Education

Briefly Stated: May 11, 2022

May 10, 2022 9 min read
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Lawmakers in 19 States Want Legal Refuge for Transgender Youth

Democrats are taking a page from the GOP playbook and mounting countermeasures against the slew of bills and laws targeting transgender youth.

Lawmakers in more than a dozen states are following California’s lead in seeking to offer legal refuge to displaced transgender youth and their families.

The coordinated effort announced last week by the LGBTQ Victory Institute and other advocates comes in response to recent actions taken in conservative states. In Texas, for example, Gov. Gregg Abbott has directed state agencies to consider placing transgender children in foster care, though a judge has temporarily blocked such investigations. And multiple states have approved measures prohibiting gender-affirming health-care treatments for the young people.

To combat such moves, lawmakers in Minnesota and New York recently filed refuge state legislation modeled after a bill proposed in March by state Sen. Scott Wiener in California. Democrats in 16 other states plan to follow suit, though about half their legislatures are out of session or not accepting new bills.

Wiener said he immediately began hearing from other states after coming forward with his bill, which would reject any out-of-state court judgments removing children from their parents’ custody because they allowed gender-affirming health care. It also would make arrest warrants based on alleged violation of another state’s law against receiving such care the lowest priority for California law enforcement.

“We’re sick of just playing defense against what these red states are doing,” Wiener said. “We’re going on offense, we’re going to protect LGBQT kids and their families, and we’re going to build a rainbow wall to protect our community.”

Also joining the effort are LGBTQ lawmakers in Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Michigan, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, and West Virginia.

Annise Parker, the president and CEO of the Victory Institute, said that the legislation likely will fail in some states but said it was time to stand against the onslaught of bills targeting the LGBTQ community.

“This is our opportunity to drive the conversation and the debate and to call on our allies proactively to step up instead of allowing ourselves to be targeted,” Parker said.

In Many Places, Demand May Be High for Teachers, But Salaries Aren’t Likely to Win Recruits, Data Show

Teachers may not be leaving the profession in droves, but the numbers exiting the field do seem to be up. So, the news out of the National Education Association “could not,” as the union says, “have come at a worse time.”

And that news? Soaring inflation is chipping away at any progress in teacher salaries in recent years, the union’s annual report indicates. Not exactly a big motivator to keep or find teachers.

The NEA estimates that the national average teacher salary for the 2021-22 school year is $66,397—a 1.7 percent increase from the previous year. But when adjusted for inflation, that average salary actually decreases by an estimated 3.9 percent over the past decade.

In other words, teachers are making $2,179 less, on average, than they did 10 years ago, when salaries are adjusted for inflation.

The NEA also found that starting teacher salaries—a key tool for attracting more people into the profession—have declined significantly in real dollars. The average starting teacher salary for this school year was $41,770, a 4 percent drop, when adjusted for inflation, from two years ago.

“Though multiple factors are driving what has been a yearslong teacher shortage, insufficient pay is certainly one of the primary reasons that fewer people are entering the profession, and more are leaving,” the report says.

Last year, the NEA found that the Red for Ed movement, which began in 2018 as teachers across the country protested and went on strike for higher wages and more school funding, had a demonstrable impact on teacher salaries. Many state legislatures were fueled by teacher activism to pass pay raises.

At the time, the NEA was optimistic that salaries were finally catching up to inflation after the Great Recession. But the economic fallout from the pandemic and the high inflation related to the reopening of the economy have stalled that progress.

New York, Massachusetts, and California continue to top the list with the highest salaries, while West Virginia, South Dakota, and Mississippi remain at the bottom.

Many states in the South and Midwest, where the cost of living is often cheaper, rank near the bottom of the list.

U.S. Supreme Court Rejects Monetary Damages in Many Cases Involving ‘Emotional Distress’

Exposed to the N-word? Too bad. Excluded from the gifted and talented program? Ditto. Students are now out of luck in federal courtrooms if they want to be compensated for emotional distress they suffer based on their race, sex, or disability.

That’s the bottom line of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling late last month in which a majority of the justices said damages for emotional distress are unavailable in key federal civil rights statutes.

Writing in dissent, Justice Stephen G. Breyer said that under the majority’s decision, remedies for emotional suffering “will be denied to students who suffer discrimination at the hands of their teachers.”

Although the case at hand, Cummings v. Premier Rehab Keller PLLC, was not related to schools, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., who wrote the majority opinion, acknowledged that the ruling applies to Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which frequently or exclusively involve public schools.

The chief justice said the statutes act as a contract between the federal government and funding recipients based on the spending clause in Article I of the U.S. Constitution.

“We … cannot treat federal funding recipients as having consented to be subject to damages for emotional distress,” Roberts said. “It follows that such damages are not recoverable under the spending clause statutes we consider here.”

Breyer disagreed, noting that such damages have long been available for at least some contracts that were not commercial in nature, such as marriages.

“In these cases, emotional distress damages are compensatory because they ‘make good the wrong done,’ ” he said, quoting an earlier case.

He pointed to the plaintiff in a 1992 Supreme Court case, “who was repeatedly sexually assaulted by her teacher.”

“Regardless of whether financial injuries were present in [that case], the major (and foreseeable) harm was the emotional distress caused by the indignity and humiliation of discrimination itself,” Breyer said.

The court held that the implied right to bring a lawsuit under Title IX included a right to seek monetary damages.

Ga. School Board Catches Flack Over Firing Leader

The school board in DeKalb County, Ga., is getting its hands slapped—at least figuratively.

In a virtual meeting late last month, the board abruptly fired its superintendent, Cheryl Watson-Harris, the district’s sixth leader in a decade. Watson-Harrison, who’d been at the helm less than two years, said she’d been “blindsided” by the dismissal and disconnected from the virtual meeting.

Now, the governor, state schools chief Richard Woods, and DeKalb County’s chief executive officer, are taking the board to task over the dismissal.

“I am highly concerned that these serious issues in DeKalb County could be a result of a school system choosing politics over students, families, and educators,” said Gov. Brian Kemp, a Republican. He said he would coordinate with Woods on possible further action.

The district had already been in the spotlight of late after a group of students videotaped dire conditions at Druid Hills High School. The school board turned down their plea to fix the problems, instead voting to make minor repairs at schools across the board.

Woods, in a letter to school board chair Vickie Turner, blasted the termination as a “step backward,” noting he had sent a letter the day before the firing saying the board needed to work with state officials to solve facilities issues brought to light by the video.

“Instead of moving deliberately and decisively in line with my recommendations, the board chose to largely meet this moment with dysfunction and deflection,” Woods wrote.

In 2013, Gov. Nathan Deal replaced a number of school board members after the district was threatened with a loss of accreditation. The new board hired Michael Thurmond, now the county’s elected CEO, as interim superintendent.

“I didn’t go through all that—this county didn’t go through all that—to go back down that road again. It makes no sense.” The firing, he said, “feels a lot like that crap” he’d inherited.

Teachers Getting Accused of Using Fake COVID Cards

Fake IDs are nothing new, but what is new are fake vaccination documents—for teachers and students.

New York City school officials have placed several dozen teachers and other school employees on leave for submitting what they said was fraudulent proof of COVID-19 vaccination. On New York’s Long Island, a high school teacher has been charged with falsifying documents for allegedly providing phony proof. And a Kentucky teacher has been temporarily suspended with pay following an allegation that they created fraudulent COVID-19 vaccine cards for six students to use during a recent field trip.

In New York City, the United Federation of Teachers is challenging the disciplinary action.

“Fraudulent vaccination cards are not only illegal, they also undermine the best line of protection our schools have against COVID-19—universal adult vaccination,” said New York City schools’ spokesman Nathaniel Styer. “We immediately moved to put these employees—fewer than 100—on leave without pay.”

In Nassau County, Tricia Manno, a teacher at Sewanhaka High School, was arraigned on charges including criminal possession of a forged instrument and offering a false instrument for filing, District Attorney Anne Donnelly announced.

According to prosecutors, Manno, 47, submitted a digital copy of a vaccination card to the Sewanhaka Central High School district.

District employees suspected forgery and asked Manno to submit the original card, prosecutors said.

She said she had lost her original card, the prosecutors said, then went to the medical center, showed staffers there a digital image of the forged vaccination card, and asked for—and received—a replacement.

Manno pleaded not guilty at her arraignment.

In Kentucky, an unnamed McCracken County High School teacher is the subject of the investigation into allegedly handing out fraudulent COVID-19 vaccine cards to students. The district is not disclosing where the field trip took place “to protect the privacy of students and staff.”

The Associated Press, Wire Service; Tribune News Service; Mark Walsh, Contributing Writer; and Madeline Will, Staff Writer contributed to this article.
A version of this article appeared in the May 11, 2022 edition of Education Week as Briefly Stated

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