Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Teacher on Leave After Questioning Whether School Would Let Pro-Life Students Walk Out, Too

Rocklin High School in Rocklin, California, placed a teacher on paid administrative leave after she let students discuss the politics of the National School Walkout, which took place around the country yesterday morning.

Julianne Benzel told CBS13 that she suspects she got in trouble for suggesting that schools administrators who condoned the student walkout might be practicing a double standard.

"And so I just kind of used the example which I know it's really controversial, but I know it was the best example I thought of at the time," said Benzel. "[If] a group of students nationwide, or even locally, decided 'I want to walk out of school for 17 minutes' and go in the quad area and protest abortion, would that be allowed by our administration?"

Her students saw her point, and the discussion—which took place last week—was fruitful, according to Benzel. But on Wednesday, the teacher received a call that she had been placed on leave.

Officials did not specify what the problem was, but offered the following statement:

"A Rocklin High School teacher has been placed on paid administrative leave due to several complaints from parents and students involving the teacher's communications regarding today's student-led civic engagement activities"

Students' free expression rights should vastly outweigh the state's interest in locking kids up all day, and letting them peacefully protest gun violence seemed like the right call to me. But if it's OK to protest, it should also be OK to have a discussion about the protest. As long as no student was unjustly disciplined for political speech, it seems to me like there's little reason for parents to complain or for Benzel to be in trouble.


Houses Passes STOP School Violence Act

In a vote of 407 to 10, the U.S. House on Wednesday passed a school safety bill aimed at preventing school shootings by providing training to law enforcement, school personnel, and students.

H.R. 4909, the STOP School Violence Act, amends the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968 to revise and reauthorize through FY2028 the Secure Our Schools grant program.

The measure would create a grant program to train students, teachers, school officials, and local law enforcement on early identification and intervention when signs of violence arise. It calls for the creation of a coordinated reporting system and implements FBI & Secret Service-based school threat assessment protocols to prevent school shootings before they occur.

It was introduced by Rep. John Rutherford (R-Fla.), a former sheriff of Jacksonville, Fla. He said the bill focuses on prevention of school shootings.

“We must prevent it before it occurs, and so that’s what this bill does. That’s the goal of this bill is to provide prevention within our schools,” Rutherford said during a GOP press conference after the bill’s passage.

“If there is any place our children can feel safe, it should be our schools. The STOP School Violence Act takes a multi-faceted approach that will help prevent school violence before it takes place,” House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said in a statement.

“It gives law enforcement, school officials, and students the training, technology, and resources they need to identify and prevent threats. This is a common-sense approach to combatting senseless violence. I want to thank Sheriff Rutherford for his leadership on this vital issue,” Ryan said.

The bill also calls for “the development and operation of anonymous reporting systems for threats of school violence,” which will include cell phone apps, hotlines, and websites.

President Donald Trump applauded the House for passing the bill, calling it “an important step towards keeping American students safe.”

“This legislation helps protect our Nation’s youth and educators by authorizing State-based grants that will support evidence-based violence prevention programs,” he said in a statement.

“It is critical that we strengthen our laws in order to aid our law enforcement, address the needs of individuals struggling with serious mental illness, and develop proactive strategies for identifying and preventing violence in schools,” Trump said.

“This Administration is pleased with the progress we have made toward securing our schools over the last few weeks alone, and looks forward to working with the Senate to protect America’s students,” the president added.


Parents Barred from Questioning Gender Identity Changes During Fairfax County Committee Meeting

Parents concerned about new sex education guidelines for Fairfax County public schools, located just outside of the nation’s capital, were not allowed to question any of the voting committee members during the last meeting.

The Family Life Education Curriculum Advisory Committee (FLECAC) was considering a motion to eliminate the terms “biological gender” and “biological sex” from the curriculum and replace them with “sex assigned at birth” when security for the Fairfax Public Schools building informed committee members the room had reached capacity so they would have to remove members of the public.

“We should always be using the term sex assigned at birth rather than biological sex. Biological sex is a meaningless term,” committee member Daniel Press said before a security officer entered the room.

Committee Chairperson Elizabeth Payne moved to pause the meeting. Some committee members asked the officer to check if there was another open room in the building to accommodate everyone. Others suggested adjourning or taking all of the parents out of the meeting instead of choosing who could stay.

“It’s not a school board meeting where you can sign up to speak,” committee member Joan Daly said to a parent in the audience who had noted that the meeting is open to the public.

“It’s your responsibility to have a room that caters to the public,” said Andrea Bayer, a parent at the meeting.

“You’re not allowed to give responses,” Press said to Bayer. “You’re essentially not supposed to be here. Somebody else has your term,” Bayer replied. “And you want to redefine sex, good lord.”

Security threatened to call the police on Bayer for refusing to leave the room.

Bayer was referring to Laura Hanford, who was informed last month that the district had terminated her position in the middle of her term. The school board member who appointed her had resigned and the new member appointed Press.

Hanford told PJM she introduced a motion at the January meeting to strike the term “sex assigned at birth” in sentences throughout the grades 6-8 curriculum and replace it with “sex.”

If the committee approved her motion, part of the “lesson objectives” would be changed to, “Transgender will be defined as an individual whose gender identity, how they think of themselves as a male or female, is different from the individual’s [biological] sex.”

Hanford’s position was terminated before the next meeting.

“Suddenly, a week before the meeting when we were supposed to consider them, I receive a letter from the clerk of the school board saying I had been replaced, so it didn’t smell right,” she said.

Hanford decided to attend last month’s meeting after her termination and told PJM her motion was postponed indefinitely and not debated.

After it was determined that Thursday night’s meeting would move to a different room, Bayer eventually agreed not to speak and only continue video recording.

Payne summarized the gender identity motion initiated by Press.

“The motion on the floor is to change 8th-, 9th- and 10th-grade lesson objectives to strike the use of the term biological gender or biological sex and replace it with sex assigned at birth,” she said before the committee overwhelmingly voted to approve the motion.

Following the meeting, Press posted his reaction along with a link to a YouTube video of his remarks about the motion.

“The work our committee does in advising the School Board and staff is important, and it is and should be open to the public. Of course, it would have been nicer if one of the citizens were not literally standing right behind me filming close enough to potentially read personal and business messages on my phone, so I'm glad we moved to a larger room. (Hopefully in the future we will stay in the larger room, and it will be arranged so people won't be able to literally look over our shoulders),” Press wrote.

“Anyway, this was posted by someone apparently opposed to using the scientifically correct terminology for sex assigned at birth, which I proposed to correct in the curriculum materials. My motion passed 21-3, so it's pretty clear it's not some sort of radical concept, but some people will continue to attack me for this. That's fine, as long as the attacks remain verbal and not physical,” he added.

Bayer said parents are not allowed to ask questions or comment during the meetings and suggested a formal “Q&A session” at every future meeting.

“Daniel Press had been waving and making faces at my camera (phone) and then he started making comments when I told people not to leave,” Bayer said, referring to the break in the meeting due to the size of the room. “There are 30+ people on that committee and they only secured a room that held 50.  So I responded to his comments, and he and the other members didn’t like my responses.”

Hope Wojciech, a parent who attended the last few meetings, also said the committee should dedicate a portion of future meetings to taking questions from parents in the audience.

“It is evident from the last two meetings that they would benefit from more discussion, and perhaps that could be inspired by allowing questions from parents who are observing,” she said. “There appear to be several committee members who do not speak during the meetings, do not appear interested and may be there just fill a seat or cast a vote.”


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