Briefly Stated: May 29, 2024

May 28, 2024 9 min read
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Ten Commandments on Way to Becoming Pinup in La. Classes

Louisiana is on the brink of ordering schools and universities to return to the days when the Ten Commandments were routinely posted in classrooms. If signed by the Republican governor, it becomes the first state to mandate that action.

State senators passed the legislation 30-8 this month following a short debate, with Democrats on the losing side.

“The purpose is not solely religious,” declared Sen. J. Adam Bass, a Republican. Rather, it is the Ten Commandments’ “historical significance, which is simply one of many documents that display the history of our country and foundation of our legal system.”

Only one lawmaker, Sen. Royce Duplessis, a Democrat, who identified himself as a practicing Catholic, spoke in opposition to the measure.

“I didn’t have to learn the Ten Commandments in school. We went to Sunday school,” he said. “You want your kids to learn about the Ten Commandments, take them to church.”

He added that the bill could potentially open the state up to lawsuits. Opponents are concerned the legislation violates the First Amendment, which prohibits the government from establishing a religion.

“We’re going to spend valuable state resources defending the law when we really need to be teaching our kids how to read and write,” Duplessis said. “I don’t think this is appropriate for us to mandate.”

During a debate in the lower chamber last month, the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Dodie Horton, maintained that the Ten Commandments are the “basis of all laws in Louisiana” and that the legislation honors the country’s religious origins.

“I’m not concerned with an atheist. I’m not concerned with a Muslim,” she said when asked about teachers who might not subscribe to the Ten Commandments. “I’m concerned with our children looking and seeing what God’s law is.”

Its passage highlights the increasingly blurry divide between church and state that’s become more common in several Republican-led states.

At least one other state, Utah, is also considering legislation that would require schools to display the Ten Commandments in classrooms. Texas proposed a similar bill in 2023, but it failed to receive a vote by the House before a crucial deadline.

Maryland District Can Reject Parental Opt-Outs on LGBTQ+ Books, Federal Appeals Court Rules

A federal appeals court has refused to block a Maryland school district’s policy preventing parents from opting their children out of LGBTQ+ inclusive “storybooks” used in the elementary English/language arts curriculum.

In 2022, the Montgomery County school system approved books such as Pride Puppy!, My Rainbow; and Uncle Bobby’s Wedding to help teach reading to students as young as prekindergarten. Court papers said the books were not meant to explicitly teach about gender identity and sexual orientation but to be a classroom option for students to discover and for teachers to recommend to some students.

Some Christian and Muslim parents, among others, objected to the books as age-inappropriate and infringing on their rights to raise their children. During the 2022-23 school year, parents were given notice and the chance to opt their children out of exposure to the books.

But beginning with the current school year, the district ended that option. School officials said in court papers that there were a high number of opt-out requests and a burden on school staff members to remember which students could have access to the books and which could not, among other concerns. The district believes that “representation in the curriculum creates and normalizes a fully inclusive environment for all students,” it said in a brief.

Besides helping with language skills, “the storybooks support students’ ability to empathize, connect, and collaborate with diverse peers and encourage respect for all,” the district said.

“We conclude that the parents have not come forward at this stage with sufficient evidence of a cognizable burden on their free exercise rights to satisfy the requirements of a free exercise claim,” says the majority opinion handed down this month by Judge G. Steven Agee. “What is missing here is the evidentiary link showing that the storybooks are being implemented in a way that directly or indirectly coerces the parents or their children to believe or act contrary to their religious faith.”

The plaintiffs indicated they intend to appeal the ruling.

Uvalde Shooting Victims’ Families Sue State Police, Settle With City for $2 Million

The families of 19 of the victims in the Uvalde elementary school shooting in Texas are suing nearly 100 state police officers who were part of the botched law enforcement response.

The families said in a statement that they also agreed to a $2 million settlement with the city of Uvalde, under which city leaders promised higher standards and better training for local police.

The announcement came two days before the second anniversary of one of the deadliest school shootings in U.S. history. Nineteen 4th graders and two teachers were killed on May 24, 2022, when a teenage gunman burst into their classroom at Robb Elementary School and began shooting.

The lawsuit is the latest of several seeking accountability for the law enforcement response. More than 370 federal, state, and local officers converged on the scene, but they waited more than 70 minutes before confronting the shooter.

It is the first lawsuit to come after a 600-page Justice Department report was released in January that cataloged “cascading failures” in training, communication, leadership, and technology problems that day.

The lawsuit notes state troopers did not follow their active shooter training and responsibility to confront the shooter, even as the students and teachers inside were following their own lockdown protocols of turning off lights, locking doors, and staying silent.

“The protocols trap teachers and students inside, leaving them fully reliant on law enforcement to respond quickly and effectively,” the families and their attorneys said in a statement.

Terrified students inside the classroom called 911 as agonized parents begged officers, some of whom could hear shots being fired while they stood in a hallway, to go in. A tactical team of officers eventually went into the classroom and killed the shooter.

“Law enforcement’s inaction that day was a complete and absolute betrayal of these families and the sons, daughters, and mothers they lost,” said Erin Rogiers, one of the attorneys for the families. “TXDPS had the resources, training, and firepower to respond appropriately, and they ignored all of it and failed on every level. These families have not only the right but also the responsibility to demand justice.”

A criminal investigation into the police response by Uvalde district attorney Christina Mitchell’s office remains ongoing. A grand jury was summoned this year, and some law enforcement officials have already been called to testify.

Board Revives Schools’ Confederate Names in Va.

What once was will be again in Virginia’s Shenandoah County. The school district there is restoring the names of Confederate military leaders to a high school and an elementary school four years after they had been removed.

Mountain View High will again become Stonewall Jackson High, and Honey Run Elementary will go back to Ashby Lee Elementary.

The school board’s latest resolution reverses a decision from 2020, when school systems across the South were removing Confederate names in response to the Black Lives Matter movement.

School board members who voted to restore the Confederate names said previous members ignored popular sentiment and due process when the names were stripped. Elections in 2023 significantly changed the board’s makeup.

Opponents of the Confederate names should “stop bringing racism and prejudice into everything” because it “detracts from true cases of racism,” said board member Gloria Carlineo during the six-hour meeting where the restoration vote was taken.

The lone board member to oppose the reversal, Kyle Gutshall, said he believed that a majority of residents in his district wanted to retain the Mountain View and Honey Run names.

Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson was a Confederate general from Virginia who gained fame at the First Battle of Bull Run near Manassas in 1861. Turner Ashby was a Confederate cavalry officer who was killed in battle in 1862 near Harrisonburg. Robert E. Lee was a Virginia native who commanded Confederate forces.

According to the school board resolution, private donations will be used to underwrite the costs of the changing the names.

Approximately 340 schools in 21 states bear the names of Confederate figures, according to Education Week’s name-change tracker.

Since June 2020, the names of at least 59 Confederate-named schools have been changed.

Philadelphia Parents Lobby for a District ‘Chief of Joy’

Velvet Lewis is fighting for joy in the Philadelphia school district. So are a host of other parents and grandparents.

They’re members of Lift Every Voice Philly, a 3-year-old grassroots parents group now pushing for a “joy-based budget” for the school system, complete with a “chief joy officer” to oversee extracurricular activities and other departments that focus on the experiences that keep children motivated to come to school.

It’s a movement rooted in the ways that Lift Every Voice members, their kids, and others have lived in district schools, built after members surveyed 600 parents across the city.

Take Lewis, a grandparent who laments the fact that some elementary schools lack playgrounds or basic equipment to let kids enjoy games at recess—if they have recess at all.

“Some of the schools don’t have jump ropes, don’t have basketballs for the kids to play,” Lewis said. “At recess, this is where the kids get in fights. They don’t know what to do; they’re running around, and nobody is saying, ‘Let’s go over there and play football. Let’s do something positive.’”

“We’re living through a crisis, and our kids need help,” said parent Jamila Carter. “All of this is directly linked to schools that do not have joy—places where our kids don’t want to be, a focus on strict compliance,” she said. “Happiness and joy lead to better outcomes.”

Too often, top-down reforms fail in the district, and parents’— particularly Black mothers’—voices are dismissed, said Carter. Lift Every Voice generally, and the joy campaign specifically, are about changing schools with ground-up decisions.

Though its campaign is new, people are taking notice. Lift Every Voice members are fanning out and testifying at public meetings and talking to public officials and fellow parents about their ideas.

Some City Council members have expressed support. And even Superintendent Tony B. Watlington Sr. said publicly he likes the idea of a joy chief, though he made no commitment to it.

“I’m absolutely intrigued by the concept of a chief of joy,” he said.

The Associated Press, Wire Service; Libby Stanford, Reporter; Tribune News Service; and Mark Walsh, Contributing Writer contributed to this article.
A version of this article appeared in the May 29, 2024 edition of Education Week as Briefly Stated


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