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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Follow Collin Binkley on Twitter at

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

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

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

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

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

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

Teaches: Language skills, reading comprehension and love of literature

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

Teaches: Ocean science, ecology and animal and plant life

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

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

Teaches: Number sense, basic arithmetic and number lines

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

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

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

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

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

Frannie Ucciferri contributed to this article.

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The ‘Greta Effect’ On Student Activism and Climate Change

Swedish climate change activist Greta Thunberg (M) takes her School Strike for Climate Action demonstration to the White House on September 13, 2019. Photo by: Lena Klimkeit/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images

Once upon a time a courageous 16-year-old girl set out to save her planet from imminent doom from powers seemingly beyond her control. With the support of millions of other young people determined to help their planet survive, the girl sailed across an ocean on a vessel powered by the sun to take on her greatest foe…

It sounds like something out of the Hunger Games or another dystopian YA novel, but It’s the true story of Greta Thunberg, the teen climate activist from Sweden who is holding world leaders accountable for their lack of action on the climate crisis.

On Friday, Thunberg will lead worldwide international climate strikes where legions of students will walk out of their classrooms across the United States, Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe and South America. In New York City, where Thunberg will march, and in many other areas, districts are allowing students to take part without penalizing them for missing school, but either way, educators can find ways to support their students’ interest in climate change throughout the year.

“We should work hard to ensure that we’re teaching about all the ways we can take action to mitigate the effects of climate change,” says modified language arts educator Jennifer Hall, the Earth Club advisor for West Seattle High School, who will join the student climate strike in Washington, D.C. on Friday. “Help students plant trees, start school-based compost programs and partner with your city or town to collect the food waste to make the compost and expand composting facilities.”

School gardens, Hall says, are more important than ever in mitigating climate change’s impact on food insecurity. “It’s literally a matter of life and death,” she says.

In Africa, where scientists predict climate change will have the most harmful impact on food security, school gardens can teach young people to grow fruits and vegetables in environmentally sustainable ways while helping their families and communities. In many areas of the United States, school gardens have become community hubs that feed families and nourish the community’s relationship to the land.

Unprecedented Environmental Activism

Thunberg’s journey across the sea was rough and long, but purposeful. A flight would have taken hours rather than days but because of jet-engine emissions, she refused to travel by air. Many of her fellow Swedes are also remaining grounded. “Flight shame” has kept more and more Swedes off of planes and onto other modes of travel.

She’s made the world’s most powerful world leaders pause and consider environmental policies, including the United Kingdom’s members of parliament.

“The UK’s active current support of new exploitation of fossil fuels, like for example the UK shale gas fracking industry, the expansion of its North Sea oil and gas fields, the expansion of airports, as well as the planning permission for a brand new coalmine, is beyond absurd,” she told them.

Thunberg has also had a major effect on publishing.

Publishers are churning out new books on everything related to the environment, especially climate change, and sales have doubled in the last year, according to Nielsen Book Research. There’s even a new genre called “cli-fi,” climate fiction dealing with climate change and global warming.

Hall’s current go-to book about climate change is Drawdown, which describes 100 solutions to global warming including their cost and carbon impact. The book is part of the ongoing Project Drawdown, a global research organization that identifies, reviews and analyzes solutions to climate change.

“It’s very approachable and beautifully photographed, and the website that goes with it is invaluable,” Hall says.

As the Earth Club advisor, Hall has seen the Greta Effect inspire unprecedented environmental activism among her students. But she’s also seen the Greta Effect in her work as a special educator and modified language arts instructor.

“This young woman has Asperger’s Syndrome and had selective mutism,” Hall says. “She was always told that she’d find her voice and speak out when she found something to speak out about. Climate change was her motivator and now her voice is heard around the world.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not everyone, however, is convinced.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Betsy DeVos To Promote School That Bans Transgender Students And Staff

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Famed Computer Scientist Resigns From MIT After Doubting Epstein Accuser

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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When Natural Hair Wins, Discrimination in School Loses

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

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

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

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

black hair discriminination

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Banning Hair Discrimination

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Don’t Wait—Educators Take Action Now

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

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

According to Seattle’s new policy:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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How 9 Latinx Small Business Owners Celebrate Their Culture

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vive Cosmetics is made by Latinas for … everyone! 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Esmeralda Santiago: A Critical Voice In The Puerto Rican Diaspora

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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NEA’s Read Across America Rebrands With New Mission

Linda Estrada grew up in Donna, Texas, the border town where she now works as a campus secretary at Runn Elementary School. Fifteen miles from the Mexican border, she worked alongside her parents and three siblings as a migrant farm worker until she started kindergarten.

“My parents didn’t want us to fall behind in our studies like they did growing up as migrant workers, spending more time in the fields than in the classroom,” says Estrada.

By the time she was 10 years old, her mother was the only one working and the family subsisted on $60.00 a week she earned cleaning a local hotel.

“Not much with four children to support and in those times, no government assistance either,” says Estrada.

“But my mom was a miracle worker. Aside from paying bills, buying groceries, and clothing us, she made sure we were surrounded by books.”

Estrada says she never realized that they were poor.

In a home filled with love and books, her world was enriched beyond material things. She became an avid reader and recalls devouring the Little House on the Prairie books and Nancy Drew mysteries, even World Book Encyclopedias. But in school, there were few books about her own heritage and culture. It wasn’t until she was an adult working at Runn, a dual language campus, that she encountered books about Cinco de Mayo, 16 de septiembre, and Dia de los Muertos.

“Becoming an [education support professional] ESP at Runn Elementary was the best thing that could have happened to me,” says Estrada. “I was able to reconnect with my culture.”

Now, as chair of NEA’s 17-member Read Across America Advisory Committee, she connects students with their cultures and exposes them to the cultures of their classmates.

“Through books, they get a better understanding of the all the different diverse cultures in America today,” she says. “My hope is that they will learn that although they may be different, they also share many similarities.”

New Logo, New Website

Our student populations are ever-changing and evolving and every year there are new children’s books that reflect that diversity. That’s why NEA’s Read Across America is rebranding with a new logo to appeal to students of all ages and backgrounds and a continued mission of “Celebrating a Nation of Diverse Readers.”

Of course, children still love Dr. Seuss, and his birthday on March 2, also Read Across America Day is still an ideal time for a school-wide reading event when you can serve green eggs and ham, but with the broadened scope of NEA’s Read Across America, there are activities, resources, and ideas to keep students reading all year long.

A colorful printed calendar and an interactive resource calendar (find it at offers book suggestions for different age groups and provides ideas for applying lessons from the books to the classroom.

Kicking off this school year, the book for August 2019 was All Are Welcome Here. No matter how you start your day, what you wear, when you play. Or if you come from far away. All are welcome here.

The lively picture book sends a clear message that our public schools are places where every child is welcome. The calendar suggests hosting a community-building back-to-school event that opens opportunities for talking about individual differences, diversity, and how we can learn from each other.

Use Books Featured in the Calendar Any Time of the Year

Lubna and Pebble, the June 2020 book, explores the wrenching world of refugees where a little girl’s only friend is a treasured pebble she found on the beach she landed on with her father after fleeing war at home.

Pebble listens to her stories; its smoothness comforts her when she’s scared. But one day, Lubna realizes that a new boy in the “world of tents” might need Pebble more than she does.

Lubna and Pebble is one of the books that I am looking forward to sharing,” says Carol Bauer, a fourth-grade teacher at Bethel Elementary School in York, Va.

Bauer, who is the past chair of NEA’s Read Across America particular month, it can be shared any time during the year.

“Students in fourth grade hear the word ‘refugee’ but don’t have a good understanding of what that might mean.

This book will help with their understanding,” she says. “I also have my students collect money using the ‘Trick or Treat for UNICEF’ program. This book will be another way to allow my students to understand where the UNICEF money goes and who it helps.”

Middle Grade and Young Adult Books Feature Diverse Themes and Characters

The Hero Next Door, featured in the Read Across America calendar in the middle-grade section, reminds students that not all heroes wear capes. They can look just like them. They can even be them.

“The New Kid could have been my superhero name,” writes middle-grade novelist Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich, editor of The Hero Next Door, a collection of middle-grade short stories from some of the best known diverse books authors. “School after school, classroom after classroom, playground after playground … I’d swoop in, hoping to dazzle and impress, save the day somehow.

Each time I hoped to get it exactly right; each time I got it so, so wrong.”

When she was the new kid again in sixth grade, Rhuday-Perkovich’s mother asked the principal to make sure she’d have classes with other black children. For too long, she’d gone to schools where she was the only student of color. Her mom saved the day, and the school year, which isn’t surprising. All moms are superheroes with special powers, she says.

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Rhuday-Perkovich writes, “These are the stories of everyday heroes in our midst, the ones in plain sight and those yet to be discovered. In ways big and small, these stories motivate, inspire, make us laugh, and, yes, cry. Do you know all the heroes in your life? How are you a hero to someone else? To your community? To the world? It’s my hope that these stories remind you of the power you have to speak up, sit down, and stand with, to do and be a hero in
your own unique way.”

All students, no matter what their background or personal story, should be celebrated and that’s exactly what NEA’s Read Across America hopes to achieve with its calendar and selection of diverse books.

“NEA believes diverse literature enables students to see themselves as the heroes of the story, while also showing them that all kinds of people can be the heroes too,” says NEA President Lily Eskelsen García. “It is important that we emphasize books that are telling children of color or of different gender identities that they belong in the world and the world belongs to them.”

The Calendar is a Jumping Off Point For Deeper Lessons

With an entire year of book suggestions for kindergartners up to high school seniors, educators can deepen lessons across the curriculum, using the books to broaden students’ understanding of history, the arts and music, science and environment, social studies, and current events.

Cliff Fukuda, Read Across America Advisory Committee member and history teacher at Aiea High School in Aiea, Hawaii, says the books in the calendar provide educators with “a jumping off point to explore all sorts of themes and cultures, from simply learning about an unfamiliar experience or culture to comparing and contrasting personal experiences with those featured in the books.”

“The books featured in the calendar are only the tip of the iceberg of diverse literature and diverse authors,” Fukuda says. “Teachers who may be unsure how to branch out into other types of cultures and literature can use the books in the calendar to start with, then explore further as they research and find other great readings with similar ideas, cultures, and themes. The calendar can point you in a direction, and teachers, resourceful and curious as they are, can fly from there.”

Ready, Set, Read Across America! 
It’s as easy as A-B-C, 1-2-3 to plan for Read Across America Day in March and get involved in year-round reading fun in
your community:

A.  Review the recommended titles in this calendar and the
Read Across America poster.

B.  Choose from event activity ideas in the calendar and
at that best fit your school or
community. Plan one big March event or schedule monthly
reading fun—or plan both!
C.  Look for ways to tie-in featured books and activities to
existing events on your school calendar and your curriculum.


1.Use these titles and resources whenever and however it works best for you. These books and activities can fit anywhere, anytime of year.

2. Get inclusive stories for your students through First Book! Visit the NEA Read Across America section on the First Book Marketplace to find titles featured in the calendar and the poster, as well as other great, high-quality titles. First Book makes these titles available at affordable prices to educators serving children in need. (Look for titles not available from First Book at Scholastic)

3. Need more help? Join us on Facebook and visit for ideas to help you celebrate reading on special days, every month, or on Read Across America Day, along with helpful promotional and communication tools—like our new Read Across America logo.

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Felicity Huffman Is Sentenced In College Admissions Bribery Scam

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Educators, Parents Derail Charter Industry Scheme to Defy Will of Voters

In November 2016, Massachusetts voters rejected Question 2, a ballot referendum financed by the charter school industry to raise the cap on charter school expansion. The vote, 62 percent to 38 percent, wasn’t close, sending a clear signal across the state that public education wasn’t for sale.

To the surprise of … well, no one, school privatization advocates didn’t get the message. Charter school CEOs and their allies licked their wounds and regrouped. An opportunity soon presented itself in New Bedford, Mass., where a 2018 proposal to expand one charter school soon morphed into a transparent scheme to pry open the door to a statewide expansion.

“It was an attempted end run around the will of voters,” said Merrie Najimy, president of the Massachusetts Teachers Association. “But our members and the alliances were at the ready.”

Educators and parents launched an unrelenting campaign against a proposal they believed was tantamount to extortion. By May 2019, the plan had stalled in the legislature and charter school advocates soon abandoned the effort.

The proposal—a deal brokered behind closed doors—was dangerous on many fronts. Most alarming to public school activists was the plan to carve out an attendance zone for the Alma Del Mar charter school, making it the first neighborhood charter school in the state. Students in the proposed zone would, by default, become charter school students.

“In what world is it acceptable to tell a child they have to go to a privately-run charter school?” asked State Representative Chris Hendricks.

Alma Del Mar would have been the first neighborhood charter school, but most definitely not the last, said teacher and activist Cynthia Roy.

“Those of us who could see the bigger picture knew that what was happening in New Bedford was actually a calculated step toward privatizing our schools statewide.”

Coercion, Not Innovation

The drastic underfunding of New Bedford public schools is visible to anyone who visits a campus, says New Bedford parent Ricardo Rosa.

“You would immediately see tiles hanging or falling from the ceiling. Certain schools don’t run air conditioning in classrooms or hallways. We have schools built on toxic sites…We’re underfunded by about $40 million every year.”

“Those of us who could see the bigger picture knew that what was happening in New Bedford was actually a calculated step toward privatizing our schools statewide.”- Cynthia Roy, teacher and co-chair of the New Bedford Coalition to Save Our Schools

And yet, in late 2018 lawmakers were considering a mind-boggling 1,200-seat expansion for Alma Del Mar, in a city that was already losing more than $15 million every year to charter schools.

“The financial hit this would have delivered to our schools would have been devastating,” said Rosa, co-chair of the New Bedford Coalition to Save Our Schools (NBCSOS), a grassroots organization of families, community activists, and educators.

The coalition, which includes the Massachusetts Teachers Association and the New Bedford Education Association, helped sink the proposal soon after it was unveiled.

That wasn’t the end of it. In January, a deal engineered by Education Commissioner Jeffrey Riley, Alma Del Mar CEO Will Gardner, New Bedford Mayor Jon Mitchell, and Schools Superintendent Thomas Anderson emerged from behind closed doors. Hailed as a “compromise,” the new plan would actually have a more far-reaching impact than the original expansion.

Although the number of new seats would be reduced to around 400, the new proposal would allow Alma del Mar to open a new campus at a former city elementary school property (at no cost) and enroll students within a neighborhood attendance zone, instead of using a citywide lottery. Students would automatically be enrolled in Alma Del Mar unless their parents opted out – but that would still require the approval of the superintendent.

Because the proposal signified a major shift in charter school policy, existing state law would have to be changed. In a dubious maneuver designed to skirt this process, sponsors presented the proposal to the state legislature in the form of a home-rule petition, setting the stage for a dangerous precedent.

“It would have allowed that substantive changes to education policy or charter school finance can be done through maneuvers which evade scrutiny, favor the charter industry, and subvert the will of the people,” said Roy.

Furthermore, if the deal was rejected, the state made it clear it would move ahead and grant Alma Del Mar a 594-seat expansion.

“The whole plan was based on coercion,” Rosa said. “This was a model for survival to skirt citizen resistance. It had nothing to do with innovation.”

Throwing Sand Into the Gears

It was clear to MTA that the charter industry was eyeing a “portfolio model” for New Bedford. A competition-based strategy championed by privatization advocates and already implemented in some cities, portfolio models carve up districts into smaller, individual “portfolios,” which are then “diversified” with more options for parents and students. Unaccountable charter schools and private schools usually flourish, while public schools are squeezed out.

As columnist Clive McFarlane wrote in May, if the New Bedford’s home rule petition was approved, “you can be sure that charter school entrepreneurs will be drawn to the city like gold miners of old to San Francisco.”

Luckily, the coalition that led the charge to defeat Question 2 two years earlier was still very much intact and ready to mobilize.

“There’s no question that that campaign motivated and educated parents and community members across the state,” Najimy recalled. “Everyone was ready.”

The strong partnership between MTA and NBCSOS was critical in lifting the barriers that can hamper a successful resistance.

“It was seamless because of a shared commitment to democratic principles and quality public education,” said Roy, a NBCSOS co-chair.

Coalition leaders held community forums and canvassed neighborhoods not only to engage parents and others about the dangers of the proposal and privatization in general, but also discuss what it takes to build a quality public school system.

Massachusetts Teachers Association President Merrie Najimy (center) listens to a New Bedford parent at a community forum to discuss the charter school expansion. (Photo courtesy of the New Bedford Coalition to Save Our Schools)

“I’ve never seen anything like it,” recalls Rosa. “The turnout at these events was tremendous. It was multi-racial, multi-ethnic, multi-lingual, multi-generational. …These communities were all pushing back, saying ‘no, we do not want this.’”

It was important that the coalition “moved the table,” Rosa added, so that dialogues could be held in families’ homes and in their schools to include as many people in the conversation and empower them to take action.

MTA worked closely with the New Bedford Education Association to provide necessary resources on the ground and kept the pressure on wavering lawmakers in the legislature to reject the home rule petition.

In May, MTA and NBCSOS filed a lawsuit arguing that, by appropriating public money or property toward an entity that is not publicly owned and operated, the proposal violated the state constitution. The suit also charged that the proposal would “open the door wide to political abuse stripping poorer municipalities of their assets.”

Every step of the way, said Najimy, the goal was to “throw sand into the gears, and we did. And it worked.”

Indeed, by April 2019, the public confidence expressed by the plan’s sponsors began to wane. The home-rule bill was on life support, and on May 31, they pulled the plug.

The demise of this particular scheme followed another setback dealt to the charter industry in Massachusetts earlier in the year. In February, educators and parents in Haverhill were successful in stopping the creation of a 240-seat Montessori charter school that would have siphoned off more than $1.6 million a year from district public schools.

With each defeat, charter industry allies grumbled in the media about lawmakers “doing the bidding” of the union and paid professional organizers – compelling evidence, said Najimy, that they have yet to grasp the growing resistance in communities to the privatization agenda.

“This proposal was defeated because of parents’ activism. As a union, we used our power, but we used it to support families and communities who were vehemently opposed to a charter school expansion and model that they knew was detrimental to public schools.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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25 Books That Teach Kids To Care About The Environment

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

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The Sorry State of Higher Ed Funding

The masses of red-shirted teachers who marched last year in Los Angeles, Denver, and across states like West Virginia and Arizona illustrated a fact about public education that everybody seems to know now: state funding for public schools has tumbled faster than a three-legged desk.

But what about higher education? Most Americans believe state spending for state colleges and universities has increased, or held steady, over the past decade, according to a recent survey by the APM Research Lab.

Unfortunately for students, most Americans are wrong.

The latest example comes from Alaska, where Gov. Michael Dunleavy pushed the University of Alaska to the brink of financial catastrophe this summer with a drastic 41 percent, or $135 million cut in state funds to the university, to be imposed immediately. The amount exceeds the entire budget of the University of Alaska-Anchorage, one of three campuses that serve about 27,000 students across the far-ranging state.

In response, the university’s Board of Regents reluctantly declared “financial exigency,” paving the way for an estimated 1,300 staff and faculty layoffs and rapid closure of possibly two of the three large university campuses—not to mention massive tuition hikes, the elimination of academic programs and research, and much larger class sizes. Scientists called it a “death spiral” for University of Alaska’s world-renowned climate research hub.

At the same time, the northwest regional accreditation board wrote an unprecedented letter to Alaska legislators, warning them that the 41 percent cut posed, “material and significant risk to the quality of education provided to students,” and could threaten the university’s accreditation. Loss of accreditation is a death knell for institutions: Most significantly, it would mean students could no longer use federal loans or Pell grants to pay tuition.

Amid uproar, the governor eased off, somewhat. Saying he didn’t mean to “cause angst,” he agreed to a still-deep 20 percent cut, or $70 million, over three years. Alongside the elimination of some degree programs, some job layoffs are predicted.

Alaska: Not So Alone.

The sudden, cold-water plunge in state support for the University of Alaska shocked many. But other states across the U.S., mostly in Republican-led states, have cut public higher education as deeply over the past decade.

“Nobody is talking about this—but there has been an erosion of support,” says DeWayne Sheaffer, president of NEA’s National Council for Higher Education. Declining support leads to declining services for students, he adds.

According to a recent survey, most Americans believe state spending for state colleges and universities has increased, or held steady, over the past decade. Unfortunately for students, most Americans are wrong.

Between 2008 and 2018, Arizona lawmakers cut state support for their public colleges and universities by 56 percent, and Louisiana by 41 percent, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP). Seven additional states—Pennsylvania, Oklahoma, Alabama, Mississippi, New Mexico, South Carolina, and Missouri—cut higher education funding by at least 30 percent, and New Hampshire by 29.7 percent, CBPP found.

In 2018, using data from the State Higher Education Executive Officers, the Atlantic reported that—for the first time ever—public colleges and universities received more money from families and students than state legislatures.

For advocates of higher education, these kinds of cuts raise existential questions like: What is the future of state colleges and universities? “If devastating cuts can come in the best of times, or at least far from the worst, then how sustainable can public colleges really be?” asks Kevin Carey, director of the education policy program at New America. Without state support, are these institutions still “state colleges”? At the University of New Hampshire (UNH), only 9 percent of total revenues came from the state in 2016.

For parents and students, the questions are less philosophical, more practical: Can they afford college today? State universities used to be more affordable, more accessible to all. Now, as states have hacked their contributions, families are left holding the bill. In Arizona and Louisiana, the cost of college tuition doubled over the decade. In 2018, in Arizona, the cost of college totaled about 20 percent of a typical family’s annual income.

Connecting the Dots

And yet, most Americans haven’t connected the dots between decreases in state funding and increases in tuition. Even as 43 million Americans—roughly one in six people—have student loan debt, only about one in four are aware that state funding to public colleges and universities has decreased.

“It is a big, important quality-of-life issue, and here all but 29 percent of people got it completely  wrong,” Craig Helmstetter, managing partner of APM Research Lab, told PBS.

According to APM’s survey, most Americans believe funding for higher education has increased (27 percent) or stayed the same (34 percent) over the past decade. An additional 10 percent said they didn’t know.

Even fewer people likely know what has happened with federal Pell Grants, suggests Sheaffer. “Pell Grants haven’t kept up with rising tuition—they no longer fully cover the costs—and nobody is talking about that either,” he says. (Increasing Pell Grants is part of NEA’s recommendations for a revised Higher Education Act.)

The research doesn’t explore why the public is mostly unaware of funding cuts at the higher education level. Whatever the reasons, the lack of awareness likely leads to a lack of advocacy—letter-writing, emails campaigns, rallies and protests during state legislative sessions—that leads to even less funding, say higher-education advocates.

“It is so simple to respond to these issues,” says Sheaffer, who encourages his members to visit the NEA Legislative Action Center and sign up for legislative alerts. “These are actions that are very easy to do, if you’re aware of them.”

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New Coalition Seeks To Make Education A 2020 Election Issue

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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California Gov. Gavin Newsom Signs Vaccine Bill Restricting Medical Exemptions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Making Movement a Part of Your Classroom Culture

Physical Education (PE) isn’t the only class that should emphasize movement! Whatever the grade or subject area, every teacher can effectively incorporate movement into the school day. Most students take fewer than 5,000 steps during a non-PE school day. (That’s including one recess!) Health experts recommend at least 10,000 steps or 60 minutes of physical activity a day.

Adding physical activity to classrooms will result in more focused, better-behaved students who can accomplish even more throughout the school day.

Physical Activity Improves Academics and Social-Emotional Well-Being

It should go without saying that movement is good for us. Emerging research suggests that more physical education, recess, and physical activity can improve academic achievement (CDC, 2015). Physical activity in the classroom has been shown to increase cognition, memory, and recall.

Increases in daily physical activity are also positively associated with socialemotional aspects of learning such as mood, behavior, and stress level.

A Classroom Culture

Most teachers already implement sensory or movement breaks, which are a great start.

Examples of effective movement breaks can be found at and Once physical activity is woven into the daily routine, it can become part of the classroom culture. Students and teachers will feel the positive effects of being active.

Lead by example! Let students see you enjoy moving in the classroom throughout the day.

Simple Strategies for More Movement in the Classroom

Don’t just sit around: When students need to be seated, consider seating such as physio-balls, balance discs, or ergonomic stools. Standard desks can also be modified for movement by using resistance bands or rubber bands around the legs of the desk to use as a wiggle bar.

Stand up: When convenient, students can use standing desks or stations).The act of standing burns more calories and expends more energy.

It also increases blood flow, oxygen uptake, and muscular fitness.

Walk and talk: When students work in pairs, why not walk and talk? Teachers can encourage movement through walking in the classroom and the school building as space allows.

Keep count: When students arrive at school, keep count of their steps using inexpensive pedometers or phones (for older students). Tracking steps is motivating and can be incorporated into the classroom and reinforced at home. Help students set goals, track steps, crunch numbers, chart progress, and more.

Take it outside: Students enjoy the change of scenery and benefit from fresh air.

Outdoor space allows for plenty of gross motor movement. Physical activity should become an expectation during the school day.

If teachers appreciate the connection between exercise and learning, students will too.

Lynn Pantuosco-Hensch is a professor in the Movement Science, Sport, and Leisure Studies Department at Westfield State University.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Lifetime Releases Trailer For Its College Admissions Scandal Movie

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

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

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

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

Check out the trailer here:

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5 Ways To Bring Back Screen-Time Rules After Summer

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

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

Have a last blast

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

Prepare your kids

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

Create a school-year media plan

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

Raid the library

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

Remember you’re their role model

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

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Educators Need the Loan Forgiveness Program Fixed … Now

A government watchdog has bad news for teachers like Virginia’s Maggie Gannon, who owes $200,000 in student loan debt: An investigation has found that Congress’ recent efforts to forgive the federal student debt of teachers and other public-service workers aren’t working.

Ninety-nine percent of loan-forgiveness requests made through the Temporary Expanded Public Service Loan Forgiveness (TEPSLF) program, created by Congress last year, have been denied by the U.S. Department of Education, found the Government Accounting Office (GAO). Of 54,000 requests processed, only 661 have been approved.

“[The Department of Education has] not competently administered this program,” U.S. Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA) told NPR. “The students are entitled to it. They have fulfilled their responsibility over a decade of public service, and they’re entitled by law to have those loans discharged,” added Scott, who has scheduled a Sept. 19 hearing to examine how Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ agency is handling the program.

TEPSLF was supposed to be Congress’ solution to countless complaints, including many from NEA members, that the original, 10-year-old Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program was too rigid, and that applicants were being rejected for arcane, uncommunicated reasons, even after they made the required 120 on-time payments.

“The last time I sent in [the paperwork], they sent a rejection letter that said I didn’t qualify [for PSLF] because my employer didn’t put a phone number on their part,” recalls Washington first-grade teacher Mary Binauea, 51, who owes $50,000, mostly from her master’s degree. “I looked at the copy of what I sent and, surprise! There was the phone number.”

Meanwhile, Kristy Fouts, an Oregon fourth-grade teacher, is one of the very few to actually get approved—to the tune of $30,000 in loan forgiveness—but oversight of the process required so much of her time that it was almost like another job.

“In my experience, and the experience of lots of friends of mine, FedLoan Servicing and other national loan providers have been making many, many errors, and it took me a long time to fix those and get the paperwork processed correctly,” she says.

In Fouts’ case, her loans had been sold to FedLoan by another servicer, and records of her five years of on-time monthly payments to that first servicer were missing. Although she had proof of payment, FedLoan wouldn’t accept it from her. After a year of waiting, she reached out to the office of U.S. Rep. Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR).

“After I did that, the missing records were located within weeks. At some point, I also put in a complaint with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau—that escalated things and got them to look a little more. The most recent thing, that actually got it done, was a complaint with the DOE’s ombudsman person,” she says.

What’s Next?

“We’re going to be hitting a teacher shortage in the next two to five years … and the reasons are obvious,” says Pennsylvania sixth-grade teacher Greg Cechak.

In its report, GAO made four recommendations, which ED has agreed to meet. They include providing information in TEPSLF denial letters on how to appeal those denials; requiring loan servicers to include TEPSLF information on their websites; and including TEPSLF information on ED’s PSLF Online Help Tool.

For educators, the stakes are too high for PSLF to fail. “This is going to have an extremely large impact on my life,” says Jeff Gale, 33, an Illinois high school counselor who still owes about $62,500 for the undergraduate and graduate degrees he earned in-state at Wisconsin public colleges. “If it works out, a college fund for my son will be started and we’ll finally get a reliable vehicle.” And if it doesn’t? “If it doesn’t, we’ll be moving into my parents’ basement.”

For Virginia school counselor Shaniqua Williams, 32, who owes about $97,000 for her bachelor’s and master’s degrees, PSLF will mean she could replace her 13-year-old Acura with 155,000 miles. “Five more years, and I’ll be happy!” she says.

The stakes also are high for the education profession in general—and the students who need highly qualified teachers to succeed.

“We’re going to be hitting a teacher shortage in the next two to five years, depending on the state, and the reasons are obvious,” says Pennsylvania sixth-grade teacher Greg Cechak, 32, who owes $40,000 for his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Pennsylvania’s public Bloomsburg University. “I mean, if my kids told me they wanted to be teachers, it’s not that I would advise them not to…but I would tell them to be very prepared for the debt that will be coming!” he says.

Yes, She Owes $200,000

With her $200,000 in student debt, Gannon understands why people ask her: “If you could do it again, would you still become a teacher?” The debt is mind-boggling and her job as a second-grade teacher in small-town Culpeper, Va., pays more in hearts and souls than dollars and cents.

Still, she answers yes: “This is my passion. I love it!” says Gannon, 29. “Sometimes when the debt is overwhelming, it is crazy stressful. But I really don’t think there is anything else I was meant to be doing.”

Gannon earned her undergraduate and master’s degree at two public universities—Penn State and University of Pittsburgh—as an in-state student. She’s the first in her family to attend and graduate college, and she didn’t have much guidance in navigating the system. Not all of her loans are eligible for PSLF, specifically the ones that her parents co-signed. But she’s entering her fifth year of qualifying PSLF payments on a large chunk of her debt, and PSLF offers her hope.

“It would take about $400 off my monthly bills, offer me a little more freedom. Honestly I want to buy a house, but my student loans are the size of a mortgage,” she says. It also would help her invest in her classroom and students. By the second day of school this year, she already had spent a couple of hundred dollars on classroom supplies.

Doubts about the program’s viability make her nervous, she says. “I feel like, I’m really nervous with the current state of things, they’re going to do away with the loan forgiveness program and I’m just… going to be in this boat.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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