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Texas County Considers Closing Its Libraries after Federal Judge Orders Banned Books Returned to Shelves

A federal judge ordered a rural Texas county to return 12 banned books back to library shelves, and now the county is considering closing its libraries altogether.

The list of banned books included “Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents” by Isabel Wilkerson, “They Called Themselves the K.K.K.: The Birth of an American Terrorist Group” by Susan Campbell Bartoletti and “Being Jazz: My Life as a (Transgender) Teen” by Jazz Jennings.

Seven local residents sued county officials for removing the books, citing their First and Fourteenth Amendment rights. Federal Judge Robert Pitman ruled that the Llano County Library System had to reinstate the books into circulation at its three library branches.

A meeting agenda for the Commissioners Court of Llano County shows plans for a discussion to “continue or cease operations of the current physical Llano County library system pending further guidance from the Federal Courts.” The meeting is set for Thursday.

The agenda also lists discussions “regarding the continued employment and/or status of the Llano County Library System employees and the feasibility of the use of the library premises by the public.”

Leila Green Little, one of the residents suing the county, emailed supporters to attend the meeting and voice their concerns.

“We may not get another opportunity to save our library system and, more importantly, the public servants who work there.”

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According to the lawsuit, in 2021, county officials allegedly removed library board members and replaced them with new members who would review the content of all library books. Several books were removed from libraries, and access to an e-book service was revoked shortly after.

In his decision, Judge Pitman stated, “The First Amendment prohibits the removal of books from libraries based on either viewpoint or content discrimination” and gave the library system 24 hours to return the books to their shelves.

In a statement to CNN, Ellen Leonida, the attorney representing the seven residents, underscored the extreme measure the county was considering.

“It appears that the defendants would rather shut down the Library System entirely — depriving thousands of Llano County residents of access to books, learning resources, and meeting space — than make the banned books available to residents who want to read them.”

There is a growing movement for the censorship of books in grade schools, universities and public libraries. According to CNN, books that tell the stories of Black and LGBTQ people or by authors in those communities were among the ten most challenged titles in 2021. The trend continued the following year.

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The American Library Association reported that, in the two decades since it began tracking book censorship, the number of attempts to ban books had reached an all-time high in 2022 at 1,269 total demands.

“The unparalleled number of reported book challenges in 2022 nearly doubles the 729 challenges reported in 2021. A record 2,571 unique titles were targeted for censorship, a 38% increase from the 1,858 unique titles targeted for censorship in 2021. Of those titles, the vast majority were written by or about members of the LGBTQIA+ community and people of color. Of the reported book challenges, 58% targeted books and materials in school libraries, classroom libraries or school curricula; 41% of book challenges targeted materials in public libraries.”

In a press release, Deborah Caldwelll-Stone, director of ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom, stated, “Overwhelmingly, we’re seeing these challenges come from organized censorship groups that target local library board meetings to demand removal of a long list of books they share on social media.”

“Their aim is to suppress the voices of those traditionally excluded from our nation’s conversations, such as people in the LGBTQIA+ community or people of color. Each attempt to ban a book by one of these groups represents a direct attack on every person’s constitutionally protected right to freely choose what books to read and what ideas to explore. The choice of what to read must be left to the reader or, in the case of children, to parents. That choice does not belong to self-appointed book police.”

books

School Book Bans Are Rising at an Unprecedented Rate

According to a report by PEN America, 50 conservative advocacy groups moved to ban more than 1648 books in 32 states within the last school year. The report speaks to a growing push for censorship in public schools nationwide.

classroom

Los Angeles School District Hit by Ransomware Attack

A cyberattack targeting the Los Angeles Unified School District caused a significant system outage in the country’s second-largest school district over Labor Day weekend.

The attack disrupted technology used for lessons and attendance and barred students and staff from accessing their emails. Though the attackers used ransomware software for the breach, the school district has yet to receive any monetary demands.

The district confirmed in a statement Monday that the FBI and Department of Homeland Security are assisting local law enforcement in investigating the incident.

“Los Angeles Unified detected unusual activity in its Information Technology systems over the weekend, which after initial review, can be confirmed as an external cyberattack on our Information Technology assets. Since the identification of the incident, which is likely criminal in nature, we continue to assess the situation with law enforcement agencies.”

Authorities believe the attack may have originated internationally and identified three possible countries they have not released to the public.

Ransomware attacks are on the rise in the educational sector. The Los Angeles breach was the 50th cyberattack on educational institutions this year. The migration of school systems to virtual classrooms during the pandemic led to increasingly vulnerable cyberinfrastructures.

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Many schools are underfunded and lack the resources to retain adequate IT staff. Attacks are often planned during holidays when IT security staff is likely to be even sparser. The ideal timeline is often at the beginning of the school year when students return to school, and schools are more likely to pay demands to avoid problems that a catastrophic shutdown could cause.

The hackers did not take any Social Security or medical information and instead targeted systems containing information about private-sector contractor payments. However, the widescale breach points to the continued penetrability of schools’ cyberinfrastructures.

In January, a ransomware extortion attack on the biggest school district in Albuquerque, New Mexico, caused schools to shut down for two days. In May, a data breach in the Chicago Public School system exposed four years’ worth of records of half a million students and 60,000 employees.

One attendance counselor told the LA Times how the shutdown impacted the school’s ability to check on students.

“We do have paper attendance we will be collecting, but I would usually call home or go on home visits to find out students’ whereabouts. Unfortunately, with not having access to their information, I will not be able to find out where those students are. As it is, after the pandemic, we have been working hard to find students.”

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The district implemented a response protocol to avoid immediate widescale impact and to prevent future attacks. The district plans to invest in new IT security technology, hire personnel skilled in technology management, and train employees in cybersecurity responsibility.

Because the attack was detected Saturday, Students could return to class Tuesday morning. Students and teachers had to reset their passwords but could resume their usual schedules.

 

online

School’s Find National Test Scores Take A Plunge As A Result Of The Pandemic

Due to the lack of in classroom learning and having to switch to online teaching, most elementary schools are finding that because of the pandemic that math and reading scores have plummeted to its lowest level in over a decade.

Michelle Obama’s “Waffles + Mochi” Teaches Kids The Importance Of Healthy Eating

Former first lady Michelle Obama is teaming up with Netflix and some puppet friends to educate children about food and healthy ingredients.

Harmel-Codi-Childrens-Book-Series

‘All Kids Deserve A Proper Education’: How Combating Educational Inequality Starts At Home | Harmel Codi

In a country where not every child is given the same educational opportunities, Harmel Codi aims to promote reading and learning for at-risk children.

School Books with Apple

Established Professor Claims ‘Higher Education In The UK Is Morally Bankrupt’

Ulf Schmidt has been living and working in the UK for the past 25 years, but after seeing how the educational system in the country is responding to the coronavirus pandemic in relation to keeping students/staff safe, he’s ready to leave.

Back to School Materials

How Different Countries Are Handling Reopening Schools In The Middle Of A Pandemic 

As schools all over the world gear up to reopen in the fall, many countries are still trying to figure out how to properly implement health and safety procedures while giving kids a sense of normalcy. The whole concept of reopening schools has been controversial to say the least, as many parents are concerned that kids aren’t going to be closely monitored enough, which will likely lead to massive spikes in case numbers.

Many countries around the world have already begun their 2020-21 school year with new safety measures put into place to help avoid a resurgence in cases, here’s what some are doing: 

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In France, there’s recently been a massive resurgence in case numbers already, so when it came to reopening schools the government knew it would have to issue out a heavily detailed list of procedures to be put into place. These procedures include requiring all children in secondary schools to wear face coverings at all times when in school and on the playground. Originally France has a class size restriction for the year, however, they now claim that there are no limits and social distancing in the classroom is advised, but not mandated. 

Poland plans to begin reopening their schools next week after being shut down since March. Late last week, however, the country saw a record high number of single-day new infections. When it comes to school policies, the government seems to be relatively relaxed about what they will be requiring of students. Mask wearing is not being mandated by government officials, but instead will be up to individual principals to decide. 

Belgium currently has one of the world’s highest death rates from Covid-19, and as a result they’ve looked into the best ways to run their schools this fall. Schools will begin reopening on September 1st, and all children aged 12 and up will be required to wear masks; teachers and other staff members will also be required to do so. 

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Germany had many schools in Berlin reopen two weeks ago, which has already led to several dozen of them closing down due to new spikes in infections. Officials have claimed that the transmission of Covid-19 is believed to have occurred outside of the school setting, however, that doesn’t make it any less risky to remain open. The cases so far are more so isolated incidents, but bigger outbreaks are still a major concern. German schools in general are run at a regional level, so it’s up to each individual district to require facial coverings and social distancing procedures. 

In South Korea they struggled to reopen their schools while maintaining proper health measures, so they’ve delayed reopening multiple times. They have begun phasing in different age groups back into the schools, however, a recent resurgence in cases have caused them to shut down indefinitely. 

Denmark surprisingly reopened their schools back in April by separating younger children into “micro-groups” of 12 or less. School starting times have been staggered for different groups, and desks are being kept 6 feet away from each other. In May, kids aged between 12-16 were able to return to school as well, as the country has maintained a relatively low number of cases and new infections. 

Israel is another country that’s been able to manage it’s initial outbreak of the coronavirus. They did such a successful job that they were able to reopen schools in May, sending back kids with limited classes and in small groups, similar to Denmark. Within the past couple of months, the country lifted class size restrictions and informed all students that they could return back to school. However, this led to a resurgence of the virus, and many students have been forced back into virtual learning and a life of quarantine.

Kids in School with Face Mask

New Jersey Will Require Students To Wear Masks In School, New Guidelines State

New Jersey Governor, Phil Murphy, announced Monday that the state is still planning to reopen all of its schools come the fall. In-person classes will resume, and all students will be required to wear masks in school buildings at all times. 

The announcement came along with a new set of reopening guidelines that states all students are “required to wear face coverings at all times while inside a school building regardless of social distancing.” The only exception would be for students with any kind of medical conditions that would potentially prevent them from wearing a mask, however, those are more so going to be dealt with on a case-by-case basis.  

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Previously the guidelines stated that students would only be “strongly encouraged” to wear masks and they would only be required to do so in crowded hallways and any other spots on the campus where it’s difficult to avoid crowds. All teachers, staff and visitors of the school will also be required to wear a mask at all times. 

“We know that face coverings work and we will now ensure that everyone in a school building will wear one.”

Governor Murphy continued on to discuss how the updates are safer than the previous recommendations, however, he didn’t discuss ways in which these policies would be enforced to ensure everyone is following the rules. The changes did state that students and teachers would be able to take “face covering breaks” throughout the day in specified areas of campus where social distancing can be maintained; mainly outside or in large classrooms with open windows. 

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All school bus riders and drivers will also be required to wear a mask. The Department of Education in Jersey also claims that they understand “enforcing the use of face coverings may be impractical for young children or individuals with disabilities,” which has raised a lot of red flags for parents and teachers as well. Many believe that if we aren’t able to enforce these policies that are meant to protect all students/staff health and safety, then why are we reopening the schools at all?

School leaders and advocates in Jersey specifically criticized the 104-page set of guidelines for the lack of clarity but abundance of “emphasis on safety,” without any means of execution. The guidelines also were unclear as to who would be paying for facial coverings and other technologies to be implemented into the schools; hand sanitizer/hand washing stations, temperature checks, etc. The updates do, however, state that families will be responsible for supplying the kids masks, but the districts “should strive to provide” additional PPE. 

New Jersey reported 264 new cases of the coronavirus this past Monday, bringing the state total to 182,614, and according to healthcare workers in the state, the virus is now spreading faster than its being contained. The state’s largest teachers union responded to these statistics by calling upon the government to go remote-only in the fall, however, Murphy and his administration are adamant about opening the schools. 

Murphy claims that the state’s Department of Education will be sharing a Frequently Asked Questions document shortly, as well as a checklist of items that state and county offices of education will be using to guarantee their specific districts are adhering to the new set of guidelines.

COVID-19 Real Estate

College Students Organize Rent Strike Amid Covid-19 Pandemic

One University of London student recently told the story of how he and 200 other fellow students are currently involved in a rent strike due to their inability to afford housing amid the coronavirus pandemic.