Articles in the School Security category

Spinning Wheels

Remember the feeling of the adult in your life letting go of the bike seat and sailing off into the empty space with speed, grace, and perhaps an abrupt stop into some bushes? Can you hear the flicking of the baseball card in the spokes, or the dinging of that shiny metal bell on the handlebars? Bicycling launches childhood into a new realm and expands the possibilities to beyond one’s yard or street, and into the whole neighborhood. Even as we type this, BoardBuzz yearns for those days . . . but we digress.

As we hear more about childhood obesity and staggering statistics about American’s sedentary lives, we remind you that May is National Bike Month and this week is Bike Week. Now before you fire up your Harley, the bike we’re referring to has pedals and sweat-power instead of horse-power. Friday is Bike to Work Day, and with gas prices on a cease-less climb, why not look at your options? The League of American Bicyclists has some great tips for many cities around the county. Plus, you’ll be leading by example to the millions of school kids that ride their bikes to school and other places everyday. They even have safety tips for students and adults. Just remember to wear a helmet!

Erin Walsh|May 13th, 2008|Categories: Wellness, School Security, Student Achievement, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|Tags: , |

We can’t even begin to imagine…

If you haven’t yet heard Melissa Block’s deeply moving accounton NPR of the school tragedy in Chengdu, find a quiet few minutes to listen to some powerful reporting. Our hearts go out to the bereaved families.

Erin Walsh|May 13th, 2008|Categories: School Security, Student Achievement, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|

Facebook commits to online safety

This morning BoardBuzz read about the scoop from TechCrunch:

The Attorney General of Connecticut, Richard Blumenthal, is about to make an announcement at noon ET that he and the attorneys general from 48 other states have negotiated a deal with Facebook to implement new safety and privacy rules, according to sources with knowledge of the deal. Facebook will be making its own announcement later on today.

And lo’ and behold, the world’s 2nd largest social networking site did announce their commitment to working with the attorneys general of 49 states and the District of Columbia to improve the safety of underage users. This development mirrors an agreement those same 49 states made with MySpace last January. Texas alone has not endorsed these agreements. Texas officials want to set even higher standards and see faster response times to identity verification.

Facebook officials also announced that many safety improvements have already been enacted and others are in the works. In the deal, the social network agreed to develop age verification technology, protect minors from inappropriate contact and content, restrict the ability for people to change their ages on the site, monitor the site for harassment, and remove inappropriate content as stated in its Terms of Service.

“Building a safe and trusted online experience has been part of Facebook from its outset,” said Facebook chief privacy officer Chris Kelly in a statement. “We are proud to join 49 states and the District of Columbia in affirming our commitment to these principles and to continue improving our technology and policy solutions to keep kids safer on Facebook. The Attorneys General have shown great leadership in helping to address the critical issue of Internet safety and we commend them for continuing to set high standards for all players in the online arena.”

Facebook even reaffirmed its participation in the Internet Safety Task Force, which came about through MySpace’s earlier agreement and focuses on identifying effective online safety tools and technologies. Moreover, Facebook has agreed to make third-party developers and advertisers adhere to its safety and privacy rules.

“Social networks that encourage kids to come to their sites have a responsibility to keep those kids safe,” said North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper in a statement. “We’ve now gotten the two largest social networking sites to agree to take significant steps to protect children from predators and pornography.”

BoardBuzz applauds Facebook for recognizing their responsibility to keep kids safe online. We expect the platform will become more secure as a whole, and all users will benefit from these new standards. For more about online social networking, be sure to check out NSBA’s Creating and Connecting report.

Erin Walsh|May 8th, 2008|Categories: Educational Technology, School Security, Student Achievement, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|

Don’t wait for the press — look into your finances now

If you’re a school board member looking to protect taxpayer dollars, you can learn a few lessons from the Dallas Morning News about school district spending.

Speaking at the Education Writers Association’s annual conference in Chicago last month, reporter Kent Fischer shared some eye-opening tips about how his newspaper uncovered millions of dollars of questionable spending within the Dallas Independent School District (DISD)—just by looking at records available to the public.

Imagine what you could do with the records available to you as a board member.

You could start by examining what’s being purchased with district credit cards. After looking at more than 150,000 credit card transactions over two years, Fischer and his colleagues uncovered millions of dollars in purchases that the newspaper claimed “violated state procurement laws or district policy.”

All of these purchases had been buried and lost in vast amounts of paperwork. But, citing Texas’ open records law, the newspaper requested electronic records on purchase orders, written checks, credit card bills, payrolls, and other financial data, including budget program codes and purchase order numbers.

By cross-referencing data, Fischer said lots of interesting transactions popped up, including purchases of blanket and pillow sets, Star Trek DVDs, iPods, and a subscription to an online dating service. One former district employee already has been sent to prison.

Another fertile area for scrutiny is employee stipends, Fischer said. The newspaper discovered that the school district had, as one article last fall reported, “doled out millions of dollars a year in stipends and extra pay not included in the district’s compensation manual.”

“Look beyond the ‘average teacher’s salary’ and look at stipend and supplemental pay,” he said. “Get overtime itemized.”

One story cited a high school band director who “collected nearly $40,000 between 2003 and 2006 for long hours on band trips that should not have qualified for extra pay.” Meanwhile, school police ran up $2.5 million in overtime for three years straight—yet kept budgeting only $250,000 for overtime.

Questions also might arise about employee travel stipends, he said. Thousands of employees were receiving such stipends, including those whose job descriptions didn’t demand travel. One secretary received a $1,200-a-year car allowance, and she didn’t have a driver’s license.

Fischer said it also pays to look closer at contract language. One multimillion-dollar computer contract was written so strictly—demanding a specific internal processor, for example—that only one product could meet the bid specifications. In another contract, school administrators arranged free entry into a major golf tournament.

When exposed on the front page of the local newspaper, such discoveries are a public relations nightmare for a school board. Indeed, DISD leaders spent much of last year modifying their financial processes in response to headline after headline of bad news.

But why leave it to your local paper? You represent your community. Why not look for such improprieties yourself? Through their example, the Dallas Mornings News and Kent Fischer perhaps have done you a favor.

Just follow this last admonishment that Fischer shared with his fellow journalists: “Follow the money—what is spent, not [just] what’s budgeted.”

Del Stover, Senior Editor

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

How’s your school climate?

Have you ever wondered what people are really thinking? As a principal, counselor, administrator, school board member, or teacher, a lot of faith is put into the idea that we are doing a good job and the people we work with feel the same way. But sometimes those perceptions are wrong, sometimes our perceptions aren’t those of our key stakeholders, and sometimes the educators need to be educated.

NSBA’s Council of Urban Boards of Education (CUBE) recently conducted a study led by Dr. Brian Perkins (along with recommendations from the PTA) regarding school climate. What We Think, surveyed more than 10,000 urban parents in 17 different states to find out their opinions about bullying; teacher/student respect; safety; and expectations, to name a few of the topics.

NSBA and CUBE have previously examined student perspectives on school climate (Where We Learn) and teacher and administrator perspectives (Where We Teach). The third study came to some interesting conclusions, including:

~ Slightly more female parents (76.7%) indicated visiting the school to support its activities than did their male counterparts (72%).
~ Parents overwhelmingly believed that their child was capable of high performance on standardized tests (84%).

~ Most parents felt respected by the teachers at their child’s school (87%).

~ Parents with children in the middle grades (6-8) indicated that their children were bullied at least once per month more than parents at other grades (13%).

~ Generally, parents who used self-experience as their primary source of information about their school held more positive views about safety (76.1%), while parents who used the newspaper as their primary source of information about their school held more negative views about safety (12.5%).

Take a look for yourself. The study (as well as the first two) is available on CUBE’s website and the results are sometimes surprising. Our friends at Education Daily and Public School Insights already have, and there’s no disputing the fact that parents have an important insight into our schools and are crucial to their success.

Erin Walsh|May 1st, 2008|Categories: School Boards, Teachers, Announcements, School Security, Student Achievement, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|

Silence can battle bullying of gay students

How do you honor a 15-year-old boy who was killed because of his sexual orientation?

GLSEN — the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network — says silence.

GLSEN is holding its 12th annual “day of silence” on Friday in remembrance of Lawrence King, who was shot by a 14-year-old classmate in a computer lab at his Oxnard, Calif., high school in February. King, who lived in a group home, was constantly harassed because he was openly gay and had begun wearing makeup to school, according to media reports. His killer reportedly came from a troubled home and is being charged as an adult for the crime.

They’ve asked students to take a vow of silence for all or part of the day to remember King and bring attention to the harassment of gay, lesbian, and transgendered students. GLSEN estimates that more than 500,000 students at schools and universities have taken part in such events.

Students participating in the event are asked to distribute cards to their teachers and classmates that read, in part: “Please understand my reasons for not speaking today. This year’s DOS is held in memory of Lawrence King, a 15 year-old student who was killed in school because of his sexual orientation and gender expression. I believe that ending the silence is the first step toward building awareness. Think about the voices you are not hearing today.”

More information on the event is available at GLSEN offers a wealth of information on preventing bullying and harassment of gay students, and May’s ASBJ features an interview with filmmaker Debra Chasnoff, who produced “It’s Elementary: Talking about Gay Issues in School.” The video is being re-released with a new, 140-page guide for schools.

Joetta Sack-Min, Associate Editor

Kathleen Vail|April 23rd, 2008|Categories: Governance, Wellness, School Security, American School Board Journal|

Magna: The source for best practices

I ran a roundtable session for National Affiliate members at NSBA’s annual conference in Orlando at the end of March. One new board member who attended had a story that will sound familiar to many of you.

He was having a problem with another board member. Whenever this member wanted to stonewall an idea, she asked, “is it best practice?”

The gentleman at my session asked, half-jokingly, if a “best practices” manual existed somewhere.

We at ASBJ hope that our Magna Awards program can serve as a starting point toward finding those best practices. For 14 years, we have been recognizing excellence in board and district programs on nearly any topic you can come up with.

Want to know how a district is dealing with dropouts? Magna has it. Want to find out how to engage Spanish-speaking parents with the schools? Magna has it.

Each year, we ask an independent panel of judges to evaluate the 300 or so entries we receive each year and find the standout programs. The entries are in three enrollment categories: under 5,000, 5,000 to 20,000, and over 20,000. This way, districts are competing against other districts of the same size.

We honored the 2008 Magna Award winners at the School Leaders’ Luncheon at NSBA’s annual conference in Orlando. The three grand prize winners took home checks of $3,500 each; all of the winners are featured in a supplement to ASBJ that ran in April.

Look online at the 2008 winners; then browse through the past winners. You’ll find the contact names and e-mails of the district contacts so you can get more details about their wining programs.

While you’re on the site, consider applying for a 2009 Magna Award, so you can add your programs to our growing “best practices” list.

Kathleen Vail, Managing Editor

Kathleen Vail|April 21st, 2008|Categories: Governance, Curriculum, Wellness, Educational Research, School Security, Student Achievement, Budgeting, Assessment, American School Board Journal|

Aw, nuts!

BoardBuzz was shocked to learn that bullying has reached (yet another) new height. It seems that, according to this article via, some students are exploiting students food allergies to make their lives miserable. Now bullies aren’t just picking on the smallest or weakest kids in class–they’re ganging up on children who have severe food allergies.What will they think of next?

“There was a group of five girls … and they decided they didn’t want me sitting at their lunch table anymore,” said [Sarah] VanEssendelft. To get her to leave, they all brought in peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

For VanEssendelft, it might as well have been arsenic.

Two weeks later, a boy in the back of her class opened up a peanut butter cup. The smell was enough to trigger VanEssendelft’s peanut allergy and send her to the emergency room with breathing problems.

“My throat felt tight and my lips were getting really swollen, really fast,” said VanEssendelft. “I looked like Angelina Jolie.”

On the one hand, mean tricks or sneaking candy looks like mild behavioral problems to school administrators. On the other hand, given VanEssendelft’s serious peanut allergy, those sandwiches might very well have been weapons.

And how can schools protect kids from this kind of attack? Who would consider a PB&J sandwich a weapon?

While it appears that school violence has decreased, unfortunately bullying increasing. “Between 1999 and 2003, the NSSC reported an increase of the student population who were bullied across grades 6-12.” Troubling news for school districts.

And it seems that even though the students are hatching these ever-more-creative plots to torment other kids, they aren’t thinking of the consequences.

“I think a lot of times kids get wrapped up in the experience and they don’t think,” said Susan Swearer, associate professor of school psychology at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. “Actually, it’s true they don’t think — they’ve done studies, the whole myelination in the brain is not complete.”

The best way to tackle the thinking problem in adolescents, Swearer explained, is to repeat conversations. “Say it 500 times: someone can die of a peanut allergy.”

School districts often have their hands tied — some may say they aren’t doing enough to help these students, and others who might say schools are overreacting. Either way, someone is going to second-guess what schools are doing to deal with this kind of issue.

It might be tempting for schools to do away with peanuts altogether, but [Dr. Kathy Sheerin, of the Atlanta Allergy and Asthma Clinic], who is also a mother of a child with a tree nut allergy, has different ideas.

“I think it’s great that day cares and up to kindergarten are peanut-free,” said Sheerin. “But the mall isn’t peanut-free, the movies aren’t peanut-free, your next door neighbor’s house isn’t peanut-free. The kids are going to have to learn to deal with it.”

Most kids, in fact, want other kids to learn to deal with it, as well.

How does your school district deal with this kind of issue? And how can we continue to educate our children about the effects of bullying against others? Leave a comment here and tell us about it.

Erin Walsh|April 17th, 2008|Categories: Wellness, School Security, Student Achievement, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|

Violence prevention hits home

BoardBuzz was interested and concerned by this story from CNN. As the anniversary of the violence at Virginia Tech approaches and other incidents of school violence come to light, school officials, parents, teachers, and community members are as concerned as ever about school safety and violence prevention.

What makes this story stand out, though, is that the parents of the student involved recognized some pretty scary behaviors in their son and acted to prevent the violence.

Elaine Sonnen found out about her son’s plan during a conversation with him. She ordered him to write down the names of the eight students he wanted dead and then gave the list to his caseworker the very next day. Later, he added a teacher and his own mother and sister to the hit list.

She took immediate action and had her son committed to an Idaho mental institution. Over the next 16 months, he received treatment at several mental health facilities throughout Idaho.

“There, I opened up. I felt better. I moved on with myself,” Richard said.

“They felt at that point … they had done everything they could do for him,” added Elaine Sonnen. “He was doing great. He could make it on his own. They had no question.”

During NSBA’s Conference last month, experts addressed the issue of violence prevention in schools in a session and at a press conference. NSBA’s Senior Staff Attorney, Lisa Soronen was also interviewed on the subject. You can watch her interview by clicking here. For more information about disaster preparedness, check out this article in ASBJ.

Erin Walsh|April 11th, 2008|Categories: Wellness, School Security, Student Achievement, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|

Stop the bullying now

I just finished reading Jodi Picoult’s book, Nineteen Minutes. If you have anything to do with education, or if you’re a parent, you need to read this book — now.

Picoult’s 2007 bestseller chronicles a horrific school shooting incident and its aftermath. A meticulous researcher, Picoult imbues the shooter, a brutally bullied boy named Peter, with a sense of humanity that seems almost impossible, especially considering that he goes to school one day and guns down 10 classmates.

The hardest parts of the book to read were the passages about Peter’s relentless torment at the hands of his fellow classmates, starting in the first day of kindergarten when one of them throws his Superman lunchbox out of the school bus window. In fact, I wanted to skip those passages entirely.

In this impulse, I’m like most adults, probably. We don’t want to believe our children are capable of this cruelty, so we look away.

Of course, it is happening. Read the recent New York Times article, “A Boy the Bullies Love to Beat Up, Repeatedly,” about a young man in Fayetteville, Ark. Elements of his daily torture were sickeningly similar to the fictional Peter’s abuse.

In an interview with ASBJ in January, Picoult said: “As a mom, I saw all three of my kids face bullying—and it begged the question: In a post-Columbine world, why haven’t we figured this out yet?

School officials will point to their bullying policies, of course, and every district should have them. But these policies are a starting point, not the end. During the shooter’s trial at the end of Nineteen Minutes, the defense lawyer memorably demonstrates why. No matter how air-tight your policy is, it’s utterly meaningless when adults — whether they secretly identify with the bullies, they not-so-secretly don’t like the bullied child, or because it reminds them too much of their own childhood torment — turn the other way when a child desperately needs help.

Is bullying occurring in your schools? Are you willing to take a hard look – and not turn away if you see something that makes you uncomfortable, if you see something you know is wrong?

The bullied kids can’t look away. They live with this every day. If you don’t protect them, no one will.

Why haven’t we figured this out yet?

Kathleen Vail, Managing Editor

Kathleen Vail|March 25th, 2008|Categories: Governance, School Law, Wellness, School Security, American School Board Journal|
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