Archives for category: Massachusetts

It would seem obvious that students, like adults, have a physical need to use a bathroom during the school day. But in Massachusetts, many schools are closing bathrooms to avoid student misbehavior and vaping.

The condition of bathrooms in Boston Public Schools, and in other urban districts, has fueled public outrage for years, with broken taps and empty towel dispensers seen as sorry symbols of a failure to meet even basic needs.

But across the state and country, an even more fundamental problem is gaining attention: increasing restrictions on students’ access to bathrooms, as administrators keep more restrooms locked and off limits for more of the school day.

Driven by efforts to curtail teen vaping, and to prevent outbreaks of vandalism sparked by the TikTok trend known as “Devious Licks”, the widespread crackdowns on bathroom access have left students in some schools searching urgently for unlocked stalls — and pining for any open restroom, no matter how broken or dirty. As teenagers learn to hold their urine for hours – or stop eating and drinking at school to avoid discomfort — the outcry against the closures from students and parents has grown louder.

“I understand that there are safety concerns, but the whole school shouldn’t have basic human rights taken away,” said Nevaeh Lopez, 16, a student at Holyoke High School who started an online petition to push back against bathroom closures at her school this spring.

The issue has provoked fiery debate at school committee meetings and in online forums around the region in recent months, as well as calls and e-mails to principals and school nurses. A post about bathroom restrictions at New Bedford High School, on the New Bedford Live Facebook page in October, garnered nearly 200 comments, from students who described missing class time while waiting in long bathroom lines, and from adults who placed blame squarely on the teenagers. (“If they would act like civilized human beings they would be able to be trusted,” wrote one.)

There is no doubt uncivilized — and sometimes violent — acts have taken place in school bathrooms. Several students were suspended at Wilmington High School in March after they picked up another student and tried to force his head into a toilet in a boys’ bathroom. “What is equally disturbing is the fact that other students were present and did nothing to stop the incident, and in fact recorded the altercation,” Superintendent Glenn Brand said later.

School leaders nationwide have reported a general uptick in discipline and behavior issues, including fighting and bullying, since students returned to full-time, in-person school following two years of disruption. The troubling trend has been linked to the mental health toll of the pandemic, and to social development delays possibly caused by students’ recent isolation.

Student use of electronic cigarettes has alsorisen at “epidemic” rates in recent years, health officials have warned. As countless school bathrooms have become de facto vaping lounges, desperate school leaders have grasped at any possible solution, including removing doors from restroom stalls and installing vape-detection sensors.

Yet even Donna Mazyck — head of the National School Nurses Association and a leader in the fight to curb teen vaping — said rampant restroom shutdowns are not the answer…

Staffing shortages, exacerbated by pandemic burnout, have reduced the number of hall and restroom monitors available in many districts, forcing more closures of unsupervised bathrooms. But staffing is a problem that can be solved, said Worcester School Committee member Tracy O’Connell Novick, who spoke forcefully against the locking of bathrooms at the committee meeting in January.

“I taught high school, I know why we lock bathrooms, and I don’t think it should be against a policy — I think it should be against the law,” O’Connell Novick told the School Committee. “There are things that are right and things that are wrong, and denying students access to bathrooms is wrong.”

The Boston Public School board selected a new superintendent. She is Mary Skipper, who has had many years of teaching experience in Boston and is currently superintendent of the Somerville, Mass., district.

Currently the head of Somerville Public Schools, Skipper will take over at a crucial juncture for Boston, which only days ago fended off a state takeover by agreeing to a long list of improvements that she will now be charged with seeing through. She narrowly edged out the other finalist, BPS regional superintendent Tommy Welch, in a 4-3 vote.

The 55-year-old Skipper previously worked in Boston for nearly two decades, teaching Latin at Boston Latin Academy before working her way from principal to district administrator overseeing three dozen high schools. She earned a reputation for innovations at a high school she previously led. A decade ago, then-president Barack Obama held up Skipper’s school, TechBoston Academy, as a national model when he delivered a speech there.

She’s been superintendent of the roughly 4,700-student Somerville district since 2015.

Skipper was not available for comment after the vote. But she previously has said that teachers were surrogate parents to her, playing a deep role in her life, so she felt teaching was something she needed to do.

The job she’s stepping into has already been largely redefined by an agreement finalized this week between Mayor Michelle Wu and state Education Commissioner Jeff Riley, who had threatened to label the district as “underperforming.” In exchange for maintaining autonomy and the district’s reputation, Skipper will have to carry out a long list of mandates from a district improvement plan agreed upon Monday that aims to overhaul special education, services for English learners, and transportation, among other things…

Skipper’s selection could carry some risk for the district, since she’s not available to take over full time in Boston until late September, after the deadline for completing 10 of 24 action steps required by the joint agreement for improving Boston’s schools…

Skipper will also have to overcome frustration from some community members that the superintendent search did not yield Black or Latino finalists. Civil rights leaders and education advocates called on district leaders to halt the vote or extend the process after the search committee presented only two finalists; Skipper is white and Welch is an Asian American.

Two other would-be finalists, a Black woman and a Latina, withdrew before the list was finalized and made public. The panel overseeing the search selected Skipper and Welch from a field of 34 applicants.

Yesterday, the Massachusetts Commissioner of Education and the Mayor of Boston reached an agreement not to label the Boston Public Schools “underperforming” and the state backed away from taking control of the district. Perhaps they realized that state takeovers typically make things worse, not better.

Our reader Christine Langhoff is a retired teacher in Boston. She added the following informed comment.

Christine Langhoff writes:

Despite the Boston Globe’s heartfelt desire for privatization – its education reporting is outsourced to privatizers and charteristas at The Barr Foundation – public pushback had an impact. The state has had zero success in the school systems where it intervened, when measured by the metric the state board loves: test scores. Boston scores, even during the virtual schooling of the pandemic, have been higher than in Lawrence, Springfield, Holyoke and Southbridge, where the state is in charge. They failed to get this done before Governor Charlie Baker – funded by the Kochs and the Waltons – leaves office this year.

Our newly elected mayor, Michelle Wu, has her own two young sons in BPS and is committed to public education. She has refused to back away from her advocacy for the schools. Her predecessor, Marty Walsh (now Biden’s Secretary of Labor), was himself a founder of a charter school, and underfunded the schools during all seven years of his mayoralty. He made no effort to solve the issues cited in the state’s report in his quest to defund, destabilize, and destroy the school system.

Wu has managed in a brief time to recruit two excellent finalists for the superintendent’s position. Both of them are true public school educators who live in Boston. Mary Skipper’s three children are BPS graduates and Tommy Welch’s kids are presently enrolled as well. Contrast with Laura Perille, who was named superintendent by Walsh, despite being completely unqualified save for the fact that she ran an umbrella group for the foundations bent on privatization. (Perille took over from Broadie Tommy Chang, who was responsible in LA for the disastrous rollout of laptops.)

It’s a new day for public education in the city of Boston. The Waltons are somewhere, licking their wounds in defeat once again.

For a while, the state board of education was threatening to take over the Boston Public Schiols, despite the fact that state takeovers have a dismal record. Then the state threatened to label the district “underperforming,” which served no purpose other than humiliation. But a deal was reached, and the state has backed off its heavy handed tactics.

Boston Mayor Michelle Wu and the state Education Commissioner Jeffrey Riley came to an eleventh hour agreement Monday to prevent the state from designating the district “underperforming” and stepping up oversight of the district.

The agreement between the state and city, announced Monday night, details district improvement efforts following a state review that found Boston Public Schools was failing to make enough progress in addressing long-standing problems, including providing services to English learners and students in special education.

“These commitments will set up the district for success right away,” said Wu in an interview Monday night. “I’m eager and ready for the work ahead.”

The deal comes after weeks of negotiationsand political brinksmanship that, at times, played out before the public. After the state in May released its audit outlining chronic dysfunction in Boston Public Schools, Wu pushed back on the state’s initial proposals to improve the district, which would have made her directly accountable to Riley for improving schools and imposed short deadlines for addressing problems. She instead called for a “partnership” with the state.

And when talks broke down last week, the state upped the ante by recommending Boston receive more oversight and be labeled underperforming, an embarrassing designation that can take years to reverse.

The negotiations have cast a feeling of uncertainty over the district, as it searches for a new superintendent. The Boston School Committee meets Wednesday to vote on two candidates: Mary Skipper, the Somerville superintendent; and Tommy Welch, a regional school superintendent in Boston Public Schools and BPS parent.

Welch has said he could begin Friday, after outgoing Superintendent Brenda Cassellius departs. Skipper has committed to staying in Somerville until the fall.

The agreement includes deadlines as early as August for the city and school system to complete many steps.

It’s hard to imagine any meaningful reforms that can be completed in the next six weeks.

The state board of education in Massachusetts, dominated by “reformers” is itching to take control of the Boston public school district. State takeovers have consistently failed. Failure never deters “reformers.”

Dear families, students, educators and community partners,

[Español aqui. Todos están invitados a unirnos para el foro comunitario y la protesta en DESE]  

The Receivership issue is heating up again. Yesterday, Commissioner Riley recommended that the Board vote to declare BPS an “underperforming district.” See the BTU bulletin here for more information. You are invited to join us for two events:

1) We are holding an EMERGENCY Town Hall this Sunday, June 26 from 7:00pm to 8:00pm to discuss what Commissioner Riley’s new proposal to declare BPS “underperforming” is and what would happen to BPS if the Board votes to do so. This will be a public town hall, and we encourage you to invite fellow families and students. Sign up now.

2) This Tuesday, June 28th, we will gather at 8 am outside the DESE headquarters (75 Pleasant St. in Malden) to rally against state takeover and for a BTU contract now. At 8:30am we’ll enter the meeting to watch public testimonies when the board meeting begins at 9am. RSVP at bit.ly/Rally628. There’s garage parking right next to Malden, easy Orange Line access, or if you’d like to take the bus with us from the BTU, email Daphne (dsoto@btu.org) to reserve your seat.

In solidarity,

Ari + the BTU

Sent via ActionNetwork.org. To update your email address, change your name or address, or to stop receiving emails from Boston Teachers Union, please click here.

Reader Christine Langhoff sent a warning that the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education is poised to take control of the Boston Public Schools. This would be a mistake. No state takeover has ever led to better education. The state is not wiser than the city. If anything, the state education department is far removed from daily practice, as it is simply another bureaucracy. The current board is dominated by advocates of choice. Apparently they are unaware that the root cause of low test scores is poverty. The best the board could do would be to reduce class sizes and to promote the creation of community schools, which makes the school the hub of valuable services for children and families. Such proven strategies are unfamiliar to choice advocates. They prefer a failed approach.

Christine Langhoff wrote:

It seems that MA DESE is poised to place Boston’s public schools under receivership, perhaps by a vote as soon as May 24. Doing so would fulfill the Waltons’ wet dream which has been frustrated since the defeat of ballot Question 2 in 2016, which would have eliminated the charter cap.

The board is appointed by Governor Charlie Baker, whose donors are, of course, the Waltons and the Kochs. Four members of the board have day jobs tied to the Waltons: Amanda Fernández, Latinos for Education; Martin West, Education Next; Paymon Rouhanifard, Propel America; and Jim Peyser, New Schools Venture Fund and the Pioneer Institute. Baker is a lame duck, which may explain the haste to pull this off.

No state takeover has yet been successful, and once a system enters receivership, there is no exit. BESE has pointed to low MCAS scores to say our schools are failures, but Boston’s scores, invalid as they may be during the covid pandemic, are higher that in the three districts the state runs: Lawrence, Holyoke and Southbridge.

The Boston Teachers Union has an action letter if anyone is so inclined to support public education in the city where it originated:

Retired professor of political science Maurice Cunningham recently read an article about Randi Weingarten that quoted Kelli Rodrigues as leader of the National Parents Union, and presumably a spokesperson for American parents. Cunningham decided to inform Michelle Goldberg, the author of the article in the New York Times, that Ms. Rodrigues is not exactly a representative parent leader.

He wrote:

Dear Ms. Goldberg,

I read your story on AFT president Randi Weingarten with interest, especially the portion about National Parents Union. I have been researching NPU and similar organizations for the past six years.

Thus it was good to see you accurately characterize NPU “as funded by the pro-privatization Walton Family Foundation” but there is even more about the story of its president, Keri Rodrigues, than she or NPU lets on. So far as I know she did work for SEIU as a communications coordinator from 2008-2014 but since then she has worked for a succession of Walton-funded anti-union fronts: as Executive Vice President of Strategy and Communications of Democrats for Education Reform (DFER) from Nov. 2014-2015, state director of Families for Excellent Schools Inc. in 2015-2016 (omitted from her Linkedin page), president of Massachusetts Parents United from Dec. 2016-present, president of Massachusetts Parents Action from May 2017-present, and president of NPU from March 2019-present. In a concept paper sent to the Walton Family Foundation in 2019, Ms. Rodrigues and her allies specifically cited as a reason for funding NPU that “The teacher unions currently have no countervailing force. We envision the National Parents Union as being able to take on the unions in the national and regional media, and eventually on the ground in advocacy fights.”

I first became aware of Ms. Rodrigues in 2016 when I was following the dark money awash in the 2016 charter schools ballot initiative in Massachusetts. She was working for the IRS 501(c)(3) Families for Excellent Schools Inc. and I was exposing the millions in dark money flowing through the IRS 501(c)(4) Families for Excellent Schools Advocacy into the Great Schools Massachusetts ballot committee. After the 62-38% drubbing GSM received in that contest, the state Office of Campaign and Political Finance investigated and ordered FESA to disclose its true donors, to shut down, and to pay the largest civil forfeiture in OCPF history. It also placed severe restrictions on the political activities of Families for Excellent Schools Inc., which was the largest donor to FES Advocacy.

One thing that interests me is what I like to call the “creation story” of privatization fronts. For instance in the Walton Family Foundation story you link to in your story, we see Ms. Rodrigues professes that “I started talking to other parents in my community at coffee shops and libraries and decided we were going to organize.” But the 2016 campaign ended in November, Ms. Rodrigues claims to have started Massachusetts Parents United a month later, and the Waltons poured in several hundred thousand dollars in 2017, mostly through Education Reform Now Inc. (the Walton-funded sister to DFER) as MPU secured its tax status. From 2018-2020, the Waltons put $1.85 million into MPU, with $450,000 of that apparently going to help start up NPU in 2020.

NPU has a similar “creation story”: two Latina moms start a National Parents Union. And then the Waltons jump in with hundreds of thousands of dollars, joined by foundations operating under the bequests of the Gates, Broads, Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, Schustermans, Michael Dell, Reed Hastings, John Arnold, and the Vela Education Fund, a joint venture of the Waltons and Charles Koch. Immediately the two moms hired international communications firm Mercury LLC and top Republican and Walton pollster Echelon Insights. It seems a bit suspicious.

So, in 2020 I examined the “parent” organizations that NPU seemed to be claiming as its members on Twitter (NPU has declined to provide me a member list and has never provided a list of member organizations on its web site). I collected seventy organizations or activists that seemed to be part of an organization. I was able to place 64 organizations into categories and found that many were charter school chains or other privatization organizations. I found only four I could categorize as parent organizations, including MPU and one in Minnesota that had organized at the same time as NPU. I’m not aware of any publicly available evidence that NPU represents parents at all. It represents the Waltons and their billionaire co-investors.

As Ms. Rodrigues’s Linkedin profile indicates, she has a B.S. in communications and that has been her role in professional life, not union organizing. Her career with the Waltons has been lucrative. NPU’s Form 990 tax return for 2020 shows that her reportable compensation from NPU in 2020 was $135,769. Reportable compensation from related organizations was $208,207, and estimated amount of other compensation from the organization and related organizations was $34,322. The related organizations are the Walton-funded Massachusetts Parents United and Massachusetts Parents Action. Total compensation across all related organizations for Ms. Rodrigues in 2020 was $378,298. The Form 990 also disclosed that Ms. Rodrigues and COO Tim Langan are engaged. Mr. Langan’s total compensation across related organizations was $248,479 in 2020. Combined total compensation for the two was $626,777.

You were correct to write “Beyond the immediate well-being of families and teachers, the future of public education as we know it is at stake.” Privatizers like the Waltons and their partners are using the Covid crisis as an opportunity to attack and undermine public education. For obvious reasons they can’t become the public face of that activity, so they underwrite Ms. Rodrigues and NPU to masquerade as parent representatives.

Sincerely,

Maurice T. Cunningham

After Cunningham wrote to The Times to complain about the megaphone for a front group for the Waltons, the Hechinger Report published a puff piece about the NPU, mentioning the Waltons but disassociating NPR from the Walton’s anti-public school, anti-union, pro-charter views. The Waltons don’t fund groups that don’t share their ideology.

This post was published by the Network for Public Education. The authors remind us that the only thing innovative about charter schools is their marketing practices.

Cynthia Roy and Richard Rosa are co-chairs of the New Bedford Coalition to Save Our School. In this op-ed for SouthCoast Today, they explain why a newly proposed charter school is not something that Massachusetts needs.

One of the most morally disturbing aspects of the Innovators Charter School proposal for New Bedford and Fall River is the joining of considerable political and economic power to withdraw resources from public education systems that have been historically underfunded. What is appalling is the deliberate indifference to the impact on our public school systems in New Bedford and Fall River which, together, serve 22,563 students. As students and families are seduced to exit their public schools, the operating costs in these schools remain the same. This proposal is just more of the same looting of the public school system that we have seen with charter schools.

The Innovators Charter School is not an incubator of innovation for public education reform; rather, it is part of a movement to treat public education as a market opportunity for entrepreneurs and business that has proven to be catastrophic for communities across the state.

Virtually every “innovation” that charter schools utilize to decorate their proposals was born in public schools. Charter schools have been on the scene since the 1980s, and yet there has been little to no shared innovation even though they are released from significant regulations that public schools must abide by.

The greatest innovation that charter schools have engendered is that they are very seductive with their false narratives of “failing public schools.” The application is loaded with these references, insinuating that public schools are dated in their assumptions about learning and educator development.

The ICS application places great emphasis on its educators being knowledgeable about adolescent development. There is nothing innovative about this. All licensed public school educators in the state have taken various courses in adolescent development. Many hold advanced degrees and possess a deep understanding of child psychology and how students learn and grow, including students with disabilities. We also wonder how ICS will recruit and retain professional educators who are knowledgeable in adolescent development when they intend on paying their educators ten thousand dollars less than their counterparts working in our public schools.

Read the complete op-ed here.

Maurice Cunningham is a retired professor of political science in Massachusetts who specializes in following the trail of Dark Money into school issues. He was a major influence in turning the public against a state referendum to expand charters in 2016; he revealed the Dark Money behind the charter advocacy and that revealed the lies behind the rosy rhetoric.

In this post, he describes the role of Koch money behind “parent groups” harassing educators in Newton, Mass.

He writes:

On Friday Travis Anderson of the Boston Globe reported that two Black principals in Newton had received “racist and confrontational” messages for doing their jobs: to help their students process the verdicts in the Kyle Rittenhouse and Tracy McMichael, Gregory McMichael, and William Bryan Jr. (murderers of Ahmaud Arbery) trials. The hate came rolling in after the educators’ teaching methods were blown up in the right wing media network. Yes it’s terrible but it’s also deliberate.

The Globe reported that the hateful messages came after the radical right Breitbart News ran a heated misrepresentation about the Newton educators. Similar bulldust was published by conservative provocateurs Daily Caller, Washington Examiner, and The Federalist.

The generator of the story to the right wing propaganda network was Parents Defending Education. PDE is run by veteran Koch operative Nicole Neily, who refuses to discuss who funds the outfit (she can’t; it’s bad for business). PDE has ties to the Council for National Policy (CNP) which, as Anne Nelson has shown in Shadow Network, manages and coordinates strategy and tactics for an array of radical billionaire funders and Christian nationalist activists.

PDE is working on a model Koch and CNP have long used to attack college professors. Isaac Kamola explains how it’s done in “Dear Administrators: To Protect Your Faculty from Right Wing Attacks, Follow the Money.” Some information is received (PDE encourages anonymous tipsters) and then twisted or taken out of context. This works best if the educator is a woman, person of color (like the Newton principals), or LGBTQ. Then fringe outlets like Breitbart, Daily Caller, Federalist pick it up and publicize it. (With a little luck and the CNP’s connections, it might get on Fox). Post it online for the lip reading haters who act on this garbage and just sit back. The racist hate mail, phone calls, and social media posts will flow.

It’s depressing right? But it’s also intentional. This is part of a coordinated right wing attack on public schools (Critical Race Theory, anti-vaxxers, anti-maskers, billionaire funded “parent” groups) and an assault on our government and American democracy. Parents Defending Education, Campus Reform, Moms for Liberty, Breitbart, Federalist—they all know what they’re doing and they know the results that eventuate from their tactics.

This is a hard story for daily journalism to tell, but it has to find a way. American democracy doesn’t have much time left.

We all need to stand up for our democracy and our public schools.

Cunningham recently published a new book, Dark Money and the Politics of School Privatization.

Nine years ago, a deranged gunman blasted his way into Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. He murdered 20 children and six educators, including the principal, Dawn Hochsprung. The children were all 6- and 7-year-olds. Teachers shielded their children as best they could, and some died while protecting the children.

Many thought this slaughter of babies and educators would compel Congress to enact meaningful gun control. It didn’t. It even inspired a ruthless radio host to claim that the massacre never happened. Many grieving parents received death threats, due to the radio host’s lies. A court has held him liable for his cruel campaign. Meanwhile the murders continue, and Congress does nothing.

I received this message from Sandy Hook Promise, which continues to advocate for gun control:

Nine years ago today, our children and loved ones were murdered at Sandy Hook Elementary.

There are no words to describe how deeply we miss them, or how agonizing it is to mark another year since the last hug, smile or laugh we shared with them.

It’d bring such comfort to know you’re standing with us today. Will you sign our remembrance card to honor the precious lives taken from us? http://lil.ms/cydj/8zthf9

-Sandy Hook Promise

Since December 14 also is the date on which my beloved two-year-old died of leukemia many, many years ago, I grieve with and for with the parents of Sandy Hook, and with all families who have lost a child. You never forget.