Nazi salute, antisemitic lessons and conspiracy theories embraced by the likes of Kanye West taught at a Hayward high school

A 10th grade teacher has been placed on leave after teaching antisemitism — two months after it was initially reported to the school.

A Hayward high school teacher accused of spreading antisemitic conspiracies and making the Heil Hitler salute during classes has been placed on administrative leave this week after students complained to the district about the lessons late last year.

Though students alerted both school and district staff about English teacher Henry Bens’ curriculum in December, the teacher continued to instruct his 10th graders until this week, according to teachers and students at Mt. Eden High School. The school is now on break, but according to the Hayward Unified School District, Bens will not be returning to the classroom on Monday.

The controversy comes amid an alarming rise in antisemitism fueled recently, in part, by celebrities such as Kanye West and NBA star Kyrie Irving. Last year, Irving promoted an extremist documentary film that the Hayward teacher later featured on social media.

“He told us: You’re willfully blind,” said one of his students, 16-year-old Myldret Vazquez. “He said he was going to help us uncover the other side of the story.”

As first reported by the Jewish News of Northern California, Bens taught Elie Weisel’s Holocaust memoir, Night, alongside photocopies of The Hidden Tyranny, an antisemitic text by Holocaust-denier Benjamin Freedman. According to Vazquez, Bens told students to alternate reading portions of the material out loud and guided them to highlight specific sections.

At first, Vazquez was confused: She was being told that a secret organization of Jewish people was controlling the mass media, blackmailing American presidents and instigating war. Vazquez left class determined not to read on — but, worried that there would be a test on the topic, she finished the assignment when she got home.

“I continued to read through it, and I began to understand it a little bit more,” Vazquez said. “And then I was like, ‘Is that possible?’ ”

Ultimately, Vazquez decided it was not. She let Carmelita — her dachshund puppy — rip up her copy of The Hidden Tyranny. But Ruchita Verma, a senior at Mt. Eden who tutors 10th graders at the school, said she’s heard multiple stories of students believing Bens’ instruction.

“Students were saying, ‘Well you know, the Holocaust wasn’t even real,’ ” said Verma, referring to a story she’d been told by another classmate. “(They said) ‘What my teacher (Bens) is telling us is what we should all look into.’ ”

Bens did not respond to repeated requests for comment via phone call or email. The school district is now conducting an investigation into his instruction. Lauren McDermott, who leads communications for the Hayward Unified School District, said she did not know if or when Bens will return to Mt. Eden.

“We take these allegations very seriously, and the teacher alleged to have made such statements and used inappropriate materials is currently on a leave of absence,” said the district.

But according to Heather Eastwood, another English teacher at Mt. Eden, the administration repeatedly said they couldn’t do anything about Bens’ curriculum because of “academic freedom” — the idea that teachers have a right to express ideas without interference or professional disadvantage.

“They’ve also been saying they can’t do anything to discipline him because the union will protect him,” Eastwood said. “I said to an administrator: That’s the same thing as saying you’re not going to prosecute someone for a crime because they are going to have a defense attorney. That’s not how it works.”

Some students also feel something should have been done sooner. Two 10th graders who had complained about Bens were moved to another classroom, but those who remained also began to speak up. They recorded his lectures, took photos of their assignments and spoke out at school board meetings, urging the district to take action on not just The Hidden Tyranny assignment but other things the teacher said in class. And they created a Google Form to poll their classmates about their experiences in Bens’ lessons.

“Multiple students have come forward to share that they are in a learning space in which their teacher performs the Hitler salute,” Verma told the school board last week. “We are asking for you to help make our school a better place by ensuring our students are in safe classrooms.”

Vazquez said Bens made that salute multiple times in the classroom and — referring to alleged Israeli war crimes during a lecture on Palestine — asked students to consider what they would do if Bens broke into a house, killed all the men and raped all the women.

“If I was alive during Hitler’s time, I would have an interview with him,” said Bens in an audio file that was recorded by his students. “I would let him share his views.”

She also said the teacher told his students he was worried that everyone on Earth would become gay and that, ultimately, the population of the world would die out. Multiple LGBTQ+ students were in the classroom for that conversation, Vazquez said.

Bens’ social media profiles highlight materials — including Hebrews to Negroes, a film largely accepted as antisemitic — that are connected to the Black Hebrew Israelite religious sect. Black Hebrew Israelites do not align themselves with Judaism but claim that African Americans are the descendants of an ancient tribe in Israel. And though not all Black Hebrew Israelites are antisemitic, extremists within the movement “believe white Jews are perpetuating identity theft,” according to the Anti-Defamation League.

Bens, who is Black, is a pastor at Congregation Rehoboth in Alameda, a synagogue that celebrates shabbat and uses Hebrew characters in its religious readings, as documented by its Facebook live streams. In the “About” section, the synagogue states they are followers of Yeshua, the Hebrew name for Jesus.

The Black Hebrew Israelite movement has grown in America since West and Irving latched onto some of its more extreme ideologies. After Irving shared the film Hebrews to Negroes on social media last year, he was suspended by the Brooklyn Nets for eight basketball games. He returned to the court in November, and outside the stadium, a group of Black Hebrew Israelites marched in celebration.

“We are the real Jews, and that’s some good news,” the crowd chanted.

According to the Anti-Defamation League, West’s influence has led to at least 30 antisemitic incidents since October of 2022, building on a spike nationwide. During 2021, antisemitic assaults, harassment and vandalism hit an all-time high in the United States, according to the Anti-Defamation League. The organization recorded a total of 2,717 incidents throughout that year — a 34% increase from 2020.

“We hear on a weekly basis about really disturbing antisemitic incidents that take place here, even in the Bay Area,” said Teresa Drenick, the ADL’s deputy regional director. “But to see a teacher in one of our public schools assigning and teaching from a text of this nature, that shocked all of us.”

Click here to read the full article in the Mercury News

California’s Parent Revolution Will Impact Midterm Election Outcomes

The realization that California schools had become indoctrination centers stunned millions of parents

The parent revolution in California could impact and maybe even determine the outcomes of more than just school board races this November.

The awakening of California parents during Gov. Gavin Newsom’s lockdowns of schools across the state can only be described as a revolution. The upheaval of the locked-down California family made many parents realize that the seemingly good, safe public schools they were sending their kids to in working and middle-class neighborhoods, were not that at all.

The realization that California schools had become indoctrination centers stunned millions of parents.

Recently released educational assessment data shows that California performed better than most other states and the nation from 2019-22 on the National Assessment of Educational Progress data, the Globe reported.

Fewer than half of California students met the state standard in English, and only one-third of students met statewide standards for mathematics.

“From 2020 to 2022, reading scores for nine-year-olds on the National Assessment for Educational Progress (NAEP), often referred to as the nation’s report card, registered the largest decline since the 1990s, while math scores declined for the first time ever,” education scholars Lance Izumi and Wenyuan Wu recently reported. “These score comparisons were the first nationally representative snapshot of student learning during the pandemic.”

They know what they are talking about. Izumi is senior director of the Center for Education at the Pacific Research, and Wu is executive director of Californians for Equal Rights Foundation. They are co-authors of an upcoming book on critical race theory in K-12 schools.

The continue: “While school closures and ineffective distance-learning efforts were important reasons for the slide in test scores, former North Carolina governor Beverly Perdue, who chairs the board responsible for the NAEP, warned, ‘We can’t keep blaming COVID.’”

Indeed. This is where indoctrination enters the scene:

  • Critical race theory
  • Sexualized, pornographic indoctrination
  • Using race to undermine teacher quality

In 2019, the California State Board of Education approved highly controversial changes to the state’s health and sex education framework including teaching children about bondage, anal sex, pederasty, sex trafficking, sexual orientation and transgender and non-conforming students, the Globe reported.

What is being taught as sex ed to California school children ironically cannot be spoken on television or radio without violating Federal Communications Commission (FCC) regulations.

Izumi and Wu further explain:

“The National Education Association (NEA), the largest teachers’ union in the country, pushes the critical race theory-inspired position that systemic racism permeates all American institutions and must be taught in our schools so that kids challenge “the systems of oppression that have harmed people of color.” In 2021, the NEA adopted a resolution that would mandate race-based ideological instruction in public schools across the country.”

Notably, Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida, a frequent target of Gov. Gavin Newsom, has eliminated “critical race theory” from curricula in its schools. “The Florida Department of Education has released examples of what it calls ‘problematic’ material that led it to ban dozens of math textbooks — including a lesson with an algebra graph measuring racial prejudice,” the NY Post reported. Gov. DeSantis took charge after parents were outraged at the indoctrination and even exposure to dangerous and divisive concepts under the guise of public education curricula. California students are being fed a steady diet of CRT, vile sex indoctrination, “unconscious bias,” while being deprived of U.S. History, English, Math, and real Science.

In California, the Democrat dominated Legislature killed a bill that would have made sexual education in public schools an ‘opt-in’ program. SB 673, authored by then-Senator Mike Morrell (R-Rancho Cucamonga), would have required permission slips filled out by parents to allow children to go to sex ed classes up through the sixth grade.

As Izumi noted in a recent op ed, “Whatever the results of the midterm elections, the new Congress will face many old problems, especially in education.  Yet, despite the seemingly intractable nature of these problems, there are important actions that Congress can take to meet the needs and concerns of parents and their children.”

Izumi says two million students have un-enrolled from the public schools over the last couple years and why, for example, 50,000 students simply failed to show up on the first day of school in Los Angeles.

Parents are voting with their feet that they want more education options for their children, not just the one-size-fits-all often failing public school system.

He outlines how Congress can help increase the educational choices for families:

  • Cut Biden Administration regulations to Charter schools, and better fund them. The federal Charter School Program, which sends federal dollars to charter schools, has had stagnant funding for years;
  • Increase educational options by allowing parents to choose the education option that best suits the needs of children, and fund the child;
  • Enact a tax credit that individuals can claim when they make donations to organizations that award scholarships to students for expenses related to attending their school of their choice.
  • Improve accountability and transparency for federal education programs by requiring that federal databases explain the purpose and impact of federal education spending.

“When federal education programs are shown not to work, then they should be eliminated,” Izumi adds.

As for California students, they should be proficient in reading and math Izumi says, and they aren’t even close. Proficient merely means they should be able or competent at reading and math. Less than half of California students met the state standard in English, and only one-third of students met statewide standards for mathematics.

“This is a condemnation of the policies Gov. Newsom and his sycophants were foisting on parents and children,” Izumi said.

California politicians need to recognize the parent revolution and heed Izumi’s and Wu’s recommendations and warnings.

Click here to read the full article at the California Globe

Amid Ominous Signs, California Releases First Student Test Scores Since the Pandemic

Today Californians get their first statewide look at test scores measuring the toll the pandemic took on students — and the way state education officials have handled the rollout provides plenty of clues that the news won’t be good.

Earlier this fall the state Education Department refused a media request to immediately release the scores, saying it would do so by the end of 2022. That fueled speculation that the agency’s head, Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond, was delaying the release until after his November re-election bid. Eventually the department reversed course and agreed to release the data.

But it did so in a way guaranteed to complicate coverage. Reporters received the data Sunday morning, under a news embargo until 10 a.m. today. Typically, they use that embargo time to interview district officials and education experts — so releasing test score data when those sources are unavailable hinders reporters’ ability to analyze and contextualize an important measurement of the pandemic’s impact on California’s public school students.

“I can’t read minds, but it does give the appearance of trying to conceal the data,” said David Loy, legal director of the First Amendment Coalition. “It’s not uncommon that government at all levels will release data or other news when it’s inconvenient for media.”

It’s also likely not a coincidence that the state results will be released to the public the same day scores on a different test, the National Assessment of Educational Progress, were unveiled just past midnight on the East Coast. That test, taken by a much smaller sample of California students, allows comparisons between all states — and showed an achievement drop in every single one.

But Gov. Gavin Newsom immediately issued a press release highlighting the fact that California students overall didn’t fare as poorly as those in most other states. Anyone hoping to divine how divergent state pandemic policies impacted academic achievement will find these national results confounding: California fared about the same as Florida and Texas, two states that rushed to return to in-person learning.

Not so California, where state officials deferred to local control. Citing health concerns, schools here generally continued remote learning long after students in many other states had returned to their classrooms. 

Unlike the national test, California’s Smarter Balanced tests are given to almost all students in grades three through eight and grade eleven every year. They measure whether students have mastered state standards for math and English language arts. The scores the state is releasing are for the 2021-22 school year, the first year that all students in the designated grades were required to take the tests since the start of the pandemic.

Click here to read the full article in CalMatters

Fauci Claims Innocence on School Shutdowns: ‘I Had Nothing to Do with It’

Dr. Anthony Fauci, who recently announced he would be leaving his government post as White House chief medical adviser, claimed innocence on the fallout from school shutdowns, namely dramatic learning loss among K-12 students, in an interview that aired Sunday.

Speaking to ABC News, the nation’s chief immunologist denied that he had any responsibility in driving the public health consensus that schools should have discontinued in-person instruction for many months on end as a Covid-19 mitigation measure.

“Was it a mistake in so many states, in so many localities, to see schools closed as long as they were?” host Jonathan Karl asked.

“I don’t want to use the word ‘mistake’ John because if I do it gets taken out of the context that you’re asking me the question on,” Fauci replied. “Could there be too high a price?” Karl clarified, likely referencing the plummeting academic performance, social isolation, and mental health crisis that school closures fueled.

“What we should realize, and have realized, is that there will be deleterious collateral consequences when you do something like that,” he said. “The idea that this virus doesn’t affect children is not so. We’ve already lost close to 1500 kids so far.”

Karl interjected, “But much less than the older population obviously.” Despite the fact that children faces significantly lower risk of developing severe health complications after contracting Covid-19, they were forced to mask in schools for nearly two years. New York City only recently dropped its mask mandate for public pre-school and daycare kids.

Fauci reminded Karl that he, allegedly, repeatedly urged school districts to keep schools open as long as possible. “No one plays that clip. They always say ‘Fauci was responsible for closing schools.’ I had nothing to do [with it]. I mean, let’s get down to the facts,” he asserted.

Click here to read the full article at National Review

In Nonpartisan Race for California Superintendent of Public Instruction, It’s All Politics

The superintendent of public instruction is the only nonpartisan statewide office in California, but it seems impossible to separate politics from the race between Democratic incumbent Tony Thurmond and Republican challenger Lance Christensen.

Neither shy away from stepping into the partisan fray.

As superintendent, Thurmond, who was elected in 2018 after a term in the California Assembly, has been in lockstep with Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom. He has promoted LGBTQ-inclusive books in school libraries amid fights against them in some Republican-led states; issued a statement supporting abortion rights after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe vs. Wade and launched discussions about institutional racism after the police killing of George Floyd.

Christensen, an education and government affairs director for the conservative California Policy Center, has railed against Newsom, teachers unions, comprehensive sex education, critical race theory and masks in schools during COVID-19. Unlike Thurmond, he opposes a November ballot measure to secure abortion access in the California constitution.

Christensen, who also has state Capitol experience as a staffer to Republican lawmakers, said that politics don’t matter in the race for state superintendent. 

“I’m not running as a Republican. It’s not partisan, it all comes down to ideology,” he said. “My ideology is such that I just really believe that parents own their children and have full control over them, not some bureaucrat.”

Thurmond disagrees that the politics don’t matter. 

“I think that he’s articulating dangerous messages that actually would have a negative impact on many of our students. We need to prevent young people from being coopted in these hateful messages,” Thurmond said of Christensen. “If you come in attacking teachers as he has, attacking social groups, how is he going to build any coalition to support the important work that needs to be done?”

For Thurmond, who has had a tumultuous first term as superintendent, Christensen’s politics could work in his favor. 

Thurmond has endorsements from the influential California Teachers Association and the California Democratic Party in a state where a likeminded supermajority reigns. Those endorsements come despite allegations of a toxic workplace and criticism for hiring a friend on the East Coast to helm a top-paying state Department of Education position.

Thurmond’s team pointed to Christensen’s affiliation with the Bradley Impact Fund as one reason why he should not be elected. According to his 700 forms, last year Christensen was paid $2,050 by the conservative organization, which has promoted baseless election fraud claims in support of former president Donald Trump.

Christensen said that “is not relevant at all,” and though he is outspoken about his conservative views, he laments the focus on his political stances that aren’t directly tied to the operation of California’s K-12 schools and success of its near 6 million students.

“Donald Trump has zero to do with what I’m trying to accomplish here, but because I have an ‘R’ behind my name, that’s what they’re going to hit me with,” Christensen said.

Unlike in most states, the superintendent of public instruction in California is elected by voters instead of appointed by the governor. 

The superintendent oversees the California Department of Education, which employs more than 2,000 employees and ensures schools stay in compliance with a slew of policies, including how they spend state dollars.

But local school boards and county superintendents have much say over what happens in their districts, and in many ways, the Legislature and state school board have more power over education in the state than the superintendent of public instruction.

Arguably, the SPI’s greatest power is the bully pulpit, as they can fight for the ear of the governor and lawmakers to influence policy and provide guidance to local districts.

If elected in November, Christensen said he will appoint a “chief parent advocate” to influence education policy. He has also vowed to audit state Education Department dollars to slim down “bureaucratic bloat”; overhaul what he calls archaic education code and give even more authority to district superintendents in a state that is already pro-local control. 

Thurmond, if reelected, has vowed to ensure that every current kindergartener — more than 450,000 students — can read by the third grade by 2026. Currently, less than half of California’s third-graders read at sufficient levels, according to the latest state test scores. The third grade is viewed by educators as a crucial academic marker when students go from “learning to read” to “reading to learn.”

Thurmond also has goals of hiring 10,000 new counselors in schools. He pointed to legislation he sponsored to acquire funding in the latest state budget for programs focused on mental health workers as one of his proudest accomplishments, citing the need for emotional support for youth.

“The most important thing that a state superintendent can do is find ways to work with the governor and the Legislature to get resources for districts,” he said. “It’s about understanding all the parts of how you get policy done and how you get revenue.”

Christensen does not see Thurmond’s past as a state lawmaker as a benefit, but a detriment. Parents are tired of the status quo and lifetime politicians, he said. 

“They all universally say it’s not acceptable,” Christensen said of parents he’s met on the campaign trail discussing the state of public education in California. “[Thurmond] is absolutely ineffective.”

The odds are in Thurmond’s favor. He has 20 times more campaign funding than Christensen, raising $1.7 million in direct contributions alone. The California Teachers Association has put more than $1 million into an independent expenditure committee to reelect him. 

And not a single Republican has been elected for statewide office in California since 2006.

But incumbency has its downfalls too. Thurmond must answer tough questions about declining enrollment, a teacher shortage, alarming standardized test scores and how the state plans to correct pandemic setbacks. 

“Even though it’s not something I have direct control over, I knew day one that I would get blamed for all kinds of things that would be out of my control. But that’s OK, I’m deeply committed to having young people have success,” he said. “I don’t spend a lot of time trying to explain it away. At the end of the day, people have a right to be upset and we have to be very focused on that.” 

Christensen believes that voters care about Thurmond’s record enough to vote him out, including parents frustrated with the state’s handling of school closures and distance learning during the COVID-19 pandemic under his leadership. Thurmond was criticized for not being out in front of pandemic issues, unlike superintendents in other states.

While Thurmond could have won the race in the June primary had he garnered enough votes, he fell short of the 50% needed, securing about 46%. Christensen came in second place, with nearly 12% of the votes.

This superintendent race pales in comparison to the 2018 election, when Thurmond and fellow Democratic candidate Marshall Tuck sparred in a close, $60-million competition focused on charter schools.

Like Tuck, Christensen supports charter schools — his children have attended them. Thurmond supported teachers unions in their fight against them, promoting a law signed in 2019 that cracked down on regulations and standards for the non-traditional public schools.

Click here to read the full article in the LA Times

In Lawsuit Over Distance Learning, Parents Accuse San Diego Schools of Violating Constitution

Five of San Diego County’s largest school districts and one charter school were sued last week by parents who say the schools failed to provide adequate instruction to their children during distance learning two years ago in what they allege was a violation of their constitutional rights.

Twenty parents and guardians filed the federal lawsuit against San Diego Unified, Sweetwater Union High, Chula Vista Elementary, Grossmont Union High, La Mesa-Spring Valley and the Helix High charter school in La Mesa. Those schools altogether enroll 184,400 students, almost 40 percent of the county’s public school students.

The lawsuit is one of several that California parents have previously filed against state and school district officials over distance learning since the pandemic began.

The defendant school districts and Helix High declined to comment on the pending litigation. Some said they are still reviewing the lawsuit.

In the lawsuit, which is seeking class-action status, the parents say the schools failed to provide the minimum number of hours of instruction and components of distance learning required by state law during the 2020-21 school year, when schools were closed for months at a time due to COVID-19. For example, some parents said their children sometimes went whole school days without a check-in or instruction from their teacher.

“During the COVID-19 related school closures, children were too often ignored by the public schools that were required to educate them,” said Marc Levine, a Los Angeles-based attorney representing the parent plaintiffs, in an email. “We are hopeful that, as a result of this action, these children will be given an opportunity to reverse the excessive learning loss they have experienced.”

State law required schools to provide three to four hours of instruction each school day during distance learning, depending on the student’s grade level. Those three to four hours of daily online instruction did not have to consist entirely of live instruction; instead, those hours were to be based on the time value of assignments given.

For distance learning, schools had to provide students with computers, adequate internet connectivity, academic content that was on par with what they would have received during in-person learning, special education services if needed, and daily live interaction with teachers, which could involve online or telephone communication.

The lawsuit also accuses the districts and Helix of violating state law by offering only distance learning to the vast majority of their students for much of the 2020-2021 school year. The plaintiffs point to a state law that said schools and districts “shall offer in-person instruction, and may offer distance learning.”

The plaintiffs allege that the defendant schools failed to provide sufficient distance learning and violated the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment.

During the 2020-2021 year, many schools and districts were at times blocked from reopening for general in-person learning by state public health officials.

Schools and districts were allowed to provide small-group, in-person instruction to certain students. But many were barred from reopening to general in-person learning until COVID-19 levels declined in their areas if they had not reopened for in-person learning during the fall of 2020.

Some districts, including San Diego Unified, Chula Vista Elementary, Sweetwater Union High and La Mesa-Spring Valley, chose to delay reopening for weeks after the state allowed them to reopen, citing continuing COVID-19 health risks.

Parents across California have filed multiple similar lawsuits arguing that public schools provided low-quality education during distance learning.

One of the most publicized lawsuits filed against Gov. Gavin Newsom in July 2020 argued that the forced school closures and distance learning violated their children’s due process and equal protection rights under the 14th Amendment.

An appeals court sided last year with a lower court that rejected those claims for public school parents and had ruled that the 14th Amendment does not recognize a fundamental right to a public education.

Click here to read the full article at the San Diego Union Tribune

How Did California Schools Spend Billions in COVID Aid?

Imagine your boss giving you a check equal to four months salary and telling you to spend it quickly or risk giving it back. That in essence is what leaders in Sacramento and Washington did for California schools after the COVID-19 pandemic abruptly shutdown classrooms.

The result was a series of stimulus measures that allocated $33.5 billion in state and federal funds, a staggering amount of one-time funding for the state’s cash-strapped schools, equal to a third of all the money they got the year before the pandemic.

So how did they spend it? Billions have gone to things like laptops, air filters and mental health counselors – money to help kids. But much of the funding has come with limited oversight and little transparency, according to an investigation by CalMatters, a nonprofit news organization.

Of the $5.9 billion local education agencies have spent so far from the largest of the stimulus funds, more than a quarter went to a category for “other” expenses, according to the state.

“I’m just not sure anyone has a good handle on how this money was spent,” said John Affeldt, managing attorney at Public Advocates who works on educational equity issues.

CalMatters spent three months examining school COVID relief spending across the state, reviewing thousands of pages of records obtained through more than 45 public records requests.

The records offer a unique glimpse at how school leaders grappled with the generational challenge of COVID in dollars and cents. In the East Bay, for example, Castro Valley Unified spent most of its stimulus money on payroll. On the Peninsula, Burlingame schools spent more than $300,000 on Chromebooks. In Southern California, El Centro Elementary School District spent $3.8 million to install shade structures for outdoor eating, school assemblies and teaching space, and Long Beach Unified spent nearly $13,000 on music recorders.

The records also reveal the other pandemic winners – companies that reaped millions as overwhelmed districts, suddenly flush with cash, started writing checks.

Some are established firms well-positioned to fill massive orders for goods. Others are new ventures launched by savvy entrepreneurs to capture some of the windfall, including a limited liability company headquartered out of a UPS drop box that got a $52 million no-bid COVID testing contract in San Diego.

One chain of virtual charter schools gave $11 million – nearly two-thirds of its stimulus spending last year – to the publicly traded, for-profit company affiliated with the schools. And a Southern California public school district spent $440,000 to hire an evangelical group for a program to help at-risk kids.

Other records reveal clear mistakes or misspending. The state told West Contra Costa Unified School District to shift nearly $800,000 in unrestricted funds to reimburse its stimulus money because the district failed to prove certain payroll costs were tied to the pandemic. Oakland Unified had to reimburse nearly $1 million in stimulus money it apparently misspent on things like commercial trucks and a communication system, records show.

Some districts refused to provide CalMatters records showing where their money is going. That includes San Francisco Unified, which got more than $186 million in federal stimulus funds.

And local educational agencies still have billions of dollars of COVID relief left to spend. If they don’t spend it by various deadlines, they may have to return it.

In a written statement to CalMatters, the state Department of Education said it is “encouraged by the impact that stimulus funding is having on the students and schools of California,” and that overseeing the funds is a top priority.

“The department has a robust monitoring system to ensure that (agencies’) expenditures are in accordance with all applicable federal and state requirements,” according to the statement.

Still, it might not be enough. The state auditor’s office criticized oversight in an October report, saying the state is not using the limited data it receives to identify abnormal spending patterns and scrutinize local educational agencies.

“The state Department of Education has not taken a very active role in managing how the money is being spent,” said Kris Patel, supervising auditor who led the team behind the October report.

Money, money, money

Ultimately, California public schools and charters got almost $29 billion in federal stimulus money. Billions more came from state programs lawmakers in Sacramento created.

To get a cross-section of the stimulus spending, CalMatters asked more than 30 school districts for their accounting ledgers. Those districts included the 20 biggest and 10 random agencies across a geographically and demographically diverse swath of the state.

Castro Valley Unified spent $263,000 in stimulus funds on Freedom Soul Media Education Initiatives, an equity consultant, and $93,000 on restorative justice consultants, records show. Santa Ana Unified gave $393,000 to Angels Baseball LP to rent out the major league baseball stadium for last year’s high school graduation festivities.

“There’s a district in the Central Coast area that bought an ice cream truck with their money” to give away ice cream to kids stuck at home during the early days of the pandemic, said Michael Fine, chief executive officer of the Fiscal Crisis and Management Assistance Team, a state-created organization that helps fiscally troubled school districts get their finances in order. “When I was told that I kind of went off.”

One common area of spending was technology. Some districts spent heavily on laptops, hot spots and other hardware, as well as computer programs and support in order to make the switch to virtual schooling when buildings shut down.

Some educators and advocates question the amount of high-tech spending.

“Consulting companies and education service providers have been really aggressive in reaching out to districts to use these funds for new programs that they’re now creating to serve students,” said Amir Whitaker, senior policy counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California.

Pandemic winners

It wasn’t just technology companies that reaped massive paydays from districts flush with stimulus cash. Personal protective equipment vendors and businesses selling indoor air quality products got lots of deals. Firms touting COVID testing-related services also were in high demand.

In September 2021, San Diego Unified’s board ratified a no-bid contract with a firm called Responsive Partners LLC – which formed during the pandemic in April 2020 and lists a UPS drop box in Orange County as its address – to run a COVID testing program. The district amended the contract a few months later and the agreement – which runs through July 30 – is now worth up to $52 million.

The board ratified the initial agreement at a September board meeting with no discussion, a video of the meeting shows. The board approved the amended agreement in January, again, with no public discussion.

School officials say the contract was worth it for a district that’s had a particularly aggressive testing strategy to keep schools open – offering far more tests and testing sites than many other districts.

Curious spending but little oversight

The California Virtual Academies, a chain of nine charter schools across the state, were probably better positioned than most to weather the pandemic. They didn’t need to worry about social distancing or need to suddenly figure out how to teach remotely. That’s because they were already teaching students exclusively online.

So how did the virtual academies use the $18 million in COVID relief money they spent last year? Nearly two-thirds of it – $11 million – went to K12 Management Inc., a subsidiary of the publicly traded corporation that helps run the schools, according to records the schools provided to CalMatters in response to a records request. And while some of that money is listed as going to pay for computers and peripheral equipment for students, $8.6 million went to “student course materials” or “online curriculum” straight from the corporation, the records show.

The charters and their relationship to the parent corporation – Stride Inc., which was formerly known as K12 Inc. – have been the source of past legal problems. In 2016, following an investigation by the Bay Area News Group, the state attorney general’s office announced a $168.5 million settlement with K12 Inc. over allegations the company and schools misled parents to boost enrollment and inflated attendance numbers.

CalMatters spoke to several current or former staff at the virtual academies who worked during the pandemic. They said teachers and counselors were overwhelmed as enrollment grew and questioned why so much money went to the corporation.

In an email, the company told CalMatters that the state didn’t provide additional funding to cover the increased enrollment and that the corporation provides online curriculum, education materials, a learning management system and “a wealth of other items” for students and teachers.

Most districts and schools are facing little scrutiny for their pandemic spending decisions, outside local administrative offices and boardrooms. Last fiscal year, the state Education Department reviewed stimulus spending at 15 local educational agencies – less than a percent of the roughly 1,700 agencies that got stimulus funds. This year the department is reviewing 50.

Those reviews turned up numerous red flags, ranging from poor recordkeeping to outdated conflict-of-interest policies to outright misspending.

Hayward Unified, dinged by state monitors over stimulus spending in a review last year – has been able to resolve most of its findings without losing money. State reviewers identified six issues at the school in fiscal year 2020-21.

Still, it’s taken a long time for the district to prove to the state it didn’t mishandle money. Districts are supposed to resolve findings within 45 days. As of this month, it’s been more than a year, and one finding remains outstanding.

Hayward’s assistant superintendent of Business Services, Allan Garde, wrote in an email to CalMatters that the district has been busy trying to keep schools open and running, and expected to resolve the last of the outstanding issues by the end of this month.

The slow pace of resolution hints at the limits of state authority.

Click here to read the full article in the Mercury News

One-Year Contract Agreement Between S.F. Schools And Teachers Union Offers Up To $10,000 In Bonuses

Working under an expired contract, San Francisco teachers and administrators reached a one-year, stopgap deal late Friday as the district weathers a fiscal crisis.

The tentative contract would give teachers $4,000 in bonuses next year while increasing substitute pay up to $60 per day. The deal also includes a $3,000 bonus for Advanced Placement teachers and another $3,000 for teachers in hard-to-staff schools.

That means a teacher who qualifies for all three could see $10,000 in bonuses next year.

The agreement does not include ongoing raises, other than the guaranteed increases associated with years of experience and education levels, but does offer some immediate financial relief for educators, union officials said.

“Given all of the struggles educators have been through over the past two years, we are relieved that we could get one-time compensation directly to all members, as well as a much needed increase in substitute pay,” Cassondra Curiel, president of the United Educators of San Francisco, said in a joint statement with the district. “We are fighting for the schools our students deserve in a particularly challenging period. This is a step in the right direction.”

The previous teachers’ contract expired in July 2020.

The district is facing a $125 million shortfall next year, as well as a $140 million deficit the year after, leading to an appointed state expert to advise the district and review contract agreements. A staff raise would probably have been rejected by the expert.

“We are living through a moment in history with challenges we have never faced before, and educators continue to inspire us with their resilience and strength,” said Superintendent Vince Matthews. “We are extremely pleased to reach an agreement that supports our educators, our students and our communities.”

The agreement came on the same day the district sent letters to some teachers and other staff advising that they were on a list of people who could get preliminary layoff notices in March.

The school board has adopted a budget plan that is expected to cut $50 million from classrooms, in addition to reductions at the central office and among various programs.

That will include balancing classroom enrollment, to ensure teachers are spread evenly across the district, reducing the number of teachers required. Currently, some teachers have a handful of students, given lower enrollment than expected, while others at different schools have full seats. The school board voted in the fall against shifting teachers to address the disparities.

District officials have said there will probably be staff reductions, although the numbers could change dramatically before official notices go out May.

The tentative deal reached Friday requires approval and is subject to a vote of union members and the school board.

The agreement includes suspending teacher sabbaticals for a year to help mitigate teacher shortages, while also suspending an extra preparation period for Advanced Placement teachers. Those benefits are not standard items in teacher labor agreements and combined cost the district nearly $10 million per year.

The one-year pause on the extra preparation period is arguably the most controversial part of the agreement.

Click here to read the full article at the SF Chronicle

McCarthy, Foxx Demand Biden Ed Boss Cardona Turn Over Teacher Union Emails

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and House Education Committee ranking member Virginia Foxx sent a letter to Education Secretary Miguel Cardona Wednesday demanding copies of emails between his DOE, the White House and the teachers’ unions.

In the letter, obtained by Fox News, the Congressional Republican leaders blasted federal education officials for “radical spending” during the pandemic and accused them of mishandling school closures and billions of dollars of COVID-19 education relief.

“We noted Congress had already appropriated nearly three times the funding the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said was needed to operate schools successfully,” the Republicans wrote.

“Unfortunately, rather than continuing Congress’s bipartisan approach to addressing COVID-19, Democrats advanced their partisan agenda, approving more than $120 billion in additional funding for schools” in last year’s $1.9 billion American Rescue Plan COVID-19 relief bill.

McCarthy and Foxx wrote that Democrats argued “radical spending was necessary for schools to reopen safely for in-person instruction,” but said the claims were proven false by data that showed only 4 percent of the relief funds were used as the vast majority of US schools reopened in the fall, according to the report.

“Despite Democrats’ claims to the contrary, these funds were not needed to reopen schools,” the lawmakers reportedly wrote. “Because of this, some schools are grasping at any project they can find on which to waste these taxpayer funds, including indoctrinating students and staff with racist and divisive ideologies.”

As they accused the Education Department of misappropriating funds, McCarthy and Foxx also called the Biden administration’s handling of academic disruptions “appalling,” as “one million public school students across the country were impacted by district-wide school closures” as 2022 began.

Click here to read the full article at the NY Post

Bill banning ‘Redskins’ mascot heads to governor’s desk

As reported by the Merced Sun-Star:

A bill banning the use of the term “Redskins” as a mascot for public schools is headed to the California governor’s office after passing out of the state assembly Thursday.

Four schools in the state use the mascot: Gustine High in Merced County, Chowchilla High in Madera County, Calaveras High in Calaveras County, and Tulare Union in Tulare County.

Assembly Bill 30, the “California Racial Mascots Act,” on Thursday passed the state Assembly on 54-8 vote. The measure, authored by Assemblyman Luis Alejo, D-Watsonville, would prohibit public schools from using the term for mascots, team names and nicknames.

“As the state with the largest Native American population in the country, we should not continue to allow a racial slur to be used by our public schools,” Alejo said Thursday in …

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