Laurie Harper, director of education for the Bug-O-Nay-Ge-Shig School, a K-12 tribal school on the Leech Lake Band Indian Reservation in north-central Minnesota, never thought that a class of chemicals called per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, would be an issue for her community. That’s partly because, up until a few months ago, she didn’t even know what PFAS were. “We’re in the middle of the Chippewa National Forest,” she said. “It’s definitely not something I had really clearly considered dealing with out here.” Late last year, tests conducted by the Environmental Protection Agency revealed that her school’s drinking water wells were contaminated with PFAS.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of San Antonio Independent School District v. Rodriguez, the landmark 5-4 Supreme Court decision that held that education is not a fundamental right protected by the U.S. Constitution. The decision dashed hopes that the historic Brown v. Board of Education ruling that ended legal segregation in 1954 would be followed by a sustained federal commitment to making education equality a reality. Demetrio Rodriguez was a sheet metal worker and a member of the Edgewood Concerned Parent Association when he became the lead plaintiff in the case. He thought his three children were being shortchanged by wide disparities in schooling across the sprawling San Antonio school district and the state of Texas.
The largest public school district in the state of Texas is converting libraries in 28 schools into disciplinary centers and eliminating school librarian positions, local news outlets reported on Thursday. The alarming change comes as part of a sweeping reform program led by the Houston Independent School District’s (HISD) new superintendent Mike Miles, who oversees 85 schools. Of the remaining 57 schools with libraries, the district said each will be assessed on a case-by-case basis, indicating more libraries could be closed. Under Miles’ New Education System (NES) program, libraries in the 28 schools will become “Team Centers,” where “kids with behavioral issues will be sent,” per the Houston-based NBC affiliate, KRPC.
When Los Angeles educators joined school support staff on the picket lines last month, our solidarity strike helped them clinch a contract with a 30 percent raise. Riding that wave, yesterday educators reached a tentative agreement of our own, with a 21 percent raise, smaller classes, and improved staffing. Superintendent Alberto Carvalho had scoffed in February when support staff voted by 96 percent to authorize a strike. On Twitter he belittled the threat as empty theatrics. “1, 2, 3…Circus,” he wrote, “a predictable performance with a known outcome, desiring of nothing more than an applause, a coin, and a promise of a next show.” But fast-forward one month, and the joke was on him.
In May 2022, the company’s own AI Ethics Board voted against a pilot program with law enforcement due to concerns over surveillance and abuse, particularly against people of color. However, weeks later, in the wake of the Uvalde tragedy, Axon announced its intention to embed Taser-equipped drones in schools to stop mass shootings, using AI surveillance and virtual reality simulations. Nine of the thirteen members of the AI Ethics Board resigned, stating they had "lost faith in Axon's ability to be a responsible partner." Axon shareholders are now requesting that the company discontinue the development and plans for sale of a remotely-operated Taser drone system, which poses serious risks to privacy, racial equity, and physical safety.
Civil rights organizations have filed a federal complaint on behalf of several parents against the Texas Education Agency because of its plan to replace the Houston Independent School District’s democratically elected school board, claiming the move takes away the rights of Houston voters of color to choose their own school officials. The complaint was filed with the U.S. Department of Justice Friday morning, with a claim by the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, the Houston NAACP, the League of United Latin American Citizens and the Greater Houston Coalition for Justice that the state’s takeover violates the Voting Rights Act and the U.S. Constitution.
Woodbridge, VA - The plastic sign displayed prominently on De’Ana Forbes’ classroom door is especially fitting this week. In big bold letters: “Warning! History Teacher Zone. Your understanding of the past may be corrected at any time.” It’s early in this sleepy suburb 45 minutes outside Washington, D.C., and the sun is still rising over Freedom High School as students jog inside from late-arriving buses, backpacks half-hung over shoulders with winter coats swinging. They push through crowded hallways and hurry to first period. Forbes, 28, who teaches U.S. history and social studies, is one of many teachers across the country participating in the annual Black Lives Matter at School Week of Action, held this year February 6 – 10.
Oakland, California - On the last day of school at Parker Elementary, following tearful moving up ceremonies for fifth and eighth grades, one group of mothers — frustrated over a decision to permanently shutter the school — refused to leave. Over 50 days later, they’re still there, occupying the school alongside a network of community activists and other supporters. In the meantime, they’ve started “Parker Community School,” which offers free summer programming for schoolchildren and adults. Even as the next school year approaches, they’re refusing to back down, with plans to expand their efforts as part of a broader fight against educational racism and inequity in Oakland and across the country. “Our kids are important to us — and that’s the reason why this has to happen,” said Misty Cross, a mother of two in the district who has been one of several parents sleeping at the school.
Los Angeles, CA - On June 6, Axel Brito, Hollywood High School Class of 2022 valedictorian, gave a powerful speech during his senior graduation ceremony at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles. His speech is an indictment of the entrenched corruption within the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) at the expense of quality education and services for students and the working conditions of teachers and school workers. Video footage of Axel’s speech has gone viral on social media, having been viewed over 2.6 million times on TikTok, over 24,000 times on YouTube and over 11,000 times on Instagram.
A U.S. Supreme Court ruling on Monday offered "another example" of the court's "conservative supermajority continuing its politicized agenda," said the head of one of the nation's largest teachers unions as the decision overturned decades of precedent which prohibited educators from leading students in religious displays. In Kennedy v. Bremerton School District, which concerned a coach who led prayers on the 50-yard line of a Washington state high school's football field, the court's right-wing majority ruled that the coach's prayers were protected under the First Amendment and that school officials who asked him to stop were not acting in the interest of the nation's bedrock laws separating church and state.
Rebecca Wood didn’t realize she was food insecure until she wasn’t anymore. She credits the U.S. Department of Agriculture for that. Since March 2020, when the pandemic hit, the USDA has issued waivers to expand school lunch programs. This $11 billion program provided a vital lifeline to working families who were struggling to feed their kids during the pandemic, even when schools were out during the summer. Before the vouchers were issued, Wood struggled paying off her 10-year-old daughter’s school lunch debt. “Each pay period, I dumped a portion of my paycheck into my daughter Charlie’s school meal account. In doing so, I paid off her debt and added a few more dollars for future meals,” Wood told me.
There's a recent painting that sums up what's happening to public education in Virginia: A white man, white paint roller in hand, is covering up Black historical figures—Harriet Tubman, Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X—their bodies whitewashed, faces stoic. The piece by Detroit artist Jonathan Harris, titled "Critical Race Theory," stuck with Cassandra Newby-Alexander, a professor at Norfolk State University, a Historically Black University, since she first saw it online. Newby-Alexander is the former co-chair of the African American History Education Commission (AAHEC), a group of educators and historians brought together by former Governor Ralph Northam in August 2019 to recommend changes to add more Black history to Virginia's K-12 curricula. The state Board of Education implemented their recommendations in the fall of 2021.
Hundreds of thousands took to the streets in over 450 protests across the country Saturday demanding lawmakers take action on gun control laws in the wake of recent mass shootings in Uvalde, Texas, and Buffalo, New York. March for Our Lives, the youth-led organization created by students who survived the mass shooting at Parkland's Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in 2018, organized Saturday's rallies. Patricia and Manuel Oliver, whose son, Joaquin, was among those killed in Parkland, addressed the Washington, DC crowd announcing a new campaign called I Will Avoid. “Our elected officials have betrayed us and avoid the responsibility to end gun violence…Today we announce a new call to action, because I think it's time to bring a consequence to their inaction."
For educators like myself, no matter how far we teach from Uvalde, Texas, the recent mass shooting at Robb Elementary, like so many before it, is still palpable in our classrooms — among students and teachers alike. Two days after the massacre, Toni Wright, one of my students in New Haven, Conn., stood in our high school’s hallway crying. “I couldn’t even make it to school yesterday,” they told me. “I got on the bus, I made it down the street, but I had to get off and tell my mom to come get me. I was so upset that it was physically hurting me to try to go to school.” Toni’s peers might have felt this way too, but many students did not want to talk about the shooting. As Toni explained, “I don’t think anyone knows how to talk about it without being like: ‘it’s so sad, it happened again.’”
In Abbott Elementary, an ABC sitcom about an underfunded elementary school in Philadelphia, Quinta Brunson plays Janine Teagues, an enthusiastic 2nd-grade teacher who attempts to overcome every obstacle with her grit and determination — a flickering light in the back hallways, the perpetual lack of basic school supplies, a complicated reading software program. Barbara and Melissa, the older, more experienced teachers, remind her “to just worry about what you can control.” And for years, that’s what teachers have done. We’ve made do. Having kids paint with water, like Barbara, when there’s no money for paints. Ponying up pieces of our salaries to buy books for classroom libraries, highlighters for writing activities, pencils, food for hungry kids, printers, microphones, even textbooks. You name it, we’ve bought it.