Friday, March 20, 2015

Evidence Grows on the Efficacy of Ending Zero Tolerance

The Atlantic ran a story this week titled "Zeroing out Zero Tolerance."  Much of the article mediates the debate between "no-excuses" charter schools that believe a rigid approach to discipline has been the key to their academic success and large urban school districts that have recently abandoned zero tolerance policies.  Her story emphasizes the large gains in achievement and graduation that the nation's two largest school districts--New York City and Los Angeles--have achieved since ending zero tolerance for minor misbehavior.  The same is true of Denver, which was a front-runner in this change.  There is not much new in the story, but it does a better job than most in highlighting the issues and juxtaposing the relevant school systems.

March 20, 2015 in Charters and Vouchers, Discipline | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

UCLA Civil Rights Project Report: Are We Closing the School Discipline Gap?

Screen Shot 2015-03-11 at 5.59.48 PMUCLA's Center for Civil Rights Remedies at the Civil Rights Project has published Are We Closing the School Discipline Gap? by Daniel Losen, Cheri Hodson, Michael A. Keith II, Katrina Morrison, and Shakti Belway.  The report adds to the growing consensus that the use of out-of-school suspension are applied disproportionately "to students with disabilities and those from historically disadvantaged racial, ethnic, and gender subgroups." From the report's executive summary:
 
Nearly 3.5 million public school students were suspended out of school at least once in 2011-12.12. 
That is more than one student suspended for every public school teacher in America. This means that more students were suspended in grades K-12 than were enrolled as high school seniors. To put this in perspective, the number of students suspended in just one school year could fill all of the stadium seats for nearly all the Super Bowls ever played—(the first 45). Moreover, recent estimates are that one in three students will be suspended at some point between kindergarten and 12th grade (Shollenberger, 2015).

If we ignore the discipline gap, we will be unable to close the achievement gap. Of the 3.5 million students who were suspended in 2011-12, 1.55 million were suspended at least twice. Given that the average suspension is conservatively put at 3.5 days, we estimate that U.S. public school children lost nearly 18 million days of instruction in just one school year because of exclusionary discipline. Loss of classroom instruction time damages student performance. For example, one recent study (Attendance Works, 2014) found that missing three days of school in the month before taking the National Assessment of Educational Progress translated into fourth graders scoring a full grade level lower in reading on this test. New research shows that higher suspension rates are closely correlated with higher dropout and delinquency rates, and that they have tremendous economic costs for the suspended students (Marchbanks, 2015), as well as for society as a whole (Losen, 2015).  

March 11, 2015 in Discipline, Studies and Reports | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

DOJ’s Ferguson Report Also Finds Policing Problems in Schools by Josh Gupta-Kagan

With all of the attention on the Department of Justice's report into Ferguson policing, this blog's readers might be interested pages 37 and 38 of that report, which have largely escaped media attention.  The report concludes that Ferguson police officers serving as school resource officers (SROs) at a local middle and high school too often "treat routine discipline issues as criminal matters and [] use force when communication and de-escalation techniques would likely resolve the conflict."

DOJ reports two specific cases -- a ninth-grader charged with "Failure to Comply" when she refused to walk to the principal's office after a fight during class, and a middle schooler charged with the same offense when "the student refused to leave the classroom after getting into a trivial argument with another student."  Both cases involved African-American children.  The latter incident led to the officer using a Taser on the child, who was suspended for 180 days, in addition to his arrest and juvenile court charge.  DOJ concluded these arrests for petty offenses were not unique -- "As one SRO told s, the arrests he made during the 2013-14 overwhelming involved minor offenses -- Disorderly Conduct, Peace Disturbance, and Failure to Comply with instructions."  

DOJ took the SROs (and, implicitly, the schools) to task for several systemic problems.  They faulted the Ferguson Police Department and the Ferguson-Florissant School District for signing a MOU that "does not clearly define the SROs' role or limit SRO involvement in cases of routine discipline or classroom management.  Nor has FPD established such guidance for its SROs or provided officers with adequate training on engaging with youth in an educational setting." 

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March 10, 2015 in Discipline | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, March 6, 2015

Connecticut Sees Overall Decrease in Student Suspensions, But State BOE Concerned About Rise in Younger Students' Discipline Rates

Screen Shot 2015-03-06 at 8.12.59 AMThe Connecticut Board of Education released a presentation this week reporting an overall  reduction in the state's suspension and expulsion rate for K-12 students. The state BOE reports that the number of suspensions and expulsions was reduced by 17.1% over the last five years, from 127,000 in 2009-10 to 105,000 in 2013-14. Connecticut BOE officials expressed concern, however, about the rising suspension rate of children younger than 7-- about a ten percent increase in out-of-school suspensions for younger children in the 2012-13 school year. Connecticut BOE Chair Allan Taylor told The Hartford Courant, "The under 7 numbers remain astounding. It strikes me that if a kid is that difficult to deal with, then it's a reason to be providing intensive support. There is no evil intent in kindergarten students and it's hard to see how taking that kid away from the place where he could be getting help is going to improve that child's prospects." Racial differences in statewide suspension rates remained steady, with more than 15 percent of black students and over ten percent of Latino students suspended or expelled last school year compared with fewer than five percent of white students suspended or expelled. See the full presentation, courtesy of NPR, here.

March 6, 2015 in Discipline, News | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, March 2, 2015

Students Threatened with Suspension If Parents Do Not Attend a Meeting

Parents in Coleman A. Young Elementary in Detroit received letters last week indicating that the parents' children would be suspended if they did not attend a meeting at school.  Apparently, the school recently held a group meeting to discuss preparation for upcoming standardized tests. Attendance at the meeting was low, in part, because the meeting was during the work day.  This second meeting is to be during the work day as well, and  is for those parents who missed the first one.  

School officials have responded that the letter threatening suspension was sent by teachers, not the school district itself, and it was simply an attempt to convey the importance of the meeting and upcoming examinations.  I personally found the response, at least as reported by the media, as lukewarm.  It is rare that courts second guess discipline, but carrying out this type of threat would be clearly unconstitutional.  Suspending a student who has not engaged in any misbehavior would be entirely arbitrary and irrational and, thus, violate substantive due process.

March 2, 2015 in Discipline | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Federal Class Action Suit Challenging Use of Pepper Spray in Schools Begins in Alabama

Last week, the trial of a federal class action lawsuit against Birmingham police challenging officers' use of pepper spray on students in eight of the city's nine high schools. The suit alleges that Birmingham police, serving as school resource officers, used Freeze + P, a spray made up of Orthochlorobenzalmalonitrile (CS) and Oleoresin Capsicum (OC), that causes “strong respiratory effects" and "severe pain" to break up fights, to disburse bystanders, and to spray students who were verbally disrespectful but not physically violent. The plaintiffs are represented by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Commenting on the suit, a SPLC attorney told the Marshall Project, “We have not been able to locate a school district anywhere that uses chemical spray in the way that Birmingham does, meaning on a routine basis." Interestingly, the lead defendant, Police Chief A.C. Roper, might agree in principle, as he told the Birmingham News in 2009 that the school system has "over-relied on our officers, and our officers have responded ... The current system is dysfunctional, and that's putting it mildly." The complaint is available on the SPLC's website here.

January 27, 2015 in Cases, Discipline | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, January 12, 2015

From Zero Tolerance to Weapons Instruction

South Carolina legislators have put forth two bills to require gun safety and Second Amendment curriculum in schools.  Putting aside the fact that South Carolina's school system was declared constitutionally inadequate this winter, these bills are hard to appreciate.  First, while it is important for state legislatures' to lead on education issues, rather than devolving all discretion to local school districts, anytime any one toys with the curriculum for political purposes it creates educational and legal problems.  See here, here, here, and here.  As I teach educational law each year, I often remind my students that we see so many religion and speech cases in education because adults cannot seem to help themselves from using education as their playground.

Second, one of the sponsors of the bill said he was prompted to write it after learning of a local student who was suspended and arrested over a story he wrote for class about shooting a dinosaur. This, says the legislature, was a travesty under both the First and Second Amendments. He is probably correct about the former.  (See here for my earlier post on the suspension.)  If there was any reason to believe that weapons curriculum might mitigate the use of zero tolerance policies against students, the bill might be innovative.  But the more obvious solution would seem to be to address zero tolerance policies themselves or train teachers on students' First Amendment rights.

January 12, 2015 in Discipline, First Amendment | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, December 12, 2014

The Intersection of Race and Gender Bias in Discipline

For those who missed it, the New York Times ran a story Wednesday on discipline disparities for African American females, telling the experience of two young African American girls.  The first was described by teachers as very focused, but after she and a white friend scribbled some words on a bathroom stall, things fell apart.  Her part was to write the word  "hi."  The school's response was to suspend her, accuse her of vandalism and demand $100 in restitution.  When her family said it could not pay that amount, she received a visit from a police officer, who served her with papers accusing her of a trespassing misdemeanor and, potentially, a felony.  The final result was a summer on probation, a 7 p.m. curfew, 16 hours of community service, and a letter of apology.  Her friend was able to pay restitution and escaped juvenile justice consequences.  Most poignant, however, was the emotional harm and anxiety that she experienced (as well as the girl in the second story).  One girl's mother called it the equivalent of child abuse.

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December 12, 2014 in Discipline, Discrimination | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, December 8, 2014

ABA School to Prison Pipeline Town Hall Forum

The Criminal Justice Section, Council for Racial and Ethnic Diversity in the Education Pipeline, and the Hispanic National Bar Association are hosting a town hall forum, The School-to-Prison Pipeline: What Are the Problems? What Are the Solutions? on February 6, 2015 in Houston.

To register, click on link to obtain Town Hall registration form at www.ambar.org/corej. Register for 2015 ABA Houston Midyear at ambar.org. For more information about the School-to-Pipeline initiative, visit the above website or contact Rachel Patrick, Director, ABA Coalition on Racial & Ethnic Justice at Rachel.Patrick@americanbar.org or (312) 988-5408. 

December 8, 2014 in Conferences, Discipline | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, November 21, 2014

New Report Ranks Massachusetts Among the Worst for Racial Disparities in Discipline, and Its Charters Schools the Worst of the Worst

The Boston-based Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice has released a new report on school discipline in the state, Not Measuring Up: The State of School Discipline in Massachusetts.  The report makes four major findings:

1. Massachusetts' students missed a minimum of 208,605 days in the classroom due to disciplinary removal. During the 2012-13 school year, Massachusetts’ public school students were suspended (in-school and out-of-school), expelled, and removed to an alternative setting a combined 128,599 times. These punishments resulted in at least 208,605 days - the equivalent of 1,160 students missing the entire school year - during which students were removed from their regular classrooms.

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November 21, 2014 in Charters and Vouchers, Discipline | Permalink | Comments (1)

Thursday, November 20, 2014

One District's Rationale for Isolation

As a followup to yesterday's post on isolation practices, the explanation another district for its isolation rooms is worth noting.  The Center Consolidated School District, Colorado, has been using isolated study in 4 foot by 6 foot rooms as an alternative punishment to expulsion for ten years. The district reasons that isolation is preferable to classroom disruption or school exclusion.  The former harms other students.  The latter harms the disciplined student and the school, based on the likely effects on dropout rates. According to the superintendent, parents are given the choice between expulsion and isolation, in which students will be provided study materials. During the last 10 years, about 40 students have been placed in isolation and, over the last year alone, the dropout rate plummeted from 13% to less than 2%.

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November 20, 2014 in Discipline, Special Education | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

District Places 800 Elementary Students in Isolation Rooms in One Year: Theorizing Causes

According to a four month investigation by local news sources, Mansfield Independent School District in Texas put elementary school students in isolation rooms on 800 different occasions last year.  The district's documents refer to the rooms as “blue rooms,” “recovery rooms,” “calm rooms,” and “isolation centers.”  The districts intends to no longer use the latter term.  Records also indicate that some students are placed in the room "for the remainder of the day," which begs the question of how long students are kept in the rooms.  Equally disturbing, state law does not require that the schools notify parents of the isolation and, thus, this may breaking news to some.

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November 19, 2014 in Discipline, Special Education | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, November 17, 2014

Cell Phone Wars: Students v. Police

Earlier this month, a Greenacres, Florida, police officer allegedly broke a 14 year old female student's arm while trying to restrain her.   The arm break, of course, is grabbing the headlines, but interesting legal are implicated by the facts leading up to the physical contact.  According to local reports, the officer approached the student because he believed she was in possession of a video of a fight he was investigating.  He said she became uncooperative and tried to get past him to move away and pushed him back in the process. At that point, he grabbed her arm, she began to twist and turn, he began to move her arm behind her back, and it allegedly broke.  

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November 17, 2014 in Discipline | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Increasing Restrictions on Social Media While Reducing Restrictions on Guns

Two new articles of note are available on westlaw now.  They are about two entirely different trends, but suggest a huge irony when read together.

Janet R. Decker, Facebook Phobia! The Misguided Proliferation of Restrictive Social Networking Policies For School Employees, 9 NW J. L. & Soc. Pol'y 163 (2014).  The abstract states:

Employers have dismissed and disciplined teachers and other school employees for posting controversial material and engaging in inappropriate employee-student relationships over social networking. In response, schools have enacted policies that greatly restrict educators' social networking. This Article examines whether restrictive social networking policies are necessary. After analyzing the relevant state legislation, statewide guidance, district policies, and case law, this article argues that restrictive policies are unwarranted and misguided. School districts have prevailed in the vast majority of the cases because they already have the legal authority to discipline employees under existing law. This Article also recommends how policymakers and school leaders could respond to school employees' social networking more effectively.

Brandi LaBanc, Kerry Melear, and Brian Hemphill's new article, The Debate over Campus-Based Gun Control Legislation, 40 J.C. & U.L. 397 (2014), begins with an overview of mass and public shootings that have led to the increase in gun control legislation.  Because the Second Amendment is often implicated by these debates, the authors provide an outline of the amendment and related Supreme Court decisions. The authors then focus on "state firearm laws that resonate within higher education, including state laws permitting concealed weapons on campus and other gun-related legislation." Specifically, in 2013 four states passed gun control laws affecting higher institutions (Alaska, Arkansas, Texas, and New York), and all four laws are briefly discussed. The evaluates the arguments for both allowing and prohibiting firearms on college campuses. Finally, the authors conclude with a best practices discussion. 

November 5, 2014 in Discipline, First Amendment | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, November 3, 2014

The Human Side of School Discipline

This blog and national media are repleat with reports and data on school discipline.  Ira Glass took a different turn two weeks ago on This American Life.  He dug into the human story and experiences behind the numbers.  He describes the show as being about "schools struggling with what to do with misbehaving kids. There's no general agreement about what teachers should do to discipline kids. And there's evidence that some of the most popular punishments actually may harm kids." 

The full audio and transcript are available here.  Thanks to Josh Gupta-Kagan for sharing it.

November 3, 2014 in Discipline | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, October 30, 2014

No More Routine Handcuffing in School?

Early this month, I posted the story of a five year old special needs student in a New York City public school that was restrained with his hands behind his back in velcro handcuffs for fifteen or more minutes because of his outburst in gym class.  Although the 9th Circuit's opinions are obviously have no binding effect on New York City, the 9th Circuit's recent opinion in C.B. v. City of Sonora, 2014 WL 5151632 (Oct. 15, 2014), portends bad new for the New York City schools and others that make it a practice of handcuffing students.  The Court in Sonora pointed out that two other circuits had applied T.L.O. v. New Jersey's, 469 U.S. 325 (1985), "reasonableness standard to evaluate whether a school official was entitled to qualified immunity from an excessive force claim" in cases of this sort.  But whether applying T.L.O. or Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386 (1989), the Ninth Circuit made it relatively clear that the routine handcuffing of students would be hard to justify.  The court reasoned:

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October 30, 2014 in Discipline | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

More Than Just a Pipeline?: Students, Disabilities, and Incarceration

A new Hechinger Report article offers a compelling narrative and social science review of the connection between emotional-behavioral disabilities and prison.  We typically call this the pipeline, which is catchy, but often strikes me as vague or a rough characterization of a conglomeration of statistics (albeit an effective one).   Jackie Mader and Sarah Butrymowicz's article, like others, discusses how children with special education needs are disproportionately involved in the juvenile justice system. Of the thousands of children caught up in the system every year, "[a]t least one in three of those arrested has a disability, ranging from emotional disability like bipolar disorder to learning disabilities like dyslexia, and some researchers estimate the figure may be as high as 70 percent." Moreover, students with emotional disabilities are three times as likely to be arrested before leaving high school than their peers.  Beyond those numbers, however, this article struck me as doing something different--revealing more than just a pipeline from point A to B to C.  Rather, it suggests a systematic approach to special needs and discipline that is ill-equipped to do anything other than drive a substantial portion of special needs students to incarceration.

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October 28, 2014 in Discipline, Special Education | Permalink | Comments (0)

Constitutional Implications of Punishing Cyber Bullying

Raul R. Calvoz, Bradley W. Davis, and Mark A. Gooden's new article, Constitutional Implications of School Punishment for Cyber Bullying, 2014 Cardozo L. Rev. de novo 104, is available.  It addresses the constitutional and legal challenges that may stand in the way of administrators and legislators' attempts to combat cyber bullying. First, since the acts most frequently associated with cyber bullying involve written words, a student's First Amendment right to free speech is implicated. Second, due to the mobile nature of technology, a student's actions outside of school grounds, even if they have an incidental impact on school grounds, raise the question of whether schools have jurisdiction to discipline the students.

The authors frame their analysis within the context of the substantial disruption test from Tinker v. Des Moines.  In Tinker, the Supreme Court held that school administrators may regulate student speech if the regulation aims at preventing a foreseeable: (1) material or substantial disruption in the school environment; or (2) invasion of the rights of others. The authors reason that school administrators may, without violating students' constitutional rights, regulate and prohibit any bullying (including cyber bulling) which falls into either of those two categories. However, the jurisdictional question complicates matters.

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October 28, 2014 in Discipline, First Amendment | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Mark Weber on OCR's New Disability Bullying and Harassment Policy

The guidance letter on bullying and harassment of students with disabilities that was issued this week by the Office for Civil Rights of the U.S. Department of Education is noteworthy for a number of reasons. First, it reinforces the point made in other Department of Education communications that bullying of these students, if not adequately addressed by school districts, amounts to a violation of the law even if the conduct is not directly tied to the students’ disabilities. Although unaddressed bullying that is related to the disability is a clear violation of the protection against hostile environments established by the law, there is a separate violation when bullying, of any kind or for any reason, interferes with a disabled child’s receipt of an appropriate education. Second, with regard to hostile environment violations, the letter stresses that even if the conduct of the school officials does not rise to the level of deliberate indifference to known deprivation of rights, a violation of the disability discrimination laws still occurs when, as OCR puts it: “(1) a student is bullied based on a disability; (2) the bullying is sufficiently serious to create a hostile environment; (3) school officials know or should know about the bullying; and (4) the school does not respond appropriately.” There are reasons to be skeptical of the use of a deliberate-indifference standard copied without any modification from Title VI and Title IX in Section 504 and ADA damages cases. As Derek Black pointed out in his illuminating article at 15 Wm. & Mary Bill of Rts. J. 533 (2006), even in equal protection cases courts should apply a standard that is lower than the Title VI-Title IX deliberate-indifference standard. But in any case a deliberate-indifference standard does not limit when OCR should act to stop and prevent violations of the law. Third, OCR provides a helpful set of examples of hostile-environment violations, non-disability-based bullying that nevertheless leads to violation of the discrimination laws, and an appropriate response to bullying that avoids violating the law. The letter should make a strong contribution to remedying disability discrimination.

October 22, 2014 in Discipline, Special Education | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, October 20, 2014

New Report on Complying with Anti-bullying Legislation

The DC Office of Human Rights' (OHR) report on bullying in DC schools is now available.  Its particular focus is an assessment of schools' compliance with the District's 2012 anti-bullying law, which required that schools adopt specific policies.

Based on school responses to OHR's survery, the report found:

  • 57 of 61 (93.4 percent) of DC Public Charter LEAs as well as DC Public Schools submitted a bullying prevention policy to the DC Office of Human Rights by September 30, 2014.
  • 42 of 61 DC Public Charter LEAs (70.5 percent) and DC Public Schools had policies compliant with the Youth Bullying Prevention Act of 2012 by September 30, 2014.
  • 17 charter school policies were deemed compliant upon submission, all of which adopted the mayor’s Bullying Prevention Task Force’s model policy (“model policy”). The remaining 25 compliant policies were revised and resubmitted.
  • On initial submission, LEAs were most often non‐compliant on:
    • Coverage of electronic bullying off‐campus that interferes with students’ participation in or benefit from schools’ services,
    • Having the verbatim definition of bullying as defined in the YBPA,
    • Stating that consequences are to be applied in a flexible manner based on students’ developmental age, the nature of the incident, and disciplinary history, and
    • Providing a consistent appeals process as defined in the YBPA.

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October 20, 2014 in Discipline | Permalink | Comments (0)