Education

Briefly Stated: December 1, 2021

November 30, 2021 9 min read
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Coalition Launched To Provide Lunches To Global Needy

On top of all the other woes the COVID-19 pandemic has wreaked, it’s left a lot of students going hungry. Now, many world leaders are trying to do something about that.

More than 60 governments and 50 U.N. agencies and organizations have joined forces to press for the restoration of school lunches for all 388 million primary school children who were receiving the meals before the pandemic.

They also will push for school meals to be started for 73 million vulnerable youngsters who weren’t getting them before the coronavirus struck early last year.

Led by France and Finland, the School Meals Coalition, which includes the United States, was officially launched at a U.N. event late last month with a longer-term goal of ensuring that every needy child in the world gets a nutritious school meal by 2030.

Said the French Mission’s development expert, Olivier Richard: “School meals are very important for the recovery of our society from the impact of COVID-19” because they “keep the children at school, and they improve their nutrition, their health, and educational performing.”

Five U.N. agencies threw their support behind the campaign: the Food and Agriculture Organization, the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, the U.N. Children’s Fund, the World Food Program, and the World Health Organization.

According to the coalition, the 388 million students receiving lunch before the pandemic represented one 1 of every 2 primary school children worldwide.

Carmen Burbano, the director of the World Food Program’s school-based programs, said that by May 2020, 370 million of those children had lost access to the meals because schools closed, “so basically, all of these programs collapsed.”

She said the children who weren’t getting meals before the pandemic are in 60 low-income and lower-middle-income countries living in extreme poverty.

Before COVID-19, she said, governments were spending between $40 billion and $50 billion annually from domestic budgets on school lunch programs, so the coalition’s first goal is calling on leaders to restore what they were doing then.

Burbano said $4.7 billion would be needed to reach the 73 million children “that were falling through the cracks.”

GOP Attempts to Set Up Parents’ ‘Bill of Rights’ Could Cause Headaches for Schools and Parents

Imagine school and district leaders—who are already coping with the added burden of keeping their students and staff members safe from the coronavirus much less a shortage of teachers, bus drivers, cafeteria workers, you name it—potentially having to answer to the demands of every parent on matters of curricula, field trips, extracurricular activities, safety, and so on. And if they don’t do so to everyone’s satisfaction, they could lose their federal funding.

That’s the kind of thing those leaders are facing should conservative members of Congress be successful in establishing a parents’ “bill of rights.”

Take Sen. Josh Hawley’s “Parents’ Bill of Rights Act.” Introduced late last month, it would prohibit nondisclosure agreements concerning curriculum; let parents make copies of classroom material; require schools to have parents opt their children into field trips, assemblies, and other extracurricular activities; and, in general, require more transparency from school boards and educators concerning student records, safety, and the like.

What’s more, the Republican’s bill would institute cuts in federal funding for districts that repeatedly flout such requirements and allow parents to sue and get injunctive relief.

School board meetings and financial contracts between districts and external groups are already generally subject to laws governing open meetings and public records.

Although significant parts of Hawley’s bill appear to be already covered by existing law, some sections could pose new complications for schools.

For example, its language conferring on parents the “right to visit the school and check in on their minor child during school hours” would create potential issues for security policies, as well as complications for any COVID-19 rules they might have in effect, said Julia Martin, the legislative director for Brustein and Manasevit, an education-focused law firm.

While supporters of Hawley’s legislation might dismiss concerns about any administrative burden it could put on schools, she said the burdens would likely extend to parents as well. “There’s a lot of practical headaches for everybody.”

Schools Get Federal Guidance on Using COVID Aid To Help Relieve Shortages of School Bus Drivers

Yay: Schools are open for business.

Boo: There aren’t enough school bus drivers to get kids there.

To help remedy that, the U.S. Department of Education is opening up that deep pot of COVID-19 relief aid. Schools can use the money on bonuses to retain school bus drivers, reimbursements for costs parents incur in sending their children to and from school, and other strategies to alleviate transportation problems they may be facing, the department says in new guidance.

While COVID aid used in this way would have to go to transportation expenses specifically linked to the pandemic, that could cover helping students participate in high-dosage tutoring, extended learning-time programs, and activities to address the social and emotional impact of the virus, the department says.

“This could include, but is not limited to, transportation services provided directly by the school district; the cost of public transportation services (e.g., bus or subway fare); taxis, rideshare apps, or other driving services; or compensation to parents for providing transportation services for their children,” the guidance says.

Staff shortages have been among the most serious challenges educators have faced this academic year—amid a nationwide labor shortage—and one of the most prominent shortfalls has been a lack of qualified school bus drivers. District leaders in at least 11 states have asked the National Guard for help in alleviating a lack of bus drivers, according to an Education Week analysis.

But there are limits to such a strategy, and one New York state legislator who called on the National Guard to help schools in this way earlier this year had his request turned down by state officials.

The need for transportation is definitely there. Education Department data from a few weeks ago showed that out of 45.2 million students for which information was available, more than 99 percent were learning in person, and fewer than 180,000 (or 0.4 percent) were in a mix of in-person and remote learning.

The challenge is not entirely new, even in the context of the pandemic. Last year, amid rising costs and other COVID-related issues like social distancing, at least a few districts offered to pay parents if they agreed to find a way to get their children to and from classes without a school bus.

Conservative Group Offers ‘Bounty’ on Errant Teachers

Just when you thought the political climate couldn’t make matters worse for teachers comes this. A conservative group in New Hampshire has put out a “bounty” on those who violate the state’s new limits on the discussion of systemic racism and other topics.

In a tweet, the New Hampshire chapter of Moms for Liberty said it had “$500 for the person that first successfully catches a public school teacher breaking this law.” In a follow-up, the organization told supporters to designate online donations as “CRT Bounties,” referring to critical race theory.

In its own way, the state did its part to “catch” the lawbreakers when the education department set up a website to collect complaints against teachers.

Gov. Chris Sununu, a Republican, denounced the tweets. The state’s education commissioner, Frank Edelblut, offered mild criticism. “I would encourage people to be very careful on social media,” he said. “There’s a lot of rhetoric on social media that is not helpful or constructive.”

Decisions against teachers could be used by the state board of education to discipline them, including revocation of licenses.

Deb Howes, the president of the American Federation of Teachers New Hampshire, has accused Edelblut of launching a “war on teachers.” And the New Hampshire School Administrators Association is urging Sununu to work with educators and families to clarify what will be considered appropriate teaching on history and race relations.

“Our state is at a turning point. Do we allow these attacks to continue to drive good, caring teachers and administrators away from our schools? Do we value our schools as the community assets they are, or are they merely the commissioner’s political punching bags?” the association said.

Edelblut countered that the new reporting process protects teachers because it sets up a neutral process for resolving complaints like those that handle complaints against other licensed professionals, from lawyers and doctors to cosmetologists.

In Memoriam: Willis Halley, Educator, Scholar and Leader

Willis D. “Bill” Hawley, the renowned educator, scholar, and academic leader, died Nov. 17. He was 83.

The son of a teacher, Hawley chose education as his career path as well. He taught at Yale, Duke, and Vanderbilt universities and the University of Maryland. Later, he became the dean of the Peabody School of Education at Vanderbilt and then at Maryland’s College of Education. He also served on Education Week’s board of trustees from 1989–2000.

While at Duke, he helped found the Institute of Policy Studies and Public Affairs during the 1970s, which has since grown into one of the nation’s leading public-policy schools. During that time, he took a leave from his university duties to support President Jimmy Carter in establishing the U.S. Department of Education. He also helped found and directed the Common Destiny Alliance, a coalition of 30 national organizations and numerous scholars committed to improving race relations and educational equity.

His early research on school integration helped show the benefits for students to attend school with children of different races, and it refuted assertions that doing so might reduce academic achievement.

Hawley wrote numerous books, articles, and book chapters dealing with teacher education, school reform, urban politics, political learning, organizational change, school desegregation, and educational policy. His expertise was sought by numerous entities, serving as a consultant to such public agencies as the Executive Office of the President, the U.S. Senate, and the U.S. Department of Education, as well as many state and local governments, foundations, and professional associations.

He ended his career with a decade of work as special master in a desegregation case in Arizona’s Tucson school district, which was released in May from 40 years of court oversight.

The Associated Press, Wire Service and Andrew Ujifusa, Assistant Editor contributed to this article.
A version of this article appeared in the December 01, 2021 edition of Education Week as Briefly Stated

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