First Person

This week's safe schools snippets

Student arrested at school after gun found in trunk

LITTLETON — A student was arrested at Heritage High School on Wednesday after police found a handgun in the trunk of his car. Administrators at Heritage and the Littleton Police resource officer assigned to the school were tipped off about the gun earlier on Wednesday. They were able to figure out who the student was and searched his car. Watch this 9News report.

Aurora officer arrested for sex crimes against teen runaway

AURORA – An Aurora Police officer was arrested Monday on accusations of sexually exploiting a 15-year-old girl who had run away from home. The officer also spent time as a D.A.R.E. officer in various elementary schools – raising alarm bells for parents. Watch this 9News report.

Parents react to D.A.R.E. officer’s arrest

AURORA, Colo. — Parents gathered to get their questions answered about the arrest of an Aurora police officer Tuesday evening. Officer Michael Mangino is facing two counts of sexual exploitation of a child. Mangino is also being investigated in two other cases of possible misconduct. Watch this CBS4 report.

Possible plea deal for teacher accused of sex with student

FORT COLLINS, Colo. — A possible plea agreement is in the works for a former Loveland high school teacher accused of having sex with a 16-year-old male student. Watch this 7 News report.

Lakewood boy, 12, facing felony charges for fighting bully

LAKEWOOD, Colo. — A 12-year-old Lakewood boy is facing felony charges after getting into a fight with another student at Kendrick Lakes Elementary School Friday afternoon.

The boy’s mother tells FOX31 News that her son has been bullied by another student for two years and he was fed up and finally decided to defend himself.  She blames the school for not protecting her son. Watch this Fox 31 report.

Suspected middle school flasher arrested

CENTENNIAL, Colo. — Deputies have arrested a 20-year-old man for allegedly exposing himself to children at a Centennial middle school, and to visitors at several parks over the past two and a half years. Watch the Fox 31 report.

Bullying, licensing bills advance

The anti-bullying bill received preliminary approval Tuesday in the House, which also voted for final passage of a measure designed to streamline the educator licensing process.

The bullying measure, House Bill 11-1254, would expand the legal definition of bullying, create a donation-funded grant program for “evidence-based” district anti-bullying efforts and encourage all districts to conduct biennial surveys on bullying and to create anti-bullying teams. Read more in Education News Colorado.

Ed committee passes school emergency communications bill

After two rounds of public testimony and debate, the Senate Education Committee voted unanimously Wednesday for a bill that augments the Colorado School Response Framework by creating a plan for effective communications interoperability between schools and emergency responders. Read more in Marketwire.

Students get sick after taking pills at Greeley school

GREELEY, Colo. — Greeley Police were called to Brentwood Middle School Wednesday after an 8th grade student brought unidentified pills to school and handed them out to about 15 students. Watch this Fox 31 news report.

Mom says school strip-searched 13-year-old daughter

DENVER — It started as a girl fight at Denver’s Kepner Middle school.

“The little girl grabbed her hair and yanked her down the ground,” says Danielle Espinoza, but she adds what happened next to her 13-year-old daughter afterward crossed the line. Watch more on Fox 31.

Colorado concussions law most far-reaching in countryfootball helmet

DENVER – Jake Bryant never saw the devastating hits that forced him to leave hockey at 16 after repeated

concussions. Alexandra “Z” Karlis was speeding down the ice about to make a pass during a youth hockey league game when an opposing player blindsided her with an elbow to the head, resulting in her first concussion. Learn more by visiting 9News.

How safe are Durango area schools?

First, the good news. A Durango Herald analysis of school crime over five years in La Plata County’s 21 public schools found an overall improvement in the problem. The total number of incidents reported last year by all schools was almost three times lower than during the 2005-2006 school year. Read more in the Durango Herald.

Protecting your child from risky behaviors

Join Boulder Valley experts as they discuss important parenting topics and answer your questions live, during the broadcast. Join the live audience in the BVSD board room, 6500 Arapahoe Road, Boulder, watch it on Comcast Cable Ch. 22, or stream from your computer. Have questions but can’t be there? Submit your questions. This week’s topic is experimentation, impulsivity, and underdeveloped decision-making skills; learn how to help your child stay safe. The event will be Monday, April 4, 7-8:30, BVSD Ed Center, 6500 E. Arapahoe, Boulder, it is free and open to the public. Click here for more information.

First Person

I’ve been mistaken for the other black male leader at my charter network. Let’s talk about it.

PHOTO: Alan Petersime

I was recently invited to a reunion for folks who had worked at the New York City Department of Education under Mayor Michael Bloomberg. It was a privilege for me to have been part of that work, and it was a privilege for me to be in that room reflecting on our legacy.

The counterweight is that only four people in the room were black males. Two were waiters, and I was one of the remaining two. There were definitely more than two black men who were part of the work that took place in New York City during that era, but it was still striking how few were present.

The event pushed me to reflect again on the jarring impact of the power dynamics that determine who gets to make decisions in so-called education reform. The privileged end up being relatively few, and even fewer look like the kids we serve.

I’m now the chief operating officer at YES Prep, a charter school network in Houston. When I arrived at YES four years ago, I had been warned that it was a good old boys club. Specifically, that it was a good old white boys club. It was something I assessed in taking the role: Would my voice be heard? Would I truly have a seat at the table? Would I have any influence?

As a man born into this world with a black father and white mother, I struggled at an early age with questions about identity and have been asking those questions ever since.

As I became an adult, I came to understand that being from the suburbs, going to good schools, and being a lighter-skinned black person affords me greater access to many settings in America. At the same time, I experience my life as a black man.

Jeremy Beard, head of schools at YES, started the same day I did. It was the first time YES had black men at the leadership table of the organization. The running joke was that people kept mistaking Jeremy and me for each other. We all laughed about it, but it revealed some deeper issues that had pervaded YES for some time.

“Remember when you led that tour in the Rio Grande Valley to see schools?” a board member asked me about three months into my tenure.“That wasn’t me,” I replied. I knew he meant Jeremy, who had worked at IDEA in the Valley. At that time, I had never been to the Valley and didn’t even know where it was on the map.

“Yes, it was,” he insisted.

“I’ve never been to the Valley. It wasn’t me. I think you mean Jeremy.”

“No, it was you, don’t you remember?” he continued, pleading with me to recall something that never happened.

“It wasn’t me.”

He stopped, thought about it, confused, and uttered, “Huh.”

It is difficult for me to assign intent here, and this dynamic is not consistent with all board members. That particular person may have truly been confused about my identity. And sure, two black men may have a similar skin tone, and we may both work at YES. But my life experience suggests something else was at play. It reminds me that while I have the privilege of sitting at the table with our board, they, as board members, have the privilege of not having to know who I am, or that Jeremy and I are different black dudes.

It would be easy to just chalk this all up to racial politics in America and accept it as status quo, but I believe we can change the conversation on privilege and race by having more conversations on privilege and race. We can change the dynamics of the game by continuing to build awareness of diversity, equity, and inclusion. We can also advocate to change who has seats at the table and whose voices will be heard.

I remain hopeful thanks to the changes I have witnessed during my time at YES. The board has been intentional in their efforts to address their own privilege, and is actively working to become more diverse and inclusive.

Personally, I have worked to ensure there are more people of color with seats at the table by mentoring future leaders of color at YES Prep and other black men in this work. Jeremy and I also created Brothers on Books, a book club for black men at YES to find mentorship and fellowship. Through this book club, we can create a safe space to have candid discussions based on literature we read and explore what it means to be black men at YES.

When I think about privilege, I am torn between the privilege that has been afforded to me and the jarring power dynamics that determine who gets to have conversations and make decisions in so-called education reform. White people are afforded more voices and seats at the table, making decisions that primarily impact children of color.

It is not lost on me that it is my own privilege that affords me access to a seat at the table. My hope is that by using my role, my voice and my privilege, I can open up dialogue, hearts, minds, opinions, and perceptions. I hope that readers are similarly encouraged to assess their own privileges and determine how they can create positive change.

Recy Benjamin Dunn is YES Prep’s chief operating officer, overseeing operations, district partnerships, and growth strategy for the charter school network. A version of this piece was first published on YES Prep’s blog.

First Person

I’m a Bronx teacher, and I see up close what we all lose when undocumented students live with uncertainty

The author at her school.

It was our high school’s first graduation ceremony. Students were laughing as they lined up in front of the auditorium, their families cheering them on as they entered. We were there to celebrate their accomplishments and their futures.

Next to each student’s name on the back of those 2013 graduation programs was the college the student planned to attend in the fall. Two names, however, had noticeable blanks next to them.

But I was especially proud of these two students, whom I’ll call Sofia and Isabella. These young women started high school as English learners and were diagnosed with learning disabilities. Despite these obstacles, I have never seen two students work so hard.

By the time they graduated, they had two of the highest grade point averages in their class. It would have made sense for them to be college-bound. But neither would go to college. Because of their undocumented status, they did not qualify for financial aid, and, without aid, they could not afford it.

During this year’s State of the Union, I listened to President Trump’s nativist rhetoric and I thought of my students and the thousands of others in New York City who are undocumented. President Trump falsely portrayed them as gang members and killers. The truth is, they came to this country before they even understood politics and borders. They grew up in the U.S. They worked hard in school. In this case, they graduated with honors. They want to be doctors and teachers. Why won’t we let them?

Instead, as Trump works to repeal President Obama’s broader efforts to enfranchise these young people, their futures are plagued by uncertainty and fear. A Supreme Court move just last week means that young people enrolled in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program remain protected but in limbo.

While Trump and the Congress continue to struggle to find compromise on immigration, we have a unique opportunity here in New York State to help Dreamers. Recently, the Governor Cuomo proposed and the state Assembly passed New York’s DREAM Act, which would allow Sofia, Isabella, and their undocumented peers to access financial aid and pursue higher education on equal footing with their documented peers. Republicans in the New York State Senate, however, have refused to take up this bill, arguing that New York state has to prioritize the needs of American-born middle-class families.

This argument baffles me. In high school, Sofia worked hard to excel in math and science in order to become a radiologist. Isabella was so passionate about becoming a special education teacher that she spent her free periods volunteering with students with severe disabilities at the school co-located in our building.

These young people are Americans. True, they may not have been born here, but they have grown up here and seek to build their futures here. They are integral members of our communities.

By not passing the DREAM Act, it feels like lawmakers have decided that some of the young people that graduate from my school do not deserve the opportunity to achieve their dreams. I applaud the governor’s leadership, in partnership with the New York Assembly, to support Dreamers like Sofia and Isabella and I urge Senate Republicans to reconsider their opposition to the bill.

Today, Sofia and Isabella have been forced to find low-wage jobs, and our community and our state are the poorer for it.

Ilona Nanay is a 10th grade global history teacher and wellness coordinator at Mott Hall V in the Bronx. She is also a member of Educators for Excellence – New York.