Articles tagged with bullying

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 safety, discipline are top issues at national school law conference

The Council of School Attorneys’ (COSA) School Law Practice Seminar, held Oct. 11 to 13 in Santa Fe, N.M., will examine issues related to bullying and harassment, discipline, special education, and employee relations. The annual conference hosts school attorneys from across the country, who may earn education (CLE) credits. COSA is part of the National School Boards Association  (NSBA).

COSA Director Sonja Trainor said, “More than 30 experienced school law faculty will lead attendees through complex and challenging areas of their daily school law practice.”

The conference is focusing several sessions on school safety, from extreme threats to verbal harassment and bullying. Trainor will lead a session showing schools how to reduce the risks of violence, explaining how to decifer threat assessments, manage law enforcement in schools, communication and liability concerns.

Such topics also call into question students’ First Amendment rights to free speech. This year’s opening general session will include a panel of national speakers addressing “Can Schools Be Both Safe and Free?  New National Guidelines on Harassment, Bullying and Freedom of Expression.”   In May 2012 NSBA, as part of a coalition of 17 education, religious, and civil liberties groups, released “Harassment, Bullying and Free Expression: Guidelines for Free and Safe Public Schools” aimed at helping public schools uphold the First Amendment while combating harassment and bullying.

The COSA program also includes sessions on school safety, student discipline, immigration, employment issues, attorney/board member relationships, internet filtering in schools, intellectual property and confidentiality issues, and technology in the classroom.

The Twitter hashtag for the conference is: #COSASantaFe.

Joetta Sack-Min|October 10th, 2012|Categories: Council of School Attorneys, Discipline, Diversity, School Law|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: , , , |

Guidelines offer “teachable moment” for tough First Amendment issues

A coalition that includes NSBA and 16 other education, religious, and civil liberties groups has released new guidelines for school districts to combat harassment and bullying while upholding student’s First Amendment rights to express views that may be upsetting to others.

“It is important to distinguish between speech that expresses an idea, including religious or political viewpoints — even ideas some find offensive — and speech that is intended to cause, or school officials demonstrate is likely to cause, emotional or psychological harm to the listener,” says Harassment, Bullying and Free Expression: Guidelines for Free and Safe Public Schools. “Words that convey ideas are one thing; words that are used as assault weapons are quite another.”

Simply put: The former is protected by the First Amendment, the latter is not. But while that principle may seem simple in the abstract, it is anything but straightforward in the real world.  Indeed, as NSBA General Counsel Francisco M. Negrón Jr. said Tuesday at a news conference in Washington, both the U.S. Department of Education and the courts have struggled with this issue.

While the guide “relies on our contemporary understanding of the state of the law, it is not of itself a legal document,” Negrón said. “To the contrary, it is more of a policy guide that roots itself in the best interests of students.  In this context, it means taking the natural tension between the right to be safe and secure and the right to freely express one’s self and identifying the teachable moment that makes sense for students. “ 

The project was organized by the American Jewish Committee and the Religious Freedom Education Project  Education Project and endorsed by NSBA along with American Association of School Administrators; ASCD; Center for Religion and Public Affairs at Wake Forest University Divinity School; Christian Educators Association International; Christian Legal Society; Hindu American Foundation; Islamic Networks Group and its affiliates; Islamic Society of North America; Muslim Public Affairs Council; National Association of Evangelicals; National Association of State Boards of Education; National Council for the Social Studies; Religion Action Center of Reform Judaism; and Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America.  

According to the guidelines, students should be able to attend public schools where they are free to share their views and engage in discussions about religious and political differences while simultaneously attending safe schools that prohibit discrimination, bullying, and harassment.  

Negrón noted: “This guidance framework will allow educators and schools not to simply legislate prohibitions of conduct or speech or ideas, but to engage students about the importance of civil discourse, respect for the safety and rights of others and teach the value of thoughtful discussion particularly about very deeply held personal views and beliefs.“

Lawrence Hardy|May 22nd, 2012|Categories: Bullying, Discipline, Diversity, Religion, School Law|Tags: , |

The week in blogs: Who’s got the most determined students?

Here’s a little quiz about cultural norms, brought to you with the help of education blogger Joanne Jacobs. Match the three hypothetical comments – which have to do with how young people view luck, talent, opportunity, destiny, etc. – with students in North America, Europe, or China:

  1. 1.     “My father was a plumber, so I’m going to be a plumber.”
  2. 2.     “I’m [either] born talented in mathematics or I’m born less talented, so I’ll study something else.”
  3. 3.     “[My progress] depends on the effort I invest, and I can succeed if I study hard.”

If you said No. 3 must be North America because of its work ethic, democratic institutions, or social mobility – well, you would be wrong, according to Andreas Schleicher, who runs the international test known as PISA. The correct answer is China. (For the record, Europe is 1, and North America is 2.)

At least, that’s Schleicher’s opinion, expressed in a BBC article, China: The World’s Cleverest County, by Sean Coughlan.

We’ve heard about — and perhaps over-generalized about — the Asian work ethic. But Jacobs is skeptical that simply working hard and believing you can succeed is enough to get you ahead in an authoritarian nation where students, like everyone else, are routinely sorted, and where the well-connected have a distinct advantage over the poor.

Speaking of China and its education system, read the Washington Post’s Valerie Strauss on the latest efforts by ambitious Chinese students and teachers to raise standardized test scores: Hooking up students to IVs of amino acids, which they believe enhance memory.

Moving across the ocean: Was Mitt Romney a prep school bully some four decades ago? Does it matter? Read This Week in Education’s Alexander Russo about a provocative Washington Post article on the presidential candidate’s years at Michigan’s Cranbrook School.

On Tuesday, NSBA Executive Director Anne L. Bryant will speak at a U.S. Chamber of Commerce forum on school boards and the role of businesses with them, notes Eduwonk

Lawrence Hardy|May 11th, 2012|Categories: 21st Century Skills, Assessment, Bullying, Comparative Education, High Schools, Student Achievement|Tags: , , |

The week in blogs: School violence, in many forms

School violence was in the news this week after a 17-year-old boy opened fire at a suburban Ohio high school and killed three students. One of the more provocative blogs on the incident, found in Time magazine, is titled: Ohio School Shooting: Are Parents to Blame? It noted that across the United States approximately 1.7 million children live in homes with loaded and unlocked firearms.

“We are not saying that every time a kid does something wrong, a parent must be held responsible or be blamed,” write the authors, Erika and Nicholas Christakis. “But a system that focuses its attention for kids’ failings everywhere but at home is equally blind. We hold hosts liable when a driver drinks at their home and kills someone while driving drunk. Having an unlocked, loaded gun in a home with a child under 16 should be a crime.”

As tragic as school shootings are, they aren’t nearly as common as another form of school violence: sexual abuse, writes Eduwonk blogger Andrew Rotherham in another Time piece. According to a 2007 investigation by the Associated Press, “2,570 educators were found to have engaged in sexual misconduct between 2001 and 2005 and more than 80 percent of those cases involved children.”

While 2,570 is miniscule compared to a national teaching force of more than 3 million, it’s still a large number, Rotherham said. And it means that states, school administrators, and school boards, must be vigilant in screening employees and protecting students.

“… Here’s the uncomfortable reality: people who want to molest children go where children are, and schools are an obvious place,” Rotherham writes. “After the last decade, anyone who is surprised that big institutions are vulnerable to sex-abuse scandals — think the Boy Scouts and the Catholic Church — just hasn’t been paying attention.”

On another note, homeschooling has been much in the news recently, with GOP Presidential candidate Rick Santorum’s denunciations of public school and the federal and state role in education. Then, on Friday, a so-called “Tebow Bill” that would have allowed homeschooled students in Virginia to play interscholastic sports was narrowly defeated by a senate committee from that state. To find out more about homeschooling, where it’s been and where it’s going, see the excellent Feb. 29 blog in The Educated Reporter.

Finally, here’s a wonderful video of a innovative middle school math teacher who substitutes 40 cent note cards for an expensive whiteboard (her district can’t afford the latter) in an effort to help them correct common mistakes. Thanks to blogger Joanne Jacobs and The Teaching Channel.

Lawrence Hardy|March 2nd, 2012|Categories: Bullying, Curriculum, High Schools, Student Achievement, Teachers, Week in Blogs|Tags: , , , |

The week in blogs: Making elementary school feel safe for all

By its very title, the report suggests that playgrounds, as well as other places in elementary schools, aren’t viewed as  “safe” by many students.

Titled Playgrounds and Prejudice: Elementary School Climate in the United States, the report was released this week by the Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network. (GLSEN). It found, among other things, that 75 percent of elementary school students “are called names, made fun of, or bullied with at least some regularity.”

“Most commonly this is because of students’ looks or body size (67%), followed by not being good at sports (37%), how well they do at schoolwork (26%), not conforming to traditional gender norms/roles (23%) or because other people think they’re gay (21%),” the report said.

Along with the report, GLSEN also released Ready, Set, Respect! a toolkit for helping teachers understand bullying, gender nonconformity, and family diversity. Board members should also see NSBA’s extensive information on bullying and visit Students on Board, which recommends that school board members get critical information from some of the best sources around – students themselves.

“Honest conversations with students can be the quickest way you can move toward practical steps to sustain or improve school climate,” the Students on Board website says.

Also of interest this week is the National Journal’s Education forum on the push for more comprehensive education in civics. And NSBA’s Center for Public Education looks at a comprehensive study showing that teacher evaluations based on multiple criteria  – including well-designed and regular classroom observations – can be highly effective and accurate.

Lawrence Hardy|January 21st, 2012|Categories: Board governance, Bullying, Data Driven Decision Making, Diversity, Educational Research, Teachers, Week in Blogs|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: , , |

October issue of ASBJ now online

While national attention and energy has rightfully focused on the phenomenon of peer-to-peer bullying, what’s been missing from the scrutiny is a hard look at the relationships and interaction among the adults in the school community.

Enter the October issue of American School Board Journal, which is now live and online. In the latest issue, you’ll find a collection of articles that examine the issue of school culture and climate, from a variety of perspectives and perpetrators.

It’s an important and timely read on a complicated issue that has real implications for school reform efforts.

Naomi Dillon|October 5th, 2011|Categories: American School Board Journal, School Climate|Tags: , , , , |

The week in blogs

The College Board didn’t make a big deal about falling SAT scores when it released the annual results this week: It chose, instead, to emphasize that nearly 1.65 million students had taken the nationwide test, the largest and most diverse group in history.

“The good news is we have more students thinking about college than ever before,” James Montoya, a College Board vice president, told the Washington Post. “Anytime you expand the number of students taking the SAT and expand it the way that we have — into communities that have not necessarily been part of the college-going culture — it’s not surprising to see a decline of a few points.”

Still, the headline on the Post’s story – SAT Reading Scores Drop to Lowest Point in Decades – was pretty stark. Was this mainly the result of the expanding pool of test-takers or evidence of a more general decline? Bloggers were all over the map on that.

Still blaming poor SAT scores on test-takers?” wrote Robert Pondiscio on the Core Knowledge Blog. He said that argument “was effectively dismissed by E. D. Hirsch [Core Knowledge’s founder] when scores were announced last year.”

“What changed,” Hirsch wrote back then, “has less to do with demographic data than with “the anti-intellectual ideas that fully took over first teacher-training schools and then the teachers and administrators they trained.”

Bill Tucker, of the Quick and the Ed, had a different take on the data –and the response. He called the latter “SAT score hysteria” and pointed out that the College Board itself said, in a news release, that “a decline in mean scores does not necessarily mean a decline in performance.”

Perhaps the most measured approach to the data was from Jim Hull, a policy analyst with NSBA’s Center for Public Education.

“No matter the reason, the drop in SAT scores over the past several years is a cause for concern,” Hull wrote. “Yes, more students are taking the SAT than ever before — which is a good thing — but that can cause scores to drop. Yet, more students are also taking the ACT and those scores have increased. With no clear national explanation, it is important for districts and individual schools to examine their own ACT and SAT results to gain a better understanding of how prepared their students actually are for college.”

Other important postings this week included the Post’s Valerie Strauss on new national statistics showing that 22 percent of American children are living in poverty, and a telling graphic of what it really costs a poor family to eat in This Week in Education. (In short: Just because you have a refrigerator, doesn’t mean you’re not poor, as some commentators have claimed.)

Also on Strauss’ site, read a guest post by Dana Smith, a member of the board of directors of the New York State School Boards Association, on what it was like to be bullied in school.

Lawrence Hardy|September 16th, 2011|Categories: Center for Public Education, School Boards, Student Achievement, Uncategorized, Week in Blogs|Tags: , , , , |
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