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Juneteenth, Cellphones in Schools, and Biden Protections for LGBTQ+ Students

June 19th, 2024 

"Our history is not just about the past. It's about our present and our future,” said President Biden in his official remarks regarding Juneteenth this year. “It's about whether that future is a future for all of us, not just for some of us. Folks, Black history is American history." Today marks the fourth year that our nation celebrates Juneteenth, officially designated a federal holiday by President Biden in 2021. 

The day commemorates the anniversary of the last enslaved people in Texas finally being notified that they were free from their masters, news that arrived two full years after the actual signing of the Emancipation Proclamation. Those of us pursuing educational equity appreciate that racial and socioeconomic injustices continue today, and that we’re still chasing the American ideal of equality of opportunity. Here are some good reads to mark Juneteenth this year.

Curbing Cellphone Use in Schools

Reporting on efforts to manage students' cellphone use in Westport, Kayla Mutchler had a CT Insider article this week about the serious impact of these devices on student learning. Beyond being a serious distraction, there are concerns about budding research showing that ongoing phone use might impact brain development. 

Last month, Illing Middle School in Manchester made national headlines for their smartphone ban, but a legislative proposal to develop a model policy addressing devices in schools across the state failed to make its way through the legislature this past legislative session. In Westport, which already prohibits "student-owned technology" for elementary-aged children, according to the article, the district is weighing the use of Yondr pouches to lock phones away. 

The prevalence of devices, which give young people access to social media, is a concern that’s increasingly taking hold of the national consciousness. Just this week, US Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy said that Congress should require social media platforms to come with warning labels. 

“Why is it that we have failed to respond to the harms of social media when they are no less urgent or widespread than those posed by unsafe cars, planes or food?” Dr. Murthy asked in a guest essay for The New York Times. “These harms are not a failure of willpower and parenting; they are the consequence of unleashing powerful technology without adequate safety measures, transparency or accountability.” Coverage by Education Week adds that more than 200 school districts have actually sued social media companies because of the addictive and damaging qualities of their platforms.

Biden Seeks to Protect LGBTQ+ Students

During pride month, the Biden administration has hit a road bump as it seeks to expand protections for LGBTQ+ students. 

In April, the US Department of Education released a revised regulation for Title IX—a federal law that prohibits sex-based discrimination in schools that receive federal funding. The new regulation would further protect the LGBTQ+ population by interpreting the term “sex-based discrimination” to include discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. 

This week, however, two different federal judges have temporarily blocked the rule from taking effect in an aggregate of ten states: Kentucky, Indiana, Ohio, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, Idaho, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Montana. (Other Republican-led states have also brought suit.) The new Title IX regulations will be effective on August 1, 2024. 


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