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Podcast: Attack on Critical Race Studies, a conversation amongst educators & scholars


Dating back to the Trump administration, where we saw a 1776 Commission Report that was designed to offer a framework for a “patriotic education” to counter “false and fashionable” histories, and an “equity gag order,” (Executive Order 13950) which forbade so-called “race or sex stereotyping or scapegoating,” the last several months, including during the Biden/Harris administration has seen an intensification of well-funded, orchestrated campaigns by conservative legislator and right-wing groups across the U.S. against critical race theory, intersectionality, and other forms of racial and gender justice efforts in a range of sectors, including education. To provide our viewers some insights on this issue I’m pleased to have Dr. Leigh Patel, Dr, David Stovall and educator Ismael Jiménez on encuentros políticos/political encounters.

Listen to the rough cut of this interview on Soundcloud:

*This is a rough cut version of an upcoming episode of encuentros políticos/political encounters podcast.

Political Organizing Beyond the Election: An Interview with Rosa Saavedra

In October 2020, just before the national election, I interviewed political organizer Rosa Saavedra from North Carolina for Metropolitics, a peer-reviewed online journal that publishes short-form work about cities and urban politics.We spoke about the political landscape in North Carolina as the 2020 US presidential election is taking place.

Originally from Chile, Rosa has resided in North Carolina since 1980. Rosa has worked for over two decades in various state, regional, and national organizations developing and executing strategic community-engagement plans designed to maximize the input and involvement of marginalized populations. She is experienced in working with disenfranchised community members to build leadership from within, utilizing asset-based and participatory methodologies.

We discuss the political landscape and community organizing beyond voter mobilization in North Carolina.

A lightly edited transcript is published below.

Link to the interview:

An extended version of the interview will be posted on encuentros políticos soon.


Interview Transcript

Edwin Mayorga: Buen día, I’m Edwin Mayorga, an associate professor of educational studies at Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania and a member of Metropolitics.

I recently spoke with political organizer Rosa Saavedra about the political landscape in North and South Carolina as the 2020 US presidential election is taking place. Originally from Chile, Rosa has resided in North Carolina since 1980. Rosa has worked for over two decades in various state, regional, and national organizations developing and executing strategic community-engagement plans designed to maximize the input and involvement of marginalized populations. She is experienced in working with disenfranchised community members to build leadership from within, utilizing asset-based and participatory methodologies.

I began by asking Rosa to talk about her current work and what she sees as political mobilization and organizing in North Carolina.

Rosa Saavedra: My main employment right now is with Bread for the World as a regional organizer for North and South Carolina. It’s kind of a strange organization for an organizer like me to be in, but for the fact that Bread for the World wants to do a grassroots type of organizing.

In terms of political mobilization and organizing in North Carolina, I have a split view: what I see that is there, and what I see that’s fallen through the cracks. And that’s what I focus on. For example, the efforts that I’m working on come in terms of elections.

I’ve been working with folks for about two years, but it took six months to get them introduced to the idea that you don’t follow somebody—I might be the organizer here, but you don’t follow somebody. They’re ready to follow, and sometimes when people take a leadership role they take on a hierarchical role, and you have to still not do that. So it still means that the integration of regular people isn’t included in this work. It’s difficult. It’s not there yet.

Right now I’m working with a group that just formed, and we’re groups of different people working in different organizations. It’s just beginning to grow, just beginning to bring people in, and finding out how to talk to our city council. This group has already been listed as something, I forgot exactly what it was—you know, next step to terrorists, basically. [Laughs.]

Edwin: A threat.

Rosa: A threat, yeah. And that pissed people off. That’s the best thing that could have happened because it’s just people who are voicing their opinion, and what you’re faced with is “shut up.” That’s the perspective that I see in North Carolina. There’s a wave of how things have been organized and how things continue to be organized in terms of even getting out the vote. The people on the ground are not feeling their power as individuals, but rather they’re being corralled, which they go along with because they understand the reasons why—to vote. That’s a missed opportunity; that’s mobilization. Now, desperation—I understand that. I mean, these are desperate times that call for desperate measures. But we cannot always stay in mobilization.

Edwin: What do you mean when you say mobilization, or staying in mobilization?

Rosa: There’s this mobilization movement going on to register people to vote, get people out to vote, and make sure that voter suppression isn’t happening—all very important. Those are the three main things that have been going on in North Carolina, in both the rural and urban areas. I don’t really know too much about the white community. I know about people who are not going to be Republicans, who are going to be Democrats or even more socialist. So those are the people that I kind of know more about. I think the number of votes is going to be huge—which is great—but this is an opportunity to be able to make sure that we get into the communities, not just “get out and vote,” but how do we handle these problems that we are seeing in our communities? How do we go and have these meetings with elected officials?

When I first started taking Bread for the World folks to visit their members of Congress, because they focus more on the federal level—you’re not beholden to these people [Congress members], and you don’t have to ask them. You have to come in with a dialogue. How are you going to begin this dialogue? What I see from all this is a deficit in civic engagement, and it’s no surprise, it’s nothing new. But when you see it in your face, you cannot believe it—the people that we think we’re going to engage with, we’re not going to engage them with tactics that are more, like, “I’m grateful that you’re meeting me.” No! We have to develop in our communities. Like they do, for example, in asambleas. If you have asambleas and talk about what it is that you want to engage them with, then it’s not just about you going in there saying what you want, and they say whatever they’re going to say, and you leave, and you don’t know what happens. There’s got to be this engagement beyond the election.

Edwin: In talking and thinking about this as a moment of opportunity, are there particular issues that are particularly salient and possible ways to rally people together around their kind of political awareness and engagement?

Rosa: Yes. People are not politicized. Political awareness is very low, and some of that is because our words have kept people dormidos [asleep], like a baby. Your baby will sleep until you make a noise and then the baby wakes up. Well, it’s kind of the same thing. We’re not using the words that will wake people up. It’s beginning to change some spaces. The constant use of “food security, food insecurity.” But when you hear “food apartheid,” it’s “Wait a minute…” There’s a political element. The same thing with mental health. I keep hearing “mental health, mental health, mental health.” You’re familiar with Franz Fanon? If I don’t hear “oppression” in mental health, then I don’t know that it’s political, it can be political. It’s not, “what’s the political impact of mental health?” But, “what is the impact of politics? What’s the impact of oppression on mental health?” And we’re always hearing it the other way around.

So, we’re not hearing things. What do we hear with gentrification? We hear “affordable housing.” But do we understand that it is really an ethnic cleansing? And people who are now called “gentrifiers,” when you become complicit with ethnic cleansing, it doesn’t matter if, after you’ve been complicit in clearing out a black community, you have a Black Lives Matter sign on your front yard, which they do—they are not politicized. For regular people, that creates a lot of, not only anger, but a sense that you cannot work with that, because those people cannot see what you see. You’re seeing something that is not being seen, and then on top of that you’re being told to try to see it from their point of view.

I see a radical divide between those who are impacted by these issues and those who are less impacted by these issues because of their race—it’s usually race, but sometimes it’s class. There’s a big divide there.

Edwin: How do you think this election is going to turn out, and what work do we have ahead of us?

Rosa: I think that people are not going to vote for Trump because I do believe his base is very small. There are a lot of people who won’t be voting for him, even as Republicans. I don’t know that they would vote Democrat, but I think that that will have an impact, one way or the other. But I also know that there are a lot of people who are voting as if their lives depend on it because he’s shown us that it does. And the good thing is that communities have risen up, and community people have been speaking out. I think organizations have also moved a lot on this.

It kind of reminds me of 2006 when there was this mass immigrant—this beautiful, magical moment. But what didn’t happen was that connection. It was there—it was there because people heard it. All you need is a whisper. That’s where the disconnect came, and there are reasons for that. There are factors that impact that, and a lot of it is financial. The Latino community has been under a tremendous amount of economic oppression. You can’t work two jobs and still do everything else—you can, but you have to do it differently. SNCC (Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee) did it that way. We have to start getting into relationship with each other—and I’m not saying the way of the past, in terms of SNCC, but in the way that humanity moves forward together. It’s in relationship.

Humanity as a whole doesn’t move forward together; humanity suffers from the movement of some people up while the others are oppressed. I feel like this political climate is one that offers opportunity. So the work that I’ll be focusing on after this is going to be very much about building like a telaraña [spiderweb]—they seem very delicate, but they do catch. I’m not saying that’s the solution. I’m saying I’m going to invest my time and my energy in as many ways as I can, and by as many means as I can, to connect regular people with each other. And to exigir [demand]—because that’s the right word—exigir that the institutions—whether they be elected, government institutions, nonprofit institutions, institutions of education—be the ones that the community web catches. There has to be this level of strength that knows that we can enfrentar [confront] what’s coming at us, and it’s not coming to destroy us. We’re going to trap it, wrap around it, and make it conform to what our needs are.

Radio: Credit overdue, examining academic transfer problems for youth in juvenile justice system

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Tune in to Encuentros Políticos/Political Encounters, Tuesdays at 4p & Sundays at 5p EST on

Episode: Credit overdue, examining academic transfer problems for U.S. youth in the juvenile justice system

Across the country, more than 48,000 youth are confined to juvenile justice facilities, and one of the overlooked aspects of the broader ecosystem of confinement is formal education. While youth have access to classes within these facilities, questions arise for youth when they leave the facility and return to the school. Credit Overdue: How States Can Mitigate Academic Credit Transfer Problems for Youth in the Juvenile Justice System, is a national report produced by the Juvenile Law Center, Education Law Center-PA, Drexel University and the Southern Poverty Law Center examines this complex, national, problem by taking a national perspective, by focusing on challenges around transferring academic credits between detention facilities and schools. To discuss this issue and the report I’m pleased to have two of the authors of the report, Kristina Moon of the Education Law Center of Pennsylvania and Nadia Mozaffar of the Juvenile Law Center on encuentros políticos.

Download will be available on Spreaker soon

Kristina Moon is a Staff Attorney at Education Law Center Pennsylvania where she is counsel in federal litigation seeking to ensure youth in juvenile justice facilities receive a quality education, and a statewide lawsuit pursuing adequate and equitable school funding in Pennsylvania. Kristina also works to reduce education barriers facing English learners and immigrant students, in addition to supporting ELC’s broad advocacy to interrupt the school to prison pipeline and ensure equitable access to public schools. 

Nadia Mozaffar is a Senior Attorney at Juvenile Law Center. Her work focuses on advancing educational opportunities for children in the juvenile justice and child welfare systems through litigation, policy advocacy, coalition-building, and research. She has also led numerous trainings and presentations for lawyers, advocates, and policy makers on the educational rights of youth in these systems.  


Credit Overdue (Press Release)

Credit Overdue: How States Can Mitigate Academic Credit Transfer Problems for Youth in the Juvenile Justice System

Radio: Teaching for Justice in the Midst of Dual Pandemics

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Tune in to Encuentros Políticos/Political Encounters, Tuesdays at 4p & Sundays at 5p EST on

Episode: Teaching for Justice in the midst of the dual pandemics of Covid-19 and Racial Injustice, with Tamara Anderson, Dana Carter and Alma Sheppard-Matsuo

As the school year gets underway online here in Philadelphia, questions about teaching in this context abound. Continuing our series on pandemic schooling we turn our focus to teachers and teaching. I’m pleased to have Tamara Anderson, Dana Carter (Racial Justice Organizing Committee), and Alma Sheppard-Matsuo from Teacher Action Group Philly

Download the podcast (mp3)  or find it on Spreaker


Dana Carter graduated from the Philadelphia High School for Girls and then obtained her Bachelor’s of Science in Business Administration from Delaware State University. While working as a Literacy Intern Teacher with the School District of Philadelphia in 2001, Ms. Carter developed a love for Urban Education. She received her Master’s Degree and certification in Elementary Education from Arcadia University in 2007.

Ms. Carter added an international perspective to her teaching when she traveled to the United Arab Emirates in 2013 to teach English for the Abu Dhabi Education Council for two years. Ms. Carter is a core member of Melanated Educators Collective and the Racial Justice Organizing Committee. Ms. Carter serves as the Racial and Social Justice Policy Advisor for both organizations. Ms. Carter has dedicated her career to eliminating the school to prison pipeline by being an advocate for urban learners.

Tamara Anderson is currently an adjunct at West Chester University in the Education Policy Department. She is one of the founding steering committee members of the National Black Lives Matter Week of Action at Schools, a core member of the Racial Justice Organizing Committee, a core organizer of Philly-Black Lives Matter Week at Schools, Opt Out Philly, a previous steering committee member of the WE Caucus, and a diversity consultant for American Association of Physics Teachers.


Alma Sheppard-Matsuo is an English teacher at Dobbins CTE High School, where they are the faculty advisor for both the GSA (Gender & Sexuality Association) and the Anime & Comics Club.  They are a core member of Teacher Action Group Philly (TAG).  Prior to joining the school district, they lived in Brooklyn, NY where they were a teaching artist, illustrator and community organizer, working with groups like Bread & Puppet Theater, Great Small Works and The People’s Puppets.

Download the podcast on Spreaker:








Radio: Pandemic Schooling for students with dis/abilities

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Tune in to Encuentros Políticos/Political Encounters, Tuesdays at 4p & Sundays at 5p EST on

Episode: Pandemic Schooling for students with dis/abilities a conversation with Dr. María Cioè-Peña

As the school year in the midst of the Covid19 pandemic and ongoing racial injustice is beginning online and in various blended models, the questions of social and educational equity persist.  In this episode of encuentros politicos, the third one in an ongoing series titled Pandemic Schooling, we turn our attention to the often overlooked needs of students with dis/abilities and their families. To provide us some much needed perspective, I’m pleased to have Dr. María Cioè-Peña.

Download the podcast on Spreaker (mp3)
Transcript below or PDF 

Dr. María Cioè-Peña is an assistant professor in Educational Foundations at Montclair State University, Montclair, NJ. As a bilingual/biliterate researcher, María examines the intersections of disability, language, school-parent partnerships and education policy. She focuses specifically on Latinx bilingual children with dis/abilities, their families and their ability to access multilingual and inclusive learning spaces within public schools. Reach Dr. Cioè-Peña at

Download the podcast on Spreaker:



Interview Transcript (PDF)

Encuentros Politicos, Hosted by Edwin Mayorga: “Pandemic schooling for students with disabilities, a conversation with Dr. María Cioè-Peña.”


Edwin Mayorga: Buen dia esta escuchando Encuentros políticos, you are listening to political encounters on USALA radio, a show focused on discussing political issues and taking action in Philadelphia’s Latinx communities and beyond. I am Edwin Mayorga, PhD. Today’s episode is titled “Pandemic schooling for students with disabilities, a conversation with Dr. María Cioè-Peña.”

As a school year in the midst of the Covid 19 pandemic and ongoing racial injustice and insurrection is beginning online and in various blended models, the questions of social and educational equity persist. In this episode of Encuentros Politicos, the third one in an ongoing series titled “Pandemic Schooling”. We turn our attention to the often overlooked needs of students with disabilities and their families. To provide us with some much needed perspective, I’m pleased to have Dr. Cioè-Peña.

Dr.Cioè-Peña is an assistant professor in educational foundations at Montclair State University in Montclair, New Jersey. As a bilingual/biliterate researcher Maria examines the intersections of disability, language school, parent partnerships, and education policy. She focuses specifically in Latinx bilingual children with disabilities, their families and their ability to access multilingual and inclusive learning spaces within public schools. Welcome, Dr. Cioè-Peña.

Maria Cioè-Peña: Hi. Thank you for having me. I  just want to say I’m so excited to be here, to be part of this conversation. I’m a huge fan of the series.


Edwin Mayorga: Thanks, I appreciate you joining us. So actually, I read a little bit about your bio, but could you tell us a little bit about yourself, your framework for research and teaching and what’s brought you to the way you’re looking at issues right now, that we’re all experiencing.

Maria Cioè-Peña: Yeah, I think it would be easy to say that what I research is really reflective of my experiences as a person outside of academia: my experiences as a mother to young children; my  experiences as a daughter to an immigrant mother who was Spanish-dominant in America; also my experiences as a bilingual education student in public schools after immigrating here from Dominican Republic; and, as a person who eventually has taken part in the special education system, both as an educator and as a person with a diagnosed disability.

All of those things influence, for me, the way that I approach my work and the questions that I ask. The main thing that I like to think about is who has access to bilingual education and to inclusive classrooms, and, in particular, in asking “who has access?”, I’m really looking at why is it that Latino kids and Spanish-dominant kids or multilingual kids, in general, have such restricted access to both, inclusive education spaces, as opposed to traditional segregated special education spaces, and to bilingual education spaces.


Edwin Mayorga: Could you explain a little bit,  just for our audience, what  you mean by bilingual education? I know that term has been used in lots of ways, and I’m also wondering about inclusive education. These two kinds of concepts  are kind of vague for most audience members, so could you clarify what you mean by those terms.

Maria Cioè-Peña: Yeah, absolutely,  the first one is just around bilingual education. When I’m talking about bilingual education, I’m talking about programs that are focused on sustaining and developing multilingualism, and that can be for children who come from non-English speaking households, or for children who are just looking to expand their linguistic repertoire in general. I’m thinking a lot about dual language programs, immersion programs, and roller  coaster programs.

These programs are focused on maintaining and developing a child’s home language and a target language. That is one, but within this kind of fluid use of language. I think more about the speaker than the listener and not so much about these rigid divisions of languages, but about students having educational spaces where they could use their language fluidly.

In order to access academic content and to be able to show who they are both personally and academically. When I’m talking about inclusive education I’m thinking more about the integration of students with disabilities; into the general education population and classroom. No longer putting students in separate classes, separate wings, separate parts of buildings: segregated schools on the basis of their disability, but rather changing the classroom environment on the basis of their needs in order to ensure their success.

If you think about it, my perception of both of these systems and both of these programs are focused on inclusion and meaning that everyone has access and everyone is included. The second is supporting and meeting the students where they are, while still giving them access, to the general education curriculum. Three is making sure that their educational experiences are reflective of their out of school experiences for their communities and their families. That can be both in the curriculum, but also  who’s sitting alongside them.


Edwin Mayorga: For many of us actually who are in education policy and myself included as an educational researcher, our conversations about bilingual or multilingual students with disabilities seems to be something that we don’t actually speak a lot about , and I was just curious, do you have any kind of numbers? Or, just to give us a little perspective about how many students we’re talking about, just kind of a general sense.

Maria Cioè-Peña: Yeah, so the numbers are hard to pin down. In part because this is a population that is under recognized and underserved. There are estimates that the numbers are around 750,000 to upwards of a million students in the US, currently who are identified as having both linguistic and academic needs. There is a need for both linguistic support and for academic support by fault of either diagnosed disability or just the labeling of a disability within the school framework in New York City. For example, we have about a hundred thousand students classified as both an L and a student with a disability, 30,000 of which are Latinos. What we are talking about is still a plausible number.


Edwin Mayorga:  SInce New York City’s case is near 1.1 million children altogether, but that is a really significant percentage of the student population. What you’re taking in and what you’re suggesting seems to be often misread and overlooked, and under-diagnosed. It seems as though they’re part of the litany of things that you’re looking at.


Maria Cioè-Peña: Well, what we have is two different things,  we have disproportionality and overrepresentation, and we have an over representation of Latino students within certain disability categories, in particular speech and language impairment. Then we also have a lack of representation of Latino students across other disability categories.The representations don’t necessarily match population. What we’re noticing more is the fact that students are dually classified or dually labeled, but are only receiving services for one of the two labels, and most often it is  the special education services, while The ELL label (English language learner) designation doesn’t typically result in a bilingual placement as much as an ESL supports and scaffolding.


Edwin Mayorga:  I mean, it seems clear that there are some gross inequities that the students and their families are thus experiencing. So take us into what this looks like. Then in the midst of a pandemic, you know, what are some concerns and things that you’re looking at, thinking about these in these last five or six months.



Maria Cioè-Peña: The primary concern that I have is that a lot of the conversations that we’re having around remote schooling is really an access to schooling, and in the fall is really grounded in that  kind of prime or framed ideal student. We’re typically talking about white middle class English speaking students. You know, gender conforming, like all of these things. This is a very typical quote, unquote, normal student. What happens in that is that when you have moments of inequity; those have already been experiencing inequities for them. It just becomes a deepening of inequity rather than anything else. Talking about whether or not we do remote schooling has to be brought into context with the idea that the Latin X community has been disproportionately affected by Covid infection rates and fatalities.


We also know that the Latinx community has also been disproportionately affected by unemployment and we know that the Latinx community has been disproportionately affected by other factors happening at the same time, like Immigration policing. All of these things are happening at the same time as we’re just talking about whether we should have school physical in person or online. That consideration is not the only consideration that Latinx family is having at this moment in time when they’re deciding what they should be doing in the fall.


The third thing that comes into play is the linguistic divide and gaps that are created and a lot of the programming in remote schooling is because we are not thinking about centralized remote schooling processes. Everything is district by district and school by school in many cases. Where you know the families are kind of left to fend for themselves within those spaces. If you’re one or two Latino families in a school, but in a district you are  maybe one of 1000.If the district was taking this approach and considering those needs then you would have a different response than just this school is responsible for meeting the needs of their parents. Which then disproportionately impacts these communities even further because they tend to live in communities where their schools are under finance.


It’s a layering of complications that are happening because we’re not having these intersectional conversations about remote schooling ,and we are really leaving out the people who most need it right now and in the most need for accommodation in particular.




Edwin Mayorga: So, could you say a little bit more about what you mean by an intersectional kind of framework. I think that would be really helpful for our audience.



Maria Cioè-Peña: Sure. So I based a lot of my kind of theoretical lenses and the ways in which I stance the ways in which I approach my work, based in the work of Kimberly Crenshaw and on intersectionality, so recognizing that while one school community is talking about Latinx students, and  another school community is talking about bilingual students, and a third  school community is talking about special education students.


Yet the individuals who are part of the systems are not just special education students,  they are not just bilingual education students, and are not just Latinx students. They are part of these three systems and yet these are conversations that are happening in disconnected ways.  There are many ways in which those three groups can come together to talk about creating the most accessible platform and the most accessible curriculum for this student in particular. If we make it for the student we know that at least students who need these three types of services, regardless of their intersections or their backgrounds will also be benefiting from them as well.



Edwin Mayorga: There are lots of different moving pieces to what you’re saying.  I think we have to be thinking about all of them at the same time.  I want to kind of take little pieces of it at a time. You know, let’s start with technology, a little bit. It’s a big piece to online blended models that school districts are trying to roll out right now. What is your take on some of the things that we should be thinking about with regards to technology specifically for the population that we’re talking about?



Maria Cioè-Peña: Before I answer that question I want to let everyone know that a lot of what I’m bringing to this conversation comes from data that I’ve been collecting over the last two or three months in talking to mothers in New York City. Latinx mothers who are Spanish dominant who are raising children and who are part of the special education system and gathering from them. What were the struggles in the spring? What kind of support? What do you need moving forward in the fall, and while I know that some school districts have been doing that, you know, the medium in which a lot of information is being gathered is through technology, and we’re sending out surveys, we’re sending or setting up these online meetings and conferences. Which if we don’t talk about what access to technology looks like within marginalized communities, we’re using that medium to deliver information and gather information. Then we’re actually going to exclude a lot of people from being part of the conversation.


For example, I conducted all of my interviews over the phone and just having conversations I was able to gather all of this information, which I can now share here and I’m hopeful that I can share this with other school districts and current organizations. When we think about access to technology, there’s a couple of things that come into play. One, There’s access to the physical technology and  that’s whether or not you have a computer in your home, and some school districts are trying to mitigate this by delivering technology such as iPads, Chrome books  to certain families, but there’s a waiting period that’s associated with that. Also you have to request it, which means you have to know that’s a resource that’s available to you as a parent.


If your communication happens predominantly in Spanish, but the school’s communication happens predominantly in English, that’s a piece of information that you’re going to miss out on. The physical technology space is one. Two, the access to Wi-Fi becomes another problem, and some of these pieces of technology are coming in with Wi Fi. Some of them are not and some are coming with hotspots, but even I have Fios in my home and it is still unreliable. The reason is  because of the demand and  so many people are using it. Now we have  parents that  are left to use data on their phones to tether to these devices which then incurs a cost for families. So that’s another thing to consider.


The third thing is the language of the devices themselves. A lot of families are having iPods and Chrome books delivered to them. But they are programmed in English. They’re unable to navigate the actual hardware itself because they’re unable to access it, they now have this piece of technology, which was delivered in hopes of alleviating one problem, kind of creating another. Then the last one that I found is really interesting is that a lot of mothers that I interviewed said that they knew that it was available, but they didn’t request one because they didn’t want to be held responsible for any damages that could come to the device We are talking about people who for the most part have really limited incomes, and people who are part of mixed status families.


The last thing that they want to do is introduce another factor and another complication into their lives. If it gets damaged they don’t want to have to pay for it, but they also don’t want to default on paying for any damages and whether or not they actually have to pay for it doesn’t actually matter because it’s the narrative that they’ve constructed in their minds. This involves   the policing of this device and how that’s being introduced into their family, and how that creates new risk and challenges for them.


Something really simple is actually very complicated because we think the solution here is “let’s just deliver the tech”. But what else is there that needs to kind of be thought about around the tech delivery, and I want to be really clear that I think in the spring we did the best that we could, because that was unexpected to everyone. It was just kind of this emergency situation, but some of the time in the summer could have been spent thinking about these questions and finding ways to approach it and address the problem


If we know that this family needs an iPad then we should ask what language you would like it to be programmed in. This is something that an IT person can do in 30 seconds, but then creates just this new paper weight for a family that may not be as experienced in technology and in that type of technology in particular.



Edwin Mayorga: We have to take a short break. This is the school gender and quantities political sphere, listening to políticos encuentros on lusa radio and we’ll be right back.




Edwin Mayorga: Welcome back to encuentros políticos, we listened to political encounters on Lusa radio. Today’s episode is titled Pandemic schooling for students with disabilities and a conversation with Dr. Maria Cioè-Peña. Maria; you were talking about access to tech. I wanted to shift the conversation to just like technology, and just kind of the medium of teaching and learning. We’re talking a lot about asynchronous, synchronous words that for some of us would never really even be thought about in terms of learning.  What are you seeing with the population that we’re talking about involving students with disabilities, emergent bilingual, English learners. What does this all mean for those families?



Maria Cioè-Peña: For these families, the ones that I’ve been in communication with, the desire has been predominantly for synchronous work. The reason for this is that mothers and I’m using the term mothers in general because I think that there are fathers who are also at home, but for the most part, we know that a lot and the data does show that a lot of this work has fallen on mothers and so I don’t want it to somehow be taken to be exclusive. I think that we know people across gender norms and across gender identities can mother.  I’m talking about using the term mothering in that sense.


There are mothers who are kind of leading this charge and doing this work right now, and found that synchronous work was more engaging for their children ,and it was easier for them to kind of control and they say the reason is because the focus was on to  my kid to a certain space at a certain time and sit with them and kind of guide them through the work, but with a real person.


If there are questions there’s someone there who you can interact with and kind of try to make way. As opposed to asynchronous work which is work that is done independently and this is a lot of we set up a classroom, you go in and you do the activities. The tension that comes through the activities and through the asynchronous space is there is assumed literacy in those spaces. There is assumed literacy in English in those spaces. There’s also an assumption of an understanding of concepts and turns  and all of these things are then placed on the parent who is facilitating this learning process, and even though we say or can say, “Well the kids should be doing this” and you know the teachers should be assigning tasks that the kids could do independently. Are we talking about students who have been identified as having a disability?


There’s also a need for scaffolding that may not be as evident. There’s a need for pacing and time that parents may not be privy to because what we need to recognize is that this has been happening for a long time. What happens at schools has been staying in schools, and you can get some information through parent teacher meetings, but the actual practice of teaching, the actual engagement and  the pedagogy hasn’t been visible to parents for a great deal of time.


Now they’re being put in a position to be pedagogues and as much as we want to say that, they’re not teachers. I had several mothers who said, “You know; now I’m the teacher? “I’m the person in the classroom and I am managing their schedules and doing all of these things, but I don’t know how to do that because no one’s told me how to do that”. For so long I haven’t been part of the conversation of people who do that work. So, that’s what we need to understand is  when we’re thinking about asynchronous work, it is not that the child does this, but what support are we expecting from the parents in order for the child to be doing this.



Edwin Mayorga: I mean, that makes me think about the point you’re raising is connected to access, then what access for families and  ultimately the children that the students have to the curriculum? What about both linguistically and cognitively content wise. What were you seeing there and in your research?




Maria Cioè-Peña:  What I was seeing is a lot of moms were expressing issues with their child, children being very frustrated with the medium of learning and them not knowing how to explain that or how to support their child  through that frustration. I learned that a lot of mothers who were staying up till midnight translating assignments in order to be able to do them with their child  in the morning, then staying up till, you know, midnight that same night translating it back to be able to upload it back to the original source in the original source language. Those are some of the things that not only is it thinking about access, but how much labor is required in the access.


I think the other thing we need to be thinking about at the same time is that mothers are facilitating their children’s learning. They’re also facilitating the learning of multiple children and they are also managing households. They’re also trying to figure out how to keep their children fed and clothed in the middle of the pandemic and on the heels of being sick themselves.


Having partners who were ill encountering, you know huge, huge changes to their financial situation, loss of employment There’s a lot that’s happening at the same time that we’re putting on parents and something like translated assignments or allowing students to do the assignments in their home language would greatly free up some of that time.


Edwin Mayorga:  Yeah, I mean, this sounds like an untenable situation for these families and, you know, primarily mothers that were talking about. I was curious as to just kind of culturally circle back to the questions of disabilities here. Two questions and the first one is what is the kind of conceptualization of disabilities and of having children with disabilities? You know, how are those families negotiating that aspect of who their kids are, and what kind of services were they getting at the end from the schools during the spring. What should we  be looking for now?



Maria Cioè-Peña: The city is a good size, I have about 31 mothers in this study today, and a large subset of that group is actually mothers of children who have been diagnosed with autism. That’s been really interesting because for a lot of these mothers, there’s the autism component. But a lot of these children have co-occurring diagnoses, and often those are grounded in speech, language impairment, intellectual impairment, things like that. Then I have those children that tend to be in segregated learning spaces so  smaller classes, district 75 schools. New York City district 75 is the special education district, and then the kids who are members of their community schools; those tend to be kids who are part of inclusive and integrated classes. Those are kids with speech and language impairment, general learning disability diagnoses and within that you get a little bit of a breakdown.


There are different ways that the mothers view a disability diagnosis. For some others they view it as information. Now I have an answer to why my child behaves in this way or acts in this way. The second is as a source of acquiring services. Okay, great now we know what the problem is, and now I have access to the solution. Then the third way that mothers think about disability is as a limitation, they think of it as well that this is just a way to place low expectations up on my child. I asked them all whether they agree or disagree with the disability classification for their child and overwhelmingly they disagree or agree somewhat.


Never do I have someone who’s fully like yes I’m fully on board. This is absolutely the right way to assess or validate my child.  I think it’s because they understand that a disability diagnosis in some people’s mind just says your child is broken in some way. Even for families who have these diagnoses, they may not want it to be  shared publicly.


Edwin Mayorga: Hmm, yeah.



Maria Cioè-Peña: It’s interesting because I feel like there’s this disability studies in education approach of, like, yes, my child has a disability, but they’re fine. They can succeed in anything in the world with this. With this negotiation of… someone just told me, something’s wrong with my child, and I have to mourn the life that I had envisioned for them. You’re coming at this from a community of people who have been taught for the most part, that teachers are experts and everything that the educator says is correct. That’s the way to go, and  they’re kind of finding themselves in these spaces where they’re not really sure that’s true anymore. They don’t know what to do about it.


Edwin Mayorga:  Did the mothers talk about the challenges that they faced with the schools and what kind of services their children were receiving during or at the start of the pandemic?


Maria Cioè-Peña: Yeah, thank you. The one thing that mothers spoke positively of is that even those who are not encountering a synchronous instruction, services were being delivered synchronously. That was something that mothers really, really appreciated. They appreciated it because they saw their kids being engaged and they saw that their kids’ needs are being met. But in particular they appreciated knowing what happens in those spaces. For a lot of these mothers, they just know that their child received speech therapy, received occupational therapy, but they didn’t know what happened there. That helped them understand it,  and helped them see their child’s personality in relation to someone else.


Services were not one of the places where there was the most concern and there was concern, however, about the frequency of services that were  greatly reduced. I think that that was just logistical because at that point you have to do one to one and in part because of FERPA and having to protect the other students’ privacy. Where you may have been able to have a group before and now it’s different because now other people are previewed to this information, not just the students who are receiving the services themselves. That was one of the places where I would say that schools responded well and I think that’s in part because those programs are already pretty small in their design and you’re already working in groups of two or three students.


They had to kind of figure out how to schedule two or three students for one to one services and is a lot less complicated than figuring out what to do with 30 students who have different needs who may have worked in groups before and now can’t. But that’s not to say that I don’t think that the service provider’s job in the spring was any easier than the teachers.


Edwin Mayorga: I mean, this has been really instructive to hear a little bit about what the experiences were around some of these services. Maria I was wondering if we could switch gears and think about what schools should be doing. Part of our entry point is really thinking about what can we learn from some of the approaches of like small groups, one on one kinds of models that we had already been using in neuro diverse, diverse kinds of classroom settings. Does that give us some fuel for some perspective on what we should be doing for perhaps everyone but in particular for students with disabilities and emerging bilingual and English learners in the context of pandemic schooling?



Maria Cioè-Peña:  I keep thinking back on some idea that Sarah Cothes, who’s an associate professor at TC and Columbia University, proposed on Twitter, in terms of plans for reopening back in June. I think a certain part of her plans really had legs and for me in particular, it was around this area of thinking about cluster planning where we have some teachers planning the asynchronous work in teams incorporating, in my mind this group of people would incorporate universal design for learning so that all students could access the work, then that work could be much more easier. You have the centralizer, it could be much more easily translated into multiple languages. If we had that kind of idea structure, then we would know that across the board that emerging bilinguals are getting the things that they need.


The second part of this proposal that she had put out was having other teachers provide synchronous instruction to small groups and then you’re making a much better use of a teacher’s time. You can really provide that one to one support that some students need or that small group support that other students need. But this is one of the ways that if we really stop thinking about schooling as individual classrooms, individual teachers, and individual schools or individual districts, we could really create some amazing things. If we collaborated across grade levels, across content areas in order to maximize both our investment as educators and students, attainment as learners and what families can do to support us,  we are much better equipped to support families if we have a sense of what everybody’s doing.


Rather than that teachers are doing that thing and that one’s doing something else.  I think this is a really, really important thing that needs to happen. This is a lesson learned and it’s just how do we make asynchronous work accessible to everyone, and how do we ensure that most students if not all students have some access to synchronous learning



Edwin Mayorga: From a policy perspective, how can school districts  thinking systematically here, do in order to support their schools and principals? What can they do to ultimately support their families at the various schools that we’re talking about?



Maria Cioè-Peña: I think one really key thing for me is having a group of people, whether that’s within the district or within a city who are focused entirely on access. On ensuring that what’s being produced is accessible, and that it’s accessible linguistically and that it’s accessible to different ability levels. It is also accessible to families of different socio economic backgrounds. I think if you have someone who, in particular, it’s their job to think about what about these people who were much more likely to make sure that they’re being thought about and that we’re covering our basis and that we’re being inclusive.


Similarly, I think we should have a central location where translations are happening; we should be having organized places, and community spaces for families around shared language backgrounds. We have a Spanish parent group that will be sharing information here. We have a mandarin group, we have a Cantonese group, and we have a few Japanese groups and just making sure that we are creating these spaces, rather than “Hey everybody, we have this meeting at this time and this is what it is”. I think really thinking about how we customize the information that we’re providing and how we customize the learning that we’re developing and thinking about it, this is really,  really important moving forward.


Edwin Mayorga: In the previous episode of this series around pandemic schooling. We talked a lot about pods and those kinds of things. I was curious as to whether or not you thought pods were part of the equation right now or what your thoughts were on that, particularly for the students that we’re focusing on.



Maria Cioè-Peña This may be a little controversial, but I think that families who can afford pods should do their part and that would free up some resources within the school systems for schools to create pods for families who can’t afford them. I think if we thought about a special education pod of third graders in Sunset Park for kids who speak Spanish, that would be great.  Then we’re making sure that we’re maximizing the learning experience for those kids. Does it replicate some segregated learning environments that we’ve seen in the past? Yes, but this time we should use it in service of our needs rather than allowing people to still replicate this segregation. There is a segregated learning environment with some of us being at home, learning online, while others are learning from pods without actually maximizing the potential gains for us.


Edwin Mayorga: Yeah, that’s interesting, actually. I’m hoping to have a group of parents and people in the Austin area and Texas actually who have been lobbying to NF convinced. Last I heard they are trying to get  the school district to actually fund and support the coordination of pods for those families who don’t have access to a pod and kind of cluster, you know, they just don’t have the bandwidth and capacity and resources to do that.


Maria Cioè-Peña: l yeah I mean the national parents Union is also funding and accepting grant applications in order to be able to make pods happen for parents of color and for low income parents for special needs parents. I just feel like we need to be thinking about all of the possible ways to make sure that our kids are going to be okay because some families already are, and some families can guarantee that for their children.


I recognize that because of my educational background and my socioeconomic status, I have a lot more options that I can consider for my children. What choices I make can be rooted in my social justice perspectives and in the work that I do, and what I want the world to look like. But that doesn’t deny the fact that I still have those options available to me, and so for me, that suggestion of creating internal school pods is important.


The other thing that I think is important about creating them through schools is we need to recognize that there is expertise that special education: educators have and creating a pod and bringing someone in from the outside who may not know how to support your child isn’t an ideal solution. This is  how we can ensure as public institutions that our students are receiving the services that they have a right to. How do we make sure that we are upholding the demands of the IDEA, which are the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. How do we make sure that we’re meeting those? How do we make sure that we’re ensuring that all students have access to a free and public education regardless of what circumstances we are in right now? Free and appropriate  that is  important.


The school system designated these children as being in need of the services. It is the school systems responsibility to ensure that those services are received, and we can’t just let it be a situation of, well, we just can’t do anything because everyone can’t agree. If anything we should focus on those with the greatest needs because if we meet their needs, we are very likely to meet the needs of everyone else.



Edwin Mayorga: We’re almost out of time, but I wanted to perhaps close with, I’m just thinking about for our parents, particularly for the parents of students with disabilities and English learners. What are some things that you recommend those families and parents thinking about what kind of questions should they be asking In order to advocate for themselves and to hold, you know, the schools accountable for making sure that their children are  getting everything that they have a right to?



Maria Cioè-Peña: Yeah, so I have about four or five questions that I can think of. The first one is what kind of programming will be available in the fall? During remote schooling and in person schooling. Is it going to be synchronous or asynchronous?  What is the exposure that they’re going to be having in terms of academic exposure, not just the cotent exposure.


The second question is what is the parental oversight expectation? How much work am I expected to do as a parent? and this can be at least, to the least of it, can they help parents plan their days and their schedules because right now we’re negotiating, especially if you have multiple working parents in the household. You’re negotiating a lot of moving parts. To know whether or not parents need to be around during these two hours or one and a half hours is really, really important.


The third thing is to ask about service schedules and to see how the service schedules relate to the instruction that’s going to be happening and how they relate to the number of types of services and the volume of services that they were receiving previously and if they don’t match, ask questions. Why is that? and I would also encourage parents to start thinking now about how IEP meetings will be scheduled and held moving forward so that you know what is the expectation for you so that you can still be a member of that team.


IEP Meetings are, each student who is receiving special education services, has one of two things: they either have a 504 which is a temporary individual education plan for a child. Sometimes those are used when there’s injury or it could be used when the disability only impacts their academic learning at certain times or moments. Then the other is an individual education plan as students who receive individual education plans have a disability that impacts their actual learning,  and  it has an effect when they’re in their learning environment.


Those are updated every year by educators and service providers, parents are members of that team, which means that parents can ask questions. Parents can make suggestions and parents can share data there. You want to make sure, as a parent, that you are at those meetings,  especially now because if you’re a person who’s at home, mostly observing your child, then you’re going to have most if not all of the feedback that will be used to determine goals in the future.


The other thing that’s been happening in certain areas, and I know for sure in New York City is that there’s been the development of remote learning IEP. Find out if your school district has a remote learning IEP, and those are IEPS in which the goals are centered or reshaped in order to reflect the fact that we are going to be learning online. Those are the things that I think parents should be thinking about is, how can I make sure that my child is maximizing the time that they’re investing in remote schooling and how can I make sure that they’re getting the support that they need and deserve.



Edwin Mayorga: We are out of time but I’m curious, are there some ways that you are trying to share this information with others beyond being on our lovely podcast here.



Maria Cioè-Peña: Yeah, so I’ve been working with an organization called united immigrants of New York on developing YouTube videos which share this information with parents. In Spanish, and so that’s been one of the primary ways that I’ve been doing it. I’ve also been giving workshops at public schools. Based on interest or request from parent teacher organizations in Spanish or in English on how to support your students with special needs at home. Those are two of the ways that I’m working on that.



Edwin Mayorga: I’d love for you to share those links when you get an opportunity and we’ll almost certainly promote them. This is really, I think, critical information. If any of our listeners are ever interested in reaching out to you, is there a good way for them to be in touch?



Maria Cioè-Peña: Yes, so I have a website where you can get my information and it’s my name. So, and there’s a contact section and the parents who are interested or families or educators are interested in reaching out to me, just fill that out and it’ll come straight to me and I’ll get back to you in a timely way.



Edwin Mayorga: Well, thank you so much for joining us. That’s all the time we have today. I want to thank my guest, Dr Maria Cioè-Peña for joining us. Thank you for listening to influencers political encounters on the radio: If you have comments or questions about the show. You can find me on twitter at @eimayorga and email me at Join us on Sundays from five to 6pm Eastern on, and you can download the podcast episode or you can find it on my website  Thank you.



Maria Cioè-Peña: Bye, thank you.






Radio: How do we reopen Philly’s Schools safely and justly? (Youtube Video)

Image of man with classes and cap. He has his chin and head propped up by his left hand. Circle with words political encounters and encuentros políticos written inside the circle. name edwin mayorga, ph.d. and USALAmedia logoTensions have run high as the School District of Philadelphia, like districts across the U.S., have been devising plans to reopen schools within the context of COVID19. At last Thursday’s school board meeting, district officials presented a proposal to reopen the city’s schools using a hybrid plan. The plan was met with a flood of protest from teachers, principals, families and youth. The School Board tabled the issue, pushing the decision to this week. Then yesterday, the district announced the schools would remain online for all students at least through November. As this issue continues to unfold the question remains how do we reopen the schools in a way that is safe and just?

To discuss this, and related topics, I’m pleased to have Tamara Anderson, Dana Carter (Racial Justice Organizing Committee), Lisa Haver (Alliance for Philadelphia Public Schools, APPS), Kate Sannicks-Lerner (PFT/WE)


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