Thursday, May 14, 2015
The Harrisburg Patriot-News reports that a racial bias suit against a Pennsylvania school district was settled this week. In 2014, the Webbs, a student and his mother, sued the Susquehanna Township School District after it expelled the student from high school for wearing a multifunction tool that had a knife on it. The student's mother sued when they learned that three white male students were treated differently than the student, who is black. In the other three instances, a white male student brought two airsoft pistols onto school and aimed at other students as they left the building; in the second, a white male student brought marijuana into a classroom; and in the third, a white male student brought a BB gun onto school grounds. On each of those occasions, the school superintendent did not recommend to expel the students. The Webbs sued in federal court claiming disparate treatment and violations of the 14th Amendment, Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (PHRA). The Middle District of Pennsylvania dismissed their claims for lack of standing and because the statute of limitations had expired on some of the claims. However, the federal court gave the Webbs leave to amend their claims under the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (PHRA). Despite the dismissal, the school district reportedly settled the case for an undisclosed amount. The federal case was Webb v. Susquehanna Twp. Sch. Dist., No. 1:14-CV-1123, 2015 WL 871731 (M.D. Pa. Feb. 27, 2015).
Wednesday, May 13, 2015
A New Jersey mother, Karen McMillan, alleges that her son passed out after being choked by a school security guard who was attempting to restrain the 7-year-old. After being held back from recess, the boy became disruptive. According to school officials, he was kicking chairs and rolling on the floor. The security guard was called to help restrain the child, and allegedly was trying to help the boy when he started to hyperventilate. The boy told his mother only that the guard held him very tightly and he felt like he might be sick, leading McMillan to believe that guard's force to be excessive. The boy was not injured, though McMillan stated that he is afraid to return to school and she intends to remove him from the school district. The guard was put on paid leave while the school investigates the incident.
Even if true, rogue acts of individual employees may be no more than that. On the other hand, this past year has brought various other stories like this one in other school districts. See, e.g., here, here, here, and here. This raises the question of whether the harsh policing tactics that are currently embroiling a national debate are also a part of every day life for many public schools students. Past reports by the Advancement Project would suggest the answer is yes, as would the Department of Justice's report on Ferguson, Missouri.
More on the New Jersey story here.
Thursday, May 7, 2015
A new study out of England finds that children who are bullied by their peers experience more long term negative mental problems than those who experience physical, mental, or sexual abuse. The authors of the study are, of course, not suggesting that the effects of abuse are minimal but that the effects of bullying are comparatively higher. This point is particularly important, they say, because “[g]overnmental efforts have focused almost exclusively on public policy to address family maltreatment; much less attention and resources [have] been paid to bullying. … This imbalance requires attention.”
Friday, May 1, 2015
The Office for Civil Rights has released its 2013-2014 report to Congress and the President. From my perspective, past reports have been dense and un-illuminating. This current one strikes a very different approach. First, it is very well written. Second, it is very well framed and organized. Third, and maybe most important, it is incredibly informative. Fourth, it is analytical. Fifth, it is visually appealing. Sixth, it implicitly suggests courses of action or concern. Overall, it presents as a study in the state of civil rights and equity in our nation's schools, rather than a bureaucratic account of the beans counted in the past two years.
May 1, 2015 in Bullying and Harassment, Discipline, Discrimination, English Language Learners, Equity in education, Federal policy, Gender, Racial Integration and Diversity, Special Education | Permalink | Comments (0)
Wednesday, April 29, 2015
Social science demonstrating that zero tolerance and harsh discipline are ineffective in achieving their goals of improved student behavior and deterrence is not new, but what is new is a growing parade of research demonstrating that zero tolerance and harsh discipline are actually counterproductive. In effect, they make student behavior and academic achievement worse. Last month, I posted a study finding that punitive discipline is associated with increases in student drug use. Another study by Brea Perry and Edward Morris, Suspending Progress: Collateral Consequences of Exclusionary Punishment in Public Schools, American Sociological Review, finds that punitive discipline negatively affects not only the student who is punished but his peers who are not. Their abstract explains:
Friday, April 24, 2015
Last month Derek cited a study correlating higher student marijuana use to schools in which administrators reported using out-of-school suspensions and students reported low policy enforcement. That has not slowed the use of such policies in some districts, however, as the Roanoke Times reports that an eleven year old student was disciplined under circumstances that seem excessive even under zero tolerance policies. Acting on a student tip, an assistant principal at Bedford Middle School (VA) found a green leaf and a lighter in a plastic baggie in a sixth grader's backpack at school last fall. School resource officers from the sheriff’s office field-tested the leaf, which tested negative for marijuana. The student was nevertheless arrested and charged as a juvenile for marijuana possession. Two further tests of the leaf confirmed that it was not marijuana. That confirmation that the bag contained an ordinary leaf was not the end of the matter, however. An administrator told the student's parents that the juvenile's charge dismissal did not resolve the school's zero tolerance policies, and the student was suspended for a year. After sixth months of online education and homeschooling, the student was permitted to return to school (albeit a different school) under strict probationary terms. The student's parents, a current and a retired teacher, have sued the district and the Sheriff's Office for due process violations and for malicious prosecution. The case reportedly has been sent to mediation. Read more about the case here.
Thursday, April 23, 2015
Jason A. Okonofua and Jennifer L. Eberhardt of Stanford University have published Two Strikes: Race and the Disciplining of Young Students, confirming what statistical analysis has long suggested: that whether and how a student is disciplined is heavily influenced by subconscious racial biases. Their abstract explains:
There are large racial disparities in school discipline in the United States, which, for Black students, not only contribute to school failure but also can lay a path toward incarceration. Although the disparities have been well documented, the psychological mechanisms underlying them are unclear. In two experiments, we tested the hypothesis that such disparities are, in part, driven by racial stereotypes that can lead teachers to escalate their negative responses to Black students over the course of multiple interpersonal (e.g., teacher-to-student) encounters. More generally, we argue that race not only can influence how perceivers interpret a specific behavior, but also can enhance perceivers’ detection of behavioral patterns across time. Finally, we discuss the theoretical and practical benefits of employing this novel approach to stereotyping across a range of real-world settings.
Read the full study here.
Wednesday, April 22, 2015
This February, the UCLA Civil Rights Project's school discipline study reported that Oklahoma City Public Schools district (OCPS) was one of the nation's ten highest highest-suspending districts for secondary school students. Yesterday, OCPS Superintendent Rob Neu announced plans to reduce the district's 3,000 annual suspensions through behavior programs and by shortening the length of suspensions. Neu was responding to the results of the district's internal audit which confirmed some of the UCLA report's findings. That study noted that OCPS' suspension rate for minorities exceeded other districts surveyed, with 75 percent of African-American male high school students and 54 percent of African-American female high school students in the district suspended at least once in 2012, and 60 percent of Native American male and 40 percent Native American female high school suspended that year. Neu told the media that the district planned to respond to racial disparity in school suspensions by hiring more teachers and administrators of color and "become more culturally aware of the students that we’re serving.” Links to the OCPS audit are available here.
Thursday, April 16, 2015
Florida is considering a bill that would allow teachers to carry concealed weapons at school. The pros and cons of such bills have been rehearsed here, here, and here over the past several months. I am glad to report that one Osceola School Board member, who also happens to be an attorney, finally states the issue in the most simple terms possible. Sputnik News offers this summary:
Monday, April 13, 2015
A new study by the Center for Public Integrity collected law enforcement referrals for public schools in all fifty states and the District of Columbia. The variety across states was startling. Ohio, Nevada, and D.C. only referred one percent of their students to law enforcement (1.9, 1.3, and 1.2 percent respectively). Virginia topped the list, referring 15.8 percent of all students, which is 13 times the rate of D.C. Six more states had rates above 10 percent.
The analysis of sub-populations was also troubling. Virginia referred 25 percent of its African American students (which is 16 times the rate of DC) and 33 percent of its disabled students--a number so high that one must wonder if there is an error in the data or if Virginia is under-identifying students with non-behavioral disabilities (which could skew the referral number upward). Wyoming referred 32 percent of African Americans. In short, the state-by-state comparisons show not all states find law enforcement to be a necessary aspect of school discipline, but others integrate it as part of their standard operating procedure.
Thursday, March 26, 2015
The University of Chicago Consortium on Chicago School Research has released its newest report on discipline in Chicago public schools. The reports are monitoring the efficacy of Chicago's move away from harsh discipline toward more restorative justice practices. It is not all good news, as suspension rates are still high, but the general trend is positive and discipline rates continue to fall. Alex Nitkin offers this summary:
[The report] found that students and teachers report feeling safer as harsh discipline practices have eased. That’s another good-news finding, since some observers feared that cutting arrests and suspensions would worsen school climate and security.
However, the report also notes that Chicago still has a lot of work to do to further reduce suspensions of young black men, who are still the most likely to be kicked out of school for discipline reasons. One-third of black males received an out-of-school suspension last year, compared to 13 percent of Latino boys and 6 percent of white and Asian boys.
Other Consortium findings:
- Some schools are replacing out-of-school suspensions with in-school suspensions: Out-of-school suspensions for black male students declined by about 3 percent, while in-school suspensions rose by 7 percent. Most other groups also saw slight increases.
- Most suspensions in high schools are handed down for “defiance,” with only a third the result of fights or other threats to safety. The report notes that with so few suspensions for physical altercations, schools probably have more room to cut suspensions without compromising safety—but teachers need training on how to deal with students they perceive as being disrespectful.
- The overall arrest rate for high school and middle-grades students was 2 percent, but the rate for black males was double that, according to Chicago Police Department data analyzed by the Consortium. Schools called police for just 43 percent of serious incidents that require police notification under the district’s discipline code.
One troubling fact is that the Consortium still could not get access to complete discipline data from charter schools. This missing data, of course, is also crucial to yesterday's post about comparing urban charters' academic achievement to that of traditional public schools.
Tuesday, March 24, 2015
A steady stream of studies have demonstrated zero tolerance and harsh discipline policies do not achieve their goals. They do not improve student behavior. They do not make schools safer. In some instances, they just make matters worse. Those studies have tended to focus on the aggregate school climate. A new study makes far more specific and shocking findings, so shocking that one might struggle to process them.
Tracy Evans-Whipp and her co-authors' new study, Longitudinal Effects of School Drug Policies on Student Marijuana Use in Washington State and Victoria, Australia, finds that the:
Likelihood of student marijuana use was higher in schools in which administrators reported using out-of-school suspension and students reported low policy enforcement. Student marijuana use was less likely where students reported receiving abstinence messages at school and students violating school policy were counseled about the dangers of marijuana use.
Suspending kids actually increased the odds of drug use by 60 percent-- even for kids who weren't suspended, but attended the school were suspension was the policy. "That was surprising to us," said co-author Richard Catalano in a press release. "It means that suspensions are certainly not having a deterrent effect. It’s just the opposite." And according to Catalano and his colleagues, suspensions "related to unintended negative outcomes for the suspended student, such as disengagement from school, delinquency or antisocial behavior, smoking, and alcohol and drug use."
The Arkansas Law Review's symposium issue on education (presumably celebrating the 60th Anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education) is now available on westlaw. The essays and articles offer a historical narrative spanning from segregation to current policies that divert funds and attention away from the education of poor and minority students to incarceration. Each is summarized below.
Peter C. Alexander, Seeking Educational Equality in the North: The Integration of the Hillburn School System, 68 Ark. L. Rev. 13 (2015).
Peter Alexander, uses the example of his small hometown of Hillburn, NY to discuss the history of segregation and integration in the north. Alexander points out that "[m]uch attention has been paid to segregated schools in the South, but surprisingly little has been written about segregated schools that existed north of the Mason-Dixon Line." However, even racially-diverse, small northern towns like Hillburn, which has a population of only about 1000 people, had segregated schools. "Curiously, the local high school was in the neighboring village of Suffern, New York, and it was integrated; however, children in the Hillburn schools were divided by race until the ninth grade." Nevertheless, Hillburn was not unique in its decision to segregate. Alexander points out that neighboring counties in New York, as well as numerous districts in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and many more norther states had segregated school. "The reasons segregated schools existed outside of the South varied from community to community." For some districts, it made geographic sense to segregate, as was the case in Hillburn. Alexander also discusses how economic demographics came into play as a rationale for segregation. Throughout the article, Alexander uses Hillburn's journey from segregation to integration as an example of the challenges that many northern cities and towns faced when making that transition.
Ellen Marrus, Education in Black America: Is It the New Jim Crow?, 68 Ark. L. Rev. 27 (2015).
Friday, March 20, 2015
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.
Wednesday, March 11, 2015
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).
Tuesday, March 10, 2015
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."
Friday, March 6, 2015
Connecticut Sees Overall Decrease in Student Suspensions, But State BOE Concerned About Rise in Younger Students' Discipline Rates
The 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.
Monday, March 2, 2015
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.
Tuesday, January 27, 2015
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.
Monday, January 12, 2015
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.