Monday, October 20, 2014
The U.S. Department of Education published the final regulations for the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013 (VAWA) amendments to the Clery Act today. Below is the Clery Center's summary of college campuses' expanded obligations to report, investigate, and resolve incidents of sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence, and stalking under the new regulations, which require colleges to:
- agree on the law enforcement agencies that will investigate alleged criminal offenses;
- include statements in campus written policies about sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence, and stalking;
- provide prevention and awareness programs for incoming students and new employees and provide written information to victims;
- allow victims and accused persons to have an advisor, including an attorney, accompany them to meetings;
- establish procedures to follow when an incident of sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence, or stalking is reported; and
- set procedures for institutional disciplinary action in cases of alleged dating violence, domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking;
- disclose in their annual statistics the total number of crimes that were "unfounded”;
- include gender identity and national origin as two new categories of bias for a determination of a hate crime; and
- use updated sex offenses definitions that more closely align with the FBI’s updated definitions and terminology.
Friday, October 17, 2014
Protestors blocked Philadelphia's Broad Street this week to object to the Philadelphia School Reform Commission's unilateral cancellation of teachers' union contacts earlier this month over whether teachers must pay for their health care. Teachers say that they do not necessarily object to sacrifices to service the district's $81 million debt, but believe that SRC acted unilaterally to end the teachers' union as a part of a contining effort to dismantle Philadelphia's schools, including the district's "doomsday budget," nurse and counselor shortages, and school closings. Unilateral action means that the SRC did not have to prove that ending healthcare coverage justifies cancelling teacher contracts, even if it is true that the district will save a predicted $44 million. SRC Chair William J. Green told media that the SRC participated in 21 months of negotiations with the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, and other unions had made similar concessions.
Tuesday, October 14, 2014
Justice Department Intervenes in Case of Female Student Who Was Sexually Assaulted While Being Used as "Bait" to Catch Male Student Suspected of Sexual Misconduct
The Department of Justice filed an amicus brief at the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals last month in the case of a female special needs student who was used as "bait" to try to catch a male student suspected of sexual misconduct at an Alabama middle school. In the case, a teacher's aide at Sparkman Middle School convinced a 14-year-old female special needs student to agree to a plan to enter a bathroom with a 16-year-old male student with a history of sexual and violent misconduct. According to the plan, other teachers would be present in the bathroom to catch the male student “in the act” of sexual misconduct before anything happened. The plan was devised to gather proof after the school received reports of the 16-year-old trying to convince girls on the school's "special needs corridor" to have sex with him. The school also had some reports of sex attacks by the male student, but the number is unknown as the school had a policy of destroying documentation of reported attacks later found to be "uncorroborated." The female student was initially reluctant to participate in the plan, but was eventually persuaded by a teacher's aide, June Simpson. Tragically, when the female student met the 16-year-old in the bathroom, no teachers were present to intervene, and the student was violently sexually assaulted. Because there was authorities decided that there was no proof of a forcible assault because the female entered the bathroom voluntarily (although the student was found to have anal bleeding and tearing), the male student was not prosecuted. (He was suspended for five days, but later returned to Sparkman.) One school administrator later testified in a federal court that the female student was "responsible for herself" once she entered the bathroom.
The female student withdrew from school and sued the Madison County school district in federal court. Last December, the district court granted summary judgment for the school district, concluding that school administrators lacked actual notice of sexual harassment and misconduct by the male student and that administrators were not deliberately indifferent to male student’s history of sexual and violent misconduct under Title IX. The student appealed. The DOJ has intervened as amicus on appeal challenging the district court's findings. In its brief, the DOJ takes the school system to task for its policy of destroying records of proven offenses by a student after the close of a current school year and all complaints found to be unsubstantiated regardless of when they occurred. "As a result," the DOJ brief notes, "school administrators could not consider patterns of prior accusations and were forced to rely largely on memory, which they admitted was “flawed” when deciding appropriate corrective measures for repeat offenders[.]" Read the DOJ brief here.
Wednesday, October 8, 2014
Supreme Court Requests Brief from Solicitor General on School Districts' Financial "Stay Put" Obligations
Hat tip to the Disability Scoop blog, which posted this news from the U.S. Supreme Court: On Monday, the Supreme Court asked the Solicitor General to address a pending certiorari petition on the issue of school districts' responsibility to pay private school tuition while special education disputes are litigated on appeal. Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act’s “stay-put” provision, school districts are responsible for paying for a student to remain in an existing educational placement while disputes related to the child’s special education services are resolved. At issue in the petition before the Court, M.R. v. Ridley School District, is whether a school district's financial responsibility dissolves if the parents do not request reimbursement for their out-of-pocket private school costs until after an administrative decision in their favor has been reversed by a court upon further review. The Third Circuit held this February in the case that the Ridley School District (Philadelphia area) had to pay private school tuition for the student while the child’s family continued to appeal their dispute, even though a lower court found in favor of the district -- that the public school provided an appropriate education. A circuit split has developed about whether the stay-put provision applies during the pendency of appeals, with the D.C. Circuit, Sixth Circuit, and district courts in Delaware and the Eastern District of Pennsylvania holding that a school district "need not continue to fund a student's pendent placement beyond district court review," and the Ninth Circuit and a N.J. district court allowing reimbursement through appeal. The National Association of State Directors of Special Education, the National School Boards Association and the Pennsylvania School Boards Association have filed amicus briefs at the Supreme Court arguing that schools should be relieved of the responsibility to pay for private school placements once a court finds in a district’s favor. The Third Circuit decision is M.R. v. Ridley Sch. Dist., 744 F.3d 112, 119 (3d Cir. 2014).
Thursday, October 2, 2014
Researchers Argue that Wealthy Parents' "Aggressive" Education Spending Contributes to Nation's Wealth Gap
Most Americans would likely agree with economist Thomas Piketty's statement that education “is the most powerful equalizing force in the long run.” An AP article this week explores affluent parents' efforts to make their childrens' education more equal by paying a premium to live in top public school districts, paying for private school, and hiring tutors. In fact, private school tuition at top schools appears to be recession-proof: the article states that between 2007 and 2011, enrollment at the most expensive private elementary and secondary schools jumped 36 percent even as private school enrollment fell overall. The article notes that "[a]ffluent parents tend to get what they pay for: Their children score 125 points higher on SATs than those from the poorest homes, up from a gap of 90 points during the 1980s, according to research by Sean Reardon, a Stanford professor. “The worry is that it becomes a feedback loop, where the children of the rich do the best in school, and those who do best in school become rich,” Reardon said. No blame should be placed upon parents who want to invest in their children, but it also doubtless driving political efforts for subsidized tax scholarhips and voucher programs to assuage less affluent voters who want success for their children too. Read the AP article: School spending by affluent is widening the wealth gap.
Wednesday, September 24, 2014
The L.A. Times reports an interesting lawsuit in which a former student is suing her high school for passing her through to graduation after she suffered a traumatic brain injury. The Times reports that the student, Crystal Morales, has asked a federal court to invalidate her high school diploma because the school "cheated her out of a quality education by boosting her grades and waiving assignments after she suffered a traumatic brain injury her senior year." Morales was a senior at Newport Harbor High School in 2011 when she was hit by a drunk driver outside of the school. Morales returned to school three months later but when she was re-integrated into a regular classroom, she was not required to turn in assignments. Morales wanted to graduate with her friends in the senior class and did so, but now alleges that the school did not appropriately educate her given her disability. Read more about the suit at the L.A. Times website here.
Monday, September 8, 2014
Parents Sue After High School Students Were Expelled for Social Media Postings Mistaken for Gang Activity
Parents of four African American high school students filed a section 1983 lawsuit last week against an Ohio school district and police officers after the students were expelled for making alleged gang hand signs in online pictures and rap videos on social media. The lawsuit alleges that in April 2014, administrators at Colerain High School in Ohio asked police to detain African-American students for several hours for questioning about the students' social media postings as a “proactive approach by the District to squelch" gang rumors. The school investigation started after media coverage of an unrelated shooting by an African American Colerain student this spring. School administrators received complaints from parents who were "uncomfortable" about images and online rap videos on social media depicting other African-American students who attended Colerain High School, including the four plaintiffs. One of the online rap videos was made by a group of students who called themselves "The Money Gang," which some parents of other students mistook to be an actual gang organization. The complaint states that one of the online rap videos was part of a class assignment for which the student received an A. Responding to pressure from the concerned parents, the school and police gathered the four African American students as part of an investigation into the “Money Gang,” which the suit alleges was "nothing more than the name used by a group of African-American students when performing music videos outside of school hours." The suit, E.H., et al., v. Northwest Local School District, No. 1:14-CV-694 (filed Sept. 2, 2014, S.D. Ohio), requests injunctive relief expunging any record of school discipline given to plaintiffs and compensatory damages.
Thursday, August 28, 2014
Following Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal's decision this week to sue the federal government over Common Core, yesterday a central Florida county board of education opted out of all state-mandated testing in what a board member called “an act of civil disobedience," the Ft. Myers News-Press reports. Supporters at the Lee County school board meeting saw the vote as a protest against the Common Core standardized testing standards. Florida’s Lee County became the first school district in the state to boycott state standardized testing, which are called the Next Generation Sunshine State Standards. The Sunshine State Standards are acknowledged to be a rebranded (and lightly-altered) version of Common Core after the state withdrew from the CC standards. Lee County Superintendent Nancy Graham responded to the county school board vote saying, "I am gravely concerned about the decision that was made tonight, and I'll try to make sense of this.” The Florida Department of Education has a number of ways that it can respond to Lee County Board’s noncompliance, including removing board members, pulling funding and rewards programs, not awarding standard diplomas, and ending opportunity scholarships. Because the Lee County school board’s attorney outlined those consequences for the members, it is yet unsure whether Lee County will hold its stance or is simply making a political statement about Common Core. Read more here and here.
Tuesday, August 26, 2014
ACLU Challenges Massachusetts School District's Policy That Requires Some to Pay to Use School-Provided iPads at Home
The Associated Press reports that the ACLU has filed a complaint with the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education challenging a school's policy that allows allows students identified as qualifying for free or reduced price meals to take school-provided iPads home, but requires other students to pay for the devices if they want to take them out of school. Under the district's reported policy, if parents do not wish to pay for an iPad, their child may only use the device at school. ACLU-Massachusetts deputy legal director Sarah Wunsch told the AP that Massachusetts' Mendon-Upton School District was violating the law by not providing equal access to educational resources. This particular issue is likely to be resolved quickly by the district's changing its policy, but the discrepancy does highlight a recurring problem in public education: pressure on parents to subsidize educational intiatives that school districts cannot truly afford. The ACLU complaint in Massachusetts is part of a longstanding efforts to investigate "two-tiered educational systems": a higher tiers for those who could pay for technology, field trips, course fees, etc., and a lesser one for those who cannot. (See Pay-to-Learn: An Investigation of Mandatory Fees for Educational Activities in California's Public Schools, August 2010.) This issue was highlighted earlier this year in The Hidden Cost of Public Education--a four-part series by education advocate and journalist Trisha Powell Crain. In the series, Crain focuses on Alabama, but the trend of public education fee creep is applicable nationwide. To see Crain's take on schools' "required" dues and fees, go here.
Wednesday, August 20, 2014
A Louisiana judge yesterday enjoined Gov. Bobby Jindal's move to block the implementation of the Common Core standards in Louisiana. The judge's grant of a preliminary injunction in favor of a New Orleans charter school group and the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education comes after Gov. Jindal threatened to cancel the state procurement contract with with the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC), the testing group that develops exams based on the standards. In the suit, Jindal argued that the BESE violated state procurement law in its contract with PARCC and delegated its authority to set education policy to an outside party. Gov. Jindal's position conflicted with that of state education superintendent Jim White, who is a Jindal appointee. Gov. Jindal became a staunch critic of the Common Core standards this year, saying that the standards reflected the federal government meddling in state education. Judge Todd Hernandez cited the disruption to education at the start of the school year as influencing his decision, writing that "[t]he loss of time is irreparable. With each passing day teachers and parents lose time preparing students for high stake testing, and there is a lot riding on the student's successful performance on these tests." Gov. Jindal's staff told the New Orleans Times-Picayune that he will appeal. Read the opinion here.
Tuesday, August 12, 2014
NPR reports this week on New Orleans officially becoming the first major city with an all-charter school district, as we posted earlier this summer. While the Recovery School District's reports of significant gains is encouraging - student performance on standardized math and reading have increased from 23 percent in 2007 to 57 percent in 2013 performing at grade level - other districts have remained cautious about ditching traditional public schools. First, the city's school system was in deep crisis pre-Katrina, prompting a state takeover of New Orleans' schools two years before the hurricane. And the RSD has been supported by federal and private funds and support in amount that the traditional schools did not have. Further, RSD continues to face troubling accusations about what it had to do to get those gains, including charges that its charters suspend and expel students for minor infractions, that some charter schools have not served special education students well, and that the city may have to pay $1.5 billion to compensate the public school teachers fired after Katrina. While traditional school districts face the same problems, those districts may not have the same freedom to be selective about students or the levels of financial and political support that RSD has received. Listen to the NPR story here.
Friday, August 1, 2014
A bipartisan group of senators introduced a bill this week that would fine college for mismanaging campus rape investigations. The Campus Safety and Accountability Act is the result of a review by Senators Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) of campus rape policies, which, predictably, were all over the place regarding investigation procedures, burdens of proof, and sanctions. Of note is the bill's prohibition on schools disciplining students who reveal a violation of campus rules, such as underage drinking, when reporting a sexual violence claim and the Clery Act penalty if a college is found non-compliant: a fine up to 1% of the institution's operating revenue. After the jump is the bill's one page release summarizing its provisions.
Friday, July 25, 2014
This fall marks the opening of a nationwide opportunity to provide free breakfasts and lunches to K-12 students under the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) plan. The CEP plan has been phased in select areas since the 2011-12 school year, but is available to all states this academic year. An important issue for school districts (and one reason why some districts were cautious about participating in the CEP plan), is how they will show eligibility for Title I funds if they no longer have the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) applications to show income levels. The USDA and the Education Department recognized these concerns in a January 2014 guidance document, noting that local governments (and researchers) use the percentage of “economically disadvantaged students to show a school’s eligibility to receive Title I funds, to allocate funds to selected schools, and to calculate the amount generated for Title I services to eligible private school students.” The ED’s January 2014 guidance suggested a couple of alternatives, including multiplying the number of students identified by direct certification programs school by 1.6 or for a district to rank all of its schools on the percentage of students directly certified through SNAP (or another direct certification measure available annually) in both Community Eligibility and non-Community Eligibility schools. The CEP alternative plan grew out of the Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act of 2010 and the Richard B. Russell National School Lunch Act to provide free meals in high poverty local educational agencies (LEAs) and schools. The USDA hopes to provide an alternative to the need for local school districts to obtain eligibility data from families through a separate collection or making parents apply for free or reduced price meals. Instead, districts may use "direct certification" data (the percentage of families in a district using needs-based programs -- such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program) to determine the federal cash reimbursement for school lunches provided by the USDA.
Thursday, July 17, 2014
A mysterious group called Cal200 has filed class action lawsuits against 3 dozen California school districts for failing to providing students with the 200 minutes of PE every 10 days required by state law (an average of 20 minutes a day). Cal200 has no apparent connection to education or the school districts that it is suing, which include Los Angeles Unified — the second-largest school district in the nation — San Francisco Unified, Riverside Unified, San Bernardino City Unified, Palm Springs Unified, and Desert Sands Unified. Cal200's president has refused to provide details about its membership or history. Little information is available on Cal200's website, leading the president of the Palm Springs Teachers Association to conclude that "this lawsuit is low-hanging fruit. Everybody knows that PE has been pushed aside. People saw this coming, and it was avoidable." In April, a risk management organization warned California school districts about Cal200 -- that the organization requests teachers' lesson plans through a public records request, then sues based on the information provided. The Desert Sun reports:
A few years ago, as the economic recession whittled away at state education funding, many elementary schools shifted more of the responsibility for PE onto classroom teachers. Under this system, students would spend a limited amount of time with a specialized PE teacher once or twice a week, and then their regular teacher would add more physical activity into the classroom routine.
The plan works on paper... but in reality, many teachers are stretched too thin to provide the PE minutes. Teachers are under constant pressure to produce high-testing students, so some have sacrificed PE minutes so they could have extra time for English or math[.]
Read more at the Desert Sun here.
Monday, July 14, 2014
DOJ Reaches Agreement with Jefferson County, La. Parish Schools to End Discriminatory Practices Against Latino Students
The Jefferson Parish Public School System in Louisiana (JPPSS) reached an agreement with the Departments of Justice and Education last week to ensure that students can enroll in school regardless of their or their parents' national origin or immigration status. The agreement follows the suggestions in the agencies' May 18 Dear Colleague Letter reminding districts of the permissible means to verify a student's age, residency, and immunizations without discouraging enrollment based on national origin or immigration status. The case arises from a 2012 civil rights complaint filed by the Southern Poverty Law Center alleging discrimination in Jefferson Parish against Latino students, including one school telling a high school student that she could not graduate unless she showed proof of a social security number before her graduation, not providing interpreters for Spanish-speaking parents at parent-teacher conferences, and allowing school staff to use racial slurs when referring to students. The SPLC noted then that Latino students made up about 17 percent of the Jefferson Parish school district's students, and limited English proficiency students were about eight percent of the enrollment. Among the terms of the three-year agreement between the DOJ/DOE and JPPSS, the district has agreed to revise enrollment and registration materials and policies to ensure they do not exclude or discourage students from enrolling based on citizenship or immigration status; ensure that parents and students are not asked to produce any document that requires proof of citizenship or immigration status in order to enroll or graduate; and implement a translation and interpretation policy to ensure that LEP parents receive essential information in a language they understand. More information on the agreement is at the DOJ's site here.
Tuesday, July 1, 2014
A U.S. District Court Judge pulled few punches yesterday in rejecting Huntsville, AL's attempts to rezone its school districts in the 51-year-old desegregation lawsuit, Hereford v. Huntsville. The Huntsville city school board moved the U.S. District Court to approve a proposed student assignment plan. Instead, U.S. District Judge Madeline Hughes Haikala took the opportunity in an 107-page opinion to "chart a course towards a declaration of unitary status," something that school districts in desegregation suits are sometimes reluctant to pursue. In Hereford, Huntsville City Schools proposed to redraw school zone lines and reassign students after new school construction and closures. The U.S. Justice Department objected, arguing that the plan would combine two majority black high schools and result in studnts being placed in more segregated environments. The court not only agreed with the DOJ's assessment, but also gently chided the Justice Department for not being tougher with Huntsville as racial inequities have crept into the school system in reading and math proficiency rates, graduation rates, and AP class assignments during its decades of oversight. The court also tapped Huntsville City Schools on the wrist for accusing the DOJ's alternative student reassignment plans on its website as being needlessly complicated, saying that the DOJ plan would result in numerous feeder splits (the court noted that the government's plan in fact has none) and issuing a misleading warning that the district would lose Title I funding under the DOJ plan. Judge Haikala ordered the school board to take down the misleading information about the plans. Ultimately finding problems with both parties' proposals, the court sent the parties back to the table, this time with a magistrate judge as a mediator. In the opinion, the court outlined the "ABC's of Public School Desegregation in the 21st Century" to work towards the present problem - school rezoning - and to resolve the decades-old problem - developing an equitable and unitary system: A for attendance zones; B for building a unitary system; and and C for "for Conduct that Demonstrates Good Faith." The latter point appears to result from the court's observation that Huntsville City Schools have not been fully candid about its reasons for rezoning. The court cited a statement made by the board superitendent in an unguarded moment that students from the predominantly African-American high school “[would] be going into schools that are not accustomed to dealing with students who are below grade level.” Read the opinion in Hereford v. Huntsville here.
Thursday, June 26, 2014
Yesterday, Education Secretary Arne Duncan announced a "major shift" in the way that the ED measures how well states are educating the nation's 6.5 million special education students. In keeping with the administration's accountability focus, the shift is in how the Department measures state's compliance with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) from focusing on whether states have met the IDEA's procedural requirements to charting the reading and math proficiency of students with disabilities. Michael Yudin, Acting Assistant Secretary for the Office of Special Education, wrote on ED.gov that while "the vast majority of students in special education do not have significant cognitive impairments that prohibit them from learning rigorous academic content, fewer than 10 percent of eighth graders with disabilities are proficient in reading and math on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). Too often, students’ educational opportunities are limited by low expectations." Using the new yardstick of student performance, while 40 states are compliant with the IDEA's core procedural requirements, only 18 states would be compliant under the ED's new student reading and math proficiency standards. See the chart at IDEA State Determinations Under Results Driven Accountability: 2014.
Monday, June 23, 2014
Corinthian Colleges Inc. has been in a few state attorneys generals' crosshairs for consumer fraud, predatory practices, and subprime student loans, so today's announcement that the education company has reached a tentative agreement with the U.S. Department of Education to avoid shutdown is unsuprising. Corinthian Colleges ran afoul of the U.S. government when it failed to timely provide requested data "to address inconsistencies in the company’s job placement claims for graduates, as well as grade and attendance records" to regulators. Corinthian faced immediate shut-down of its 107 campuses after the government threatened to stop federal student aid to Corinthian's students. Under the proposed agreement, which will be finalized on July 1, Corinthian will phase out or sell its campuses. The ED has agreed to immediately release $16 million in federal student aid for students currently enrolled at Corinthian campuses, in exchange for Corinthian to provide enrollment documentation. Read more at ED.gov here.
Thursday, June 19, 2014
The now well-publicized federal lawsuit filed this week by a former high school student after he was suspended for a two-word post highlights the continuing difficulties that school officials have regulating off-campus internet speech. The student, Reid Sagehom, was suspended from Rogers High School in Minnesota for his response to an anonymous question on an unofficial student website asking if he had made out with a female school teacher. Sagehom responded, sarcastically, he says, “Actually yeah.” The school then recommended Sagehom be suspended, ultimately for ten weeks, because he “damaged a teacher's reputation.” Sagehom filed a complaint on Tuesday alleging that his speech was protected and that the subsequent events to the post, including being referred for prosecution and publicly upbraided by a police chief, violated his First and Fourteenth Amendment rights. Sagehom's complaint may likely never reach the decision stage, but raises issues that continue to bedevil the federal courts -- when does students' off-campus internet speech actually cause a substantial disruption to the educational environment under Tinker? Read the complaint in Sagehom v. Independent School District No. 728, 2014 WL 2724866 (D.Minn. June 17, 2014) here.
Monday, June 9, 2014
Following a number of school religious expression bills introduced in state legislatures in the last year, the North Carolina House passed a bill last week that allows public school students to pray, express religious viewpoints, pass out religious materials, and assemble "as is given to other noncurricular groups without discrimination based on the religious content of the students' expression." The N.C. House approved S.B. 370, which also provides that school employees who are viewing student religious expression "shall not be disrespectful of the student exercise of such rights and may adopt a respectful posture." The bill will have to return to the state senate for final approval, where it is expected to pass. The ACLU of North Carolina released a statement objecting to the bill's language which it says could leave school officials unclear about the rules, particularly as adopting "a respectful posture" could communicate approval of one religious view above others. In application, the legislation is certain to highlight the tension between the Establishment and the Free Speech and Exercise Clauses that currently require public school officials to show neutrality in their treatment of religion and not inhibit student expression of privately-held views as long as that expression does not infringe upon the rights of others. For an overview of the constitutional issues, read the ED's Guidance on Constitutionally Protected Prayer in Public Elementary and Secondary Schools here.