Articles tagged with Jay Worona

School security changed in the wake of Sandy Hook

How will school security change in the wake of the Newtown school shootings? It may be too early to know the long-term effects of the tragedy on schools, but in the short-term, at least, conversations about school safety have intensified in its aftermath.

Patrice McCarthy, deputy executive director and general counsel of Connecticut Association of Boards of Education, spoke to school board association leaders at NSBA’s Leadership Conference in Washington, D.C., Saturday afternoon on how her state association responded after the Newtown shootings.

McCarthy was joined by Francisco M. Negrón Jr, NSBA’s general counsel, and Jay Worona, general counsel and director of legal and policy services of the New York State School Boards Association.

Negrón pointed out that since the 1999 Columbine shootings, most school security has focused on indentifying disenfranchised students who could potentially become violent. However, after Sandy Hook, school boards and other education leaders are now looking at how to deal with threats from outside the school.

“We need to be aware of both,” said Negrón, “and assess both threat levels.”

School boards need to make sure district safety plans are up to date. Negrón recommended that such plans be reviewed, if not yearly, then at least every two years. “Safety plans must be real and dynamic,” he said. “Don’t put them on the shelf. Review them on a regular basis to make sure they meet your needs.”

Boards also should take the pulse of their community before taking measures such as hiring armed guards for schools. When you don’t talk to people, said Worona, the presumption is that you haven’t done anything. “We need to make sure people understand we can’t make our schools safe to the point that nothing will ever happen, but we do need to make them as safe as possible,” he said.

School board associations and individual school boards should know that national support is available to help after tragedies, said McCarthy. CABE received hundreds of telephone calls and offers of support within hours of the Sandy Hook news breaking, including from NSBA.

NSBA has a list of resources on school security, including articles from American School Board Journal, available here.

Kathleen Vail|January 26th, 2013|Categories: School Law, Crisis Management, School Security, Council of School Attorneys, State School Boards Associations, Leadership Conference 2013|Tags: , , , , , , , |

Boards face federal and state bullying rules

The national media has been highlighting incidents of bullying and harassment in schools, and for good reason – statistics show that many children are being bullied, electronically or otherwise.

Federal and state policy and lawmakers are trying to stop bullying of children through policies and legislation, which was the topic of a National Issues session of the Federal Relations Network (FRN) Conference on Monday. NSBA’s General Counsel Francisco M. Negrón Jr. and Jay Worona, general counsel of the New York State School Boards Association, outlined to audience how those state and federal actions could affect school boards and districts.

At the federal level, the Obama administration has focused on the topic of bullying and harassment. President Obama “is using the bully pulpit to make connections that are not made under the law,” said Negrón. “That spells untested liability.”

The Office of Civil Rights (OCR), part of the U.S. Department of Education, sent out a “Dear Colleague” letter in October 2010. The letter had several problems, which NSBA responded to, saying it had “fuzzy standards of liability,” said Negron.

Those problems included:

# shifts the “actual knowledge standard” to “knows or should have reasonably known.”

# redefines Title IX requirements from responding to peer harassment in “a reasonable manner” to “eliminating harassment and a hostile environment.”

# requires school districts to publicly label incidents as “harassment,” which could violate students’ privacy rights if they are identified.

State legislatures also have been working in this area, including New York, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Maryland, and Louisiana. Worona told the audience about his experience with what is now the Dignity for All Students Act. He said that NYSSBA’s lobbyists respond to all education legislation that includes unfunded mandates: “If it’s unfunded, we don’t like it.”

Worona realized that a more nuanced approach would be required after he met with the head of the New York Civil Liberties, who asked him why the association was opposing the bill. Worona told her the training requirements would cost money and “our districts are broke.” She answered: “But kids are killing themselves.”

That’s not where school boards should be in these types of conversations, he said. “You need to be thinking about what your reaction will be that kind of legislation. Take some steps back to see what it’s all about.”

The OCR held a briefing on the bullying issue in May 2011. NSBA submitted testimony stressing the common goal of preventing and addressing bullying and harassment but cautioned that OCR’s approach was too broad. Federal initiatives can overburden districts when state and local initiatives appear to be working well.

Last September, OCR issued its findings and sent them to the president and Congress. NSBA’s testimony was included in those finding. “People get to see your perspective and why it’s important,” said Negrón. “A one-size-fits all federal mandate is not the answer.”

Kathleen Vail|February 6th, 2012|Categories: Bullying, Federal Programs, Policy Formation, Legislative advocacy, FRN Conference 2012|Tags: , , , |

Diversity and student assignment: A legal view

Try to answer this question about one of the most significant cases in U.S. Supreme Court history:

The 1954 decision in Brown v. Board of Education, which desegregated the public schools – did it a) ensure that black students had access to the same educational advantages as white students, or b) assure that educational decisions in the public schools would not be based on race?

If you answered “both,” you might be right, but it wouldn’t help you come to a decision in a subsequent student assignment case, PICS v. Seattle. In this case, a divided Supreme Court ruled in 2007 that the diversity plans of the Seattle and Kentucky’s Louisville public schools were unconstitutional. And that’s because justices on both sides of the 5-4 decision invoked the famous Topeka, Kan., case and its legacy in justifying their decisions

“Fifty-years later … is PICS v. Seattle the New Brown v. Board of Education” was the title of this breakout session at Saturday’s Leadership Conference. It was led by Jay Worona, general counsel of the New York State School Boards Association, and Francisco M. Negrón Jr., general counsel of NSBA. And yes, Negrón said, the title was meant to be a little facetious because the opposing sides in the later case disagreed vehemently on just what the legacy of Brown meant.

For dissenting justices Stephen Breyer and John Paul Stevens, the two districts’ student assignment plans, which used race in some instances to diversity popular schools, was in keeping with the reasoning of Brown.

“[The] history books do not tell stories of white children struggling to attend black schools…,” Stevens wrote.

But Justice Clarence Thomas, a member of the court majority, characterized Breyer’s dissent as “[d]isfavoring a color blind interpretation of the Constitution.”

So does this mean school districts cannot consider race when making student assignments? Actually no, Negrón said. In trying to diversify schools, districts can still consider race, as long as it is part of a well-reasoned decision that also involves other factors, such as socioeconomic status, geographic location, and parental education levels. What schools may not do, he said, is to use race to determine where an individual student goes to school.

The key is to consider the educational advantages of diversity, rather than diversity of its own sake.

“You should think about diversity as something that academically benefits all of your students,” Negrón said.

For more information, see the NSBA publication Achieving Educational Excellence for All: A Guide to Diversity-Related Policy Strategies for School Districts.

Lawrence Hardy|February 4th, 2012|Categories: School Boards, School Law, Diversity, Leadership, Leadership Conference 2012|Tags: , , , , , |
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