Articles in the School Climate category

NSBA General Counsel discusses bullying on C-Span

NSBA General Counsel Francisco M. Negron Jr. appeared on C-Span’s Washington Journal on March 12 to discuss NSBA’s viewpoints on federal bullying policies and the overall concern of bullying and cyberbullying in schools. Negron answered numerous challenging questions from callers with a wide range of opinions from around the country.

The show followed the White House summit on bullying last week. View a replay of Negron’s 45-minute appearance on C-Span’s website, and read more about the White House summit here.

Joetta Sack-Min|March 14th, 2011|Categories: Announcements, Bullying, School Board News, School Boards, School Climate, School Law|

Collective bargaining process facing intense scrutiny in education field

1-1232472552P4L3The very high-profile moves to dismantle collective bargaining and curb the power of public employee unions—including teachers–in several states have generally been applauded by school boards.

After all, school boards and administrators should have more power to dictate working conditions that could significantly impact student performance, such as the length of the school day and year, as well as use factors other than seniority when layoffs occur.

But recently some board members have expressed concerns about the voracity that governors and lawmakers have pushed these proposals as they grapple with tight budgets—and whether their school districts would be hurt as well.

The Washington Post reports that Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker has announced a budget Tuesday that “envisions slashing aid  to local governments and school districts, which he has said could translate into 12,000 layoffs over the next two years.”

John Ashley, Executive Director of the Wisconsin Association of School Boards, has been watching a very ugly situation unfold in his state. In a Feb. 15 letter to the leaders of the legislature’s Joint Finance Committee,

Naomi Dillon|March 7th, 2011|Categories: American School Board Journal, Governance, School Climate, Teachers|Tags: , , , |

New resources guide schools on LGBT bullying issues

“For youth to thrive in their schools and communities, they need to feel socially, emotionally, and physically safe,” states the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) new research and prevention page regarding the bullying of LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual or transsexual) adolescents in U.S. schools.

But the new research shows this is not the case for many LGBT youth in the U.S. According to an online survey conducted in 2009, nearly one in three responding LGBT teens admitted skipping at least one school day in the previous month due to concerns for their safety.

The new CDC resources are a “nice tie between public health and education,” said Brenda Z. Greene, director of NSBA’s school health programs.

“When students are disengaged or bullied, they don’t feel safe and they’re not going to do as well in school—if they show up at all,” Greene said.

LGBT adolescents face tremendous stresses, which increase their risk for mental health problems and substance abuse. A national study of lesbian, gay, and bisexual 7th through 12th graders found that these youth were twice more likely than their straight classmates to have attempted suicide.

As a result, school board members and administrators are being called to take a stand against the bullying epidemic.

“This is a good time to be proactive,” said Roberta Stanley, NSBA’s director of federal affairs, at a Feb. 7 presentation on digital bullying at the Federal Relations Network conference. “You don’t want to be the one to be [negatively] highlighted.”

The CDC recommends enforcing “clear policies, procedures and activities designed to prevent bullying.” Additionally, an atmosphere with supportive staff,  psychological “safe spaces” and the development of student run organizations such as the Gay Straight Alliance can help LGBT youth flourish.

To improve sexual education, schools can use  “inclusive terminology” and cover issues relevant to LGBT youth. Information about community resources for HIV and other sexually transmitted disease testing should also be provided by schools.

“When people are talking about an important issue as if you’re not there, you’re not going to pay attention,” said Greene. Ignoring same-sex couple issues “disenfranchises” LGBT teens, who have a lower chance of engaging in “high risk” health behaviors if included in curricula.

NSBA’s 2011 annual conference, held April 9 to 11 in San Francisco, will include a presentation about “Welcoming Schools”, a Human Rights Campaign initiative to help public schools create a healthy and productive climate for all students.

These changes will help create “positive, supportive, and healthy environments,” which “promote acceptance and respect and help youth feel valued,” according to the CDC. But in order to succeed, Greene said, school employees must also have a “commitment to kids and a commitment to doing the right thing.”

-Melissa Major, publications intern

Erin Walsh|February 11th, 2011|Categories: Bullying, FRN Conference 2011, School Board News, School Climate, School Security, Wellness|

New study focuses on “who” of bullying, when the “how” also merits scrutiny

0060-0808-1213-2001MVP jocks who perform “swirlies” on nerds and take their lunch money, cheerleaders tutored by smart girls whom they deny public acknowledgement of existence— typical bullies, right?

Turns out high school isn’t as Freaks and Geeks-esque as we thought.

A new study that surveys 3,700 8th, 9th and 10th-graders spanning three counties of North Carolina, reports that aggressiveness peaked at students ranking in the 98th percentile of popularity on the social chain.

The study, published in February’s American Sociological Review, says aggressiveness is a tool used to “get ahead” in social hierarchies, and best serves those sitting right below the most popular 2 percent mark.

Traditional bullying views have been obsolete for years.  In order to effectively prevent bullying and instate anti-bullying policies—such as the anti-bullying guidelines that focus on LGBT students by the CDC– schools need to be aware of the latest trends.

This study of who the bullies are seem rather irrelevant in the era of cyberbullying.  Since anonymity and the ability to target a “faceless” victim can be granted through mediums such as e-mail, text messaging, blogs etc., the identity of the perpetrator has become less and less predictable.

States that attempt to take preventative legal measures, such as the recent bill passed by the North Dakota Senate, and the schools within them must keep an eye out for the overwhelming presence of digital bullying.

Naomi Dillon|February 9th, 2011|Categories: American School Board Journal, Educational Research, Governance, School Climate|Tags: , , |

More students feeling overwhelmed

1210-1242157105RzPDNearly eight years ago, I wrote a story about the increasing stress on public school students. It was largely anecdotal; while I was able to find studies showing that college students were under more stress – including one that noted a doubling of the number of students being treated for depression between 1989 and 2001 at one Midwestern university – there was nothing quantitative about K-12 students. 

But maybe this qualifies: On exam days at the Rockingham County (N.C.) Schools, a largely rural district of 7,500 students near Greensboro, school staff had to throw out as many as 20 exam booklets because students vomited on them.

Twenty booklets in a district of less than 8,000 students — is that significant? I don’t know, but it sounded like a lot to me.

Now comes an article in the New York Times, also about college students, that again suggests student stress is rising. For example, the percentage of students who described their emotional health as “above average” in a comprehensive 2010 survey was 52 percent, down from 64 percent in 1985. The survey, titled The American Freshman: National Norms Fall 2010, also found that the percentage of freshmen who had felt “frequently overwhelmed” their senior year of high school increased to 29 percent from 27 percent the previous year.

This trend is surely related to the struggling economy and the lack of available jobs. But might the increasing stress also be due, in part, to our relentless drive for higher student achievement? High academic achievement is great, of course, but are we pushing this objective to the detriment of other, “softer” goals we have for our students, such as growing up emotionally stabile, learning how to be good citizens, and developing a love of learning?

In a few months, ASBJ readers will receive one very pointed answer from education researcher and critic Alfie Kohn. The title of Kohn’s April story? “Feel Bad Education.”

Lawrence Hardy, Senior Editor

Lawrence Hardy|February 1st, 2011|Categories: American School Board Journal, Educational Research, Governance, Policy Formation, School Climate|

NSBA supports “No-Name Calling Week”

NSBA has endorsed this week as “No Name Calling Week,” a project of the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network that seeks to curb bullying by young people.

GLSEN has created a week of educational activities designed to address bullying and name-calling of all kinds. The event, now in its eighth year, was originally designed for middle schools, where many bullying incidents begin. But it can now be celebrated in all grade levels, with activities ranging from assemblies to lesson plans encouraging students to intervene when they witness name calling.

“We are proud to support the work of thousands of educators and students who are using No Name-Calling Week to bring a message of respect to their schools,” GLSEN Executive Director Eliza Byard said in GLSEN’s announcement. “One of the wonderful lessons from No Name-Calling Week is that we can empower students to work together to improve school climate for all students. Bullying is a public health crisis in this country, but through programs like No Name-Calling Week, we know we can make schools safer and more affirming for everyone.”

Lesson plans and other resources can be found at

Erin Walsh|January 25th, 2011|Categories: Bullying, School Board News, School Climate|

What motivates troubled kids to shape up?

800px-Jail_Cell_NMCPFlipping through the channels last night, desperate to find something besides Desperate Housewives in-a-town-near-you, I landed on A&E, completely enthralled by a new documentary series called, Beyond Scared Straight.

In my former life as a newspaper reporter, I remember spending the better part of a day, visiting a correctional facility with a group of students, who were given a grim but cursory look at prison life. I remember the experience being long, void of any real contact with inmates, and hence not very impactful for the students, none of which I recall where troublesome.

I guess, you could say it was a lighter version of Scared Straight, the widely acclaimed one-day intervention juvenile deliquents had in prison. Well, it seems Scared Straight is a lighter version of Beyond Scared Straight, a far more intense and frankly, downright scary wakeup call to teens heading in the wrong direction.

The shows promo contends that today’s youth require a different approach, one that marries communication, information and confrontation, to get through to them. In watching the last 20 minutes of the program, I’m certainly a believer in this strategy. And in followups with a handful of girls they profiled in the season’s openers, all but one seemed changed for good.

As security issues and student violence continue to plague schools, it’s a get-tough approach that could save some of today’s toughest youth.

Naomi Dillon, Senior Editor

Naomi Dillon|January 19th, 2011|Categories: American School Board Journal, Dropout Prevention, School Climate, School Security|Tags: , |

The week in blogs

Many years ago, when I was a college senior in Southern California, I took a child development class connected with a wonderful campus preschool that was all the things you would expect a ‘70s-era preschool to be – discovery oriented, child centered, creative, and fun.  It guess you could call it “open classroom” as well,  seeing as the kids had the run of a multi-room former home; of course it helped, in terms of classroom control, that – in addition to having a wonderful director – there was a ratio of roughly one college student helper for every two children.

Flip ahead two years, and I was one of the teachers in a Head Start program for minority students in Boston’s South End. This was also “open classroom,” but by necessity: There was some structural problem in one classroom that forced us to combined two classrooms of 20-some students each into a mega-class of four teachers and more than 40-something children.

Yes, it was bedlam. There were just too many students – and too much noise – for much real learning to occur.

I thought about those two schools this week after reading about an experimental elementary school in Brooklyn founded by a former principal and Harvard graduate student who was trying to replicate the small discussion groups at Phillips Exeter Academy. This is analogous to my California school. But, according to a New York Times story on the project and Joanne Jacobs’ subsequent blog, instead of organizing several small groups (which may not have been possible) the founder put 60 first graders in a class with four teachers, and the results were …. yes, as the Times strongly implies, bedlam. The same thing I experienced in Boston.

Lawrence Hardy|January 15th, 2011|Categories: American School Board Journal, Assessment, Curriculum, Diversity, Educational Research, Educational Technology, Governance, Policy Formation, School Buildings, School Climate, Student Achievement, Teachers, Urban Schools|

Anger and trajedy in Arizona

Photo courtesy of

Photo courtesy of

There was a time — for days, even weeks – after the terrorist attacks of 2001 that I could not look at a digital clock showing 9:11 without seeing images from that horrible day.

But I got over it. And in the same way (in much abbreviated fashion) I got over Saturday’s shootings in Arizona. Sunday was a strange day. Yesterday was more depressing. But today? Things seem back to “normal,” whatever that is. How quickly we move on.

But there are a few things I’d like to say about the terrible shootings that killed six people and injured 14, including a U.S. congresswoman. On the issue of whether the killer, Jared Loughner, was influenced by violent, mostly rightwing, rhetoric, we might never know for sure. But at a time when some on-air entertainers/commentators regularly denounce not simply the ideas or policies of opponents but their very legitimacy – in what some observers have called, using a rather odd phrase, “eliminationist rhetoric” — the potential impact on unstable individuals seems self-evident.  

Lawrence Hardy|January 11th, 2011|Categories: American School Board Journal, Governance, School Climate, School Security, Wellness|

NSBA General Counsel asks ED to reconsider anti-bullying regs

NSBA’s General Counsel is asking the Department of Education to clarify or reconsider portions of its recent guidance to schools on bullying and harassment related to federal civil rights laws, saying that the guidance would have many unintended consequences and could be extremely difficult for schools to implement.

That guidance, issued as a “Dear Colleague” letter on Oct. 26, warned school officials that some student misconduct that falls under a school’s anti-bullying policy also may trigger responsibilities under one or more of the federal anti-discrimination laws enforced by the agency’s Office of Civil Rights.

NSBA attorneys met with representatives from the Education Department this week and also sent a letter detailing NSBA’s concerns about the guidance. They expect the Education Department to issue a response to those concerns and to continue to work with NSBA staff to communicate their enforcement positions and how those would be enforced.

“Our fear is that, absent clarification, the department’s expansive reading of the law … will invite misguided litigation that needlessly drains precious school resources and creates adversarial school climates that distract schools from their educational missions,” NSBA General Counsel Francisco M. Negron Jr. wrote.

The enforcement position taken in the Education Department’s letter differs from the legal precedent set in a 1999 case, Davis v. Monroe County Board of Education, in which the Supreme Court ruled that schools could be held liable under Title IX for student-on-student harassment when the school was aware of the situation but did not take action to stop it. That ruling significantly increased schools’ obligations to recognize and respond to harassment, Negron says.

However, the Education Department’s enforcement position as stated in the guidance would further broaden the standard set by the Davis ruling by advising that school officials would be responsible if they “reasonably should have known” about a situation. It also would broaden Davis’s cumulative standard that harassment must be “severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive” to allow any of the three factors to qualify.

Ultimately, any teasing or bullying incident related to sexual orientation or with a religious component could be eligible for remediation, Negron writes.

NSBA is urging the Education Department to recognize that local school officials would have a better understanding of an individual situation, and should not be second-guessed by courts.

“The professional judgment of educators is key to addressing the problem of bullying,” Negron writes.

Joetta Sack-Min|December 13th, 2010|Categories: Bullying, School Board News, School Climate, School Law|
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