Will States Find Enough Money This Year To Prevent Teacher Walkouts?

Editor’s Note: This is part two of the State of the States 2019 series.

DENVER — Spurred by teacher strikes and a sense of crisis, Colorado’s new governor is one of 33 newly elected leaders of states and territories who campaigned on improving education funding. In many states, both Republicans and Democrats agree that schools need more money and teachers need better pay.

Education “is probably the most important issue” facing the legislature, said Colorado state Sen. Bob Rankin, a Republican who recently co-chaired a state education council.

But while most states are likely to put more money into schools this year, political divisions, budget constraints and competing visions for how to fix the education system could lead to some tense debates.

Colorado is one state where education funding might spark a battle even though finances have improved. Colorado is projected to have as much as $1.2 billion more to spend for its budget in the coming fiscal year that starts on July 1.

But lawmakers will have to balance Democratic Gov. Jared Polis’ $227 million proposal to offer full-day kindergarten to all children against other priorities, such as a push by teachers unions to spend $672 million to bring K-12 funding up to the level recommended by the state school funding formula.

And a 1992 state constitutional amendment that limits the legislature’s power to tax and grow revenue may require some of the new money to be refunded to residents.

Meanwhile, inspired by last year’s strike in West Virginia and walkouts in Arizona and Oklahoma, teachers in Colorado and many other states intend to keep pressuring lawmakers and district leaders for more school funding and better compensation.

This year kicked off with a six-day strike in Los Angeles that sent thousands of red-clad teachers marching through city streets and won them caps on class sizes, more support staff and fewer standardized tests. Teachers in Denver last week voted to strike, an action that’s on hold while the state Department of Labor attempts to mediate the dispute.

“Over the course of the last 10 years, you had the needs of students and teachers being ignored by politicians and those in power, and teachers trying to do things the right way — trying to talk about what their needs were — but they were disparaged and dismissed,” American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten said.

Now teachers are pushing harder to have their needs met.

In Virginia, for example, Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam has proposed increasing school spending by $269 million — the state’s fiscal 2019 budget allocated about $7 billion for K-12 education — and boosting teacher salaries by 5 percent, up from a 3 percent raise approved last year. Some teachers say that’s not enough.

“Five percent feels insufficient,” said Sarah Pedersen, a middle school history teacher in Richmond. She’s organizing Virginia Educators United, a coalition of teachers and education supporters calling for a 14 percent raise to bring salaries up to the national average — $59,660 in 2017, according to the National Education Association (NEA), a labor union — plus more funding for support staff and school infrastructure. Educators rallied in Richmond on Monday to demand better funding for schools.

Several Republican leaders of the Virginia legislature contacted by Stateline did not respond to requests for comment.

A backlash to last year’s teacher strikes also may be brewing. Republican lawmakers in Arizona and Oklahoma have proposed bills that would limit educators’ power to speak up.

The Arizona bill would prohibit teachers from engaging in political advocacy, including expressing an opinion about legislation, court cases and executive branch activity. The Oklahoma bill would prohibit school strikes, deny teachers pay during a strike and revoke the teaching credentials of striking educators.

Money struggles

Spending cuts triggered by the Great Recession beginning in 2008 — combined with tax cuts in Republican-led states such as Kansas and Oklahoma — shrank education budgets across the country for much of the past decade.

As the economy has improved, so has spending. By 2016, state and local education funding had approximately returned to pre-recession levels, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a left-leaning think tank based in Washington, D.C.

But 21 states and localities are still spending less per student than they did a decade ago, adjusted for inflation, according to a Stateline analysis of NEA statistics. Teacher salaries aren’t keeping up with the cost of living in pricey areas. And as state lawmakers cut funding, localities have had to increase spending — with wealthy ones more able to fill the gap by raising property taxes.

Last year’s educator strikes brought national attention to crumbling school buildings, tattered textbooks and underpaid teachers. In the 2018 midterms, a wave of educators ran for state office, and education funding dominated discussion in gubernatorial races from Arizona to Wisconsin.

“The question’s going to be, where’s that money going to come from?” said Mike Griffith, a school finance expert with the Education Commission of the States, the nonprofit arm of an interstate compact on education policy.

Colorado state Sen. Dominick Moreno, the Democratic chairman of the Joint Budget Committee, said lawmakers want to find ways to hold on to more of that state’s budget surplus, such as by reclassifying certain revenue sources so they’re not subject to the amendment, or raising the constitutional revenue limit, which lawmakers in 2017 lowered by $200 million.

Connecticut and Illinois, also states where Democrats control the governorship and both houses of the legislature after the 2018 elections, face bigger budget problems.

Illinois, for instance, is running a deficit that could reach over $1 billion this year. Meanwhile, the state board of education has asked for over $19 billion in funding for schools — more than double the $8.2 billion the legislature allocated last year.

Such a large funding increase isn’t likely to happen this year. But lawmakers could chip away at the funding gap over time by finding new money to spend, such as by restructuring pension fund payments or raising taxes, said Ralph Martire, executive director for the Chicago-based Center for Tax and Budget Accountability and a member of Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s transition team.

Lawmakers may be open to Pritzker’s campaign proposal to tax higher incomes at higher rates. “It’s a doable lift,” Martire said, albeit a time-consuming one, requiring supermajority support in both houses of the legislature and a voter referendum.

‘The system is messed up’

Lawmakers also want to change the way schools are funded. Policymakers in states such as Colorado, Massachusetts and Nevada want to spend more in low-income school districts.

Under Colorado’s school funding system, which has been constrained by two clashing constitutional limits on raising taxes, local contributions to education funding vary widely.

In some cases, the state ends up sending considerable amounts to wealthy districts with low property taxes — money that could help low-income districts with high taxes.

“It’s very clear that the system is messed up,” Moreno said, “and we need to do something about it.”

In other states, the focus will be on reducing the local tax burden. In Republican-led Texas, local taxes are projected to comprise 68 percent of school funding by 2023.

Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and House Speaker Dennis Bonnen want to rebalance the system by cutting property taxes and increasing state funding. The House, Senate and governor proposed slightly different paths to achieving that goal.

Some policy analysts worry that Texas lawmakers could strike a deal that would create a new budget problem. Under the plan Abbott proposed last year, in 2023 schools would get an additional $74 million, but the state would give up $3.7 billion in property tax revenue.

“This is a property tax reduction plan, not a school finance plan,” said Chandra Kring Villanueva, program director at the Center for Public Policy Priorities, a left-leaning Austin think tank, in an email. The governor has said that it’s up to lawmakers to figure out how to pay for the tax cuts in his plan.

In Wisconsin, Democratic Gov. Tony Evers and Republican legislative leaders said they want to increase state education spending and ease the local property tax burden.

That may be all they agree on. Evers’ campaign promise to increase education funding by $1.4 billion (the state’s 2017 two-year budget allocated more than $13.7 billion for K-12 education) has little chance of making it through the legislature, said Jason Stein, research director of the Wisconsin Policy Forum, a nonpartisan think tank with offices in Milwaukee and Madison. Republican leaders have not put forward a budget proposal yet.

The governor and legislative leaders are far apart on many issues, from education to health care. “There’s always the possibility that no budget passes at all,” Stein said.

Pay boost for teachers

Many state leaders, facing widespread teacher shortages and pressure from educators, want to earmark a portion of education funding for teacher pay increases.

Idaho Gov. Brad Little, a Republican, has called for increasing teacher starting salaries to $40,000, up from $35,800. Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, also a Republican, wants to increase the minimum teacher salary by $4,000 over four years. Georgia’s Republican Gov. Brian Kemp has called for a $3,000 increase in fiscal 2020.

Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, has called increasing teacher salaries by $1,000 his “No. 1 priority” this year. And South Carolina Republican Gov. Henry McMaster, like Northam in Virginia, wants teachers to get a 5 percent raise.

Texas’ Abbott wants to increase merit pay, while Colorado’s Polis has called for student loan relief for teachers in rural areas.

With states expected, overall, to have healthy budgets this year, it looks like it could be a good year for teacher salaries and education funding, Griffith said. “The huge question is: Is that going to be 2 percent more or 8 percent more? There’s a huge difference between those numbers.”

In West Virginia, where public sector workers went on strike to demand higher pay last year, Republican Gov. Jim Justice and legislative leaders are preparing to give state employees their second 5 percent raise in two years.

But the latest Senate education funding package contains provisions teachers unions and other education groups oppose, such as class size increases and private school vouchers. 

The bill also would require teachers to agree annually to pay union dues and would halt educators’ paychecks during a strike. At a news conference at the Capitol, Fred Albert, president of American Federation of Teachers’ West Virginia chapter, called the bill “an attempt to silence employees.”

The president of the West Virginia Education Association, Dale Lee, said he was “very hopeful that our legislature learned from last year,” adding that educators would be watching as the pay increase proposal moves through the legislative process.

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Virginia Educators Vow to Hold Lawmakers Accountable for Funding

Roughly 4,000 Virginians, led by educators, rallied in front of the state capitol in Richmond on Monday to call out legislators for allowing education funding to suffer even as the state prospers.

English teacher Amy Brown said she was at the rally because her students deserve better than a classroom with moldy ceiling tiles and a wall full of roaches.

“We have cubicle partitions that we can’t hang bulletin board paper on because there’s nothing to staple it to—so we just keep taping in roaches,” said Brown, who works at Henderson Middle School in Richmond.

State support for schools has not been restored even to 2009 levels; in fact, education funding was cut 9 percent since the recession ended. That has resulting in ballooning class sizes, a lack of resources from textbooks to computers, and deepening inequity between schools in Virginia’s richer and poorer communities.

The rally is the latest Red for Ed action in a series of events ranging from the teacher walkouts in West Virginia, Arizona, and Oklahoma, to the recently concluded L.A. teachers strike.

The Virginia Education Association (VEA)—the state’s largest educator union—and the grassroots organization Virginia Educators United coordinated to gather their members and other public school advocates today to deliver the message that the Commonwealth puts far too little of its magnificent wealth into public education.

Virginia Educators United gathered first at Monroe Park, where they were joined by NEA President Lily Eskelsen Garcia and AFT President Randi Weingarten. The group then marched roughly a mile to meet VEA members in front of the capitol steps.

Virginia elementary music teacher and NEA Secretary-Treasurer Princess Moss riled the crowd by pointing out that Virginia is the 12th richest state in the nation and ranked by Forbes magazine as #1 for business.

In other words, the state economy is strong. Yet the state ranks 42nd in per-pupil state funding and 34th in teacher pay.

“We’re going to hold legislators accountable,” Moss said, then led the crowd in a chant: “I know, you know, Virginia can do better!”

Shortly after the rally, the House of Delegates announced their intent to draft a budget that includes a pay increase of 5 percent for teachers, matching the request made by Gov. Northam.

Virginia Education Association President Jim Livingston called it both a “step in the right direction” and a “down payment.”

“Virginia Education Association members from across the state rallied at the Capitol today to protest the state’s retreat from its funding responsibilities,” Livingston said. “Our members are energized, they are dedicated—and they are sick and tired of being told they’ll get the support their students need…some time later.”

That’s a change educators here would like to see.

“Policy makers need to hear from us, said Eunice Turkson, a teacher at Fairfield Court Elementary in Richmond. “They sit in their offices and look at students as charts and graphs, but we are in the classroom and we see the reality. They should listen more to teachers and give us what we need.”

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A Texas School District Is Helping Immigrants Facing Deportation. Here’s Why.

Editor’s Note: This story is part of a series about how schools, teachers and students are coping with the immigration crisis.

HONEY GROVE, Texas — Abigail Rubio, 16, was eating lunch in the cafeteria of Honey Grove High School when she found out ICE was raiding the trailer factory where her dad worked. “Did y’all hear about what happened at Load Trail?” a friend asked. Abigail, or Abby as friends and family call her, went on social media. On Snapchat, a friend asked if she’d talked to her dad yet. The friend said buses and helicopters were outside the plant.

“That’s when it hit me,” said the shy junior who runs cross country and plays tambourine in her Pentecostal church band. “I broke down.”

On August 28 last year, helicopters and hundreds of officials descended on Load Trail, one of several trailer-manufacturing factories in and around Sumner, a rural town in northeastern Texas near the border with Oklahoma. One hundred fifty-nine workers — among them welders, painters and finishers — were arrested on immigration charges. The vast majority were men originally from Mexico.

It was one of the biggest worksite raids in the past 10 years, said Katrina Berger, special agent in charge for Homeland Security Investigations in Dallas, during a press conference. When The Hechinger Report visited six weeks later — long after the choppers had left and most of the workers had been released on bail — fear and anxiety remained high, with entire families swept up in the emotional, legal and economic insecurity.

But in this small Texas town where Friday nights belong to high school football, Superintendent Todd Morrison decided these weren’t struggles families should deal with alone. As ICE arrests rise and President Trump doubles down on his immigration hardline, the choice to help students and their undocumented families beyond school walls — or not — is one that more and more educators are facing.

The burly, gray-haired Morrison, who runs the Honey Grove Independent School District, which has 645 students across its elementary, middle and high schools, says nine parents or guardians of Honey Grove students were detained during the Load Trail raid.

“These families are great Honey Grove parents and families. They’re some of our best parents and students,” Morrison said, sitting beneath a row of family photos in his spacious office, a framed American flag on the adjacent wall. “These parents are ones if you call them they’re the first who will come to the school because they’re concerned about their children’s education. They are pillars of our community.”

Superintendent Todd Morrison runs the Honey Grove Independent School District. He says nine parents or guardians of Honey Grove students were detained during the Load Trail raid by ICE in August 2018.

The day after the raid, Morrison accompanied family members of those arrested to the Iglesia Evangelica Filadelfia, a church with a largely immigrant congregation, so they could get legal advice from the volunteer attorneys who had gathered onsite. His initial priority was helping families figure out where their loved ones were being held — some had been taken to Alvarado, others to Oklahoma City — and then getting them bailed out and back home.

In the days and weeks that followed, he made sure counselors were available to the affected students. He and the high school principal accompanied parents to their court appearances in Dallas to show support and help negotiate the process. He told faculty that if they wanted to write letters on behalf of students and families for the attorneys to present in court, they could do so. (They did.) And he raised thousands of dollars.

Morrison knows that if a child’s home life is thrown into crisis, it will be difficult for them to come to school and learn. That understanding is backed by research over the past decade looking at the impacts of ICE raids on children, the trauma citizen children face when a parent is detained or deported and the role of schools in supporting children in these circumstances. Morrison also believes strongly that if there’s something a school can do to help alleviate students’ suffering, they should do it.

Honey Grove is not the only school district dealing with immigration trauma. Across the country, districts and teachers are stepping up in the wake of President Trump’s crackdown on immigration. In a series of stories chronicling how the immigration debate is affecting students, The Hechinger Report has spoken with dozens of schools across the country in which teachers, counselors and administrators are working to help students who are coping with the stress of traumatic border crossings, raids and deportations.

But perhaps none have been quite so bold as the educators in Honey Grove, located as they are deep in small town Trump country.

A post office sits opposite a sign for the high school football team on Main Street in downtown Honey Grove.

A post office sits opposite a sign for the high school football team on Main Street in downtown Honey Grove.

Honey Grove (population roughly 1,700) sits in Fannin County about 20 miles west of downtown Paris, and bills itself as “The Sweetest Town in Texas.” It’s a mostly white, working-class community. “We’re just an old country town is what we are,” said Morrison.

The school district is the biggest employer in town, and many adults work in the local trailer plants or the factories in nearby Sherman, of which Tyson Foods is the largest. According to census data, about 11 percent of residents are Mexican. Morrison estimates about a quarter of his students are.

The church Morrison visited after the raid, Iglesia Evangelica Filadelfia, in Paris, remains a hub for those seeking legal advice, donated food and toiletries or simply moral support. Pastor Moisés Navarrete says two families in his small congregation had someone arrested in the Load Trail raid, but dozens more have visited in the days and weeks since.

One such visitor, Mayra, who only gave her first name and whose husband, brother and father had all been arrested, stopped by the church last October. She had put her home up as collateral to pay a lawyer, she said, and all the stress is affecting her daughters, Abigail, 8, and Camila, 6. “Right now Abigail is angry too much,” Mayra said. “For anything she just gets mad. I ask, ‘What’s going on Abigail?’ and she says, ‘I don’t know, mom.’ She goes to the next room and lies down and cries.” Her youngest has begun wetting the bed at night.

The mother of Abby Rubio, the junior at Honey Grove High, was also at the church. Oralia Rubio’s husband — Abby’s father — Hermenegildo has been working whatever odd jobs he can ever since he was arrested at Load Trail, where he worked for 22 years. Oralia sees the turmoil taking a toll on her four children, Adam, 10, Noemi, 13, Abby and Danny, 20.

“It’s difficult,” she said in Spanish, wiping away tears. “They’re so worried. What explanation can I give them?”

With Hermenegildo unemployed, money is tight at the Rubio home — especially after the $7,500 bail. There’s the mortgage payment, the utility bills, the lease on Danny’s car. Thankfully, his college tuition was paid through the Fall 2018 semester.

Oralia Rubio, left, and her husband, Hermenegildo, stand in the kitchen of their home in Honey Grove, Texas. Hermenegildo was

Oralia Rubio, left, and her husband, Hermenegildo, stand in the kitchen of their home in Honey Grove, Texas. Hermenegildo was one of 159 workers arrested by ICE at the Load Trail trailer plant in nearby Sumner on August 28, 2018. He now faces possible deportation.

Hermenegildo recalled one day recently when he and Oralia were talking about their finances within earshot of their youngest son, Adam, who seemed absorbed in his video game.

“He was playing over there and then he said, ‘Pa, I have $30. You can have it.’ ”

The Rubio kids are soft-spoken, well-mannered, conscientious — and undeniably American. Adam follows soccer and plays baseball and “Roblox.” Noemi and Abby run cross country, play flute and follow popular teen TV series like “Fuller House,” “Riverdale” and “13 Reasons Why.” Danny studies sports medicine at Paris Junior College. He used to also work the night shift at Load Trail, earning $14 an hour doing touch-up work — replacing missing screws, fixing bad paint or loose wires. After the raid, the company dropped the second shift due to the shortage of workers, so Danny spends more time helping his siblings with their homework or driving them to and from school and activities.

All four kids understood their parents’ immigration status. But that didn’t make their dad’s arrest less shocking.

“It’s just been really hard seeing what my dad has to go through and everything they’ve been trying to do,” said Abby, sitting on an oversized leather sofa in the family room, where crocheted doilies cradle family photos, candles and artificial floral arrangements. “It never came into my mind that it would happen to us.”

After all, both her parents had been living here since the mid-1990s. They came, as so many immigrants do, seeking a better future both for their families back home and for the future family they hoped to create.

Hermenegildo was 17 and working in the sugarcane fields in San Luis Potosí, a state in central Mexico, when he first crossed the border from Mexico into the U.S. in 1992. He worked in Houston until an uncle further north helped him land a job on a ranch in Honey Grove. Oralia came in 1996. She was 21, and had studied assistant accounting in Monterrey but couldn’t find work. She got a job on a dairy farm in Texas, and later washing dishes and cooking in a restaurant. The pair met at a Baptist church they both attended, and married in 1997. They had Danny the following year.

They worked hard, paid their taxes, bought a home, raised four kids, were active in their church and community and were model — if not legal — citizens.

But so were many of those arrested at Load Trail in August. Immigration attorneys representing several of the families say the raid is somewhat unique in the number of people with no criminal history who have been living in the United States a very long time, sometimes decades.

Lisa Peterson, a school psychologist for the Dallas school district, has worked with students who have had a parent recently detained or deported. She says the most important thing a school can do is offer a safe space for the kids and their parents. “That’s really important for families to know we’re not places that will jeopardize their safety,” she said.

As soon as Morrison heard about the raid, he called together staff members to figure out which kids had a parent who worked at Load Trail, and then brought those kids together to explain what was happening. “We tried to grab it by the horns,” he said. “We did not want them to catch something on Facebook or a phone call before they knew all the information.”

The younger kids, Morrison recalled, were especially distraught. “It was a fear of the unknown, and it’s still a fear of the unknown,” he said.

He also hit up individual donors he thought would be empathetic to the situation.

Morrison distributed the money he raised in the form of Visa gift cards that families can use to pay the electric bill, put gas in the car, buy groceries or cover doctor appointments. “These families are proud. They’re not looking for handouts. They just need a little bit of help getting through this scenario until dad can start getting wages again,” he said.

Abby Rubio, left, and her sister, Noemi, sit on Abby’s bed in their shared bedroom.

Abby Rubio, left, and her sister, Noemi, sit on Abby’s bed in their shared bedroom.

The Rubios say the school’s support is making a difference. Danny’s former coach from Honey Grove reached out to make sure he’s OK. Abby’s school counselor called her in to comfort her. The same counselor, along with a bunch of teachers and administrators, wrote letters to the judge presiding over her father’s case from the arrest, explaining, Abby said, “how we’re good students and don’t deserve to be separated from our dad.”

“It makes me happy that they’re concerned and being helpful,” she added.

“They’re very attentive,” said Oralia. “They ask the kids how their dad’s case is going. They don’t want the kids to be sad. They’re worried about them.”

Morrison said he hasn’t gotten pushback from other parents who may support a tougher approach to immigrants working in the U.S. illegally. He attributes that to the fact that he grew up here, graduated from Honey Grove High School and has worked in the district for 20 years — as a teacher, football coach and principal before becoming superintendent.

“For the most part our community trusts the school,” he said.

But he doesn’t judge other districts that are less inclined to take similar actions on behalf of their students.

“Each school district has to do what fits their community. I’m doing what I feel fits the Honey Grove community,” Morrison said.

Nearly 80 percent of voters in Fannin County supported Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election, in which immigration and border security were notorious wedge issues. Trump’s populist campaign saw supporters chanting “Build that wall!” at rallies across the country, and the nominee himself referring to Mexican immigrants as drug dealers, criminals, rapists and “some, I assume” good people.

So it’s little surprise that ICE arrests surged after he took office in January 2017 and signed an executive order, Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States, which expanded immigration enforcement targeting people without serious criminal records.

(Despite this surge, total ICE arrests in 2017 were still less than half what they were in 2009 after President Obama took office.)

The Dallas ICE office, whose jurisdiction includes Sumner and Honey Grove, became the most aggressive in the country, according to the Pew Research Center. Not only did Dallas make the most arrests (16,520) in fiscal year 2017, they also had the second-biggest increase from the year prior.

At the Red Onion, a down-home restaurant off the E. Main Street highway, customers had heard the news of the raid.

Jeff Moxon, a mechanic who lives in Honey Grove, said it made him think about his Mexican customers.

“They’re really good customers and they’re honest,” he said. “They pay their bills, they don’t argue … I’m sad to hear that, but the law is the law.”

Harvey Milton, who worked in public schools for 56 years, including as superintendent of Honey Grove from 1984 to 2001, said he has mixed feelings.

Harvey and Patsy Milton talk immigration after lunch at The Red Onion in Honey Grove. “These people are coming here to better

Harvey and Patsy Milton talk immigration after lunch at The Red Onion in Honey Grove. “These people are coming here to better themselves but they’re breaking the law,” said Harvey, who worked in public schools for 56 years.

“These people are coming here to better themselves but they’re breaking the law,” he said. “Those kids we had in school, I don’t remember any of them ever getting into trouble.”

Patsy, his wife of 62 years, sat across from him.

“I feel for those people,” she said gently.

Most of the men and women who were arrested will file for a “cancellation of removal” — an immigration status adjustment that allows them to avoid deportation and obtain a green card. To qualify, they must prove they’ve lived in the U.S. the past 10 years, have good moral character, no qualifying convictions and — here’s the tricky part — have a child, spouse or parent who is a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident and faces “exceptional and extremely unusual hardship” if the arrested person is deported.

“It is a high burden,” said Jennifer de Haro, managing attorney at RAICES, a Texas-based nonprofit that provides free and low-cost legal services to immigrants and refugees, including some of the Load Trail families. De Haro says a typical case that passes the bar is when there’s a child with a serious medical condition who won’t get quality treatment in the parent’s native country. “We’ve seen cases where it seems like pretty extreme hardship but the judge will still deny it because the hardship is comparable to what any family would face if separated.”

Another lawyer, Belinda Arroyo, also representing Load Trail families, believes Hermenegildo should be able to show exceptional hardship “cumulatively” since he is the sole provider for four American children.

But whether the judge agrees is another story.

Danny, though, said he’s confident his dad will be allowed to stay.

“My dad is a good person. He has a clean record. All he does is support his family, care for his family, support others when he can,” he said. “He has no bad genes at all. I’m sure the judge is going to see that.”

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

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School District Looks to Teachers to Fill Bus Driver Shortage

When a school bus driver calls in sick, someone has to pick up their route in a hurry. Students can’t be left stranded. If a school district is short of backup drivers, other drivers end up running two routes, delaying pick-ups. Crowded buses and student tardiness is the result.

This is not unusual for school transportation departments across the nation. It’s the norm. At Parkside Middle School in Manassas, Va., about three of the school’s 31 drivers can be absent on any given day.

“When that happens, we have to ask some drivers to do double-runs,” says Laura Landis, a bus driver, trainer and recruiter for Prince William County Public Schools, where Parkside is located. “Sometimes, trainers will take the day’s run since we are licensed.”

With the need for more drivers to enlist at a moment’s notice, Parkside administrators and transportation service workers got together and decided to try a new approach: develop drivers from within. At a meeting last fall, they agreed to invite teachers to get licensed and start running routes. The bus gig for teachers would be voluntary and pay $18.50 an hour on top of their regular salary.

“Teachers will be assigned routes that allow them ample time to be in their classrooms before first bell,” says Landis, a member of the Prince William Education Association (PWEA).

The response by teachers was better than expected, according to Parkside Principal Mary Jane Boynton.

“The teachers I’ve spoken with see it as a win-win,” says Boynton, a member of PWEA, which includes 3,500 teachers, administrators, and education support professionals (ESP). “They get to build better relationships with their students, earn extra pay, and work closer with their colleagues in the transportation department.”

Temporary Solution

According to PWEA President Riley O’Casey, transportation service members welcomed the news about hiring, in a sense, substitute drivers to help alleviate the driver shortage, particularly when it comes to curtailing double-runs.

“Our regular drivers are not at all threatened by the new drivers,” says O’Casey. “They welcome them.”

However, O’Casey stresses that the new plan should be considered only a “Band-Aid solution.”

“The general idea is that we have a shortage of bus drivers,” she says. “We need to fix the all-around problem, which involves paying regular drivers a living wage and allowing them the respect they deserve.”

O’Casey points out that administrators do not always communicate as well as they could when it comes to informing drivers about having to drive a second route and as well as other last-minute route changes.

Bus driver/trainer Laura Landis instructs teachers (left to right) Kevin Loughery, Ryan Wicka, Shannon Parker, Yonika Powell, and Sharon Harrison on how to inspect the exterior of a bus. (Photo: Randy Litzinger,
Prince William Times)

“There is a lack of communication coming from some officials that could be improved,” she says. “Drivers having to do a double-run do not always get enough notice, which interferes with scheduled restroom breaks.”

O’Casey recalls that some principals in the past did not allow bus drivers to use school restrooms.

“We are one team and our drivers need to be respected the same as everyone else,” she says. “Now that teachers will be driving buses, they will see the level of responsibility that comes with the job.”

A National Dilemma

School districts across the nation are reporting difficulties in recruiting and retaining school bus drivers, citing low pay, difficulty in attaining a commercial driver’s license (CDL), lack of available work hours, and too few benefits, according to the National Association for Pupil Transportation (NAPT).

In a 2016 NAPT survey, 37 percent of respondents indicated that the bus driver shortage in their district is either “severe” or “desperate.” More than 50 percent noted that coping with driver shortages is their number one problem or concern. About 70 percent believe bus driver shortage is a trend that is getting worse.

“The whole nation is experiencing a shortage of school bus drivers,” said Diana Gulotta, an official with Prince William County Schools (PWCS). In an article published by the Prince William Times, Gulotta said “on any given day, we (county) can have up to 100 drivers out.”

Prince William County has a fleet of more than 900 buses serving nearly 100 schools and special needs students. The county employs about 700 drivers driving 4,500 routes that make 35,000 daily bus stops. As of November, the county was short 62 drivers, according to Gulotta.

Nobody Walks

Approximately 75 teachers from Parkside and nearby public schools picked up applications soon after the new driver plan was announced last semester. About a dozen teachers ended up submitting applications.

Currently, about a half dozen Parkside teachers along with several others from neighboring schools are at different stages in their training, which includes several weeks of classroom study covering defensive driving standards, student protocols, first aid care, bus inspection, and radio communications etiquette.

At some point, each teacher will take a test at the Department of Motor Vehicles to get a CDL learner’s permit so they can get behind the wheel of the bus for a probationary period under

the supervision of a trainer. Each trainee is required to drive a route for a designated number of hours with a trainer.

“We are very serious about our training process and student safety,” says Landis, a PWEA member who helps to conduct special Saturday and evening training sessions scheduled specifically for the teachers.

“Our bus trainers have done an excellent job of preparing teachers for the road,” says Boynton. “They developed flexible training schedules and made classes fun.”

Laura Landis (left) answers question from Parkside Middle School teachers Ryan Wicka, Sharon Harrison, and Yonika Powell during a Saturday class to become Parkside bus drivers. (Photo: Randy Litzinger, Prince William Times)

While no teacher has been assigned a route yet, Boynton says PWCS officials as well as those from other districts are keeping a watchful eye on the teacher-drivers.

“We developed the program from scratch,” she says. “From now to the end of the school year we’ll be working out the kinks and listening to feedback from staff, parents, and students.”

Boynton hopes to sign up more teachers during the summer in order to have at least 10 teachers behind the wheel in September for the start of the new school year.

After Parkside administrators and ESPs approved the plan, Boynton presented it to senior staff at the county level.

“They liked the idea and even agreed to pay for the training costs,” she says. “It’s a good example of teamwork … everyone working together to serve students and parents.”

Parkside is located between the City of Manassas and Manassas Park, a precarious area crisscrossed by busy byways. All 1,420 of the school’s sixth, seventh and eighth graders are transported by bus. The school currently operates 31 buses with 31 routes and 31 drivers, and is considered fully staffed, says Boynton.

“On some days we have zero absenteeism among drivers,” she says. “On bad days we have two or three drivers doing double routes.”

Shortages are Everywhere

Driving a school bus is considered by most school districts as part-time work, which prevents drivers from collecting unemployment benefits if they get laid off or receiving the same employment benefits, like health insurance, of full-time workers. In addition, many districts require split morning and afternoon shifts for transportation workers, which precludes many drivers from working a second job for added income.

Although signing bonuses, increased pay and benefits, job fairs, advertising, and streamlining the hiring process have helped to retain and recruit drivers, most schools are experiencing some degree of driver shortages.

According to Associated Press (AP) reports, in Lincoln, Neb., some bus driver positions were unfilled even after a local school district offered $1,000 signing bonuses for new hires and a guaranteed six-hour day for all drivers.

In Iowa, the Southeast Polk Community School District relies on approximately 50 retirees and stay-at-home parents to transport roughly 3,400 students to and from school. According to AP, “there aren’t as many retired farmers, a group that commonly took the job for extra income. Now, even with administrators and bus mechanics filling in, the shortage has also resulted in fewer routes, more children waiting at each stop, and crowded buses.”

In Minnesota, some St. Paul students are arriving late to school because fill-in drivers aren’t familiar with the normal routes.

A school district in Ypsilanti, Mich., had to cancel a day of school last year because there weren’t enough substitute drivers to cover for sick drivers.

In Hawaii last year, a driver shortage in Maui forced state officials suspend bus rides for some students and limit rides for others. The district offered free monthly bus passes on local public transportation.

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People Question Trump’s Biblical Literacy After He Touts Bible Classes

President Donald Trump praised the idea of introducing Bible literacy classes into public schools on Monday, naturally sparking questions on Twitter about Trump’s own knowledge of the Bible

In a morning tweet, the president offered encouragement to politicians in several states who have pushed legislation that would allow public schools to offer an optional elective course on the historical significance of the Bible.

“Numerous states introducing Bible Literacy classes, giving students the option of studying the Bible,” Trump wrote. “Starting to make a turn back? Great!”

He posted the tweet soon after a “Fox & Friends” segment reporting that at least six states ― North Dakota, Missouri, Indiana, West Virginia, Virginia and Florida ― have seen the introduction of Bible literacy legislation this year. 

North Dakota state Rep. Aaron McWilliams, who is co-sponsoring a Bible literacy measure, appeared on the conservative talk show Monday morning to defend these bills.

Under his bill, the Bible courses would be entirely optional for schools to offer and for students to take, McWilliams said. The classes, he explained, would explore the Bible’s influence on history, legal systems, America’s founding fathers ― and other much broader concepts.

“The concept of forgiveness, the concept of recompense, these are things that all come from the Bible,” McWilliams said. “If we don’t have a good foundational understanding of this, we’re not going to understand how the founding fathers of our country and other countries put it together to have the world that we have today.”

Watch the “Fox & Friends” segment with McWilliams below.

Trump’s approval of Bible literacy classes drew backlash from some of his critics on Twitter, with many chiming in to question his scriptural bona fides.

The president, who identifies as a Presbyterian, has repeatedly claimed that the Bible is his favorite book. Yet he’s had a few public blunders when asked to display his own knowledge of the Scriptures. He said in 2016 that his favorite Bible verse is the one that demands “an eye for an eye” as punishment for crimes. But that verse from Exodus was later specifically addressed by Jesus, who told his followers to “turn the other cheek” to their enemies instead.

During a visit to Liberty University the same year, Trump famously referred to the biblical book Second Corinthians as “Two Corinthians,” eliciting some snickers from students at the evangelical school.

Family Research Council president Tony Perkins, a longtime Trump ally who helped craft the Liberty University speech, later admitted that the presidential candidate’s botched reference “shows that he’s not familiar with the Bible.”

Trump’s ability to quote Scripture appears to have improved after he was elected to the White House, including in speeches after the Las Vegas and Parkland, Florida, mass shootings.  

Donald Trump takes the oath of office with his hand on a Bible held by his wife on Jan. 20, 2017.

Still, some Christian and Jewish Americans suggested on Monday that there were other Bible verses the president should familiarize himself with. 

Some pointed out that the Bible calls on people of faith to welcome the stranger ― something Trump’s critics believe his immigration policies have failed to do.

Others pointed out that the Bible often presents God as a defender of the poor, the sick and the powerless ― and that it calls on religious people to show compassion for those marginalized members of society. 

Twitter users noted that this responsibility to care for the marginalized doesn’t extend only to individuals. The Bible, they said, calls on governments to be just, too. 

Rachel Laser, president of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, described Trump’s tweet as an attempt to “pander to his Religious Right base,” particularly in light of recent polling that suggests his approval rating among white evangelicals dipped during the partial government shutdown.

“As the leader of our diverse nation, the President should support religious freedom for all, not a select few ― and these bills do just the opposite,” Laser told HuffPost in an email.

In 2018, lawmakers in Alabama, Iowa and West Virginia floated Bible literacy bills that were eventually defeated, according to the American Civil Liberties Union. The effort had been more successful the previous year in Kentucky, where lawmakers passed a bill that allowed Bible courses to be taught in public schools. The ACLU contends that, in practice, these classes in Kentucky often flout constitutional restrictions that prohibit public school teachers from proselytizing students. 

Trump holds up a Bible that was given to him by his mother as he speaks at the Values Voter Summit on Sept. 25, 2015.

Trump holds up a Bible that was given to him by his mother as he speaks at the Values Voter Summit on Sept. 25, 2015.

Americans United for Separation of Church and State says these bills are part of a larger coordinated campaign by Christian nationalist groups. The effort, dubbed Project Blitz, seeks to flood state legislatures across the country with centrally crafted “model” bills that promote conservative Christian views.

Along with the Bible literacy bills, there’s been a recent push to have the national motto “In God We Trust” posted on public property, including public schools. Lawmakers in Alaska, Kentucky, Missouri, South Carolina and Indiana have already introduced “In God We Trust” bills this year. 

Project Blitz has also been associated with bills that seek to allow workers in the private and public sectors to deny service to LGBTQ people and others based on the workers’ religious beliefs. 

“As evidenced by Project Blitz, the goal of these [Biblical literacy] bills is not to have an objective discussion about the Bible at all but to promote Christianity and ultimately to push a more aggressive political agenda that allows religion to be used to discriminate,” Laser said. 

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Students Stun Teacher With Powerful Message Of Love Before He Marries Husband

A Massachusetts teacher became visibly emotional after dozens of students dropped by his wedding rehearsal for a powerful performance. 

A Jan. 11 video posted on the Hingham Public Schools’ Facebook page showed Christopher Landis wiping away tears as his students perform The Beatles’ “All You Need Is Love” for him and his now-husband, Joe Michienzie. 

Though the footage was shot at Landis and Michienzie’s Dec. 21 rehearsal brunch at Tavern on the Wharf in Plymouth, Massachusetts, it continues to make headlines more than a month later. As of Monday afternoon, the clip had been featured on Inside Edition and in The New York Times and viewed more than 895,000 times. 

Landis, who is the choir director at Hingham Middle School in Hingham, Massachusetts, told Inside Edition that he was initially perplexed when he noticed some of his guests holding video cameras. 

“I saw the first student come in and I was like, ‘Oh my goodness,’ but I don’t think it hit me until all of these students came in and they were smiling and all dressed up,” he said. “Then I started crying and they started crying.”

Though Landis has taught at Hingham Middle School for six years, he said he’d initially kept quiet about his engagement to Michienzie since he wasn’t sure how his students would react to him having a husband. 

Eventually, word got out, and two mothers of Hingham Middle School choir members decided to take it upon themselves to organize a special surprise for Landis and Michienzie before the big day. 

“He’s the best teacher, and he’s got this great energy, and he makes every school function fun,” Margit Foley, one of the organizers, told The New York Times. In fall 2018, she and Joy Foraste began contacting other parents of sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade choir members in hopes of getting around 15 students to participate. In the end, they reportedly had more than 50. 

Thanks to the performance, Landis said he’s now comfortable with referring to Michienzie as his husband to his pupils. Ultimately, he hopes viewers take away their own message of self-empowerment from the clip, too.

“There might be a student in that choir that could be struggling at home [or] at school,” he said. “To see the love that was in that room lets them know that everything’s going to be OK.”  

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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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Latin America’s First School For Transgender Kids Is Thriving

SANTIAGO, Chile (AP) — Growing up as a transgender child in Chile, Angela was so desperate to escape the physical and verbal abuse from other students at her elementary school that she thought about taking her own life.

“I just wanted to die,” said the now 16-year-old. “I didn’t want to exist, because what they did to me made me feel awful.”

After suffering years of discrimination, Angela and some 20 other transgender minors aged 6 to 17 have found hope at Latin America’s first school for trans children. The institution, founded by the Chile-based Selenna Foundation that protects their rights, is a milestone in a country that was so socially conservative that it only legalized divorce in 2004.

In recent years, the families of trans children have demanded greater acceptance — a call that recently led to the approval of a law that allows people over the age of 14 to change their name and gender in official records with the consent of their parents or legal guardians.


Activists and parents of transgender children say that’s the stage of childhood or pre-adolescence when children discover that their gender does not correspond to their body.

A 2016 report by UNESCO said that in Latin America, as in the rest of the world, violence against sexual orientation or gender identity in schools wreaks “havoc on the development of the affected people, school coexistence, academic performance and, consequently, their permanence in school.”

Chile has slowly shifted its conservative stands on social issues. In 2012, it passed an anti-discrimination law and in 2017, it ended its absolute ban on abortion, legalizing it in when a woman’s life is in danger, a fetus is not viable and in cases of rape. The shift has been accelerated by a clerical sex abuse scandal.

The school was launched in 2017 as a way to help families of trans children, who often skip classes or even fail to finish their studies as result of discrimination, said Selenna Foundation President Evelyn Silva. Classes began in April 2018 in a space loaned by a community center in the Chilean capital of Santiago. Courses include math, science, history and English, as well as workshops on art and photography.


Since its start, school attendance has grown from the original five students to 22 in December, and six more have already enrolled in the new year. Students are assigned to one of two classrooms based on age.

“I’m happy here because there are many other kids just like me,” said Alexis, a 6-year-old student, who also said that he was constantly bullied at his previous school.

Teachers work pro bono, but all other expenses for the school’s first year were funded by Silva and school coordinator Ximena Maturana out of their personal savings. Starting in March, families will have to pay about $7 a month for each child.

“We try to reduce the costs to the minimum (for families) so that they don’t say that (kids) are not attending because they don’t have pencils, and it becomes a reason to leave school,” Silva said.


Despite the lack of resources, the foundation has started a summer school that offers dance and other workshops for about 20 children, including some who are not attending the school.

Although space is limited, parents say students have regained their confidence: They seem happier, more relaxed and eager to participate in class.

″(My son) was losing his identity, he was getting ashamed of being transgender because he felt that he didn’t fit in,” said Alexis’ father, Gabriel Astete. “He was being forced to go to the boys’ bathroom when he wanted to go to one for girls. His self-esteem was very low at the traditional school.”

Students agreed that the school has helped them fully embrace their identity.

“I feel free and happy here,” said Felipe, 15. “The environment is very good. Everyone who arrives is simply accepted.”

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How To Stop Your Babysitter From Sexting And Tweeting On The Job

It used to be that the worst thing a babysitter could do was raid the refrigerator. But this was before Snapchat, texting, social media and emojis. Today’s sitters sneak or outright flaunt something many of us parents don’t know how to deal with: constant texting, Instagramming, You-Tube-watching, you name it. So how do you dole out the rules?

Of course, the most important thing is that your kids are safe while they’re under someone else’s care. You might think the worst could never happen to your kids, but mobile devices just make getting distracted even easier, and that can have tragic consequences. Less severe than a major accident, but still disturbing, would be finding out your babysitter texted all night and ignored your kids.

Here are a few things to keep in mind when talking to your babysitter about your digital rules:

Spell it out

Teen and young adult babysitters have grown up with mobile devices, so don’t expect them to have the same relationship with their phones as you do. If you don’t want your babysitter texting or tweeting while on the job, tell them explicitly.

You saw your baby on Instagram, now what?

As much as phones are part of everyday life, so is sharing. Your babysitter might not think twice before taking photos of your kids doing something cute and posting it on Instagram. If this is something that doesn’t feel right to you, let them know right off the bat.

Set screen rules

You’re probably used to talking to your sitter about when the TV needs to go off, but don’t forget to mention your rules around showing your kids videos or images from their phone. Most sitters probably have a sense of what is or isn’t appropriate, but if you’re in doubt, mention it.

Use tech wisely

Running a few minutes late getting home? Having an always-connected sitter can really come in handy when you want to send a quick text from a restaurant. Plus, the ability to send and receive photos can help you decide whether you need to cut a date night short if your sitter is reporting a weird rash or skinned knee.

You’re the boss

Hiring “digital natives” to babysit means learning to speak their language and helping them understand yours. While you might never think of texting your friends or updating your Facebook status while at work, you can’t assume they feel the same. Once you’ve figured out your rules, you need to discuss them with the babysitter as a condition of the job. And while getting rid of a good sitter can be a heartbreaker, you need to be ready to take action if there’s any iffy behavior whether it happens online, on the phone or IRL.

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The Perils of Sending Report Cards Home

Something many teachers and pediatricians have long suspected to be true is that child abuse incidents increase when report cards go home. They’re right, a University of Florida (UF) research team has found—but only when report cards go home on Fridays.

UF research scientist Melissa Bright, a NEA Higher Ed member, was talking last year with a UF pediatrician whose patients include victims of abuse or neglect. “He said to me, ‘there’s this idea that when the report cards go out, our patient load goes up,’” Bright recalls. “And then I also talked to some teachers who said, ‘oh yeah, we hate sending home report cards. We know some kids are not going to have a good experience.’”

“So I said, ‘Let’s look for data.’” says Bright.

After comparing a year’s worth of Florida child abuse cases to the dates that report cards were sent home with students, the UF team found a correlation—but only on Fridays. In fact, cases of child abuse, verified by the state’s Department of Children and Families, were four times higher on Saturdays following a report card. When report cards were sent home earlier in the week, no increase was found. Their study was published in December in the journal JAMA Pediatrics.

A simple answer—maybe too simple—might be to send report cards earlier in the week, says Bright. “If it’s really just something that happens on Fridays because of something about Fridays, then maybe we could move it earlier. But because we don’t know why it’s happening on Friday, it’s possible we might just move the cases to an earlier day.”

Fridays often are pay days, she notes. Fridays also may kick off a weekend of substance abuse. Or it could be the day that some children switch homes, if their parents live apart. Do any of these things matter? Researchers can’t say for certain.

“I think it’s also important to figure out the nature of report cards,” says Bright. “This is speculation—but I don’t think this is just about bad grades. In elementary school, the report cards include grades and also behavior reports. Parents tend to be more punitive about bad behavior. If the card says the kid is acting up, or not paying attention, I think those are the things that upset parents.”

With that in mind, a more sustainable intervention to prevent abuse—but one that requires more work from parents and educators—is increased, more constant communication between school and home. “It’s not that teachers need to keep an eye on parents, or help them do their job better, but everybody should understand that their shared goal is to help the kid succeed,” says Bright.

Some NEA local affiliates have worked to improve communication through teacher-home visits. Others are making sure that parent-teacher conferences are well-planned and effective.

“The idea is to put everybody on the same page,” says Bright.

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To Advance Diversity & Inclusion, CEOs Must Choose Cooperation Over Competition

In game theory, cooperation produces the optimal solution to the prisoner’s dilemma. In evolutionary theory, it’s how genes help define genomes. In social theory, it’s how hunter-gatherer societies evolve into nation states. Cooperation is the fundamental principle that shapes humans and human society. And humans cooperate for one simple reason: There is strength — and value — in numbers.

Yet, most companies view advancing diversity and inclusion as a solo challenge. I believe this is because diversity as a “business” advantage sounds a lot like diversity as a “competitive” advantage. This, of course, is true. But when it comes to diversity and inclusion, cooperation gets all of us a lot further than competition ever can.

In cooperative situations, the cooperator often pays a cost to allow another to benefit. However, when the thing we’re cooperating on is diversity, the collective benefits for our companies, employees and communities far outweigh the “costs” of any resources we expend individually. After all, no one company has all the answers, and no one company faces all the challenges or realizes all the opportunities. For all of us, surviving and thriving demands cooperation among people — and organizations — with diverse outlooks, core capabilities and resources.

It’s all about sharing best practices, which gets all of us to a solution faster. HR professionals and chief diversity officers share best practices all the time. But since their practices stem from the tone at the top, organizations would benefit most if CEOs did some sharing of their own.

CEOs manage thousands of employees. We, myself included, make decisions that impact not only our companies, but also the communities and countries our companies do business in. In an increasingly connected world, with shared challenges and opportunities, we can make better decisions by incorporating viewpoints from people with differing backgrounds, experiences and perspectives.

In addition, sharing best practices requires CEOs to examine practices at an atypical level of granularity. To prioritize. To take ownership. Sharing best practices is essential to continuous improvement — and continuous improvement is essential to competing in a continually changing world and marketplace.

The CEO Action for Diversity & Inclusion operates collectively across organizations and sectors. It’s the largest CEO-driven business commitment to advance diversity and inclusion within the workplace. Recognizing that change starts at the executive level — and with the belief that addressing diversity and inclusion is not a competitive issue, but a societal one — more than 500 CEOs of the world’s leading companies and business organizations are leveraging their individual and collective voices to advance diversity and inclusion in the workplace.

Top-down leadership on diversity is especially important now because we’re facing exponential change more than ever. The communities where we live and work are changing. Customers are demanding that companies understand and fulfill their diverse needs in ways that they never have before.

There are over seven and a half billion people in the world — half of whom are women. By 2050, traditionally underrepresented groups will be the majority. More than 10 million adults now identify as LGBTQ in the U.S. today, which is 20 percent more than in 2012. With those realities, it defies logic that there isn’t more diversity in the workplace — especially in leadership roles. No company or industry that wants to survive can afford to exclude the majority of its potential talent pool. And, increasingly, companies cannot lead markets that their leadership does not reflect.

Diversity is good for the economy — it improves corporate performance, drives growth and enhances employee engagement. As we look ahead, inclusive diversity will be a critical factor in every company’s ability to adapt and excel in the global marketplace. We can continue to compete or we can choose to cooperate. I think cooperation is the better path, and CEOs are the best positioned to drive it. Fortunately, there are at least 500 other CEOs who think so too.

The CEO Action for Diversity & Inclusion was spearheaded by PwC U.S. Chairman Tim Ryan.

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‘Period Parties’ Are Smashing The Stigma Of Menstruation

Comedian Bert Kreischer shared an entertaining story while appearing on “Conan” in August 2018. The topic: His daughter’s “period party.”

When Kreischer’s younger daughter first started her period, she asked him to pick up some supplies for a period party. She responded to his initial confusion by noting that “all the girls are throwing them” and instructed him to buy red velvet cake and icing to decorate it with the “name” of her period.

The dad quickly got on board.

“I had the best time of my life! I got beet juice, pomegranate juice, pasta with marinara sauce, ketchup and fries, red velvet cake, red wine!” he told the “Conan” audience. “It was awesome. I hope to God you hear it in a positive manner, and you fathers get to throw your daughter a period party.”

While “Flo” is obviously a popular pick for a period “name,” Kreischer proudly noted that his daughter chose “Jason” because the date of her menarche was Friday the 13th.

Although the idea of a “period party” may seem strange, Kreischer actually touched on something that’s not so uncommon: Many parents and their daughters celebrate this milestone in festive ways.

While some people just like to take advantage of any occasion to throw a theme party, there are generally more profound motivations behind period parties.

For many, this kind of celebration is a way to destigmatize and minimize the sense of shame around periods ― a topic that’s still considered embarrassing or taboo to talk about. Period parties also present the opportunity to address some of the fear, uncertainty and confusion young people feel around menstruation.

In January 2017, a Florida mom’s “period party” for her daughter went viral on Twitter. Twelve-year-old Brooke Lee’s mother Shelly organized the event to ease the preteen’s anxiety around starting her period.

She invited close friends and family, and they celebrated with pizza, a cake with red and white icing and menstrual product gifts.

Poet Dominique Christina described a period party she threw for her 13-year-old daughter while introducing her powerful piece, “The Period Poem,” at a spoken word event in 2014.

“And so then my daughter, she starts her period, and she’s stricken and walks out the bathroom looking like she’s died or something. And I wanted to undermine that,” Christina said. “So I threw her a period party, my homies rolled up, dressed in red, and there was red food and red drinks. It was great. All red everything.”

Some people refer to this kind of event as a “first moon party” or “red tent party,” which appears to be a reference to Anita Diamant’s The Red Tent. (The book follows the biblical character Dinah, a daughter of Jacob and sister of Joseph, and its title refers to her tribe’s tradition of women menstruating together in a special tent.)

For some people, the concept of a period party may sound a bit embarrassing and over the top, but menstruation-related celebrations are relatively common in certain cultures.

In Tamil communities, there’s a special coming-of-age ceremony and party to mark the occasion. The Navajo have a ritual called Kinaalda. Many Japanese families historically made a nod to a daughter’s first period by serving sekihan, a dish associated with special occasions that features rice and adzuki beans (which have a reddish color).

Needless to say, the period party concept isn’t particularly new, but the modern, American, red velvet cake version seems to be catching on in our social media-driven world. Pinterest is full of period party ideas. The Instagram hashtag #periodparty brings up photos of menstruation-themed desserts and other festive fares. The parenting website Mommyish even offers a guide called “First Period Party Ideas Your Daughter Will Hate You For.”

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Pinterest is full of food and decor ideas for a “first moon party” or “rent tent party.”

This concept also has a history in pop culture. When the character Rudy Huxtable started her period in a 1990 episode of “The Cosby Show,” matriarch Clair wanted to honor the occasion with a special “Woman’s Day.”

Supermodel Tyra Banks’ mother, Carolyn London, threw her teenage daughter period party, which the two women described in their book, Perfect is Boring.

“One day, I was watching a National Geographic special and saw that in almost every primitive culture, there was a rite of passage ceremony where the women would come together to honor a girl who had just started her period and teach her all about it,” London wrote. “It was a celebration of womanhood, and an acknowledgement of passing into another realm.”

Inspired by this concept, the mom decided to host a party for Tyra. She invited her daughter’s friends, ordered a cake that said “You’re a Woman Now,” decorated the house in Tyra’s favorite color yellow, and put together a menstruation gift basket. During the party, London “gave them all the complete breakdown” of menstrual products, hygiene, anatomy and more. The party was reportedly such a hit, she threw similar events for her nieces as well.

“I appreciate that my mother never wanted me to be ashamed of anything, or to think that there was something bad or dirty about my body,” Banks wrote.

The event Banks described had a clear educational spin, which many contemporary period parties do as well. Organizations like Bloody Good Period and The Cup Effect have hosted charity-oriented period parties aimed at raising awareness and money to support women in need of menstrual supplies and other support.

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Period parties can also have an educational or charitable spin. 

Members of the HuffPost Parents community shared their experiences with period celebrations in response to a callout earlier this month. Many said they commemorated the occasion with a special meal, a mother-daughter shopping trip, a small gift or even an outing to get their ears pierced. Others put together menstruation-themed goodie bags with items like tampons, pads, chocolate, cramp-relief medicine, heating pads, soap, slippers, and more. Still others went the full-on party route.

We had a small celebration. I got her red balloons and red velvet cupcakes. I also got a number 1 candle for her to blow out to commemorate the occasion,” Michele Lorenc Hufnal wrote. “I feel like when I was growing up everything was borderline shameful. I certainly didn’t want my daughter to feel that way. I think that by having a small celebration I was able to take some of the dread she was feeling and turned it into a more lighthearted day. P.S. She loved it. You don’t have to. No one has to. But I chose to lighten the mood.”

Another mother created a ceremony for her daughter to honor the occasion and show her how many women in her life could offer support and answer any questions about the changes in her body. Kate Nagel explained that she gathered female relatives and close friends (approved by her daughter) and asked each one to bring a single flower to create a full bouquet, “an item that represented what it meant to them to become a woman,” and a memory they’d feel comfortable sharing.

“I wanted her to know that she came from a long line of strong women and that she was not alone in and on her journey,” Nagel wrote. “I grew up during a time that women were made to hide, be ashamed and want to stop their menstrual cycle. I wanted her to celebrate the power she had by being a woman, by being able to bear a child and that this was a powerful time of manifestation in a 28/30 day cycle.”

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Members of the HuffPost Parents community shared their opinions and experiences when it comes to period parties. 

Not all HuffPost Parents community members were on board with the concept of putting on a period party, however.

In the most-liked comment responding to the callout, Nikki Bull Pollard wrote, “Its [sic] bad enough I have to make a damn elf appear magical for the whole month of December. Now I gotta throw a period party? Up yours, Overachiever Mommies. Up. Yours.”

In the second-ranked comment, mom Tawnya Slater joked, “I have only boys…. do I need to plan a ‘first nocturnal ejaculation’ party? What do you serve at that party? Squirt?”

Still, another commenter offered a very diplomatic approach.

“In general, I think any celebration, ceremony, or loving acknowledgment of first menses as a rite of passage is wonderful and should be more widely practiced,” Amber Harris wrote. “I say in general, because often well-meaning people (and let’s be honest, sometimes they are mean people and think embarrassing other folks, especially their children, is fun and funny) forget to include their daughters in the planning and execution of the celebration and end up making the experience more embarrassing and scarring than sacred, welcoming or special.”

Harris concluded that as long as the young person being honored wants to have this kind of celebration and has agency in the planning process, it’s a fine idea. And even if the child doesn’t want to have a special event, it can be helpful to have an empowering conversation about menstruation and growing up.

Ultimately, however you feel about period parties, there’s no denying they are … memorable. Period.

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UTLA Strike Ends With Historic Agreement

Photo: Joe Brusky

Students and educators are back in their classrooms January 23, as the United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA) and Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) ratified a Tentative Agreement (TA), ending a six-day strike. More than 30,000 members hit the picket lines on January 14 to fight for their students and the resources that the nearly 600,000 kids in Los Angeles public schools need to be successful.

“This is a historic victory for public education educators, students and parents. Class-size reduction, limits on testing, and access to nurses, counselors and librarians will change our students’ lives forever. We won this victory through our unity, our action, and our shared sacrifice,” said Alex Caputo-Pearl, president of UTLA, in a press statement.

The strike came after years of frustration. “Educators and parents reached a boiling point … about conditions in classrooms,” said Caputo-Pearl.

Some of the problems on the table were class sizes of 45 or more students, 40 percent of schools with a nurse only one day a week, inadequate funding for key programs such as early childhood education and special education.

The agreement is a paradigm shift and delivers on the defining demands of UTLA’s contract campaign. Wins include:

  • A six percent pay raise with no contingencies;
  • A nurse in every school five days a week;
  • Lower class sizes, including an immediate reduction of seven students in secondary math and English classes;
  • Counselor-student ratios of 1:500;
  • Commitment to reduce testing by 50 percent;
  • A teacher librarian in every secondary school five days a week;
  • Investment in community schools;
  • A pathway to cap charters via a resolution calling on the state to establish a charter school cap and create a Governor’s committee on charter schools; and
  • Hard caps on special education caseloads and release time for testing

Read the full TA here: utla.net/news/tentative-agreement-2019

“I’m so proud of our members, classroom teachers, counselors, nurses, librarians, psychologists,” Caputo-Pearl said during a news conference on Tuesday.

“When we fight, we win,” said @teacherinroom6 through her Instagram account. “Did we get everything we were fighting for? No. But we did get enough to keep public education headed on a path towards a healthy and concrete future. Privatization did not win today and for that we can breathe a collective sigh of relief.”

Organizing for the Common Good

UTLA’s strategy to win was based on bargaining for the common good, which brings demands in collective bargaining that benefit the entire community, not just union members. Among the wins are plans to increase green space and the end of “random searches,” which send many students of color into the school-to-prison pipeline. Additionally, the school district will provide a dedicated hotline and attorney for immigrant families and will collaborate with UTLA for other services.

Photo: Joe Brusky

Issues like these is what prompted parents and community organizations to stand with UTLA. For example, on January 18, nearly 2,000 parents and students created a chain that stretched nearly a mile. They wore red, and stood with educators.

The role of UTLA and its members was paramount, too. Picket line captains, chapter chairs, and UTLA leaders — and others — united thousands of educators, parents, community organizations, and other union members to rally in support of students and public education. Actors, musicians, and politicians also came out in support of UTLA.

On day one of the strike, 30,000 UTLA members signed in on picket lines across Los Angeles; more than 900 school sites participated; more than 10,000 parents, students and community members joined on the picket lines; and more than 50,000 people march to LAUSD headquarter to demand action.

By day three, more than 12,000 parents and community members came out to support UTLA, including Diane Ravitch and musician/actor Steven Van Zandt.

Crowds remained strong on day five of the strike, with more than 60,000 supporters on the steps of city hall, and day six brought out 1,000 firefighters from across the U.S. and Canada, whom were in Los Angeles for the International Association of Fire Fighters.

#RedForEd is a Movement

The Los Angeles teachers’ strike was just the latest in the national #RedForEd movement that began with walkouts and work actions last year in West Virginia, Oklahoma, Kentucky, Arizona, Colorado, North Carolina and Washington state.

“Although the bargaining issues vary greatly from place to place, there are some issues they all share,” says NEA President Lily Eskelsen García: “The concern that public education has been chronically underfunded in state and local budgets for decades, resulting in overcrowded classrooms, too few counselors and nurses, tattered textbooks held together by duct tape, broken computers and outdated materials, and buildings that have fallen into disrepair”

She added, “What we are witnessing is not a moment but a movement of and by educators who are fighting for the public schools our students deserve. We’re raising our voices together for our students, for our schools and for ourselves as educators. That’s why educators in Los Angeles and all over this country are #RedForEd.”

While 21 months of strained negotiations led Los Angeles educators to strike for the first time in 30 years, the “strike has helped not only move to this agreement, but has helped raise the issue of public education nationally and internationally,” Caputo-Pearl said during yesterday’s news conference. “The creativity and innovation and passion and love and emotion of our members was out on the street, in the communities and in the parks for everyone to see.”

Are Oakland and Denver Next?

#RedforEd is also thriving 400 miles north in Oakland, where educators are preparing for a possible strike. Like their colleagues in Los Angeles, they want smaller classes and more support — such as more counselors, librarians, and nurses — for their students, and a living wage.

Oakland educators have been working without a contract since July 2017.  The district has a serious teacher turnover and class size problem, which the Oakland Education Association (OEA) says isn’t being addressed in the district’s proposals.

“Teachers are fed up with the poor working conditions and salaries, and with the learning conditions that our students are having to endure,” OEA President Keith Brown said. “We are fighting to end Oakland’s teacher turnover crisis and to bring stability for our students.”

If mediation and fact-finding doesn’t move the needle on negotiations, Oakland educators, like their colleagues in Los Angeles, are #Strikeready and could take action later this month.

Members of the Denver Classroom Teachers Association (DCTA) approved to strike on January 22, after more than a year of negotiations with Denver Public Schools (DPS) have failed to produce fair, predictable, and competitive pay.

DCTA has been negotiating with the district for 14 months to bring change to a compensation system that is directly linked to Denver’s teacher turnover crisis — 31 percent of Denver teachers have only been in their school for three years or less. The revolving door is a crisis for kids and families who count on DPS to consistently provide a caring, qualified and experienced teaching staff at every school.

“Denver teachers want to be in their classrooms with their students, not out on strike. But we have reached the tipping point in our negotiations with DPS where we must stand up for our profession and for our students and do what is best to keep dedicated, experienced teachers in this district,” said Henry Roman, president of DCTA.

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Trump’s Shutdown Has Led To A ‘Slow Strangling’ Of American Science

In early November, Jamie Rowen, an author and assistant professor of legal studies at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, was notified that she had been selected to receive a prestigious CAREER Award from the National Science Foundation. The awards, distributed annually to support junior faculty members in science and engineering, will provide her with a $500,000, 5-year grant to research and write a book about veterans in the criminal justice system.

For the last two years, Rowen has been studying Veteran Treatment Courts, which provide addiction and mental health treatment to military veterans as an alternative to incarceration ― all issues that the Trump administration has prioritized. Rowen expected to receive final approval from NSF this month and funding in early February. But the ongoing partial government shutdown ― the longest in America’s history ― has prevented awards from being processed.

“When you write out these grants, you write out timelines,” Rowen told HuffPost. “My timeline is now blown up.”

She’s far from alone. The NSF hasn’t divvied out a single dollar in grant money since the shutdown began Dec. 22. During the same time period a year ago, the federal agency awarded nearly 400 research grants valued at $121.9 million, according to a running tally by Benjamin Corb, public affairs director of The American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology.

“The impact on science is a slow strangling of the American scientific enterprise,” Corb wrote in an email.

President Donald Trump’s demand that Congress fork over $5.7 billion for a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border has left some 800,000 federal workers without pay. The Senate is set to vote Thursday on a pair of measures aimed at reopening the government, but neither is expected to pass, as HuffPost reported.

The impact on science is a slow strangling of the American scientific enterprise.
Benjamin Corb, The American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology

With seemingly no end to the political battle in sight, there’s no telling when Rowen will receive the grant money to continue her work. She said she planned to hire three teaching assistants from three separate institutions as part of the project, along with summer undergraduate researchers. Those students are also now in limbo, waiting to hear if Rowen will be able to bring them aboard. She worries that if the government doesn’t reopen soon, the students will be forced to find employment elsewhere.

The delay has also impacted Rowen’s ability to organize and pay for research trips she had planned for the spring and summer.

“It’s sort of a first-world problem amongst all of the survival problems,” she said, referring to the financial hardships that tens of thousands of government workers now face because of missed paychecks. “But it’s serious,” she said, showing the ripple effect the shutdown is having.

The NSF is among several government agencies that fund research grants. And derailing the flow of grant money is just one of many ways that the shutdown has stymied scientific research around the country. Thousands of scientists remained furloughed across agencies like the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Geological Survey.

Meanwhile, the administration has managed to forge ahead with fossil fuel development in its relentless push for so-called “energy dominance.” The Interior Department is continuing to process oil and gas drilling applications and permits and recently amended the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management’s shutdown contingency plan to bring back dozens of furloughed employees to continue work on offshore drilling activities.

Approximately 90 percent of NSF’s 2,100-person workforce is furloughed, an agency spokeswoman said. At least 250 postdoctoral research fellows have gone without their stipends. The agency has had to cancel job interviews for key positions, including head of the Office of Information and Resource Management. And it was unable to send staff to a number of recent science conferences, including those of the American Astronomical Society and the American Meteorological Society.

Among the many grants and awards that have been delayed are a batch of more than 180 small business innovation awards that were ready to go out when appropriations lapsed. Additionally, NSF has been forced to cancel dozens of review panels, groups of independent scientists and experts that evaluate grant proposals. The NSF makes decisions to fund or reject proposals based on these recommendations. 

More than 100 panels were scheduled to review nearly 2,000 scientific proposals between Jan. 7 and Jan. 25, according to NSF. Those included panels for chemistry, earth sciences, astronomical sciences and molecular and cellular biosciences. NSF’s Division of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences has previously funded research looking at ways to target bacteria like E.coli and on bacteria that could help mitigate the impacts of greenhouse gas emissions, Corbs told HuffPost.

An NSF spokeswoman called the situation “unprecedented” and said the agency doesn’t yet know the full extent of the shutdown’s effects.  

When the political standoff does finally end, NSF will have to tackle weeks of backlogged work in addition to everything on its regular agenda, which includes dozens of review panel meetings on the books for February and March. The rescheduling effort will be a “mess to untangle,” Corbs said.

“We will never know exactly which funding opportunities have been lost because of this shutdown, but we can be assured that American science [continues] to be hurt,” he said.

Rowen, who was invited to be on a review panel in March, fears the shutdown could set science research, universities and careers back years. Universities rely on a stagnant pool of federal grant money to pay salaries and fund research. Roughly one-quarter of Rowen’s $500,000 grant is to go toward operating costs at the multiple universities she has partnered with for the project. 

“I have little doubt that the hold-up of NSF funding will cost jobs and cause ripple effects in university administration,” Rowen said in a text message. 

These outside awards can make or break a career, she added. It was an NSF grant that funded her dissertation research at the University of California, Berkeley, which she says ultimately led to a job in academics.

“It’s huge for people who are scholars to not have the certainty around this,” Rowen said.

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How My Kid Found Friends On Fortnite

When we moved to a new town last summer, I wasn’t sure how my 12-year-old son would make new friends. I saw lots of kids his age biking around our new neighborhood or playing ball at the park. But when you’re 12, it’s not easy to just walk over to a strange kid and introduce yourself. Plus my son was more interested in staying inside to play Fortnite and other video games. With the new school year approaching and my son’s anxiety about going to a new school rising, I decided to take things into my own hands. (Get the whole scoop on Fortnite in Common Sense Media’s Parents’ Ultimate Guide to Fortnite).

On our local Facebook group, I posted a note about my son: “Entering 7th grader who likes Marvel movies, biking, sci-fi books, and Fortnite, seeks similar friends.”

To my surprise, the response was overwhelming. I immediately heard from a mom who said my son sounded exactly like her son. More parents both moms and dads responded and expressed enthusiasm for getting our kids together. Since our kids were a little too old for traditional playdates, one mom suggested we connect our boys through Fortnite.

Before this suggestion, I’d written off Fortnite as just another shooting game. It was bloodless and cartoonish enough to make me feel somewhat comfortable with my kid playing. But I hadn’t really paid attention to how much collaboration and communication was happening as players worked together to build defenses and fight off enemies. And it hadn’t occurred to me that my son could meet new friends who could translate into real-life friends.

But the next thing I knew, I was sending Messenger chats back and forth with several parents trying to sort out which platforms were compatible (Xbox? PlayStation?) and what gamer handles our kids were using (coolboy2012, Smurf2cat). Eventually my son hooked up with about four kids through Fortnite, and they started playing together regularly. I’d hear my son’s side of the tentative conversations as they slowly got to know each other by trading Fortnite weapons and teaming up to snipe enemies. Soon, my son was asking if he could go meet up with a new friend at the nearby park. The boy’s mom sent me a message on Facebook, and we ended up chatting on the phone before our kids met in person.

As the school year approached, my son was super nervous about how he would manage the unfamiliar routines (new locker combos! New PE uniforms!). On the morning of the first day, as he scarfed down buttered toast and we double-checked his backpack for all the necessary paperwork, one of the Facebook group moms texted me. She wanted to see if it would be OK if her kid stopped by so he and my son could bike to school together. It’s been two months and that same boy comes by every day.

My son seems to have more friends each weekend. Sometimes coolboy2012 shows up alone at the door asking to bike around the neighborhood. Sometimes smurf2cat brings a few friends, and they huddle around the TV screen as they watch each other win and lose elaborate Fortnite battles. I’m not too worried about the guns-and-weapons talk anymore because the pros clearly outweigh the cons. My son has friends to sit with at lunch, call with homework questions, and meet up with at the nearby burrito shop. I may have kicked off some of these friendships, but my son is keeping them going. And I’m confident that the next social hurdle he encounters, he can navigate himself with or without Fortnite.

Here are some tips for managing friendships and gaming:

Set rules for chatting

Every family will have different comfort levels around talking to strangers online through games like Fortnite. Whatever those rules are, make sure they’re clear, kids understand them, and there are consequences for breaking the rules. In our house, my son wasn’t allowed to use voice chat at first. Eventually we allowed him to chat with friends he knew in real life. Now, he’s allowed to chat in any game, but he knows that if he hears any inappropriate talk or ever feels uncomfortable with the tone of the conversation, he should get off immediately. We also made sure he knows how to block players if necessary.

Listen in

If possible, keep gaming in a public place. That allows you to listen to the tone of the conversation (even if you can only hear one side). My son plays in the living room, so I can keep track of who he’s talking to. This offers a chance to ask questions about the other players and get a sense of who your kid is playing with. It can also reassure you that your kid is having positive interactions and allows you to correct any misbehavior you notice.

Be cautious about real-life meet-ups

Though scary stories about pedophiles luring kids to meet in person abound, the reality is that that scenario is incredibly rare. But you and your kid should still use common sense when planning to meet an online friend in person. It was important to me to connect with a friend’s parent before our kids met. If that’s not possible, be available to supervise the meet-up until you’re comfortable with the new friend.

Set limits

While I love how Fortnite has helped my son make friends, I don’t love that he spends hours every day playing the game. Some families set firm limits on how much time kids can game or be on screens. We tend to be more flexible, and so long as he’s done his homework and chores, he can game. But I’ve started paying closer attention to when he’s playing with friends versus playing alone. If he’s not chatting with friends, I often ask him to get off the game and go read or play outside. It’s easy for him to get into the habit of gaming constantly. What I want is for him to be making mindful decisions about when to plug in and when to unplug.

Watch out for scams

The popularity of Fortnite has spawned a cottage industry in various scams, including fraudulent websites selling V-Bucks (Fortnite’s in-game currency) and players selling their Fortnite accounts (which is against the rules.)

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Black High School Dancer Told Her Skin Was Too Dark To Perform: Lawsuit

A black student is suing her former Kansas high school district and its staff on the grounds that she was racially discriminated against as a member of the school’s dance team, with staff telling her she couldn’t participate in a performance because of her skin color.

Camille Sturdivant, who graduated in May 2018, claims she was eventually ostracized from gatherings of the Dazzlers dance team after she reported the alleged discrimination to officials with the Blue Valley Unified School District and the dance coach was fired. The lawsuit was filed in December in the U.S. District Court in Kansas City, Kansas.

The suit alleges that choreographer Kevin Murakami and now-former coach Carley Fine excluded Sturdivant from a dance performance at Blue Valley Northwest High School in Overland Park in July 2017 because of her race. Murakami allegedly told her that her dark skin would be a distraction for the audience and that it would clash with the colors of the costumes.

Sturdivant’s parents complained to school Principal Amy Pressly about their daughter’s exclusion in September 2017, but were told that Fine was allowed to choose which dancers she wanted.


Camille Sturdivant is suing her former high school district after she alleges she was racially discriminated against.

Fine was fired in May 2018 after she was found to have sent text messages to Murakami that deplored Sturdivant’s acceptance into the University of Missouri’s Golden Girls dance team for the following academic year, according to the lawsuit.

“THAT DOESN’T MAKE SENSE. I’m so mad,” Murakami allegedly texted Fine after hearing news of Sturdivant’s acceptance.

“It actually makes my stomach hurt,” Fine allegedly responded. “Bc she’s fucking black. I hate that.”

In a statement to HuffPost, Fine said the lawsuit includes a number of false and/or misleading accusations and tells only one side of the story. Because of the ongoing litigation, she said she has been advised by her lawyer not to address the specific allegations at this time.

“The evidence will clear up so many of the lingering questions and shocking allegations surrounding this lawsuit, and I look forward to that,” Fine stated. 

The text messages, which were detailed in the lawsuit, were allegedly discovered by Sturdivant after Fine gave the student her cell phone so she could play music during a dance routine. Sturdivant said the messages popped up. She shared them with her parents and Pressly.

Fine was fired the following day and ordered to stay off the school’s property and away from its students. Despite these orders, the lawsuit claims that Fine continued to interact with team members and that Sturdivant was the one excluded from events.

These exclusions allegedly included a team dinner that Sturdivant was told had been canceled. The dinner went on as planned but at a parent’s house with Fine in attendance. A team photo was also taken without Sturdivant and a second African-American dancer on the team.

For the dance team’s final performance of the academic year, all of the members except for Sturdivant and the other black dancer wore ribbons with Fine’s initials on them, the suit alleges. 

Representatives for the school district said in a statement obtained by the Kansas City Star that it shuns discrimination “of any kind” and confirmed that it fired Fine after the text messages were presented to Pressly by Sturdivant.

“Respectful and meaningful relationships between staff and students are at the heart of Blue Valley’s culture. Discrimination of any kind has no place here,” the statement read.

The lawsuit, which names the school district, Pressly, Fine and a parent of one of the team’s dancers as defendants, seeks a trial by jury.

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Los Angeles Teachers Union Votes To End Strike, Will See Educators Go Back Wednesday

United Teachers Los Angeles has overwhelmingly voted to end a strike of more than 30,000 educators, leaders announced Tuesday evening. The agreement ends a strike of over 30,000 educators in the nation’s second-largest school district and puts teachers back in their classrooms Wednesday.

“It’s a historic day today in Los Angeles,” UTLA President Alex Caputo-Pearl said during a news conference. “We have preliminary numbers from the vote on our agreement, and they show that a vast supermajority are voting yes for the agreement that we made with LAUSD, therefore ending the strike and heading back to schools tomorrow.”

Caputo-Pearl noted that the group didn’t get “everything we wanted,” specifically pointing to special education, but said “that’s part of the struggle with negotiations,” according to KABC-TV reporter Josh Haskell in Los Angeles.

Los Angeles Unified School District teachers had been on strike since last Monday, after 20 months of failed negotiations with the district. They have been demanding guarantees of smaller class sizes and increased support staff.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and district Superintendent Austin Beutner called the agreement “historic” during a news conference Tuesday morning.

Today marks a new chapter in public education and a new chapter in Los Angeles Unified,” said Beutner.

The agreement makes key concessions on issues like support staff and class sizes, axing a previous contract provision that allowed the district to ignore class size caps. Classes will be reduced by at least one student starting next school year ― with more reductions in the neediest schools. Reductions will continue over the next several years. In the lead-up to the strike, teachers complained of having over 40 kids in some classrooms. 

The deal guarantees a full-time nurse at every school over time, as well as an increase in librarians and school counselors. Some schools currently have a nurse for only one day a week.

“This is much more than just a narrow labor agreement, it’s a broad compact,” Caputo-Pearl said at the news conference, noting the agreement also addresses issues of social and racial justice. It includes a dedicated attorney for immigrant families and support for implementation of an ethnic studies curriculum.

Tensions around the power of charter schools in the district also played a key role in the strike. An agreement, though not formally in the deal, calls for the state to create a committee on charter schools at the next Board of Education meeting, and vote on a resolution for a charter school cap. At the district level, the deal gives the union more say in the design of co-location sites, where traditional public schools and charter schools share space.  

As part of the deal, teachers will also be receiving a 6 percent salary increase. 

While Beutner had long said that the district could not afford to pay for the teachers’ demands, UTLA, the mayor’s office and the district are pledging to collaboratively advocate for more county and state funding. 

Still, there are “tremendous concerns about insolvency,” Beutner said. California provides some of the lowest levels of per-pupil funding in the nation.

The two sides had bargained deep Monday night, into Tuesday morning. The talks had only ceased around 6 a.m. on Tuesday morning. Teachers are expected to approve the deal Tuesday. The district board must also approve the agreement. 

The strike impacted almost half a million students. While Los Angeles schools stayed open during the strike ― relying on just a few hundred non-unionized substitute teachers to supervise ― only a fraction of the district’s students attended schools during that time. Last Thursday, attendance reached a low of only around 84,000 students, according to the district. The students who went to school described being corralled into auditoriums and watching movies or given busy work. Parents who decided to keep their kids out of school during the strike also scrambled to find child care.

The strike came on the heels of a “red state rebellion” which swept states like Kentucky, Arizona and West Virginia last spring and summer. Only this time, teachers were clashing with a Democratic school superintendent, in the heart of the deeply blue state. In the background of the strike were tensions over the future of charter schools in the district ― a cause that has both critics and proponents within the party.

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

National attention given to the strike helped push a deal forward, said the leaders. Indeed, the strike received attention and support from national Democratic leaders like Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.). 

Caputo-Pearl called the strike a pivotal show of force for labor unions and a positive sign for the future of public education.

“This strike has not only moved this agreement, but raised the issue of public education not only nationally but internationally,” said Caputo-Pearl. 

This article has been updated with the union voting to end the strike.

Nick Visser contributed to this report.

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Notre Dame To Cover Up Christopher Columbus Murals

The University of Notre Dame will cover up a series of murals depicting Christopher Columbus amid backlash over the paintings’ stereotypical and inaccurate portrayal of Native Americans and their relationship with white European explorers, the school announced.

The 12 murals, painted by Luigi Gregori in the 1880s, adorn the entrance of the university’s Main Building, a busy throughway that houses administration offices and some classrooms, in South Bend, Indiana. 

At the time of their creation, the paintings were intended to empower Catholic immigrants in America, but their message whitewashes the catastrophic impact European explorers had on native peoples, Notre Dame President John Jenkins wrote in a letter to members of the school’s community on Saturday.

“They reflect the attitudes of the time and were intended as a didactic presentation, responding to cultural challenges for the school’s largely immigrant, Catholic population,” Jenkins wrote. “In recent years, however, many have come to see the murals as at best blind to the consequences of Columbus’s voyage for the indigenous peoples who inhabited this ‘new’ world and at worst demeaning toward them.”

Robert Franklin/South Bend Tribune/AP

In this Nov. 29, 2017, photo Kristin Fabian walks by a mural of Christopher Columbus at Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana.

In an effort to preserve the murals, which Gregori painted directly onto the building’s plaster walls, woven covers will be mounted over them, which allow the paintings to be viewed on occasion, Jenkins said. The school intends to create a permanent display featuring high-resolution images of the murals alongside proper historical context in a different location on campus.

“Gregori’s murals focused on the popular image of Columbus as an American hero, who was also an immigrant and a devout Catholic,” Jenkins wrote. “The message to the Notre Dame community was that they too, though largely immigrants and Catholics, could be fully and proudly American.”

“For the native peoples of this ‘new’ land, however, Columbus’s arrival was nothing short of a catastrophe,” he continued. “Whatever else Columbus’s arrival brought, for these peoples it led to exploitation, expropriation of land, repression of vibrant cultures, enslavement, and new diseases causing epidemics that killed millions … The murals’ depiction of Columbus as beneficent explorer and friend of the native peoples hides from view the darker side of this story, a side we must acknowledge.”

This Nov. 29, 2017 photo shows a murals of Christopher Columbus at Notre Dame.

Robert Franklin/South Bend Tribune/AP

This Nov. 29, 2017 photo shows a murals of Christopher Columbus at Notre Dame.

Notre Dame’s pledge to conceal the murals follows mounting backlash from students and faculty. In 2017, hundreds of people signed a letter penned by a Notre Dame Ph.D. candidate calling on Jenkins to remove the paintings.

“Columbus’ fortune, fame, and wealth came from the destruction, mutilation, and transaction of Native American and African persons,” John Slattery wrote in the letter. “In this era of political divisiveness and a renewed rise of dangerous nationalism, it is time for Notre Dame to remove its own version of a Confederate Monument.”

The Native American Student Association of Notre Dame applauded Jenkins’ “thoughtful and wise decision” in a Facebook post Saturday.

“This is a good step towards acknowledging the full humanity of those Native people who have come before us,” the group wrote. “We sincerely hope that Father Jenkins and his administration will continue to prioritize Native issues on our campus in the coming weeks and months as there is still work to be done.”

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To The Teachers And Parents Of Covington Catholic High School

Friday’s first-ever Indigenous People’s March in Washington should have been an occasion for peaceful protest and respectful acknowledgment of Native Americans’ experience in our country. Instead, a sad and unfortunately predictable confluence of events made that sort of dignified reflection impossible.

The group of high school boys from Kentucky’s Covington Catholic High School, seen on tape wearing “Make America Great Again” hats and ridiculing some of the marchers, including U.S. veteran Nathan Phillips, should be accountable for their actions. Phillips says he approached the boys because they were already exchanging racial taunts with another group of protesters and he was was trying to calm things down. However, the subsequent debates over the exact sequence of events and the question of whether the students should be identified don’t place responsibility for the ugly scene on the people who should really assume it: the adults.

For many in this country, MAGA hats amount to an explicit message of racial intolerance and bigotry.

That includes the adults on the other side who exchanged insults with the students, of course. But the adults with the most knowledge and control over the situation were the supervising adults from Covington. They saw what the students wore as they walked out of their hotel lobby that morning. For many in this country, MAGA hats amount to an explicit message of racial intolerance and bigotry, and the chaperones should have known the boys’ appearance had the potential to inflame and frighten others, particularly on this day of marches.

Combine that with the common belief of teen boys in their absolute right of freedom of speech and expression, their ignorance of how they appear to others, and the emboldening effect of a large group, and the whole thing was entirely foreseeable.

Associated Press

For the rest of us, we have to put aside our righteous indignation. Instead, we need to remember the value of dignity for everyone. Remember that it’s possible that at least some of Covington’s parents, teachers and administrators are horrified and ashamed. And when we move on to the next terrible story that captures our attention, they will be left to deal with the consequences, including the fact that they have been on the receiving end of hate since the video of the boys was posted. With that in mind, I am respectfully reaching out.

Dear Covington Catholic community:

We know there are many wonderful children who attend your school and this one incident does not reflect every individual in your community. But it is also true that your students mocked an elderly Vietnam veteran while the supervising adults allowed them to represent your school wearing MAGA hats. Is this not a moment to examine your school’s goals and values for how you send an all-male group of students to participate in March for Life, an event that should by all accounts recognize the importance of treating all people with dignity, especially those with whom you disagree? As it is, the image of young men protesting against women’s reproductive rights, coupled with their MAGA mobbing of an elderly Native American man, only looks like young men wanting to dominate people who have historically had less power.

I am sure you want your students to be more than that.

This is your moment to show the country what educators and parents do for young people. This is your moment to show children that they aren’t only “ours” when they bring home trophies. They are ours when they make mistakes. This is your moment to teach boys that the right to express themselves is not as important as treating all people with respect, that political disagreement does not give them the right to disparage and ridicule others.

Examine what about Covington’s environment may have led to this moment.

To the school’s leaders: Ignore the ugliest of the online commentary and focus on your boys. Go to Mr. Phillips and apologize on the boys’ behalf. When you return, stand in front of them at a schoolwide assembly and share what that experience was like and how you see yourselves as their spiritual and educational leaders. Show them what ethical leadership looks like in action.

After that, examine what about Covington’s environment may have led to this moment. If it is as it appears, that Covington has an overwhelmingly or entirely white faculty, you are sending a powerful message to your students about who deserves respect and who doesn’t. This is not being politically correct. It is about whether your students’ education includes seeing people who don’t look like them in positions of authority and respect. If the institution doesn’t have women and people of color in positions of authority, then the message is clear: They don’t matter. When the students are out in the world, their actions will reflect what they have been taught.

Please see this moment for what it is ― a time to guide these young men through the process of personal accountability and steer them toward acting with civility and honor. This is an opportunity for your community to honestly face how these young men were allowed to conduct themselves in a public space in a manner so disrespectful to others and so clearly against the stated mission and values of your school. It is not a time to close off and grow defensive or dismiss the boys’ actions. It is a time to remember that guiding these boys through this is where your leadership matters the most.

I know you want these young men to graduate and contribute to the world, to leave it better than when they came in. You want them to be a credit to your institution and your community. So use this experience to teach them how to help repair the world we all share.

Have these courageous conversations. Let everyone in the country see that Covington Catholic is a school community that does what’s right ― even when it is hard.

Rosalind Wiseman is a teacher and the best-selling author of Masterminds & Wingmen and Queen Bees & Wannabes, the book that inspired the movie “Mean Girls.” She is the creator of the curriculum Owning Up: Empowering Adolescents to Confront Social Cruelty, Bullying, and Injustice and the founder of Cultures of Dignity.

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An Open Letter To My Autistic Son’s Teacher

When we met, I was the angry, hovering mom you dreaded interacting with. Emails, phone calls, in-person meetings ― your lips tightened before forcing a smile. You knew moms like me and children like mine. When my son ran from the classroom, you’d roll your eyes. When he’d pace in the back of the room, you’d shush his muttering.

The transition to your class was hard, at times painfully so, as my son’s autistic needs proved overwhelming to you at the beginning. Your firmly entrenched ideas and labels were a bright target I aimed for, and I was not patient through our struggles to listen to each other.

In previous schools, teachers mistook my son’s disability for purposeful behavior, overestimating his ability to adapt and underestimating his intellect and heart. You seemed cut from the same cloth.

I taught elementary school before I became a mother, and I knew that teachers, exhausted and undersupported, often did not have the training or bandwidth to learn about and accommodate unusual learners in their classrooms. Teachers can become rooted in their understanding of learning, and why wouldn’t they? Standardized tests demand results in percentage form. Outliers, particularly those who test well, only come into focus when they detract from instruction time.

Behaviors like my son’s detract from instruction time.

But you are not other teachers. You stood your ground admirably, maddeningly ― and then something happened as fall transitioned to winter.

Was there a crack in your armor, one my son’s smiles wormed its way through? Were you exhausted one morning from your own personal motherhood battles and my son brought you an origami lily, placing it on your desk in a twitchy peace offering? Did we both tear up at the parent-teacher conference and connect, briefly, about just how hard this all was?

I don’t know exactly when the transition began, but all of a sudden my son wanted to go to school. He wrote poems about you and his classmates at the dinner table. He told me a funny story at bedtime about his accidental shouted expletive when he got a math problem wrong, and how you cracked up, laughing until you cried. Then assured him he wasn’t in trouble. Then used it as a learning experience for the class.

“I think she gets me now,” he said.

At our January team meeting, you hugged me hello. We briefly spoke about my son’s progress, his new friendships, and the way the counselor was using flexible thinking models for the whole class, rather than just one student. You made jokes about your husband needing similar support.

Then we moved into discussing autism in classrooms, and how teachers can understand, accommodate and reframe their approaches to autistic learners. The whole team smiled and listened. Teachers and principals didn’t act this way. Not for kids like mine or mothers like me. What changed?

You changed. You stepped away from your fixed understanding and saw my son. He became a person to you, rather than a diagnosis or a problem to solve. You watched him struggle and learn and grow, and you followed his lead.

You stretched, modeling that yes ― adults can also adjust and push through uncomfortable, hard situations. You transformed my son’s ideas about both school and his role as student. Even his role as a person, in general, interacting with others and understanding his place in this world. Mothers cushion their children from hard things, but teachers create classroom and school communities. They decide who gets included and who gets bullied.

You modeled inclusion for other teachers in his school, impacting their approaches to teaching autistic students. You created a classroom where nondisabled students learned with, and learned from, atypical learners. Where they learned to see my son as a person who had gifts to offer and differences to explore.

This week, my son won the school’s poetry slam. He now takes the bus to school, walking with other children calmly through the front doors and high-fiving friends in the hall. Last night, we talked about middle school next year, and having a locker partner, and maybe trying band.

My son has the teacher I always dreamed he would have. You.

Do you have a personal story you’d like to see published on HuffPost? Find out what we’re looking for here and send us a pitch!

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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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How To Talk To Your Kids About Sexual Abuse

This article is the fifth installment of “One Year Later: Larry Nassar And The Women Who Made Us Listen,” a seven-part series that commemorates the seven days women stood in a Lansing, Michigan, courtroom last year and faced their abuser, former USA Gymnastics and Michigan State trainer Larry Nassar. Read more: Day 1Day 2, Day 3, and Day 4

On Jan. 16, 2018, the world witnessed the gut-wrenching statements of 169 women and family members whose lives were affected by the criminal sexual abuse of former USA Gymnastics and Michigan State University trainer Larry Nassar.

Stories like the Nassar scandal reinforce parents’ and caregivers’ desire to protect their children from a horror that is all too common.

Child sexual abuse may be scary to think about, but it’s an important topic to address with kids of all ages. Fortunately, there are age-appropriate ways to lay the foundation and build on concepts that will help keep children safe and empower them to speak out if their boundaries are violated.

HuffPost spoke to sex educators about how to talk to kids about sexual abuse from infancy to the teen years, and how to recognize and respond to troubling situations if they arise.

Start Early By Establishing Body Autonomy, Privacy And More

Parents can build the foundation of safety from sexual abuse as early as infancy, sex educator Melissa Carnagey said. Using the proper terms for genitals, instead of cutesy nicknames, empowers children to communicate clearly about themselves and their bodies.

“By doing this, parents are creating a shame-free and open home culture around talking about the body,” Carnagey told HuffPost in an email. “Then as the child moves into toddlerhood and preschool ages, parents can help them understand body boundaries and consent by listening to a child’s ‘no’ or ‘stop’ and reinforcing the importance of the child respecting other people’s limits as well.”

“Preventative conversations with young children around sexual abuse aren’t usually about sexual abuse in specificity,” sex education teacher Kim Cavill said. She encouraged parents to talk instead about the proper names for body parts, as well as body autonomy, body privacy, environmental privacy, how to say “no” and the difference between secrets and surprises.

“Body autonomy means acknowledging each person is the boss of their own body and they get to decide what they want to do with it, as long as they don’t use it to hurt someone else or themselves,” Cavill told HuffPost in an email. “Body privacy means teaching children that some parts of their bodies are private and other people shouldn’t look at them or touch them. Doctors should ask permission before examining private parts and a trusted grown up should be present.“

“Environmental privacy” means teaching kids about the social norms and expectations around different behaviors, like how to change into swimsuits at the community pool, how to behave in public restrooms, how to change clothes at school, and so on.

Teaching kids how to say “no” is also powerful.

“Children don’t always assume it’s OK to say ‘no,’ especially to adults, because they’re often taught to be obedient,” Cavill said. “We have to explicitly teach children how to set boundaries for themselves and support them when they do, even if it puts us into uncomfortable situations, like refusing to give hugs at a birthday party.”

Talk About Feelings

When children can name their emotions, and recognize emotional responses in others, it gives them the ability to express their needs, empathize with others and to listen to the signals their body gives them, especially when something or someone feels uncomfortable,” Carnagey said.

“We have to be talking about what feels good and what doesn’t in everyday conversations,” sex educator Lydia Bowers told HuffPost. “‘I like when you give me a hug, it makes me feel warm,’ and ‘I don’t like when he took my doll, I felt angry,’ give children the language to describe their feelings, which can be critical in recognizing if they’re feeling unsafe, scared or worried.”

When children can name their emotions, and recognize emotional responses in others, it gives them the ability to express their needs, empathize with others and to listen to the signals their body gives them.
Melissa Carnagey, sex educator

It’s meaningful to help kids practice identifying feelings like fear, anxiety, confusion, sadness and discomfort, and adults should try not to dismiss or minimize those emotions when a child expresses them.

Parents can also teach children about the ways bodies can give warning signs in relation to feelings (like sweaty palms, wanting to cry or feeling the sudden need to urinate) that are important to listen to.

Explain ‘Unsafe Touch’

Sex educators generally consider the terms “safe touch” and “unsafe touch” to be better than “good” and “bad” touch. It may be easy to classify being touched around your private parts as an example of “bad touch,” but sometimes there are natural physiological responses that could feel good, which may seem confusing to young people.

“Unsafe touch” can also cover certain forms of contact that might be “good” in other contexts. “A hug is a ‘good’ touch, but if it is coming from someone that shouldn’t be hugging you, then it is ‘unsafe,’” Bowers said.  

“People can also seem ‘good’ but can make unsafe choices,” Carnagey said. “So it’s best to use the terms ‘safe’ and ‘unsafe,’ and base your conversations around the child recognizing the circumstances that affect safety.”

Don’t Just Focus On ‘Stranger Danger’

“Children used to be taught the concept of ‘stranger danger,’ but the Nassar case is a good example of the flaw in that concept,” Carnagey said. “An abuser is more often someone that a child knows or has some kind of prior connection with, so we must talk to children in terms of ‘tricky people,’ a term coined by Pattie Fitzgerald.”

This approach encourages parents to help their children recognize “tricky” or unsafe behavior versus trustworthy behavior.

“People who are trustworthy tell the truth, respect privacy, don’t ask children to keep secrets, ask grown-ups for help (not children), give you a safe feeling (not a scary ‘uh-oh’ feeling), follow family rules, and ask you to check with parents to get permission,” said Cavill, who created a podcast episode and a worksheet to help parents facilitate conversations about trust. “Tricky people don’t do those things, or they do the opposite of those things.”

Emphasize They Can Always Come To You

It’s important for parents to “keep the conversation door open,” Cavill said. “Kids will walk through that door to talk with you, but only if it’s open all of the time.” Parents can create that kind of environment by consistently welcoming questions and conversations about sex and relationships.

In a lot of ways, actions speak louder than words. The phrase “You can tell me anything” loses its meaning if parents respond to honest questions or information from children with punishments, aggressive reactions, elevated emotional responses or dismissiveness. Parents should be aware of their verbal and nonverbal responses, even when the conversation is difficult ― or children may start to feel uncomfortable sharing information out of fear of the adult’s reaction.

The phrase “You can tell me anything” loses its meaning if parents respond to honest questions or information from children with punishments, aggressive reactions, elevated emotional responses or dismissiveness.

“If children disclose abuse, it’s important to remember to center the child in the conversation, not the abuser or our reaction to the disclosure,” Cavill said. “This can be very difficult to do, but it’s important because reacting to disclosures of abuse with anger, disgust, shame, or denial violates our children’s trust, shuts down further conversations, and makes a vulnerable child more vulnerable.”

“The first time I was molested, I was 9. I disclosed that abuse, but was met with denial and a cover-up,” she continued. “When I was subjected to further abuse, I didn’t bother telling anyone because I’d been conditioned to expect protection for my abuser and none for myself. This contributed to an overall sense that, deep down, I deserved it.”

Identify Trusted Adults

As kids get older, parents should help them identify the trusted adults in their lives, like other family members, teachers and school counselors.

“Instead of assigning the label of ‘trusted adult’ to people in their world, ask the child, ‘Who do you feel you could trust if you needed help?’ or ‘Who would you feel comfortable talking to if you ever felt hurt and needed help?’” Carnagey said.

“Having more than one is ideal to ensure they have available supports when needed,” she added. Abusers are sometimes seen as trusted adults (as Nassar was for many families), so it’s helpful for kids to have a variety of people they can turn to. 

Identifying multiple trusted adults can also help ease the challenges parents face. Just as kids need to know they can be honest about their experiences without being punished, parents need to be honest in turn. That can mean admitting when they feel vulnerable, when they make mistakes, when they don’t know things and when they need to seek additional support.   

Make It Clear It’s Never Their Fault

Kids need to know they aren’t responsible for the adults around them, including their parents. 

“Because children are dependent on adults to various degrees, they can feel responsible for the feelings and behaviors of the adults around them, especially those in formal positions of authority and those they care about deeply,” Cavill said. “Unfortunately, most sexual abuse happens within the context of close, familiar relationships and the #MeToo movement speaks to how common it is for people in positions of authority to abuse people they have power over.”

Cavill said she reaffirms to her young children that they are responsible for themselves, not the people around them, by telling them: “Mommy’s feelings are mommy’s job. You don’t have to fix them, they aren’t your responsibility.”

Mommy’s feelings are mommy’s job. You don’t have to fix them, they aren’t your responsibility.
Kim Cavill, sex education teacher

Parents can build on these messages as kids mature by talking about examples of healthy and unhealthy relationships and family expectations about behavior in romantic relationships. The website Talk With Your Kids offers resources to help guide these discussions.

Just as it’s important for children to know it’s not their fault if they experience unsafe touch, it’s also necessary to talk about respecting the boundaries and consent of others.

It’s “not uncommon for young children to experiment with initiating touch that could be unsafe to other children around the same age,” Carnagey said. “Even if that occurs, a child feeling safe to talk about it without fear of punishment, is integral in the process of redirecting the behavior toward safer interactions with others.”

Pay Attention To The Signs

Parents know what is typical behavior for their children, so they can be on the lookout for changes that may be a sign of something problematic. 

“I want to make it very clear that there is no minimum threshold for seeking the services of a therapist, or calling RAINN. When in doubt, ask for help,” Cavill said. “That being said, there are some general signs parents should watch out for: sexual knowledge or behavior that is inappropriate for the child’s age, regressive bed wetting, a sudden refusal to change clothing or undress, sudden fear of being alone or away from primary caregivers, and an increase in anxiety.”

The Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network publishes a list of warning signs to help determine if an adult is molesting or grooming children. These possible indicators of sexual abuse can be physical (unexplained bruising, bleeding or irritation to a child’s genital areas, for instance), behavioral (such as talking about sexual acts, as Cavill noted, or suddenly becoming shy about undressing), or emotional (like an increase in worrying, nightmares or fear of being alone). 

As kids get older, they start to have more interactions outside the presence of their parents ― at school, in extracurriculars and during play dates. Carnagey encourages parents to set up a routine, uninterrupted time each day to check in with their children so they can stay connected to their kids’ experiences and feelings.

“This is great for noticing any subtle or big shifts in their mood or behaviors that can result from unsafe or challenging experiences,” she said. “Keeping an open, shame-free space for talks, no matter the topic, can increase the chance that a child will share with a trusted adult if something troubling is going on in their world.”

Know What To Do If Something Happens

If a child reports unsafe touch, it’s crucial to tell them that you believe them, that they did the right thing by coming to you, that they are not in trouble and that the incident was not their fault. Responding with love, compassion and acceptance is very important.

“Children often feel that they caused abuse, and perpetrators sometimes put the blame on the child,” Bowers said. “Reassure a child that they are not to blame, that they are loved and safe.”

If a child reports unsafe touch, it’s crucial to tell them that you believe them, that they did the right thing by coming to you, that they are not in trouble and that the incident was not their fault.

There are many helpful resources to help guide survivors and the trusted adults they tell about the abuse. RAINN and the organization 1in6 run hotlines and online chat services. Other organizations focus specifically on child sexual abuse, like Childhelp, National Children’s Alliance and Stop It Now! Cavill noted that if you feel a child is in immediate danger, you should call emergency services. 

“Honest communication is important to maintaining trust and openness after a disclosure, so this can mean letting the child know that you may have to share the information with other adults whose job is to help keep them safe, like a medical provider if an exam is needed, a police officer, counselor or other trusted support,” Carnagey said. “Keeping a listening ear, without judgment or harsh reaction, will help the child feel more comfortable opening up.”

Carnagey also recommended that parents and caregivers seek out their own support, since disclosures can bring up a range of difficult emotions and even trigger past traumas. A parent or caregiver may feel tempted to turn inward, isolate themselves and allow feelings of shame or failure to take over. 

“Parents should keep in mind that what another person may have done to their child was the unsafe decision of that person. It is not the parent’s fault,” Carnagey said. “A child who experiences unsafe touch is not ‘damaged.’ With support, the child and their family absolutely have an opportunity to thrive.”

“One Year Later: Larry Nassar And The Women Who Made Us Listen” is a seven-part series that commemorates the seven days women stood in Judge Rosemarie Aquilina’s Lansing, Michigan, courtroom last January and read powerful victim impact statements to former USA Gymnastics and Michigan State trainer Larry Nassar. Their words made history, forcing the country to finally listen and confront the abuse Nassar perpetrated. This series highlights the people who helped take Nassar down, as well as those he hurt for so long.

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Christian Schools Like Karen Pence’s Are The Real Threat To Academic Freedom

Last week, the “second lady” of the United States, Karen Pence, went to work as an art teacher at Immanuel Christian School in Northern Virginia. Immanuel Christian is one of the many American religious institutions, as Rebecca Klein reported for HuffPost, that discriminates both in its hiring and its admissions. The school requires “moral purity” from its staff, meaning they can’t be queer, have sex outside marriage or watch porn, and must “respect the unique roles of men and women.” The school also reserves the right to expel students for being queer. 

Immanuel Christian is not unusual. Too many religious schools at all levels regulate the personal conduct of their employees and students, restrict the books teachers can assign or students can read, and demand fealty to narrow constructions of religious identity, while enshrining bigotry into their bylaws.

Vice President Mike Pence says that criticizing institutions that discriminate like this is anti-Christian. I say that these schools are not only anti-American, in that they exclude so many Americans, but are also not in the best educational interests of the students who attend them.

For too many other institutions, faith provides the material to build a defensive wall rather than a strong foundation.

There are about 27,000 religious private K-12 schools in the United States and over 1,000 religious colleges and universities. Many of these institutions are inclusive, welcome, places. I should know, as I taught at Dominican University, a Catholic institution in the Chicago area, for over 10 years. I only left so I could raise my kids in Minnesota. For Dominican, and for thousands of institutions like it, faith traditions provide a rock of identity on which to stand and welcome the world with confidence.

As a secular Jew, I felt at home at Dominican. As an institution, it knew what it was and hoped I would share in the mission to make a “more just and humane world.” My Muslim and queer colleagues reported similar feelings of inclusion, and I don’t think Dominican is atypical in this regard. From kindergarten to graduate school, it’s possible to attend or work at a religious institution of learning that takes faith seriously without endorsing exclusion or bigotry.

Alas, for too many other institutions, faith provides the material to build a defensive wall rather than a strong foundation. Karen Pence’s new employer, Immanuel Christian, is one of many examples at the secondary level. I’ve been tracking similar issues at the collegiate level.


Vice President Mike Pence and his wife, Karen Pence, appeared at events for the anti-abortion March for Life in Washington, D.D., on Friday.

There are 139 colleges that exempt themselves from following Title IX rules against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, marital status, pregnancy or receipt of abortion. Yet these schools continue to receive federal funding. Many require explicit professions of faith from faculty. Not only must teachers avoid acting in a way that is immoral in their personal lives, but every aspect of the educational experience is policed to make sure students only receive limited viewpoints and are never challenged on their core beliefs.

Here are just a few examples. Catholic schools love to fire queer teachers, especially when they get married or pregnant. Recently, Franciscan University of Steubenville removed the chair of the English department from his position as punishment for teaching Emmanuel Carrère’s The Kingdom, despite there being no question about the professor’s own commitment to Catholicism. In 2016, St. Mary’s, a small school in Minnesota, fired a popular professor for using phallus props in his production of Medea.

Wheaton College, an elite school sometimes styled the “Harvard of Christian Schools,” began termination procedures against professor Larycia Hawkins (the first tenured African-American professor in the school’s history) because she posted on Facebook that she stands “in religious solidarity with Muslims because they, like me, a Christian, are people of the book. And as Pope Francis stated last week, we worship the same God.” According to Wheaton’s provost, the idea that two of the three Abrahamic religions might venerate the same deity violates the school’s “doctrinal convictions.” Hawkins and Wheaton eventually “parted ways.” No one questioned whether Hawkins was a Christian, but whether her theological understanding of the nature of divinity narrowly clung to Wheaton’s ideological mandate.

At another elite Christian school, Ozark College, students are required to venerate the U.S. flag as well as maintain a Christian life. For Ozark, Christianity excludes “touching, caressing, and other physical conduct of a sexual nature with a person of the same sex,” all of which is grounds for being fired or expelled.

Imagine what it’s like to be a student or professor at Wheaton today and to know that it’s not just required to be a Christian, but to be exactly the right type of Christian. Will the next professor at Franciscan who wants to challenge students with a complex, possibly offensive, book hold back in order to preserve their professional status? And no one, anywhere, ever, should risk employment because of who they love or what consensual activities they choose to engage in with other adults. 

And what about the quality of education? Since at least 2014, a significant cohort of writers and public figures have argued passionately that higher education requires mandatory, regular exposure to “intellectual diversity.” The conversation, as led by people like University of Chicago President Robert Zimmer, the FIRE organization on faculty rights, and elite (mostly white male) writers like Jonathan Chait, Conor Friedersdorf, Bret Stephens, Bari Weiss, Frank Bruni and Jonathan Haidt, has joined more explicitly partisan voices to condemn elite liberal universities.

According to them, the modern practices of overprotective parenting and oversolicitous educators have created a generation of “snowflakes,” students unequipped for the real world, locked in ideological bubbles, and prone to mental health struggles. But these concerns for educational rigor always seem to apply in the same direction. We hear more about sandwich diversity in the Oberlin cafe then we do about the experience of students at religious schools.

I agree that intellectual diversity is important to a true education. But if there are students who are being turned into snowflakes by their education, by mollycoddling parents and by teachers, then surely it’s the millions of students who are attending schools that mandate limited viewpoints, adherence to ideology, and no exposure to true diversity.

As this essay went to press, a video of young white men from Covington Catholic High School harassing a group of indigenous people went viral. The students had traveled from Kentucky to D.C. to attend the March for Life, but paused to surround elder Nathan Phillips as he was playing a drum and chanting. One slid close, grinning, thrilled with his racist provocation, a Hazel Massery of his generation. Maybe if Karen and Mike Pence are worried about saving Christian education in this country, they are going to have to break down the walls of bigotry that cocoon such institutions. Alas, all they seem to care about is keeping queer people out.

Aren’t they the real snowflakes?

David Perry is a historian and journalist. He works at the University of Minnesota. Follow him on Twitter: @lollardfish.

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Georgia School Suspends Honor Student Over Counterfeit $20 Bill

UPDATE: 5:15 p.m. – In a statement obtained by HuffPost, the Henry County School District in Georgia said superintendent Mary Elizabeth Davis reviewed the facts in the case and conferred with local authorities – who do not believe the student was aware the bill was counterfeit – and has decided to reverse the disciplinary board’s decision to suspend the student. Davis also will review “the entire Code of Conduct and the process for assigning consequences for student infractions.”

“We are in the business of educating students,” the superintendent said in a statement. “And while it is our responsibility to ensure our expectations uphold a safe learning environment, we must never omit sound judgement in matters so closely impacting our students’ lives and their education. The student has returned to class.” 

A Georgia school district is punishing a 12-year-old honor student after he used counterfeit money to pay for his lunch. The boy and his parents claim they had no idea the bill was fake and even filed a police report. Still, school administrators say they won’t lift the 10 days of in-school suspension the boy received.

“The whole process has been unfair,” Christian Philon told Atlanta’s WSB-TV.

A straight-A student and athlete at Austin Road Middle School in Stockbridge, Christian said he was sent to the assistant principal’s office on Jan. 10, after using a $20 bill his father gave him to pay for lunch. Christian said the school told him the bill was counterfeit and gave him an in-school suspension.

“They said, ‘You possessed it, so you’re going to have to pay for it,’” he told WSB-TV.

Christian’s father, Earvin Philon, told the news station he’d handed his son the money when he received it back in change after a purchase at a fast-food restaurant.

“I’ve never handled counterfeit money,” Philon said. “I don’t know what it looks like. … There was no way when I gave it to my son that he knew it was counterfeit.”

When the boy’s parents discovered what happened they filed a police report about the counterfeit bill. They took a copy of that report to a Wednesday disciplinary hearing at the school, but school administrators refused to budge on the boy’s punishment.

When the lunch lady marked the bill with a counterfeit pen it turned out to be fake, the boy's parents said.

The panel, according to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, maintained that regardless of the circumstance, Christian violated the school’s code of conduct, which prohibits the possession of counterfeit currency.

Christian’s parents said they plan to appeal. But as The Root reported, if the school upholds its punishment of the honor roll student, “Christian will be part of a disturbing and longstanding trend of American schools handing down suspensions at disproportionate rates to black students—in particular, black boys.”  

Across Georgia last year, authorities reported that thousands of dollars in counterfeit money were being spent in the state, ending up in the hands of consumers who are unwittingly recirculating the bogus cash.

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What Happens When Teachers Leave Mid-Year?

With the second half of the school year underway, it’s likely some students don’t have the same teacher they had in the fall. Mid-year teacher turnover doesn’t occur as frequently as end-of-year turnover, but it’s likely more prevalent than most people think.

U.S. teachers leave the profession at higher rate than other countries, but the debate and discussion over teacher attrition – reflected in  research and in the media – focuses on educators exiting the profession before the beginning of a school year,  based on the assumption that’s when turnover occurs. Little is known about teachers leaving mid-year.

It’s a knowledge gap that Christopher Redding of the University of Florida and Gary Henry of Vanderbilt University want to close.

“Teachers leaving mid-year is not looked at in the way end-of-year turnover is,” says Redding. “So we wanted to investigate when it occurs and the impact it has on students and schools.”

In a series of recent studies, Redding and Henry found that mid-year exits tend to be more disruptive and consequential to student learning.

Redding and Henry looked at teacher data in North Carolina and were able to distinguish the effect of turnover that occurred before the school year begins and turnover that happens during the school year. The researchers identified more than 13,600 first-year teachers who entered North Carolina classrooms from 2010 to 2012, and tracked them monthly during their first three years in the profession.

They found that while 4.6 percent of teachers in the state departed mid-year, that number jumped to 6 percent for new educators. Mid-year exits accounted for 25 percent of teacher turnover overall and occurred most often in high-poverty schools.

Drilling down into the question of achievement, Redding and Henry found that many math and English scores suffered, as well as a drop in learning. Losing a teacher mid-year was linked to a loss of anywhere between 32 and 72 instructional days during the school year, the study found.

Redding and Henry point to three pivotal factors to explain this outcome: classroom disruption, school instability and less-qualified replacement teachers.

Mid-year teacher turnover, Redding says, can sever the “social capital between the students and their family members, undercutting the child’s support system.”

Furthermore, these departures can make it challenging for educators to create and maintain a collaborative work environment within the school. When the school is forced to hire replacements, staff will likely be assigned to help get that new teacher up to speed, which cuts into their own increasingly scarce and valuable time.

Lean On Me: How Mentors Help First-Year Teachers
Mentors can make a huge difference. According to a 2015 federal study, 92 percent of first-year teachers assigned a mentor returned to their classroom. With a three-year, $600,000 grant from the NEA Great Public Schools fund, educators in Florida invested in a teacher-led, union-run orientation program and created meaningful mentorships between new and veteran teachers.

Teachers leaving mid-year only makes staffing a school with qualified educators more difficult. “When teacher turnover occurs during the school year, administrators choose replacement teachers from a diminished applicant pool comprised mainly of teachers not previously hired to work elsewhere, which is likely to yield less effective replacements,” the researchers write.

Indeed, one of the effects of the national teacher shortage – fueled by underfunded schools, low salaries and a scarcity of support and professional working conditions – is the widespread practice of turning to emergency or short-term licensure to put more teachers in the classroom.

According to the Learning Policy Institute, at the beginning of the 2017-18 school year, more than 100,000 classrooms across the nation were staffed by instructors not fully qualified to teach. In Oklahoma, for example, more than 2100 emergency teaching certificates were issued last fall to fill the state’s classrooms. Seven year earlier, the state only issued 32.

Redding and Henry also found that preparation through an alternative pathway also made teachers much more likely to leave the profession during and after the school year. Those educators who attended traditional, in-state teacher preparation programs, on the other hand, were more likely to transfer to another school but less likely to leave the classroom altogether.

Supporting new teachers – either through mentoring or support from their principal – would likely steer many new teachers away from the exits. According to LPI, “strong mentoring and induction for novice teachers can be a valuable strategy to retain new teachers and improve their effectiveness. Well-mentored beginning teachers are twice as likely to stay in teaching as those who do not receive mentoring.”

Mentoring programs and more support from school leaders is a critical piece of the teacher retention puzzle. For any policy or intervention to be successful, however, Redding says we need to have a very careful understanding of when and why teachers leave.

“We have a general idea obviously, but teacher turnover is a diverse phenomenon, so we need more specificity if we’re now getting serious and talking about ways to remedy it.”

Want to Reduce the Teacher Shortage? Treat Teachers Like Professionals
Focusing on recruitment over retention, says one expert, is like “pouring water in a bucket that has holes at the bottom.” We should always recruit new teachers but the real issue is, how attractive a job is teaching? Do people want to work in the school and, more importantly, do they want to stay there?

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A Message From The Los Angeles Teachers Strike Picket Line

As I marched through the soggy streets of downtown Los Angeles earlier this week, I was remembering my first year as a teacher, 27 years ago.

I was young and idealistic. Not all that good at teaching, but I worked really hard and helped students in ways far beyond the job description. I fed hungry kids, tutored for hours after school for no pay, drove students home to spare them the perils of rival gang territory, helped them apply for college and wrote their letters of recommendation. The work offered profound gratification until I’d receive my paycheck each month and feel the insult.

My principal used to brag about me and the other teachers who went above and beyond, and it was always nice to be appreciated. But then one time I heard another school’s administrator complain that his staff wouldn’t do any extra work unless they were paid for it ― and I realized the financial peril of caring so much about our students. It makes you easily exploited.

We might be the only striking workers who don’t entirely stop working ― who really can’t stop working.

I saw that peril again on the long march through downtown L.A. to the Los Angeles Unified School District headquarters ― I saw teachers enduring the downpour, holding up their laminated signs demanding reasonable pay and working conditions and support, chanting for justice but also talking with each other about students in crisis and lesson plans they would get back to as soon as this ordeal was over. We might be the only striking workers who don’t entirely stop working ― who really can’t stop working. I’m still receiving requests from students for letters of recommendation to colleges and scholarship programs. Some deadlines are the end of this week.

In another field, that would be leverage. Give us a reasonable contract offer or these customers won’t be served. But we teachers could never make that threat, and it would only be effective if the superintendent and the board of education members cared as much about our students as we did.

Larry Strauss

Author Larry Strauss, center in red hat, joins colleagues on the streets earlier this week.

Everyone appreciates selfless teachers, but expecting selflessness is offensive and unsustainable. How much we pay our teachers is an expression of how much we respect them. The conditions in which we place teachers and their students are an expression of how much we respect students and teachers. These expressions are played out in every district in every state in our country, but ultimately it is about our self-respect as a self-governing free society.

While my colleagues and I stand outside our schools and march through the streets of our city, we are doing so in a country with an unfunded dysfunctional government, a government out of touch with its constituents and elected by a citizenry that struggles to differentiate investigative journalism from fake news. The future of our democracy ― not to mention our economy ― depends upon educating the next generation, and we don’t have enough money for that?

How much we pay our teachers is an expression of how much we respect them.

Our principal and assistant principal brought coffee and doughnuts to our picket line amid the downpour. They reminded us that they are teachers, too. They both started in the classroom years ago, and they will, they said, always be teachers at heart. They understand what we are striking for. Not just for our own financial survival in an economy with a shrinking middle class.

Most of us are going to be retiring in the next five or 10 or 20 years. Who will replace us? Who will want to teach overcrowded classes in a city in which they most likely will never be able to afford a house ― or even a condo? How many who try will make it past the first year or two?

After this week, I am actually hopeful. I am hopeful because of all the teachers ― young and old and in between ― out there in our ponchos with our picket signs undeterred by nasty weather or superintendents who seek to devalue us and our students. Undaunted by the financial uncertainty of what could be a protracted strike. Passionate educators rooted in this community determined to get what we and our students deserve.

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

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What Happens When Teachers Can’t Afford To Live In Their Own Cities

A few years ago, Sarah was living in a drafty garage belonging to one of her friends. Despite being a smart, highly qualified teacher to sixth- and seventh-graders at a public middle school not far from San Francisco’s international airport, she simply could not afford to live anywhere else in the city.

San Francisco is facing an unprecedented housing affordability crisis. That was the conclusion of an analysis published in July by the city’s planning department documenting the huge challenge facing the city and the wider Bay Area. Rapidly rising rents and soaring property values, combined with high construction costs and prohibitive zoning policies, have stymied the “missing middle” housing options needed for public sector employees like Sarah, who earn too much to qualify for low-income housing, but not enough to afford the Bay Area’s often outlandish market rates.

While teachers may be invaluable to society, their pay and working conditions are deteriorating as housing costs rise. On Monday, Los Angeles public school teachers began their first strike in 30 years after more than a year of failed negotiations over issues that include pay. 

“It’s so important for our public servants to be able to live in their communities,” says Kristy Wang, community planning policy director at the nonprofit San Francisco Bay Area Planning and Urban Research Association, or SPUR. “But we live in such a high-cost housing market that it’s really difficult for them to do that because they just don’t make enough.”

ROBYN BECK via Getty Images

Striking teachers and their supporters rally in downtown Los Angeles on Jan. 15, 2019, the second day of the teachers strike.

Sarah (who asked that her real name not be published to protect her privacy) is a 32-year-old originally from the East Coast who moved to the Bay Area after gaining her master’s degree and teaching credential in Southern California. In 2011, she was living with her boyfriend and their young daughter on the outskirts of San Francisco in a one-bedroom apartment that cost around $1,500 a month. When she and her boyfriend split up four years later, the market rate for a similar apartment was at least $2,400. As a newly qualified teacher earning $2,700 a month, she just couldn’t make her budget stretch that much.

“Basically, we had nowhere to live,” she says. Then her best friend, also a single mom and struggling to afford her duplex rent, suggested that Sarah move in. “My daughter shared a room with my friend’s son — they’re the same age, went to preschool together and know each other well,” Sarah says. “And I lived in her garage for a year.”

Listening to Sarah’s matter-of-fact account of how she bought carpet and space heaters to make her new sleeping quarters more comfortable, the rationale is compelling. Her rent was now $1,300 a month, and sharing grocery shopping with her friend also cut costs.

But, she says, the situation was ridiculous. The poorly insulated garage was stifling hot in summer, uncomfortably cold in winter, and lacked direct access to the duplex, which meant going outside at night to reach the bathroom. The move added up to 40 minutes each way to her daily commute. And she had to buy a baby monitor so that her daughter could hear her mom’s voice before she fell asleep.

These are the people that the city needs to survive.
Sonja Trauss, founder of the San Francisco Bay Area Renters’ Federation

“It’s really upsetting to be a working adult who can’t even afford a one-bedroom apartment by myself,” she says. “That makes me very angry.”

She criticizes tech companies — whose presence in the Bay Area has been blamed for rocketing rents and house prices — for not helping to manage the problems they’ve created.

The Bay Area’s affordable housing crisis has made stories like Sarah’s shockingly common. Assuming a household spends no more than 30 percent of income on rent, it would need to earn $180,000 a year to be able to afford the median rent in the city, according to the planning department’s analysis published last summer. In San Francisco, the starting salary for a credentialed teacher is $55,461.

Two-thirds of teachers spend more than 30 percent of their income on rent, according to a 2018 survey by Stanford University for San Francisco Unified School District. Of those, 14.7 percent say rent accounts for more than half their income. Annual teacher turnover is around 12 percent, which translates to the district having to fill an average of 400 classroom vacancies each school year. 

The Victorian houses known as the Painted Ladies in San Francisco. Assuming a household spends no more than 30 percent o

Andia via Getty Images

The Victorian houses known as the Painted Ladies in San Francisco. Assuming a household spends no more than 30 percent of its income on rent, it would need to make $180,000 a year to afford the median rent in the city.

Housing affordability is the biggest reason given for teachers leaving, according to Daniel Menezes, SFUSD’s chief human resources officer.

“Educator turnover hurts a school because children need to experience safety and stability,” says Elaine Merriweather, executive vice president of the United Educators of San Francisco union. “Educators develop relationships with students that really help to support their growth and learning.” 

Collective bargaining and the parcel tax approved last June ― which will provide teachers with a 7 percent wage rise over the next two decades funded by a $298 annual tax on San Francisco property owners ― have increased basic teacher salaries by over a third since 2014, according to SFUSD’s Menezes. But, he says, the costly housing market means these pay increases aren’t enough to attract and retain educators, particularly those just starting out or who have a family.

“Every year, it is getting harder and harder to go out to national universities and convince a teacher to come to San Francisco because of the affordability issue,” Menezes says.

To address the crisis, SFUSD has partnered with the city and the teachers union to build its first teacher housing complex, with occupancy expected in 2022. The Francis Scott Key development in San Francisco’s Outer Sunset neighborhood in the west of the city will convert a surplus school district site into 130 apartments, costing from around $1,600 for a studio to $2,300 for a three-bedroom.

An artist's impression of the Francis Scott Key development in the Outer Sunset neighborhood of San Francisco.

BAR Architects for MidPen Housing

An artist’s impression of the Francis Scott Key development in the Outer Sunset neighborhood of San Francisco.

“We’ll have teachers at the higher end of that scale and we’ll have para-educators — special needs teachers and assistants in the classroom — who earn less,” says Kate Hartley, director of the Mayor’s Office of Housing and Community Development. “We’re really excited about being able to serve that wide range of school employees.”

While Sarah welcomes the idea of dedicated housing for teachers, she says she wouldn’t be able to save any money or afford a house if she stayed in the Bay Area and had to pay those kind of rents.

To genuinely address the teacher housing crisis, the Bay Area needs protections for existing tenants and a deluge of new housing units, says Sonja Trauss, founder of the San Francisco Bay Area Renters’ Federation. 

Trauss, who was a high school math teacher in the East Bay, quit her job a few years back when housing and commuting costs became too much for her to afford. Since then, she has campaigned for higher-density zoning.

“Too much of the city is zoned for low-density housing in a place that is incredibly in demand,” Trauss told HuffPost. “It’s not just San Francisco, but all over the Bay Area.”

Trauss has also fought against homeowners who block development to preserve neighborhood character. “The situation we have now is that people who already have their homes really don’t care if there’s a [housing] shortage”, she says. “Their feeling is that allowing the city to grow would change neighborhood character … But these are the people that the city needs to survive.”

In a recent example of the kind of Bay Area nimbyism Trauss has called out, more than 6,500 people signed a petition against proposals to build low-cost teacher housing in the wealthy Almaden Valley neighborhood of San Jose. San Jose Unified, the largest school district in the South Bay and a good one-hour drive from San Francisco, is considering converting eight schools with aging buildings or declining enrollment into affordable teacher housing. The plans, however, have attracted criticism from residents.

Meanwhile, Jefferson Union High School District just outside San Francisco plans to use a $33 million voter-approved bond to fund 116 low-cost apartments for teachers and other staff, due to break ground this year. Teacher pay in the district is reportedly among the lowest in the county — $49,500 to $87,300 a year.

“The plan will definitely be a game changer for a lot of people and would really help me out because housing will be low market rate, which would allow me to have more of a long-term outlook in the district,” says Mike Rodriguez, a 12th-grade math and economics teacher at Jefferson Union’s Thornton High School.

Rodriguez, 30, has a master’s degree and has been teaching for four years. He makes $50,000 a year and has $100,000 of student debt. He drives for Uber for at least two hours each day to boost his income, lives with three others and looks forward to the day when he might not need to rent a room in a shared apartment.

Alt-Erlaa municipal housing in Vienna. The Austrian capital's affordable social housing model could provide San Francisco wit

Rafael_Wiedenmeier via Getty Images

Alt-Erlaa municipal housing in Vienna. The Austrian capital’s affordable social housing model could provide San Francisco with one potential solution for teacher housing.

The region’s teacher housing crisis needs both investment and political will, says Wang from SPUR. While there is no magic bullet, she adds, European models such as Germany’s baugruppen co-housing communities and Vienna’s affordable social housing, which offer city-based, lower-cost accommodation with shared facilities, could provide solutions for middle-income earners such as teachers and other public-sector workers.

For Sarah, change isn’t coming quickly enough. For the last two years, she has been living with her parents and her daughter in Redwood City, a 30-minute commute to her current school. Once the school year ends, she plans to move to a more affordable city like Sacramento.

“It would have been nice if there had been rent control and better salaries,” she says. “I do love teaching here, but I am being driven out.”

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HuffPost’s “This New World” series is funded by Partners for a New Economy and the Kendeda Fund. All content is editorially independent, with no influence or input from the foundations. If you have an idea or tip for the editorial series, send an email to thisnewworld@huffpost.com

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ESP National Award Seeks Congressional Approval

A bill introduced during the first week of the new Congress directs the Secretary of Education to establish an award that acknowledges the role education support professionals (ESP) play in promoting student achievement, ensuring student safety, and helping to establish a healthy school climate in grades preK-12.

Although the RISE (Recognizing Inspiring School Employees) Award Program bill (H.R. 276) arrives on Capitol Hill amid intense gridlock, strong support from the bill’s sponsor, Democrat Rep. Dina Titus of Nevada, and 21 co-sponsors gives many ESPs hope they will finally receive a type of national recognition on par with teachers.

“There are almost 3 million ESPs working in our nation’s public schools and colleges who make a difference every day in the lives of their students,” says Sherry Shaw, 2018 NEA ESP of the Year. “They need to be recognized for their above-and-beyond acts of heroism.”

One of every three public school employees is an ESP with more than 75 percent ensuring student and school safety. According to NEA research, almost 50 percent of ESPs have an associate’s, bachelor’s, or more advanced college degree. In addition, more than 60 percent have taken college courses, while others (51 percent) have taken job-related classes, or have earned education-related certificates and licenses.

“ESPs choose public education as their career,” says Dan Kivett, a security officer at Citrus Valley High School in Redlands, Calif., and president of the Redlands Education Support Professionals Association (RESPA). “They have to train and attend school in order to maintain a high skill and knowledge level just like those in other professions.”

Above and Beyond the Call

Kivett says many ESPs are also student mentors, athletic coaches, community volunteers and organizers. According to NEA, 35 percent of ESPs volunteer to read books to students while 70 percent assist children in their communities with clothing, food and other necessities.

“And all of this is done without much recognition,” says Kivett, a member of the NEA board of directors with 19 years of public education experience. “They are the gears that keep school operations moving.”

More than 65 percent of ESPs donate money out of their own pockets to help students purchase classroom materials, field trip tickets, and materials for science and other class projects. The average ESP donation: $217 per year.

“The RISE award would draw some attention to the level of our professional training, mentoring, volunteerism, and how much we love our kids,” says Shaw, a special education paraeducator, coach and mentor at Tanaina Elementary School in Wasilla, Alaska. “Some parents know that ESPs go the extra mile for their kids, but not all administrators acknowledge it for some reason.”

Of NEA’s 3 million members, almost 500,000 are ESPs represented in the following nine career categories:

  • Child nutrition services
  • Clerical services
  • Custodial and maintenance services
  • Health and student services
  • Paraeducators
  • Security services
  • Skilled trades
  • Technical services
  • Transportation services

“We don’t necessarily need an award for the work we do, but it would be nice to be recognized for all of the extra effort we put forth on behalf of students,” says Mary Ann Rivera, a paraeducator at Lyons Township High School in Western Springs, Ill.

When Rivera goes shopping, it is a given she will buy gloves, socks, hats and other items for students in need. It is also normal operating procedure in her school district for ESPs to organize dozens of care packages for students from low-income families.

“Thanks goodness for discount stores,” says Rivera, an NEA board member.

“ESPs work just as hard as all educators, side by side with teachers,” she adds. “In classrooms, paraeducators are an extra set of eyes, trained to help students learn their lessons well. We are not volunteers as in decades past. This is our career.”

Rise and Shine

In Kentucky, Lakilia Bedeau is director of the Tornado Alley Youth Services Center at Paducah Tilghman High School. She says Congress can acknowledge the hard work and dedication of ESPs by approving the bill.

“The award is long overdue,” says Bedeau, an executive committee member of the National Council for ESPs (NCESP), which advocates for ESPs from within NEA assuring that specific ESP issues and interests are integrated in NEA programs.

Like youth services staff across the nation, Bedeau helps students with everything from medical and other referrals for social, physical and mental health services to intervening during family crisis situations and providing hygiene products, school supplies and other daily necessities.

More than 65 percent of ESPs donate money out of their own pockets to help students purchase classroom materials, field trip tickets, and materials for science and other class projects. The average ESP donation: $217 per year.

“Like the majority of ESPs, my team is on the front-line assisting students with everyday needs,” says Bedeau, who has worked in education for 10 years.

By working one-on-one with students, Bedeau says a level of trust and confidence can develop which helps keep students interested enough in school so as not to drop-out.

“We empower students by removing non-academic barriers, encouraging them to explore career opportunities and reach their full potential,” she says. “We build critical relationships that ensure students are safe and successful regardless of their socio-economic status.”

Rivera says it takes time to gain the trust of students.

“When they first meet you, they might hate you,” says Rivera, an NCESP executive committee member. “But it’s not personal. You encourage them to do well by showing and telling them that they are valued and smart, and by the end of the year they love you.”

After more than 30 years of working for public schools as a paraeducator and school bus driver, Ernest Jameel Williams is encouraged by the proposed bill despite the divisive state of national politics and past failures by Congress to pass legislation that would acknowledge ESPs as their colleagues are with the National Teacher of the Year Award.

“People have worked hard over the years advocating for an award like this,” says Williams, the 2011 NEA ESP of the Year. “Congress should once and for all pass this bill that acknowledges the hard work, dedication, skills, and expertise of ESPs.”

Williams, who is a Reach Associate at Zeb Vance Elementary School in Kittrell, N.C., says ESPs not only help to teach students but “we are in the trenches when an emotional crisis occurs involving a student or their family.”

Different Award, Same Name

In May of 2018, Sherry Shaw and four other ESPs received a national award in a ceremony at the U.S. House of Representatives. The ESP award was created by the National Coalition of Classified Education Support Employee Unions and currently goes by the same name proposed in H.R. 276: Recognizing Inspiring School Employees (RISE).

That may change if the current bill is passed in Congress, according to NCCESEU officials.

The NCCESEU is a coalition of state and national unions that together represent a million school support employees including clerical and administrative staff, custodians, food service workers, health and student services workers, paraeducators, technology services employees, transportation workers, and security and skilled trades staff.

Along with NEA, coalition members include the California School Employees Association, Minnesota School Employees Association, SEIU 284 (Service Employees International Union), and Public School Employees of Washington/SEIU 1948.

Sign up at the NEA Legislative Action Center to support the RISE Award Program bill.

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Karen Pence’s Anti-LGBTQ School To Receive 100 Copies Of LGBTQ Children’s Book

Karen Pence, wife of Vice President Mike Pence, started teaching art this week at Immanuel Christian School, a Northern Virginia establishment where LGBTQ staff and kids are not welcome.

Soon, the school will receive a large pile of books with a very different, and accepting, message. 

The Trevor Project, an LGBTQ advocacy organization, announced Thursday that it has sent Immanuel Christian 100 copies of A Day in the Life of Marlon Bundo, a children’s book about a boy bunny who falls in love with another boy bunny. Included with the books is “a heartfelt note that encourages the school’s leaders to accept LGBTQ young people,” the group said.  

A Day in the Life of Marlon Bundo debuted last year as comedian John Oliver’s response to Marlon Bundo’s Day in the Life of the Vice President, a book written by Pence’s daughter, Charlotte, and illustrated by Karen Pence that depicts the family’s pet rabbit, Marlon Bundo.

Mike Pence is notoriously hostile to LGBTQ rights, once opining that marriage equality could lead to “societal collapse.” Perhaps unsurprisingly, the queer version of the bunny book has sold much better. Proceeds benefit The Trevor Project, which works specifically to prevent suicide by LGBTQ youth, and AIDS United, which is dedicated to stopping AIDS in the U.S.  

An alumnus of Immanuel Christian voiced support for the donation in the group’s statement, saying that he is “a living example that intolerance, both in policy and rhetoric, are harmful to the mental wellness and development of LGBTQ students, who are desperately looking for ways to fit in.” 

The former student, Luke Hartman, an out gay man, continued by explaining that “silent and spoken messages of rejection” felt by LGBTQ youth “directly impact the relationship they have with their faith, education, and relationships with family and friends,” ultimately damaging their sense of self-worth. 

As first reported by HuffPost, Immanuel Christian says it can refuse to admit students who participate in or condone homosexual activity, per a “parent agreement” posted online. Employees of the school are made to sign a statement saying they will not engage in homosexual activity or violate the “unique roles of male and female.”  

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Los Angeles Parents Are Scrambling For Child Care As Teachers Strike

LOS ANGELES ― After three days at home with her kids amid the Los Angeles teachers strike, Cindy Goodale has to have a sense of humor about her upended routine.

“I’m ready to get them back to school,” laughed Goodale, who works from home and has found her usual flow interrupted this week by the sounds and needs of young children. 

Yet Goodale is one of the lucky ones. She is able to care for her children in a safe setting. For many other families around the city, the teachers strike has meant scrambling last minute for child care or sending their kids to a school where instruction is minimal.

Teachers from the Los Angeles Unified School District have been on strike since Monday in hopes of securing a contract that guarantees smaller class sizes and more support staff. The strike impacts about half a million students in 900 schools and over 30,000 teachers.

Schools have stayed open this week, staffed with around 400 non-unionized substitutes to cover the work of tens of thousands of teachers. Administrative and central office staff are also being dispersed across schools to supervise. Students describe being huddled in auditoriums, watching movies, playing games or doing busy work. But for many kids, the services offered by their school are a necessity, including the free or reduced-price meals.

On the first day of the strike, the district reported that around 144,000 students went to school. On the second day, that number rose to about 170,000. And on Wednesday, it dropped back down to around 130,000 students. 

Thousands of children are home with parents and caretakers or gathered at various locations around the city, rallying with their teachers and visiting museums that are offering free admission during the strike. 

Goodale decided to keep her kids home this week in solidarity with the teachers. For others hoping to do the same, it has been a challenge.

ROBYN BECK via Getty Images

Some students are walking the picket lines with their teachers.

Sage Wells, a mother of two elementary students, has been scrambling all week to find child care. On Monday, she had planned to send her kids to school wearing red, just like the teachers on strike. (Red, the color of the national Red for Ed movement, signifies solidarity with striking educators.) That morning, Wells stopped by her children’s school to picket with the teachers, with plans to have a babysitter drop the kids off later.

But after protesting with the teachers, she couldn’t bear the idea of her children crossing the picket line. It’s been a daily struggle to find child care since then. Wells and her husband both work full time.

“After being out there and seeing the teachers, and seeing that their hearts were breaking each time a child went to school, I was like, I can’t stand out here and picket with them and then send our kids to school. It felt hypocritical,” said Wells, whose children attend Mountain View Elementary School.

On Thursday, if the strike continues, Stephanie Levinson and other teachers from San Fernando Elementary School are going to reach out to parents directly to see how they’re doing and offer more information about the strike.

“We’ve had some parents say they didn’t understand teachers weren’t getting paid,” said Levinson, who has been picketing every morning outside the school with her colleagues. “Seeing kids come in the morning has been hard. They give us hugs; they don’t understand.”

Some kids have been going to school not out of necessary, but out of choice. Liza Valenzuela’s elementary-aged son asked her if he could go to school, she told HuffPost on Monday. She didn’t want to deny him, even though she was unsure how productive it would be. 

“He was adamant about coming,” she said standing outside Marianna Elementary School.

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