Articles in the School Climate category

NSBA and AASA express concern about new restraint and seclusion bill in U.S. Senate

Thomas J. Gentzel, Executive Director of the National School Boards Association (NSBA), and Daniel A. Domenech, Executive Director of AASA, The School Superintendents Association, issued a joint statement today in response to new legislation introduced by Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), Chairman, U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee. The new bill would reduce the authority of states and local school districts to decide the appropriate use of restraint and seclusion in public schools. Restraint and seclusion are used as a last resort in situations that may endanger the safety and welfare of students, teachers and other school personnel.

We agree with Harkin that routine use of restraint and seclusion is indeed inappropriate. However, we believe this legislation is a federal overreach—it fails to recognize the need for local school personnel to make decisions based on their onsite, real-time assessment of the situation. This includes school officials’ consideration of lesser interventions before making the decision to use restraint or seclusion. Our primary concern must be the safety of all students and school personnel.

Seclusion and restraint are only exercised to protect students and school personnel when other measures fail. A 2011 survey of AASA members found that 70 percent of districts invest local funds in annual training to ensure that school personnel use seclusion and restraint judiciously, first engaging in de-escalation techniques and other nonviolent crisis intervention strategies.

Of equal importance, we’re also concerned that the bill would allow parents to go to court without first exercising administrative procedures afforded to them under the current Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. This bypass encourages litigation and diminishes congressional intent that parents and school districts collaborate to address student special needs. We’re also concerned that the federal court system does not have the capacity to take on these additional cases.

Even with limited funding, local school board and school administrator policies continue to demonstrate best practices beyond state requirements on the use of seclusion and restraint. This is further supported by a 2011 survey, in which nine out of 10 superintendents said their school districts would benefit from additional funding to implement school-wide positive behavioral support and intervention systems and nonviolent crisis interventions.

We urge Harkin to reconsider his position and work closely with local school boards and superintendents to develop legislation that ensures maximum authority to local school districts while ensuring safety for all students.

Alexis Rice|February 12th, 2014|Categories: Federal Advocacy, Federal Programs, Legislative advocacy, School Climate, School Security, Special Education|Tags: , , , , , , |

NSBA: School board involvement critical to addressing discipline issues

The U.S. Department of Education and the U.S. Department of Justice have issued a four-part guide designed to address disparities in discipline practices and improve school climate. The guide, which includes data showing that minorities and students with disabilities are disproportionately affected by harsher punishments, is the first time the federal government has dealt with these issues through guidance.

Thomas J. Gentzel, Executive Director of the National School Boards Association (NSBA), responded to the guidance and noted that  local school board and community involvement is essential in addressing concerns of discipline and race.

“Our nation’s school boards share the Education and Justice departments’ concerns for ‘safe, inclusive and positive school climates,’ with zero tolerance for discriminatory practices in public schools,” he said. “NSBA is generally pleased with the documents’ emphasis on positive interventions, but it is vital to underscore that school discipline must acknowledge the various levels of resources available to public schools and communities. It is critical that the guidelines not impose any type of unfunded mandate on local public schools and not be misused as a loophole to fund private educational placements at taxpayer expense. A one-size fits all approach is not appropriate, since public schools, communities, and resources differ.”

Further, he added, “NSBA is concerned that part of the Education and Justice departments’ legal framework may constitute an expansive interpretation of the law. We are studying the agencies’ legal analysis and will likely issue further comment.  We invite the agencies to confer further with NSBA to ensure that guidelines released incorporate school boards’ perspective on these critical topics.”

The guide could be helpful to local school boards because it provides a detailed process of how the Education and Justice departments will approach investigations with respect to student discipline and race, he added.

On a related topic, NSBA released a report, “Addressing the Out-of-School Suspension Crisis: A Policy Guide for School Board Members,” in April 2013. The document examines discipline policies and the disproportionate impact on students of color. It recommends that school disciplinary measures should not be used to exclude students from school or deprive them of educational services, and suspensions should only be used as a last resort for school safety.

 

Joetta Sack-Min|January 9th, 2014|Categories: Discipline, Diversity, Dropout Prevention, Educational Research, Governance, School Climate, School Security|Tags: , |

Sandy Hook tragedy teaches lessons on school security

Thomas J. Gentzel, the Executive Director of the National School Boards Association (NSBA), reflected on the first anniversary of the Dec. 14, 2012 school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn. with this statement:

“The tragic shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary one year ago shook the nation. Our hearts go out to the families and friends who lost loved ones and to all those in Newtown who were affected on that horrific day.

“One year later, the nation continues to memorialize the 26 adults and children who were killed at the school, support their survivors, grieve, and move forward. For school board members, the urgency of making schools around the country safer and more responsive to future threats is an ongoing imperative and legacy of the Newtown shootings.

“As part of their duties, school boards must ensure that school buildings keep children and school personnel safe without becoming fortresses. In cases of natural disasters and man-made situations, school buildings – equipped with high-occupancy gymnasiums and cafeterias – are often the first shelter, serving as community safe havens and command posts. School boards recognize that even the best emergency preparedness policy is perishable, and they are monitoring and improving their districts’ policies on a routine basis.

“School districts can ensure that parents and the community have a clear and actionable understanding of emergency response plans. One example is parental notification – to clear the path for first responders and their emergency vehicles, parents are often directed to a designated area away from the school where they can safely receive real-time updates.

“Since the Sandy Hook tragedy, there has been much debate on whether armed security guards should be used to protect the nation’s schools, or whether teachers or other school staff should be armed. In cases when a community deems school security is essential, NSBA believes that only sheriff’s deputies and police officers should be hired as school resource officers. Trained to deploy their weapons in the safest way possible and to take action that minimizes collateral damage, sheriff’s deputies and police officers have ‘qualified immunity’ that affords school districts the legal protection they need in case of any unintended consequences that could arise in carrying out their duties.

“As we approach this first anniversary, NSBA joins world and national leaders, state and local governments, community leaders, and people across the country in remembering those affected by the Sandy Hook tragedy. Times like these give us great pause because they remind us not only of the fragility of life but also of the bravery and resilience shown by Newtown’s teachers and school administrators, the students and parents, and the first responders on Dec. 14, 2012. Our nation’s 90,000 school board members will honor them as we continue our efforts to educate and protect our school children and school personnel who work in America’s public schools each day.”

 

Joetta Sack-Min|December 11th, 2013|Categories: Bullying, Crisis Management, Environmental Issues, NSBA Opinions and Analysis, Policy Formation, School Buildings, School Climate, School Security|Tags: , , , , , |

Schools reversing Zero Tolerance policies

It was called the “broken windows” theory, and it shows — quite tragically, in some cases — how taking a social policy that might make sense in one context and applying it to another can have disastrous consequences.

The theory, popular with police departments and big-city mayors in the 1980s and 1990s, was that if police ignored petty crime – the broken windows of a neighborhood – these incidents would grow to create a climate where more serious crimes would occur.

Was the policy successful? That depends on whom you talk to. But big problems resulted when it was applied to the public schools.

“Some of the same crime policies filtered into the school system,” said Dwanna Nicole, Policy Advocate for the Advancement’s Project’s Ending the Schoolhouse to Jailhouse Track Program, who gave a webinar Thursday sponsored by her organization and NSBA’s National Black Caucus of School Board Members.

That policy, also spurred by the Columbine shootings and a mistaken fear that youth violence was increasing, has spawned the kind of zero tolerance policies that have resulted in huge spikes in the number of suspensions and expulsions for all students, but particularly for African-American and Hispanics students, students with disabilities, and gay students.

Now, however, in places like Denver, Buffalo, N.Y., and Broward County, Fla., those numbers are starting to turn around as more school districts embrace discipline polices that put the long-term needs of students first. The Denver Public Schools now have one of the most progressive discipline codes in the nation, Nicole said. This has been augmented by a recent state Smart School Discipline law and a brokered Memorandum of Understanding between law enforcement agencies and the school district.

While black students in Denver are still suspended at greater rates than whites, these numbers are going down. In 2010-2011 86 percent of black students did not have out-of-school suspensions. By 2012-13, 90 percent had no  suspensions.  Attendance rates for black and Hispanic students have also increased steadily since 2008.

Districts such as Denver are explicitly addressing racial disparities in suspensions, expulsions, and other forms of discipline and collecting better discipline records, Nicole said.

Lawrence Hardy|December 6th, 2013|Categories: Bullying, Data Driven Decision Making, Discipline, Diversity, Dropout Prevention, High Schools, School Climate, Uncategorized|Tags: , , , |

Missouri businessman, MSBA announce $1 million incentive for Baldrige school district award

A Missouri couple will donate $1 million to the first public school district in their state that can win a Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award, which recognizes organizations for achieving performance excellence. The award will be announced at the Missouri School Boards’ Association (MSBA) conference this weekend.

Larry Potterfield said he and his wife, Brenda Potterfield, are making the donation because they want to help improve public education in Missouri. “This is for the children,” he said. “We want to impact the educational system, to make the school districts more accountable, to better prepare and educate the next generation so that our nation can continue to compete in the global marketplace.”

The gift challenge will reinforce current efforts for measurable educational improvements among Missouri’s 520 school districts as they strive to achieve “role model status,” as defined by the Baldrige Education Criteria for Performance Excellence. Each year, the President of the United States honors American organizations in business, health care, education, non-profit, and government that win a Baldrige Award, the nation’s only award for performance excellence.

Anne L. Bryant, who sits on the board of the Baldrige Foundation and is a former executive director of the National School Boards Association, said that Larry and Brenda Potterfield’s million dollar challenge has called upon the entire state of Missouri to ”show the way” by encouraging every school district across the state to consider taking up the Baldrige quality and excellence program.

“Like all Baldrige Award winners, a school district that goes through the process is demonstrating to its students, faculty, staff, parents and entire community that it wants to be the best,” Bryant said. “I watched my neighboring district, The Montgomery County Public Schools (MD) go through the process and reach the national award with such pride and excitement. It reinforced to the community and the entire state that this public school district could be an example for all.”

Moreover, Bryant said that the Baldrige community is “thrilled by the Potterfield’s generosity but, even more importantly, by their foresight to focus on education…which indeed is the cornerstone of a state’s economy and future.

The $1 million gift will be stewarded by the Foundation for the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award until it is awarded.

“The million dollar unrestricted gift will be an obvious benefit to the school district that demonstrates outstanding performance,” said Potterfield, who is CEO of Midway USA, a company that sells hunting and gun supplies. “The school district will receive tremendous recognition for winning the Baldrige Award. Most importantly, the winner will have to demonstrate an improvement in educational outcomes because the Baldrige Criteria for Performance Excellence are results-driven.”

The Potterfields’ official announcement will be made at the 2013 MSBA Annual Conference on Oct. 5, 2013. The conference is held in cooperation with the Missouri Association of School Administrators (MASA).

“We’re delighted Larry and Brenda Potterfield chose the MSBA Annual Conference to announce their gift,” said Dr. Carter Ward, the MSBA executive director. “MSBA strongly supports school districts interested in utilizing the Baldrige Criteria to create a culture of continuous improvement ultimately aimed at providing the finest possible education for the students in our public schools.”

Dr. P. George Benson, chair of the Board of Directors of the Baldrige Foundation, called it “gratifying” for the Potterfields to link their donation to the Baldrige National Award for Performance Excellence.

“It demonstrates the faith and confidence that Larry and Brenda Potterfield have in the Baldrige Program,” Dr. Benson said. “For 25 years, we helped organizations in the public and private sectors reach their peak level of effectiveness, and honored the very best with a Baldrige Award. With their generous donation, the Potterfields are challenging Missouri school districts to provide a better education to their students.”

School districts must reach the highest level in the Missouri Quality Award, the state Baldrige-based program, to apply to the National Baldrige Performance Excellence Award Program. School districts will need to demonstrate performance results that are national benchmarks and better than their peer groups at comparably-sized school districts across the country. In so doing, they will be improving their budget and operations, as well as the education they provide in the classrooms.

“Schools and districts interested in pursuing a Baldrige award can access resources through the recently launched Missouri Network for Educational Improvement (MNEI),” says Daniel L. Clay, dean of the University of the Missouri College of Education. “The network will help schools and districts strategically coordinate continuous improvement efforts.”  The MNEI is led by the Hook Center at the University of Missouri College of Education, in partnership with MSBA, MASA and districts around the state.

 

Joetta Sack-Min|October 4th, 2013|Categories: Announcements, Board governance, Educational Research, School Board News, School Boards, School Climate, School District Reorganization, School Reform, State School Boards Associations|Tags: , , , , |

COSA panel: Design school diversity policies to meet educational goals

School district policies to promote diversity are still viable, and recent Supreme Court rulings have bolstered existing laws that allow narrowly defined diversity policies. Districts must be careful, however, to design policies that meet these standards.

A panel of prominent education attorneys gave their advice on how build policies and programs that meet the current legal standard during a July 16 webinar organized by the National School Boards Association’s (NSBA) Council of School Attorneys (COSA).

A ruling last month in Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin upheld a 2003 decision in Grutter v. Bollinger, which permitted the use of race in university admissions if such policies were narrowly tailored. That decision, as well as a 2007 ruling in PICS v. Seattle School Dist., has made diversity a more complex—but not impossible–area for school districts to navigate.

“Diversity is still in place and still very much supported by the federal government,” Anurima Bhargava, Chief of the Educational Opportunities Section at the U.S. Department of Justice, told the audience of school attorneys.

NSBA was pleased with the Fisher ruling because schools are able to put into place diversity policies that advance students’ educations and did not erode the existing laws, said NSBA General Counsel Francisco M. Negrón, Jr.

The panelists offered advice to help clarify the new ruling and how to create policies that will support student learning in a diverse environment. The first step, all agreed, is clearly defining the desired outcomes.

“As school districts consider voluntary diversity policies, it’s important to articulate why you have an interest in diversity,” said Negrón, who added that research shows a diverse student body can improve student learning and test scores. NSBA and the College Board filed an amicus brief in the Fisher case that noted diversity could promote 21st century education goals and that policies considering many student characteristics, including race and diversity, are essential for achievement.

School leaders also need to shift their thinking and view diversity as a means to their educational goals, not the district’s demographics or quotas, panelists said.

And institutions must be prepared to show very clearly that they considered race-neutral alternatives before instituting a race-conscious policy—they have to be clear that none of the race-neutral alternatives would work as well, the panelists said.

School districts also must periodically review their policies, particularly considering changing demographics and enrollments, noted John W. Borkowski, a partner with the Hogan Lovells law firm in Washington, D.C.

“You can’t have a policy that is permanent,” he said.

But the Fisher case is not the end of the story. Diversity policies also will be impacted by the Supreme Court’s 2013-14 term through Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, a case from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit that will determine the fate of a proposal to amend the Michigan constitution to prohibit discrimination in public agencies, including public schools and universities. NSBA will argue in an amicus brief that the measure would restrict a school district’s abilities to use race-conscious policies to achieve diversity.

 

 

 

Joetta Sack-Min|July 17th, 2013|Categories: Conferences and Events, Council of School Attorneys, Diversity, Governance, School Boards, School Climate, School District Reorganization, School Law|

Bullying remains ‘moving target’ for schools, COSA attorneys say

Why are we still talking about bullying? It remains a hot topic among school districts and attorneys, and was the topic of a Friday Council of School Attorneys’ session at the 2013 School Law Seminar in San Diego.

Presenters Seamus Boyce of Church, Church, Hittle & Atrium, Jim D. Long, senior attorney with the U.S Department of Justice Office of Civil Rights (OCR) and Anne Littlefield, of Shipman & Goodwin outlined the issues that continue to challenge school districts about preventing bullying while not violating students First Amendment rights.

“It’s a moving target,” said Boyce. “We must try to avoid some of the negative outcomes for our clients.”

Littlefield outlined some of the current cases of bullying facing school districts and gave some advice for lawyers to take back to their districts:

“A few things to avoid saying on the record: ‘Boys will be boys,’ and ‘Teens will be teens.’ Don’t call it a prank. When you do that, you are communicating to students, parents, community and teachers that you will not take it seriously.”

About OCR enforcement, Long said, “There are rules about this stuff, and the rules are your friends. Follow the rules. That’s what I tell school districts.” Schools must have statements of non-harassment and make sure there are procedures that provide for prompt resolution, he said.

According to Boyce, 49 states have laws regarding peer bullying. These laws often have specific requirements for districts and school boards, including forming policies, procedures, and preventions plans.

Issues of cyberbullying, social network bullying, bullying off-campus and bullying counterclaims based on First Amendment rights are trending right now, said Boyce.

Kathleen Vail|April 12th, 2013|Categories: Bullying, Council of School Attorneys, NSBA Annual Conference 2013, School Climate, School Law|

Author: Students are ‘rarely the problem’

After getting a doctoral degree in urban education at Temple University and creating a career teaching and writing about urban schools, Camika Royal realized something: “The children are rarely the problem.”

Rather, institutions and leaders of institutions – including school boards and school board members – let our children down, Royal told attendees at a luncheon session of the National School Boards Association’s Council of Urban Boards of Education.

“Despite our best efforts, we know all is not well on the education front,” she said. She cited “school closings in Philadelphia, the murder rate in Chicago, the massacre in Newtown, the horror in Steubenville.”

“A 40 percent graduation rate is pedagogical violence,” she said. “It is criminal.”

Educational leaders need to look at themselves and ask how they bear some degree of responsibility for our schools’ and communities’ shortcomings, she said. When nearly one in five African-American students are suspended each year, “ We are all at least partially complicit.”

She quoted Pedro Noguera, a noted author on urban school issues who teaches at New York University: “Those who manage public institutions often respond differently to different constituencies.”

At the same time, “treating all people equally is not an equitable response,” she said. Often, what’s needed are policies that reflect values of patience, forgiveness and give students a way out, she said.

School boards need to care about all students, “not just those who score well or whose parents are involved or are good at sports or know how to behave.”

For leaders, improvement must start with self-examination, she said. “Challenge the assumptions and biases you bring to your work … We have to search ourselves about what we believe about young men of color.”

Too often, board members “fail to see how our own biases interview with the district’s success,” she said. “What must change most is you.”

— Eric Randall

Erin Walsh|April 12th, 2013|Categories: NSBA Annual Conference 2013, School Climate, School Reform, School Security, Student Achievement, Uncategorized, Urban Schools|Tags: , |

Gun lobby pushes to arm school personnel

School resource officers should receive more weapons training and “selected and designated school personnel” should also be trained and authorized to carry arms, according to a National Rifle Association (NRA) task force report, which was reported by Legal Clips, a publication of the National School Boards Association (NSBA).

The report was released last week as President Barack Obama urges Congress to consider several gun-control measures, which could include increased background  checks and bans on certain assault-style weapons. The Senate could announce compromise legislation as early as this week.

Public schools spend billions each year on school resource officers, according to a report on NPR’s Marketplace Morning Report. One officer could cost between $50,000 and $80,000 per year, depending on the district.

Responding to a gun emergency is a complex, multifaceted task that requires the coordination of trained law enforcement officers and other emergency response professionals, NSBA General Counsel Francisco M. Negrón, Jr. told NPR. “It’s not just simply about being able to defend,” Negrón said, “but about being able to address and respond quickly in the whole security scenario that law enforcement officers are trained to do.”

Lawrence Hardy|April 8th, 2013|Categories: Board governance, Federal Advocacy, Federal Programs, Legislative advocacy, School Climate, School Security|Tags: , |

Ohio school boards hoping to hire more school safety officers, survey finds

A new survey by the Ohio School Boards Association (OSBA) found that roughly two out of five Ohio school districts currently have school safety officers, but many more districts are interested in acquiring them.

Forty-two percent of superintendents and treasurers reported using school safety officers to help ensure school security, according to the OSBA survey. It found police officers and sheriff’s deputies are most commonly used (90 percent), followed by security guards employed or contracted by the district (10 percent). Sixty-three percent of the districts with school safety officers have a single officer, 28 percent have two or three officers and less than 10 percent have four or more officers.

“In the wake of the tragic school shooting in Newtown, Conn., schools districts in Ohio and around the U.S. are taking extra steps to ensure students and staff are as safe as possible,” said OSBA Executive Director Richard Lewis. “It’s up to each district to decide the best way to ensure security, but school safety officers are one possible response to a complex problem.”

Fifty-six percent of Ohio school district leaders said their school safety officers are funded by the school district; a quarter said their school safety officers are funded through a shared service agreement. Among districts that do not currently use school safety officers, 58 percent of school leaders said they are interested in acquiring them.

OSBA Director of Legislative Services Damon Asbury noted that the cost of employing school security officers is difficult for the majority of Ohio’s cash-strapped school districts. He pointed out that a proposed state law, Senate Bill 42, would provide an avenue for districts to submit levy requests for funds to sponsor school safety measures, including resource officers. The bill is sponsored by state Sen. Gayle Manning and Sen. Randy Gardner.

Results are based on nearly 300 responses to an OSBA survey conducted electronically this month. For survey results, visit http://links.ohioschoolboards.org/33436/.

Erin Walsh|March 19th, 2013|Categories: Board governance, Budgeting, Bullying, Crisis Management, Discipline, School Climate, School Security|Tags: , , |
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