Articles in the Discipline category

NSBA to Court: School officials must be given flexibility in handling student harassment

The National School Boards Association (NSBA) is urging the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit to rule that school districts should not be held financially liable for harassment related to a student’s disability if school officials took appropriate steps to stop it.

NSBA, along with the Georgia School Boards Association (GSBA), the Alabama School Boards Association, and the Georgia School Superintendents Association, has filed an amicus brief in Long v. Murray County School District asking the court to uphold the standard set forth in the U.S. Supreme Court case Davis v. Monroe when determining whether school officials are liable under federal civil rights laws for peer harassment. The Davis precedent allows victims to collect monetary compensation when school officials are deliberately indifferent to known harassment based on a protected category that is so severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive harassment that it denies the victim access to the educational program.

“It is important that the court recognize that local school officials, who work closely with students and parents on a regular basis, are knowledgeable about community resources, and understand their students’ educational and emotional needs, know best how to prevent and respond to harassment in their own schools,” said NSBA’s General Counsel Francisco M. Negrón Jr.

The parents’ legal arguments rely on informal guidance given by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR) through a October 2010 “Dear Colleague” letter that stated school district officials could be held responsible for claims of unreported harassment. In a December 2010 response to that letter, NSBA warned that the guidance overstepped the Supreme Court standard set by Davis and that it vastly expanded the definition of discrimination and harassment, circumventing precedent established by the courts. In a March 2011 letter to NSBA, OCR officials dismissed concerns that the guidance would lead to numerous and costly lawsuits against school districts; however, this case has proven otherwise.

“The federal government wants a one-size fits-all approach, but such a rule would require school districts to implement strategy after strategy even when the misconduct was isolated or minimal,” said Negrón. “The federal government’s approach creates an illusion of safety that would subject thousands of school districts to costly and unnecessary lawsuits diverting vital resources away from the classroom.”

Among other claims, the case will determine whether the Murray County school district in Georgia should be held liable under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act for money damages as a result of the suicide of a student with Asperger’s Syndrome. After the student reported incidents of peer bullying during his freshman and sophomore years, school officials responded effectively to all known occurrences at school. The student committed suicide at home during his junior year.

A date for oral argument date in the case has not been set yet. Phil Hartley and Martha Pearson, members of NSBA’s Council of School Attorneys, and partners in Harben, Hartley & Hawkins, LLP, are representing the Murray County school district. Hartley also serves as General Counsel for the Georgia School Boards Association.

Joetta Sack-Min|November 30th, 2012|Categories: Bullying, Council of School Attorneys, Crisis Management, Discipline, Policy Formation, School Law, School Security|Tags: , , |

NSBA’s 2013 Annual Conference to feature Geena Davis, Neil deGrasse Tyson, and Diane Ravitch

Registration and housing for the National School Boards Association’s (NSBA) 73rd Annual Conference, to be held April 13 to 15 in San Diego, is now open. Join more than 5,000 school board members and administrators for an event with hundreds of sessions, workshops, and exhibits that will help your school district programs and help you hone your leadership and management skills.

General Session speakers include Academy Award winning speaker Geena Davis, who will be speaking about her work off-screen as founder of the non-profit Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media. Davis works with film and television creators to reduce gender stereotyping and increase the number of female characters in media targeted for children 11 and under. She will explain how media plays a key role in children’s development, and how her organization is making a difference.

Television star Neil deGrasse Tyson, one of the world’s most engaging and passionate science advocates, will headline Sunday’s General Session. From PBS to NASA to Presidential Commissions, organizations have depended on Tyson’s down-to-earth approach to astrophysics. He has been a frequent guest on “The Daily Show”, “The Colbert Report”, R”eal Time with Bill Maher”, and “Jeopardy!”. Tyson hopes to reach “all the people who never knew how much they’d love learning about space and science.”

Monday’s General Session features acclaimed researcher and author Diane Ravitch, who has become one of the most passionate voices for public schools. Her most recent book, The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education, makes the case that public education today is in peril and offers a clear prescription for improving public schools.

Learn more about the common core standards, new research on differentiated learning styles, and teaching “unteachable” children at the Focus On lecture series. Learn about new technologies for your classrooms as part of the Technology + Learning programs.

Special discounted rates are available for early registrants who sign up by Jan. 10, 2013. NSBA National Affiliate and Technology Leadership Network Districts save even more.

View the conference brochure for more details. Be sure to check the Annual Conference website for updates and more information.

 

 

School safety, discipline are top issues at national school law conference

The Council of School Attorneys’ (COSA) School Law Practice Seminar, held Oct. 11 to 13 in Santa Fe, N.M., will examine issues related to bullying and harassment, discipline, special education, and employee relations. The annual conference hosts school attorneys from across the country, who may earn education (CLE) credits. COSA is part of the National School Boards Association  (NSBA).

COSA Director Sonja Trainor said, “More than 30 experienced school law faculty will lead attendees through complex and challenging areas of their daily school law practice.”

The conference is focusing several sessions on school safety, from extreme threats to verbal harassment and bullying. Trainor will lead a session showing schools how to reduce the risks of violence, explaining how to decifer threat assessments, manage law enforcement in schools, communication and liability concerns.

Such topics also call into question students’ First Amendment rights to free speech. This year’s opening general session will include a panel of national speakers addressing “Can Schools Be Both Safe and Free?  New National Guidelines on Harassment, Bullying and Freedom of Expression.”   In May 2012 NSBA, as part of a coalition of 17 education, religious, and civil liberties groups, released “Harassment, Bullying and Free Expression: Guidelines for Free and Safe Public Schools” aimed at helping public schools uphold the First Amendment while combating harassment and bullying.

The COSA program also includes sessions on school safety, student discipline, immigration, employment issues, attorney/board member relationships, internet filtering in schools, intellectual property and confidentiality issues, and technology in the classroom.

The Twitter hashtag for the conference is: #COSASantaFe.

Joetta Sack-Min|October 10th, 2012|Categories: Council of School Attorneys, Discipline, Diversity, School Law|Tags: , , |

School leaders lack understanding of minority male students’ home lives, CUBE speaker says

How is it that an African-American student attending his high school graduation ceremony can feel depressed—overwhelmed by what the future holds and wondering why other students appear to be looking forward to college and the years ahead?

Why could this youth see no advantage in his success—and the opportunity to go to college—compared to students who enlisted in the military or entered the workforce?

There is a crippling power in the disconnect that exists between many African-American and Latino male students and their educational opportunities, David Heifer, executive director of Concentric Educational Solutions, told urban school leaders during a workshop Friday at the Council of Urban Boards of Education (CUBE) conference in Atlanta.

In an hour-and-a-half discussion of strategies that schools can use to help young men of color, Heifer noted that these students often face challenges that undermine their confidence, discourage their hopes, and leave them frustrated and defensive.

Many of these challenges have their roots in the poverty, broken homes, drug abuse, and other social ills that exist in urban communities. But another part of the problem rests in the failure of urban educators to understand what these students are going through—and the failure of schools to provide the social and emotional support these young men need.

That’s the result of another disconnect—between students and the adults in their schools, he said. Teachers and principals don’t live in the same neighborhoods as their students, and they cannot really understand what’s happening in the lives of these students.

Instead, school leaders turn to data to try to make sense of what’s happening.

“We get caught up in numbers—the dropout rate, the truancy rate,” he said. “We skip right to solutions … then come back next year and try to come up with policies to figure out” how to do better.

It’s a dynamic that Heifer indicated he understood all too well. During his high school years, his father died of a heart attack, and as a grief-stricken youth, he began to act out—a troublemaker transferred to five different schools over the course of his senior year. He eventually was arrested 28 times and sent to prison.

With a little luck and the support of others, however, Heifer says he managed to turn his life around, earn his GED, attend college, and become a school principal. But he still recalls that, after his father’s death, not a single teacher or school counselor offered any condolences.

None of the adults in his school understood his pain—or recognized that there was an underlying reason for his dramatic change in behavior.

The story underscored Heiber’s argument that, if educators truly want to help their minority male students, they need to do a better job of understanding what’s going on in these students’ lives. There are a variety of ways to do that, but Heiber focused most of his comments one strategy—encouraging teachers to make home visits.

It’s a strategy that his nonprofit school-support organization encourages in the schools that it works with. In fact, he boasted, teachers at these schools have made more than 5,000 home visits in recent years.

Schools also can do more to strengthen “wrap-around services” for students, he suggested. “Students need their social-emotional support.”

What they don’t need, however, is “discipline policy that mimics the criminal justice system.”

Many school boards already have recognized the need to provide these supports. If a school board isn’t seeing results, however, the reason may lie with another common “disconnect”—between what the school board wants to happen and the actual practices taking place in schools.

“We come up with policies at the school board level, then we go to the schools … quite frankly, they don’t want to hear what you have to say.”

So school board members need to get out more—into their schools and, yes, even into their students’ homes—so they can better understand the dynamics at work in young men’s lives.

“You have to uncover it, and the only way to uncover it is to ask the hard questions,” Heifer said. “You’ve got to get dirty. You’ve got to get in there.”

 

Del Stover|October 8th, 2012|Categories: 21st Century Skills, Assessment, Board governance, CUBE, Data Driven Decision Making, Discipline, Diversity, Dropout Prevention, Educational Research, School Boards, School Reform, School Security|Tags: , , |

More flexibility needed in bill regulating use of restraints on students, NSBA tells Senate

The National School Boards Association (NSBA) is asking for more flexibility for local school officials in a bill designed to prevent the improper use of restraints and seclusion to manage students with disabilities.

In testimony submitted in anticipation of a hearing on July 12, NSBA is asking the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions to reconsider portions of the Keeping All Students Safe Act (S. 2020). The bill, which is supported by many special education and disability rights advocates, would ban certain types of restraints and require school districts to report incidents to the U.S. Department of Education.

“Local school boards want to be assured that federal legislation addressing the use of restraints and seclusion provides maximum flexibility and authority to states and local school boards in its implementation,” reads NSBA’s testimony.

NSBA asks that any requirements for teacher and staff training and certification “be structured in a manner that is reasonable, affordable and effective,” and that Congress ensures that data collecting and reporting requirements are minimized, given the limited capacity of school districts and the U.S. Department of Education to collect and analyze such data.

The testimony asks for specific changes to the bill, including:

  • Remove or rewrite the threshold for restraints, based on the definition of serious bodily injury adopted by IDEA in 2004, which is not feasible in emergencies and takes away other opportunities to train staff and prepare for its use;
  • Modify the requirement for a debriefing session within five days, as this is burdensome and costly to schools and would create conditions well beyond the control of the school. NSBA recommends that personnel should be allowed to submit information verbally, in writing and electronically since all parties may not be able to physically participate;
  • Ensure that the bill allows flexibility to address unanticipated threats to students’ safety;
  • Remove a stipulation that prohibits any reference to the use of physical restraints into a student’s education plan; and
  • Allow states that have successfully created policies dealing with restraints and seclusion to be exempt from new federal mandates.

The bill was introduced in December but its chance of passage seems unlikely, given its lack of progress in the House and the lack of time remaining in Congress in an election year.

Joetta Sack-Min|June 27th, 2012|Categories: Crisis Management, Discipline, Educational Legislation, Legislative advocacy, Policy Formation, School Climate, School Security, Special Education|Tags: , , , |

Guidelines offer “teachable moment” for tough First Amendment issues

A coalition that includes NSBA and 16 other education, religious, and civil liberties groups has released new guidelines for school districts to combat harassment and bullying while upholding student’s First Amendment rights to express views that may be upsetting to others.

“It is important to distinguish between speech that expresses an idea, including religious or political viewpoints — even ideas some find offensive — and speech that is intended to cause, or school officials demonstrate is likely to cause, emotional or psychological harm to the listener,” says Harassment, Bullying and Free Expression: Guidelines for Free and Safe Public Schools. “Words that convey ideas are one thing; words that are used as assault weapons are quite another.”

Simply put: The former is protected by the First Amendment, the latter is not. But while that principle may seem simple in the abstract, it is anything but straightforward in the real world.  Indeed, as NSBA General Counsel Francisco M. Negrón Jr. said Tuesday at a news conference in Washington, both the U.S. Department of Education and the courts have struggled with this issue.

While the guide “relies on our contemporary understanding of the state of the law, it is not of itself a legal document,” Negrón said. “To the contrary, it is more of a policy guide that roots itself in the best interests of students.  In this context, it means taking the natural tension between the right to be safe and secure and the right to freely express one’s self and identifying the teachable moment that makes sense for students. “ 

The project was organized by the American Jewish Committee and the Religious Freedom Education Project  Education Project and endorsed by NSBA along with American Association of School Administrators; ASCD; Center for Religion and Public Affairs at Wake Forest University Divinity School; Christian Educators Association International; Christian Legal Society; Hindu American Foundation; Islamic Networks Group and its affiliates; Islamic Society of North America; Muslim Public Affairs Council; National Association of Evangelicals; National Association of State Boards of Education; National Council for the Social Studies; Religion Action Center of Reform Judaism; and Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America.  

According to the guidelines, students should be able to attend public schools where they are free to share their views and engage in discussions about religious and political differences while simultaneously attending safe schools that prohibit discrimination, bullying, and harassment.  

Negrón noted: “This guidance framework will allow educators and schools not to simply legislate prohibitions of conduct or speech or ideas, but to engage students about the importance of civil discourse, respect for the safety and rights of others and teach the value of thoughtful discussion particularly about very deeply held personal views and beliefs.“

Lawrence Hardy|May 22nd, 2012|Categories: Bullying, Discipline, Diversity, Religion, School Law|Tags: , |

New Center report looks at ways to boost high school rigor

Advanced Placement courses, rigorous math curriculum, dual high school-college enrollment, and early college programs can all increase the rigor of America’s secondary schools, according to Is High School Tough Enough?, a new report by NSBA’s Center for Public Education.

While the report noted that more in-depth research is needed, it said that school boards interested in applying these four strategies need to consider issues such as funding, data collection, and increasing access for low-income and minority students.

“In today’s education landscape, many are beginning to re-think the high school experience,” said Patte Barth, Director of the Center.  “From Advanced Placement courses to dual enrollment, early college high schools, and even high-level math, the aim is to expose students to concepts, curricula, and ideas that will help them succeed in college or lead to a productive career.”

Barth said this emphasis is reflected in many policy trends, including an increasing “PreK-16” perspective as well as the recently developed Common Core State Standards in math and language arts, which most states have adopted in order to help produce college-ready and career-ready high school graduates.

Still, there is wide variation in secondary school rigor across the country, the report noted. It said that — while the term “rigor” is not easily defined — “many low-income schools lack access to a rigorous high school curriculum by any definition.” For example, according to a 2011 report by U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) 3,000 high schools serving nearly 500,000 students offer no classes in Algebra II, a gateway to higher math, college, and career readiness.

In a survey issued Tuesday, OCR expanded on that issue, noting, among other things, only 29 percent of high-minority high schools offered Calculus, compared to 55 percent of schools with the lowest black and Hispanic enrollment. In addition, the report found that teachers in high-minority schools were paid $2,251 less than teachers in low minority schools in the same district. It also noted that African American students, particularly males, were far more likely to be expelled or suspended from school than their peers.

“The power of the data is not only in the numbers themselves, but in the impact it can have when married with the courage and the will to change,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. “The undeniable truth is that the everyday educational experience for many students of color violates the principle of equity at the heart of the American promise.  It is our collective duty to change that.”

Exposure to advanced courses can have a big impact on the educational success of low-income and minority students, the Center for Public Education report said.  

“For example, Hispanic students who passed an AP exam were nearly seven times more likely to graduate from college than their non-participating counterparts,” the Center’s report said. “Such findings buttress the argument that exposure to higher-level courses can translate into long-term gains for underrepresented students.”

Moreover, the Center report said that taking AP courses can improve students’ chances for success even if they don’t pass the AP exam. It said that only 10 percent of African-American students who did not take an AP course graduated within five years, compared with 37 percent who took an AP course and did not pass the exam, and 53 percent who took an AP course and passed.

 

Lawrence Hardy|March 7th, 2012|Categories: 21st Century Skills, Board governance, Center for Public Education, Curriculum, Data Driven Decision Making, Discipline, Diversity, Educational Research, High Schools, Student Achievement|Tags: , , , , |

NSBA seeks high court input on Internet speech

Can a school district discipline a student who posts lewd or vicious material online about another student or a school employee — or is that posting protected as “off-campus” speech?

That’s a question the National School Boards Association (NSBA), the American Association of School Administrators (AASA), and six other organizations are urging the U.S. Supreme Court to answer following a pair of appellate court decisions in favor of two Pennsylvania students.

In a brief filed recently, NSBA and the other groups say that, in order to further their educational mission, “schools need authority to regulate student speech that originates off campus.”

In one of the cases, J.S. v. Blue Mountain School District, a middle school girl who was upset about being reprimanded for dress code violations posted a fake MySpace profile of her principal that, according to the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, “contained crude content and vulgar language, ranging from nonsense and juvenile humor to profanity and shameful personal attacks aimed at the principal and his family.” Nonetheless, the court, in an 8-6 decision, ruled in June that the school district had violated the girl’s First Amendment right to free speech when it suspended her for 10 days.

The other case, Layshock v. Hermitage School District, involved a Pennsylvania high school senior who also created a fake MySpace profile mocking his principal. In that case, the Third Circuit ruled unanimously for the student.

NSBA and the other groups argued that the expanding use of social networking and other forms of online communication have led to “a stunning increase in harmful student expression that school administrators are forced to address with no clear guiding jurisprudence.”

“Now is the time for the Supreme Court to resolve the question of whether and to what extent school district have the authority to discipline students for off-campus speech,” said NSBA General Counsel Francisco M. Negrón Jr. “As technology blurs the lines between on-campus and off-campus speech, school districts need clear guidance to be able to effectively address extreme off-campus speech that interferes with a safe and orderly learning environment.”

With more and more communications, as well as classes, conducted online, “grappling with the distinction between off-campus and on-campus speech,” as some courts have done, is arguably “a distinction without a difference,” the brief said.

“Courts that remain committed to the on-campus/ off-campus fiction risk discouraging school boards from using off-campus forums that benefit student learning,” the brief added. “Public school districts have been able to expand educational opportunities for students and to increase communication between school districts and their constituencies with their online presence. But school boards may be less inclined to expand educational opportunities online if their authority does not also expand. Imagine if a court held that a virtual school student who engages in lewd speech during a group online project cannot be disciplined because the conversation did not happen ‘on campus.’”

In addition to AASA, the other groups joining NSBA in the brief include, the American School Counselor Association; Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network; National Association of Elementary School Principals;  National Association of Secondary School Principals;  Pennsylvania School Boards Association; and the School Social Work Association of America.

Lawrence Hardy|November 8th, 2011|Categories: Bullying, Discipline, School Law, School Security|Tags: , , |

The week in blogs

Just in time for Halloween, a “giant wrecking ball” is on the loose, reckless and insatiable, “doing incalculable harm” to the nation’s public schools.

Dracula? Frankenstein?  The Teacher from the Black Lagoon? No, it’s Diane Ravitch’s description of No Child Left Behind, which, for now at least, remains horribly undead (and un-reauthorized).

“Is there any other national legislative body in the world that has ever passed a law that caused almost every one of its schools to be labeled a failure?” writes Ravitch, the education historian and former George H.W. Bush and Clinton administration official, in the National Journal’s Education blog. “NCLB is a giant wrecking ball, setting up public schools for failure, incentivizing cheating, and encouraging states to game the system by lowering their passing marks, lowering their standards or other strategies.”

The occasion of Ravitch’s fusillade is, of course, the flurry activity on Capitol Hill, which has resulted in the Senate Health Education Labor and Pensions Committee threatening to drive a stake through the very heart of the accountability and enforcement measures of the Bush II-era law.

That’s fine by Ravitch, but not so good with Education Secretary Arne Duncan, who said regarding the proposed bill: “America cannot retreat from reform.”

Others have reacted more cautiously to the changes, including Dan Domenech, executive director of the American Association of School Administrators. He says AASA is “cautiously optimistic” that the Senate will come up with a supportable bill. Domenech is pleased with the bill’s proposed elimination of “the utopian NCLB goals of 100 percent of students meeting proficiency on state tests by 2014” and an Adequate Yearly Progress system “designed to ensure that eventually all schools would be failing.” But he’s concerned about complex new federal mandates tied to the spending of state and federal dollars and a more expansive federal role in defining school discipline.

For NSBA’s position on the Harkin bill, see the recent letter to the Senate committee from Associate Executive Director Michael A. Resnick. Like Domenech, Resnick sees many positives in the bill, but he’s concerned about other provisions, including new data collection mandates that could be seen as micromanaging from Washington and expensive for school districts to follow in these tough economic times.

Among the other interesting writings this week: The American Prospect on the latest bonanza for education firms — teacher evaluations. (Thanks to This Week in Education for that one.)

And finally, for all you parents out there wondering whether you should let your kids keep all the candy they get trick-or-treating (the Rosseauian model) or confiscate it in the name of optimal health (the Hobbesian approach) Joanne Jacobs cites groundbreaking research in The Onion, which concludes …… it doesn’t make any difference.

“Every style of parenting produces disturbed, miserable adults, ” notes the satirical review, citing research that, yes, it made up.

Lawrence Hardy|October 29th, 2011|Categories: Discipline, Educational Legislation, Elementary and Secondary Education Act, Governance, Teachers, Uncategorized|Tags: , , , |

The week in blogs

This week, education researcher Richard Rothstein takes Bill Gates to task for claiming in a recent Washington Post column on teacher development that student achievement has remained “virtually flat” in recent decades while per-student costs have “more than doubled.”

 Looking at NAEP tests since 1980 and 1990, Rothstein concludes that “American students have improved substantially, in some cases phenomenally.” As far as a doubling of K12 funding is concerned, yes that’s true, he adds, but the statistic begs to be qualified.

“The biggest single recipient of new money has been special education for children with disabilities,” Rothstein writes. “Four decades ago, special education consumed less than 4 percent of all K12 spending. It now consumes 21 percent.”

What can high schools do to help community colleges and their astronomical drop-out rates? Blogger Dana Goldstein offers a thoughtful analysis.

 ”Why are people dropping out of community colleges en masse?” Goldstein asks. “In part, it’s the frustration of being academically under-prepared and thus being forced to pay tuition for credit-less remediation classes. But national surveys of community college drop-outs find that the most cited reasons for leaving school are work and family responsibilities.”

(Thanks to Joanne Jacobs for leading us to Goldstein’s commentary.)

Recent stories in the Washington Post have questioned zero tolerance policies in the Fairfax County (Va.) Public Schools. Read a sobering post by the Post’s Valerie Strauss on common myths about zero tolerance’s effectiveness.

 Lawrence Hardy, Senior Editor

Lawrence Hardy|March 11th, 2011|Categories: American School Board Journal, Assessment, Budgeting, Curriculum, Discipline, Dropout Prevention, Educational Research, Governance, Policy Formation, Special Education, Student Achievement, Teachers, Urban Schools, Week in Blogs|
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