Archive for July, 2017

4th Annual science education fundraiser LAUNCH!

Saturday, July 29th, 2017

Florida Teachers Need Your Help Supporting Science Education

The best way to learn about science is to actually do science. But giving students that opportunity for hands-on exploration takes money. Teachers are constantly dipping into their own pockets to supply materials for their students, but even with that dedication and sacrifice some goals remain out of reach. Florida Citizens for Science is asking you to team up to help at least nine Sunshine State teachers to bring science education alive in their classrooms.

FCS launched its 4th annual fundraising campaign today by creating a Giving Page at Donors Choose. On that page you can choose from several projects across the state to help fund. FCS will match dollar for dollar total donations up to $700, essentially doubling your gift. This is on top of similar offers from corporations like Orkin and Tom’s of Maine highlighted on some of our chosen projects’ pages.

Our previous fundraising campaigns donated a total of $3,412, helping 22 teachers with science education supplies.

Here is what the teachers we will help this year have to say:

A middle school teacher in Brooksville said, “My students love hands-on science, and I love providing them with project-based inquiry science lessons that allow them to explore and think for themselves. […] Students who are engaged and can actually interact with the material will want to learn!”

An elementary school teacher in Seffner said, “Fifth graders are required to learn about electricity. Experimenting is the best way to learn. Most classrooms are not equipped with the materials needed to provide for safe experimentation, and just reading about electricity doesn’t give students the best learning experience.”

An elementary school teacher in Miami said, “The incoming fifth grade students have shown an interest in STEM education and the 5th Grade STEM Club for the next school year. Our science classroom is completely outdated and needs a lot of STEM science materials and manipulatives.”

All donations are accepted and appreciated, regardless of the amount. The money raised stays right here in our state, benefiting our students’ science education.

The schools we will help are:

  • Woodville K-8 School, Tallahassee
  • West Navarre Primary School, Navarre
  • Treadway Elementary School, Leesburg
  • Royal Palm Charter School, Palm Bay
  • Colson Elementary School, Seffner
  • Powell Middle School, Brooksville
  • Shadowlawn Elementary School, Naples
  • Silver Bluff Elementary School, Miami
  • Village Elementary School, Sunrise

If we surpass our fundraising goals, which we have done in years past, we will add more schools to our Giving Page. We will gladly accept your recommendations once we reach that point.

What are you waiting for? Start giving!

(The picture at the top of this blog post is from a project we helped fund for a teacher in Sarasota during one of our previous fundraising campaigns.)

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4th Annual science education fundraiser LAUNCH!
Saturday, July 29, 2017
Florida Citizens for Science News Release
Contact: Brandon Haught; bhaught@flascience.org

This is not “needless fretting”

Saturday, July 29th, 2017

An editorial was published in a few papers recently, including the Gainesville Sun, opining that Florida’s new instructional materials law isn’t something to get all worked up about: Needless fretting over textbook law.

The doomsdayers among us believe Scott and the measure’s supporters have thrust open an educational Pandora’s box, exposing school districts to the “anti-science” whims of flat-earthers and climate-change deniers.

To them we reply: Deep breaths, folks, deep breaths.

There are some elements of the editorial I agree with. I agree that this law won’t wipe science subjects like evolution and climate change out of the state’s public schools. I agree that a lot of the news coverage, especially the headlines attached to the stories, are overblown and sensationalist. I believe trouble will likely only pop up in a few spots around the state where small yet vocal groups are already causing headaches.

But I disagree with the overall tone of the editorial, which is essentially saying don’t worry, this is no big deal.

This law probably isn’t a big deal when you look at it from a statewide perspective. But it’s a huge deal when you look at it from the local school district perspective. Even if only one school district decides to allow anti-science instructional materials into their school (due to a sympathetic school board majority or relentless pressure that eventually forces a school board into compromise), that’s going to potentially impact the education of hundreds or thousands of students for years. This is not just alarmist hype. I wrote the book on this topic. It’s happened before here in the Sunshine State and the chances of it happening again are now very high with the passage into law of the instructional materials bill and the religious liberties in schools bill.

Keep in mind that the group mentioned in the editorial, the Florida Citizens’ Alliance, took credit for writing the bill. They took credit for recruiting legislators to sponsor the bill. They took credit for helping to successfully navigate the bill through all of its committee stops and votes. They took credit for helping it become law.

Why in the world would they go through all of that effort?

The law’s authors and supporters said:

“Darwin’s theory is a theory, and the biblical view is a theory, and our kids should be taught both in a balanced way,” [Florida Citizens’ Alliance’s Keith Flaugh] said.

And that goal was repeated:

“The science here is not proven on either side,” Flaugh said. “There are lots of scientists on both sides of that equation: Creationism versus the theory of evolution. They’re both theories. And all we’re asking for is both sides of the discussion in a balanced way be put in front of the students.”

And it was repeated yet again:

“We’re not trying to ban books,” said Keith Flaugh, founder of the Florida Citizens’ Alliance, which pushed for that state’s bill.

He said his group is seeking balance in school instruction, including teaching both evolution and creationism and the various arguments about climate change.

Those quotes lead me to the next point I want to make. The editorial questions why nearly every news story focuses primarily on science education.

The whole reason why the media is fixated on the science aspect of this law is because we here at Florida Citizens for Science — who specialize in science education, of course — were vigilant and aggressive. We brought the pitfalls of this law to the media’s attention and we made it incredibly easy for them to report on it, having done most of their work for them.

I’ve lamented to a few reporters that no one has stepped up to defend the other academic subjects under attack. There apparently is no Citizens for Civics organization out there, for instance. And many reporters should shoulder some blame for not bothering to do their own digging and questioning about those other academic subjects. The Alliance is much more focused on civics and history and religion than they are on science.

But science became the media’s focal point because evolution and climate change lessons in schools are hot button topics and we constantly monitor those topics and immediately take action, such as alerting the media, when problems pop up. Florida Citizens for Science would likely have never been involved in this fight if the Alliance hadn’t included science topics in their long list of “objectionable materials.”

Whereas I agree that many news stories have gotten some facts wrong and over hyped the impact of the instructional materials law, I disagree that we’re engaging in “needless fretting.” I appreciate that the news coverage has highlighted this issue because now citizen science advocates across the state are aware of the laws and are ready to act if needed. We’ve been flooded with correspondence, membership requests, and social media followers.

And the interest has led to yet more calls from reporters (I know that a few more stories are currently in the works). I make sure to emphasize to those reporters the facts of this issue, not the hype. We want reality-based awareness of this issue, not the-sky-is-falling screaming.

This is not “needless fretting.” This is citizen activism provoked by very real attacks on science education.

Congratulations! Florida gets an A!

Wednesday, July 19th, 2017

A paper in the latest edition of Evolution: Education and Outreach examines how each state’s middle school science standards cover evolution (A state-by-state comparison of middle school science standards on evolution in the United States). The standards were judged in five categories: Is the term “evolution” used; Is the concept of evolution clearly defined; Multiple lines of evidence for evolution are presented; Natural selection is Mentioned and Defined; Adaptation is Mentioned and Defined. Florida maxed out the points available in every category, earning an A grade. Many other states that got A’s did so because they had adopted the national Next Generation Science Standards or used those standards to help craft their own. Florida was noted as one of only six states that didn’t use NGSS and yet still got an A. You can access the Florida standards here.

Florida also earned this special mention:

Florida and Pennsylvania
The two states with the most unique and teacher-accessible standards and resources are Florida and Pennsylvania. Teachers can set search parameters when entering the site- for example, “seventh grade” and “natural selection.” The search will lead directly to the specific standards that need to be addressed and a very valuable list of ready-to-go lessons, videos, and lab activities. Both sites also have links to online websites such as PBS for additional classroom resources. Teachers can put together targeted lesson plans around the state standards since the creators of the state standard websites have done the legwork for them. We have mentioned that good standards do not necessarily translate into good classroom teaching. Offering teachers valuable lessons based on the state science standards is a productive way to help ensure that the standards make their way into a teacher’s daily lesson plans. Any way a state’s department of education facilitates the process from translating the standards document into actual classroom practice is helpful.

The author is Bertha Vazquez from The Teacher Institute for Evolutionary Science (TIES) and “has been teaching middle school science in Miami-Dade County Public Schools for 24 years. She has BA in Biology from the University of Miami and a Master’s in Science Education from Florida International University.” She also wrote a column for the Palm Beach Post July 13 about Florida’s new instructional materials law: New curriculum-challenge law hides non-science agenda.

Also of note are the folks who helped Bertha: “Acknowledgements: Special thanks goes to the three other raters (in addition to the author) who helped with the standards review, Kate Myers of the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason & Science, Kitchka Petrova of Florida State University, and Dora Pilz of Miami-Dade County. Public Schools.”

U.S. Senator from Florida blasts instructional materials law

Tuesday, July 18th, 2017

Bill_NelsonU.S. Senator from Florida Bill Nelson seized upon all of the press generated by his state’s new instructional materials law to stand up for science on Monday and accuse Gov. Rick Scott of being anti-science: In Senate floor speech, Bill Nelson takes aim at Rick Scott and GOP’s ‘war on science’

Nelson took aim at a bill sponsored by Naples House Republican Bryon Donald that will allow anyone in the state to challenge and possibly change what kids are learning in public schools. The senator said he feared that could chill discussion on climate change in Florida schools.

“Sea-level rise in South Florida is a fact,” he began.

Unfortunately, Nelson makes a mistake here:

“But if there are some who object to that climate science, then, under this new law just signed by the governor, they are going to be able to object to that subject being taught in our public schools and a single hearing officer will determine — a single hearing officer – will determine — lord only knows who that officer is appointed by — that single person will determine under the new law if the objection is justified and they can force a local public school to remove the subject from its curriculum.”

He’s right to be worried about who that hearing officer could be. But the hearing officer doesn’t make any final decisions. He or she only makes a recommendation to the school board, which makes the final decision. Read the final version of the law here (pdf file). Also, it’s unlikely that this law will be used to remove subjects from the curriculum. The curriculum is mainly driven by the state science standards. Instead, school boards could alter what’s in instructional materials, such as textbooks, online materials, workbooks, etc. In other words, evolution and climate change won’t be erased. Rather, those subjects might be watered down or “balanced” with other unscientific ideas (intelligent design or climate change denial arguments).

For instance, the law’s authors and supporters said:

“Darwin’s theory is a theory, and the biblical view is a theory, and our kids should be taught both in a balanced way,” [Florida Citizens’ Alliance’s Keith Flaugh] said.

And that goal was repeated:

“The science here is not proven on either side,” Flaugh said. “There are lots of scientists on both sides of that equation: Creationism versus the theory of evolution. They’re both theories. And all we’re asking for is both sides of the discussion in a balanced way be put in front of the students.”

And it was repeated yet again:

“We’re not trying to ban books,” said Keith Flaugh, founder of the Florida Citizens’ Alliance, which pushed for that state’s bill.

He said his group is seeking balance in school instruction, including teaching both evolution and creationism and the various arguments about climate change.

Despite Sen. Nelson’s error, we appreciate that he is aware of the law and its potential negative impact on science education. Thank you, sir.

Truth in Textbooks?

Tuesday, July 18th, 2017

TextbooksBefore I do a news roundup of all the articles published about the horrible new Florida instructional materials law, it’s important to note that this issue will only get more heated throughout the year. The Department of Education will soon launch its science instructional materials review and selection process. I encourage you to read the materials currently posted at the DoE instructional materials website. The website currently announces that the “Reviewer portal is now closed for the 2016-17 state adoption.” But that was for last year’s social studies materials review. The portal will eventually reopen when the science materials review kicks off. If you open the pdf document there “2017-18 Instructional Materials Adoption Announcement” you’ll see that the final deadline for publishers to submit materials is:

Publishers must provide FDOE with access to sample copies of the major tool, which includes the Student Edition and the Teacher Edition, in an electronic or digital format, no later than 5 p.m., EDT, Friday, July 14, 2017.

Unfortunately, I can’t find any documents on the site that outline the review schedule, such as when guest reviewer applications will be accepted. If you find the information, please let us know. In the meantime, we need to constantly monitor that website and any announcements issued by the DoE.

The group that wrote and promoted the bad instructional materials law, the Florida Citizens’ Alliance, is getting ready. Their latest post asks for folks to take a survey and then sign up for training in reviewing textbooks hosted by an organization called Truth in Textbooks. The Truth’s website is apparently down (I tried to access it several times July 18 and kept getting error messages). But the group made a name for itself when it was known as Truth in Texas Textbooks. Here’s a story about them from back in 2014: A New Conservative Watchdog’s Big Textbook War Debut.

The group’s comments on each text are posted online as Word documents, plus a 52-page summary of their findings. They include grammar fixes and corrected dates, but dwell mostly on the usual questions of patriotism, religion, global warming and evolution—all the usual battlegrounds the State Board of Education is known for.
[…]
The Texas Freedom Network’s review of the new group’s reviews called its complaints “peculiar” and questioned whether the group’s reviewers were qualified for the job. A note on one Truth in Texas Textbooks’ review, TFN notes, suggests including information on Young Earth Creationism sourced to Conservapedia.com.

In other words, we need to be ready. We here at Florida Citizens for Science recently had an informal board meeting, spending three hours discussing a wide range of current event topics. We’re in the process of contacting the DoE to try to pry more detailed information out of them about their instructional materials review and selection process. We’re networking with individuals and groups all across the state with the goal of establishing activists in every county to monitor and participate in local textbook selection efforts. If you want to join in our efforts, please contact us ASAP. Don’t wait!

Now let’s move on to the news roundup. First is a link to the interview I did on radio station WGCU’s radio show Gulf Coast Live: Naples Rep’s New Law Lets Any Resident Challenge Classroom Materials. The main guest was the instructional materials law sponsor in the state House, Rep. Byron Donalds. I was the other guest, but I was on the phone instead of in the studio with Donalds and the show host. That resulted in my not getting much speaking time. I actually think the host forgot I was a guest for a while. In my opinion, the host could have done a much better job of including me. For instance, she asked Donalds to explain how the new law would work if someone came forward with a complaint about how Cuba is portrayed in some material. That was puzzling. Wouldn’t it have made more sense to use a science-related example so that I could then be part of the conversation? The rare couple of times I got to speak I think I made the most of. However, the host’s question to me about how people incorrectly use the scientific meaning of the word “theory” was completely out of context from the ongoing conversation. It was as if maybe her producer reminded her that I was on the phone and she just picked a random question that her producer had prepared for her ahead of time. It was a frustrating experience but still worth the time getting Donalds’ thoughts on the record.

The Florida Keys News published a story: New law allows anyone to question what’s taught in school.

Florida Keys Schools Superintendent Mark Porter said he doesn’t expect any flurry of activity in response to the new law but said the district will have to develop a new policy to match the new law. As for who the hearing officer should be, Porter said that is up to interpretation.

“We have a very thorough process for the adoption of materials, that’s what really makes the most sense,” Porter said. “This opens up the opportunity for after adoption for materials to be evaluated.”

Since he was hired in 2012, Porter said he hasn’t had a phone call questioning such materials on science or any other subject.

Reconsidering textbooks once they’ve been purchased could lead to costly changes, Porter said.

The Humanist interviewed our very own Florida Citizens for Science president Jonathan Smith: Classroom Politics: Florida’s New Law on Education.

Florida’s dystopian turn is a worrisome reality for local and national science advocacy groups that have been fighting for proper science education for years. Florida Citizens for Science (FCS) President Jonathan Smith lamented the law in an email response to me: “This has the potential to undermine all the work we have done in the last eight years and again impose a minority’s religious convictions on the rest of us.”

The Tampa Bay Times has an editorial: Florida’s micromanaging of public schools.

Think of the mayhem this could create. Don’t believe in evolution? Challenge the science teacher. Don’t believe high schoolers should learn about sex education? Challenge the health teacher. Don’t believe the Holocaust actually happened? Challenge the history teacher. Don’t like the language in The Catcher in the Rye? Challenge the American lit teacher.
[…]
For a state that has gone to great lengths to ensure that teachers are held accountable and curriculum adheres strictly to Florida’s testing standards, how on Earth does it make sense to permit anyone with time on their hands and an ax to grind to throw a classroom into chaos?

And our final news item for now is from The Ledger: Polk schools expect easy transition to new state process for challenging instructional materials.

School Board member Billy Townsend said there might not be any impact at all. “Like so much of what came out of this legislative session, it’s a horribly vague and unhelpful piece of legislation… and I’m not sure what kind of problem it’s trying to solve,” Townsend said. “Looking at the entire legislative package that was sent out, it’s one big statement of bad intent and how that bad intent manifests itself on the ground in reality — we don’t know yet.”
[…]
“Sometimes it’s a double-headed coin: Some may say they don’t like the materials you’re currently using and want you to use materials that most people in the community are not in favor of,” [School Board member Lynn] Wilson said. “We’ll just have to see.”

Live on the radio tomorrow (Wednesday)

Tuesday, July 11th, 2017

GCLfull600FYI: I’ll be on radio station WGCU’s Gulf Coast Live show tomorrow (Wednesday July 12) from 1-1:30 p.m. You should be able to listen live online. We’ll be discussing Florida’s new instructional materials law. The sponsor of that bill as it worked its way through the Florida House was Rep. Byron Donalds and he is also expected to be a guest on the show.

I invite you to listen and call in with questions if you are able. But I imagine that half hour will fly by!

“It’s such a joke. It’s like, what is this, 1940?”

Sunday, July 9th, 2017

There’s quite a bit to discuss today, so let’s get right to it.

There are a lot of links in this post to various news articles and opinion pieces. If you only click on one link, though, then click on this one. This is a thorough news piece in the Sarasota Herald-Tribune: New law expected to prompt more school curricula challenges

According to the law, the only qualification a hearing officer needs is that he or she “may not be an employee or agent of the school district.”

“I don’t mind that any community member can bring forward a complaint; we listen to those a lot. But how many complaints do we have to hear about every library book that somebody doesn’t like?” said Charlie Kennedy, chairman of the Manatee County School Board and a former teacher and coach at Manatee High School. “They’re going to be coming after Harry Potter because of witchcraft — it’s a Pandora’s box that nobody thought about.

“It’s just another unfunded mandate from Tallahassee whipped up by anti-science people. It’s going to waste so much time, and it’s embarrassing.”

Many other news articles and opinion pieces I’ve read got the hearing officer part of this law wrong. They incorrectly state that the hearing officer makes the final decision. The Herald-Tribune got it right, though. The hearing officer just makes a recommendation to the school board, which then makes the final decision.

Here’s an important segment of the news story that we need to be mindful of going forward in our dealings with this law. Can you spot what I’m referring to?

The legislation was sponsored by state Rep. Byron Donalds, R-Naples, whose Collier County constituents include a four-year-old group of activists called the Florida Citizens’ Alliance (FLCA). On its website, the FLCA lists six categories where it has identified “specific objectionable materials” in public schools: “English language arts, pornography, reconstructed history and advanced placement US history, religious indoctrination, political indoctrination, and Common Core math methodologies.”

FLCA co-founder Rick Stevens, pastor at Diplomat Wesleyan Church in Cape Coral, says objections to the new law based on fears of triggering anti-science zealotry are red herrings.

“I’m always amused that this climate change stuff comes up. Because that wasn’t us and I’ve been involved in this since the beginning of our initiative. We have never advocated for specific things so much as we’ve said there is a flaw in the process,” he said. “And what we take issue with the most is the inability of parents in Florida to be heard about their concerns.”

liarI can’t believe the reporter let Stevens get away with this. Stevens flat out told a whopper of a lie. “Because that wasn’t us …” Really? You can read all of the proof that he’s lying for yourself in my long, detailed post outlining the history of this law. For specifics, scroll down in that post to the section “Why does Florida Citizens for Science care about this bill?” As we fight back against the Alliance, we need to loudly and forcefully shine a bright spotlight on this lie.

Fortunately, there are other folks out there who see this law for what it is:

Kennedy, the Manatee School Board chairman, said all he can do now is wait for the Florida Department of Education to write rules that comply with the statute.

“So we’ve got a couple of people in Collier County who think climate change is a myth and they turn it into a statewide issue,” he said. “It’s such a joke. It’s like, what is this, 1940?”

OK, let’s lighten the mood here with a few humorous columns.

Word of our horrible new instructional materials law has reached North Carolina. Columnist Scott Hollifield feels left out of our textbook challenging game: Demanding our say in Florida education

I agree with the Florida Citizens for Science that it’s a bad law, but only for this reason: It does not go far enough. Let me repeat the last part in capital letters adding exclamation points, which is what nut jobs — er, I mean concerned citizens — do when they are making a point. Also, I am standing on a soapbox and shaking my fist angrily while I type this, which is difficult but not impossible.

IT DOES NOT GO FAR ENOUGH!!

If people who do not have kids in schools in Florida can complain about what kids are taught in schools in Florida, why can’t anyone who has ever been to Florida complain about what kids are taught in schools in Florida?

It only seems fair, if not wildly ridiculous like the new law itself.

Meanwhile, back here in Florida, TC Palm columnist Gil Smart takes a turn at slamming the instructional materials law: Don’t like a school’s curriculum? Now you can challenge it

Yes, the new law might spark challenges to evolution and climate change.

But the challenges won’t be limited to science; the law permits any resident to challenge anything.

And some school officials are bracing for the deluge.

“This is a way for people to completely halt the progress of schools,” said Tina McSoley, who chairs the Martin County School Board and is a member of the Florida School Boards Association’s Legislative Committee. “They can come in and say, ‘No more Tom Sawyer’ because they don’t like the use of curse words.”

History, civics, English language arts — it could all be up for grabs in every district, McSoley said, depending on the complaints and how the hearing officers decide.

And yet another columnist, Tom Lyons of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, focuses on one of the most troubling aspects of the new law: The unbiased hearing officer will hear your nutty complaint now, sir.

The thing is, the notion that anyone chosen for that role could be unbiased is absurd. To find someone without opinions on such matters we would pretty much have to find someone who is dysfunctionally oblivious.

The hearing officers will only make recommendations to school boards. The governor and our lawmakers have not yet gone totally nuts and handed all power to this imagined, unbiased decider. But the idea that every gripe no matter how silly about any sentence in any textbook deserves a hearing is, at best, incredibly cumbersome.

I should not complain. This will no doubt create column fodder by providing lots of chances for people to argue.

Those who think their preferred religious text is the only book anyone really needs, and who insist the earth is 6,000 years old and that a “Flintstones” cartoon is more accurate than a public school biology text book, will inspire reactions from amused to outraged. As a columnist, I should be delighted.

And the final link for today is to the Orlando Sentinel. They do a quick rundown of several of this year’s new laws affecting education: Florida gets new school rules on testing, books, bonuses

Books

Residents — and not just parents — who dislike books, textbooks or other “instructional materials” used in public schools should find it easier to challenge those items.

Backers say the measure will give those who find certain books inappropriate a better way to voice their objections. Critics say the new law could lead to censorship of important literary works or hurt science education, by opening the door to challenges to controversial topics, such as evolution.

“Unfortunately, the devious Instructional Materials bill, which creationists and climate change deniers absolutely love, is now signed into law,” wrote Brandon Haught, a Volusia County biology teacher, on the Florida Citizens for Science blog.

[…]

Religious expression

Students can express their religious views in classwork, in clothing and jewelry worn to school and by praying during free time under a new law.

Critics say the measure was unnecessary as state and federal laws already guarantee such freedoms. Those who pushed the new “religious liberties” measure said students need the new protections because some school administrators fear allowing such expression because it will look like they are endorsing religion.

“Students should not have to surrender their constitutional rights or their religious beliefs at the schoolhouse door. Neither should teachers, administrators or parents,” said Sen. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, one of the bill’s sponsors, in a statement after it became law.

 

Announcement: Florida Citizens for Science meeting July 15

Saturday, July 8th, 2017

Florida Citizens for Science will hold an interim meeting to discuss the many science education developments since we held our regular annual meeting back in January.

Date: July 15 (Saturday)
Time: 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Place: Room 2702 USF Marshall Student Center, 4103 Cedar Circle, Tampa, Florida 33620

The event announcement is also on Facebook.

We will have a structured “open forum” meeting to discuss the following:
**Seeking members willing to serve on the Florida Citizens for Science Board of Directors, willing to form and serve on committees, and willing to take on other active roles.
**What actions to take in response to new Instructional Materials law.
**What actions to take in response to new Religious Liberties in Schools law.
**What actions to take when the Florida Department of Education starts the science textbook review/adoption process.
**What actions to take in response to consistently poor results on annual state science assessments.
**Guage interest in reinstating our annual fundraising campaign for science supplies requested by Florida teachers on Donors Choose.

We will attempt to make the meeting accessible remotely via Skype, Google Hangouts or some other video conferencing method. If anyone wishes to assist in setting this up, please let us know.

We will ask all participants to stay on topic. We will politely yet firmly cut off comments/discussion that ramble or get off topic. Please review the list of topics and prepare any remarks or suggestions you have ahead of time so that the meeting can run smoothly.