sex offense (updated)

Survey questions about sexuality raise school nurses' eyebrows

Some questions about sexuality on a survey of school nurses this week included statements that prompted the UFT to threaten legal action if the survey remained live. (Click on the picture for a larger view.)

The teachers union threatened legal action against the city today after school nurses complained about a survey that allowed them to characterize homosexuality a “perversion” and “disgusting.”

When school nurses logged into their Department of Education email earlier this week, they saw a request from the Office of School Health to complete a survey, titled “OSH High School Nurse Educational Needs Assessment” and hosted on the website SurveyMonkey.com.

The survey started out innocuously, asking respondents to note features of their schools, such as whether they have Gay-Straight Alliances or similar groups, and rate their knowledge of issues related to sexuality and confidence about discussing them with students.

But on the sixth page, the questions took a jarring turn. A series of eight questions probed, in blunt language, the nurses’ own attitudes about sexuality, asking them to rate how closely they agreed or disagreed with statements such as “Male homosexuality is a perversion” and “I think lesbians are disgusting.” Another question asked them to rate their agreement with the statement, “Just as in other species, male homosexuality is a natural expression of sexuality for men.”

The questions so alarmed some school nurses that they turned to the United Federation of Teachers, their union, where lawyers looked at the survey and saw glaring impropriety.

“Asking such questions of employees is, at best, inappropriate,” the UFT’s top lawyer, Adam Ross, wrote in a letter to the Department of Education’s chief counsel this morning. If the department did not destroy the survey and all responses to it, the union would pursue legal action, Ross said.

“We simply cannot allow our members to be subjected to such intrusive — and improper – questions,” he wrote.

The survey’s origins are not clear. City officials said it was not designed by the department. Instead, a Department of Education spokeswoman said, the survey came from the Centers for Disease Control, a national research center aimed at combating infectious diseases.

“Our Office of School Health is participating in a national pilot with the Centers for Disease Control and the Association of School Nurses to improve health services for gay and lesbian high school youth which includes a school nurse survey that is anonymous and optional,” said the spokeswoman, Erin Hughes.

The survey emerged out of a collaboration of the CDC’s adolescent health division with the city and the National Association of School Nurses professional association, confirmed a CDC spokeswoman, Brittany Raines. But, Raines said, “CDC was not involved in the creation of this survey.”

(Update ¦ Dec. 21: Kenny Lull, a spokesman for NASN, said the association “had no involvement in the creation or dissemination of the survey.”)

By late today, the department had disabled the survey. Clicking on the link pulled up the title of the survey, but no questions, only a small, gray box with the word “Done.”

The union’s letter to the Department of Education about the survey is below:

Betsy DeVos

‘Underperformer,’ ‘bully,’ and a ‘mermaid with legs’: NYMag story slams Betsy DeVos

PHOTO: New York Magazine
A drawing of DeVos commissioned by an 8-year-old starts the New York Magazine article.

A new article detailing Betsy DeVos’s first six months as U.S. education secretary concludes that she’s “a mermaid with legs: clumsy, conspicuous, and unable to move forward.”

That’s just one of several brutal critiques of DeVos’s leadership and effectiveness in the New York Magazine story, by Lisa Miller, who has previously covered efforts to overhaul high schools, New York City’s pre-kindergarten push, and the apocalypse. Here are some highlights:

  • Bipartisan befuddlement: The story summarizes the left’s well known opposition to DeVos’s school choice agenda. But her political allies also say she’s making unnecessary mistakes: “Most mystifying to those invested in her success is why DeVos hasn’t found herself some better help.”
  • A friend’s defense: DeVos is “muzzled” by the Trump administration, said her friend and frequent defender Kevin Chavous, a school choice activist.
  • The department reacts: “More often than not press statements are being written by career staff,” a spokesperson told Miller, rejecting claims that politics are trumping policy concerns.
  • D.C. colleagues speak: “When you talk to her, it’s a blank stare,” said Charles Doolittle, who quit the Department of Education in June. A current education department employee says: “It’s not clear that the secretary is making decisions or really capable of understanding the elements of a good decision.”
  • Kids critique: The magazine commissioned six portraits of DeVos drawn by grade-schoolers.
  • Special Olympics flip-flop: DeVos started out saying she was proud to partner with the athletics competition for people with disabilities — and quickly turned to defending a budget that cuts the program’s funding.
  • In conclusion: DeVos is an underperformer,” a “bully” and “ineffective,” Miller found based on her reporting.

We’ve reached out for reaction from DeVos’s team and will update when we hear back.

home sweet home

‘Finally! Something useful’ or a dangerous mistake? Detroiters respond to city’s housing deal for teachers

PHOTO: Detroit Land Bank Authority
This home on Harvard Road was up for auction the week after Detroit announced a half-off-on-city-owned housing deal for teachers.

Friday’s announcement that all Detroit school employees — whether they work for district, charter, or parochial schools — will get a 50 percent discount on houses auctioned through the Detroit Land Bank Authority stirred a lot of discussion.

Some of our commenters on Facebook had high hopes for the deal:

But one commenter wondered if it’s the city of Detroit that’s actually getting the best deal, not the employees — or other people seeking to buy homes in the city:

And others argued that people who already live in Detroit won’t benefit from this deal:

Still, some readers appear to be ready to move — and have even picked homes to bid on (though not necessarily from the Land Bank Authority)!