be a strike of the city, not just of a strike of teachers,” said Caputo-Pearl,

“And if we’re on the picket lines in January, then this art will again be right there with us.”

Posters and Banners from UTLA Art Build

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Neutrality in the Classroom Shortchanges Students

When teaching about U.S. elections or politics many educators will strive for neutrality. They may insist these discussions have no place in the classroom, while others argue that standardization and a lack of time make them a non-starter. Even if there was an opening, the slightest hint of bias could attract the ire of an administrator or parent. In this hyper-polarized political climate, that’s a line that’s easy to stumble across.

All this neutrality or avoidance may work for the teacher – but what about the student?

Alyssa Hadley Dunn, Assistant Professor of Teacher Education at Michigan State University, believes that a strict adherence to “neutrality” – not expressing your views to students and/or avoiding political topics – is a tactic that can actually marginalize many students.

Neutrality is itself a political choice, Dunn argues, and is one that bolsters the status quo. What results is a classroom that potentially ignores the fears, interests, and concerns of many students.

To be clear, Dunn is not talking about a teacher who stands in front of the class and reads aloud endorsements for local, state and federal political office and then urges students to go home and tell their parents to vote accordingly.

The kind of neutrality that concerns Dunn is, for example, a decision to avoid discussion of  “controversial” issues – racism, inequity, climate change, or gun violence, for example – out of fear of appearing political or partisan.

Education, at it’s core, is inherently political, says Dunn.

“Everything in education—from the textbooks to the curriculum to the policies that govern teachers’ work and students’ learning—is political and ideologically-informed,” she explains. “Both what is taught and how it is taught is shaped by the cultural, social, political, and historical contexts in which a school is situated. We can’t pretend that teachers can leave these contexts at the door.”

Especially after as the election of Donald Trump.

Although political polarization didn’t begin with his candidacy, Trump’s incendiary, crude, and divisive rhetoric about race, religion, gender, and immigration that marked his campaign (and his presidency) has been deeply unsettling to many, if not most, Americans.

“I don’t care what my school administration says. My loyalty is to my students and their lives, . . . not to administrator requests to avoid conversations that are uncomfortable.’’

According to a report by the Southern Poverty Law Center, the 2016 presidential campaign had a “profoundly negative effect on children and classrooms…particularly acute in schools with high concentrations of minority children.”

Yet, as Dunn and her colleagues Beth Sondel of the University of Pittsburgh and Hannah Carson Baggett of Auburn University concluded in a recent paper, many teachers continue to feel pressured to remain neutral when discussing Trump and are generally uncomfortable addressing racial and social justice issues in the classroom.

“This pressure (to stay neutral) is reflective of the lack of trust, autonomy and professionalism for teachers in our current climate,” the study, published in the  American Educational Research Journal, concludes.

The researchers surveyed 730 teachers from 43 states to gauge how their pedagogical choices were affected after the election.

Some respondents made it very clear they did not adhere to what they saw as misdirected directives from school or district officials to stay away from anything Trump-related.

One middle school teacher explained that despite the fear many of his students had of deportation and harassment, “my school, tied by a never-ending desire to remain ‘unbiased,’ did nothing and told teachers to limit conversations about the elections because such conversations were not included [in the standards].”

“I don’t care what my school administration says,” the teacher continued.  “My loyalty is to my students and their lives, . . . not to administrator requests to avoid conversations that are uncomfortable.’’

Generally, however, responses from educators were littered with words such as  “fearful,” “anxious,” “unsure,” and “scared,” even as they acknowledged that a more engaged, proactive approach in the classroom may be necessary.

One educator from Massachusetts summed up the dilemma this way:

“Trump unlike any other presidential candidate stands for everything I work to combat: racism, sexism, homophobia and xenophobia. My students fall into categories of people he wants removed or controlled, in his America. I do not know how to talk to my students about this and be neutral (as per country policy).”

According to the study, teaching after the election was most challenging for those who were “ideological outsiders” – Clinton voters in areas where the majority of voters were pro-Trump and vice versa.

“Teachers had to negotiate if and how to talk about their own beliefs knowing that their students’ parents and/or colleagues may disagree with them,” Dunn says.

For example, an elementary teacher from a predominantly White school in Michigan explained,

“I always feel nervous explicitly discussing politics in my classroom due to the variety of views of my students’ parents and my own fear that parents will be upset or complain about me if my own view come up explicitly in classroom lessons/discussions. I know I have students whose parents supported both candidates passionately and I do sort of feel a responsibility to respect their parents’ views (no matter how much I may disagree)”.

It doesn’t help that so much of our discourse is labelled “political” or “partisan,” including discussions about human rights and social justice. Pedagogical choices, the researchers argue, should not be confined by this false construct.

“Making justice-oriented pedagogical choices is not about partisanship or controversy but, rather, is reflective of an overarching commitment to equity,” they write.

Both what is taught and how it is taught is shaped by the cultural, social, political, and historical contexts in which a school is situated. We can’t pretend that teachers can leave these contexts at the door.” – Alyssa Hadley Dunn, Michigan State University

Anchoring discussions to a justice and equity framework can provide educators with a path forward. Still, many of the respondents in the survey did not feel particularly well-prepared to take this on, let alone publicly challenge the presumed virtues of a neutral classroom. The study concludes that teacher training programs need to better prepare educators in adapting their classrooms to help students understand current events and political upheavals. The researchers recommend that current teachers, especially those “ideological outsiders,” seek out networks across schools and districts that can serve as “restorative and supportive communities.”

While Dunn and her colleagues are careful not to downplay the pressures educators face, they emphasize that, ultimately, teachers are charged with preparing their students to work toward a more democratic society.

With 2019 and 2020 shaping up to be just as tumultuous as the previous few years, what are the chances more educators will feel empowered and better prepared to talk politics (for lack of a better word) in their classrooms?

Don’t count on the administration to lead the way, at least not yet. “Districts are still issuing bureaucratic demands on teachers that take their time away from the most important thing they can do in the classroom: create responsive and relevant curriculum for their students,” explains Dunn.

And while too many parents still believe the classroom door should always be shut to any political discussion, they may be “ignoring the reality that such a move is never really possible,” Dunn says.

teaching controversial issuesTeaching the ‘Hard History’ Behind Today’s News
For educators, uncomfortable discussions come with the territory. The challenge is to help students grapple with controversial issues without turning into enemies. The job is also to prepare people with multiple points of view to survive and thrive in self-government.

NEA EdJustice engages and mobilizes activists in the fight for racial, social and economic justice in public education.

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Want to Prevent Harassment and Assault in Schools? Listen to Students.

For more than a year, the U.S. has engaged in a much needed public dialogue about sexual harassment in the workplace, and the need to hold perpetrators accountable. The conversation marks a long overdue cultural shift toward a movement that has been driven largely by survivors of harassment and assault who have bravely gone public with their stories via the #MeToo movement.

As a result, painful questions have begun to haunt educators and parents: “What about #MeToo at school? Do some schools unwittingly foster a culture of sexual harassment and abuse? How can school administrators, educators, students and parents open up a discussion and address such issues?” Before the national conversation began, one California community was already addressing the issue via Alliance for Girls, an organization based in the San Francisco Bay area. In 2016, the non-profit conducted focus groups with 74 girls of color who attend Oakland public schools in low-income, culturally diverse neighborhoods. The project was created to hear the girls’ thoughts on improving school discipline policies, but the discussions quickly veered.

Facilitators were shocked by what they heard.

In the Oakland Unified School District, some male elementary students had created a tradition they called “Slap Ass Fridays.” It was so pervasive, said one 4th-grade girl, that she and all her friends would stand with their backs against a wall every recess and lunch period to avoid being slapped.

“Sexual harassment and assault starts really early,” says Emma Myerson, founding executive director of Alliance for Girls. “I think sometimes we don’t want to talk about it because it’s scary to think that in third grade and fourth grade girls are experiencing real assault from their peers.”

Other girls talked about how boys in their schools regularly called them “bitches,” “sluts,” or “hos.” Still others talked about unwelcome sexual advances and requests for sexual favors.

“We are all hypersexualized by society,” said one older girl. “Every male that you have some type of relationship with will think he is entitled to you—you are here as a girl of color for that reason, to be sexual— that’s the worst stereotype.”

It’s not just in Oakland. According to research from the American Association of University Women, nearly half of students in grades seven through 12 reported that they had experienced verbal or physical sexual harassment in the 2010 –11 school year. Girls were harassed at a higher rate than boys, and more likely to say that the incidents caused them to have trouble sleeping and made them want to skip to school.

Brave students from across the country shared their stories of harassment
and abuse at school under the #MeTooK12 hashtag, launched in January 2018 by the nonprofit Stop Sexual Assault in Schools.

#metoo at school

Alliance for Girls’ Student Leadership Team (Photo:

Unequal Treatment Among Victims

While all girls face harassment and assault, when it comes to reporting incidents, girls of color often face more difficult challenges than white girls.

“In the research we’ve looked at, there hasn’t necessarily been a significant discrepancy in the prevalence of sexual harassment between girls of color and white girls,” says Elizabeth Tang of the National Women’s Law Center.

“But when girls of color, particularly black and Latina girls, report that they’ve been sexually assaulted, schools aren’t responding to them in the same way. They’re disproportionately being ignored, disbelieved, and even punished.”

Tang attributed this in part to negative stereotypes about black girls being louder or more angry. “If a young woman is having her bra snapped in class and a boy keeps doing it and she slaps him back,” says Tang, “she could be suspended because suddenly now she’s the aggressor in the situation. Because now she’s the angry black girl.”

There is also a Catch-22 of school “push-out”: Students who have experienced harassment or assault are chronically absent if they don’t feel safe at school, or face discriminatory and excessive discipline or suspensions.

The result? Their absenteeism rises even more, and they fall further behind in class.

“If you want girls to stay in school, you need to give them the supports they need to stay in school,” says Tang.

“That can mean extra time on tests, that can be homework extensions. It means not disciplining them for skipping school because they don’t feel safe at school. Because then they miss even more school and that makes no sense.”

Momentum for Change

When they occur in school, sexual harassment and sexual violence are both a type of civil rights violation. Unfortunately, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos wants to roll back civil rights protections established during the previous administration to support survivors and make more equitable proceedings related to sexual harassment and violence.

“Rollback of these critical protections for survivors is discriminatory on the basis of sex, and it is arbitrary and capricious,” says Myerson. “But those are a floor, not a ceiling.

“A single caring adult can make all the difference in a girl’s life. It is really, really true. We heard over and over again when that one adult is saying ‘Hi,’ and knows their name, and asks how they’re doing, that really matters.” – Emma Myerson, founding Executive Director, Alliance for Girls

States can still go above and beyond what’s happening now along the federal landscape, and they can restore those protections at the state and local level.”

Alliance for Girls worked closely with Oakland’s students, administrators, parents and community organizations to implement a stronger, revamped sexual harassment policy. Under the new policy, each school has a designated point person who handles sexual harassment and assault complaints, and the reporting process for students, educators and parents is clearly delineated.

The model policy—find it at—is a starting point that communities can use to create a foundation upon which to build a final policy that includes the perspectives of all key stakeholders — including students, educators, administrators, schools boards, parents and community organizations Alliance for Girls also created “Meeting the Needs of Girls,” a toolkit for educators that outlines steps and suggestions for creating healthy relationships with girls. This includes making sure they have someone at school with whom they feel comfortable discussing problems.

For an individual girl who has been harrassed or abused, it can be hugely important to find one adult at school who truly listens.

“A single caring adult can make all the difference in a girl’s life,” says Myerson. “It is really, really true. We heard over and over again when that one adult is saying ‘Hi,’ and knows their name, and asks how they’re doing, that really

For resources that can help your school empower girls, end sexual harassment and assault, and protect students’ civil rights, visit

sexual assault in schoolsThe Secret of Sexual Assault in Schools

Student-on-student sexual assault and harassment happens with alarming frequency in school bathrooms, on school playgrounds, and in the backs of school buses. It’s happening at every level of education from preK to college.

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#RedForEd Comes to Alabama – NEA Today

Wearing red jackets and waving signs that demand state officials #ReturnOurRaise, more than 600 Alabama educators traveled to the state capital on Wednesday for the largest-ever rally in support of public education at the Alabama Supreme Court.

The rally coincided with state Supreme Court testimony in the Alabama Education Association (AEA)’s lawsuit against the state’s public employee health insurance plan, known as PEEHIP. AEA leaders filed the suit two years ago over a secret meeting of the PEEHIP board, which took place in violation of the state’s open meetings law. Immediately after that secret meeting, the board voted to hike educators’ rates, which cost some Alabama educators every penny—and more—of the 4 percent salary bump that state legislators had just given them.

Last year, a circuit judge ruled in AEA’s favor, ordering PEEHIP to refund the $132 million that they took from educators’ paychecks. PEEHIP appealed, and the money has been sitting in an escrow account since then.

“For over two years now, in almost every conversation we’ve had with educators in the schools, this is at the top of their mind,” AEA President Sherry Tucker told the Alabama Political Reporter. “They are asking us what will be done, why did PEEHIP take their 4 percent raise and what can they do to help? Now, we’re asking educators to show the Alabama Supreme Court they won’t stand for being the subject of an illegal, secret meeting that took their first real pay raise in nearly a decade.”

On Wednesday, educators from every one of Alabama’s 67 counties answered the call and came to Montgomery, including busloads from Huntsville, Mobile, Fort Payne, and Birmingham. Meanwhile, thousands more teacher and education support professionals (ESP) who needed to stay home were wearing #RedForEd in support. Inside AEA headquarters, phones “buzzed off the hook” in support of Alabama’s #RedForEd moment.

“This is more than an educator pay or benefits issue,” AEA Assistant Executive Director Amy Marlowe told At its heart, the AEA case is about the state insurance board’s obligation to meet and vote in the public’s eye.

According to NEA state rankings, Alabama teachers earned an average $50,391 in 2017, which put them at 35 th in the nation—but this doesn’t account for the hefty price that state educators pay for their health insurance. “When we received our ‘raise,” I actually brought home LESS!” wrote Khrista Walker, an Alabama paraprofessional on AEA’s Facebook page.

“Bills went up. Pay went down,” wrote librarian Crys Hodgens. “The ‘raise’ resulted in pushing us pushed down the economic ladder.”

The consequences are real for struggling educators and their families: “Bills got consolidated, vacations shortened or not taken at all, oil changes put on the back burner, etc…Besides making us feel the pinch, [it] also makes us feel very used and unappreciated,” wrote Mobile teacher Melissa Manning.

And it’s not just Alabama. Growing frustration with state-sanctioned neglect of public schools has fueled a national #RedForEd movement. It started last spring with a nine-day strike in West Virginia, and grew to encompass Arizona, Kentucky, Oklahoma, and other states. Public school educators and parents are fed up with bottom-of-the-barrel pay, taped-together textbooks, falling-down classroom ceilings, and legislators’ neglect.

A decision in AEA’s case isn’t expected for several months.

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Educators Share the Power of Stories

Sonia Galaviz at the “Keeping the Promise of Public Education” symposium.

“I shouldn’t even be here… I shouldn’t even be breathing…for much of my youth, I lived in this darkness,” Jake Miller, a middle school history teacher from central Pennsylvania, told a packed auditorium of educators, parents and public school advocates at NEA headquarters in Washington, D.C. October 5.

“In an economically depressed area of a Rust Belt, forgotten America, I lived in more homes than I attended grades,” Miller recounred. “I made bad decisions. I chose drugs and drinking — and my friends reflected that. They ended up in jail, psychiatric hospitals, and in the obituaries. But I escaped this darkness because of my teachers. They were my light. And they saved my life.”

He spoke of the educators who “smothered him in high expectations and love,” and of those who taught him to think critically, to become a math nerd, and to walk in the fire. He credits his senior year English teacher with inspiring him to “enter this noble profession of bringing light.”

Miller was one of fifteen storytellers invited to share their wisdom, passion and experience at an NEA Foundation symposium, Keeping the Promise of Public Education.

Stories Lead to Diverse Thinking

“Everyone’s story matters. We have learned through our work over the years that it is only through our collective and diverse thinking, and actions, that the true promise of public education is held — and kept,” said Harriet Sanford, President and CEO, The NEA Foundation.

The symposium kicked off the NEA Foundation’s 50th year, and brought together storytellers from education, philanthropy, and business, including Daniel Lubetzky, a Mexican-American social entrepreneur and founder and CEO of KIND Healthy Snacks, whose mission includes elevating kindness and empathy in society. To scale this mission, Daniel established The KIND Foundation and its signature initiative, Empatico, to connect classrooms around the world through meaningful interactions that help students explore their similarities and differences and expand their worldviews.

Rachna Sizemore Heizer, a public school parent from Fairfax County, Va., shared the story of her son, Jake, a teenager with autism. Jake is a musical prodigy whose unique needs have helped, rather than hinder, his education, and Heizer explained her hard won fight to get the district to focus on his abilities rather than his disabilities. The audience got a first-hand look at his abilities when he came onstage to perform.

Other speakers talked about the migrant student experience and what it’s like to walk in their shoes, how poetry can reach students grappling with depression, incarceration, and other challenges, and how mindfulness can help students resolve conflicts in school and life.

‘We Are All Ellis Island’

Sonia Galaviz, a fifth grade teacher from Boise, Idaho, told the story of her father who, along with his 12 brothers and sisters, was a migrant worker picking cotton along the border of southern Arizona. He’d head to the fields before and after school, and while his siblings stopped school in third or fourth grade, he made it to eighth grade before his circumstances forced him to stop.

Jake Miller

Jake Miller

“Growing up in the ’40s and ’50s in the segregated migrant towns of southern Arizona was no easy feat — the Chicano workers and families were treated as second-class citizens, and my father remembers signs in store windows saying ‘No dogs. No Mexicans,’” Galaviz said.

But his promise to her was to give her the opportunities he never had in education. He made clear that hard work was non-negotiable. That service was a necessity. But that because she was poor and Chicana, she’d need ganas, a Spanish word for something stronger than desire.

“The notion of hard work, service, and ganas became my mantra in the classroom, with my students, in my union work, and with my own children,” Galaviz said. “I find myself echoing my father in my classroom, not allowing any of us to make excuses for our responsibility to our education. I want my students to have the opportunities so many of our family members were denied because they were immigrants, because they were poor, because they were marginalized in some way.”

We are all still Ellis Island, she reminded the audience.

“Public education is still the gateway to all those who have hopes and dreams and the ganas for something more.”

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie closed the storytelling symposium. The award-winning Nigerian novelist spoke of the power of stories — of sharing your own story, but importantly, of listening to the stories of others, particularly students.

“It’s important to listen to children,” she said. “They can teach you how to teach them if you listen.”

She encouraged the educators in the audience to always choose truth, have honest conversations, guide curiosity, and to pay attention. Her best teachers, she said, paid particular attention to her and her classmates, truly saw them for who they were, and that she will always be grateful for that gift.

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Chronicling the Voices Fighting for Education Justice

A young girl handcuffed to a pole at a police station for the crime of doodling on her desk or a boy dragged by his collar through the mud and back through the school entrance before he could explain that his IEP allowed him to be outside are outrageous examples of institutional racism we don’t often hear about but that happen in our schools with alarming frequency. The new book Lift Us Up, Don’t Push Us Out: Voices from the Front Lines of the Educational Justice Movement, features voices of a new movement for educational justice. Each essayist tells the story of how black and brown parents, students, educators and their allies are fighting back against profound and systemic inequities and mistreatment of children of color in low-income communities.

NEA Today spoke one of the contributors, Zakiya Sankara-Jabar, who writes about how her African American son was pushed out of preschool. She is National Field Organizer for Dignity in Schools Campaign and she co-founded Racial Justice NOW! to provide a voice for parents facing racism in schools. Within a few years they won a moratorium on pre-K suspensions in Dayton schools. We also spoke with Lift Us Up co-author Mark Warren, a professor of public policy and public affairs at the University of Massachusetts Boston. Warren studies and works with community and youth organizing groups seeking to promote equity and justice in education, community development and American democratic life.

How did you become involved in the educational justice movement?

Zakiya Sankara-Jabar: I came into the work as a parent pushing back on the treatment of my then three-year-old son who’d been labeled as a problem and a disruptive student. They used words that I thought were typical of three year olds, like temper tantrum or trouble transitioning. I wasn’t thinking about it at the time as a racial justice issue or what the stereotypes around me might have been. They’d ask me if there were problems at home, and I was a working class black mother, and I sort of internalized what was being projected on me and my family.

I was actually a part time employee for the state of Ohio and also a full time graduate student. That child care facility was on the campus and it had an excellent reputation. But the preschool is very expensive – $1000 a month – and I qualified for title 120, a welfare program that allowed children to attend the preschool for free if their parent is working at or attending the school. When I signed up for the voucher I was treated brusquely and the woman said, “You know, we only accept so many of these.”

And then, my very bright, energetic and normal three year old who loved going to preschool was starting to have emergency removals where they’d call me and ask me to pick him up for what I know realize are minor issues typical of energetic kids. I started to see his little bright light starting to dim. Before they expelled him, I removed him because I didn’t want that to be his experience. He’d tell me, “Mommy, I don’t think my teachers like me.” At only three years old and already feel you’re not wanted! I then co-founded Racial Justice NOW!

lift us up bookWhy aren’t more people aware of institutional racism and the biases experienced by students of color?

Mark Warren: A lot families of color are aware, but as a white person who interacts mostly with white communities, the reality is that they’re really unaware of what’s happening in communities of color. There are two Americas. People are shocked when they hear these stories. But because of the segregation that still exists, these stories aren’t well known.

The point of the book is to bring these experiences out into the wider world, not just to expose the individual biases but how these practices are systematic in our schools with harsh zero tolerance policies, and also the strong and pervasive inequities with schools that are under-resourced with less qualified teachers and wider issues of poverty.

Can you describe the educational justice movement and how it began?

MW: Families and communities have been struggling historically for a long time. You can go back to the struggle of slaves fighting for the right to read. We’re in a new phase of that movement and that was the occasion for this book – to tell the stories of change led by parents, students, educators and their allies in this movement. Organizing groups like Racial Justice NOW! in Dayton, Ohio, were really struggling on their own and were isolated in local communities. Over the last several years they have found ways to come together and connect.

Through the Dignity in Schools Campaign, the Journey for Justice, and other national alliances, local groups are joining with other organizations around the country in an educational justice movement. Now they’re not fighting on their own and local groups have the resources and support from national alliances.

Why are parents critical to the movement and creating change?

lift us up book

Zakiya Sankara Jabar

ZS: One thing I found out in the process is that parents of color have been socialized to believe that they have no power, and it’s even more pronounced if you are a black mother who is poor or working class. There is a lack of respect and dehumanization. I say that from experience – personally and as an advocate. We have to work hard to change the narrative of how they see working class parents and how they pathologize us. There is an ecosystem and we must realize that if child has some needs, he has a parent with some needs.

We talk about this as a social justice crisis and systemic discrimination and poverty. These crises are always addressed and changed by the people most impacted by the inequities. Movements built and led by people most affected are the most effective, like the Civil Rights movement. We won’t have an education justice movement unless parents and students are at the heart of it.

What other groups are integral to the movement?

MW: Alliances are critical. Labor unions, service workers unions, hotel workers unions — where are their children going to school? They’re going to underfunded, low income urban schools. In Los Angeles, the janitors union negotiated for parent advocacy workshops as part of their contract so they could be advocates for their children in the schools. This is how you bring about systemic change. They also negotiated for time off in the contract so they can go to meetings at schools during work hours.

What role do educators play?

MW: If we want to transform schools, educators have to be part of the movement. Teachers in low income schools with no resources, teaching in old, decaying buildings and in districts that are dysfunctional – they need to be a part of this, but it isn’t an add on for them. They teach in the first place to help children and advocate for them. They can’t do that until they help change the policies, like ending the overuse of tests that prevents them from teaching real content and building relationships with students.

In the book, we show how educators can find ways to partner with their students, families and communities to change the way resources are being used. They can find ways to introduce restorative justice and improve school climate for all students. This isn’t an add on or an extra. This needs to be work they’re doing to fully educate children.

It’s also true that some teachers have to take a hard look at their own practices and examine personal issues of bias and stereotyping. Are they participating in practices that are pushing students out? We want to be there to support teachers trying to change and this book can help.

How do we change mindsets about different groups of students? In one essay a girl writes about being labeled “ghetto” — why are some students labeled in such a way?

ZS: That student’s experience with being labeled ghetto because of the way she dresses or acts is in accordance with middle class culture and vividly shows the gap between many teachers and the communities they serve.

Things can change when young people themselves stand up and become part of the organizing processes and challenge these mindsets. The students can demand that they be treated with respect. There are lots of students who look like, or even say, they don’t care and who have discipline problems, but as individual people they have tremendous potential and ideas just like every person does.

They need the resources that more affluent girls have to be given chances to realize their potential. In our two-tiered education system, some kids go to modern, resourced schools where students are respected and valued, while others go to schools where the ceilings caving in and their bathrooms are broken and they’re subjected to harsh discipline.

What are some key elements to a just educational system?

MW: There are lot of elements, but equity is at the top. We must offer the same quality of education to all of our children. Educational systems in low income communities will need more resources at the start because they have been systematically underfunded for years. Other elements include strong relationships between teachers, students and families; the removal of racial stereotyping; culturally relevant education; and a curriculum that builds upon African American and Latino cultures rather than solely on white Europeans. Finally, a just educational system empowers our students, allowing them not just to answer questions, but to ask them. Asking questions allows them to become agents of change.

What do you hope will be the impact of this book?

ZS: I hope that this book is shared widely and that it helps shift the narrative about communities that are over criminalized and seen as deficient. That it shifts the narrative about what it means for black and brown children to be educated. That they have the access to an education that is appropriate, culturally relevant, and not be pathologized for being uniquely who they are.

MW: I hope the book will inspire people to take action. I also hope the book helps people understand that to really create the kind of change we need, it isn’t going to happen by tweaking one thing or another. There is a profound question of social justice across the country, not just in education. We hope this movement sparks a resurgent social justice movement with education at the heart of it. Education is a critical institution for democracy. What will be the future of our black and brown children? Will they be fodder for prisons? Cogs in a capitalist society? Or will they be agents of change and social justice warriors for the future?

Learn more about the fight for Racial Justice in Education:

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NEA Members Stand Ready to Help Communities Hit by Hurricane Michael

This Tuesday, Oct. 9, 2018 satellite image provided by NOAA shows Hurricane Michael, center, in the Gulf of Mexico. (NOAA via AP)

The devastation to the panhandle of Florida will likely be catastrophic as Hurricane Michael, the strongest storm to hit the area in more than a century, makes landfall.  An extremely dangerous Category 4 hurricane, it is a life-threatening event for large portions of the northeastern Gulf Coast, where residents have never experienced such a powerful storm.

After devastating coastal communities with a storm surge that could climb to 13 feet in some areas, flash flooding is also a concern. Forecasters predict the Florida Panhandle and Big Bend region, southeast Alabama and parts of Georgia could receive four to eight inches of rain, with some spots getting as much as a foot.

Once again, the National Education Association and its members stand ready to help.

“Hurricane Michael has swelled to a dangerous Category 4 hurricane. Forecasters have warned about a potentially devastating storm surge, along with punishing winds that could tear through the region today and tomorrow,” says NEA President Lily Eskelsen García.  “In the spirit of solidarity and compassion, NEA is asking its members and the public, as we did last year after Hurricanes Harvey and Irma and just last month after Hurricane Florence, to help educators and schools affected by Hurricane Michael. Communities in North and South Carolina are still picking up the pieces from Hurricane Florence.”

NEA members, their students, and communities will need ongoing contributions to make it through the relief and recovery phase, which is often months, if not years, long.

“They need to know we are with them, that we share their sorrow and empathize with their losses. Our compassion and generous donations will help restore their hope that tomorrow will be better,” says Eskelsen García.

Donations can be made to the NEA-MB’s GoFundMe page for Hurricane Michael Relief Fund, which will go a long way to replace belongings and the many expenses educators and their families will certainly incur in the days, weeks, and months to come.

“All of us can play a role in rebuilding the lives of those impacted by these natural disasters, standing strong for our members and their families, and mending communities,” said Eskelsen García. “On behalf of affected NEA members, thank you for your prayers and generosity.”

NEA Member Benefits Assistance

NEA Member Benefits is here to support educators in tough times. For members affected by Hurricane Michael, including damage to a house, auto, or classroom as the result of the hurricanes, visit for more information about which NEA MB Partner offers might apply to you and your situation. You may also contact the Member Service Center toll-free at 1-800-637-4636.

NEA Resources

Educators know that when disasters such as Hurricane Florence strike, children are often traumatized and they need help from families and educators to cope and heal. NEA is providing resources and information to help deal with students’ fears and questions.

NEA’s School Crisis Guide (PDF)
A step-by-step outline of what to do before, during, and after any school or community crisis like a natural disaster. NEA offers best practices that address the full spectrum of crisis response from how to prevent and prepare for a crisis to how to respond and recover in the minutes, days and weeks following the event.

Resources for Educators, Students and Families

American Red Cross The American Red Cross is working around the clock to provide safe shelter and comfort for the hundreds of thousands of people impacted by this disaster.

North Carolina Department of Public Safety central web site for North Carolina response.

The American School Counselor Association provides an extensive list of resources for helping kids deal with hurricanes and floods.

Colorin Colorado Colorin Colorado is a bilingual web site for educators and families has information on how to help children after a natural disaster and additional resources.

National Child Traumatic Stress Network “After the Hurricane: Helping Young Children Heal”.

Harvest Hope Food Banks are in need of donations for food banks across the Carolinas.

United Way provides basic needs such as food, shelter and medicine, as well as the long-term recovery services.

Additional Resources

Tips for Parents: Helping Kids Cope with Hurricane Harvey (Save the Children)

Remembering Hurricane Katrina: 15 Moving Books for Kids of All Ages (Brightly)

Recommended Children’s Books About Hurricanes (ThoughtCo)

Talk to Your Kids About Hurricanes (Scholastic)




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Empowering Educators to Find Voice

John Ross says of Oakwood Windsor Elementary School, “a school that will always have a piece of my heart.”


It almost reads like an old joke: an organizer and a policy wonk walk into a school, but instead of a slapstick punchline at the end, a genuine conversation occurred, a relationship was formed, and a new NEA member/leader was born.

This is the story of South Carolina’s John Ross, a K-5 math curriculum interventionist for the Aiken County Public School District and a member of the Aiken County Education Association, an arm of the South Carolina Education Association (SCEA).

Ross started his teaching career 11 years ago in Florence, S.C., as a math and science teacher, and was a member of his local association for a short time.

It was during the Great Recession, and he—like many across the country—struggled financially. His salary was low and cost of living was high.

Ross knew the local and state associations fought for the rights of its members and supported them professionally, but “as an early career educator, I couldn’t afford the $40 or $55 that came out of my paycheck,” says Ross. “I ended up dropping.”

After five years in Florence, he took a position at Oakwood Windsor Elementary School in Aiken. He held several positions there, including stem-lab instructor for the last two years of his six-year stretch. (Ross now works for the district.) He taught students things like electricity, simple circuits, weathering, and erosion. Within this time, Ross also started a family.

My family is my world. I love them so very much and I would do just about anything for them,” shares Ross, a husband and father of two children under the age of four. “I also love education and I love the students in my building.”

To support his family and continue in the profession, Ross picked up part-time work at Target, teaching Monday through Friday and moonlighting Friday night, Saturday, and Sunday. His membership status remained “canceled,” until recently that is.

A 2016 report from the National Center for Education Statistics states that about 16 percent of teachers across the nation work second jobs outside the school system. Even more, a report by the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) shows how teachers’ pay continues to fall further behind the pay of comparable workers with similar experience and education levels.

#RedforEd Inspires Membership

It’s common to see state and national association staff set up a table in the teacher’s lounge to talk to members and potential members about the issues they care about most or the challenges that affect their students and profession. During this time, educators sign up to become members of their associations, too.

This is how NEA staffers—John Riley, a senior policy advisor, and Nathan Allen, a national organizer—met Ross in March 2018.

“He came during his planning time and shared his story with us and the issues that concerned him,” says Riley, a former special education teacher in Maryland. “We talked about ESSA and the power of educator voice, as well as joining (or considering joining) the association and working towards building schools students deserve. And then he left.”

As the school year continues, district leaders need to create ESSA implementation plans, leaving schools identified for improvement with the task of building their own site-based plans. Since the plans must include educator input—not only teachers, but also specialized instructional support personnel such as  nurses, librarians, counselors, as well as paraeducators and other education support professionals—this is the period during which the voices of NEA members will be critical.

Educators can use NEA’s Opportunity Checklist, a short, criteria-based tool to quickly assess what’s available at their school. It is available at along with additional supports that are rooted in the seven NEA Great Public Schools (GPS) criteria, which addresses the research and evidence-based resources, policies, and practices that are proven to narrow opportunity and skills gaps.

John Ross, pictured with South Carolina Gubernatorial Candidate James Smith and his running mate, Mandy Norrell, lobbies for more school funding at South Carolina’s State House during The SCEA’s Lobby Day.

But Ross returned later that afternoon and joined the SCEA because “I was inspired by the recent movement of educators across the nation—those in Arizona, Kentucky, West Virginia, and Oklahoma—inspired by the fact that they had rallied together and said ‘enough was enough.’”

Ross had had “enough” of inadequate public-school funding. Since 2010, South Carolina schools have been underfunded by $4.4 billion, according to Statehouse Report analyses.

“My position as a stem lab instructor was cut because we couldn’t afford to keep it,” Ross says, “and this is where kids get the hands-on experience that they wouldn’t get in regular classrooms. It’s heart breaking.”

On the Go

Soon after signing on, Ross attended trainings from the NEA and the SCEA that have helped sharpen his leadership skills and speak up about his experiences and the resources needed for every student to succeed. He uses every opportunity to speak up, too.

In July, for example, Ross shared via Facebook how the SCEA sent him to the GOP’s Silver Elephant Dinner in Columbia. There, he met his state representative who asked Ross what he could do for him.

“I told him politely, he could help me by passing on to his fellow representatives that one out of every five educators has a part time job, and while we are appreciative of the one percent raise, we would certainly appreciate a larger percentage in the future, for I—like many of my fellow educators—work weekends to ensure that I am able to put food in the mouths of my babes.”

In June, the South Carolina House and state Senate budget negotiators gave teachers a 1 percent pay raise, pushing the new starting salary to $32,000.

Ross credits the association for his new voice. “While I am a relatively new member of the SCEA, I am grateful for the assistance it has provided me. That assistance has allowed me to find my voice, stand in front of my elected officials, and tell them that we want better for our students, our colleagues, and ourselves,” he wrote.

Ross also has been to college campuses to speak with aspiring educators about the importance of voting. He’s lobbied for more school funding at the state capitol and protested school budget cuts. Equally important, he’s been on social media, spreading the word about the happenings around his local, state, and national associations.

People need to understand that it requires effort to make change occur…but we need to come together under a banner of some sort—whether it’s the SCEA or #SCforEd. And it needs more than a few hundred teachers. It needs to be thousands of us at the state house making our presence known.”

One conversation around ESSA and educator voice led John Ross to join millions of other NEA members to stand up for their students and their profession. And, the association provides the kind of space and support for educators and allies to work together toward realizing common goals.

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Honoring Black Student Activists – NEA Today

In the summer of 2017, Charleena Lyles, a pregnant 30-year-old black woman was fatally shot by two white Seattle police officers in her home as her three young children looked on. Lyles, who had called the police to report a burglary, reportedly suffered from mental illness. She pulled a knife out of her pocket when the police entered her home, but rather than tasing or subduing her with pepper spray, they shot her seven times.

Days after the shooting, seven black Seattle high school students formed “New Generation,” a school activist group that led a walkout at Garfield High School to raise awareness about the young mother’s death and to organize in their school and community for racial justice.

The death of Lyles is a symbol of the injustices the group of students has experienced and witnessed in their communities and even within their school. They wanted to take action not just for Charleena Lyles but for all people of color, especially their fellow students.

New Generation receiving the Black Education Matters Student Activism Award.

“We’re students of color and we share similar struggles, experience the same disadvantages, and strive to become more than what society has labeled us,” says Chardonnay Beaver, who founded New Generation along with classmates Janelle Gary, Myles Gillespie, Kevon Avery, Israel Presley, and Umoya McKinney.

“We’ve discovered that action is the first step in turning ideas of equality into reality. Because we’re students we have the opportunity to reach our peers directly.”

New Generation was a recipient of the 2018 Black Education Matters Student Activist Awards (BEMSAA), which gives recognition, support, and a $1,000 award to student leaders in the Seattle Public Schools who demonstrate exceptional leadership in struggles against racism—especially with an understanding of the intersections with sexism, homophobia, transphobia, Islamaphobia, class exploitation and other forms of oppression—within their school or community.

Over the past three years, nine Seattle Public Schools students and one youth organization – New Generation — have been honored with the award.

The program was founded by Jesse Hagopian, an Ethnic Studies teacher and co-adviser to the Black Student Union at Garfield High School in Seattle. Just like New Generation was spurred by violence, the award program was a positive outcome of a clash with police.

Jesse Hagopian is pepper-sprayed by a Seattle police officer.

In January of 2015, Jesse Hagopian gave the final speech at Seattle’s peaceful Martin Luther King Day rally.  Shortly after, while the crowd dispersed and he was on the phone making arrangements for his son’s second birthday party, he was pepper-sprayed without provocation by an officer of the Seattle Police Department.  The incident was captured on video by an onlooker. He was ultimately awarded a settlement over the incident with the City of Seattle and used a portion of the proceeds to start the Black Education Matters Student Activist Award.

Recognizing Changemakers

“The bold and courageous work of standing up to racism is hard, and this award gives recognition for those with the courage to do it,” says Hagopian. “I wanted to create a space and an awareness that if you step forward for social justice, you will be lifted up in the community and by mentors who will support your work.”

Activism is at the heart of this award, Hagopian says, and all of the award winners have taken some kind of bold action to undo institutional racism.

“The examples are breathtaking,” he says.

One student organized a citywide movement to get for free bus passes for low income students. Another student started an Islamophobia global awareness day. One group got the Seattle School Board to endorse “Black Live Matters at School” and week of action, a movement that has spread to other cities and districts. A group of students fought for the addition of an Ethnic Studies program that is transforming Seattle’s schools.

“None of this would have been possible without student activism,” says Hagopian. “I wanted to find a way to recognize this critical work of young people who see that they are the changemakers – the ones who will have to bring about the changes they want to see.”

Hagopian encourages other educators to find ways to support youth who are organizing for a better world. The best place to start, he says, is at the school and district level and to build relationships with students and support activist work with mentorship.

A recognition program becomes much more powerful if there is a cash award and media coverage. He suggests grants or GoFundMe campaigns and seeking partnerships with artists and athletes, as he did with former Seattle Seahawk Michael Bennett and Grammy award winning artist Macklemore who generously help fund the award program.

“More and more people are outraged with the direction our country is going,” he says. “They want to find ways to support a justice movement.”

Chardonnay Beaver of New Generation said receiving the award was an unforgettable moment for all of the group’s members.

“Our intention was to progress as a group and develop our understanding of leadership and resilience as a result of organizing,” she says. “But after just one year of organizing, we were acknowledged for doing something that really matters — not earning an A+ on a test a homerun on the field — but fighting for our lives.”

As for the future of the group and their goals for the year, she says, “with faith, the possibilities are endless.”

Learn more about the award program at where you can learn about previous winners and nominate students for this year’s award.

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