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23rd September 2021
Promise Neighborhoods grantees named by Ed Dept
The U.S. Department of Education has awarded over $40 million to the newest cohort of Promise Neighborhoods grantees across seven states. Authorized under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), as amended, the Promise Neighborhoods Program is intended to significantly improve academic and developmental outcomes for children living in communities of concentrated poverty. The Department made awards to seven grantees, including Klamath River Promise, located on Yurok tribal lands in California, which will target historically high rates of chronic absenteeism by hiring part-time attendance specialists for each of the schools in its Promise Neighborhood, and also the Broward Up Promise Neighborhood, in Broward County, Florida, which has engaged partners to specifically serve students experiencing homelessness, foster-care involved youth, teenaged parents, and students who have been exposed to the juvenile justice system. President Biden’s FY22 budget includes a $10 million proposed increase for Promise Neighborhoods to reflect the Administration’s priority on expanding community-school partnerships to better meet the comprehensive needs of underserved communities.
Student vaccinations analyzed
Following Pfizer's announcement this week that its COVID-19 vaccine, at a lower dosage, is safe and effective for children ages five and up, Education Week speaks to several school districts that have already had success hosting vaccination clinics about what they’ve learned in the process, and their insights about extending the service to younger children.
Providing a welcoming classroom for students from Afghanistan
Assisting in international evacuations is beyond the usual scope of school district employees’ work. As education officials across the nation prepare for new arrivals from Afghanistan - with funding requested to resettle 65,000 people from the nation by the end of September - experts say having systems in place to welcome refugee students and continuously support them will be key. While newly arrived families are often first helped by resettlement agencies, schools then quickly pick up the work of helping families adjust to their new homes and feel supported going forward, said Cristina Burkhart, an English-learner program specialist at San Juan USD in California. That means tending to students’ academic needs, but also doing things like providing donated food, clothing, and wheelchairs for students. The work also extends to helping parents gain agency, including teaching them things like how to schedule doctors’ appointments and how the school grading system works. Fostering a welcoming environment for refugee students is something teachers can do in the classroom as well. At Travis Heights elementary school in Austin, Texas, Shayna Bright, a 2nd grade English-as-a-second-language teacher, keeps a journal where she jots down Pashto and Dari words her Afghan students teach her. So while they learn English, she learns more of their home languages. “That buy-in with the children has really made a big impact,” Bright said. “They see that I care not just about their education, but about them and their culture.”
Florida authorities to apply for food aid funding
Florida is to apply for $820 million in federal food aid money for children in low-income households. After "weeks" of saying that the money wasn't needed, Florida's Department of Children and Families said Tuesday that it is applying for the no-strings-attached funding after all, so parents of up to 2.1 million children could receive $375 to pay for food for each child over the summer. A U.S. Census Bureau survey of Florida households from June and July found that 14% of adults reported that their kids were not eating enough because the household could not afford food. Florida had been the only state not applying for the pandemic relief program, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. A spokesperson for Gov. Ron DeSantis, Christina Pushaw, said last month the money wasn't needed because schools had shifted to in-person classes.
Slight decrease reported in Chicago Public Schools attendance
Chicago Public Schools on Wednesday touted only a slight decrease in student attendance rates on the first day of school, compared to the last time the new year began with in-person learning. CPS presented the 91.2% attendance rate — down from 94.2% in the 2019-2020 year, the last time there was full in-person learning — as a success. The full first-day attendance rates for the past several years are 91.2% this year; 84.2% last year, when all students were learning remotely, 94.2% in 2019, 94.5% in 2018, 94.7% in 2017, and 93.9% in 2016. The district also noted in 2013, the last time CPS began classes before Labor Day, that the attendance rate was 93.5%.
Disability advocates file legal complaints over mask mandates
Disability advocates in at least half a dozen states are filing complaints in court, arguing statewide policies prohibiting mask mandates discriminate against students with disabilities and deny those students equal access to education. Some school attorneys and special education experts agree but say as the lawsuits weave their way through the courts, there are proactive steps districts should take to address the individualized needs and safety of students with disabilities. Jose Martín, an attorney with the Richards, Lindsay & Martín law firm in Austin, Texas, which represents school districts, said he advises districts to have mask policies. Where that’s not possible, he recommends schools consider potential alternatives, such as remote instruction, based on each student’s circumstance.  But, he said, even that's not a good alternative. "If you don't have a mask requirement, you're forcing some vulnerable special ed students to have to do remote learning even if it's not a good learning environment and more restrictive than necessary," Martín said.
Propane-powered buses profiled
As people and companies across the country are looking at ways to lower their carbon footprint, coupled with the federal government pushing for lower emissions, the school bus industry is quickly adopting alternative fuels including propane in this new environment. The move to alternative fuels like propane - which has a carbon intensity of 19%, five times better than diesel and gasoline - brings many benefits for fleets, including reduced maintenance, increased cost savings, and renewability. In Indiana, Carmel Clay Schools (CCS) started running propane buses in 2014, with 30 Blue Bird buses running currently. “We have been purchasing new propane buses when older diesel buses were due for trade,” explains Ron Farrand Jr., recently retired director of facilities and transportation at CCS. “These buses have been focused on our special-needs student transportation in response to a student group that may have compromised health issues. The use of propane-powered buses reduces emissions in proximity to student loading areas.” Jarrod Adams, chief operations officer for Washington County Schools in Tennessee, said  the district is seeing fuel costs about equal to diesel, with diesel at $2.56 a gallon and propane at $1.89 a gallon — or 36 cents per mile for diesel and 45 cents per mile for propane, although factoring in maintenance brings diesel to around 70 cents per mile and propane to around 47 cents per mile.
Driver shortages continue to plague districts
School bus driver shortages are so bad in some places that districts are taking extraordinary steps to get kids to school as students return to in-person classes this fall. Philadelphia's school district will pay families $300 a month, or $3,000 for the year, to opt out of transportation services and get their kids to school on their own. Albemarle County Public Schools in Virginia is offering a $2,500 bonus to new drivers, $100 more than the school district in the county seat Charlottesville is offering. In Boston meanwhile, the shortage is so acute that some schools have resorted to atypical transportation, an 11th grade language teacher at one charter school recently went viral on Twitter when he documented a class field trip on board "a party bus with a stripper pole and neon lights."
Memphis School Board considers policing options
The Shelby County Schools board is currently divided over an agreement that would have the district contribute $50,000 to the county sheriff’s office for the use of 36 resource officers in Memphis schools. Echoing a national racial reckoning, and prompted some of the United States’ largest school systems, including those in Denver, Seattle, Portland, and Minneapolis, to end partnerships with local police departments, many stakeholders fear that school resource officers’ involvement can hurt children of color the most. Data from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights found that these officers are more than twice as likely to refer Black students for prosecution compared to their white peers.
Increasing enrollment seen at charter schools
Charter schools experienced more growth in 2020-21, the first full year of the pandemic, than they’ve seen in the past six years, according to preliminary data released Wednesday from the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. At a time when traditional public schools saw a 1.4m drop in student enrollment, charters in 39 states saw an influx of 240,000 new students, a 7% year-on-year increase. Of the 42 states covered in the report, only Illinois, Iowa and Wyoming saw declines in the charter school population. While ​​Tennessee, Kansas, Puerto Rico and Guam also have charters, data was unavailable for those states and territories. Growth in the charter sector ranged from less than 1% in Washington, D.C. and Louisiana, to a 78% jump in Oklahoma. Alabama saw a 65% jump in enrollment. 
British students' mental health improves
Research reveals that two-thirds of U.K. adults have noticed an improvement in their children's mental health since returning to school this month. A survey of parents of pupils aged four to 14 found children were becoming less angry and more talkative as they reconnected with friends and online learning - which many found difficult "to get their heads round" - was replaced with face-to-face lessons. Separately, schoolchildren in Scotland are to be graded on happiness and confidence as part of moves to diminish the importance of exams as the main measure of academic success. Carrie Lindsay, president of the Association of Directors of Education, the network representing councils on schooling, said: “We do need something at a school level, and a classroom level, so that people can start to interrogate that kind of data alongside the progress people are making alongside their academic attainment."


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