Articles from June, 2009

School law week with the Supremes

The U.S. Supreme Court often hands down a flurry of rulings toward the end of its term, and this year is no exception. What set last week apart, for those of us in the education world, was that we got three school law rulings. So here we go:

The special ed case

First, the Court gave us a long-awaited answer to the question of whether parents of a student who never has received special education services in public school can place their child in private school and get public reimbursement. With Justice Anthony Kennedy recusing himself in earlier cases on this question, the Court hadn’t been able to rule definitively.

But last week in Forest Grove v. T.A., the Court ruled that Oregon parents who’d initially agreed with their school district that their son was not eligible for special education services but later pulled him out, without notifying the district, and put him in a residential school, could sue to get reimbursed for the tuition—over $5,000 a month. The details of the ruling, the dissenting opinion, the background on the case, and NSBA’s friend-of-the-court brief all are available starting here, courtesy of NSBA’s Legal Clips.

The big question on everyone’s mind is what kind of fallout we can expect: Will parents who’d like a taxpayer-paid private school education for their children be less inclined to try to work in good faith with their public schools? NSBA General Counsel Francisco Negron tells NPR that this is the scenario that worries schools, and it surely isn’t what Congress had in mind. In the Los Angeles Times, NSBA Deputy General Counsel Naomi Gittins expresses hope that the impact will be limited, since “Most parents do try to work with the school district.” Charles P. Conroy, executive director of a Massachusetts private school, offers reassurance in a Boston Globe op-ed. In this entry on his Education Front blog, Dallas Morning News columnist William McKenzie agrees with the decision but worries that it “could cost districts a boatload of money.” Wall Street Journal columnist and blogger Sue Shellenbarger has mixed feelings.

The media flurry case

The case that got the most intense media interest was, naturally, the Arizona strip search case, Safford Unified Sch. Dist. #1 v. Redding, which BoardBuzz wrote about here. Here, again, the Court ruled that the search of a thirteen-year-old girl suspected of concealing pills went too far, given the limited danger from prescription Ibuprofen and the lack of any reason to think she was hiding the pills in her underwear. Luckily, though, the Court agreed that on a question like this, where even the judges themselves disagree so much, the law isn’t so clear cut that the educators should be personally liable if they made the wrong call. Again, Legal Clips has all the details and background starting here.

The implications? Well, for starters, Gittins tells McClatchy, school officials “will think long and hard before they authorize a strip search in the future.” That’s probably not a bad thing. But on NPR Negron warns that, as we said last week, the decision also casts uncertainty on searches for other kinds of dangerous contraband, like weapons. And even when it comes to what may seem like more minor threats, he reminds CNN, “The home medicine cabinet now poses a serious threat to students, who may take those medications for abusive purposes.” Watch for future litigation over how “dangerous” something is, he predicts.

The sleeper case

The third case was more obscure and very complex, but it was a biggie in a nation where public schools are tackling the enormous educational challenges of an incredibly diverse student population, and have limited resources ot get the job done. Horne v. Flores was an appeal of lower court rulings that the state of Arizona violated the federal Equal Educational Opportunity Act (EEOA) by failing to fund English language learner programs adequately. The state never complied with the lower court’s order to come up with some rational connection between the needs and the funding provided, but some state officials argued the situation had changed so much since then that the state shouldn’t have to. 

The Supreme Court ruled that the lower courts must consider more carefully certain subsequent changes in the educational situation which may mean Arizona no longer is violating the EEOA and should be relieved from complying with the orders on funding. Details from Legal Clips on the case, including Justice Stephen Breyer’s blistering dissent, start here. The Arizona Republic reports on reactions to the ruling here.

One thing that had education and civil rights advocates worried was an argument that the state’s progress with ELL students under No Child Left Behind automatically meant that the state also was complying with the EEOA. An “enormous can of worms” was how NSBA Senior Staff Attorney Tom Hutton described that argument in the journal Diverse: Issues in Higher Education when the case was argued: “How would this play out in the special education context? I have a hard time believing the court would go there.”

And in the end it didn’t go there—not quite, anyway. While the Court rejected the idea that NCLB compliance = EEOA compliance by definition, it did say NCLB was relevant to the question of whether overall circumstances have changed sufficiently that Arizona no longer is violating the EEOA. That’s the question the lower court will have to reevaluate now. The Associated Press reports that the lawyer representing the plaintiffs welcomes the opportunity.

The Supremes to school officials

After such a busy week shaping school law, perhaps it’s fitting that a speech Chief Justice John Roberts gave over the weekend generated a message for school officials. The Associated Press reports that the Chief Justice said they shouldn’t “look to the Supreme Court to set school rules, only to clarify them when officials have abdicated that responsibility.”

Roberts called the Court’s rulings “clarity intended to deal with narrow issues that surface from government actions,” adding, “You can’t expect to get a whole list of regulations from the Supreme Court. That would be bad. We wouldn’t do a good job at it.”

True enough. But the downside of narrow guidance probably is more lawsuits, as everyone learns how to apply these rulings.

Tom Hutton|June 30th, 2009|Categories: Governance, School Law, Special Education, Elementary and Secondary Education Act, Educational Finance, School Security, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|Tags: |

Innovation matters

Our own Ann Flynn, NSBA Education Technology Director, speaks on how technology innovation can be leveraged to improve or benefit school district administration. Check out the video available below from Education Week.

Ann Flynn: Why Tech Innovation Matters from Education Week on Vimeo.

Erin Walsh|June 30th, 2009|Categories: Educational Technology, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|

School Board News Today headlines

HHS rescinds Bush-era Medicaid regulations

Oakland, Calif. school board back in charge

Staff members make sacrifices to help districts’ budgets

Ky. schools’ healthy example could shape a national policy

Cincinnati school board pressured on project bids

Cyber bullying affects one in 10 students

Supreme Court rejects parents’ appeal for tuition reimbursement

Joetta Sack-Min|June 30th, 2009|Categories: Student Achievement, American School Board Journal|

NCATE makes it real

He stood before my news writing class, staring at us novices and clutching that ever-present can of Orange Crush like some kind of hand grenade. Then he barked out a question:

“Hardy! Whatcha got?”

This was News Writing 101 or something like that. I was a grad student in journalism, and Mr. K’s class was as close as I was going to get to a real newsroom for the next few months. My “beat” was Boston City Council.

“Well, Mr. K,” I replied, trying not to sound too meek. “The city council has had it with the mayor. He’s arrogant. He’s aloof. He won’t meet with them. And if he doesn’t agree to …”

“Slug it: ‘Feud!'” Mr. K thundered, before turning to the next student: “Williams! Whatcha got?”

Mr. K was a great teacher and a wonderful if slightly intimidating friend.  The booming voice and Orange Crush were just an act, something to try to simulate the kind of pressure we’d be under in our first jobs. But while Mr. K’s class was easily the best I had in journalism school, it didn’t come close to teaching me what I would learn in about three weeks of working for a daily newspaper.

I thought of my journalism training after learning that NCATE (the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education) is changing the way it accredits teacher colleges, most notably by strengthening the student teaching experience and providing more hands-on experience in the classroom.

Its report, Meeting Urgent National Needs in P-12 Education, was released last week. 

Joetta Sack-Min|June 30th, 2009|Categories: Student Achievement, American School Board Journal|

School Board News Today headlines

Roberts: Supreme Court not setting school rules

Recession forcing seniors to change their college plans

Fla. district considers giving students 40 percent grade on missed assignments

Teens and young adults find a harsh job market

Ky. school board investigating local newspaper for defamation

Peer review programs can be lifeline for struggling teachers

Joetta Sack-Min|June 29th, 2009|Categories: Student Achievement, American School Board Journal|

Time to rethink animal dissections in schools?

It was one of those stories that would make just about any animal lover wince.

As I was gathering the daily news clips last week, I came across this story from the Miami Herald, about schools in South Florida using animals for dissections in their science classes. Frogs have always tended to be the specimens of choice, but when some science classes began using cats for their specimens, as well as sharks, rats, some parents and students protested.

The debate was further reignited when a 19-year-old former student allegedly went on a cat-killing spree in Palmetto Bay, Fla. The teenager, who apparently had taken classes at a local high school that dissected cats, was arrested and charged with multiple counts of animal cruelty for killing and mutilating at least 19 cats in his neighborhood.

This debate has been going on for decades. Animal-rights activists feel animal dissentions are unnecessary they say students can learn biological basics from computer-simulated software and plastic models while some scientists and teachers say nothing can replicate an actual animal.

”People are always worried about where they come from,” Bruce Grayson, professor of biology at the University of Miami, told the Herald. “Do you know how many thousands of cats are euthanized in this country? If students can learn from them, and as long as they are properly obtained and disposed of, and as long as students use them in a responsible manner, then they are a useful teaching tool.”

But more companies are offering videos and other tools, and software that simulates virtual dissections has become much more realistic in recent years. It’s time for schools to rethink their dissection policies and look at alternatives.

And perhaps the biology classes particularly those that still dissect real animals can also teach about overpopulation of pets and how some of those ended up on a laboratory table.

Joetta Sack-Min, Associate Editor

Joetta Sack-Min|June 29th, 2009|Categories: Student Achievement, American School Board Journal|

Week in Review

stockvault_7554_20070509The little red schoolhouse came down last weekend as the symbol of NCLB, just as the latest edition of ASBJ went up. Meanwhile, it looks like the cash incentive program launched in 20 Chicago high schools last year may be on its way out. Read these and other entries from this week’s Leading Source. Happy reading and we’ll see you Monday.

Naomi Dillon|June 27th, 2009|Categories: Week in Blogs, American School Board Journal|

Inside the Department of Education

This morning at the Council of Urban Board of Education’s (CUBE) Issues Seminar in Chicago, one of the unsung and behind the scenes gurus of the education world spoke to an audience of urban school board members, superintendents, and other education leaders about college readiness and how America needs to make some changes to its education system.  Greg Darnieder lead the office of college readiness program for Chicago Public Schools and like many Chicago staff, was asked by Secretary of Education Arne Duncan to take some of Chicago’s ideas to the national level.  When Mr. Darnieder was in Chicago, his programs brought in over $150 million to Chicago students for scholarship opportunities.  A few comments that stuck with the attendees:

  • He advised all school board members to check the Department of Education’s web site often, daily if possible, since changes and opportunities are announced on an ongoing basis.  He especially encouraged attendees to go to the section “what works” to find solutions to problems that are facing districts now.
  • 1.2 millions students a year drop out of high school.  That’s too many, by anyone’s standards and all educators need to focus on solutions to this epidemic.
  • We are in a unique time in our history regarding public education.  This is a chance that we haven’t seen in our lifetime, and the Secretary of Education views the opportunities in education as the Civil Rights Issue of our time.

And finally, we’ll leave with a quote from the president that Mr. Darnieder shared about education: “In a global economy where the most valuable skill is your knowledge, a good education is no longer just a pathway to opportunity – it’s a prerequisite” – President Barack Obama, February 24, 2009

CUBE continues to discuss the issues, share what is happening around the country and bring it back home to local districts.  For more information, check out CUBE’s web site.

Kevin Scott|June 26th, 2009|Categories: Governance, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|

Strip search opinion lacks a clear standard

Yesterday, the Supreme Court issued a decision that will impact how school administrators proceed when they believe that students may possess harmful drugs in violation of school policy. BoardBuzz previously covered this case in April during our discussion of the Washington Post‘s article that wisely recognized the Court’s need to “weigh the rights of students against the duty of school officials to protect safety.”  The Court, in its 8-1 decision in Safford v. Redding, ruled that a strip search of a student at Safford Middle School violated her Fourth Amendment search and seizure rights, but held that the school officials were entitled to qualified immunity from the lawsuit. While BoardBuzz is pleased that the school officials were relieved of personal liability in this case, we are concerned that the Court may have set an ambiguous precedent.

The Safford officials, based on a suspicion that Savana Redding was distributing prescription drugs to other students, searched her backpack and outer clothing for the pills. After that search yielded nothing, the principal took Savanna to the nurses’ office, where a search of her undergarments was performed. The court found that this course of action was unreasonable under the Court’s previous decision in New Jersey v. T.L.O. What was missing, Justice Souter wrote in his majority opinion, “was any indication of danger to the students from the power of the drugs or their quantity, and any reason to suppose that Savana was carrying pills in her underwear.”

NSBA’s General Counsel Francisco Negron says that the majority’s opinion sets a standard that may be hard for school officials to apply. “The home medicine cabinet now poses a serious threat to students, who may take those medications for abusive purposes,” he pointed out in an article on  Despite this reality, the Court’s decision offers little guidance for schools as to what drugs in what quantities are dangerous enough to permit a strip search.  “I think there will be more litigation,” Negron said in a Washington Post article about the decision.  For now, principals who seek ensure that students are not hiding drugs on their person must chose between protecting the health and safety of their students or protecting his school from a costly potential lawsuit.

“Justice Thomas in his dissent, warns us that students will now know where to hide their contraband,” Negron pointed out in an editorial in USA Today.  Let us hope that his words are not a sign of things to come.”

“In the meantime,” he concluded, “schools will do what they need to do to keep children safe.”

For more information on NSBA’s perspectives on the Safford decision, check out this official statement.


nvitale|June 26th, 2009|Categories: School Law, Teachers, School Security, Student Achievement, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|

Improving academic & health outcomes through school connectedness

A recent Centers for Disease Control (CDC) report on school connectedness concludes that adolescents who feel connected to school have better attendance, higher academic performance and better high school completion rates.  What is school connectedness BoardBuzz wonders?  When students believe that adults in the school care about their learning as well as about them as individuals, that’s school connectedness.  

Congress also noticed the report.  During a briefing this week on Capitol Hill, the CDC, a school superintendent and a student described how school connectedness initiatives can reduce high-risk behaviors such as absenteeism, substance abuse and violence.  Factors that increase school connectedness include adult support, belonging to a positive peer group, commitment to education and a positive school environment.  

The CDC is preparing a toolkit and developing parenting and other resources.  In the meantime, they identified 6 strategies to promote school connectedness, including 1) establish decision-making processes conducive to engagement, 2) enable families to be actively involved, 3) provided students academic, emotional and social skills for engagement, 4) use effective classroom and teaching methods, 5) provide professional development of teachers and school staff, and 6) create relationships that promote communication among stakeholders. 

Boardbuzz thinks that school boards provide strong leadership for the strategies described above.   What are the school connectedness issues and initiatives in your district?

Lucy Gettman|June 26th, 2009|Categories: Governance, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|
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