There’s a broken immigration system and then there’s tearing children from parents. We can fix one NOW.

The US’ immigration system has been broken for a long time. Good people can disagree on how to fix it. Personally, I will always promote welcoming the stranger. However, I’ve studied immigration policy, and I know there are a variety of factors to be considered – including, yes, the safety and livelihoods of the people already living in a country – when creating policy, so that it is hopefully done in a way that does the most good for the most people. We can disagree on the best way to do that.

But even when we disagree on other immigration issues, we can agree that we must do all we can to not separate children from their parents, a new policy of the US government. Laura Bush says it well in her recent article in the Washington Post:

I live in a border state. I appreciate the need to enforce and protect our international boundaries, but this zero-tolerance policy is cruel. It is immoral. And it breaks my heart.

Please call your congressperson and senators and ask them to sign onto the Keep Families Together Act. Or, if you don’t like how that bill is written, ask them to sponsor their own bill. Ask them to make sure children are not separated from their parents. NOW – not in 6 months or 6 years or whenever our government can finally get it together to fix our overall immigration system. And remember, even families seeking asylum – which means they are *not* coming illegally; asylum is a legal right – are being separated.

Find your representative’s number here: https://www.house.gov/representatives/find-your-representative

Find your senators’ numbers here: https://www.senate.gov/general/contact_information/senators_cfm.cfm

This article links to several organizations that are supporting separated families, if you would like to make a donation: https://mashable.com/2018/06/18/child-separation-immigration-charities-donate/#PR1QwOwooqqd

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March for Our Lives

I had been planning on taking my girls to the March for Our Lives in Charlottesville yesterday. On Friday night, I talked with them about what the march was about. I told the little one that there were too many guns, and we want people to not have so many guns, especially the kind that can hurt people the most. I told the older one that the right to bear arms is in the Bill of Rights, but in the context of a well-regulated militia and arms that fired at much slower speeds than arms today. I told her that her right to be alive is far more sacred. We talked about how we are asking for better regulations of guns and enforcement of regulations. Extensive and ongoing training and practice should be required for every gun owner, and we discussed that.

As we talked, my nine-year-old’s eyes were growing wider. “Mom, what if there are people with guns at the march? This is going to make them mad. What if they start shooting?”

My oldest is generally fearless. She was the toddler that made all the other moms at the playground hold their breath with how high she would climb. She has, of her own initiative, asked strangers if they will please donate to the SPCA or Dancers for Dance.

Guns can take our children’s lives in more than one way.

What I didn’t tell Emma was that I felt safer taking her to the march than I did dropping her off at school. Instead, I listened, and I told her that we didn’t have to go. That I’m glad she’s listening to her inner self and how she feels. There are times to teach children to do things that feel scary, but at age 9 when their life really is on the line, isn’t one of them, at least not for us.

I am in awe of and encouraged by the young people who led and participated in the March for Our Lives yesterday, across the country. And I am sad that they have to march at all. I wonder how many children would like to march but are, justifiably, too afraid to do so. We certainly can’t tell them their fears are unfounded. We want them to live to be old enough to vote out of office anyone who thinks the right to bear arms is an unfettered right triumphant over all others.

The girls and I still made signs, and we hung them on our front door. We talked about other things we can do to support common sense gun reform, such as donating to groups like Everytown and Americans for a Responsible Solutions, which are able to research, produce information about good policy, and lobby for it.

Because kids are more important than guns. Life is more important than guns, and with the current lack of sufficient regulation and requirements for training and practice, guns are far more likely to kill us than keep us safe.

March for Our Lives

* * * * *

More on this topic
Guns in America: A Mother’s Terror

Cville Schools Support Student Responses to Shootings

Charlottesville City Schools should be praised for their support of student-led responses to school shootings. On March 1, CCS Superintendent Dr. Rosa Atkins emailed parents with information about upcoming dates when student activism would take place (National School Walkout Day on March 14, March for Our Lives on March 24, and a possible walkout on April 20: see copies of the emails at the bottom of this post). Additionally, she notified parents that a community forum on school safety will be held at Charlottesville High School at 7 pm on March 15.

A reminder email was sent this past Monday, March 12, and this afternoon parents received an email summarizing today’s events. My heart is filled with pride that my school district sees the value in, as Dr. Atkins states in her March 1 email, using “occasions such as [these] as ‘teachable moments’ so our students – regardless of their political beliefs – can continue to learn how to engage in our community and world to make a positive impact.”

Thank you, Dr. Atkins, for your strong support of our students’ civic engagement.

From Dr. Atkins’ email today:

“As you know, today there was a national call for student-led school walk-outs.Thanks to our students’ leadership, maturity, thoughtfulness, organizational skills, and respect for others, today’s events went peacefully. At Walker, Buford, and CHS, students freely chose whether to stay in class or join the walk-out. The students leading the events presented statements, shared original poetry, and read the names of  the victims in Parkland, Florida. The students attending the events were respectful and returned to class promptly. The students who chose not to leave class were also cooperative as they continued their studies or participated in alternate community-building activities and discussions. Whether they chose to remain indoors or go outdoors, we are proud of our students and how they are learning to address complex situations.

We also want to thank our schools’ administrators and teachers for their support of all of our students. We respect both the rights of our students to advocate for causes that are important to them and their right to learn in an environment that includes diverse viewpoints.

Through the leadership of our students, today we accomplished both.”

March 1 email from Dr. Atkins

March 12 email from Dr. Atkins

March 14 email from Dr. Atkins

CCS School Board to Vote Thursday on Weighing Students, Taking Away Recess

Now’s the Time: Tell the School Board You Care About Weigh-ins & Recess!
Please consider coming out to the CCS School Board this Thursday, September 7, when the School Board will be voting on the issues of weighing students and of taking away recess as punishment, as part of an updated district Wellness Policy.

The School Board meeting begins at 5:00 at Charlottesville High School, 1400 Melbourne Road. Every member of the public is entitled to speak for three minutes. The public comment period will be towards the beginning of the agenda. You do not have to stay for the entire board meeting!

If you are not able to attend the meeting on Thursday, you can still email them. Click here for sample text that you could use in an email to the school board and for all of the school board members’ email addresses.

Two things I will be asking the School Board to do and would encourage you to consider asking for, as well:
1) Approve the updated Wellness Policy.
2) Given the persistent use of recess as punishment and the confusion about the legitimacy of the practice, send communication to ALL CCS stakeholders – parents, teachers, and administrators – announcing that recess is not to be taken away from students.

To read the updated Wellness Policy here, click this link, then select the third hyperlink on the page, under File Attachment (see screenshot below): http://esbpublic.ccs.k12.va.us/public_itemview.aspx?ItemId=6241&mtgId=605
Screen Shot 2017-09-05 at 1.50.32 PM

If you have any questions at all about speaking to or emailing the school board, please email me at christa.v.bennett@gmail.com

For more information on the updated policy, keep reading….

The Updated Wellness Policy
The Wellness Policy has been updated by the School Health Advisory Board. It contains numerous changes to the existing policy. The two issues that my petition has been focused regard student weigh-ins and taking away recess as punishment.

The changes to the policy of weighing students include the following:

  • Students will be weighed in third through tenth grades (whereas they used to be weighed beginning in kindergarten).
  • Parents have the option to opt out their child from being weighed AND students have the option to opt out themselves.
    • PE teachers’ training in conducting the weigh-ins will include how to talk to students about opting out and their right to do so.
  • PE teachers will be trained in how to conduct the weigh-ins, using modules from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
  • An additional teacher will be assigned to the PE class while the PE teacher is weighing students.
  • Students’ weights will not be recorded with their name or other identifying information.
    • The purpose of the weigh-ins are for “surveillance” instead of “screening.” In this case, surveillance means collecting data, without identifying information attached. The data will be used in application for grants that will benefit Charlottesville students.
  • Students will not be told their weight, even if they ask what it is. (This is not yet in the Wellness Policy, but Patrick Johnson, CCS Coordinator of Health and Physical Education, indicated that he intends to include it in the final draft of the Wellness Policy.)

The change to the policy of taking away recess as punishment includes the following:

  • It can’t happen!

In a very clear statement, the Wellness policy says that taking away recess, PE, or other physical activity as punishment is not permitted. Additionally, the use of physical activity as punishment is not permitted.

My Take
I am very pleased with the changes to the Wellness Policy.

Regarding the practice of weighing students, my original preference was that it wouldn’t happen at all. However, I am intrigued by one of the changes that is really innovative and could be a powerful experience for a student: that they can opt themselves out. There is a shift towards teaching kids in school about consent, that they get to decide what happens to their bodies. Being able to say no to being weighed could be an empowering experience for students. I will be watching how this plays out.

Regarding recess, I am very happy to have such a clear statement against taking it away as punishment.

I was surprised that at the school board meeting last month, no one pushed back on the second prohibition, i.e., the use of physical activity as punishment not being allowed. I am sensitive to the limited resources teachers often face, and I am concerned that they have adequate alternatives to respond to disruptive behavior in their classrooms. Some teachers do have kids walk laps at the beginning of recess, as a consequence for poor choices. While this is not ideal if it is happening every day – the numerous studies indicating the importance of recess in child development highlight its utility in social development as well as physical and academic – I wouldn’t necessarily balk at a teacher using it occasionally.

Weigh-ins and Recess Excerpts from the updated Wellness Policy

(p4)

  • Reducing or eliminating time for recess, physical education or physical activity as a punishment is not permitted.
  • The use of physical activity as a punishment is not permitted.

(p5)

  • BMI (height and weight)assessments surveillance will be conducted collected for students in K3-10 yearly, however, parents and students will have the option of opting out. An opt-out form will be provided to all parents prior to the start of the BMI assessment. BMI assessment will be taken without using student’s names and will be done in a private area. PE teachers will be trained and provided with an additional adult to assist with the PE class while assessments are being taken. https://www.cdc.gov/healthyschools/obesity/BMI/BMI_measurement_schools.htm

*****

Read evidence supporting our request to end weigh-ins and taking away recess here and here.
Sign the petition to end weigh-ins and taking away recess here.
Read my May 4 statement to the CCS School Board here.
Read my June 1 statement to the CCS School Board here.
Read all posts related to this issue here.
Read about media coverage of our campaign here.

Sample Email Text to Write the CCS School Board

If you are unable to attend the September 7 CCS school board meeting but would still like to let the board know how important it is that they pass the updated Wellness Policy, you may email them. Below, I have pasted sample text that you could use to write board members an email. I have also posted the email addresses for all board members.

If you have any questions, you may email me at christa.v.bennett@gmail.com.

Sample Email Text to the School Board
Dear School Board Member,
Please vote to pass the updated Wellness Policy at the school board meeting on September 7.

Parents and children in our school district should be informed that students will be weighed during PE class and that they have a right to opt out.

Taking away recess should not be used as punishment. Numerous organizations, including the US National Academy of Sciences and the American Academy of Pediatrics, have released studies emphasizing the crucial importance of physical activity in our students’ academic, physical, and social development.

Please communicate the updated Wellness Policy in a way that will ensure all parents, teachers, and administrators are aware of these changes.

Thank you for your support of our students.

Best,
[Your Name]
[Your Charlottesville address]

School Board Email Addresses
School Board           SchoolBoard@charlottesvilleschools.org

Dr. Adam Hastings hastina1@charlottesvilleschools.org

Dr. Sherry Kraft        krafts1@charlottesvilleschools.org

Amy Laufer   laufea1@charlottesvilleschools.org

Jennifer McKeever mckeevj1@charlottesvilleschools.org

Ned Michie   michien1@charlottesvilleschools.org

Leah Puryear           puryeal1@charlottesvilleschools.org

Juandiego Wade wadej1@charlottesvilleschools.org

Superintendent Dr. Rosa Atkins Rosa.Atkins@charlottesvilleschools.org

I’m Not Angry. I’m Awake.

I’m not angry. I’m awake.

Today I’ve been thinking a lot about the manipulations that are used to keep people – especially historically disenfranchised people, such as women and minorities – out of places of power. This happens in systemic ways, and it happens in every day personal interactions.

A few years ago and again this week, I had an experience where I was, open-heartedly and with great vulnerability, sharing my thoughts and feelings with other women. What I was telling them weren’t my edicts on the world. They weren’t even feelings I would share publicly, as they were thoughts-in-process. I was searching, to sort through them and pick out conclusions that were good and useful.

The women cut my process short by leveling an accusation at me: I was angry.

This stung me, the pastor’s daughter. This stung me, the authority pleaser. This stung me, the woman who didn’t locate my nexus of control inside myself until my mid-20s.

An extra layer of hurt was added because both were women who would have described themselves as feminists, and because they were older women whom I looked up to.

Anger is a word lobbed at those-with-less-power to discount our experiences: “You’re just angry.” I don’t think the women I was talking with meant to invoke this historical context of the anger accusation. I think what we were discussing triggered their own feelings. It was still an arrow that hit an old, scarred-yet-tender mark in my heart.

I’ve been sitting with this today. I lit a candle. I said a prayer that I would find the truth I needed from this situation. The words just came to me: I’m not angry. I’m awake.

I am a gentle, kind, thirsting-for-righteousness woman who has taken back (from history and society and specific experiences) my power. I am human and imperfect, so sometimes I say the wrong thing or act the wrong way. I am always willing to apologize. In fact, I find peace and healing in saying, “I’m sorry.” I see injustice and powerlessness and pain, and I recognize it and I often use words to express my witness of it.

I’m not angry. I’m awake.

Amen.

The Alt-Right, Systemic Inequality in Charlottesville, and What to Do on Saturday

This Saturday, the alt-right is holding a rally in Charlottesville, on the heels of a KKK event in our city earlier this summer. The KKK members were not from Cville. They were from North Carolina. They came to protest our city’s decision to remove statues of Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson and to rename two parks previoulsy named in honor of the men. The alt-right event this weekend is a further protest in the same vein.

There are expected to be many more people showing up at counterprotests, in support of equality and justice and love. Businesses on our downtown mall – a hub of Cville community life within walking distance from the planned alt-right rally – are hanging signs in their windows that read:
“If equality and diversity aren’t for you, then neither are we
We are OPEN in protest of recent demonstrations of hate
Minority rights are human rights”

Others are declaring their business a safe space. One restaurant’s sign reads:
“We are a safe space.
If you are victimized, please come inside!
We will call the authorities for you!”

The message ends with a hand-drawn heart.

The alt-right presence in our city is disgusting. The response of defiance from many in our community, of anger over injustice, is heartening.

And.

And many have argued (importantly, people of color have argued) that the alt-right and KKK rallies are not the scariest expression of racism in Charlottesville. It’s the “quiet” racism, the kind that doesn’t wear a white hat but makes decisions. It’s the racism in courts and places where policies are made.

UVA alum Martese Johnson and Aryn Frazier laid out this case in a succinct, thoughtful essay: “Why the upcoming alt-right rally in Charlottesville may be less important than we think.”

They wrote:
“But the media should also cover [in addition to alt-right and KKK protests] the outcomes of the myriad town halls called to garner solutions to issues of racial injustice that either followed or preceded this most recent display of bigotry. Inform viewers of whether their elected and appointed officials are simply paying lip service to these causes and using time and money to seem as though they are addressing the problems everyday citizens and citizen-activists have brought to their attention, or if they are actually moving policy and practices to be more in line with equality and justice.”

The racism in policy and practice must be what we fight against every day. White people like me can support people of color who are working for change in Charlottesville, through organizations like our local NAACP, Black Lives Matter, Showing Up for Racial Justice, Legal Aid Justice Center, and the Women’s Initiative – which offers, among other things, support groups and services to women of color – to name a few.

That’s not to say that we don’t show up on Saturday, too. I read on the Facebook page of one community leader, addressing the questions of white people on how we can support the fight for equality, that there has to be many different approaches to combating racism. Likewise, there are many different ways of showing up on Saturday.

The JMRL Central Library is going to be closed on Saturday due to safety concerns stemming from the rallies, but the other branches will be open. I’m going to take my girls tomorrow afternoon to check out books about black lives and black leaders. Together Cville has compiled a list of community events being held this weekend.

After this weekend, after Charlottesville drops out of national headlines for the racist rallies being held here, we will still be a town sitting in the long shadow of a plantation. Racism is our history, and it is our present. Making a different future will require us showing up every day.