Articles in the School Climate category

ED announces Green Ribbon Schools program

You’ve heard of Blue Ribbon Schools, now the U.S. Department of Education is launching a new program, Green Ribbon Schools, that will recognize the efforts and intiatives of schools that adopt, promote, and teach environmental sustainability.

From graduating environmentally literate students to reducing their carbon footprints, schools that best exemplify America’s move toward a sustainable economy will be awarded this prestigious honor — and in the process protect and save valuable resources.
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Naomi Dillon|April 27th, 2011|Categories: American School Board Journal, Curriculum, Governance, School Buildings, School Climate|Tags: , |

“It takes a school system” — and then some

Call it “Disneyland Brain,” but when I returned from a two-and-a-half-week trip that included NSBA’s Annual Conference in San Francisco, three days of reporting on the Long Beach schools, and a family vacation to the famous Anaheim theme park, among other places, I was at a loss to identify the Conference Daily story I wrote that our analysis said was getting a lot of hits.

The story was slugged: “Rivers.”

Rivers?” I thought, trying to place it. Like other ASBJ editors, I covered three or four sessions a day, on everything from dual-emersion elementary schools to the most significant education-related court cases of the past year.

“Rivers,” it turns out, didn’t have anything to do — at least, directly — with the business of running a school system. It was a lunchtime speech by actor Victor Rivas Rivers, who has made highlighting the problem of domestic violence a personal goal. It is a quest born of personal experience.

Rivers said his father was a charming man — in public. In private he was an abuser who terrorized Rivers’ mother, beat him and his brothers, and even harassed the family pets.  Rivers eventually escaped his punisher through the help of a series of families who took him in, and a variety of people in the school district, including a teacher who secretly gave him a meal ticket when Rivers’ father was limiting him to one meal a day.
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Lawrence Hardy|April 26th, 2011|Categories: American School Board Journal, Diversity, Dropout Prevention, Educational Research, Governance, Homeless People, Policy Formation, School Climate, Student Achievement, Urban Schools|

Go green to save some green

recycle-greenWe all know that embracing energy efficiency is better for the planet, but did you know it could also be better for your school’s budget?

Last week, two 17 year-old environmental activists from California traveled clear across the country to speak at the Power Shift conference in D.C. and meet with Aneesh Chopra, the Chief Technology Officer in the White House.

Shreya Indukuri and Daniela Lapidous, both members of the Alliance for Climate Education’s youth advisor board,  emphasized the importance of energy efficiency in schools, explaining that burning fossil fuels and using excess energy emits additional carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, which helps to trap heat on Earth. Such human activities are some of the main causes of global warming.  

After The Harker Upper School in San Jose, Ca., was awarded an ACE grant in 2009, the students initiated the installation of a Smart Submeter system on their campus. The resource measures energy usage in each building throughout the day and creates a corresponding visual map, so administrators can see where and when activities are highest.   

As a result, the school has seen a 250 percent return on investment, and a 13 percent decrease in energy over the course of the past two years, Lapidous said.
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Naomi Dillon|April 25th, 2011|Categories: American School Board Journal, Curriculum, Governance, School Buildings, School Climate|Tags: , |

Role playing not always the best method for teaching race relations

1863lithograph_locNow I’m all for hands-on classroom activities…but holding a mock slave auction? I can’t think of a more politically incorrect and offensive idea.

At the beginning of the month, one fourth grade teacher in Virginia lined her students up according to race—Whites on one side and Blacks, Latinos and other minority races on the other. Then the “buying” and “selling” began, the Washington Post reports.

Apparently she didn’t learn from the mistakes of an elementary school Ohio teacher, who was heavily reprimanded in March for a similar classroom role playing scenario.

An involved African-American fifth grade student explained to the local news station that he felt embarrassed, insulted and angered by the mock slave auction. His classmates were even allowed to examine his teeth and body to determine his strength and suitability, methods used by slave owners in the 1800s.

Well, obviously the poor boy was humiliated! His white classmates were encouraged to make him feel helpless, weak and subservient. Clearly this would taint his feelings about education. Maybe this kind of lesson would work in a world where racial discrimination was unheard of, or null and void. But clearly this is not the case.

Furthermore, as eight and nine year old kids, these students still don’t fully understand race relations or discrimination. Feelings from the set-up will remain far after the history lesson is lost. White students will recall feeling strong and powerful—and maybe this will encourage them to belittle minorities again. Black students will recall their pain and want to avoid it—perhaps even by skipping class in the future.
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Naomi Dillon|April 18th, 2011|Categories: American School Board Journal, Curriculum, Governance, School Climate|Tags: , |

Making your schools more ‘welcoming’

“In Berkeley, we’ve always embraced diversity,” said Karen Hemphill, Berkeley Unified School District Board Member, at the Monday morning session at Annual Conference on “Welcoming Schools: A system-wide approach to family diversity, gender, and bullying.” Hemphill added, “Within that diversity, we have families with diverse points of view, including families that do not embrace all kinds of families.”

In order to strengthen what the district was doing to make sure their schools would be safe and nurturing, including changing their anti-bullying and tolerance policy and approach, the Berkeley school board adopted the Welcoming Schools program a year ago as a board mandate for kindergarten through fifth grade.

Welcoming Schools is a school climate program that was developed with the support of the Human Rights Campaign Foundation (HRCF) by parents and educators who wanted a tool that would make schools inclusive of  lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender families, as well as adoptive families, single parent families, and foster families to name a few. 

Kim Westheimer, director of Welcoming Schools at HRCF, described the components of the program, which are:  Establish leadership/ training for educators; community forums for parents/guardians; lesson plans (which are aligned with academic and social/emotional standards), and evaluation. She shared findings of the three-year pilot program with the San Francisco Unified School District, Minneapolis Public Schools, and New Bedford (Mass.) School District. 

“Sixty percent of participants reported climate improvement,” said Westheimer, “educators felt more equipped to teach lessons on gender, anti-gay bullying and family diversity; there was increased attention to addressing diversity, and increased belief in the benefit of the lessons for all children.” Also found in pre- and post-assessments were a decrease in fear of parental and religious objections. “Involving parents in implementation helped temper the fears,” said Westheimer.

Berkeley USD partners with Our Family Coalition, a community organization, whose executive director, Judy Appel said “Berkeley was the first place in the country to adopt Welcoming Schools district wide.

Neil Smith, assistant superintendent, described how the program was tested in three district schools, and at the same time they began a system of looking at the curriculum and creating advocates for it. They established a district leadership group that included parents, teachers, and administrators.”A first major step was ensuring that teachers understood this was important.” Smith added, “We held parent community-building events to increase understanding among families.”

“The material can be really challenging for a lot of folks,” said Appel, “There often are questions from parents and concerns. We’ve found the best way is to talk about it with parents in community.” She explained that none of the lessons are gay-lesbian specific, but they are inclusive. “We learned that parents want to feel prepared to discuss what the children are learning.” 

A school board member from Alberta, Canada, asked “How do we know we’re making a difference?” Smith responded, “We’re keeping track of referrals, but it’s hard to tease out which component in a large system of building effective schools is making a specific difference.” Other questions revolved around the cost of Welcoming Schools, which is minimal aside from purchasing specific library books. And training and technical assistance is available from HRCF.

“The cost of not doing this will be far greater down the line,” said a board member.

Brenda Z. Greene

Erin Walsh|April 11th, 2011|Categories: NSBA Annual Conference 2011, School Board News, School Climate|

Making your school safe for LGBT students

The Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network (GLSEN) recommended four evidence-based strategies on addressing anti-lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered (LGBT) bullying in schools. “Supportive student groups; supportive school staff; inclusive curriculum, and comprehensive policies and state laws,” said Jenny Betz, education manager for GLSEN.

Betz and GLSEN public policy director Shawn Gaylord presented findings from the organization’s most recent National School Climate Survey, personal stories from students, and state policy information to drive home the need to make the school environment safer and more supportive for these students at an Annual Conference session Sunday.

Betz and Gaylord followed an opening video featuring Dustin Rader, a transgender student who came out to his family and school while in high school, and the personal story of a parent of a transgender child shared by Robert Rader, executive director of the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education. The latter urged school board members to make sure that LGBT students are not harassed, bullied, or hurt in any way because of their differences.

Sunday’s session was first presented at last year’s NSBA conference in Chicago. “The session was of great interest to school leaders last year, and with the high visibility suicides of students who were bullied or harassed over the last several months, several related to their sexual orientation or gender identity,” said Brenda Z. Greene, NSBA director of school health and moderator for the session, “we knew it would be important to present it again.”

Highlights of the data presented by GLSEN include that nearly a third of the 61 percent of LGBT students who reported feeling unsafe at school because of their sexual orientation missed class at least once and missed at least one day of school in the last month. “Those students aren’t in school learning and are costing districts revenue,” said Betz.

“The effects of a hostile school climate,” she said, “have poorer educational outcomes, including decreased educational aspirations, sense of school belonging, and academic achievement, and increased absenteeism.”

Gaylord explained the two approaches to safe schools laws: anti-bullying laws and nondiscrimination laws. “While states are passing these laws,” said Gaylord, “so are local districts.” Maps showing which states have adopted these laws can be found on GLSEN’s website.

Audience questions addressed a transgender accommodation request for a 5-year-old, managing political controversy associated with supporting Gay-Straight Alliances at a high school, and more. GLSEN staff is available for more discussion and to share materials at Booth 1518.

Erin Walsh|April 10th, 2011|Categories: Bullying, FRN Conference 2011, NSBA Annual Conference 2011, School Board News, School Climate|

Advice for district lawyers on OCR guidance

The Office of Civil Rights’ (OCR) “Dear Colleague” letter that outlines guidance on school bullying and harassment is not consistent with court decisions, attendees of the Council of School Attorneys’ School Law Seminar heard at a session on April 7.

The guidance “doesn’t reflect high court precedent or the consensus of the circuit courts,” said Todd Clark and Karla Schultz, attorneys with Walsh, Anderson, Brown, Gallegos, and Green.

The dilemma for districts is that they can be sued by both the victim and the perpetrator depending on what actions they take. Perpetrators can say the district violated their First Amendment rights to freedom of speech.

Clark and Schultz had five suggestions for school district lawyers dealing with the OCR guidance.

1. Follow OCR guidance, despite its broad sweep.

2. Focus on protected classes under federal and state anti-discrimination laws.

3. Using actual or reasonable forecasts of substantial disruptions is the best guiding principle.

4. Don’t do nothing, but don’t do too much – in investigations and actions. Do what’s appropriate and document what you do.

5. Have respected anti-bullying programs in place.

“If we are just paying attention to bullying conduct and bullying policy only, we may be ignoring what is unlawful discriminatory conduct of students toward each other,” said Clark. “Schools must do more than discipline the bully. They must make sure what they do is effective.”

Kathleen Vail|April 8th, 2011|Categories: Bullying, NSBA Annual Conference 2011, School Board News, School Climate|

New NSBA guide helps schools handle asthma

NSBA and the American Association of School Administrators (AASA) have released In the Schoolyard and Beyond: Addressing Childhood Asthma in Your Community, a guide for schools, families, and community organizations to  create asthma-friendly environments for children suffering from this chronic condition.

Developed under a cooperative agreement with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Division of Adolescent and School Health, the publication addresses the potentially life-threatening nature of asthma, a long-term disease that narrows the passageways to the lungs, constricting breathing.

The CDC reports that more than five million school-aged children suffer from asthma, and nearly 13 million school days are missed due to asthma. In addition, asthma accounts for about one-third of all pediatric emergency room visits and annual expenditures for health and lost productivity due to asthma are estimated at nearly $20 billion, according to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.

While no one knows what causes asthma, health experts do know that certain environmental factors like second-hand smoke, vehicle exhaust, and pollen can induce symptoms like wheezing, coughing, and tightness in the chest.

In the Schoolyard and Beyond: Addressing Childhood Asthma in Your Community recommends schools, families and communities adopt a coordinated approach to keeping asthma-afflicted youth as safe and healthy as possible. Among the steps suggested stakeholders are advised to:

  • Develop an asthma action plan for the individual child that includes information like medication, specific triggers, and symptoms;
  • Reduce exposure to known triggers; manage medications and educate youth on the appropriate way to use them;
  • Encourage opportunities for physical activity;
  • Establish and maintain good communication;
  • Provide and/or take advantage of asthma education offered by local asthma coalitions.

“This brief document underscores the importance of families, schools and youth-serving organizations partnering to make sure students with asthma have consistent supports wherever they are,” said Brenda Z. Greene, NSBA’s director of School Health Programs. “If everyone plays their part, the six action steps in this document can have a powerful impact on the success of students with asthma at school and in their other activities.”

The guide is available in English and Spanish from the NSBA website.

Naomi Dillon|April 4th, 2011|Categories: School Board News, School Climate, Wellness|

Feds launch initiative to stem sexual violence in schools

322-1222511197yhmWBetween 20 and 25 percent of college-aged women and six percent of men are victims of rape during their years at school.  Most perpetrators are not strangers— but acquaintances, friends or romantic interests.

Despite the prominence of sexual violence on college campuses, a startling number of attacks go unreported. The American Association of Women estimates that 65 percent of these cases are never brought to the attention of police or university officials.

Some common causes for this phenomenon are fear of retribution from the attacker, embarrassment and the victim’s belief that it was their fault. These are all psychological consequences of a traumatic event, perpetuated by the social stigma which dictates that these survivors should be ashamed.

It is certain that before more rape and harassment victims step forward, societal ideas about the crime and those who’ve lived through it have to change.

But another serious reason that some remain silent— the belief that their school won’t do anything about the incident—has barely been addressed. This can be especially problematic where institutional policies on sexual violence are lenient, poorly defined, or non-existent.

Hopefully, positive institutional changes will occur as a result of a new set of federal guidelines to prevent sexual violence in U.S. public schools.

Today, Vice President Joe Biden will disclose these suggestions, which are in the form of a “Dear Colleague” letter clarifying and expanding upon Title IX, at the University of New Hampshire.
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Naomi Dillon|April 4th, 2011|Categories: American School Board Journal, Governance, School Climate|Tags: , , |

OCR responds to NSBA concerns on bullying guidance

At the request of NSBA, the U.S. Department of Education has responded to concerns regarding its recent guidance on school bullying and harassment. The letter, sent on March 25, further explains the Office of Civil Rights’ legal justifications for its positions but does not alter the substance of its initial guidance.

NSBA General Counsel Francisco M. Negrón, Jr. told NSBA’s Legal Clips that the OCR missed an opportunity to support the expertise and discretion of local school officials. Legal Clips has a full analysis of the letter.

Russlyn Ali, the assistant secretary for the OCR, will speak at the Council of School Attorneys’ annual conference in San Francisco on April 8. (That session along with several other COSA sessions on the topic will be covered by School Board News Today’s Conference Daily.)

The initial guidance came in the form of an Oct. 26, 2010 “Dear Colleague” letter that raised many questions about school officials’ responsibilities to report and address bullying and harassment incidents. NSBA also noted its concerns that the guidance could conflict with some state laws. The guidance could invite “misguided litigation,” according to NSBA’s legal department.

Negrón asked OCR to clarify or reconsider its stance on the responsibility of public school officials to address bullying and harassment in schools in this letter late last year. According to NSBA’s Legal Clips, “Negrón expressed concern that the [letter], which provides a broad view of the behaviors that constitute harassment falling under the purview of OCR’s enforcement responsibilities and a wide range of remedial measure schools may need to take to address them, may invite misguided litigation against schools and prove difficult for school officials to implement.”

“It’s important that OCR give school officials some brighter lines, so they know not only what OCR will enforce, but also whether OCR’s expectations line up with existing legal precedent.  We continue to be concerned that the [letter] may unwittingly invite needless litigation,” Negrón said in Legal Clips.

Joetta Sack-Min|April 1st, 2011|Categories: Bullying, School Board News, School Climate, School Law, School Security|
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