Thursday, April 21, 2016
DOE Reaches Settlement With OK City Public Schools To Address Disproportionate Discipline of Black Students
From the Department of Education website:
The U.S. Department of Education announced a settlement agreement today with the Oklahoma City Public Schools to address disproportionate discipline of black students. An earlier investigation by the Office for Civil Rights found significant overrepresentation of black students, notably in the 2014-15 school year when black students accounted for 42 percent of in-school suspensions although they represent only 26 percent of the population. Previous years showed similar disparities. The agreement seeks to correct Oklahoma City's discipline practices to ensure that the district satisfies its civil rights obligations to its students going forward.
In response to an internal audit of its discipline policies, the district took corrective steps, including reviewing of its discipline code, policies, and practices. The district also created the Office of School Climate and Student Discipline and hired a director of school climate and student discipline and three student behavior specialists. The agreement, in part:
- Designates an employee to serve as the district's discipline supervisor.
- Prohibits exclusionary discipline to the maximum extent possible.
- Requires the district to retain experts to advise the district on research-based strategies to prevent discrimination.
- Implements revised policies and practices.
- Requires training for staff and administrators and programs for students and parents to explain the policies and behavioral expectations.
- Requires the district to provide teachers and administrators with the tools and training to support positive student behavior to prevent and address misconduct.
- Requires school staff to employ a range of corrective measures before referring a student to disciplinary authorities.
- Ensures a system of supports at each school to assess students who display behavior problems.
- Addresses school climate issues.
- Implements measures to engage students, staff and parents in the implementation of the revised policies, practices and procedures.
- Requires a comprehensive review of the School Resource Officer program to assess the program's effectiveness and alignment with ensuring misbehavior is addressed in a manner that minimizes exclusionary discipline to the maximum extent possible.
- Facilitates communication with the parent complainant should she choose to reenroll her children.
The settlement agreement is here.
Tuesday, April 12, 2016
When districts attempt to reduce suspensions and expulsions, the message many teachers hear is "no more suspensions." Whether that it is the unstated and implied policy in some districts is unclear. I heard from a reliable source that this was the unwritten but stated policy a few years ago in a major district that had come under investigation by the Office for Civil Rights (given my inability to confirm this, I will keep the district's name to myself). The more likely and prevalent explanation, however, is that school leaders and teachers are missing the all-important aspect of implementing new discipline policies. No doubt, severely reducing suspensions and expulsions is the goal of discipline reform, but that goal cannot be appropriately and responsibly achieved without changing teachers' and principals' orientation toward discipline. This, of course, does not happen overnight and does not happen simply by stating a new goal. It requires resources, training, practice, and a cultural shift. In the absence of those changes, teachers think they are simply being told to tolerate egregious behavior. And maybe they are. Take this story in the NY Post this week:
Under pressure from Obama educrats, public school districts are no longer suspending even violent students; but now, under pressure from Black Lives Matter, they are suspending teachers who complain about not suspending bad kids.
In St. Paul, Minn., a high school teacher was put on administrative leave last month after Black Lives Matter threatened to shut down the school because the teacher complained about lenient discipline policies that have led to a string of assaults on fellow teachers.
Last month, two students at Como Park Senior High School punched and body slammed a business teacher unconscious, opening a head wound that required staples. And earlier in the year, another student choked a science teacher into a partial coma that left him hospitalized for several days.
In both cases, the teachers were white and the students black.
Theo Olson, a teacher at the school complained on Facebook about new district policies that fail to punish kids for fighting and drug-dealing. Like dozens of cities across the country — including New York — St. Paul adopted the policies in compliance with new discipline guidelines issued by the Obama administration. The Education Department has threatened school districts with lawsuits and funding cuts wherever if finds racial “disparities” in suspensions and expulsions, arguing such disparities have created a “school-to-prison pipeline” for African-Americans children. The agency claims such disparities are the product of racism in schools.
The danger in these conversations is pitting students and teachers against one another. If it is the case that schools are not supporting and training teachers in the transition to new discipline systems, then teachers become victims, of a sort, as well. I have little doubt that under-supported discipline systems are the norm in many places where the education system is abysmal as a general matter. Take Philadelphia, for instance. The school district has been woefully underfunded by the state for years, is bleeding students to charter schools, suffers from a problematic reimbursement system by which it must send large amounts of money to charters, and was on the brink of collapse during the recession when the most basic of staff and resources were eliminated. More recently, the entire state's education system faced shut downs because the state could not/would not pass a budget. Under these circumstances, one wonders how much serious attention and how many resources are devoted to training school staff on discipline and providing positive behavioral supports for students and teachers. In the absence of these resources, it is no surprise that Philadelphia Teachers' Union was livid about the district's insistence that suspension and expulsion rates drop precipitously.
As the foregoing suggests, the missing link in districts' strategies and teachers' perception is school quality itself. Social science increasingly demonstrates that discipline rates are a function of school quality and vice versa. In other words, low quality educational opportunities lead to discipline problems, and discipline problems lead to low quality education. Thus, one cannot be fixed without the other. Equally important, discipline systems matter for more than just the "misbehaving student." They matter for "innocent bystanders." When schools fail to invest in pedagogically sound discipline practices, they harm all students, not just the so-called bad apples. And by harm, I mean reduced educational outcomes and achievement. In this respect, the solution to our discipline problems is the solution to our education quality challenges. I flesh out a full explanation of this social science and argument here.
Wednesday, March 30, 2016
Education Law Prof Blog co-editor Derek Black (South Carolina) has posted Reforming School Discipline (Northwestern University Law Review, forthcoming) on ssrn this week. (March 30, 2016). In his article, Professor Black proposes a novel legal framework to connect school discipline reform efforts to the affirmative education rights and duties found in state constitutions. Below is the abstract:
Public schools suspend millions of students each year, but only five percent of suspensions are for serious misbehavior. School leaders argue that these suspensions ensure an orderly educational environment for those students who remain. Social science demonstrates the opposite. The practice of regularly suspending students negatively affects misbehaving students as well as innocent bystanders. All things being equal, schools that manage student behavior through means other than suspension produce the highest achieving students. In this respect, the quality of education a school provides is closely connected to its discipline policies.
Drawing on the connection between discipline and educational quality, this article pits harsh discipline as the enemy of good schools and debunks the narrative of bad students as the enemy of good ones. It also argues that this evidence, combined with the affirmative education rights and duties found in state constitutions, can be used to demand that states substantively reform discipline.
First, because students have a constitutionally protected individual right to education, suspensions and expulsions should trigger heightened scrutiny. Heightened scrutiny would not bar suspensions, but it would force states to justify the efficacy of suspension. The practical result would be to prompt states to adopt pedagogical sound approaches to student misbehavior. Second, discipline practices that undermine educational quality violate states’ constitutional obligation to provide equal and adequate educational opportunities to all students. In these instances, state constitutions should obligate states to intervene with reform.
A link to the full article can be found here.
The extremely high rates of school discipline and referrals to the juvenile justice system by school officials, along with racial disparities in both, are well documented. The social science consensus is that harsh discipline and a heavy police presence in school are counterproductive. Schools would be far better served to adopt positive behavioral supports and restorative justice models, both of which would include more dispute resolution and counseling. That is what makes new data gathered by The74 so disturbing.
The news outlet gathered data on the nations largest school districts and found that four out of ten were had more security staff than counselors. In fact, New York City and Chicago had about twice as much security staff as counselors. Miami Dade had nearly three times as much security staff. Get the full story and data here.
Thursday, March 17, 2016
UCLA Civil Rights Project: Charter Schools, Civil Rights and School Discipline: A Comprehensive Review
Amid suspicions that some charter schools' policies serve to cull students for minor discipline problems comes a report this week that charter schools still are suspending black students at significantly higher rates than white students and suspending students with disabilities at two to three times the rate of nondisabled students. The study, Charter Schools, Civil Rights and School Discipline: A Comprehensive Review, was released by UCLA's Civil Rights Project and interprets federal data from 5,250 charter schools on out-of-school suspension rates. Among the findings:
- In the 2011-12 school year, 374 charter schools suspended 25% of their enrolled student body at least once.
- Nearly half of all Black secondary charter school students attended one of the 270 charter schools that was hyper-segregated (80% Black) and where the aggregate Black suspension rate was 25%.
- More than 500 charter schools suspended Black charter students at a rate that was at least 10 percentage points higher than the rate for White charter students.
- 1,093 charter schools suspended students with disabilities at a rate that was 10 or more percentage points higher than for students without disabilities.
- 235 charter schools suspended more than 50% of their enrolled students with disabilities.
The report also notes that "lower-suspending charter schools are more numerous than high-suspending charters," suggesting that those school may be using "effective non-punitive approaches to school discipline [that] could help close the pipeline." Daniel J. Losen, the director of the Center for Civil Rights Remedies, told the New York Times that "the report should not be used to generalize about all charter school discipline, because there were also schools that did not suspend students at high rates." The full report, written by Daniel J. Losen, Michael A. Keith II, Cheri L. Hodson, and Tia E. Martinez, is accessible here.
Tuesday, March 15, 2016
Former Principal Calls on Educators to Acknowledge the Role That Their Mindset Plays in Feeding the School-to-Prison-Pipeline
Last month, in a speech at Teach for America's 25th Anniversary event, Nancy Hanks gave a heartfelt speech goes to a central problems with school discipline policy and discretion. Hanks, now a top administrator, in the Madison, Wisconsin, schools recalled her experience as a principal in Chicago schools. She tells the story of recently bumping into a young man on an elevator whom she had expelled a few years earlier and the awakening to the possibility that she had ruined his life:
I remembered the incident quite clearly: He brought a BB gun — a very realistic-looking BB gun — to school and I was livid at the time. I wasn’t angry at him because I thought he wanted to hurt anyone, because I didn’t truly believe that he did.
I was angry because I had busted my behind for almost two years at that point to turn that school around, and establish community, and to repair the climate and to make kids feel safe. His bringing that BB gun wasn’t just a threat to safety but a threat to me and the reputation I was building for myself and for the school. And nobody was going to compromise that.
At the time I couldn’t separate the child from the act. I couldn’t find that powerful and potent “just mercy” that Bryan Stevenson so passionately and poignantly describes in his book. So I went to my code of conduct, which at the time treated toy guns, BB guns and real firearms the same — and I referred him for expulsion.
She used that story to say that the blame for the school-to-prison-pipeline lies with educators as individuals who, innocently or not, contribute to it through a problematic mentality toward school discipline. The fault cannot simply be externalized.
If you’re a dean, principal or assistant principal, it’s in the powerful decision points that you hold as to whether or not you are going to suspend or expel students, sometimes as young as 4 or 5 years, because they’ve somehow “disrupted the learning environment” or “defied school authority” or violated one of many often subjective infractions in our codes of conduct. It’s also in the incidents when you deliberately misuse school resource officers — inappropriately involving them in incidents that don’t need officer involvement and that often escalate in a matter of seconds, blurring the line of what is criminal behavior and simply a matter of school discipline. That’s your contribution.
Her speech also feeds very well into the arguments I make here that many discipline policies cannot withstand the basic test of rationality.
Wednesday, February 24, 2016
New Study Finds That When Parents Are Incarcerated, Their Children's Risk of School Exclusion Increases
As part of the Fragile Families project at Princeton and Columbia, Wade Jacobsen has released a new paper, Punished for their Fathers? School Discipline Among the Children of the Prison Boom. He writes:“Prior research finds school discipline associated with later incarceration and other criminal justice involvement but conceptualizes the relationship as a one-way 'school-to-prison pipeline.' This paper suggests that among families, the reverse relationship also occurs—incarceration has a causal effect on school discipline.”
His three main findings include:
- First, results provide strong evidence that children with a recently incarcerated father are at greater risk of being removed from school.
- Second, only 21% of the increase in school exclusions is explained by “variation in student behavior problems,” and that reduced parent involvement is not a cause at all.
- Third, there does not seem to be a racial gap in the effects of paternal incarceration. Of course, the race gaps in incarceration will create a pretty big disparity on their own.
Get the full paper here. Thanks to Josh Gupta-Kagan for the tip on this new study and highlighting its importance.
Wednesday, February 17, 2016
The ABA formed a School-to-Prison Pipeline Task Force two years ago and has hosted a series of town hall meetings across the country over the past year. Now the Task Force has released a report, co-authored by Sarah Redfield and Jason Nance. The report is copious in its description of the problem and its causes, as well as recommendations for reform. The Executive Summary offer this description of its findings:
The school-to-prison pipeline—the metaphor encompassing the various issues in our education system that result in students leaving school and becoming involved in the criminal justice system—is one of our nation’s most formidable challenges. It arises from low expectations and engagement, poor or lacking school relationships, low academic achievement, incorrect referral or categorization in special education, and overly harsh discipline including suspension, expulsion, referral to law enforcement, arrest, and treatment in the juvenile justice system. . . . While many have known about the problems associated with the school-to-prison pipeline for years, recent data from the U.S. Department of Education’s Civil Rights Data Collection now elucidate their magnitude and that magnitude is unacceptably large and out of proportion to the population of our young people. This disproportionality manifests itself all along the educational pipeline from preschool to juvenile justice and even to adult prison for students of color, for students with disabilities, for LGBTQ students, and for other groups in particular settings. These students are poorly served at every juncture. Students of color are disproportionately
- lower achievers and unable to read at basic or above
- damaged by lower expectations and lack of engagement
- retained in grade or excluded because of high stakes testing
- subject to more frequent and harsher punishment
- placed in alternative disciplinary schools or settings
- referred to law enforcement or subject to school-related arrest
- pushed or dropping out of school
- failing to graduate from high school
- feel threatened at school and suffer consequences as victims 11 For students with disabilities, disproportionality manifests itself in similar ways, and race and ethnicity, gender, and disability compound.
Thursday, February 11, 2016
Report: Thousands of Wisconsin Students Continue to Be Placed In Seclusion Or Restraints Despite 2012 Ban on Such Practices
Disability Rights Wisconsin (DRW), along with two other community organizations, reports that seclusion and restraints continue to be used in Wisconsin’s public schools, despite the passage of a law in 2012 intended to reduce such measures. The report, called Seclusion & Restraint in Wisconsin Public School Districts 2013-2014: Miles to Go, "details how families continue to report instances in which children, even those as young as five, are being secluded and restrained repeatedly, sometimes daily," according to DRW. Eighty percent of the 3,585 Wisconsin students who were restrained or secluded were students with disabilities. Overall, Wisconsin's school districts reported 20,131 incidents of seclusion and restraint in the 2013/14 school year.
Wednesday, February 10, 2016
While scholars have studied the racial “achievement gap” for several decades, the mechanisms that produce this gap remain unclear. In this article, we propose that school discipline is a crucial, but under-examined, factor in achievement differences by race. Using a large hierarchical and longitudinal data set comprised of student and school records, we examine the impact of student suspension rates on racial differences in reading and math achievement. This analysis—the first of its kind—reveals that school suspensions account for approximately one-fifth of black-white differences in school performance. The findings suggest that exclusionary school punishment hinders academic growth and contributes to racial disparities in achievement. We conclude by discussing the implications for racial inequality in education.
Friday, January 29, 2016
Ferguson Consent Decree to Better Train Police in Schools and Eliminate Their Role in Routine Discipline
Ferguson has agreed to consent decree with the Department of Justice. The bulk of that decree addresses concerns outside of school, but also includes reforms in the school. As some may recall, DOJ's investigation into the city police department revealed some troubling trends in the school as well. The decree indicates that the Ferguson Police Department's "SRO [school resource officer] program will build positive relationships between officers and youth, avoid unnecessary negative police actions such as arrests, and develop alternatives that promote keeping students in school and out of the criminal justice system." In particular, the city agreed to:
- Revise the SRO program overall, including the training and qualifications for SROs. The point here is to be an emphasis on skills that relate to interpersonal relationships with youth and diversity.
- Limit SRO involvement to situations in which their involvement is " is necessary to protect physical safety." They are not to "participate in any situation that can safely and appropriately be handled by a school's internal disciplinary procedures."
- Discourage arrests of students except in those instances necessary for safety.
- Supervise SRO's in the schools.
- Quantitatively and Qualitatively assess the SRO program.
Thanks to Josh Gupta-Kagan for the alerting me to the decree.
Tuesday, January 19, 2016
Allegations of Abuse of Students with Disabilities Not Enough to "Shock Conscience" of the Sixth Circuit, by Mark Weber
The Sixth Circuit recently decided Domingo v. Kowalski, No. 14–3957, 2016 WL 76213 (6th Cir. Jan. 7, 2016). The court affirmed a grant of summary judgment against parents of three special education students on their claims against a special education teacher, her employer, and several officials with supervisory responsibility over her. The parents of one child alleged that nearly every day the teacher removed the six-year-old’s pants, placed her on a training toilet and left her there for as long as a quarter of the school day. The toilet was separated from the classroom only by a partition that students could walk around to see the child on the toilet. The teacher was alleged to have bound one misbehaving nine-year-old student to a gurney in the hallway outside the classroom and gagged him with a bandana, and on several occasions to have restrained him in a chair. She was also alleged to have strapped an eleven-year-old girl to a toilet, alone in the bathroom, for 20 to 30 minutes at a time. The teacher was also said to have a practice of grabbing disruptive students by the face, squeezing their cheeks and turning their heads toward her, and to have a practice of making students who were inattentive fold their arms on their desks, at which point the teacher would force their heads onto their arms. The parents supported their allegations with the statements of a teacher’s aide, though the defendants contested the accuracy of the aide’s account at various points and noted that the aide did not report several of the events until she received a layoff notice near the end of the school year.
The parents said the conduct of the teacher and the failure of the other defendants to act violated the students’ substantive due process rights, and they relied on the cause of action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. In affirming summary judgment against the parents, the court applied the “shocks the conscience” standard. The court adapted a framework from Gottlieb v. Laurel Highlands School District, 272 F.3d 168 (3d Cir. 2001), and asked whether there was a pedagogical justification for the teacher’s conduct, whether the force was excessive to meet a legitimate objective, whether the conduct was done maliciously for the purpose of causing harm, and whether there was serious injury. It made analogies to various cases on each of the factors and ruled that the factors weighed in the teacher’s favor. The court said that its rejection of the due process claim against the teacher eliminated any basis for holding the supervisors or the school district liable.
The case is one of a large number determining that no reasonable jury could find that school personnel conduct shocks the conscience so as to violate due process. There are, however, cases that come to the opposite result with regard to conduct that looks similar or even less outrageous, for example, Alexander v. Lawrence County Board of Developmental Disabilities, 2012 WL 831769 (E.D. Tex. 2011) (placing student in basket holds and prone restraints), and Covey v. Lexington Public Schools, 2010 WL 5092781 (W.D. Okla. 2010) (demeaning students with disabilities in front of others and making them run laps and do calisthenics). Moreover, some recent physical and psychological abuse cases brought under a Fourth Amendment theory have been successful on summary judgment or dismissal motions, including Preschooler II v. Clark County School Board of Trustees, 479 F.3d 1175 (9th Cir. 2007) (grabbing and slapping of student and forcing him into a chair), and Doe v. Hawaii Department of Education, 334 F.3d 906 (9th Cir. 2003) (taping of second-grader’s head to a tree). It remains to be seen just what conduct the panel of the Sixth Circuit thinks could shock a jury’s conscience. Notably, one panel member, Judge Boggs, argued in a partial dissent that the claim over the binding and gagging of the nine-year-old ought to have gone to the jury.
Thursday, January 14, 2016
The Every Student Succeeds Act's Random Additions: Charter Schools, Data Collection, Testing Limits, and Discipline
My prior post detailed the Act’s new approaches toward academic standards and accountability, teachers, funding, and the federal role in education. The Act also included some other important changes and additions that do not fit into those categories. These changes are one-offs that look like bones thrown to various different and competing constituencies (which is probably true of a few of the progressive changes I noted last time). In other words, they are pet projects that helped the bill get passed. These changes include for charter schools, data, test validity, test opt outs, and school discipline
The act includes new competitive priorities for charter school grants. For those unfamiliar with the term competitive priority, it means that states or districts that include certain policies in their competitive charter school grant application will receive extra points in the assessment of their plan. As a practical matter, it makes it far more likely that they will receive a grant. It also makes it highly unlikely that states and districts that do not include those policies will receive a grant. In short, they are implicit mandates for those who want money.
So what are these special charter school policies? They are exactly what charter advocates have been lobbying states to do, often with little success. The priorities are for states that increase the number of entities in the state that can authorize new charters, states that give charters per pupil funding equivalent to that in traditional public schools, and states that give more robust support for charters in need of facilities.
Nothing really changed for magnet schools, and that is the point. Magnet school financial support and policy has been stuck in neutral for nearly two decades. By comparison, this means magnet schools are moving backward while charters rush forward. There is, however, one potentially explicit retrogressive addition for magnets. The Act seemingly requires or strongly prefers socio-economic integration over any other form of integration. Socio-economic integration is, of course, immensely important. The point here is the attempt to take race off the board—a position that the Bush Administration took, that the Obama Administration eventually retracted, and that has now resurfaced.
The Act requires states to collect and submit far more detailed data, and the new data it seeks is important: funding and teachers. This will be a boon to researchers attempting to drill deeper into problems of resource inequity.
Valid Tests (Potential Bombshell)
A provision of Title I indicates that states can only use the mandated tests for purposes for which they are valid. To most, this may read as no more than technical jargon, but it is potentially the single most powerful provision in the bill for those who would seek to block the misuse of tests. As I detail here, the tests on which states rely to run their teacher evaluation systems (value added models and student growth percentiles) are not valid for those purposes. Others have also long raised validity problems with certain states use of high stakes tests for student graduation and promotion as well. Who knows whether this was Congress’s intent, but the Act certainly would appear to have the effect of preventing states from using standardized tests for illegitimate purposes. The question that remains is whether individual teachers or students could rely on this provision in litigation or whether it is up to the Secretary to enforce this provision through the administrative process.
The Act gives parents the right to opt their children out of standardized tests. Opt-outs were big news last year, as large percentages of students refused to take tests in New York and New Jersey and the states scrambled not knowing whether the Department would hold this against the states. The Act now specifically indicates that these opt-outs will not count against the state in determining the percentage of students who took the tests.
Discipline: Bullying and Suspensions
Finally, the Act gives a big boost to progressive discipline policy. Previously, there was no such thing as general federal authority in regard to discipline. The only foothold had been in regard to racial disparities in discipline (pursuant to Title VI). The Act now specifies that states’ plans should include policies to reduce bullying, suspensions, and averse responses to student misbehavior. The bullying provision is, likewise, significant because it is not limited gender or race based bullying--a big stumbling blocking in past enforcement efforts. To be clear, however, this discipline provision operates within the larger structure that offers states’ enormous autonomy in their plans and severely limits the Secretary’s ability to reject a state plan.
Monday, November 23, 2015
The title of this post poses what might sound like an odd question, but a debate over whether to remove metal detectors from New York City's schools is gaining in prominence for two reasons. First, the last shooting in a New York City school was in 1992. Second, metal detectors are not uniform practice in the district. Rather, they tend to only be used in predominantly minority schools. The LA Times reports that "almost half of black students are scanned daily, while only 14% of white students are." From a legal perspective, this disparity on its own does not trigger scrutiny under Title VI regulations (prohibiting disparate impact). Advocates would also need to demonstrate a harm or denial of benefit. Many would argue that being asked/forced to walk through a metal detector is is not an invasion of privacy. It is definitely not an individualized search that would required reasonable suspicion under the Fourth Amendment. On other hand, the New York City Civil Liberties Union says that "[m]aking students have to go through metal detectors to go to school sends a terrible message to students about where they are headed and how they are viewed." This sounds like a stigmatic or psychological injury. This type of injury has, of course, be used in racial discrimination cases since Brown v. Board. For understandable reasons, however, the current debate is proceeding as a policy debate rather than a legal one. See here. That debate is devolving into one of safety versus racial fairness. That one may be even harder to resolve.
Tuesday, November 17, 2015
The University of Chicago Consortium on Chicago School Research released a study last month disaggregating discipline results based on school composition. It found that while “[s]tudents with the most vulnerable backgrounds are much more likely to be suspended than students without those risk factors[,] . . . differences in the suspension rates for students with different risk factors, such as poverty and low achievement, do not explain most of the large racial and gender disparities in suspension rates. . . . The biggest driver of racial disparities in suspension rates comes from differences in which schools students of different races/ethnicities attend." More specifically, it found that segregation in Chicago played a significant role in disparate discipline outcomes. Highlights from the study include:
Friday, November 13, 2015
The Education Trust's new report, Black Minds Matter, argues that "though it is abundantly clear that Black children can achieve at the highest levels, most of the data paint a dire portrait of an education system — preschool through college — that systematically squanders Black talent." It frames that argument around basic data points. Just to list a few:
- African American children are "less like to have access to high quality preschool and early learning opportunities. The result? Achievement gaps begin early, even before children reach school age."
- "[I]nstead of organizing our K-12 school systems to ameliorate [the fact that African American children often start kindergarten behind], these children get less in school too." They attend the most challenging educational environments.
- African Americans attend schools that are predominantly poor and predominantly minority.
- African Americans are twice as likely to feel unsafe at school and three times as likely to be suspended.
- African Americans are far less likely to be enrolled in rigorous courses.
The report then offers a series of recommendations.
- Offering and ensuring academic relevance, rigor, and supports
- Ensuring equitable access to effective educators
- Extending learning time
- Improving school climate and fixing school discipline
- Providing a broad range of health, wellness, and socio-emotional supports.
Thursday, November 12, 2015
Robyn Bitner's student note, Exiled from Education: Plyler v. Doe's Impact on the Constitutionality of Long-Term Suspensions and Expulsions, 101 Va. L. Rev. 763 (2015), offers a new theory for limiting some suspensions and expulsions. Her introduction includes this summary:
This Note will argue that, following Plyler, public school students have a plausible right of equal access to education under the United States Constitution. In addition to this right, students also benefit from a fundamental right to education in sixteen states. This framework hasthus far provided students with some respite from states' attempts to limit Plyler. However, in states where the right to education is not fundamental, or the status of education has not yet been determined by state supreme courts, school districts regularly violate students' plausible right of equal access to education in two ways. First, school districts offer no alternative education programs (“AEPs”) during periods of long-term suspension or expulsion. Second, when school districts do offer AEPs, they routinely fail to provide even basic education, which places students at risk of academic failure. Ultimately, long-term suspensions and expulsions mean that many of our nation's most vulnerable students are not receiving an education. However, as this Note will argue, our federal and state constitutions suggest that they are entitled to one. In the legal field, little has been written about the implications of Plyler outside the context of undocumented students. The analyses that do exist focus on state and local attempts to limit the rights of undocumented students to attend primary and secondary school. Other studies analyze the limits to higher education that undocumented students face in terms of college admissions and in-state tuition rates. This Note differentiates itself from what the legal field already knows by focusing instead on the interplay between federal and state law to determine how students' plausible right of equal access to education has been limited in other contexts, specifically school discipline. Such knowledge is worthwhile because it may permit a better understanding of exactly how child advocates can protect their most vulnerable clients from being shut out of the education system altogether. Equipped with this knowledge,school districts can be held accountable for educating all students, even the most behaviorally challenged ones.
Monday, November 9, 2015
A new report by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) finds that Muslim students experience high rates of bullying and discrimination in California's public schools. Among other things, the report calls on Congress to amend Title VI to include a prohibition on religious discrimination. While the CAIR is correct that Title VI does not prohibit religious discrimination, it is not always clear whether the discrimination against Muslim students is ethnic or religious discrimination. The Office for Civil Rights has tended to treat it as ethnic discrimination, which Title VI would prohibit. Regardless, the report's empirical findings are troubling:
Ultimately 55% of the American Muslim students surveyed reported being subjected to some form of bullying based on their religious identity. This is twice as high as the national statistic of students reporting being bullied at school. Many students experienced multiple types of bullying; however, the most common type of bullying American Muslim students faced was verbal at 52%.
CAIR-CA also considered gender-based differences in survey responses. Remarkably, more male students reported experiencing bullying. However, the percentage of females who reported experiencing discrimination by a teacher or administrator was slightly higher. Of the female respondents who wear a hijab, the Islamic headscarf, 29% reported being offensively touched by another student, and 27% reported being discriminated by their teacher.
There were also two key findings in the students’ responses to questions about their feelings regarding their school environment. The percentage of students who reported feeling that they were comfortable participating in class discussions about Islam or countries where Muslims live decreased 4 by 4 percentage points, from 80% in 2012 to 76% in 2014. Moreover, only 67% of students felt teachers and administrators were responsive to their religious accommodation requests. American Muslim youth continue to identify student-teacher relations as needing improvement. Many students’ comments referenced increased problems in the classroom during discussions about 9/11, mainly due to teachers either failing to address harassment by other students against Muslim students or discriminating against Muslim students themselves.
Monday, November 2, 2015
Civil rights activists and scholars have long speculated that some charter schools manufacture the student populations they would like to teach so as to produce better results. On the front end, they could achieve this by bending the rules and discouraging special education and English Language Learner students from applying. On the back end, they would weed out undesirables that made it in through the lottery system. Some data has confirmed the front end problem, but the later has been little more than speculation. Until last week.
[D]ocuments obtained by The New York Times and interviews with 10 current and former Success employees at five schools suggest that some administrators in the network have singled out children they would like to see leave.
The heading on the list was “Got to Go.”
Nine of the students on the list later withdrew from the school. Some of their parents said in interviews that while their children attended Success, their lives were upended by repeated suspensions and frequent demands that they pick up their children early or meet with school or network staff members. Four of the parents said that school or network employees told them explicitly that the school, whose oldest students are now in the third grade, was not right for their children and that they should go elsewhere.
The current and former employees said they had observed similar practices at other Success schools. According to those employees, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to protect their jobs or their relationships with people still at the network, school leaders and network staff members explicitly talked about suspending students or calling parents into frequent meetings as ways to force parents to fall in line or prompt them to withdraw their children.
Last year, for instance, the principal of Success Academy Harlem 2 Upper, Lavinia Mackall, told teachers not to automatically send annual re-enrollment forms home to certain students, because the school did not want those students to come back, two former members of the school’s staff said. Ms. Mackall said that her comments had been misinterpreted and that she was trying to encourage parents to take the school’s requirements seriously, but that she also did not believe the school was right for all students.
In another example, a current employee said, a network lawyer in a conversation with colleagues described a particularly unruly student’s withdrawal as “a big win” for the school.
Read the full story here.
Tuesday, October 27, 2015
A resource officer at Spring Valley High School in Columbia, South Carolina, pulled a female student from her desk by her neck, threw her to the floor, and then dragged her across the floor to another part of the room. The incident was caught on video and has gone viral. Apparently, the student had been disruptive and, at the moment of the incident, was refusing to follow instructions. The incident almost exactly mirrors one described in the U.S. Department of Justice's report on police involvement in Ferguson, Missouri's schools. At pages 37 and 38, DOJ cited that incident as part of a problematic trend of unreasonable enforcement action and added that it
demonstrates a lack of understanding of the negative consequences associated with such arrests. In fact, SROs told us that they viewed increased arrests in the schools as a positive result of their work. This perspective suggests a failure of training (including training in mental health, counseling, and the development of the teenage brain); a lack of priority given to de-escalation and conflict resolution; and insufficient appreciation for the negative educational and long-term outcomes that can result from treating disciplinary concerns as crimes and using force on students. See Dear Colleague Letter on the Nondiscriminatory Administration of School Discipline, U.S. Dep’t of Justice & U.S. Dep’t of Education.
During the media rounds last night, the video prompted predictable debates over whether the use of force was reasonable. Those debates included mind numbing defenses and recriminations that, in effect, repeated the conversations we have heard for the past year in regard to the deaths of several African Americans at the hands of police. While that conversation is obviously a very important one that should continue, it is the wrong one here.
The question here should not be whether the resource officer used reasonable force. The question should be why he was in the school to begin with and why, at this very moment, he was the one directed to resolve the situation. This is a question I have raised and implied on this blog several times. In the last two years, I have noted numerous stories of school resource officers choking, handcuffing, restraining, and locking up in isolation rooms elementary and middle school students, including students with special needs. One Georgia school even saw fit to begin housing rifles on campus.
The answer is simple. Save exceptional circumstances, law enforcement does not belong in school. School resource officers are not educators. They are not sufficiently trained to deal with students. They are not dispute resolution specialists. No doubt, incidents arise when school officials believe that the brute force of law enforcement is beneficial. Even were that the case, the rare benefit that they provide far outweighs the regular burden they bring. They change the culture for students and teachers in ways that are not productive. They bring official confrontation to school. They bring violence into school. They bring real weapons into school. And even if a school were to unwisely accept all of these things as necessary evils, the school should minimize the circumstances when law enforcement is brought to bear on a student. Schools must always be the front line of school discipline and almost always the end line as well. They should only absolve themselves from that role when absolutely necessary. It seems relatively clear that this was not the case in Spring Valley High School.