Articles in the School Security category

Keeping up with the times, or crossing the line?

CNN has more on a topic BoardBuzz highlighted last month: school districts setting stricter rules about teachers communicating electronically with students.

The concern is that such one-on-one communication can easily become “grooming” behavior that a teacher who is a sexual predator could use to pursue children. But the article profiles the other side of the coin: Joplin, Missouri teacher Randy Turner, who worries that some restrictions can be overkill. He has found that social networking can be an effective way for teachers to connect with students appropriately and argues there are better ways to deal with the safety issues.

A couple of weeks ago NSBA’s Legal Clips included an item pointing to another couple of news reports on this same question, along with related resources on inappropriate relationships between teachers and students. The school districts mentioned there are going out of their way to emphasize that they embrace the use of technology in schools and are trying to tailor their rules carefully.

But they also take seriously the real problem of teachers who do cross the line. On that one, schools sometimes are accused of not being aggresive enough. And Jim Keith of Adams & Reese, legal counsel for the Mississippi School Boards Association, has pointed out in the CNN article and in writings and presentations for the NSBA Council of School Attorneys that in recent years many of the cases in which teachers have preyed on students have started with one-on-one text messaging and online communication.

One part of the CNN story gives us pause, though. It mentions legislation in Missouri that would establish a statewide ban on some social networking by teachers. In an NSBA National Affiliate webinar earlier this year called “From Cyberbullying to Cell Phones,” NSBA lawyer Tom Hutton recounted the history of state laws banning digital pagers, most of which ended up having to be repealed as cell phones became ubiquitous. The lesson for states, he says, is that when it comes to fast-changing issues like technology, it probably makes sense to leave these decisions to local officials. School boards are that much closer to the ground. They can be much more nimble than state legislatures if, say, a policy on social networking isn’t working out and needs updating.

Come to think of it, the same thing applies to a whole range of education policies.

Anything interesting going on in your state or district? Leave a comment and tell us about it.

Erin Walsh|August 13th, 2008|Categories: Educational Legislation, Educational Technology, NSBA Opinions and Analysis, School Security, Student Achievement, Teachers|

A new class clown

Associated Press (by way of USA Today) reported about one of BoardBuzz’s biggest concerns: bullying. ( A topic we covered both here and here before.) What intrigued us this time, you may ask? The answers to bullying come from a clown!

Marvin Nash, a rodeo clown, has taken on a new challenge and is addressing childhood bullying with his program, Bullying Hurts. This educational community service program works to teach students what bullying is and how to deal with bullying both inside the classroom and outside the school community.

With elementary students learning how to handle bullying at younger ages, the program hopes to prevent hurtful, destructive, and even violent behavior as students grow older. As the program has developed over the past few years, more than 300 schools in 37 states have participated, and a component on cyber-bullying has been added.

Bullying is no laughing matter for BoardBuzz, but we’re glad to see that this clown has been able to relate to students and make a difference.

Erin Walsh|August 5th, 2008|Categories: Governance, NSBA Opinions and Analysis, School Security, Student Achievement|

Support for students

BoardBuzz was intrigued by this article that came to us by way of ABCNews.com. It seems that increased cultural awareness of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) issues is allowing teens to acknowledge their sexuality and gender identity earlier and earlier. As a result, some children are coming out when they are in middle school. And unfortunately, as anyone who’s ever been to middle school can attest, it remains a zenith of bullying, and these young tormentors are as intolerant as ever.

In fact, according to the article, Harris Polling found in a study conducted in 2005 that students are 30% more likely to be teased about their sexual orientation in middle school than in high school. But “teasing” is the least of some students’ worries. Fourteen-year-old Sean, a female-to-male transsexual since age 11, was “shoved into lockers, beaten up and made fun of.” He ended up dropping out of middle school and being home-schooled by his mother. Josh Rivero, who tried to start a Gay-Straight Alliance club at his middle school, received enough threats that he enrolled in a virtual high school. Leah Matz came out as a lesbian when she was 12, and endured being “tripped, pushed and spit on,” and received a painted message on her locker that read, “Dykes Suck.”

A universal grievance among these students is that their schools did not do enough to prevent or remedy the harassment they endured. Experts note that many middle schools do not have policies to address sexual orientation bullying. Although Sean’s mother told school officials that her daughter was returning to her 7th grade class as a boy, those officials did not pass the message on to teachers and students. And Josh’s mom reported that while some teachers helped her son when he was being bullied, others “looked up at him and said, ‘What do you want me to do?’”

“I never dealt with this as a middle school principal in the 1990s,” said John Norig, director of program development for the National Association of Secondary School Principals, which is beginning to address the issue. But even progressive schools with strong anti-gay harassment policies said coming out is particularly hard in middle school.

Some school districts take a hard line against harassment based on sexual orientation and are getting results. In Casey Middle School in Boulder, Colorado, each year, the school informs students that sexual harassment for any reason is prohibited, and each incident is punished. Students who are coming out are sent to a counselor in order to give them a sense of acceptance and support at school. Middle school principal Alison Boggs describes the districts success regarding reducing harassment, “Like other forms of sexual harassment, once they are educated, kids do pretty well and will stop if we make it clear. In this age group, they are still forming their identity, and they may be sure, but not all that sure. But they are feeling safer to express themselves.”

If you are looking for some resources to how your school district can handle situations like these, click here.

Erin Walsh|July 16th, 2008|Categories: NSBA Opinions and Analysis, School Security, Student Achievement, Teachers, Wellness|

Bus brouhaha

Enough rowdy students travel on school buses everyday that their antics don’t usually make it to YouTube or the national news. But fights become more media-worthy when the bus driver joins the fray. And this happened recently in a district near Phoenix.

Kim Sullivan, a bus driver in Higley Unified School District, became frustrated when fifteen-year-old Samantha Taylor, a student with a history of discipline problems on the school bus, was distracting her. Sullivan pulled the bus over, before reaching an authorized stop. Samantha decided she wanted to get off the bus, but Sullivan is not supposed to let kids off the bus unless she has arrived at an authorized stop. As the bus’s security tape shows, tensions escalated for nearly ten minutes. Finally, a physical brawl ensued between Samantha, Sullivan, and Sullivan’s daughter Erin.

The school district took Sullivan’s side after reviewing the tape. The Superintendent even said, “I wouldn’t put any blame whatsoever on the bus driver.” School officials and law enforcement eventually cleared Sullivan of all charges and ordered her daughter Erin to attend anger management classes.

Samantha, on the other hand, is not in the authorities’ good graces: she has been expelled from school and charged with misdemeanor disorderly conduct, which could carry a sentence of six months in juvenile detention.

Beyond its YouTube appeal, the incident is leading school districts nationwide to get creative with bus security. One district is even trying out a system that will feed security camera footage live to the local police department and to the school district. That way, someone can more quickly come to the aid of bus drivers when tensions mount.

BoardBuzz remembers its days on the school bus and knows that bus drivers must do what they can to maintain order and safety. What do you think of this interesting case? How is YouTube (and other social media) changing the way school districts do business? Does your school district face similar challenges? Leave a comment and tell us about it.

Erin Walsh|July 14th, 2008|Categories: NSBA Opinions and Analysis, School Security, Student Achievement|

Finding fraud close to home

As far as housewarming gifts go, it was a bit much, wrote Al Mascitti, a columnist for the Wilmington, Del., News Journal. I mean, how often does the superintendent get the gift of a refrigerator for his new home?

From a school board member? Purchased with public funds?

The Hotpoint or Frigidaire might be relatively unusual. (Can’t they think of something more exotic – a hot tub perhaps?) But the larger problem is not: Fraud is rampant in both the private and public sectors — and that includes school districts.

“The estimate is that maybe only 20 percent of fraud is really identified,” ASBJ’s Money Columnist, Charles Trainor, told me today. Trainor, a certified fraud examiner and certified internal auditor, has a pretty unassailable source for this assessment: The 2006 Report to the Nation on Occupational Fraud and Abuse, published by the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners.. Read it and weep – or, better yet, become aware of the extent of the fraud that’s out there and what you can do about it.

Each month, Trainor writes about an aspect of school finance in language lay people can understand. And always, he includes tips on how you can have better internal controls in your district. (A case in point: this month’s column, A Boost to Funding, is about keeping tabs on booster clubs.)

I got the idea for this blog by reading about a U.S Department of Education employee audit that turned up $49,500 worth of inappropriate credit card expenses, from clothing to rental cars for personal use. Sort of interesting, I guess, but there’s just something about that refrigerator story that grabs me more.

Maybe it’s because I covered that well-respected school district, Brandywine Hundred, for more than a year in the late 1990s, right before coming to ASBJ. And, as far as I could tell, the school board members and administrators were the most salt-of-the-earth, good-government-type public servant imaginable. Indeed, I’m sure most of them were. (The superintendent, by the way, denied doing anything wrong, saying he had no idea the refrigerator was paid for with public funds.)

It just goes to prove Trainor’s point: School board members and administrators need to be aware of the possibility of fraud and have systems in place to prevent and detect it.

Lawrence Hardy, Senior Editor

Kathleen Vail|July 8th, 2008|Categories: American School Board Journal, Budgeting, Governance, School Security|

Would you pay $700,000 to chaperone your child’s field trip?

Parent chaperones generally have enough to worry about on a field trip, from maintaining basic order to keeping kids safe. A recent trend of court decisions may add personal liability to the list of chaperones’ concerns—and may come at such an outrageous price tag as to deter many parents from volunteering. The Associated Press reported a recent court decision ordering a parent chaperone to pay $690,000 to the parents of an 18-year-old high school student, Lauren Crossan, who died from falling off a balcony on a cheerleading trip to Hawaii.

In another case, a parent chaperoning a dance was sued when a student broke his nose while dancing. Luckily, the PTA had liability insurance. Such liability insurance is increasingly common, since, like most things schools do, chaperoning comes with some amount of risk. But there also seems to be an undertone of a litigious American society.

James Krueger, who represented the student’s family and has handled many other cases of children injured while under someone else’s supervision, stated: “If you’re a good parent, you’re not going to have problems. If you’re a crappy parent, you are.” But sometimes even being the best parent is not enough to stop a child from making a poor decision or prevent every possible injury a child may receive. Most parents have probably been in the emergency room with a child with a broken bone at least once—that doesn’t make them bad parents.

NSBA’s own Lisa Soronen weighed in as well.

Sometimes it takes an event like the Crossan lawsuit draw attention to a potential risk, said Lisa Soronen, a senior staff attorney with National School Board Association in Alexandria, Va.

“Many parents do chaperone and don’t think a think about it for a second,” she said. “Almost everything a school does involves some amount of risk.”

The key is to work with the school or sponsoring organization to reduce the risks, Soronen said. Students and chaperones should be made aware of the expectations while on a trip, she said.

How does your school district handle chaperones? Leave us a comment and tell us what you think.

Erin Walsh|June 19th, 2008|Categories: Governance, NSBA Opinions and Analysis, School Law, School Security, Student Achievement, Wellness|

Protection or censorship?

On Tuesday, three of the country’s largest Internet service providers — Sprint Nextel, Verizon Communications, and Time Warner Cable — agreed to block customer access to child porn sites.

While child welfare advocates declared the agreement — which would prevent users from visiting newsgroups with suspected child pornography and remove websites with questionable images from servers — others saw the move as the first step toward censorship.

Interestingly enough, many of the same issues were discussed at a conference held in Washington D.C., also on Tuesday. The “Point Smart, Click Safe” summit drew together representatives from the education, child safety, law enforcement, and cable and telecommunications field to talk about ways to ensure children’s online safety.

What role each group, particularly industry, plays in achieving this goal was a central theme of the summit, and a question that wasn’t easily answered.

“There’s always a feeling that more should be done, either by government or industry,” said Adam Thierer, a senior fellow and director of the Progress & Freedom Foundation’s Center for Digital Media Freedom. “We can always pressure companies to do a little bit more, but I think it would be crossing the line to clean up all content and the naughty bits out there. How far can you go in empowering (parents) without going into censorship?”

While all of the tools, ratings, and policies have helped parents and families in safeguarding children’s online activities, nothing can be substituted for education.

“But when we turn to policy, we regulate first and then turn to education,” said Thierer, who examined more than three dozen recent bills on online safety and discovered only two included an education component.

“Our government has spent money losing this stuff, when what we really need is an outreach and awareness building,” Thierer surmises.

Naomi Dillon, Senior Editor

Kathleen Vail|June 13th, 2008|Categories: American School Board Journal, Curriculum, Educational Technology, Governance, School Security|

How far is too far?

Schools across the country have asked themselves this question many times, when trying to figure out the most effective approach for educating students on alcohol awareness.

Drinking and driving awareness programs are common in most high schools in the nation. But an article from ABC News has BoardBuzz thinking about how school districts can effectively reach students and if some schools are going too far in their efforts.

El Camino High School in Oceanside, Calif. shocked students on a Monday morning by having a uniformed police officer enter several classrooms to inform students that some of their peers had been killed in a drunk driving accident. A brief eulogy was given and a rose placed on the students’ desk. Emotional, tearful, and, understandably, hysterical reactions ensued.

Two hours later, the school’s juniors and seniors watched their “dead” classmates be pulled out from a wrecked car, streaked with blood. The charade ended and the students were told that the entire grief-creating incident was designed to teach them about the very real dangers of drinking and driving.

The graphic and almost too-real experience definitely has students and parents talking and as the article shows, feeling very divided over the program:

“It was outrageous,” says one parent who declined to be named due to the sensitivity of the situation. “My daughter came home a wreck — she didn’t get over it for days. She was more freaked out than educated about drunk driving.”

The school was divided over the program in the first few days.

“Some [of those] who were upset felt that they’d been duped & some were so caught up in feeling they were tricked that they didn’t get the message,” says Brittany Bennett, the editor of the school paper, who played one of the dead students.

“It was about half and half. I was nervous about going to school the next day — I heard that people were angry.”

But Bennett says that most students, including friends of hers who sent her frantic text messages when they heard about the “accident,” got the message and said that it would stop them from drinking and driving.

“You need something this graphic to wake up to the fact that it’s real, that this happens all the time.”

So BoardBuzz asks, what’s the answer? Do these scare-tactics programs have long term effects? Richard A. Yoast, director of the American Medical Association’s Office of Alcohol and Other Drugs, says,” They create awareness, but there is not much evidence that they change behaviors.”

It looks like BoardBuzz is still searching for an answer. What do you think? One thing’s for sure — we’re glad that school districts are taking steps to educate students on the dangers of alcohol, but we hope they continue to research the most effective ways to do it.

Erin Walsh|June 6th, 2008|Categories: NSBA Opinions and Analysis, School Security, Student Achievement, Wellness|

Coming to a theatre near you?

What’s your favorite education-themed movie?
A) Mr. Holland’s Opus
B) Stand and Deliver
C) Lean on Me
D) Dead Poet’s Society
E) All of the Above

Now there’s a new one to add to the list. The Class (Entre les murs), a French film, recently won the Palme d’Or (the top prize) at the Cannes Film Festival. Sean Penn called it an “an amazing, amazing film.” But why should BoardBuzz (and you) care? The movie covers a year in the life of a Paris junior high school and grapples with many of the same issues American schools face. While urban districts are often used as punching bags by the media, there are good students and success stories that are often missed.

Reviewers say that The Class gets away from the stereotypical school movies and shows more of the human element of the students and their challenges. While a French film, it shows many of the same issues Americans face in urban districts. Let’s hope that the film’s critical acclaim is shared among the masses when it is released later this year (hopefully before election day) and perhaps the topic of education will be seriously discussed in the U.S., as well.

Don’t believe us? Check out what our friends at Public School Insights had to say about this film.

Erin Walsh|June 2nd, 2008|Categories: Elementary and Secondary Education Act, Governance, NSBA Opinions and Analysis, School Boards, School Security, Student Achievement, Teachers|

School spying tactics should be shaken, not stirred

“The name is Bond, James Bond. And I’m your new principal.”

Sounds like a bad movie, doesn’t it? Still, this is the 21st century, and anything is possible. For instance, there are a lot of people in the education world who appear to be giving Mr. Bond a run for his money.

That’s particularly true in Britain, the home of the world’s most famous fictional superspy. Here, where the government has spent nearly half a billion dollars putting surveillance cameras on every street corner, there’s a move to use James Bond-style gadgets to stop cheating on high-stakes tests.

So reports the Telegraph News. Exams, it says, have been “tagged with radio transmitters and microscopic identification to ensure they reach the right school.” There also are plans to add high-tech locks to exam shipping boxes, which school personnel could open only with secret codes transmitted from mobile phones.

No word yet if exams will self-destruct five seconds after grading.

More personal spying tactics also are being used across the Pond. One local government council near the southern coast of Britain, okayed spying on a family suspected of lying about their place of residence in order to get their child into a popular school. The News reported spies even observed the family home at night and took “copious” notes of the movements of family members who were referred to as “targets” as they were followed.

Officials justified their actions as allowed by the country’s Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act, passed by Parliament to allow law enforcement agencies to fight organized crime and terrorism. After all, you can’t be too careful about those pesky 3-year-olds.

Will we soon see similar stories pop up in the U.S.? We have already. Indeed, my favorite is a decade-old one from the New York Times, involving a diligent California school official who staked out a biology room window and relied on a shoulder-held video camera with a zoom lens in hopes of catching the wayward souls dropping cigarette butts on the school baseball field.

Wait for it: Spying 101, the latest college course prerequisite for aspiring educators.

Del Stover, Senior Editor

Kathleen Vail|May 29th, 2008|Categories: American School Board Journal, Governance, School Security|
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