Tag Archives: classrooms

School uniform rules relaxed for LGBT students in Puerto Rico

Students at public schools across Puerto Rico for the first time can choose to wear pants or skirts as part of their uniform regardless of their gender without being punished, a move that has unleashed a debate in this socially conservative island.

Education Secretary Rafael Roman said this week that the new regulation he recently signed is meant to be inclusive of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender students. He added that teachers will no longer be allowed to discipline students who prefer to wear pants instead of skirts or vice versa.

“No student can be sanctioned for not opting to wear a particular piece of clothing … that he or she does not feel comfortable with,” he told reporters.

Girls at public schools in Puerto Rico traditionally wear skirts as part of their uniforms and the boys wear pants.

LGBT civil rights activists and some school officials praised the measure, which comes months after Gov. Alejandro Garcia Padilla signed an executive order prohibiting bullying in public schools based on sexual orientation.

“It’s a bit late, but it was approved, which is important,” said Cristina Torres, director of a high school in Ponce, Puerto Rico’s second-largest city. “Changing people’s mentality from one day to another will be hard … The most incredible thing is that young people can accept this with an open mind, but it’s the adults who discriminate.”

Torres is familiar with the issue. Teachers filed a complaint against her two years ago for appearing in a picture with a student who wore women’s clothing at his graduation. The student was a victim of bullying and had received an award for overcoming difficult circumstances, she said.

“Our responsibility is to protect students’ rights,” Torres said.

However, critics of the new regulation accused government officials of acting like dictators and stripping parents of their power.

“Once again, this government and the Department of Education work against what’s best for our children,'” said officials with Alerta Puerto Rico, a conservative group that says it was founded to promote family and childhood values.

But Roman argues that parents have the final word on how their children dress for school since they’re the ones buying the uniform. He added that several school districts in the U.S. mainland have adopted similar regulations.

Messages left with the U.S. Department of Education were not immediately returned.

Paola Gonzalez, a 39-year-old transsexual woman who grew up in Puerto Rico and now lives in Albany, New York, said she wished the measure would have been approved years ago.

“It would have simplified my life,” she said, adding that she has some concerns about the new regulation given what she described as Puerto Rico’s “macho” culture.

“For a student to come out and say I identify with this gender and wear these clothes … that will be a big step,” Gonzalez said. “The school may also have to consider the safety of the student.”

Garcia’s administration previously approved several measures in favor of the gay community, including one that allows transgender and transsexual people to change their gender on their driver’s license and another that protects their rights when seeking medical services.

McGraw-Hill apologizes for textbook calling slaves ‘workers’

One of the biggest publishers in the U.S. apologized for calling slaves brought to America “workers” in a geography textbook used widely in Texas, where the wording went unnoticed during the state’s combative and politically charged classroom curriculum reviews.

Instead it was the mother of a 15-year-old high school freshman near Houston who prompted McGraw-Hill Education to take the unusual step of promising immediate revisions and new supplemental lessons about the Atlantic slave trade. Roni Dean-Burren, whose son pointed out the wording in his world geography textbook to his mom, ignited outrage on social media last week after posting her disbelief.

Roughly a quarter of Texas’ 1,200 school districts use the textbook, according to state officials. The publisher didn’t respond to questions about how many other classrooms in the U.S. purchased copies with the same phrasing.

“We are deeply sorry that the caption was written this way,” McGraw-Hill Education CEO David Levin said in a letter to employees. “While the book was reviewed by many people inside and outside the company, and was made available for public review, no one raised concerns about the caption. Yet, clearly, something went wrong and we must and will do better.”

The caption in the ninth-grade textbook accompanies a map of the U.S. in a section about immigration. It reads: “The Atlantic Slave Trade between the 1500s and 1800s brought millions of workers from Africa to the southern United States to work on agricultural plantations.”

Dean-Burren, a former English teacher who is now a doctoral candidate at the University of Houston, found out about the caption when her son texted her picture of the page, telling her, “We was real hard workers weren’t we.”

Dean-Burren said she struggles most with how the wording wasn’t caught by book editors or the Texas State Board of Education, which approved the textbook last November. The board is dominated by social conservatives and has drawn national attention in recent years over approving curriculum standards that deemphasize the separation of church and state and question evolution. The 15-person elected board has one black member.

“There’s a part of me, the emotional side, that says, ‘Y’all did this on purpose. You did this to sanitize this and to wash it down,’” Dean-Burren said. “But what if this wasn’t on purpose, but it was the result of not ensuring that you have a table made up of what children and people in Texas look like?”

Levin said his company will increase the number of textbook reviewers to “reflect greater diversity.”

Thomas Ratliff, a Republican member of the state board, said the wording of the caption isn’t related to Texas’ curriculum standards.

“People have been looking for something to criticize and if you look for something hard enough, believe me you’ll find it,” Ratliff said. “I think it was just worded improperly. I don’t think this is the tipping point for a whole bunch of other revelations.”

The Texas Freedom Network, a left-leaning group that is the board’s toughest critic, has its own reviewers scrutinize textbooks. But when it came to world geography textbooks, they only checked sections about climate change and religion, said group spokesman Dan Quinn.

Ratliff said local school districts should decide whether they want to remove the current edition of the book from classrooms. McGraw-Hill says it’s changing the digital version, which all Texas schools using the textbook have. The company says it’s also exploring how to quickly change the physical copies. 

Nevada Republicans sponsoring ‘Pop-Tart gun’ bill

Nevada Assembly Republicans are backing a bill that would bar schools from punishing students who play with toy firearms.

Nevada Assemblyman Jim Wheeler is sponsoring the AB121, which would forbid schools from punishing students that play with toy guns or pretend to use a firearm.

The bill also extends protections to students who wear clothing with images of firearms, use hand gestures to imitate a gun or brandish partially-eaten pastries in the shape of a weapon.

States including Florida and Texas have passed similar legislation after a highly-publicized 2013 incident in which a Maryland second-grader was suspended over a half-eaten Pop-Tart chewed into the shape of a gun.

Meanwhile, educators could still punish students for eating Pop-Tarts in class.

Petition targets Walton Foundation push to privatize schools

Labor and education. Both were on the minds of Americans with the three-day holiday weekend that commemorates Labor Day and signifies the end of summer and the start of a new school year.

So the AFL-CIO figured it was a great time to take on the push by Wal-Mart’s owners to privatize — or corporatize — U.S. education.

In late August, Elizabeth Bunn, director of organizing for the AFL-CIO, urged labor advocates to sign a petition at aflcio.org to “keep Wal-Mart out of our classrooms,” and she wasn’t referring to the school supplies purchased for students at the discount store.

“Back to school isn’t the most fun time of year, but it is especially hard for teachers and students when you have billionaire families like the Wal-Mart-owning Waltons gearing up to use their billions to attack public education and shift much-needed resources to for-profit corporate schools,” Bunn said, appealing for petition signatures. “The Waltons have spent more than $1 billion on their corporate-style education scheme that’s opposed commonsense proposals like giving all kids access to free public pre-K education.”

The concern of the AFL-CIO and many progressive groups is that the Walton family is investing heavily in creating charter schools, promoting voucher systems that transfer taxpayer dollars to private schools, pushing policies drafted through the American Legislative Exchange Council and funding campaigns for conservative candidates from local school boards to the governor’s mansion.

Several years ago, the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism documented the influence of Wal-Mart heirs on the 2010 election — six members of the family, none of them residents of the state, were among the top 10 individual contributors to winning state legislative candidates as Republicans took control of the government.

After taking office, Gov. Scott Walker and the GOP majority cut public school funding by $800 million over two years, allocated $17 million over two years to voucher programs and rolled back collective bargaining rights for public union employees.

Estimates suggest that since 2000, the Walton Family Foundation has put about $1 billion into initiatives that promote a corporate-friendly model of education, making Wal-Mart the largest funder of charter schools in the nation. 

The foundation, in 2013, invested millions to mold education policy — money went to the Black Alliance for Educational Options, the right-wing Alliance for School Choice, the New Teacher Project and Parent Revolution Inc., according to Inside Philanthropy — and to shape studies that endorse charter school programs.

Progressives’ worry is that the Walton Foundation’s efforts to privatize education are as threatening to public schools as Wal-Mart’s retail stores are to local businesses and Wal-Mart’s personnel policies are to the economic security of its employees.

Numerous studies show that expanding charter schools and school choice increases segregation — by race, ethnicity and income — and jeopardizes the stability of traditional public schools.

On the Web…


Common Core spawns widespread political fights

More than five years after U.S. governors began a bipartisan effort to set new standards in American schools, the Common Core initiative has morphed into a political tempest fueling division among Republicans.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce leads establishment voices — such as possible presidential contender Jeb Bush — who hail the standards as a way to improve student performance and, over the long term, competitiveness of American workers.

Many arch-conservatives — tea party heroes Rand Paul and Ted Cruz among them — decry the system as a top-down takeover of local schools.

The standards were developed and are being implemented by states, though Common Core opponents argue that President Barack Obama’s administration has encouraged adoption of the standards by various parameters it set for states applying to get lucrative federal education grants.

Tea party-aligned officials and candidates want to delay the standards or abandon them altogether in at least a dozen of the 45 states that adopted some part of the guidelines.

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence this week signed the first Common Core repeal to make it through a legislature.

“Common Core is like Obamacare: They passed it before they knew what was in it,” said William Evers, a Hoover Institute research fellow and lead author of a California Republican Party resolution denouncing Common Core.

To a lesser extent, Democrats must deal with some teachers — their unions hold strong influence within the party — who are upset about implementation details.

But it’s the internal GOP debate that’s on display in statehouses, across 2014 campaigns and among 2016 presidential contenders.

The flap continues as students in 36 states and the District of Columbia begin this week taking field tests of new assessments based on the standards, although the real tests won’t be given for another year.

Paul, a Republican senator from Kentucky, has joined seven colleagues, including Texas’ Cruz, to sponsor a measure that would bar federal financing of any Common Core component. U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida isn’t among the eight, but he had already come out against the standards. So has Rick Santorum, a 2012 presidential candidate mulling another run.

On the other end of the spectrum is Bush, the former Florida governor and Rubio’s mentor. “This is a real-world, grown-up approach to a real crisis that we have, and it’s been mired in politics,” Bush said last week in Tennessee, where he joined Republican Gov. Bill Haslam at an event to promote Common Core.

Haslam, who is running for re-election this year, is trying to beat back a repeal effort in the Tennessee Legislature. “These are simply guidelines that say a fourth grader should be learning the same things” regardless of where the student lives, the governor said recently. “Historically, we haven’t been good at setting high standards.”

The National Governors Association and state education superintendents developed Common Core.

Among other things, the framework recommends when students should master certain skills. For example, by the end of fifth grade, a math student should be able to solve complex problems by plotting points on x and y axes. A high school sophomore should be able to analyze text or make written arguments using valid logical reasoning and sufficient evidence.

The issue presents a delicate balancing act for some governors. Bobby Jindal’s Louisiana and Scott Walker’s Wisconsin initially adopted the new standards. Now both men — possible presidential candidates — watch as GOP lawmakers in their states push anti-Common Core bills.

Jindal, who was an NGA member during Common Core’s development, won’t say where he stands on repeal.

“When it comes to specific bills, when they get to the issue of standards, we’ll sit down with the authors and provide our thoughts about it. But in general when it comes to standards, we don’t want to weaken the standards,” he told reporters last week.

Before Wisconsin lawmakers convened, Walker announced support for rethinking Common Core.

Establishment Republicans in Georgia, meanwhile, derailed a repeal effort in favor of a “study commission” empowered only to make recommendations. Alabama GOP leaders have held off a repeal measure, as well.

Immediate political consequences of the disputes aren’t clear. GOP officials and strategists say any fallout for them is dwarfed by Democrats’ struggle with Obama’s health care law. In the meantime, conservative candidates use Common Core as a symbolic rallying cry.

Tennessee state Rep. Joe Carr, a long-shot primary challenger to Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander, insists Common Core “is just one more overreach of a federal government that wants to insert itself into everything.”

An Alabama congressional hopeful, Scott Beason, casts Common Core as liberal indoctrination. In Georgia’s crowded Republican primary for U.S. Senate, Rep. Paul Broun declared in a recent debate, “I want to abolish the Department of Education and get rid of Common Core forever.” His first goal wouldn’t necessarily accomplish the second.

The arguments perplex the politicians most responsible for the plan.

Democratic Gov. Jack Markell of Delaware told The Associated Press that opponents mistakenly equate a coalition from across the nation with a federal government initiative. Markell co-chaired the NGA’s Common Core panel with Republican Sonny Perdue of Georgia.

Perdue, who left office in 2011, said Common Core actually began as a pushback against federal influence because of the No Child Left Behind law, the national education act signed by President George W. Bush. Perdue said it was “embarrassing” for governors of both parties that Congress and the White House pushed higher standards before state leaders.

Perdue attributes the outcry against Common Core to Obama’s backing: “There is enough paranoia coming out of Washington, I can understand how some people would believe these rumors of a ‘federal takeover,’ try as you might to persuade people otherwise. I almost think it was detrimental … for the president to endorse it.”

Evers, who was a top Education Department appointee during the Bush administration, says it’s unfair to reduce opponents’ concerns to partisanship. He notes insufficient training for teachers expected to use new teaching methods, and he criticizes specific components. For example, some math courses are recommended for later grade levels than in standards already adopted in leading states like Massachusetts and California.

States move forward, Evers argued, because of competition. “It’s by emulation and rivalry that we have always seen advances in public education,” he said. National standards, he added, “will close the door on innovation.”

Study: Internet bullying is rampant

The text message flashes on the iPhone. The girl’s smile disappears as she reads: “I KNOW ALL ABOUT YOU, YOU DYKE.” She looks at the other students in the school hallway. What are they thinking? What are they saying?

This is not a scene from “Pretty Little Liars.” Studies show that bullying online, through social media networks and in text messages, is pervasive – and LGBT youth are more likely to be targets than other kids.

New research from the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network shows that LGBT youth experience three times as much bullying and harassment online as other kids. Although the research found that LGBT youth find greater peer support, access to critical information and connect with the larger community online, it also linked cyber bullying to lower grade-point averages and diminished self-esteem.

The study, “Out Online,” examined the experiences of LGBT youth in the digital world through a national survey of more than 5,600 students in grades 6–12.

The research showed that about 42 percent of LGBT youth have been bullied or harassed online compared with 15 percent of non-LGBT youth. Researchers also found that LGBT youth are twice as likely as other youth to say they’ve been bullied via text message.

One in four LGBT youth has been bullied online because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, and one in five has experienced anti-LGBT harassment in a text message.

The study also revealed that one in four LGBT youth has been sexually harassed online, and LGBT youth are three times as likely as other kids to be sexually harassed via text message.

LGBT kids told GLSEN’s researchers that they’re just as likely to feel unsafe in the digital or cyber realm as at school or on a school bus.


But researchers also found positives in the number of young people online and the resources readily available there to kids.

“The Internet does not serve to simply reinforce the negative dynamics found offline regarding bullying and harassment,” said Michele Ybarra, the president of the Center for Innovative Public Health Research. “Rather, this technology also offers LGBT youth critical tools for coping with these negative experiences, including access to understanding and accepting friends, and exposure to health information that is unavailable elsewhere.”

“Out Online” showed that about 81 percent of LGBT youth turn to the Internet to find health information, about 76 percent have gone online to promote a cause and 51 percent have used the Internet to engage in a community event.

Moreover, about half of LGBT youth have made at least one close friend or confidante online.

“The Internet impacts almost all aspects of our lives, but is particularly entrenched in the lives of youth, who are the most connected people online in society,” GLSEN executive director Eliza Byard said. “LGBT youth continue to face extraordinary obstacles in their day-to-day lives, whether at school or online, but the Internet can be a valuable source of information and support when they have no one or nowhere else left to turn to. As social media evolve, so must our efforts to serve LGBT youth to ensure their safety, health and well-being.”

Byard and other policymakers, along with educators, parents and students, are discussing bullying as the 2013–14 school year begins.

The national PTA is advising parents to learn to use the technologies their kids are using, to be interested in their kids’ friends and activities – online or offline – and to ask about any changes in behavior.

The National Education Association is encouraging members to engage in its Stand Up to Bullying campaign.

Meanwhile, LGBT youth groups, including a number of gay-straight alliances in Wisconsin, are training student leaders who can stand up for themselves and help others. Madison’s GSAFE in Madison held its Leadership Institute Training camp in mid-August, bringing together 40 students from throughout the state to spend four days building community, gaining leadership skills, and learning how to make their schools safer and more just for all students.

Also, many school districts around the nation are preparing anti-bullying campaigns. Wisconsin public schools will observe Bullying Awareness Day on Sept. 25.

And the U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights recently announced it would begin collecting information on LGBT bullying in schools across the country.

Still, reformers continue to call for stronger legislation to protect LGBT students. Earlier this year, U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin, a Democrat from Iowa, introduced the Strengthening America’s Schools Act of 2013. The comprehensive legislation would reauthorize and update the Elementary and Secondary Education Act and incorporate provisions in the proposed Safe Schools Improvement and the Student Non-Discrimination acts.

The legislation would ensure that states and school districts develop and implement anti-bullying and anti-harassment policies that include all students, report incidents of bullying and harassment to the Justice Department and formally establish a ban on discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity in public schools.

“We are thrilled that the Senate is moving to address the long overdue issue of school bullying and harassment,” Byard said. “This bill includes critical components to ensure safer learning environments.”

Twitter counter: GLSEN’s thinkb4youspeak.com Twitter Counter tracks the number of times in a day, week and month that anti-gay slurs are tweeted. In July, “fag” was tweeted 835,560 times; “dyke,” 85,560 times, “so gay,” 304,920.