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22nd September 2021
Districts adopt varying vaccine rules
Despite a rise in schools and states declaring vaccines mandatory, America’s schools have been slow to actually impose such requirements on staff. In some cases, negotiations are ongoing. In others, a testing opt-out provides a significant loophole. Many aren’t imposing vaccine rules whatsoever. Even in the strictest districts, the timeline allows teachers to be in the classroom for a month or two before being fully vaccinated. Few districts have started enforcing the mandates yet, either, and as districts struggle with staffing shortages, it remains to be seen whether they will. Several states bar schools from mandating vaccines at all. But among 100 large U.S. school districts, about a third have staff vaccine rules of some sort, according to a tracker kept by the Center on Reinventing Public Education, and more are moving in that direction. Meanwhile, vaccine antidiscrimination laws, which bar policies that treat those who have been vaccinated against COVID-19 differently from those who have not in school, work, or other areas, are making contact tracing, quarantines, and other mitigation efforts challenging for education leaders coping with a Delta-driven surge of COVID cases in their schools and communities. While Montana was the first to pass such a strict vaccine antidiscrimination law, nine other states including Ohio, New Jersey, South Dakota, and Tennessee have bills pending with similar language.
Staff shortages plague districts across nation
All across the country, school districts are posting in towns and on social media with urgent requests for applicants to fill crucial job openings. Interviews with economists, administrators, and employees reveal a complex array of factors causing the school hiring headaches; fears over health and safety, frustrations over longstanding pay gaps and inequities, and political disagreements over masks and vaccines. Some of these shortages are far more severe than usual, while others existed long before the pandemic. “When I was a principal, we had tremendous turnover among our bus drivers and the folks who staffed our cafeterias,” says Stefan Lallinger, a former teacher and administrator at a charter school in Louisiana who now serves as fellow and director of the Century Foundation’s Bridges Collaborative, which advocates for school integration and other progressive policies. “Even before the pandemic, whether we talk about bus drivers, cafeteria workers, paraprofessionals, substitute teachers, [they] were dramatically underpaid and undercompensated for the work that they did,” he asserts, adding: “By and large people in the general population have often taken these positions for granted.” Districts and states are trying to find creative ways to respond to the needs of their current and prospective employees, including hosting job fairs, dangling bonuses, hiring internationally. This week for example, the governor of New York announced new steps to tackle the bus driver shortage, including opening new testing sites for commercial drivers trying to get their licenses and reaching out to law enforcement, military and fire departments to try to find already-qualified drivers who can pitch in. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 460,000 public education jobs were open in July, up from around 446,000 in June.
2021 National Blue Ribbon schools declared
U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona has announced that 325 schools have recognized as National Blue Ribbon Schools for 2021. The award affirms the hard work of educators, families and communities in creating safe and welcoming schools where students master challenging and engaging content.  Now in its 39th year, the National Blue Ribbon Schools Program has bestowed approximately 10,000 awards to more than 9,000 schools. "This year's cohort of honorees demonstrates what is possible when committed educators and school leaders create vibrant, welcoming, and affirming school cultures where rich teaching and learning can flourish," said Secretary Cardona. "I commend this school and all our Blue Ribbon honorees for working to keep students healthy and safe while meeting their academic, social, emotional, and mental health needs. In the face of unprecedented circumstances, you found creative ways to engage, care for, protect, and teach our children. Blue Ribbon Schools have so much to offer and can serve as a model for other schools and communities so that we can truly build back better."
Funding request announced by Anne Arundel County Board of Education
The Anne Arundel County Board of Education will hear from the public and vote on Superintendent George Arlotto’s proposed Capital Budget request for fiscal year 2023 during its meeting later today. The $193 million request is about 17% smaller than that of fiscal year 2022 request, which was for $234 million. Arlotto is seeking $84 million from the county, and the remainder in funding through the state. The budget includes funding to continue the multi-step process to divide, build and rebuild schools in the Old Mill cluster. The request seeks $44 million to build a new high school, $40 million for Old Mill Middle School South and $5.3 million to design a new CAT North. In an infrastructure-heavy strategy, the superintendent is also seeking $5.9 million to replace Rippling Woods Elementary, $5.7 million to replace Hillsmere Elementary School and $5 million to replace Quarterfield Elementary School.
Hillsboro School Board found to have violated Open Meetings Act
The Illinois Attorney General’s office ruled Tuesday that the Hillsboro Community School District 3 violated the Illinois Open Meetings Act by having members of the public speak in a closed session. There were no fines or penalties levied against the board, though the attorney general’s office directed the Hillsboro board of education to provide public comment in open session at all future meetings.
Tennessee law on racial discussions in classroom prompts strong reactions
Several hundred comments have been submitted online to the Tennessee Department of Education on its proposed plan for enforcing a new state law aimed at edging out teaching concepts like systemic racism and white privilege. The feedback is being considered as the state develops its final rules, at which point Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn will have the power to suspend or revoke teachers’ licenses or withhold funding from schools. Of note, of approximately 900 comments obtained through a public records request, almost half came from people identifying themselves as parents or grandparents. Nearly 60 came from current, former, or retired educators, and another 21 were submitted by advocacy, professional, or citizens groups.
Chicago School Resource Officer contract considered
The Chicago Board of Education is set to review a one-year, $11 million proposed agreement with the Chicago Police Department for its now controversial school resource officer program. The move away from school police followed protests by community activists and students who complained that the program disproportionately affects Black and brown students. The deal, up for a vote later today, was forged after policymakers at more than 50 high schools developed plans for creating an environment of physical and emotional safety, with or without uniformed officers on campus. Notably, nine schools over the summer elected to exit the program, 20 schools opted to retain both officers, while 24 settled on keeping just one. Incoming CEO Pedro Martinez told reporters last week: “Most districts in the country have their own police forces where they can train them in a certain way on how to work with our children. We sort of have a little bit of a hybrid here, and so that's something that I just want to explore with our police chief, with the mayor, and really try to see what's the best solution for our schools."
Gun violence on the rise in schools
As students return to in-person learning amid rising violent crime rates in many cities, school leaders face increasing challenges in keeping students safe. Last year, gun violence rose to its highest point in nearly two decades. “Everything that is beginning to shape out in regard to gun violence in schools was absolutely predictable. If folks look at the history of gun violence and public schools, it is not somebody deciding at random to shoot up a school. It is the bright, sick minds that are involved in the incident,” said Joe Erardi, retired superintendent of Newtown Public Schools in Connecticut, where the 2012 Sandy Hook shooting occurred. With the pandemic, Mr. Erardi said, that issue has been exacerbated. Solutions are also no longer limited to simply hardening the building as experts have recognized the importance of taking into consideration community conversations with parents, staff, and elected and appointed officers, as well as the social-emotional needs of students. As superintendents take on rapidly changing, ever-growing responsibilities and challenges, the position requires knowing when to delegate. “If they delegate school safety and security post-tragedy, they have done a disservice to the community,” Mr. Erardi said. “You have to own it, stand in front of, explain and move forward as harsh corrective.”
Texas mask mandate ban investigated
The federal government is investigating the Texas Education Agency (TEA) after deeming that its guidance prohibiting mask mandates in schools last week may be “preventing school districts in the state from considering or meeting the needs of students with disabilities.” The U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights (OCR) launched the investigation following the state's announcement Friday that school districts once again can’t require face coverings, citing that courts are not blocking Gov. Greg Abbott’s executive order prohibiting local mask mandates. In a letter to TEA Commissioner Mike Morath, federal officials said the investigation will focus on whether or not students with disabilities who are at greater risk for severe illness from COVID-19 are prevented from safely returning to in-person education, which would violate federal law, wrote Suzanne B. Goldberg, the acting assistant secretary for civil rights. The announcement makes Texas the seventh state to become the subject of an OCR investigation due to a statewide ban on mask requirements, following similar probes launched into orders issued by Iowa, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah and Florida. 
California third grade reading target set
California Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond has announced a new initiative that will get all third-grade students reading by 2026. “This is a strategy about helping children learn to read, but also about putting them on a path that can create success,” said Mr. Thurmond, speaking at West Contra Costa USD's West County Mandarin School. Accountability measurements for the initiative will be determined by a task force of educators, parents and education experts; it will also focus on school readiness, professional learning, reducing chronic absenteeism, bilingual education and support that will offset some social and economic impacts that can become a barrier to students. Assemblywoman Mia Bonta (D-Alameda) will author a bill for the upcoming legislative cycle that will address and fund the group's recommendations.
Canadian teachers increasingly favor early retirement
The COVID-19 pandemic has really tested veteran Canadian teachers’ commitment to remain in the classroom, according to a new study. Teachers complained of a host of new challenges, including adapting to combinations of in-person, hybrid and remote learning models and managing health concerns during the pandemic. More than 40% of teachers surveyed said they considered leaving or retiring, and over half of those said it was because of the pandemic. Researchers found that for those approaching retirement age – over 55 years old – having to change instruction modes during the year and health concerns were key predictors.


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