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September 29, 2020 6 min read
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President Wages War Over How U.S. History Is Taught in Classrooms

President Donald Trump has spent the past few weeks shoring up his attacks against what he calls the “left-wing indoctrination” of history classes that teach students to disown America’s past and its founding ideals.

To wit, he announced that he would create the “1776 Commission,” to promote “patriotic education.” He also announced that the National Endowment for the Humanities had awarded a grant to fund the creation of “a pro-American curriculum that celebrates the truth about our nation’s great history.”

If this feels like déjà vu, it should. That very agency first backed, then disowned, the National History Standards—the creation of more than 200 educators and historians across the political spectrum—in the 1990s because some prominent conservative voices decided the standards didn’t provide a wholly uplifting portrait of the United States. One big difference: The previous project produced a set of standards, not a curriculum as Trump wants.

At the event where he made his announcements, the president also drew a direct link between what he called decades of “propaganda” taught in schools and this summer’s protests and unrest over racial injustice. Plus, he reiterated his recent broadsides against The New York Times Magazine’s Pulitzer Prize-winning 1619 Project, which seeks to more fully incorporate slavery and its effects into discussions of U.S. history.

Earlier this month, Trump went so far as to threaten to pull federal funding from schools that use the 1619 Project—even though he’s legally prohibited from doing so.

Some history teachers and organizations have pushed back on the president’s comments and actions to promote a patriotic education. The National Council for the Social Studies said it “resoundingly rejects any effort by the federal government to silence social studies curriculum that explicitly addresses the centrality of slavery in the historical narrative of the United States.”

That tack is something Trump would have agreed with before re-election campaigning revved up. In April 2017, he issued an executive order explicitly protecting and preserving “state and local control over the curriculum, program of instruction, administration, and personnel of educational institutions, schools, and school systems.”

Trump Administration Botched Advice On Reopening Schools, GAO Determines

President Donald Trump and U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos talked out of both sides of their mouths on school reopening. So says a new government-watchdog report.On the one hand, DeVos stressed that plans on how to reopen school buildings during the COVID-19 pandemic were “state and local decisions.”

On the other, Trump and DeVos suggested schools’ federal funding may be at risk if they don’t return for in-person learning.

In addition, guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention about how schools should minimize the spread of the virus has been unclear and, at times, contradictory, concludes the Government Accountability Office. And when the U.S. Department of Education summarized that guidance on its website, it omitted details about wearing masks and social distancing, the report says.

The report’s findings echo concerns school administrators have voiced for months as they struggle to interpret layers of local, state, and federal directives amid changing information about the virus and how it spreads.And some complained that the Trump administration’s push for schools to open in person added political fuel to an already raging fire.

The GAO report cites comments by DeVos that “American investment in education is a promise to students and their families” and that schools that don’t reopen to “fulfill that promise” shouldn’t get the funds. Still, she has also said that families should be able to use public funding to cover the costs of private school tuition or alternative educational materials.

“Education officials told us these comments were policy or rhetorical statements,” the GAO report says. “Regardless, such statements do not appear to align with a risk-based decisionmaking approach and appear incongruent with the secretary’s own statements that returning to in-person education is a state and local decision.”

PTA Doesn’t Abide Changes To Admissions at Elite Schools

Black and Latino students have long had a tough time getting into some of the nation’s most elite public schools.

Education policymakers in Virginia are working to change that. But their attempts to help such minority students gain admission are being met with accusations of racism.

Take what’s going on with Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology—one of 19 selective “Governor’s Schools” across the state—where Asian American students make up about 70 percent of its enrollment.

Fairfax County schools Superintendent Scott Braband has proposed replacing the admissions test with a set of other qualifications, including a 3.5 GPA and an algebra background.

Students meeting the criteria would be chosen by lottery from multiple geographic regions in the county. But the PTA isn’t having any of it. A survey of its members found overwhelming support for keeping the system as is. The PTA’s take on the diversity problem: Fix it by better preparing and supporting Black and Hispanic students in grade school.

The policy disagreement is just part of the discord. State schools chief Atif Qarni, who organized a task force to evaluate diversity issues at the elite schools, and PTA member Asra Nomani have traded charges of racism. In an opinion piece titled “Woke War on America’s No. 1 High School,” Nomani wrote that the changes are an attack on meritocracy and are “anti-Asian, anti-immigrant, and ultimately anti-American.”

The battle at Thomas Jefferson is similar to what’s occurred at other elite schools across the nation. The issue has attracted increased attention in recent months amid broad national protests to address racial injustice.

No Immunizations, No Classes, Even Remote Ones, in New York

Students in New York state better get their scheduled immunizations, or they’ll be booted out of their .... online classes.

Tens of thousands of New York students started the school year remotely in order to avoid the risk of spreading illness—but some are being excluded from their on-line classrooms on public-health grounds.

State health department guidelines about required immunizations remain in effect this year, even for students who will not set foot in a classroom because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The issue has set off a scramble in the mostly urban districts where all classes are remote for now.Buffalo has mailed notices to an unspecified number of students explaining that they would not be allowed to log onto their lessons until they had their immunizations in order, district spokeswoman Elena Cala said.

Erin Graupman, the coordinator of student-health services at the Rochester district, said the number of students who haven’t gotten immunized is not significantly greater than in typical years, but getting children to visit their pediatricians has been more difficult because of the pandemic.

Rochester and the other “Big 5” districts have petitioned the state health department for a waiver or extension, Graupman said, but they seem unlikely to get one.

“Every student must get all of the required vaccinations unless they have a valid medical exemption. This applies to all students enrolled in school, regardless if they attend classes in person or remotely,” a health department spokesman said.

Some states, such as Pennsylvania, have granted grace periods of several months for children to get the required immunizations for the 2020-21 school year.

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Briefly Stated Contributors: Associated Press, Evie Blad, Arianna Prothero, Sarah Schwartz, Tribune News Service, and Andrew Ujifusa. Edited by Karen Diegmueller
A version of this article appeared in the September 30, 2020 edition of Education Week as Briefly Stated

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