By Scarlett Lewis

Scarlett Lewis, Sandy Hook mother and Founder of Jesse Lewis Choose Love Movement™, will speak at this year’s National Summit on School Safety, October 26-28. Scarlett will join a lineup of over 30 school safety leaders and change-makers to share her life’s mission, and how the power of social and emotional learning (SEL) can change and save lives. Register today to hear from Scarlett and many other amazing presenters. 

It’s back-to-school time and I am so happy to see all the teachers and students back in their classrooms doing what they do best: teaching, learning, and choosing love! September kicked off the start of the school year and thankfully I’ve been able to travel, in person, to visit schools in seven states around the U.S. who are using the Choose Love For Schools program, and to also virtually check in with many more.  It made my heart happy to see all those classrooms bustling with activity.

It’s another year that our educational system has faced continued uncertainty related to the pandemic. However, schools have courageously forged ahead with in-person learning so students can get back to a daily routine, have more social interaction, maintain a focus on their academics with less distraction, and hopefully allot more time to social and emotional learning and character education.  Our children are showing great resilience as they wear their masks and focus on learning. That said, it’s our educators who are displaying even greater courage, determination, and grace. I have personally witnessed this and it is breathtaking. Educators are our modern day superheroes with the most important job in the entire world of helping to shape and mold our children into the adults they will become. The future of our world is literally in their hands.

I founded the Choose Love Movement to provide love and support to our educators and their students and the recent stories I’ve heard on my visits of how the Choose Love Formula has given everyone the strength and courage to face this challenge with their best selves is astounding. Courage is not the absence of fear but persistence and resilience in the face of adversity. In fact, I usually find myself crying tears of joy in between presentations because of all the positivity and dedication that I see coming from the educators.  They are so grateful to be back in the classroom with fellow teachers and physically standing in front of their students.  While most of the teachers are maintaining a positive mindset, during my most recent visits I have spoken with some who have voiced some valid concerns. One of the main issues that teachers face is learning loss from last year. The second is COVID and all the ramifications including new CDC guidelines, such as testing and quarantines. The third continues to be safety, and this has expanded to include the consequences of the pandemic.

Our goal is to revitalize and inspire educators, and to give them a framework to meet every student’s social, emotional, and academic needs. In a relevant article in last month’s Berkeley News, “As K-12 students return, schools shouldn’t obsess over pandemic ‘learning loss,’ ” Edward Lempinen writes: “But while some evidence suggests the pandemic has slowed students’ academic progress, Berkeley education scholars caution that educators shouldn’t obsess about it. Better, they said, to focus more on the social and emotional well-being of students — and their teachers — as in-person classes resume after a historic period of uncertainty, fear and loss.”

I want our educators to know that we are here to support them on their journey in actively engaging students in meaningful, cultural, and linguistically relevant learning experiences. I can see how educators are striving to address academic learning loss and bridging gaps where students are faltering, but adding CDC guidelines and ensuring safety precautions are in place makes it even more challenging. Talking with educators over the past 18 months, I’ve learned how overwhelming it can be to organize an effective social-emotional recovery for their classroom, make sure students keep their masks on and maintain hygienic practices, and follow a daily academic plan. Before any learning can be effective, students and educators need to feel safe, a sense of belonging, cared for, and loved. We need to continually support schools in providing tools and resources to help bring students and educators back to baseline so they are present, calm, and ready to learn and have a successful school year. I applaud all our educators who are really stepping up and amplifying their classroom experiences and not only finding joy being back in-person, but valuing their students’ and their own physical, mental, and emotional wellness that will ultimately improve and enhance classroom climates.

Our educators deserve to be recognized for all that they are doing to help students become their best selves despite the obstacles that make it more challenging. But I know our educators are dedicated, and by always choosing love in the face of uncertainty they are cultivating hope and resilience. I am amazed at the positive difference this courageous, grateful, forgiving, and compassionate choice is making in classrooms and entire schools around the world. Our educators are the change-makers who are creating our future!

The second largest teachers union, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), is considering a vaccine mandate for teachers in schools. AFT leadership originally said that vaccinations should be voluntary, but that “circumstances have [now] changed.” Read on for more about a potential policy change for teachers on the way.

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), said during a Sunday interview that she thinks teachers need to work with employers on vaccine mandates.

Weingarten also said her organization is revisiting the issue of vaccine mandates for teachers as parts of the nation see a surge in coronavirus cases instigated by the rapidly-spreading delta variant.

The AFT has not supported such mandates previously, but Weingarten said the union was willing to work with employers to try to find solutions, and she said the rise in cases across the country is “alarming.”
Read this full article in the Hill: ‘Teachers union president signals personal support for vaccine mandates’

Read this full article in The Hill: ‘Teachers union president signals personal support for vaccine mandates’

Is it safe to send kids back to school with the Delta variant? While schools have not been major super spreaders of the virus, public health guidelines vary depending on COVID cases in each state. Read on for answers to the most common questions related to Fall 2021 and the current state of the pandemic.

“As the Delta variant rages and vaccination rates remain low in many parts of the United States, worried parents have one pressing question: How do I send my child back to school safely during a pandemic?
Next week, a number of school districts in the South where case counts for Covid-19 are on the rise, including several in Alabama and Georgia, will begin the 2021-22 school year. Even more schools in Covid hot spots around the country, including districts in Texas, Louisiana and Florida, will welcome students the following week.”

“While much of the public health conversation has been focused on booster shots and breakthrough infections, parents are frustrated at the lack of advice for families, particularly those with children under 12 years old, who are not yet eligible for a Covid vaccine. On social media and at school-board meetings, parents say they face an impossible choice: send kids to school and risk a Covid-19 infection, or keep kids home and jeopardize their mental health and educational development.”

Read this full article in the New York Times: ‘Kids Are Going Back to School. How Do We Keep Them Safe?’

The pandemic pushed child hunger to record levels- even in the wealthiest areas of the US. Now, there is a growing concern that cafeterias will be hit hard by supply chain issues, labor shortages, and other challenges as schools welcome students back this Fall. Read on for more.

Schools are struggling to secure food for student breakfasts and lunches ahead of classrooms’ planned reopening in the fall.

Some cafeterias are cutting menu choices as food suppliers face labor shortages and transportation challenges that are adding costs and limiting supplies. Food distributors and school officials say they expect to run low on everything from canned fruit to lunch trays, and some worry that the lack of options will deter students from getting meals at school.

Across the country, school cafeterias are preparing to welcome back students after running hybrid or remote learning operations for much of the past school year, when they offered prepackaged or to-go food. Many now find themselves at the center of supply-chain woes gripping the broader food industry: Manufacturers are cutting flavors or halting production because of capacity problems, while some distributors dropped deliveries to schools. Some school districts are struggling to hire cooks.

Read this full article in the Wall Street Journal: ‘Supply-Chain Woes Come to School Cafeterias’

As the Delta variant brings rising concern around COVID-19, communities are focusing on how the strain will impact reopening efforts for schools.  Should you be worried about the variant?  How quickly could the virus spread among kids who aren’t yet eligible to be vaccinated? Read on for answers to the biggest questions about the Delta variant.

If you are fully vaccinated and sending your kids off to camp or inviting their friends to sleep over, you might almost — almost — feel like the nightmare that was the COVID-19 pandemic is finally in the rearview mirror.

But dare to share this sentiment on a work call or with other parents on the playground and chances are some killjoy is going to bring up the dreaded Delta variant.

Delta originated in India and scientists estimate that it is 60% more transmissible than the Alpha variant from the United Kingdom, which in turn is 50% more transmissible than the original coronavirus strain.

Read this full article in the Los Angeles Times: What the Delta variant means for unvaccinated kids

The CDC released new COVID guidelines for schools. The agency’s advice on mask-wearing, vaccinations, and social distancing comes amid concerns about the Delta variant. Read on for the biggest suggestions that will impact schools reopening this Fall.

With less than a month to go before many schools begin reopening for the fall, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday released new guidelines for preventing Covid-19 transmission in schools.

The guidelines outline numerous strategies that schools can take to help keep students, teachers and staff members safe, including masking, weekly screening testing and social distancing. But the agency also stressed that schools should fully reopen even if they were not able to put in effect all of these measures.

The agency also left much of the decision-making up to local officials, urging them to consider community transmission rates, vaccination coverage and other factors. This approach won praise from some experts, who said that this more nuanced approach makes sense at this stage of the pandemic — but criticism from others, who said that state and local officials were not equipped to make those judgments and needed clearer guidance. Here are answers to some common questions about the new guidance.

Read this full article in the New York Times: What Parents Need to Know About the C.D.C.’s Covid School Guidelines

You’ve heard of the digital divide during the pandemic. Now that schools are finally reopening for Summer school programs, there’s another problem plaguing the millions of students trying to learn – the heat. Read on for more.

Human bodies react swiftly when they overheat. Blood rushes to the skin, trying to find cool air. Sweat seeps out of the skin and evaporates, dissipating body heat. But these processes have a cost: they reduce blood circulation, which means our most important organ, the brain, gets less blood.

“And with reduced brain blood flow, we have reduced brain function,” said Tony Wolf, a researcher at Penn State University who studies how the body reacts to heat.In short, heat can lower our cognition. But it doesn’t take a PhD to know this. Just ask middle school students.

Researchers have long known about heat’s profound impact on the human body – and found a pretty effective way to combat it: air conditioning. But nearly a century later a huge portion of American classrooms are still sweltering hot and don’t have air conditioning. And new research is showing that the ramifications are devastating: the more hot school days there are, the less students learn – and the effect is noticeably worse for students of color.

Read this full article in the Guardian: ‘How the US lets hot school days sabotage learning’

More than a quarter of a million children have been exposed to gun violence during school hours since the massacre 22 years ago at Columbine High School near Denver. It has left teachers, parents and students dreading what’s to come this fall when nearly all children are expected to go back to their classrooms. Read on for more.

Months had passed since the sixth-grader decided he wanted to die, and now the day that he hoped would be his last had come. The boy snuck into his father’s bedroom, reaching into a dresser drawer for the loaded magazine and 9mm handgun he’d been told never to touch. He hid them both inside his backpack, then left for school.

“I hope my death makes more senses then my life,” the 12-year-old had already jotted in a spiral-bound notebook of his plan to commit suicide-by-cop. He would have shot himself if he hadn’t feared offending God, he later said in an interview he and his father gave to The Washington Post. Forcing a police officer to kill him didn’t seem as bad. “That way it wasn’t a sin,” he explained.

Read this full article in the Washington Post: ‘As school shootings surge, a sixth-grader tucks his dad’s gun in his backpack’

Before the pandemic, about 3.3 million students attended mandatory or optional summer school programs in 2019. This year is expected to far exceed that number, with reopenings underway, school districts drawing on federal aid, and families looking to make up for lost learning. Read on for more.

With her three teenagers vaccinated against COVID-19, Aja Purnell-Mitchell left it up to them to decide whether to go back to school during summer break.

The decision was unanimous: summer school.

“Getting them back into it, helping them socialize back with their friends, maybe meet some new people, and, of course, pick up the things that they lacked on Zoom,” the Durham County, North Carolina, mother said, ticking off her hopes for the session ahead, which will be the first time her children have been in the classroom since the outbreak took hold in the spring of 2020.

Across the U.S., more children than ever before could be in classrooms for summer school this year to make up for lost learning during the outbreak, which caused monumental disruptions in education. School districts nationwide are expanding their summer programs and offering bonuses to get teachers to take part.

Read this full article in the Chicago Tribune: ‘More children than ever could be in classrooms for summer school, making up for lost time during pandemic’

Since George Floyd’s death in May 2020, some school districts have eliminated or reduced their school police presence – a change that would affect about 1.65 million students across the country. As some schools evaluate and take action on school resource officers, teacher diversity, anti-racist training, and other related issues, the pandemic school year provides little data on the actual effectiveness and safety of the current approaches. Many districts are still wrestling with what exactly to replace school resource officer programs with that both keeps classrooms safe and doesn’t result in profiling aimed at Black students. Read on for more about how schools are attempting to strike a balance between racial justice and the reality of safety threats.

“Just over a year ago, the murder of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer was captured in a nine-and-a-half minute video that has irrevocably changed the contours of K-12 schooling.

Education Week reporters reached out to dozens of districts that overhauled their school safety programs in the wake of last summer’s protests for racial justice. Even in those districts that pulled police officers from schools, complex questions about safety remain.”

Read this full article in EdWeek: ‘Defunded, Removed, and Put in Check: School Police a Year After George Floyd’