Memorial Day 2017

Vietnam veteran & Senator Jim Webb’s book Fields of Fire starts with the dedication: “For the 100,000 Marines who became casualties in Vietnam. And for the others who became casualties upon their return.”

In one passage, a staff sergeant in Vietnam says, “It ain’t what happens here that’s important. it’s what’s happening back there. Shit, Lieutenant, you’d hardly know there was a war on. It’s in the papers, and college kids run around screaming about it instead of doing panty raids or whatever they were running around doing before, but that’s it. Airplane drivers still drive their airplanes. Businessman still run their businesses. College kids still go to college. It’s like nothing really happened, except to other people. It isn’t touching anybody except us. It makes me sick, Lieutenant.”

It was about a different war and a different time, but I think it still has a message for us on Memorial Day about how we treat our military and allow them to bear what should be a collective burden. Our soldiers and their families should always be well cared for and should not bear the burden of war alone.

Consider supporting an organization like Wounded Warrior Project and, importantly, others that lobby Congress for better policies that take care of our soldiers, like Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA).

You can also take a pledge on the IAVA website to hold a moment of silence today at 3 pm, in honor of fallen soldiers.

Update: Campaign to end weigh-ins, taking away recess – what we’re asking for now, May 24

Cville Weekly has published a story about our campaign to end weigh-ins and taking away recess in Charlottesville city schools. (Click here to read it.) I am hopeful this will direct more CCS parents to sign our petition to the school board.

There has been progress since the petition was first created. Here is what we are asking for now:

1) Our superintendent, Dr. Atkins, send written communication to ALL CCS parents, teachers, and admin, stating that recess is not to be taken away from students in our schools, so that everyone is of the same understanding. On May 11, I emailed Dr. Atkins asking if such communication could be made. I have not had a reply from her yet. (See a copy of that email in the previous update.)

On May 9, Dr. Atkins stated to School Health Advisory Board (SHAB) that recess will not and should not be taken away from students. However, I have heard three separate reports from three separate CCS elementary schools of students having their recess taken away last week, the week after Dr. Atkins said that would no longer happen.

2) Dr. Atkins and the school board identify what tools teachers will be given immediately to use in place of so-called “Recess Academy.”

While programs such as VVTS and PBIS are valuable initiatives to institute positive behavioral management, teachers need tools *now* that they can use instead of Recess Academy (this is what some teachers call the practice of taking away recess as punishment).

3) A more transparent and methodical approach to weigh-ins be established. That might mean banning it altogether or better communicating with parents that it is being done and why.

4) An enforceable prohibition against taking away recess be included in the school policy manual or other binding policy.

Thank you to everyone who is supporting this campaign! Charlottesville city schools are strong schools, to be proud of. Together, we can make them even better and help ensure the health and success of all of our children.

*****

Read evidence supporting my 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 all posts related to this issue here.
Read about media coverage of our campaign here.

They came with torches & hate; we come with candles & love

This past weekend, Charlottesville made national news when dozens of people with torches – yes, torches – converged on Lee Park in downtown Cville. They were goaded on by Richard Spencer, a white nationalist. It was an apparent protest against the city’s decision to rename Lee (as in Robert E. Lee) and Jackson (as in Stonewall Jackson) Parks and sell the enormous statues of Lee and Jackson that sit in the parks.

I moved to Charlottesville a few years ago, and never have I lived in a town with such simmering racial tension. Of course, racism is everywhere, but it feels especially poignant and always below the surface here. Maybe it’s the memory that Charlottesville decided to close its schools rather than integrate its students in the 1950s. Maybe it’s the fact that in 1963, even the Unitarians – the liberal Unitarians! – told their pastor that he could not drape the church in black as a sign of grief over the deaths of the four black girls killed in the Birmingham church that was bombed by the KKK.

Or maybe, just maybe, it is because we sit in the long shadow of a plantation on a hill that robbed children and women and men of their freedom and autonomy. We call the owner of that plantation, the enslaver of people, Mr. Jefferson.

Racism is Charlottesville’s past, and it is our present. On Saturday, racism showed up as a torch, a menacing reminder of white hoods and of torches lighting crosses on fire. Every day, the subtler-but-devastating racism of housing discrimination and a disproportionate number of black youths getting caught in the juvenile justice system shows up.

We can make Charlottesville’s future different. 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.

May 14: Hundreds lift candles in Lee Park in support of equality. Photo: Ethan Tate

And when they come with their torches, we will lift our candles and speak with a fierce love, as did hundreds of people in Lee Park on Sunday night.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who fought apartheid in his home country of South Africa, wrote this beautiful prayer:
Goodness is stronger than evil;
Love is stronger than hate;
Light is stronger than darkness;
Life is stronger than death;
Victory is ours through Him who loves us.

May it be so. May we make it so.

* * * * *

Further reading from local sources:

May 17
The NAACP is scheduled to hold a press conference today, Wednesday, May 17, at 11 am
City Councilors respond to Lee statue protest (Cavalier Daily)

May 16
At Lee Park, Perriello says state should end Lee-Jackson holiday (Daily Progress)

May 14
Candlelit counter-protest follows ‘alt-right’ torch bearers at Lee Park  (Daily Progress)

May 13
Torch-wielding protesters gather at Lee Park (Daily Progress)

Mother’s Day

For those for whom Mother’s Day is painful, may today land gently.

For those who are missing a mother or had a mother ill-equipped to raise them, remember that we are all held, always, in a Mother Love that will never let us go.

If it helps, you can also laugh at this by Anne Lamott:
“But Mother’s Day celebrates a huge lie about the value of women: that mothers are superior beings, that they have done more with their lives and chosen a more difficult path. Ha! Every woman’s path is difficult[…] The illusion is that mothers are automatically happier, more fulfilled and complete. But the craziest, grimmest people this Sunday will be the mothers themselves, stuck herding their own mothers and weeping children and husbands’ mothers into seats at restaurants. These mothers do not want a box of chocolate. These mothers are on a diet.”

So let’s just hold each other and recognize that there’s many ways of mothering, and that not one of us can mother perfectly, and that’s why we need grace, so much grace, because sometimes it goes wrong, even when we very much wanted it to go right, but there’s always – I really believe this – a second chance to be mothered, by mothers who know better now or by friends or pastors or sisters, biological and the ones we meet throughout life.

Another thought I find comfort in, in light of the transient nature of our life here on earth, from Roberta Bondi: “It has always been the deepest of mysteries to me that my mother has an intimate knowledge of me as a baby and as a child that I myself can never have access to at all. It is as though a fundamental part of me has existence only in my mother’s memory, and when my mother dies this part of me will die too. In the same way, God my mother holds the whole of me forever in God’s ever-present memory, and God will never die.”

Much love, from my mama heart to all of you. xoxo

Update: My visit to CCS School Health Advisory Board

In a campaign to end weigh-ins and taking away recess in Charlottesville City Schools (CCS), I attended a meeting of the CCS School Health Advisory Board (SHAB) this past Tuesday, May 9. Below is a summary (the tl;dr version!), a full update, next actions, and a list of news coverage we’ve received.

If you haven’t already, please do share the petition with your friends! It would be great to reach 100 supporters, to make sure that the school board follows through with their commitment to recess and consideration of the weigh-in policy.

Summary

  • CCS Superintendent Dr. Rosa Atkins made an unequivocal statement that recess should not and will not be taken away from students. She says the responsibility for ensuring it doesn’t happen lies with her. If a parent has a concern about recess, they may email her directly: atkinsr1@charlottesvilleschools.org.
  • Weigh-ins have been suspended in CCS. The practice is being reviewed by SHAB. If I understand correctly, they are going to further discuss the practice of weigh-ins. In August, they will present to the board a draft of a revised wellness policy, and that will include a recommendation regarding weigh-ins.

Full update
The most notable part of the meeting was that CCS Superintendent Dr. Rosa Atkins was there and stated unequivocally that recess should not and will not be taken away from students. A parent who has served on SHAB for awhile asked, “When we hear from our students that it’s happening, whose responsibility is it to make it stop?” Dr. Atkins replied that she would take responsibility and that any parent with concerns about recess being taken away may email her directly: atkinsr1@charlottesvilleschools.org.

I was very pleased with Dr. Atkins’ definitive statement. Yesterday, May 11, I emailed Dr. Atkins, asking, 1) What behavior management tools will be given to teachers to replace Recess Academy, for those who were using it?, and 2) Could you please send written communication to all CCS teachers and parents stating the renewed commitment to recess.

I have pasted below a copy of that email. I will post another update when I hear back from Dr. Atkins.

Note: it seemed at the May 4 school board meeting that Dr. Atkins and Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum James Henderson stated that the CCS Policy Manual prohibited taking away recess as punishment. However, I could not find such a regulation in the manual. At the SHAB meeting, I asked Dr. Atkins for clarification, and she said that indeed there was no such prohibition in the policy manual.

Regarding the weigh-ins, they are currently suspended and have been since late March. During the suspension, the practice of weigh-ins is being reviewed – I believe by the SHAB and Patrick Johnson, CCS oordinator of Health and Physical Education. I asked Mr. Johnson what prompted the suspension but have not heard back yet. I emailed Dr. Atkins about weigh-ins and recess in March, but it is not clear that is the reason for the suspension.

It is clear, however, that Johnson and the members of the SHAB have been thinking about weigh-ins and recess policy for awhile. In the past few months, they have drafted a new wellness policy, including a prohibition on taking away recess as punishment.

If I understood correctly, SHAB will again discuss weigh-ins at their July meeting. The new wellness policy will be presented to the school board at their August meeting. I am not clear on whether the wellness policy is binding or if a regulation has to be included in the policy manual to be binding.

Next actions

  • I hope to hear from Dr. Atkins about what behavior tools will be provided to teachers instead of Recess Academy. There are good teachers who were instructed to use Recess Academy. I want to make sure they have the support they need to transition to other methods of behavior management.
  • I plan to attend the July SHAB meeting and the August school board meeting, with the intention of being part of the discussion regarding weigh-ins.
  • I will clarify with a school board member or CCS employee whether the wellness policy is binding. If it is not, then I will push for a prohibition against recess-as-punishment to be included in the policy manual.

Our campaign in the news
May 4

May 9

Email to Dr. Atkins
Dear Dr. Atkins,
Thank you again for your powerful, definitive statement at the School Health Advisory Board on Tuesday afternoon, that recess should not and will not be taken away in Charlottesville city schools , and that any parent who hears that this has happened may email you directly to address it.

I have two follow up questions I hope you might be able to address:
1) What behavior management tools will be given to teachers instead, in the short term? When we spoke after the meeting, you mentioned the VTTS program. That sounds like a positive plan to be implementing, but I am wondering about, e.g., teachers who are caring and good at their jobs, but nonetheless have still been taking away recess minutes. Will those teachers have support from the principals and you to come up with alternative methods for the last few weeks of this school year?

2) I know you are personally communicating with principals the renewed commitment to recess. Could you also provide an email or written communication that could go out to teachers and to all CCS parents, so that all have a statement from you, to which they can point if there is confusion over Recess Academy or other forms of taking away recess?

Again, I really appreciate the thought and time you’ve given to this. Additionally, it is obvious there are many people in CCS who have been working on these issues for some time. I have been particularly impressed by Patrick Johnson and the work of SHAB.

Thank you again.
Best wishes,
Christa

*****

Read my May 4 statement to the CCS School Board here.
Read evidence supporting my request to end weigh-ins and taking away recess here and here.
Sign the petition to end weigh-ins and taking away recess here.

In the news: Campaign to end weigh-ins, recess being taken away in Charlottesville city schools

Our campaign in the news
May 4

May 9

May 24

June 1

Videos: Petition to stop weigh-ins and taking away recess at Charlottesville city schools

Below: My presentation to the school board of the Charlottesville City Schools to end weigh-ins and taking away recess at CCS. Read a transcript of the video here.

Below: James Henderson, CCS Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum, and Patrick Johnson, CCS Coordinator of Health and Physical Education, respond to my presentation to the CCS School Board. Read a summary of the board’s response and the transcript of the video here.