This Week in Education Organizing - January 19, 2018

Uncertainty Over DACA is Stressing Out Teachers as Well as Students

While the President dithers and tweets, thousands of undocumented educators, along with their students, are potentially facing deportation, if Congress fails to fix the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA program.  The President announced in September that he was ending the program, which protects young people who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children.

The Migration Policy Institute, in a recent report, estimates that roughly 8,800 DACA recipients are teaching in U.S. classrooms.  "This yo-yo-ing of hope and despair is exhausting. It's wearing our teachers down," (AROS member) Ken Zarifis, president of Education Austin told Politico.  Zarifis estimates that at least a dozen teachers are working in Austin schools and may lose their work permits if Congress doesn’t solve the DACA problem. 

Congress is facing a deadline tonight, on government funding.  Democrats are demanding that fixing DACA be part of those negotiations.  The Migration Policy Institute paper reports that, if DACA is ended, nearly 1,000 undocumented immigrants per day could lose their protected status and possibly face deportation as early as March.

So while the clock ticks away on Capitol Hill, hundreds of thousands of teachers, and students, and workers across the country, wait.  And worry.  And organize, we should note.  Near-daily demonstrations in Washington, and around the country, continue.

#WeChoose Week of Action – January 21-28!  JOIN IN!!

The #WeChoose campaign is hosting a national week of action next week. The events are designed to compete with and disrupt National School Choice Week. #WeChoose says, “Parents want their schools improved, not closed. Communities want to be constituents, not customers. Support for school privatization schemes continues to plummet and there is a demand, especially in communities of color, for full service, sustainable community schools!

The week includes a series of online events and social media “power hours” focused on sustainable community schools, school privatization and the fight for more Black teachers in our classrooms.  For a full round-up of the week’s schedule, go to www.j4jalliance.com and the #WeChoose Facebook page.    #WeChooseWeek    #SchoolChoiceWeek

Milwaukee Public Schools Reaches Settlement Agreement with OCR Over Disparities in Discipline

The Office for Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Education has reached a settlement agreement with the Milwaukee Public Schools over a complaint filed regarding discriminatory use of school discipline policy.  Under the agreement, MPS must, among other things, improve its monitoring and data collection, better train staff, update its disciplinary policies and develop early identification and intervention strategies for students at risk for behavioral problems.  The district will also develop a plan to tailor school-based services in ways to reduce suspensions, including looking at staffing levels of social workers, guidance counselors, and mental health workers. Wisconsin had the dubious record of having had the nation’s highest suspension rates for Black students, according to a 2014 study by the Civil Rights Project at the University of California/Los Angeles. Over the last decade, the district has dramatically reduced—but not eliminated—the racial disparities in their disciplinary actions.  Still, in the 2015-2016 school year, black students made up 53% of the district’s student body, but 80% of its suspensions and 87% of its expulsions, according to the state Department of Public Instruction.  For more on the agreement, check out this article from the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.

ED Opens New Database of Pending Investigations

The Department of Education has launched a new database that makes available to the public a list of all active civil rights complaints under investigation by the Department’s Office for Civil Rights. The searchable database includes open investigations at both elementary and secondary, as well as post-secondary schools, and will be updated monthly.  While detailed information about the cases is not included in the listing, it seems as though it could be a useful resource.

A quick check of race discrimination cases pending in the District of Columbia was interesting, for example.  The list of 10 open cases included 2 at the university level, and 8 at the K12 level.  Of those 8, 7 were at three of the city’s charter schools, and the 8th involved DCPS itself.

“I think it’s important to know what investigations are in progress, says Dwanna Nicole with the Advancement Project. She noted that organizers on the ground can use the information as a tool to move school districts, in some cases.  “The threat of federal government interference is still something that districts fear. It also signals the types of cases they choose to investigate, which could also be helpful for future claims,” Nicole said. 

American Federation of Teachers Weighs In on DeVos Attempt to Eliminate Obama Discipline Guidance

The AFT has submitted a letter to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, supporting the retention of Obama-era guidance on avoiding discrimination in school discipline.

The letter reads, in part, “The current Department of Education guidance on school discipline, while not perfect, is an attempt to confront the reality that, for example, black students are nearly four times more likely to be suspended than their white peers for the same infractions. The current guidance is not a panacea, but it provides a foundation to build from…it would be a mistake to rescind this guidance.”

The Obama guidance, issued in 2014 by both the Department of Education and the Justice Department, reminds schools that they may be found in violation of federal civil rights laws if discipline is meted out disproportionately against students of color.  The guidance package includes resources and tools that schools can use, as well as an endorsement of practices like restorative justice and broader school climate efforts.  Representative Bobby Scott (D-VA) suggested that the guidance is a key step forward in dismantling the school-to-prison pipeline.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has indicated an interest in eliminating the guidance, just as her proposed budget slashes funding for school climate initiatives and teacher training in areas such as the effective implementation of restorative justice.  The AFT letter concludes:  “To reduce racial disparities in the application of school discipline, educators must receive the appropriate training and supports, including professional development and a school climate that is safe and welcoming for all. This requires federal investment in professional development, in community schools, and in a diverse educator workforce…”

Sustainable Community Schools—An Alternative to Privatization

The Gamaliel Foundation held a well-attended webinar on January 16th, reviewing the arguments against privatization and in favor of sustainable community schools.  “This administration,” noted the Gamaliel introduction to the webinar, “has been relentless in its strategy to dismantle public education and replace it with a for-profit model of education that has no accountability to the community and no concern for equity.  In the aftermath of the 2016 election, what is our response?”

The webinar was facilitated by Gamaliel’s Cynthia Jarrold and featured Kyle Serrette of the NEA, who gave a presentation on the growth of the charter industry and key problems with the exponential proliferation of charters in the last decade.  He followed with a concise outline of what a sustainable community school is, where they are in place, and what the outcomes of such schools has been (really strong!).  The Pittsburgh Interfaith Network was featured, with director Jamaal Craig talking about how Pittsburgh organizing groups have built a powerful political base that is beginning to win community schools.

 Tennessee AROS and state PTA Co-Author Community Schools Commentary

Lyn Hoyt, the coordinator of Tennessee AROS, and Cheryl Floyd, the president of the Tennessee PTA, co-authored this great commentary about the ongoing work in Tennessee to advocate for and build transformational community schools.  The commentary appeared on Monday in the Memphis Commercial-Appeal.

 Schott Foundation Webinar: Radical Self Care: A Necessary Movement-Building Strategy -Wednesday, January 31, 2017 at 2:00 pm ET

The Schott Foundation is hosting a webinar on January 31st, to examine self-care and what care and support look like while working in coalition and movement-building spaces.  How do we create space to support and sustain us in our efforts? What tools and perspectives can we use in difficult times and under challenging circumstances to help us work more effectively together? Speakers will include Sayra Pinto with Wildacres Leadership Initiative, Carlos Rojas Alvarez with Youth on Board, and Marianna Islam with the Schott Foundation.  Registration is open and available here.

Bronx Screening of "Backpack Full of Cash"

ECE Policy Works, Bronx Educators United for Justice, Badass Teacher Association (BATs), CASA Middle School and the Alliance for Quality Education (AQE) are hosting a free screening of the documentary “Backpack Full of Cash” on Thursday, February 1st from 6:00 – 8:00 at Cornerstone Academy for Social Action (CASA) in the Bronx.

 "Backpack Full of Cash" is a feature-length documentary narrated by Matt Damon, that explores the growing privatization of public schools and the impact on America’s most vulnerable children.

Under the jurisdiction of the NYC Department of Education, Bronx public schools have been closed and subjected to co-location by charter networks. This powerful film will help to put a human face on charter schools, vouchers, and high-stakes testing, highlighting the devastating consequences of these policies. The screening will be followed by a panel including the Director and Producer of the film, along with organizers and advocates. Free Tickets are Available at: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/backpack-full-of-cash-bronx-screening-and-panel-discussion-tickets-41546059382


UPCOMING EVENTS

Backpack Full of Cash Screenings:

January 31:  5:00pm at the offices of the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers. The showing is hosted by Great Public Schools-Pittsburgh. The showing is free, and will be followed by a panel discussion

February 8:  7:00 PM at Bethel International United Methodist Church, 1220 Bethel Road, Columbus OH.  The showing is free and open to the public. Registration is required, however. Please register at: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/backpack-full-of-cash-tickets-41721673649.  For more information, contact Public Education Partners, ohiopep@gmail.com

February 13:   #WeChoose Campaign National Town Hall.  At the Spencer M. Patrich Auditorium at Wayne State University Law School in Detroit. 

February 24:  A Working People’s Day of Action – in cities across the country including (so far) Los Angeles, San Diego, Washington, Miami, St. Paul, New York, Columbus, Philadelphia and Memphis. More to follow. Thousands will defy a rigged system that favors the corporations and the wealthy, and a Supreme Court poised to slash the rights of working people to bargain collectively.  More information will follow. Save the date!!


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