2020
October
01
Thursday

Monitor Daily Podcast

October 01, 2020
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TODAY’S INTRO

School discipline, redefined

Thoughtful exchange can seem in short supply. But the power of what happens when people talk things through, rather than leap into battle, continues to surface.

Take two contrasting stories, both involving schools and Black students.

In Louisiana’s Jefferson Parish, fourth grader Ka Mauri Harrison, who attends school virtually, was taking a test at home when his teacher, observing through the computer's camera, briefly caught sight of a BB gun he moved aside after his brother tripped on it. The teacher filed a report recommending expulsion for violating school weapons policy. That became a six-day suspension. But the hard-line reaction has yielded an investigation by the attorney general, the threat of a suit by the Harrison family, and a young student caught in a heartbreaking firestorm.

Then there's the experience of Rainier Harris, a senior at Regis, a top Roman Catholic high school in Manhattan. He wrote in The New York Times about the painful “casual racism” he experienced there. But then he described a shift that gave him hope.

Last spring, a teacher overheard him venting and asked for names. But instead of expulsions, this time Regis turned to restorative justice. That method “inspires solutions that achieve value and respect for everyone,” Rainier wrote. “It forces an institution to look at community-oriented solutions that make everybody uncomfortable, not just those who are involved. But it’s the only way real change can be made.”

Educators facilitated conversations between Rainier and one offender, a former friend, who apologized. “It felt like progress,” Rainier wrote, “as if I actually made a difference in his life.”

After Breonna Taylor, a rethink of no-knock warrants?

The combination of more invasive policing and more armed civilians has created a kind of crisis instability. This story takes a closer look at the consequences – including for reform. 

Amelia

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The use of “no-knock” or “knock-and-announce” warrants is legal but risky. While there’s no clear data, American police carry out 40,000 to 50,000 no-knock raids each year by some estimates.

As the Breonna Taylor case in Louisville shows, one result can be tragic deaths in a country with both expansive gun rights and expansive police authority. These incidents – a real-time real-time clash over Second and Fourth Amendment rights – often leave no clear heroes or villains. Law enforcement and legislatures nationwide are now wondering whether gun rights can safely coexist with no-knock raids.

“If [police are] going in for something that’s not a life-or-death matter, then you really have to weigh out the pros and cons,” says Ryan Frederick in Richmond, Virginia, who served a lengthy prison sentence for involuntary manslaughter after shooting and killing an officer entering his home in the dead of night. “How dangerous is this? Is the risk worth the reward?”

He adds, “Knowing what I know now, I wish I didn’t have the gun at all because I wouldn’t have had that option and that guy would be alive and I’d be in a totally different place in life.” 

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1. After Breonna Taylor, a rethink of no-knock warrants?

Ryan Frederick wakes up to furious barking from his dogs and the booming sound of splintered wood, like a broken tree. It’s night; he doesn’t know what time. All he knows is that he lives in a rough neighborhood in Chesapeake, Virginia, and that his house was broken into just days ago.

Mr. Frederick gets up, and before stepping gently into the hall, grabs his handgun. He isn’t a great shot. He doesn’t even exactly know what his gun is called. But he keeps it for home defense, like his grandfather always told him to.

The booming continues as he turns toward his front door. It’s broken. From the light of a small lamp he can see bluejeans and a quicksilver jacket, someone halfway in and reaching for the deadbolt.

“I’m on adrenaline,” remembers Mr. Frederick, “not really thinking, just kind of reacting.”

He clicks the safety, and he fires.

Less than half an hour later, he lies face-down outside, handcuffed, and surrounded by squad cars.

“Do you know what you just did?” an officer asks. 

“Not exactly,” says Mr. Frederick.

“You just killed a police officer.”

Suddenly nauseous, Mr. Frederick learns that his house had been the target of a police raid. The officers went in that summer night in 2009 looking for a drug-dealing operation. They found only a small amount of marijuana, and that their intelligence had been incorrect. In the process, a detective lost his life, and Mr. Frederick lost almost 10 years of his to prison for involuntary manslaughter. All the result of one bad tip, one poorly aimed bullet, and a court sentence that many of Mr. Frederick’s neighbors thought was unjust

“I still didn’t feel like it was real,” he remembers. “I was like, this can’t be happening. There is no way that I just shot a police officer. Police officers don’t come breaking in through a hole in your door.”

In fact, police officers sometimes do, executing legal but risky “no-knock” or “knock-and-announce” warrants. While there’s no clear data, American police carry out 40,000 to 50,000 no-knock raids each year by some estimates. As the Breonna Taylor case in Louisville shows, they can lead to the wrenching outcome in which both sides use force legally, and someone still dies.

These confrontations are rare, but in a country with expansive gun rights and police authority they occur each year. In their wake, they leave tragedies without clear heroes or villains – and the trauma caused by a real-time clash over Second and Fourth Amendment rights.

In the reckoning over invasive policing, in part caused by Ms. Taylor’s death, law enforcement and legislatures nationwide are now wondering whether gun rights can safely coexist with no-knock raids.

“If [police are] going in for something that’s not a life-or-death matter, then you really have to weigh out the pros and cons,” says Mr. Frederick. “How dangerous is this? Is the risk worth the reward?”

The rise of no-knock raids

The answer to that question from police departments has long been yes, says Radley Balko, author of “Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America’s Police Forces.” 

No-knock warrants first became legal during the war on drugs around 50 years ago. At that time, they were primarily used to catch violent criminals by surprise, and prevent an armed conflict before it could begin. In the years since, says Mr. Balko, the warrants have become less exclusive and are often used against low-level offenders or those with clean records – like Mr. Frederick.

Such a wide net can at times entrap innocent civilians in invasive raids, either from misinformation or poor intelligence. In essence, this is what happened to Ms. Taylor.

Police entered her home this March without announcing their presence, according to most witnesses. Fearing the worst, Ms. Taylor’s boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, opened fire, and police fired back. Ms. Taylor was killed, but no one was charged for her death in the grand jury’s rulings last week – though one officer was indicted with wanton endangerment for hitting the walls of neighboring apartments. The city of Louisville has agreed to a $12 million settlement with Ms. Taylor's family and promised to institute reforms.

Dylan T. Lovan/AP
A billboard sponsored by O, The Oprah Magazine, shows a photo of Breonna Taylor on Aug. 7, 2020, in Louisville, Kentucky. Despite public protests over Ms. Taylor's case, police officers have not been charged in her death.

To many members of the public – and to the grand jury, which dropped the initial charges against him – Mr. Walker acted in reasonable self-defense.

“I think he did what a lot of people would have done,” says Dana McMahan, a Louisville resident.

There are legal barriers intended to prevent this kind of confrontation. When police apply for a search warrant, they must present probable cause to a magistrate or judge. To protect one’s right to privacy, regular search warrants require that police knock on the door and announce themselves before entering. In cases with potential for danger or the destruction of evidence, police can request no-knock permission. 

But even without that permission, police can disregard the knock-and-announce rule if circumstances change during a raid. There’s also lowered incentive to follow protocol in the first place, since the Supreme Court ruled in Hudson v. Michigan in 2006 that evidence acquired in a botched raid is still admissible in court.

Guns in homes

As police have gained authority to enter private homes, civilians have invested more in home protection.

In the last 30 years, largely due to marketing from the firearm industry, the primary reason for gun ownership has changed from sport to self-defense, says Daniel Webster, director of the Center for Gun Policy and Research at Johns Hopkins University. 

Where the culture has moved, the law has followed. In 2008’s District of Columbia v. Heller, the Supreme Court affirmed the right of law-abiding citizens to keep a firearm in the house for the purposes of protection. 

Keith Srakocic/AP
A gun buyer fills out legal forms to buy a handgun at Dukes Sport Shop in New Castle, Pennsylvania. As police have increasingly relied on "no-knock" raids, Americans have purchased an increasing number of guns.

The ruling complements self-defense laws across the country, which allow citizens to use proportional force to protect themselves against violent crime, says Russell Covey, a professor of criminal law at Georgia State University. 

In public, most states require citizens to retreat from violent confrontations if possible – though not in states with “stand your ground” laws. At home, says Professor Covey, citizens are exempt from that rule under a provision known as the castle doctrine. 

An unstable situation

This combination of more invasive police and more armed civilians has created a kind of crisis instability, with potential for small mistakes to be fatal.

“Once we’re at the point where the police are breaking down the door and you have an armed person inside that doesn’t know or can be reasonably mistaken about whether, in fact, it’s the police ...  it’s too late,” says Darrell Miller, the Melvin G. Shimm professor of law at Duke University and author of “The Positive Second Amendment: Rights, Regulation, and the Future of Heller.”

It may seem like a legal paradox, says Professor Covey, but under the law it’s possible for both sides to reasonably believe they need to use force – especially during adrenaline-filled raids. Fight-or-flight responses can be especially dangerous when perceptions of threat are skewed by race, as they often seem to be when African Americans are involved, says Professor Miller. 

“Either with a knock or without a knock [conducting a raid is] scary as hell,” says David Thomas, a former SWAT team officer and professor of forensic studies at Florida Gulf Coast University.

Even with intelligence, police never know exactly what’s on the other side of the door, and they have to enter with the idea that their target could be deadly, he says. They’re prepared to lose their life, says Mr. Thomas, even if by accident.

“It’s just a hazard of the job,” he says.

Anguish in Louisville 

But it’s another thing for civilians, who don’t volunteer for the dangers of police work, to accept those costs.

“If the cops did a no-knock warrant on me – I have a mom, a dad, sisters, and brothers I have to look out for. So I’m going to fire,” says Shyler Andis, a Louisville resident whose sibling was killed by police. “I have a right to fire my weapon if I feel threatened or somebody barges in my house.”

Ms. Andis and many others marched through the city last week to protest the grand jury’s rulings. Following the outcry this summer over Ms. Taylor’s death, Louisville and other cities across the country banned no-knock warrants – though many don’t think that is enough.

“They can just force themselves into our homes, unannounced. It’s scary,” says DaPree Oldham, another Louisville resident. “There’s got to be a different approach.”

In such an environment of grievance and legal contradiction, the only way out is reform, says Eugene O’Donnell, a former NYPD officer and professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. 

If legislatures don’t think no-knock warrants are appropriate, he says, they should ban them. The same goes for other police practices.

But maintaining the status quo, says Mr. Balko, the author on police militarization, can make certain lives seem disposable. 

“If you conducted this raid and an innocent person died and the police were following policy and there’s nothing wrong with the policy and you’re not going to change the policy, then the only conclusion that we can draw from that is that innocent people dying is a perfectly acceptable outcome,” he says.

“I’d be in a totally different place”

For Mr. Frederick, the death of the detective that night 11 years ago has never been acceptable. (His case at the time drew widespread support from neighbors, who gathered on social media and left a “we support you, Ryan Frederick” sign on his yard, signed by dozens.)

Yet no matter the circumstances, he still killed a father, husband, and family member. After all, the officer was just doing his job.

Like Mr. Walker, Mr. Frederick says he didn’t know it was police breaking through his door. Unlike Mr. Walker, his shot was fatal.

After spending some time in Florida, he now works as a plumber outside Richmond, Virginia. He’s followed the Breonna Taylor case with interest, hoping it brings a change in police culture and accountability. Still, he says, it brings back bad memories.

Several times, Mr. Frederick’s considered reaching out to the detective’s family. Every time, he’s felt too nervous or too scared.

“I worry that would just stir up a negative reaction that doesn’t need to be,” he says.

But if they ever reached out, he thinks he’d be willing to talk. Maybe his time in prison gave them some closure. Maybe they, like him, have found a way to make peace with it all.

“Knowing what I know now, I wish I didn’t have the gun at all because I wouldn’t have had that option and that guy would be alive and I’d be in a totally different place in life,” he says.

Patterns

Tracing global connections

As the US steps back, Europe steps up

As the U.S. and China intensify their rivalry, a new locus of global influence is emerging, with potentially far-reaching impact. Europe is becoming a powerful voice for international cooperation – and numerous global leaders are taking note.

Amelia

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The tension between Washington and Beijing is not the only current in world affairs worth keeping an eye on.

European nations, led by France and Germany, with Britain lending a hand, are leading a bid to rekindle international cooperation, shore up international agreements on a host of global challenges, and make their voices heard more clearly on the world stage.

The drive has been most evident in their response to the COVID-19 pandemic, trying to boost the World Health Organization where President Donald Trump has sought to tear it down. Germany and France have both put ambitious green power initiatives at the heart of their economic recovery programs. They are leading the fight to keep the Iran nuclear deal alive, in the face of U.S. opposition. And they are trying to chart an independent path with regard to China.

There’s the rub. Europe is fearful of being caught between Washington and Beijing, and does not want to be forced to choose sides. That will call for diplomatic determination and agility.

Even if Mr. Trump is defeated in the U.S. election in November and replaced with a more traditionally minded internationalist in Joe Biden, Washington may still find itself working alongside a more self-confident and assertive set of partners in Europe.

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2. As the US steps back, Europe steps up

Ask most people for a snapshot of today’s international politics, and they’ll focus on growing tensions between the United States and China. Yet another current is flowing through world affairs today: a newly assertive effort by key European states to rekindle international cooperation and shore up international agreements on a raft of world challenges.

The main players are Germany and France, linchpins of the European Union. But Britain, too, despite its imminent departure from the EU, is playing its part.

The issues on which they’ve been weighing in read like a menu of the world’s most pressing crises: the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change, human rights, and nuclear nonproliferation.

France has talked up the idea of a stronger EU role on the world stage for years. Yet now, with a more receptive ear in Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Germany and Britain having to chart a new, post-Brexit identity, the continent’s three most important strategic players are walking the walk.

It seems the wider world is taking notice. Japanese Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi is kicking off his first overseas trip since the change of government in Tokyo with a visit to Europe. France is on the itinerary. Germany was supposed to have been, though his talks with German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas will now be virtual, after someone in close contact with Mr. Maas reportedly tested positive for COVID-19. Among issues on the agenda: Chinese territorial ambitions in the South China Sea, where France, Germany, and Britain have all declared an interest.

But the shift has been especially evident in the three nations’ response to the pandemic.

In past global health crises, Washington has taken the lead, in coordination with the World Health Organization. But the Trump administration has shunned calls for international action and said it will leave the WHO next year.

Against that background, the Europeans have refused to support a U.S. blueprint for reform of the WHO. Though they agreed with some of the changes the Americans wanted, they have launched their own effort to strengthen the organization.

A joint Franco-German paper calls for moves to make the WHO more effective and accountable, and tackles the organization’s long-standing lack of funding to anticipate and cope with events such as the pandemic. With the U.S. due to stop paying next year, France and Germany propose a hike in other countries’ national contributions.

Last weekend, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson used his address to the U.N. General Assembly to focus almost exclusively on the need for a newly coordinated international approach to COVID-19 and potential future pandemics.

He announced a 30% increase in the U.K.’s contributions to the WHO. He also pledged additional money for COVAX, the international body dedicated to ensuring worldwide distribution for an eventual COVID-19 vaccine, which the U.S., along with China and Russia, has declined to join.

A similar picture is emerging on other policy fronts.

On climate change, Ms. Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron have unveiled ambitious green power initiatives as part of the multibillion-dollar EU investment for recovery from the effects of the pandemic. Mr. Johnson, due to chair next year’s follow-up conference on the 2016 Paris Agreement, is planning a December virtual summit to press those countries that have so far failed to live up to their commitments under that accord.

On human rights, German and French calls for a thorough accounting from Russia for the recent poisoning of opposition politician Alexei Navalny have stood in stark contrast to the muted response from President Donald Trump. Both European leaders have also refused to recognize the legitimacy of the recent election in Belarus, which kept Alexander Lukashenko in power and has drawn tens of thousands of demonstrators into the streets.

And while Mr. Trump pulled the U.S. out of the 2015 international agreement to limit Iran’s nuclear program, co-signatories France, Germany, and Britain have been striving to keep it alive. They’ve rejected recent U.S. calls for a re-imposition of international sanctions lifted as part of the accord.

On China, meanwhile, the Europeans are also seeking to chart an independent path.

They share the U.S. view that Xi Jinping’s moves to project Chinese power internationally represent a strategic challenge. They’ve been vocal in criticizing China’s confinement of hundreds of thousands of Uyghur Muslims and its security crackdown in Hong Kong. They also feel China bears a serious responsibility for not having alerted the world quickly enough about the threat of COVID-19. And, like the U.S., they are pressing China to abandon what they see as unfair trade practices, including government subsidies for Chinese companies.

But they have steered clear of Mr. Trump’s tariff war, and they are trying to avert a Cold War-style political standoff with Beijing. Mr. Johnson gave one sign of that in his General Assembly address. Though he urged the WHO to demand the full picture of how and where the pandemic began, he added that he didn’t “want to blame any country or government, or score [political] points.”

All this looks as if it adds up to a newly independent European voice in world affairs. Some of it is down to timing. Ms. Merkel, the most influential European political leader of her generation, has said that she will step down at the next election. She has a little more pull than usual, too, since Germany holds the rotating, six-month presidency of the EU.

France’s assertiveness is in part a function of Mr. Macron’s clear hope to ensure Paris’ continued place at the heart of EU strategy and diplomacy in a post-Merkel era. And it is a response to Mr. Trump’s go-it-alone approach to foreign policy and the diminished importance he attaches to America’s relations with its longtime European allies.

But it may also be a simple reflection of a new geopolitical reality: a world in which Washington and Beijing are increasingly at loggerheads, with Europe fearful of being caught between them and reluctant to choose sides.

That will call for diplomatic determination and agility. Even if Mr. Trump is defeated in the U.S. election in November and replaced with a more traditionally minded internationalist in Joe Biden, Washington may still find itself working alongside a more self-confident and assertive set of partners in Europe.

A deeper look

Missing students: Educators knock on doors to find them

Tracking attendance has posed vast new challenges during the pandemic. But locating students who have dropped out has often helped educators deepen connections to families and better understand their lives.

Amelia
The Hechinger Report
When teachers at Cable Elementary in San Antonio couldn't reach four siblings who attended the school this spring, Monica Williams with Communities In Schools was able to arrange a meeting with them at their grandmother's house on May 19, 2020.

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As schools in the U.S. resume this fall mostly online, they are considering how to manage something they used to be able to do more easily: figure out who is missing.

Propelled by concerns about students falling behind, some districts used the summer to figure out how to better engage and keep track of children in a largely virtual environment. But with some families still finding the online system too overwhelming, potentially taking students out of school permanently, teachers and advocates are actively trying to find ways to reach out.

When schools closed abruptly this spring, few opted to take regular or daily attendance. That’s starting to change, says Hedy Chang with the nonprofit Attendance Works. She encourages districts to use attendance not for punishing parents whose kids don’t participate, but to learn which kids need support and which interventions are helping kids stay engaged.

In San Antonio, educators and advocates, like Monica Williams with Communities In Schools, have sought out families and made sure to connect with them in person.

“It’s not just about academics,” says Ms. Williams. “We don’t have eyes on our students. We have to make sure they’re safe, they’re fed, that they’re still even in the district.” 

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3. Missing students: Educators knock on doors to find them

Monica Williams remembers the late May day she and first grade teacher Lizette Gutierrez reconnected with four young siblings from Cable Elementary. No teachers from the San Antonio school had heard from the children since March, when the pandemic sent students home to learn online.

Ms. Williams is a former social worker who serves as a site coordinator for Communities In Schools of San Antonio, a support program for low-income families in Texas’ Bexar County. She and her colleagues have had to intercede in evictions, deliver supplies, and report children in dire circumstances to child protective services since the start of the pandemic. In this case, she was already familiar with the children because of their previous academic struggles. After making some phone calls, she located them at a hotel, where the family had moved after a stint with relatives. Ms. Williams arranged to meet the children at their grandmother’s house.

Ms. Gutierrez and Ms. Williams spent 90 minutes on the sidewalk, arm’s length from the students, showing them how to sign into Google Classroom on their school-provided Chromebooks and helping their father figure out passwords. The family logged on for the remainder of the school year, and after going missing again over the summer and for the start of the school year, were present for the second day of in-person classes on Sept. 29.

As schools in the U.S. resume, they are considering how to manage something they used to be able to do more easily: figure out who is missing. Propelled by concerns about students falling behind, some schools used the summer to figure out how to better engage and keep track of children in a largely virtual environment. But with some families still finding the online system too overwhelming, potentially taking students out of school permanently, educators and advocates are actively trying to find ways to reach out.

“It’s not just about academics,” says Ms. Williams. “We don’t have eyes on our students. We have to make sure they’re safe, they’re fed, that they’re still even in the district.”

The Hechinger Report
Principal Adrian Montes (top left) and educators from Redland Elementary, in Florida's Miami-Dade County, show a group of students who weren't logging in for online classes how to access their individual classes and assignments in early May.

Some educators have made it a priority to better identify and engage with students and families. Schools have streamlined the online experience, including reducing the number of passwords needed for learning platforms. And they have endeavored to better define how to take attendance and what it means to be absent or present when learning virtually. These measures are showing signs of early success as some districts report a decrease from the spring in the number of kids who are no-shows. But, with nearly 14,000 school districts nationally, the whereabouts of countless students are unknown, and some may never reenroll, administrators say. 

An estimated 3,000 students, or roughly 3% of enrollment in San Antonio’s largest school district, Northside Independent, where Cable Elementary is located, didn’t participate in remote learning and couldn’t be reached by school staff this past spring, according to Barry Perez, a spokesperson for the district. Other districts around the United States have started reporting high numbers of missing students, echoing some reports from the spring that showed the potential for declining attendance. Poor internet, a lack of laptops and hot spots, and instability at home are the factors most commonly cited for making participation in online learning difficult for kids.

The reality for many schools is that the search “could lead to a dead end,” says Mr. Perez. As of September, he says, the district’s enrollment is still 2,700 students shy of projections. While the students might still show up, he says the district won’t learn of some children’s whereabouts unless they enroll in another district and their new school contacts them. 

Battling misperceptions

In the neighboring San Antonio Independent School District, Mohammed Choudhury, who serves as chief innovation officer, likewise anticipates that it will have children who won’t return this fall. Some families have decided that too many other things are going on in their lives to think about their kids’ school or how to do online learning, and they’ve given up, Mr. Choudhury says. He and other educators worry also about the perception among some families that when school buildings are closed, school is also closed. For them, there’s no substitute for in-person learning, “So, they’re not going to respond to anything or even log in,” Mr. Choudhury says. “We’re going to lose students.”

When his district moved to remote instruction in the spring, 6% of students (nearly 3,000) never logged on. Early on, members of the district’s family and community engagement teams knocked on doors to find the missing students, but those visits were suspended in late March due to local health orders. Phone calls to parents and messages on social media went largely unanswered.

Late this summer, as the lockdown lifted and schools prepared for the new school year, staff were able to go back out. As of early September, Mr. Choudhury says, they had found all but roughly 100 of the missing kids.

Mr. Choudhury, whose job is to problem solve, attributes the district’s progress to its early recognition that it had to closely monitor daily attendance and student learning online. As soon as school buildings shut, he and his office began working with other departments and the chief technology officer to create an easy-to-use phone app to allow educators to monitor students’ online activity. By April it was a data hub, identifying participation trends by neighborhood and school, and tracking student engagement at all 90-plus district schools – including any contact between students and staff. That enabled school-level administrators to decide where to quickly deploy staff for home visits and other outreach, Mr. Choudhury says.

The district won’t know until October just how many students it has retained or lost. That’s when it, like many school districts around the country, will submit to the state the all-important enrollment data that helps determine its funding.

“We had to do a lot of digging”

At Redland Elementary, a rural school in Florida’s Miami-Dade County, nearly 10% of its roughly 900 students were unaccounted for this spring, according to Principal Adrian Montes. That’s when he and his staff fanned out across the mostly agricultural community in groups, using addresses they had on file and carrying laptops and hot spots in case families needed them. But often they’d show up at an address only to find it was a parent’s place of employment, not their home, or that the family had moved away. 

“We had to do a lot of digging, a lot of searching, speaking to the owners of these businesses” and workers to locate the students, says Mr. Montes.

But the outreach deepened the school’s connection to its families, he says, and helped them understand more about the lives of the children it serves. Some 90% of the school’s students are Hispanic, including a large population of migrant children from Guatemala whose parents work in local fields and plant nurseries. School staff learned that many of those parents kept working through the pandemic, leaving their children home alone and often in charge of younger siblings. 

Redland Elementary staff distributed food and toiletries and worked with a district program that serves homeless families, Project UP-START, to ensure that students had access to services such as health care. Over the summer, Miami-Dade County Public Schools introduced new online learning software that will make it easier for students and their caregivers to log on remotely and will, ideally, increase participation in online learning this fall, Mr. Montes says.

Education experts say that closely monitoring attendance will be key to ensuring that kids don’t slip through the cracks. When schools closed abruptly this spring, few opted to take regular or daily attendance, according to Hedy Chang, executive director of the nonprofit Attendance Works. “It wasn’t seen as the highest-priority concern,” she says.

Ms. Chang says that’s starting to change as schools reopen. But she cautions that districts ought to use attendance not for purposes of “high-stakes accountability,” school funding, or to punish parents whose kids don’t participate, but to learn which kids need support and which interventions are helping kids stay engaged.

The costs of kids missing instruction – even delivered online – are high. Studies show that students who miss 10% or more of school days a year are at risk of not learning to read in the early grades and dropping out in the later grades. Low-income students, students of color, and students with disabilities are most vulnerable.

“Meeting families where they are”

Connecticut has long been in the forefront of addressing chronic absenteeism. From the outset of school closings in the spring, the Connecticut State Department of Education has worked to ensure that teachers continue to track student participation and give the data to school administrators, says Charlene Russell-Tucker, a deputy commissioner for the education board.

Still, the state fell far short of universal participation in remote school. In June, the results of a survey of 170 school districts in Connecticut by the state education board found that 22% of students (some 116,000) only partially or minimally participated and 4% (21,000) did not participate at all. Responding districts cited family, health, and trauma issues and internet and device access as the biggest obstacles to student participation in online learning. 

In an effort to boost participation in learning this school year, the state invited input from families on how to reopen schools. In August, Ms. Russell-Tucker facilitated two virtual “house calls” with doctors and other health care officials to answer families’ questions about going back to school during the pandemic. The state has also prioritized “meeting families where they are” and ensuring that students in remote learning can occasionally meet in person with their teachers and peers, says Ajit Gopalakrishnan, chief performance officer with the education department. “That personal connection is huge,” he says. 

Back in San Antonio, Mr. Choudhury cautions that even if districts locate every missing student and do everything right to keep them engaged, schools are likely to see more turmoil.

“There’s an eviction crisis clearly looming,” he says. “Housing policy is education policy.”

“We could again have students who ‘disappear’ into the first months of the fall semester because of a disruption in the house when it comes to socioeconomic needs,” he says. “We’re not blind to that, but much of that is out of our control, and we will do everything we can to mitigate that.”

Meanwhile, the district is being more proactive about checking in with students on a weekly basis and supporting the schools in doing so, Mr. Choudhury says. “We know the in-person [contact] is our bread and butter,” he says. “We’re never going to drop the in-person.”

This story on participation in online learning was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news organization focused on inequality and innovation in education. 

Difference-maker

Drivers of change

At Stan the Man’s bookmobile, kids buy books with acts of kindness

How do you teach children to value kindness? In Georgia, acts of generosity and compassion can earn kids more than a smile or a pat on the back.

Amelia
Patrik Jonsson/The Christian Science Monitor
Stan Tucker talks to grade-schooler Jaxon Styles at a Marietta, Georgia, studio on Sept. 21, 2020, for a video about Jaxon’s winning entry in a book-publishing competition.

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When Stan Tucker was teaching kindergarten, a student approached him before a book fair to say he wouldn’t be going because his mom didn’t have any money. It broke Mr. Tucker’s heart – and it gave him an idea for a way to get books into kids’ hands.

He started hosting book giveaways at schools in 2015, during a year off from teaching. Over the past five years, his Leap for Literacy program has grown. He now gives away 2,500 books a year. But his program promotes more than literacy. At his Read ’n’ Roll bookmobile, kids pay for books with kindness tickets.

Kindnesses that earn tickets run the gamut, from “I helped a student that dropped his books in the hall” to “I invited a student who was playing alone to play with our group.”

As Jaxon, a Read ’n’ Roll regular, puts it: “Stan teaches me how to be kind, especially when no one else is watching. It’s important to be kind because other people, if you are kind to them, they will be kind back.”

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4. At Stan the Man’s bookmobile, kids buy books with acts of kindness

On Stan Tucker’s wildly painted Leap for Literacy bookmobile – crowned the Read ’n’ Roll – the books cost nothing. But they don’t come free. The currency that will buy them is kindness.   

Acts are each recorded on kindness tickets that are legal tender on the Read ’n’ Roll.

When the Read ’n’ Roll shows up at a school, the kids excitedly bounce into a line for their chance to exchange their tickets for books. 

Kindnesses that earn tickets run the gamut, from “I helped a student that dropped his books in the hall” to “I invited a student who was playing alone to play with our group.”

When Mr. Tucker, now working as a waiter and camp counselor, was teaching kindergarten in suburban Atlanta in 2014, a student approached him before a book fair to say he wouldn’t be going because his mom didn’t have any money. It broke Mr. Tucker’s heart – and it gave him an idea for a way to get books into kids’ hands. 

He started his program during a year off from teaching in 2015 when, hoping to keep working with kids, he was sometimes lugging more than 1,000 books in a beat-up Honda Element for giveaways at schools. 

But to build the enterprise – because donors like measurables – Mr. Tucker knew he needed something to count. He landed on a measure of kindness.

“The quickest impact when you do something kind – you say something nice, you do something for them – is that smile that comes on their face, that instant gratification, of seeing that person happy,” says Mr. Tucker.  

A rising tide of kindness

Over the past five years, Leap for Literacy has grown. He now gives away 2,500 books a year. More than 13,000 grade school students have traded kindness tickets for books. And, last summer, a new writing program served 500 children, a handful of whose writing the nonprofit has illustrated and published. 

Mr. Tucker, who loved books as a kid, says it seemed impossible to make his dream work on a waiter’s pay. But, he adds, “at every turn, something has happened to keep this going.” 

For example, there was his chance encounter with the country artist Zac Brown, an Atlanta native, who came into the restaurant where Tucker worked. Mr. Tucker laid the menus down and queried Mr. Brown’s five kids about school.  

Because he liked the way Mr. Tucker interacted with his family, Mr. Brown gave the waiter his card and told him, “Maybe we can help each other out.” Indeed, Mr. Brown was starting a summer camp and offered Mr. Tucker a camp counselor job as well as an old tour bus for a bookmobile.

Another fortunate turn was the $25,000 check he got on The Ellen DeGeneres Show late last year. He used it to substantially expand his program. Five hundred kids participated remotely in a summer writing program in which they were given blank books to write in. A few of the books they wrote were chosen by the Leap for Literacy board to be illustrated and published. Mr. Tucker hopes to one day fill the Read ’n’ Roll with those books. 

His next goal is to scale up his programs nationally – even globally. He plans to expand to 50,000 book donations and illustrate at least 10 children’s books in the next couple of years. And he’d like to reach 1 million acts of kindness.

“What Stan is doing is amazing,” says Quenecia Styles-Smith, whose son, Jaxon, participated in the summer writing program. It’s one thing to admonish a child for behaving badly, she says, but, “it’s another to notice when a child holds a door for someone” and to recognize and bring awareness to it.

It’s not all about the reward for being kind, says Ms. Styles-Smith, because “he talks about how it makes people feel ... how it’s cool to be kind to other people, and that’s important.”

To be sure, some research suggests encouraging quid pro quo kindness can be counterproductive because kindness ought to be an end in itself, not a means to an end. But some who research kindness say proactive behavior modeling is one of the most effective ways to fight bullying.   

In that way, Mr. Tucker’s effort is part of a broader shift in education – and parenting, suggests John-Tyler Binfet, a University of British Columbia education professor who has interviewed more than 3,000 students in his research on kindness and its impacts.

“Here is a teacher – and one who is certainly not alone – who has purposely and proactively decided to put emphasis and focus on pro-social behavior versus anti-social behavior,” says Professor Binfet. Celebrating good behavior, he adds, “changes the climate.”

The birth of “Stan the Man”

How Mr. Tucker came about the nickname, “Stan the Man,” is part of the inspiration he imparts to kids. His full name is Stanley Thomas Tucker Jr., after his father who was killed in a car crash caused by a drunk driver when the younger Tucker was 8.

He went by Thomas most of his life. But when he had to take a restaurant job in his struggle to keep Leap for Literacy afloat, everyone called him by the first name on his application: Stan. But to him, “Stan” had always been his dad.

In his book, “Stan and the Man,” Mr. Tucker recalls the transformation from Thomas to Stan: “The man loved me before I knew this world. He gave me his name to give me something that I would always remember him by.     

“I’m thankful for the time I had with the man, and I hope that he is proud of the man that I am.”  

That genuine depth inspires children, says Ms. Styles-Smith, mother of Jaxon, a second grader who participated in the summer writing program. 

Even though part of the program is transactional, it is built on the idea that kindness is, as Professor Binfet puts it, “on the down-low.”

In that way, the Read ’n’ Roll cleaves the philosophy of how kindness works.

“The empirical question is, what are these children walking away with other than books?” observes Daniel Fessler, director of the UCLA Bedari Kindness Institute.  

An optimist, he says, would say that “people do become more altruistic through an intentional process. So, the earn-a-book program, well, that’s just the training wheels, the scaffolding through which learning takes place. ... They simply learn to become kind.”

No matter the measurables on his nonprofit, Stan is a guide for the students and parents who join his program. When Jaxon’s grandfather passed away from COVID-19 in the spring, says Ms. Styles-Smith, Mr. Tucker was there to support the boy.

For Jaxon, his summer writing project didn’t earn him a published book. But a short video of him reading his story about his dream of meeting Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones caught the attention of a local TV network. That story in turn sparked a call from the Falcons’ publicist to talk about making it happen. 

“I hope it happens,” says Jaxon. “Julio Jones isn’t just a hero to me, but a superhero. That’s why I wrote the book.” 

But such public rewards for his words and his acts aren’t what Jaxon recalls as he thinks about the Read ’n’ Roll and Stan the Man.

“Stan teaches me how to be kind, especially when no one else is watching,” says Jaxon. “It’s important to be kind because other people, if you are kind to them, they will be kind back.” 

On Film

Home theater: Bring the family together with the Beatles and ‘Babe’

As film critic Peter Rainer sees it, family films are those that have multigenerational appeal and a unifying power. But, he notes, watching them alone also works: “The finest of these movies offer up their own companionable glow.”

Amelia
picture-alliance/Newscom
James Cromwell stars as Farmer Hoggett, who develops a soft spot for his star pig, in the film “Babe” (1995).
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5. Home theater: Bring the family together with the Beatles and ‘Babe’

In times like these, when so many of our days are lived under the same roof, I can think of few better ways to come together than by watching first-rate family entertainment – in other words, movies that work for all ages. Family films are perhaps best appreciated with family, but if you should find yourself watching without one, that’s OK, too. The finest of these movies offer up their own companionable glow.

“A Hard Day’s Night” 

I have a special affection for the Beatles debut movie, “A Hard Day’s Night” (1964), because of the circumstances surrounding the first time I saw it. I was 12, and vacationing with my parents in Ireland. The film was playing near our hotel and I ventured out alone to see it only to be turned away as an unaccompanied minor. Fortunately, a kindly gent took pity on me, and I soon joined the screeching throng.

I’ve seen “A Hard Day’s Night” a dozen times since it came out and it’s just as wonderful as it ever was. The director, Richard Lester, making his feature debut, and the screenwriter, Alun Owen, perfectly understood how to display the antic energy of the Fab Four. It’s a knockabout fantasia, compressed into a single day, about the giddy tribulations of celebrity. John, Paul, George, and Ringo – who are never referred to as the Beatles in the film – are tickled and bemused by their stardom. The shrieking, stampeding fans provide the background noise to the boys’ lives, but there is no downside, no danger, in the adulation. (That’s why the film is a fantasy.)

United Artists/Album/Newscom
John Lennon (from left), Ringo Starr, George Harrison, and Paul McCartney star in the Beatles’ debut film, “A Hard Day’s Night” (1964).

What makes this movie a perfect family entertainment is its all-purpose, multigenerational appeal. It has the unifying power of the best family films. Even if you are old enough to have lived through Beatlemania, the movie functions as much more than a prime piece of nostalgia. It’s a nonstop jamboree with a great lineup of the best early Beatles’ songs, starting with the title track that kicks things off right out of the gate.

Because we now know how the lives of the Beatles played out, the film carries an affecting extra dimension. But it’s so playful, so joyous, that, watching it again, I never get caught up in sentimental retrospection. It’s one of the happiest films ever made. Introducing it to a new generation of fans must surely be one of the most replenishing of movie pleasures. (Rated G)   

“Babe”

The superpolite orphaned piglet who yearns to be a sheepdog is the star of the beloved 1995 Australian comedy “Babe,” directed by Chris Noonan and based on a classic children’s book by Dick King-Smith. Babe’s owner, Farmer Hoggett (played by tall and spindly James Cromwell), has designs on the little guy for Christmas dinner. But then the two of them bond and, with the logic of a fairy tale, Babe goes on to win the all-important sheepherder’s competition. The animals in this film, which also include ducks and a chattery chorus of field mice, speak perfect English. Because the special effects are so special, we never doubt the reality of the illusion. The poetically perfect ending has soft-spoken Farmer Hoggett praising Babe’s victory with the immortal lines, “That’ll do, Pig. That’ll do.” (Rated G) 

“Paddington 2”

This 2018 sequel to “Paddington” is the rare movie that convincingly gives goodness a glow. The unwaveringly optimistic Peruvian bear with the scrunched hat and duffle coat and marmalade sweet tooth wants to surprise his beloved Aunt Lucy with a special present – a pop-up book of London – for her 100th birthday. But fate intervenes and he is framed and imprisoned for a crime he did not commit. It all comes out right, of course. Paul King’s direction is deft, and his live-action actors, including Jim Broadbent, Sally Hawkins, and a hilarious, scenery-gobbling Hugh Grant, make up a dream cast. (Rated PG) 

“Spirited Away” 

Hayao Miyazaki’s 2002 masterpiece outgrossed “Titanic” in Japan and, in its English-dubbed version, won the Oscar for best animated feature. Ten-year-old Chihiro and her parents, en route to their new home in the distant countryside, enter a mysterious tunnel that leads to a seemingly deserted amusement park teeming with shape-shifty spirits. No other animator has ever quite matched the ineffable beauty of Miyazaki’s mostly hand-drawn imagery. The storyline’s fantastical circumlocutions rival “Alice in Wonderland” and “The Wizard of Oz.” (Rated PG. Some imagery may be too intense for very young children.) 

Peter Rainer is the Monitor’s film critic. 

These films are available on at least one of these platforms: Amazon Prime Video, YouTube, Google Play, iTunes.

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The Arab pinch on Palestinians to unite

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In September, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain normalized ties with Israel with the possibility of more Arab states to follow. The so-called Abraham Accords give Israel new Arab recognition and economic ties. The Palestinian people, who have long relied on Arab support in their hope of gaining a homeland, must now wrestle with a critical question: Can their leaders work together, first in governance, and second in talks with Israel?

For years the two main Palestinian factions, Fatah and Hamas, have been locked in a bitter rivalry. In July, the two began to draw closer in response to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s vow to annex parts of the West Bank. Then came the UAE and Bahrain accords, hastening a Hamas-Fatah thaw.

Last week the two factions agreed to hold elections. It is too soon to know if the agreement signals improved prospects for Palestinians. The historic roots of resistance against Israel run deep. But for Palestinian voters, an opportunity to express their aspirations through the ballot box is a welcome alternative to violence. And forging a united Palestinian government is an important first step in restarting a long-stalled peace process.

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The Arab pinch on Palestinians to unite

For years Israeli officials have complained that when it comes to making peace with the Palestinians, they have no one to talk to. Any potential counterparts, they argue, are either not unified, untrustworthy, or aggressive. The various Palestinian leaders have their own grievances about Israel’s intentions and its influence over the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. But this dysfunctional relationship could be set for a change.

In September, two Arab nations, United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Bahrain, normalized ties with Israel with the possibility of more to follow. Although not peace treaties like those brokered years ago with Egypt and Jordan, the so-called Abraham Accords give Israel new Arab recognition and economic ties. The Palestinian people, who have long relied on Arab support in their hope of gaining a homeland, must now wrestle with a critical question: Can their leaders work together, first in governance, and second in talks with Israel?

For years the two main Palestinian factions, Fatah and Hamas, have been locked in a bitter rivalry. They are divided politically, ideologically, and territorially. Fatah, the heir of Yasser Arafat’s Palestine Liberation Organization, holds the presidency of the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank. Hamas, the Islamist faction that is listed as a terrorist organization by the United States and Israel, won a parliamentary election for the Palestinian Authority in 2006 – the last time Palestinians went to the polls. Factional fighting after the election and failure to reach a power-sharing agreement resulted in a five-day war that put Gaza under Hamas control. The two sides have been stuck in a stalemate since then.

Fatah favors a negotiated peace with Israel. Hamas refuses to recognize Israel’s right to exist. Three years ago, it appeared to drop its longstanding call for Israel’s destruction but has waged a campaign of low-level violence against Israel across the Gaza border.

In July, the two factions began to draw closer in response to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s vow to annex large parts of the West Bank. Then came the UAE and Bahrain accords, which suspended Mr. Netanyahu’s annexation aims but opened new cracks in Arab-wide solidarity – hastening a Hamas-Fatah thaw. Last week the two factions agreed to hold elections within six months.

It is too soon to know if the agreement signals improved prospects for Palestinians. The historic roots of resistance against Israel run deep. Yet Arab youth across the Middle East – especially Palestinians – show growing political disinterest and disillusionment. Those who can pursue better lives elsewhere often do. Among the masses who cannot, some vent their frustrations through violence toward Israel or factional rivals. That underscores the urgency of the proposed election and an outcome that both sides will honor.

Hamas must break free of its ties to Iran while Fatah must put the social and economic welfare of Palestinians first. Their agreement is an opportunity to turn away from radical goals that have only left stalemate for decades. For its part, Israel should support the election.

Among the 2.2 million Palestinians who have the right to vote, an opportunity to express their aspirations through the ballot box is a welcome alternative to violence. And forging a united Palestinian government with a fresh mandate is an important first step in restarting a long-stalled peace process.

A Christian Science Perspective

About this feature

Each weekday, the Monitor includes one clearly labeled religious article offering spiritual insight on contemporary issues, including the news. The publication – in its various forms – is produced for anyone who cares about the progress of the human endeavor around the world and seeks news reported with compassion, intelligence, and an essentially constructive lens. For many, that caring has religious roots. For many, it does not. The Monitor has always embraced both audiences. The Monitor is owned by a church – The First Church of Christ, Scientist, in Boston – whose founder was concerned with both the state of the world and the quality of available news.

Healing through prayer alone

Healing through spiritual means is not just a phenomenon of the early Christian Era – it’s happening today and practiced on a scientific basis.

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1. Healing through prayer alone

Today's Christian Science Perspective audio edition
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In the early 1900s, at age 16, my grandmother was living in a boarding house after relatives had thrown her out, just four years after she had become an orphan. It was there at the boarding house that she found Christian Science and learned about her relation to God as His beloved daughter. She also began to learn of the possibility of healing through prayer alone.

Christian Science had been discovered by Mary Baker Eddy a little earlier, in 1866. She learned that healing as Christ Jesus practiced is as possible today as it was in his time. Before offering her ideas to the world in her book “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” Mrs. Eddy spent close to 10 years proving that healing through prayer alone was not only possible, but also consistently provable when the truth about God and man is understood. As Jesus said, “Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:32).

This spiritual truth includes the understanding of man’s inseparability from an omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent God. The Bible says that it enabled Jesus to heal “every sickness and every disease among the people” (Matthew 9:35). The purpose of his mission was not to simply show the world his own ability to heal in this way, but to show that everyone has access to that same healing power. The disciple John records these words of Jesus: “He who believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I go to the Father” (John 14:12, Revised Standard Version).

When my grandmother had her own family, she cultivated in her children a love for and reliance on the truths found in Christian Science. Following in her footsteps, my mother did the same. So growing up, I learned to rely on “the healing power of Truth and Love” (Science and Health, p. 31), which are two other names for God. Rather than focusing on life in matter, or the body, we strove to learn more about the reality of spiritual existence, and of our true oneness with God, divine Spirit.

By the time I was old enough to realize there were other methods of healing that people relied on, I was so satisfied with the healing power of turning to the Word of God for answers, that I never considered other healing methods. It felt natural to my siblings and me to trust in God’s ever-presence and all-power.

One time, when my brother was 18 years old, he flipped the convertible he was driving, crushing all of his ribs, one of which protruded the skin. He was a champion tennis player at the high school, but this could have ended his participation in this sport. My mother told him he was old enough to decide for himself if he wanted to see a doctor or ask for a Christian Science practitioner to pray with him. Because he had successfully relied only on Christian Science his entire life, even though this was more serious than anything he had experienced, he chose to have the practitioner pray along with him.

As his sister, what I remember most about that incident was that I wasn’t afraid for him. Instead, I had confidence in God’s all-embracing love for humanity, which included my brother. What came to me is captured in two quotes from the Bible. In Ecclesiastes it says, “I know that whatever God does endures for ever; nothing can be added to it, nor anything taken from it” (3:14, RSV). And in the first chapter of Genesis, it says God gave man dominion over all the earth. This meant that my brother’s ability to express the freedom and dominion God gave him – including his ability and joy in playing tennis – could never, in reality, be taken from him. Within a month, he was back playing tennis – and winning!

Recent events have left many people with searching questions about life, desiring answers that are not just theoretical but practical. In her book “Unity of Good,” Mrs. Eddy writes about “the simple teaching and life of Jesus as the only true solution of the perplexing problem of human existence” (p. 9). This teaching is the Science of the Christ, and its provable healing power is available to all seekers of Truth.

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Hand in hand

Valentin Flauraud/Saype/Reuters
An aerial picture taken with a drone shows two giant biodegradable land art paintings of interlocked hands by French artist Saype near the ancient Palatine Gate in Turin, Italy. His "Beyond Walls" project includes a series of murals that represent a symbolic "human chain" across the world to encourage humanity and equality.
( The illustrations in today’s Monitor Daily are by Karen Norris and Jacob Turcotte. )

A look ahead

Thanks for joining us today. Tomorrow, be sure to check out an excellent deep read by Ann Scott Tyson on the troubled state of U.S.-China relations. Ann offers insight on how the two countries arrived at this critical juncture – and where they might go from here.

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