fair warning

New York City the latest district to warn parents about Netflix’s ‘13 Reasons Why’

Parents of New York City students could soon receive a letter from their schools urging them to “be aware” of what their children are watching, namely the hit Netflix series “13 Reasons Why.”

The show, based on a young adult novel, focuses on 13 audio tapes left behind by a high school student who later commits suicide, each one blaming a person in her life. On Tuesday, the city emailed principals a letter to send home, warning parents that “the series addresses sexual assault, bullying, suicide, and the failure of adults to respond to students’ concerns.”

The series, recently named the “most tweeted about show of 2017,” is wildly popular among teens. But guidance counselors across the country have raised concerns that it could glorify suicide and sends the wrong message to viewers about how to handle emotional pain.

Other school districts have already sent similar letters, as did at least one private school, the Stephen Gaynor School on the Upper West Side. That letter called the series “dangerous” and suggested parents keep their children from watching it, if possible. Netflix, responding to the controversy, recently agreed to update its trigger warnings on the show.

The city’s letter urges parents to talk with their children if they are watching the show, and to “fill in the informational blanks” they may have as a result. It also invites parents to call their school’s guidance counselor or social worker for assistance.

The city also sent a letter to principals on how to handle discussions of the show or mental health issues that crop up at school, along with links to more information. “The emotional and physical safety of our students is our top priority,” it states. “It is important to be prepared for conversations that may occur among our students regarding this show around depression, mental health and suicide.”

Full letter to parents below:

Dear Families,

Our first priority is providing a safe, supportive and inclusive learning environment for all students. As parents and educators, it is important that we be aware of what our young people are watching, reading and talking about. This helps open the door for important conversations centered on topics that interest them. It also provides an opportunity for you to offer support and guidance and be aware of what information they may be getting from the media and their peers.

Many students are watching and talking about the Netflix series 13 Reasons Why. Based on a novel by the same name, the main character leaves behind audio recordings for those individuals she feels played a role in her decision to take her life. Over the thirteen episodes, the series addresses sexual assault, bullying, suicide, and the failure of adults to respond to students’ concerns.

When an incident, local or national event, or TV show is in the media and spurs conversation for our young learners, it is important that we be available to fill in the informational blanks. In doing so we can provide support and a variety of resources should they or someone they know ever face the pressures and/or impact of experiences such as those depicted in this show. As family members and educators we can and should partner to participate in these conversations in order to speak thoughtfully and sensitively with students about their views of and reactions to this fictional series.

If your child is talking about this series or you are aware that they are watching it, ask them what they are thinking about it. Remind them that you are there for them and that there are school professionals always available to answer questions, to listen and to connect them with people and places to assist them with anything that challenges them.

Below are a few links that provide information that may assist you in having a conversation about the series with your child. Also, please contact us at school to address any concerns that you may have about your child, and to assist in answering any questions they might have or resources they may need.
Please call our school counselor or social worker at _______________ if you need any assistance and as always, please call me directly at my office number _______________.

big gaps

Jeffco school board incumbents raise big money, challengers falling behind

The deadline for dropping off ballots is 7 p.m.

School board incumbents in Jefferson County have raised more money collectively than they had at this point two years ago, when the district was in the midst of a heated recall campaign.

The election this year has garnered far less attention, and only two of the three incumbents who replaced the recalled members face opponents in the November election.

Susan Harmon reported raising more than $45,000 and Brad Rupert reported almost $49,000 in contributions through Oct. 12. Ron Mitchell, the sole incumbent without an opponent, raised almost $33,000 during that period.

How much did candidates raise, spend?

  • Susan Harmon, $45,602.33; $30,906.48
  • Brad Rupert, $48,982.34; $30,484.98
  • Ron Mitchell, $32,910.33; $30,479.43
  • Matt Van Gieson, $2,302.39; $478.63
  • Erica Shields, $3,278.00; $954.62

In 2015, the October campaign finance reports showed they had each raised about $33,000.

The two conservative opponents, Matt Van Gieson and Erica Shields, have raised far less. Van Gieson reported $2,302 while Shields reported $3,278.

The three incumbent school board members have considerable contributions from the teacher’s union. Former Jeffco superintendent Cynthia Stevens donated to Rupert and Mitchell. Former board member Lesley Dahlkemper contributed to all three incumbents. And State Sen. Rachel Zenzinger, an Arvada Democrat, contributed to Rupert and Harmon.

Van Gieson and Shields both have donations from the Jefferson County Republican Men’s Club.

The next reports will be due Nov. 3.

Follow the money

Groups with a stake in Colorado’s school board elections raise $1.5 million to influence them

The nation's second largest teachers union is spending $300,000 to support a slate of candidates running for the Douglas County school board. Those candidates posed for pictures at their campaign kick-off event are from left, Krista Holtzmann, Anthony Graziano, Chris Schor, and Kevin Leung. (Photo by Nic Garcia/Chalkbeat)

Union committees and various political groups have raised more than $1.5 million so far to influence the outcome of school board elections across the state, according to new campaign finance reports.

The Colorado Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union, and organizations such as Democrats for Education Reform, a political nonprofit, are spending big in an effort to help elect school board members that represent their positions.

It’s become a common storyline in school board elections in Colorado and across the country: On one side, teachers unions hoping to elect members that will improve working conditions and teacher pay, among other things. On the other, education reformers who generally back candidates who support expanding school choice for families, more autonomy for schools and accountability systems that measure school quality, usually based on test scores.

The complete fundraising and spending picture, however, is often murky and incomplete.

State law lays out different rules and disclosure requirements for different types of political committees. The most prevalent this election year appears to be independent expenditure committee, which can raise and spend an unlimited amount of money but are forbidden from coordinating with candidates. (Campaign finance reports for the candidates’ campaigns are due at midnight Tuesday).

Other groups such as Americans For Prosperity work outside the reporting requirements altogether by spending money on “social welfare issues,” rather than candidates. The conservative political nonprofit, which champions charter schools and other school reforms, pledged to spend more than six-figures for “a sweeping outreach effort to parents” to promote school choice policies in Douglas County. The fight over charter schools and vouchers, which use tax dollars to send students to private schools, has been a key debate in school board races there.

Both the union and reform groups operate independent committees. Those committees must report donations and expenditures to the secretary of state. But the donations captured in campaign finance reports are often huge lump sums from parent organizations, which aren’t required to disclose their donations under federal law. (Dues collected out of teachers’ paychecks are often the source for political contributions from unions.)

Several groups are spending money in Denver, where four of the seven school board seats are up for election. The ten candidates vying for those four seats include incumbents who agree with the district’s direction and challengers who do not. The Denver teachers union has endorsed candidates pushing for change.

The Every Student Succeeds group, which has raised almost $300,000 in union donations, is spending the most on one Denver candidate, Xóchitl “Sochi” Gaytán, who is running for a seat in southwest Denver, and on a slate of four Aurora school board candidates endorsed by Aurora’s teachers union.

The group’s largest donations came from the Colorado Fund for Children and Public Education, a fund from the Colorado Education Association. Aurora’s teachers union contributed $35,000 to the committee. The DCTA Fund, a fund created by Denver’s teachers union, also contributed $85,000 to the committee.

Some of the group’s union money is also going to a slate of school board candidates in Mesa County and another in Brighton.

Another union-funded group, called Brighter Futures for Denver, has spent all of its money on consultant services for one Denver candidate: Jennifer Bacon, who’s running in a three-person race in northeast Denver’s District 4. The Denver teachers union, which contributed $114,000 to the committee, has endorsed Bacon. The statewide teachers union also contributed money.

The Students for Education Reform Action Committee has spent equal amounts on two Denver candidates. One, Angela Cobián, is running in Denver’s District 2 against Gaytán and has been endorsed by incumbent Rosemary Rodriguez, who isn’t running again. The other is Rachele Espiritu, the incumbent running in District 4. The funds, which were collected during a previous campaign cycle and carried over into this one, have gone toward phone banking, T-shirts and campaign literature.

The group has endorsed Cobián, Espiritu and incumbent Barbara O’Brien, who holds an at-large seat. It did not endorse a candidate in the central-east Denver District 3 race, explaining that it prioritizes “working with communities that reflect the backgrounds and experiences of our members, which are typically low-income and students of color.”

Better Schools for a Stronger Colorado, a committee affiliated with the pro-reform Stand for Children organization, has spent a sizable portion of the more than $100,000 it’s raised thus far on online advertisements and mailers for O’Brien. It has also spent money on mailers for incumbent Mike Johnson, who represents District 3.

Stand for Children has endorsed O’Brien, Johnson and Cobián. The group chose not to endorse in the three-person District 4 race, explaining that both incumbent Espiritu and challenger Bacon had surpassed its “threshold for endorsement.”

Another big spender is Raising Colorado, a group reporting $625,000 in donations from New York’s Education Reform Now — the national affiliate of Democrats for Education Reform. That group is spending money on mailers and digital media for four candidates in Denver: Espiritu, Cobián, Johnson and O’Brien, as well as two candidates for Aurora’s school board: Gail Pough and Miguel In Suk Lovato.

In Douglas County, the American Federation of Teachers, the nation’s second largest teachers unions has pumped $300,000 into a committee backing a group of candidates known as the “Community Matters” slate that opposes the current direction of the state’s third largest school district.

The committee, Douglas Schools for Douglas Kids, has spent most of its war chest on producing TV, digital and mail advertising by firms in Washington D.C., and San Francisco.

The Douglas County arm of AFT lost its collective bargaining agreement with the district in 2012.

A group of parents that also supports the union-backed slate have formed a committee, as well. So far it has raised $42,750, records show. Unlike the union donation, most donations to this committee were small donations, averaging about $50 per person.

The parent committee has spent about $28,000 on T-shirts, bumper stickers, postage and yard signs, records show.

A group aligned with the state’s Republican party is also spending in Douglas County. The Colorado Republican Committee – Independent Expenditure Committee spent about $25,000 on a mail advertisement supporting the opposing slate, “Elevate Douglas County.”

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to include more information about Americans for Prosperity’s Douglas County plans. It has also been updated to identify two other groups that are spending in Denver and Douglas County.