This Week in Education Organizing - April 20, 2018

Books, Not Guns

Today is another day of protest, as tens of thousands of students and supporters are expected to walk out of schools and rally for stricter gun control. The Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools, and many of our local AROS coalitions are supporting these efforts. If you haven’t already, please sign our pledge—as a parent, a student or a teacher—to refuse to participate in efforts to increase the number of guns in our schools and classrooms.

Policies to arm teachers are popping up at the local and state level all across the country—some of them are being resisted, and some of them are just getting ridiculous. In Broward County, Florida (the home of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School), the school board voted to refuse to arm teachers, but asked the legislature to redirect funding set aside for training teachers to use guns, to instead hire additional police officers. One step forward, two steps back. But then it gets goofier: In Millcreek County, Pennsylvania, the school district opted to arm its teachers with 16” baseball bats, and in Blue Mountain School District, also in Pennsylvania, a plan was put forward to install a 5-pound bucket of stones in each classroom so that teachers and students could pelt an armed intruder. All these efforts seem dedicated to shifting the conversation from the fundamental issues of gun control and real school safety. But powerful voices are being raised…

Black and Brown Youth Demand Racial Justice in School Safety Debate

More than 20 youth-led organizations released a letter yesterday, calling for a real debate on school safety that doesn’t further criminalize Black and Brown communities. “When we go to school we are being prepared for prison more than we are being prepared for life,” the letter begins. “Imagine if we could walk down the street and not worry about abusive police officers. Imagine if we could go to schools with engaging and culturally responsive classes, guidance counselors, mental health care, enough teachers to work with every student, a diverse faculty and restorative practices.” The students are demanding divestment from school policing, comprehensive mental and emotional health services, more guidance counselors and social workers, among other concrete reforms. The letter was endorsed by close to 20 national, state and local organizations in addition to the youth-led groups. Please – read the letter and sign the accompanying petition today.

From Failure to Freedom – Ending Milwaukee’s School-to-Prison Pipeline

Leaders Igniting Transformation (LIT), along with the Center for Popular Democracy released From Failure to Freedom, a report that reveals that Milwaukee Public Schools’ (MPS) reliance on punitive approaches to school discipline is ineffective, costly, and most troublingly, racially biased.

Research for the report included data from the 2015–2016 school year showing that eighty percent of the 10,267 suspensions in the district were of Black students, who make up just 53 percent of the total enrollment. Also revealed is that Black students accounted for 84.6 percent of the referrals to law enforcement, and that students with disabilities made up 92 percent of the young people restrained or secluded in the schools.

This report is one step in a campaign to change Milwaukee’s approach to school safety, especially as MPS faces an Office of Civil Rights Resolution Agreement. The Resolution Agreement requires MPS to publish new discipline policies and decide on staffing levels of support professionals and school resource officers, among other important changes all by June of this year. 

More Headwinds for DeVos

Unable to get nation-wide voucher legislation through Congress over the past year, Education Secretary and privatization fanatic Betsy DeVos decided to go small – backing legislation that would introduce vouchers to families living on military bases, as a way to get a foot in the door for expansion.

Instead, DeVos got her toes pinched last week, when a coalition representing over 5 million active and former members of the U.S military told Congress that they didn’t want the vouchers. The coalition of 25 organizations noted that a voucher program would only divert much-needed public funds from their public schools.

Massive School Closures Announced in Puerto Rico

If the military is rejecting DeVos’ privatization agenda, the Governor and Education Secretary in Puerto Rico are embracing it with open arms. On April 5th, Puerto Rico Secretary of Education Julia Keleher announced that she would close 283 schools by September 2018, affecting 60,000 students and 6,000 teachers. Last year, Puerto Rico closed 167 schools. Together, this means that over 35% of the island’s public schools will be shuttered by next fall. Read a Washington Post story about this, here.

Has the island’s population declined by that much over the past year, and in the aftermath of the devastating hurricanes last fall? No. Instead, the move is widely seen as opening the way for charter schools. The General Assembly of Puerto Rico recently passed legislation allowing charters for the first time, and the education department is in the process of writing regulations and guidelines for how the schools will operate. There has been little opportunity for input from the island’s residents. In fact, the entire process has been marked by secrecy and inconsistencies. On April 4th, Keleher was quoted in a story published by El Vocero, saying that no list of schools to be affected by the closures had been created. Two days later, a list was released. Of the schools slated for closure, 56 are rated “excellent” by the department of education. Keleher has indicated that some of the schools on the list are being closed because they didn’t voluntarily agree to become charters.

Also please sign this petition, demonstrating support for the teachers, parents and students in Puerto Rico who are calling on the Governor to stop the school closings.

A rally is planned in San Juan next Wednesday, April 25th for parents, educators and others who are organizing to stop the decimation of Puerto Rico’s public school system. Please support the rally by joining a social media push next Wednesday. Use #PuertoRico, #PorNuestrasEscuelas and include the Governor (@RicardoRossello) the Sec of Education (@SecEducacionPR) and the teachers union (@amprnet).

Colorado Democrats reject DFER

Delegates to the Colorado Democratic Party’s annual general assembly voted overwhelmingly to amend the party platform to speak out against Democrats for Education Reform. The platform will now read: “We oppose making Colorado’s public schools private or run by private corporations or becoming segregated again through lobbying and campaigning efforts of the organization called Democrats for Education Reform and demand that they immediately stop using the party’s name Democrat in their name.”

Democrats for Education Reform is a national organization with chapters in 8 states (Colorado, Connecticut, D.C., Louisiana, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York and Washington). It was founded around 2007 by Whitney Tilson, a hedge-fund manager and longtime Democratic funder and activist, in an effort to take on the “entrenched” power of teachers unions. Other co-founders include investment manager R. Boykin Curry, who is a founding board member of New York’s Girls Prep and a member of the board of the Alliance for School Choice; and John Petry, a partner at Gotham Capital and co-founder of the Harlem Success Charter School. DFER supports charter schools and school choice and promotes mayoral control of public school systems. Their deep-pocketed members invest heavily in school board and other races, working to build pro-charter majorities on school boards in their target states. Last week’s rebellion against DFER from the Colorado Democratic Party rank and file is the first large-scale push-back against the group by the Democratic establishment, that we know of. Read more here.

Keeping Students First: Building Community-Labor Partnerships for Strong Schools

One of the most inspiring sights of the historic West Virginia teacher strike was seeing educators taking the time to assemble bags of food to deliver to students while schools were closed. In a state in which one in four children lives in poverty, the food drive helped struggling families while the strike was ongoing — but it was also an indicator of the kind of labor-community cooperation and solidarity that can achieve important victories, even in the face of daunting political odds.

Amidst an upsurge of grassroots education organizing and mobilization across the country, the Schott Foundation and Building Movement Project are proud to release a groundbreaking new report, “Keeping Students First: Building Community Labor Partnerships for Strong Schools.”

This report is designed to support community and labor groups that are ready and willing to engage in meaningful relationship building and collaboration to work together to address systemic and policy issues that have contributed to the achievement gap, especially for youth of color. Centered around case studies of St. Paul, MN and Austin, TX, The Building Movement Project found that both unions and community groups there succeeded by bringing each other into strategic development and partnership in a meaningful way.

In addition to the case studies, the report distills some of the lessons learned into sample exercises designed to support labor and community groups beginning to work together.

 

A webinar discussion on the report will be held on Tuesday, April 24th at 2:00 eastern time. AROS director Keron Blair, along with representatives from the coalitions in Austin and St. Paul will present. Please click here to register for the webinar.


UPCOMING EVENTS

Keeping Students First: Building Community Labor Partnerships for Strong Schools – Join a live webinar on Tuesday, April 24th at 2:00 ET -- Click HERE to register
Backpack Full of Cash – a free public showing on May 10th at the offices of Alliance-AFT in Dallas. 334 Centre Street, at 6:00pm. The screening will be followed by a panel discussion and reception.
Journey for Justice Alliance National Conference 2018: May 18-20 at Walter H. Dyett High School in Chicago. Registration here online or by mail or fax!   Register, pay and get more details on the conference itinerary and activities here! Youth and J4J member discounts are available. 


Follow the Alliance to Reclaim our Schools on Facebook and Twitter and learn more at www.reclaimourschools.org.


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