Articles in the School Climate category

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: , , |

Education Talk Radio previews NSBA’s 2013 Annual Conference

Kanisha Williams-Jones, Director of Leadership & Governance Services at the National School Boards Association (NSBA), was a guest today on Education Talk Radio providing a preview of NSBA’s 2013 Annual Conference. Thousands of school board members, administrators, and other educators will be coming to San Diego to take part in the April 13-15 event.

Listen to the broadcast:

Listen to internet radio with EduTalk on Blog Talk Radio

The conference will feature more than 200 sessions on timely education topics, including federal legislation and funding, managing schools with tight budgets, the legal implications of recent court cases, new research and best practices in school governance, and the Common Core State Standards. A series of sessions will focus on school safety and security.

Expanded education technology programming will include site visits to the University of San Diego and Qualcomm’s Mobile Learning Center to explore its research laboratory on mobile learning; Birch Aquarium at Scripps Institution of Oceanography to examine the technology in science education and STEM; Encinitas Union School District to view its One-to-One Digital Learning Program; and the San Diego Zoo to learn about the cutting-edge learning tools used to teach at-risk students. U.S. Navy SEALs will show leadership and team building skills during another workshop.

The meeting also includes one of the largest K-12 educational expositions, with some 300 companies showcasing their innovative products and services for school districts.

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.

It’s not too late to register, visit the Annual Conference website for  more information.

NSBA works with White House on school safety issues

President Barack Obama issued 23 executive actions today that he says will strengthen school safety and prevent gun violence. He also called on Congress to pass tougher gun-control measures, including banning some assault rifles and magazines and requiring  background checks for purchasing all guns, one month and two days after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings in Newtown, Conn.

The National School Boards Association (NSBA) was represented by Executive Director Thomas J. Gentzel at the White House event. Obama announced a campaign entitled “Now is the Time” that outlines his plans for preventing gun violence.

The executive actions pertaining to school safety include:

  • Provide incentives for schools to hire school resource officers;
  • Develop model emergency response plans for schools, houses of worship, and institutions of higher education;
  • Provide law enforcement, first responders, and school officials with proper training for active shooter situations;
  • Launch a national conversation on mental health with Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.

The orders and proposals were “based on an emerging consensus from all the groups we heard,” said Vice President Joe Biden. At the request of the president, Vice President Biden oversaw a task force designed to field recommendations from key stakeholder groups to curb gun violence in the United States. The White House has emphasized that local school leaders would be able to choose the safety measures for their schools as they see fit.

“We commend President Obama for his efforts to ensure that all schools are safe places,” Gentzel said. “We look forward to working with the administration and Congress in a collaborative effort to address this important issue.”

NSBA called for the expansion of school safety zones and more school resource officers during a Jan. 9 White House meeting with Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, Attorney General Eric Holder, and White House Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett, who fielded recommendations from about a dozen major education groups as part of the vice president’s task force.

NSBA’s Director of Federal Legislation Deborah Rigsby participated in that session and also recommended greater access to mental health services and resources for greater coordination between law enforcement agencies and school districts.

Other organizations represented at the event included the American Association of School Administrators, National PTA, National Education Association, American Federation of Teachers, School Social Work Association of America, Council of Chief State School Officers, Mothers in Charge, National Association of Elementary School Principals, National Association of Secondary School Principals, Council for Exceptional Children, and Council of Great City Schools.

Some of the groups discussed ideas such as creating a federal interagency council on school safety, and training development and support for school principals on preparation and preparedness.

NSBA and some other groups did not take a specific position on gun control, but others expressed opposition to arming teachers with guns, Rigsby said.

Joetta Sack-Min|January 16th, 2013|Categories: Bullying, Crisis Management, Educational Finance, Educational Legislation, Federal Advocacy, Federal Programs, Governance, Legislative advocacy, Policy Formation, School Climate, School Security, Uncategorized|Tags: , , , , , , |

Schools safer in the wake of Columbine shootings and 9/11, say educators and security experts

Ronald D. Stephens has worked in school security for nearly 28 years. As executive director of the National School Safety Center in California, he’s consulted with school officials in places linked forever with school shootings — places like Red Lake, Minn.; Paducah, Ky., Broward County, Fla.; and Littleton, Colo.

But, in one sense, Newtown, Conn., is different, Stephens said.

“I have never seen a school shooting that has been so vicious, so heartless, so callous” as the one that killed 20 young children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School, Stephens said.

The majority of the victims, as much of the world now knows, were 6- and 7-year-olds. Six adults were also shot and killed at the school, including the gunman, Adam Lanza, who took his own life and that of his mother, whom he shot in their home before driving to the school.

Given the horrific nature of the crime, the next point Stephens made might be hard for the public to grasp: Children are safer in school than outside of it. About 100 times safer, if you do the math — and Stephens has.

Since the shootings at Columbine High School in 1999, districts have done many things to make schools safer. They’ve installed security systems and initiated better screening of visitors. Many have hired school resource officer. And they’ve adopted school safety plans, which anticipate threats and specify what adults and children will do in the event of everything from earthquakes, floods, and hurricanes, to a gunman on campus.

“After Columbine, there was a lot more emphasis placed on safe school plans,” said Eric Sparks, assistant director of the American School Counselor Association.

No longer simply a vague plan “sitting on a shelf,” the safe schools plan became a working document that addressed specific threats, including the threat of violence. Schools also took training for students and staff more seriously. They had lockdown drills and practiced the routines they would need to follow in case of emergency.

It’s perhaps hard to imagine anything worse than what happened at Sandy Hook. Yet without the kind of training staff members received — and the extraordinary degree of courage and composure they displayed — the Dec. 14 shootings might have claimed even more lives.

“As horrific as the tragedy was in Newtown, it could have been much worse had the teachers, the staff, the principal, the administrators not followed the lockdown procedures they had been trained to follow, had they not actually taken the children and secluded them, really depriving the killer of further targets,” NSBA General Counsel Francisco M. Negrón said on C-SPAN’s Washington Journal. “So it was their training to basically ferret out the children — keeping them safe, keeping them calm — that made this a less horrific tragedy than it could have been, in terms of numbers.”

In the days after the shooting, Negrón also spoke on NPR’s “All Things Considered,” where he said that the recent shooting by an external gunman represented “a turning point” in the discussion of school safety. He said this should elicit discussions between district officials and law enforcement about how to deal with a shooter from outside the school community. In the wake of Columbine and other school shootings, schools focused on internal issues, such as school climate and bullying, and on identifying students with mental problems. This kind of effort, while essential, does not address a threat posed from outside.

Negrón told C-SPAN that moves to arm teachers and administrators, which have been suggested by Virginia Gov. Robert McDonnell and others, are not the answer because school staff members are not routinely trained in law enforcement.

“Teachers and administrators are hired to teach our children,” Negrón said. “That’s a very different skill set [from law enforcement].”

Sparks, of the American School Counselor Association, agreed.

“Having school staff with guns — that would be a challenging situation in terms of training and school safety,” Sparks said. “And it takes a whole different angle on the possibility of things going wrong.”

That could include gun accidents and other unintended consequences of adding firepower to some 120,000 places across the country that were designed for learning – what Stephens likened to creating “120,000 Fort Knoxes.” Is that the kind of climate we want for our children? he asked.

And even these actions would not ensure protection from a heavily armed intruder, unconcerned for his own life and bent on mass murder, Stephens said.

“I don’t know of a school district in America that is prepared to deal with assault-style attacks on their campuses.”

Lawrence Hardy|December 21st, 2012|Categories: American School Board Journal, Crisis Management, School Buildings, School Climate, School Security|Tags: , , , , , , , , |

Safety experts to advise school leaders in NSBA webinar

The school shootings in Newtown, Conn., have left school leaders searching for ways to make sure they are keeping their students, staff, and communities safe from harm.

When looking for advice, it’s best to seek out people who have experience – and Shamus O’Meara and Rick Kaufman certainly fit the bill. O’Meara, a partner with the Minneapolis law firm Johnson Condon, Attorneys at Law P.A., represented and advised the Red Lake and Rocori school districts in their school shooting incidents. Kaufman was the communications director for Colorado’s Jefferson County School District during the Columbine High School shootings 13 years ago.

Both men will be featured in a free webinar for school leaders, administrators, and school attorneys: “Planning For and Managing the School Crisis You Hope Never Comes.” The webinar, sponsored by NSBA’s Office of General Counsel and the Council of School Attorneys (COSA) will be held Friday from 1 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. EST. Register at https://www1.gotomeeting.com/register/219019864.

“We hope that this webinar provides school leaders and attorneys with a solid foundation for review or development of school emergency plans and procedures,” says Sonja Trainor, director of COSA. “We are deeply thankful to Shamus O’Meara and Rick Kaufman, both national experts on school emergency planning and response, for giving their time and expertise for this webinar.”

O’Meara will discuss the importance of school safety plans as “living and breathing, not stuck in drawers,” he says. “School leaders, administrator, parents, and students — everyone involved with the school should take ownership of plan, so we are safely educating our students.”

In the decade since the Columbine High School shootings and 9/11, awareness about the need for security in public buildings, including schools, has been heightened, says O’Meara. And schools also have recognized that they are not alone in dealing with security and safety issues.

“A number of partners have to be involved, not just law enforcement,” he says. “Mental health, counseling services, and social services – they all need to be part of a dialog that is in turn part of school safety planning.”

One aspect of a good safety plan is how to communicate to parents, staff, students, and the community during and after a crisis. Kaufman, who is now director of community relations and emergency management for Minnesota’s Bloomington Public Schools, lived through the nightmare of Columbine.

The Columbine shootings changed the landscape of school security and raised questions of school climate. The biggest change that Kaufman has seen since the Colorado shootings has been the rise of social media use and the speed in which information travels. He encourages school districts to consider communications through many different ways.

“Districts must respond very quickly through different channels. If your district doesn’t use social media, you will be caught behind the eight ball in dealing with the crisis,” he says. “You can’t rely on just email or a rapid notification system.”

Through his work with the National School Public Relations Association, Kaufman helped in the development of rapid response teams of school communications professionals that are available to help districts that are dealing with a crisis.

O’Meara and Kaufman will offer strategies and resources for school leaders, and will be responding to questions during the webinar.

 

Kathleen Vail|December 19th, 2012|Categories: American School Board Journal, Announcements, Board governance, School Buildings, School Climate, School Law, School Security|Tags: |

School security articles available at American School Board Journal

In her 2006 article, “A Measured Approach,” which was written after several school shootings by individuals with no connection to the schools, American School Board Journal editor Naomi Dillon wrote: “From fostering a positive and inviting school climate, to teaching and modeling good behavior, to encouraging students and staff to be the eyes and ears of the building, schools can do a lot to make themselves unsuitable targets for unstable individuals.”

The horrific events in Newtown, Conn., have most of us looking for answers again. As school leaders, you are searching anew for information on security – disaster planning, safeguards, and the kind of prevention described in Dillon’s article. ASBJ can help provide that information for you: The magazine has published many articles on school safety for school leaders over the years. Usually only open to subscribers or available for purchase, the articles will be open to the public at our topical archive, Safe From Harm.

At the top of the list of articles is a look back at the Columbine shootings – interviews with the principal, counselor, superintendent, communications official, and others who experienced the events on that day in 1999.

Other articles include: “Communicating During a Crisis,” by school safety expert Ken Trump, who gives tips on how make sure your schools have well-developed and exercised safety and crisis plans and your staff is trained to implement them.

In “Safe From Harm,” ASBJ law columnist Ed Darden notes that a get-tough stance is tempting, but compassion and conversations are just as important.

Dillon writes of the importance of disaster planning in “Do You Have a Disaster Plan?”

Many other articles are available for reading and for download.  Please give us your feedback on what other kinds of security articles you’d find most useful.

 

 

Kathleen Vail|December 17th, 2012|Categories: American School Board Journal, Crisis Management, School Buildings, School Climate, School Law, School Security|Tags: , , , , , |
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