Articles in the School Security category

NSBA to Court: School officials must be given flexibility in handling student harassment

The National School Boards Association (NSBA) is urging the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit to rule that school districts should not be held financially liable for harassment related to a student’s disability if school officials took appropriate steps to stop it.

NSBA, along with the Georgia School Boards Association (GSBA), the Alabama School Boards Association, and the Georgia School Superintendents Association, has filed an amicus brief in Long v. Murray County School District asking the court to uphold the standard set forth in the U.S. Supreme Court case Davis v. Monroe when determining whether school officials are liable under federal civil rights laws for peer harassment. The Davis precedent allows victims to collect monetary compensation when school officials are deliberately indifferent to known harassment based on a protected category that is so severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive harassment that it denies the victim access to the educational program.

“It is important that the court recognize that local school officials, who work closely with students and parents on a regular basis, are knowledgeable about community resources, and understand their students’ educational and emotional needs, know best how to prevent and respond to harassment in their own schools,” said NSBA’s General Counsel Francisco M. Negrón Jr.

The parents’ legal arguments rely on informal guidance given by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR) through a October 2010 “Dear Colleague” letter that stated school district officials could be held responsible for claims of unreported harassment. In a December 2010 response to that letter, NSBA warned that the guidance overstepped the Supreme Court standard set by Davis and that it vastly expanded the definition of discrimination and harassment, circumventing precedent established by the courts. In a March 2011 letter to NSBA, OCR officials dismissed concerns that the guidance would lead to numerous and costly lawsuits against school districts; however, this case has proven otherwise.

“The federal government wants a one-size fits-all approach, but such a rule would require school districts to implement strategy after strategy even when the misconduct was isolated or minimal,” said Negrón. “The federal government’s approach creates an illusion of safety that would subject thousands of school districts to costly and unnecessary lawsuits diverting vital resources away from the classroom.”

Among other claims, the case will determine whether the Murray County school district in Georgia should be held liable under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act for money damages as a result of the suicide of a student with Asperger’s Syndrome. After the student reported incidents of peer bullying during his freshman and sophomore years, school officials responded effectively to all known occurrences at school. The student committed suicide at home during his junior year.

A date for oral argument date in the case has not been set yet. Phil Hartley and Martha Pearson, members of NSBA’s Council of School Attorneys, and partners in Harben, Hartley & Hawkins, LLP, are representing the Murray County school district. Hartley also serves as General Counsel for the Georgia School Boards Association.

Joetta Sack-Min|November 30th, 2012|Categories: Bullying, Council of School Attorneys, Crisis Management, Discipline, Policy Formation, School Law, School Security|Tags: , , |

School leaders lack understanding of minority male students’ home lives, CUBE speaker says

How is it that an African-American student attending his high school graduation ceremony can feel depressed—overwhelmed by what the future holds and wondering why other students appear to be looking forward to college and the years ahead?

Why could this youth see no advantage in his success—and the opportunity to go to college—compared to students who enlisted in the military or entered the workforce?

There is a crippling power in the disconnect that exists between many African-American and Latino male students and their educational opportunities, David Heifer, executive director of Concentric Educational Solutions, told urban school leaders during a workshop Friday at the Council of Urban Boards of Education (CUBE) conference in Atlanta.

In an hour-and-a-half discussion of strategies that schools can use to help young men of color, Heifer noted that these students often face challenges that undermine their confidence, discourage their hopes, and leave them frustrated and defensive.

Many of these challenges have their roots in the poverty, broken homes, drug abuse, and other social ills that exist in urban communities. But another part of the problem rests in the failure of urban educators to understand what these students are going through—and the failure of schools to provide the social and emotional support these young men need.

That’s the result of another disconnect—between students and the adults in their schools, he said. Teachers and principals don’t live in the same neighborhoods as their students, and they cannot really understand what’s happening in the lives of these students.

Instead, school leaders turn to data to try to make sense of what’s happening.

“We get caught up in numbers—the dropout rate, the truancy rate,” he said. “We skip right to solutions … then come back next year and try to come up with policies to figure out” how to do better.

It’s a dynamic that Heifer indicated he understood all too well. During his high school years, his father died of a heart attack, and as a grief-stricken youth, he began to act out—a troublemaker transferred to five different schools over the course of his senior year. He eventually was arrested 28 times and sent to prison.

With a little luck and the support of others, however, Heifer says he managed to turn his life around, earn his GED, attend college, and become a school principal. But he still recalls that, after his father’s death, not a single teacher or school counselor offered any condolences.

None of the adults in his school understood his pain—or recognized that there was an underlying reason for his dramatic change in behavior.

The story underscored Heiber’s argument that, if educators truly want to help their minority male students, they need to do a better job of understanding what’s going on in these students’ lives. There are a variety of ways to do that, but Heiber focused most of his comments one strategy—encouraging teachers to make home visits.

It’s a strategy that his nonprofit school-support organization encourages in the schools that it works with. In fact, he boasted, teachers at these schools have made more than 5,000 home visits in recent years.

Schools also can do more to strengthen “wrap-around services” for students, he suggested. “Students need their social-emotional support.”

What they don’t need, however, is “discipline policy that mimics the criminal justice system.”

Many school boards already have recognized the need to provide these supports. If a school board isn’t seeing results, however, the reason may lie with another common “disconnect”—between what the school board wants to happen and the actual practices taking place in schools.

“We come up with policies at the school board level, then we go to the schools … quite frankly, they don’t want to hear what you have to say.”

So school board members need to get out more—into their schools and, yes, even into their students’ homes—so they can better understand the dynamics at work in young men’s lives.

“You have to uncover it, and the only way to uncover it is to ask the hard questions,” Heifer said. “You’ve got to get dirty. You’ve got to get in there.”

 

Del Stover|October 8th, 2012|Categories: 21st Century Skills, Assessment, Board governance, CUBE, Data Driven Decision Making, Discipline, Diversity, Dropout Prevention, Educational Research, School Boards, School Reform, School Security|Tags: , , |

NSBA featured on ABC’s 20/20 concerning student discipline

The National School Boards Association’s General Counsel, Francisco M. Negrón, Jr., was interviewed for this ABC News 20/20 segment, “Classroom Confidential: When Student Discipline Goes Too Far“, that aired on September 28, 2012.

Negrón was featured later in piece (at 04:57)  defending school safety and school resource officers and noted, “I don’t think there’s a public school to prison pipeline and I certainly don’t think the presence of school resource officers is somehow contribution to that.”

Alexis Rice|October 1st, 2012|Categories: School Security, Uncategorized|Tags: , , , , , |

NSBA’s General Counsel shows strategies to address school bullying

“The one common thread from the many perspectives on school bullying is that advocates on all sides care deeply about kids,” National School Boards Association (NSBA) General Counsel Francisco M. Negrón, Jr. writes in a blog for “Transforming Learning.”

Negrón discusses a recent guide that shows ways to host and facilitate respectful discussions and recognize other individuals’ and groups’ differences without engaging in bullying. The guide, “Harassment, Bullying and Free Expression: Guidelines for Free and Safe Public Schools,” is a project of the American Jewish Committee and the Religious Freedom Education Project/First Amendment Center, which collaborated with NSBA and other education, civil rights, and legal advocacy groups.

The issue of school bullying is fraught with emotion and also can lead to lawsuits and legal action against school officials. It’s important that teachers and school recognize forms of bullying, but also know how to use those instances as teachable moments for all students, Negrón notes.

Transforming Learning is a project of the Learning First Alliance and is hosted by Education Week, the nation’s leading education news source.

Joetta Sack-Min|August 2nd, 2012|Categories: Bullying, Reports, School Law, School Security|Tags: , , , |

More flexibility needed in bill regulating use of restraints on students, NSBA tells Senate

The National School Boards Association (NSBA) is asking for more flexibility for local school officials in a bill designed to prevent the improper use of restraints and seclusion to manage students with disabilities.

In testimony submitted in anticipation of a hearing on July 12, NSBA is asking the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions to reconsider portions of the Keeping All Students Safe Act (S. 2020). The bill, which is supported by many special education and disability rights advocates, would ban certain types of restraints and require school districts to report incidents to the U.S. Department of Education.

“Local school boards want to be assured that federal legislation addressing the use of restraints and seclusion provides maximum flexibility and authority to states and local school boards in its implementation,” reads NSBA’s testimony.

NSBA asks that any requirements for teacher and staff training and certification “be structured in a manner that is reasonable, affordable and effective,” and that Congress ensures that data collecting and reporting requirements are minimized, given the limited capacity of school districts and the U.S. Department of Education to collect and analyze such data.

The testimony asks for specific changes to the bill, including:

  • Remove or rewrite the threshold for restraints, based on the definition of serious bodily injury adopted by IDEA in 2004, which is not feasible in emergencies and takes away other opportunities to train staff and prepare for its use;
  • Modify the requirement for a debriefing session within five days, as this is burdensome and costly to schools and would create conditions well beyond the control of the school. NSBA recommends that personnel should be allowed to submit information verbally, in writing and electronically since all parties may not be able to physically participate;
  • Ensure that the bill allows flexibility to address unanticipated threats to students’ safety;
  • Remove a stipulation that prohibits any reference to the use of physical restraints into a student’s education plan; and
  • Allow states that have successfully created policies dealing with restraints and seclusion to be exempt from new federal mandates.

The bill was introduced in December but its chance of passage seems unlikely, given its lack of progress in the House and the lack of time remaining in Congress in an election year.

Joetta Sack-Min|June 27th, 2012|Categories: Crisis Management, Discipline, Educational Legislation, Legislative advocacy, Policy Formation, School Climate, School Security, Special Education|Tags: , , , |

NSBA seeks high court input on Internet speech

Can a school district discipline a student who posts lewd or vicious material online about another student or a school employee — or is that posting protected as “off-campus” speech?

That’s a question the National School Boards Association (NSBA), the American Association of School Administrators (AASA), and six other organizations are urging the U.S. Supreme Court to answer following a pair of appellate court decisions in favor of two Pennsylvania students.

In a brief filed recently, NSBA and the other groups say that, in order to further their educational mission, “schools need authority to regulate student speech that originates off campus.”

In one of the cases, J.S. v. Blue Mountain School District, a middle school girl who was upset about being reprimanded for dress code violations posted a fake MySpace profile of her principal that, according to the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, “contained crude content and vulgar language, ranging from nonsense and juvenile humor to profanity and shameful personal attacks aimed at the principal and his family.” Nonetheless, the court, in an 8-6 decision, ruled in June that the school district had violated the girl’s First Amendment right to free speech when it suspended her for 10 days.

The other case, Layshock v. Hermitage School District, involved a Pennsylvania high school senior who also created a fake MySpace profile mocking his principal. In that case, the Third Circuit ruled unanimously for the student.

NSBA and the other groups argued that the expanding use of social networking and other forms of online communication have led to “a stunning increase in harmful student expression that school administrators are forced to address with no clear guiding jurisprudence.”

“Now is the time for the Supreme Court to resolve the question of whether and to what extent school district have the authority to discipline students for off-campus speech,” said NSBA General Counsel Francisco M. Negrón Jr. “As technology blurs the lines between on-campus and off-campus speech, school districts need clear guidance to be able to effectively address extreme off-campus speech that interferes with a safe and orderly learning environment.”

With more and more communications, as well as classes, conducted online, “grappling with the distinction between off-campus and on-campus speech,” as some courts have done, is arguably “a distinction without a difference,” the brief said.

“Courts that remain committed to the on-campus/ off-campus fiction risk discouraging school boards from using off-campus forums that benefit student learning,” the brief added. “Public school districts have been able to expand educational opportunities for students and to increase communication between school districts and their constituencies with their online presence. But school boards may be less inclined to expand educational opportunities online if their authority does not also expand. Imagine if a court held that a virtual school student who engages in lewd speech during a group online project cannot be disciplined because the conversation did not happen ‘on campus.’”

In addition to AASA, the other groups joining NSBA in the brief include, the American School Counselor Association; Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network; National Association of Elementary School Principals;  National Association of Secondary School Principals;  Pennsylvania School Boards Association; and the School Social Work Association of America.

Lawrence Hardy|November 8th, 2011|Categories: Bullying, Discipline, School Law, School Security|Tags: , , |

New online at ASBJ.com: Dealing with adult bullying

A couple of years ago, I wrote an article for the American School Board Journal on bullying. It was a belated follow-up to a decade-old article I wrote in the wake of the 1999 Columbine shootings. The education world changed after Columbine, particularly in the area of student safety and security. I was pleased to find out in my research that school leaders, administrators, and educators were taking bullying and student aggression much more seriously than before the tragedy. 

I interviewed counselor and author Stan Davis for my article, and I’ll never forget what he had to say about bullying prevention.

All schools have an overt culture and a hidden one, he said. “Kids are paying attention to the hidden one. They will see if we welcome new staff, and if we will listen to hate speech.”

If adults are permitted to bully and mistreat each other, or their students, no program, assembly, or curriculum will have much impact.

I had his words in mind when I assigned Senior Editor Naomi Dillon ASBJ’s October cover story, “Adults Behaving Badly,” now online on ASBJ.com. Dillon looks at the phenomenon of work place bullying. Lean budget times, school layoffs, and high-stakes testing pressure have created a toxic environment in some districts. In some cases, the toxicity is fueled by social networking sites. If not addressed, bullying among adults will spread to students. As educators and parents all know, children are watching your actions more than paying attention to your words.

Also as part of our school climate coverage, Senior Editor Lawrence Hardy writes about how some districts are working to reduce racial, ethnic and cultural tensions while creating an environment where children can thrive. “How’s Your Climate?” is also available at www.asbj.com.

Take a look at what we have online this month and please feel free to comment.

Kathleen Vail|October 12th, 2011|Categories: American School Board Journal, Bullying, NSBA Publications, School Climate, School Security, Social Networking|Tags: , , , , , , |

The week in blogs

Here are two unsettling statistics on school discipline, based on an unprecedented study of nearly 1 million Texas secondary school students: Nearly 60 percent of these children were suspended or expelled over the course of the six-year study, and African-American students were disproportionately disciplined for infractions that the researchers described as “discretionary” – that is, the school had the option of not suspending or expelling the student but chose the harsher path.

As it turns out, it’s not as much the behavior of the students that leads to vastly different kinds of discipline, says the study by The Council of State Government’s Justice Center and Texas A&M University’s Public Policy Research Institute. It’s the policies of school leaders.

“The bottom line is that schools can get different outcomes with very similar student bodies,” Michael D. Thompson, a co-author of the report, told the Washington Post. “School superintendents and teachers can have a dramatic impact.”

To that list we should also add school board members, who hire the superintendent and, through their policy-making decisions, have significant authority over the way schools handle discipline.

The day after that report was made public, Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Attorney General Eric Holder issued a new Supportive School Discipline Initiative that aims to dismantle the “School-to-Prison Pipeline” that pushes students into the juvenile justice system for school infractions that could be handled in other ways.

Citing the Texas report and the high number of suspensions and expulsions it found, Holder said, “I think these numbers are kind of a wake-up call. It’s obvious we can do better.”

In yet another critical look at school discipline, journalist Annette Fuentes, in her new book, Lockdown High, examines the heightened national concern about school safety – and its negative consequences – since 9/11 and Columbine.

“The Columbine scenario is terrifying, but the odds of it occurring in your hometown are about one in two million,” Fuentes told the Post.

In a later interview, she makes another point that is well known to most school board members: School is among the safest places for children and young people to be.

So how about those ultra-safe playgrounds, with nothing too high or too hard, too fast or too rickety? Not good for kids, says Ellen Sandseter, a professor of psychology at Queen Maud University of Norway. Yes, they may prevent a few physical injuries (and even that is open to debate) but the psychological toll – in children becoming more fearful because they’re not given the chance to adequately explore their world — outweighs the benefits, she says in a New York Times article.

So too safe is bad – psychologically. What about too extravagant, for example, the $248,000 playhouse a former CEO built for his grandchildren? Not a great idea, notes the Post’s Ruth Marcus. Could make for overly indulged, uncreative kids. Imagine that?

At least that’s one problem cashed-strapped school districts don’t have to worry about.

Lawrence Hardy|July 22nd, 2011|Categories: Reports, School Climate, School Security, Teachers, Uncategorized, Week in Blogs|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|

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|
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