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Articles in the School Climate category

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 Climate, School Board News|

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: Wellness, School Climate, School Board News|

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.

Naomi Dillon|April 4th, 2011|Categories: Governance, School Climate, American School Board Journal|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: School Law, Bullying, School Security, School Climate, School Board News|

Spare the rod; corporal punishment an outdated practice that still exists

SpankingThe phrase “corporal punishments in schools” brings to mind Agatha Trenchbull, the absurdly aggressive, vile principal from the children’s movie, Matilda. Or the 1930s nuns armed with rulers, recalled by our grandparents.

Yet this backwards method is actually a part of today’s reality?  Research  has shown nearly a quarter-million students in our country are punished through physical means each year.

I thought we were in the 21st century here, not a recurring nightmare.  My mistake.

It seems so outrageous to say any U.S. school still partakes in this, that it’s nearly impossible to believe that striking pupils as a means of discipline is still legal within 20 states in our country. 

Most of these states are in the south or rural areas—aka places that are highly embedded in tradition and often resistant to change. Somehow, these government officials actually believe this old-fashioned practice is still a good idea. 

“Each year, prodded by child safety advocates, state legislatures debate whether corporal punishment amounts to an archaic form of child abuse or an effective means of discipline,” a New York Times reporter writes.

Seriously? What’s the debate about? Striking youth as a means of punishment is abusive, plain and simple.

Naomi Dillon|March 30th, 2011|Categories: Governance, School Climate, American School Board Journal|Tags: |

Fate of teachers’ unions might play a role in future of school boards

1298464906226271134megaphone77-mdTeachers unions must feel like the proverbial punching bag these days. Across the nation, a lot of state policymakers are attacking tenure, seniority, and collective bargaining rights —and demonizing the unions as an obstacle to school reform.

How badly the unions are under fire—and the potential consequences for local school boards—are the focus of the April ASBJ cover story.

Clearly it’s not the best of times for unions. For one, some governors are showing very little fear of the unions’ still-powerful political influence and sizable financial war chests.

No one has made that more clear than New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who once claimed his state’s school reform efforts were being held hostage by “a selfish, self-interested, greedy union that cares more about putting money in their pockets and the pockets of their members than they care about educating our most vulnerable and needy children.”


Then, of course, there’s the recent—and tumultuous—legislative fight in Wisconsin, where Gov. Scott Walker’s attempt to strip unions of collective-bargaining rights led to a walkout by Democratic lawmakers, noisy protests, and ultimately a temporary restraining order from a judge who wanted to sort out the messy legislative process that led to the law’s passage.

Naomi Dillon|March 24th, 2011|Categories: Governance, Teachers, School Climate, American School Board Journal|Tags: |

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: School Boards, School Law, Bullying, Announcements, School Climate, School Board News|

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: Governance, Teachers, School Climate, American School Board Journal|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, Wellness, School Security, School Climate, School Board News|

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: Governance, Educational Research, School Climate, American School Board Journal|Tags: , , |
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