Briefly Stated: March 31, 2021

March 31, 2021 8 min read
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California Adopts First Statewide Ethnic Studies Curricula

As America reels from its latest spate of deadly hate crimes and racism, the California board of education approved the nation’s first statewide ethnic-studies curriculum for high schools, saying the teaching of discrimination and oppression has never been more important.

Educators and civil rights leaders who spoke at the March 18 meeting mourned the killing of eight people, most of them Asian women, in Georgia, as the latest tragic example of racism but also a poignant reminder that education is an essential strategy to combating hate.

“We are reminded daily that racism is not only a legacy of the past but a clear and present danger,” said board President Linda Darling-Hammond. “We must understand this history if we are finally to end it.”

Crafting the curriculum took three years, drawing more than 100,000 public comments as different groups objected to being left out or misrepresented. Public comment that preceded the board’s vote drew about 150 callers, many of whom asked the board to reject the curriculum and echoed the heated debate that took place throughout its drafting. The loudest criticism came from Jewish and pro-Arab groups who accused each other of trying to silence each other’s histories.

The nearly 900-page Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum is meant to teach about the struggles and contributions of “historically marginalized peoples which are often untold in U.S. history courses.” It centers on four groups: African Americans, Chicano/Latinos, Asian Americans, and Pacific Islanders and Native Americans.

It also includes lesson plans on Jews, Arab Americans, Sikh Americans, and Armenian Americans, who were added after objecting to an earlier draft that omitted them.

“This is a pivotal moment in our California education history,” said Karen Korematsu, the daughter of late civil rights icon Fred Korematsu, a Japanese American who resisted internment during World War II and took his battle all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, where he ultimately lost but devoted his life to fighting for civil rights.

“As my father said, ‘Stand up for what is right.’ Prejudice is ignorance, and the most powerful weapon we have is education,” Korematsu said.

A Reversal of Fortune: With Trump Gone, U.S. Releases $912 Million to Puerto Rico

The pendulum has swung for Puerto Rico—this time clearly in favor of the cash-strapped, natural-disaster-plagued U.S. territory.

Last summer, the Trump administration decided to restrict a large share of COVID-19 relief for the island’s schools. Last week, the U.S. Department of Education announced Puerto Rico has regained access to hundreds of millions of dollars for education to address the fallout from the virus and other needs.

The funding totals $912 million. It includes $392 million for schools in the CARES Act, as well as $522 million in fiscal 2019 funds, including Title I funding for disadvantaged students and Individuals with Disabilities Education Act grants.

Puerto Rico shut down its school buildings at the start of the coronavirus pandemic. Earlier this month, its education department allowed some schools to reopen for in-person learning.

“The department understands the urgency to access vital federal education funds to meet the needs of Puerto Rican students who are experiencing compounded trauma,” U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona wrote to Gov. Pedro Pierluisi.

In July, the Trump Education Department told Puerto Rico that it would be able to draw down just $7.3 million out of roughly $400 million in CARES Act relief. As its reason, the department cited the island’s “long-standing challenges” in administering federal K-12 aid.

In 2019, for example, a federal investigation found Puerto Rico’s education department failed to ensure proper oversight of how federal disaster funds were used following Hurricanes Irma and Maria. Julia Keleher, Puerto Rico’s former education secretary, was arrested on fraud and other charges; she has pleaded not guilty.

The CARES funds now being released to Puerto Rico include money for elementary and secondary schools, as well as money earmarked for governors to use for K-12 and higher education. Puerto Rico is due to receive nearly $3 billion from the main K-12 relief fund in the American Rescue Plan, the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 aid deal President Joe Biden signed into law earlier this month.

As COVID-19 Aid Rolls Out, Education Department Announces Partnership for Summer Learning

The U.S. Department of Education will join governors and state education chiefs to help plan summer learning and enrichment programs serving students hurt most by the coronavirus pandemic.

The March 24 announcement came the same day as the release of $81 billion in American Rescue Plan K-12 funds to states. That represents about two-thirds of the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief funding for states and districts.

And it coincided with a virtual summit on school reopening at the White House, which featured U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona, district representatives, and remarks by President Joe Biden, first lady Jill Biden, and various federal officials.

What to do during the summer months has quickly become one of the biggest priorities for education officials. The Summer Learning & Enrichment Collaborative is intended to help states, districts, and others in planning how to use new relief funds for that purpose, including $1.2 billion earmarked for summer enrichment. The partnership, which includes the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers, is set to launch next month.

Districts already are considering a range of approaches, from virtual tutoring and extending the 2020-21 school year, to increasing access to highly rated teachers and adding days to the 2021-22 academic year.

At last week’s White House summit, Paula Shannon, the deputy superintendent for Tulsa, Okla., schools, said her district is looking at virtual academies and summer enrichment programs and also trying to rethink where students can learn.

“Have the courage to be bold. You’re going to feel a lot of tension. Lots of technical questions are going to come up that are mired in old bureaucracy. Forge ahead,” Shannon urged.

The summit also addressed such topics as the implications of recent guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on social distancing in schools.

Cardona noted numerous strategies districts have used for reopening, stressing a comprehensive approach. “There were technical strategies, but they were embraced in a culture of collaboration, a culture of trust, and student-centeredness,” he said.

Court Backs Axing Teacher Tweeting on ‘Illegal’ Pupils

A lesson for all: Know who’s out there reading before you tweet.

That’s something Georgia Clark, a teacher fired by the Fort Worth, Texas, school board, is likely to long remember after she asked then-President Donald Trump, via Twitter, to crack down on immigration at her high school.

In June 2019, Superintendent Kent P. Scribner recommended that Clark be terminated for using racially-insensitive language and abusing social media. The school board unanimously agreed, and she was placed on leave. Her contract was officially terminated in September of that year.

After Clark appealed, things seemed to be going her way. Texas Education Agency Commissioner Mike Morath ruled that she was entitled not only to get her job back but also back pay and employment benefits from the time her contract was not renewed. The school board announced it would appeal that decision.

Then last week, a Travis County district court upheld the board’s decision to fire Clark.

“The district is pleased that Judge Catherine A. Mauzy recognized the importance of the board’s ability to make employment decisions in the best interests of its students and school community,” the district said.

Clark still has options to appeal that decision.

In 2019, she sent several tweets asking Trump to crack down on immigration at the Carter-Riverside High School. One asked the president to help remove “illegals from Fort Worth.”

“Mr. President, Fort Worth Independent School District is loaded with illegal students from Mexico,” one of her posts said. “Carter-Riverside High School has been taken over by them.”

She told a district investigator she thought the messages were private, direct messages to Trump, not public posts.

The Twitter account has since been deleted.

Board Veep in Cross Hairs for Asian American Tweets

San Francisco, the city that just keeps on giving when it comes to racial and ethnic faux pas.

First, it was the school board’s unsuccessful bid to rename schools, and now, a chorus of elected officials are calling for a school board member to step down, saying tweets she posted in 2016 were racist against Asian people.

Alison Collins, the board’s vice president, posted a Twitter thread four years ago that said she was “looking to combat anti-Black racism in the Asian community at [her] daughters’ mostly Asian Am school.”

In her thread, posted before she became a board member, Collins said many Asian people do not talk about critical race theory and instead promote a “model minority” myth and use white-supremacist thinking.

“Where are the vocal Asians speaking up against Trump? Don’t Asian Americans know they are on his list as well?” she tweeted. “Do they think they won’t be deported? profiled? beaten? Being a house n— is still being a n—. You’re still considered ‘the help.’ ”

Collins’s tweets resurfaced in recent weeks, leading to a torrent of backlash from San Francisco leaders and residents, including calls for her to resign.

“We are outraged and sickened by the racist, anti-Asian statements,” several city leaders wrote in a letter. “No matter the time, no matter the place, and no matter how long ago the tweets were written, there is no place for an elected leader in San Francisco who is creating and/or created hate statements and speeches.

Collins addressed the issue in a March 20 blog post, apologizing and saying that the tweets were “taken out of context.”

“But whether my tweets are being taken out of context or not, only one thing matters right now. And that is the pain our Asian American brothers and sisters and siblings are experiencing. Words have meaning and impact,” Collins wrote. “For the pain my words may have caused, I am sorry and I apologize unreservedly.”

A version of this article appeared in the March 31, 2021 edition of Education Week as Briefly Stated: Stories You May Have Missed


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