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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’

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’

Ensuring the safety of a school community is a tough job under normal circumstances–and these past 6 months have been anything but normal. As we look ahead to a new school year, the job is more challenging and more important than ever. For months now, our school communities have continued the heroic work of providing for the basic and educational needs of children, youth and families through the COVID-19 crisis. And as the year began to draw to a close, school district leaders began “sharpening their pencils” to plan ahead for a very uncertain school year.

Then the tragic death of George Floyd shifted conversations in communities, large and small, across the country to the role of police in our schools and the programming needed to overcome long-standing race and equity issues in our nation.  Another defining moment in our history emerged – one that will shape future generations. The role of our schools in the collective efforts of our progressing nation cannot be emphasized enough.

Only a month earlier, Safe and Sound Schools had initiated a series of focus groups to discuss the reopening of schools this fall across the country. Through these discussions we were able to offer support through these crises and gather data to inform our summer webinar series, “Return to Learn With Safe and Sound Schools” set to kick off on July 7th.  For the past several months we’ve heard from parents, teachers, school social workers, counselors, psychologists, nurses, principals, superintendents and yes… students as they shared their hopes, fears, concerns and challenges as they think about the upcoming school year.  In some ways, the focus groups felt like virtual support groups as peers from across the country quickly found they shared much in common.

Although the data collected exceeded our expectations, it was the sincere passion and love for our children that we wish we could pass on to each person reading this blog. As one teacher put it, “I don’t know what I will do if I don’t get to see my kids this fall.” That is the inspiration behind our Safe and Sound “Return to Learn” webinar series! We hope you can join us to make the hope of that joyful reunion of teachers and students–in whatever form it takes–a reality this fall.

The back-to-school season is full of excitement, and let’s face it…sometimes stress and worries. To-do lists are long, to-don’t lists are sometimes even longer. One thing you shouldn’t have to worry about is the safety of your children in their school environment.

Fall is not only the back-to-school season but also a time to shed light on mesothelioma awareness. September 26th is Mesothelioma Awareness Day and is followed by Healthy Lung Month in October. Though mesothelioma is often thought of as an “old man’s disease,” it can be a danger to people of all ages.  Recent news headlines report asbestos contamination in children’s products, indicating our students are among those at risk.

What is asbestos?

Safe and Sound Schools has featured information on asbestos in the past. The important takeaways to know about this mineral are that it was once widely used, is not banned in the United States and that people are still definitely at risk of exposure. For children, the most likely way to come into contact with asbestos in schools is known as third-wave exposure.

These exposure cases stem from products that were manufactured long ago and that have asbestos fibers in them. These fibers lay dormant until disturbed. Asbestos was used as an additive for heat and electrical insulation and is often present in building materials. Once these materials degrade, are uncovered, or are improperly removed, the fibers are released.

The fibers can stay airborne for up to 72 hours, where they are at risk of being inhaled or settling onto other surfaces, like hair and clothing, that may be disturbed again. Upon inhalation, asbestos fibers embed themselves in sensitive internal tissues and can lead to scarring, tumors, and eventually cancer.

How is it a danger to children?

Asbestos is a danger to everyone. It has a dubious history of regulations in the United States that have lead to many lawsuits and a lot of confusion about how common it actually is. Litigation around asbestos exposure cases mainly focused on occupational cases in its heyday.

These numerous and costly lawsuits lead the EPA to issue the Asbestos Ban and Phase Out Rule in 1989, which was then overturned by 1991. This left the United States without comprehensive asbestos regulations and citizens without protection from the dangerous material. Conversely, developed nations like Canada, Australia, and the United Kingdom do have full bans.

These back-and-forth stances on asbestos have led the general public to believe that the mineral is banned when it is only laxly regulated. This makes it difficult for parents to know exactly when their family may be exposed.

Children are most likely to encounter asbestos at school in two ways; either the school building itself or in contaminated products like school supplies and children’s cosmetics. A report ordered jointly by Senators Markey (MA) and Boxer (CA) estimated that 69.5% of local education institutes still contained asbestos in their facilities.

The report also asserted that “the states do not appear to be systematically monitoring, investigating or addressing asbestos hazards in schools.” The last comprehensive report on asbestos in schools was conducted in 1984 and little updated data on the scope of this problem has been released since then.

The EPA’s Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act (AHERA) requires all public and non-profit schools districts to develop and maintain an asbestos response plan. However, according to Markey and Boxer’s report, “states do not report conducting regular inspections of local education agencies to detect asbestos hazards and enforce compliance.”

Recent news headlines also underscore that without regulation, asbestos can end up in any product. Last year, asbestos was found in a brand of crayons by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group (USPIRG). On the side of good news, their testing in 2015 revealed asbestos in many brands of crayons, but by 2018 the fibers were present only in one brand’s products.

There is no “safe” level of exposure to asbestos, but like cigarette smoking, repeated exposure increases your chance of contracting a health issue. Contaminated art products present particular harm since they are used frequently and are susceptible to breaking. Also, as anyone with a child can attest, things that shouldn’t be eaten are sometimes ingested by little ones.

What you can do to mitigate the risks

While Markey and Boxer’s report seems dubious on the efficacy of AHERA, it is possible for parents to request information from their local school district on compliance to the act. The report also found that most of the AHERA testing conducted recently was not part of the required routine inspections but as a reaction to complaints lodged by parents and school employees.

Since asbestos regulations in the U.S. are lax, being personally vigilant may be the best course of action for parents. There are a number of ways to do this.

  • If your child’s school does not make regular AHERA updates, request for them to do so. You can also request to see the asbestos management plan required by the act.
  • Read all product labels on children’s cosmetics and school supplies and check for any recalls. Products containing talc could also be contaminated with asbestos because the two minerals often co-occur in the ground.
  • If a company has had recalls in the past, avoid them. Check public interest groups like USPRIG for frequent reporting on where toxins may be found.

There are many things to be aware of during the fall season, particularly the safety of our children. Take Mesothelioma Awareness Day and Healthy Lung Month as times to educate yourself on hidden toxins and how to prevent contact with your child or student on a daily basis.

 


Guest Author:
Sarah Wolverton is a cancer advocate for Mesothelioma.com, where she brings attention to carcinogens people come into contact with every day.

Twitter: https://twitter.com/CancerAlliance

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/MesotheliomaCancer

Editor’s Note:
This blog contains views, and positions of the author, and does not represent Safe and Sound Schools. Information provided in this blog is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Safe and Sound Schools accepts no liability for any omissions, errors, or representations. The copyright to this content belongs to the author and any liability with regards to infringement of intellectual property rights remains with them.

The first day of school is special in so many ways. The energy, enthusiasm and excitement as students enter the doors of the school is palpable. The crispness of waxed hallways, fresh paint and eye popping “Welcome Back!” bulletin boards bring a sense of renewal after the summer break. On those first days, I hope you take a moment and hit the “pause button” – if only for a few seconds – step back, listen, watch. In that moment take stock of the relationships inside your school. It is the people and those relationships that makes your school a special place for teachers to teach and students to learn. As the new year begins, it is those relationships that will ultimately define the quality of the education and personal growth experienced by each student. It will also be those relationships that define the culture of your school.

Over the years I have observed a number of great strategies to build and grow the relationships needed to influence and sustain a strong school culture. Below are three of my personal favorites you may want to consider as the new school year begins.

Front Porch Visits: One of the most impressive relationship building strategies I have encountered as both a parent and school administrator is the utilization of “front porch visits” by classroom teachers prior to or shortly after the start of the school year. I love the terminology, unlike a home visit, which can be intimidating and inconvenient for some families, the “front porch visit” is exactly as the name implies. The teacher schedules a time to drop by and have a visit sitting or standing outside the front door as opposed to going inside the home. This simple gesture of good will brings down barriers and gives teachers the opportunity to start building a relationship with the children and parents early.  It also gives teachers a chance to see first-hand where each child is coming from before entering their classroom each day. That experience alone not only builds relationships, but also provides perspective.

Every Kid, Every Day: Over the years I have been in many meetings where the question has been asked, are we sure every student in our school has a meaningful relationship with an adult in our school? We know it is important, but also know it is easier said than done. One of the best programs I’ve seen in my career was at Eastmorland Elementary School in Joplin, MO. The staff wanted to be sure their kids had adult relationships inside the school beyond just the classroom teacher. Eastmorland’s solution? They identified all the adults in the building (Cooks, counselor, nurse, secretary, remedial teachers, custodians, principal, etc.) and assigned each adult a small group of students for the year to connect with on a daily basis. If nothing else, just to say, “Hi! How are you doing today?” This proved to be impactful to build a stronger sense of community inside the school.

Student Empowerment: As adults, we want to be empowered to make decisions and be a part of the problem-solving process. Our children and youth are no different. Service learning – hands on, curriculum based, student led, service projects grounded in relevancy – is a powerful tool to prepare students for the future. Your community wants and needs to see our youth problem solving and leading the way. And yes…even kindergarteners can be engaged and empowered. The schools with the strongest cultures have student empowerment built into the culture of their school and continuously seek out ways to keep students engaged in the school community.

Without question, you and your colleagues profoundly impact our children and families. It may sound cliché, but it stands true – your work makes a difference. It’s the development, management and engagement of those relationships that light the way to an outstanding school year.


About the Author:

CJ Huff is the retired Superintendent of Joplin Schools and Special Advisor for Education and Community Leadership at Safe and Sound Schools.

When parents put their children on a school bus each morning, they are entrusting bus drivers, teachers, classroom aids and administrators with the health and safety of their children. School is supposed to be a secure, happy place for children to learn, grow, make friends and flourish, but when there are toxins in your children’s school supplies, this environment can become dangerous, and in some cases, even life-threatening. Below are some of the worst toxins your children may come in contact with at school, and how you can limit or prevent this exposure.

Benzene

Many children will only agree to go back to school shopping if they are allowed to pick out fun supplies for their classes. For many kids, this can mean glitter pens and scented markers, but parents beware. A carcinogen known as benzene has been found in many brands of dry erase markers, and can harm your children if they even smell the tips of scented magic markers or dry erase markers.

Asbestos

If your children attend a school built before 1970, the walls, floors and ceilings are most likely lined with asbestos-containing insulation. Your children will probably not know they have even come in contact with asbestos, but even trace amounts of secondhand exposure to these fibers can cause mesothelioma. This incurable cancer will eventually manifest in the lining of the lungs, stomach and heart. It typically takes between 20 and 50 years to show symptoms, which are vague, but can include weight loss, chest pain and difficulty breathing.

This poisonous chemical has also been found in many packs of crayons, which makes it especially harmful for children. As the wax from the crayons comes in contact with paper, it disturbs this harmful substance and puts students at risk. If you are concerned about your children being exposed to asbestos from their classrooms or school buildings, attend a PTA or school board meeting to inquire about asbestos management. Schools are legally required to have an asbestos management plan in place and parents are allowed to request access to this plan at any time.

Lead

The most commonly known classroom toxin is lead, which was once used in interior paint, pencils, and mixed into the metal that was used to create desks and chairs. Now, however, lead is being found in different materials that students bring to class. Lead has been discovered in the plastic that comprises both water bottles and lunch boxes, which can potentially make your little one’s food and drinks hazardous.

Lead has been phased out of most metals and even paints, but can still be found in many plastic compounds. To ensure that your children’s lunches do not come into contact with lead, a paper bagged lunch is a safer alternative.

To keep your children protected from toxic chemicals and substances they can come into contact with at school, research the school supplies they will need for classes before you purchase anything, and try to use BPA and additive-free plastics when possible. Your children deserve to be as safe at school as they are in your arms.


Guest Author:
Emily Walsh is the Community Outreach Director for the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance (MCA) where her advocacy work helps people become aware of what toxins they are exposed to and how to make simple changes for a healthier life. Emily’s main focus is spreading the word about asbestos to all vulnerable communities to make sure they are aware of the material’s potential health impacts. You can follow MCA on Facebook or Twitter.

Editor’s Note:
This blog contains views, and positions of the author, and does not represent Safe and Sound Schools. Information provided in this blog is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Safe and Sound Schools accepts no liability for any omissions, errors, or representations. The copyright to this content belongs to the author and any liability with regards to infringement of intellectual property rights remains with them

Lisa Hamp is a survivor of the Virginia Tech shooting that took place on April 16, 2007. Today, Lisa speaks and writes about her experience surviving and recovering from the Virginia Tech shooting to help others.

I remember as a kid when I used to get excited for a new school year. I would look forward to back-to-school shopping, new clothes, and new school supplies. I would look forward to finding out my class schedule, and which friends I was going to have class with.

My heart aches for the students who aren’t going to have that this year. My heart aches for the students who have survived a school tragedy and don’t want to return to school. My heart aches for those who have witnessed school violence and are experiencing high anxiety as they are fearful to return to school this year.

I grew up in middle-to-upper class suburbia. Helicopter parents, and chain restaurants. Kids wearing Abercrombie and moms driving minivans. I felt safe all the time. But on April16, 2007, that sense of safety was stripped from me. I was sitting in class at Virginia Tech when I heard an unfamiliar popping sound. It sounded like gunfire. During the next eleven minutes, my classmates and I laid on the floor pushing the desks and chairs against the door while the gunman shot at our door and tried to push it open. In those terrible minutes, the gunman killed 30 students and professors in the building, and wounded and traumatized many more.

My recovery journey was far from perfect, but I eventually found my way through the fog. When I reflect on recovery, I realize I learned a lot about counseling, boundaries, confidence, self-care, and feelings. This stuff isn’t taught in school. You learn it by observing those around you.

For those of you who have survived a school shooting or witnessed school violence, I want to share with you what I learned as you return to the school this year.

First, going back to school was harder than I expected. I had a tremendous fear of a shooting happening again. Many people would tell me that it wouldn’t happen again, but I thought to myself, “they don’t know that.” I finally had to accept that there is no guarantee it won’t happen again.

Second, I learned to feel the uncomfortable feelings. I felt survivor’s guilt, fear, anxiety, loneliness, helplessness and self-doubt. I learned that these feelings were telling me something. They were telling me that I didn’t feel safe. Even though I hadn’t been shot, I had been hurt. As time passed, I was able to rebuild that sense of safety, and acknowledge my own wounds.

Third, I found good listeners. My recovery made great strides when I began connecting with others affected by school tragedy. These people helped me feel less lonely. We bonded. We connected on a level deeper than I connected with some of my closest family and friends.

If you have suffered a traumatic experience in school, getting back in the classroom may be one of the biggest challenges in your life. So here’s my advice: Trust your gut. Listen to your feelings. Write in a journal. Talk to your friends. Hug your friends. Trust yourself. Resist the urge to compare yourself to others. Ask to step out of class when it feels uncomfortable. You got this! And remember, you are not alone.


Lisa Hamp, is a survivor, a wife and mother, and national level speaker with Safe and Sound Schools. Learn more about her experiences and work with Safe and Sound Schools at http://www.kirklandproductions.com/lisa-hamp.html.

By: John McDonald, Executive Director for Security and Emergency Management, Jefferson County Public Schools, Colorado

Now that school is underway and teachers, students, and staff are settling into their new routines, educators have a responsibility to foster a proactive healthy awareness of school safety. From my years working in security and emergency management, particularly my years in the Jefferson County school district in Colorado, I have developed a quick back-to-school safety checklist. These are the first-five items we tackle at the beginning of every school year.

I hope they are helpful to you, as teachers, staff, and administrators, in setting the tone for the new year. And if any parents or students are reading this, I encourage you to share it with your school. I wish you all a productive, smart, fun, and safe school year.

As soon as you can (as close to the first day as you can make it), every student needs to be taught what your emergency protocols are in the school. What is lockdown? Where is the evacuation area? What is expected? And if you are in a school where students change classes, you should review exits and protocols in every class as circumstances may change depending on the physical layout.

Reconnect with your Police and Fire Department to talk strategy and expectations during emergencies. While you are at it, find a time for your local emergency management personnel to talk to the rest of the school and parent community, too.

Challenge students to find one act of random kindness they can do. When you see something positive, find a way to reward them or lift their actions up. This sets the tone for a supportive and inclusive environment, which not only promotes learning, it makes our schools safer, too.

Double check that every classroom is clearly numbered on the inside and outside. If you know where you, then first responders will more easily know how to get to you. Make sure you have a “go” bag of supplies in case you need to evacuate quickly. It’s also a good idea to restock some supplies in the unlikely event you need to shelter in place.

Schedule – and then conduct – a lockdown drill in the first month of the school year. Take your time and do it right. Stop timing the drill. Use the time to train for success and survival. This is about your life and the life of students and staff. Make it count.

Hear more from John about his experiences in this video interview.

One of the key takeaways from the 2018 State of School Safety Report illustrates a lack of communication and misunderstanding about school safety among parents, students, and educators.

Safe and Sound Schools is addressing this need with some quick, simple ideas for how parents can get more involved. We hope you can use these ideas as a start in your community.

1. Form a Parent Safety Team within your school community. This could be the organizing body for safety activities and communications throughout the year. You can also tap into the Safety Team to have discussions with leaders and administrators to share the programs and resources from Safe and Sound Schools. Another idea is to bring administrators the State of School Safety Report to learn about how your school compares to our findings.

2. Conduct a Survey in Your Community. This will help your school community get a better sense of what concerns they have, as well as what assets already exist. Perhaps you have a parent who is also a public safety officer, or another who is a mental health expert, or one who has been studying the influence of media on our youth. You might find some real gems and people who can enrich your community’s knowledge.

3. Fundraise for Safety. One way to help fund subject matter expert presentations and workshops, and safety improvements is to tap into the power of parent networks for fundraising. Asking friends, family members, and neighbors to support school safety for your children will help defray costs while having a tangible benefit to the community. Have a bake sale or lemonade stand, run a “Change for School Safety” collection drive, start a GoFundMe page, sell tickets to a talent show, or even hold a silent auction. A little bit spread over a broad network will go a long way.

4. Organize Volunteers. Launch a volunteer program at your school designed to have more adults on hand during busy moments such as arrival, dismissal, or lunchtime. Make an effort to get as many parents CORI-certified as possible to strengthen your volunteer force.

5. Tip Reporting. Check in with your school to see if they have an anonymous tip-reporting system. Help them promote the tool through posters, announcements, and even guest speakers. If they don’t have a system, help them get one. Giving students, staff, teachers and administrators a safe way to report concerns will increase the likelihood of stopping a security threat before it starts.

School safety isn’t one person’s responsibility, it is the responsibility of every school community member. As parents, we should have a seat at the table and play an active, present role in ensuring the safety of our students. For more ideas, visit our Parents for Safe Schools page.