Wednesday, December 9, 2015
Tennessee Lawsuit Accuses Nashville Schools of Removing Students From Classes To Raise District's Year-End Exam Scores
In a short complaint filed this week in Tennessee Chancery Court, a student alleges that that the Nashville Metropolitan Public Schools' uses a "cynical and self-serving" practice of prematurely removing students from classes that the district anticipates that students will fail in violation of due process and their state constitutional rights to an education. The student, Toni Jones, states that she was removed from an algebra class after she performed poorly on a practice test that the district used to predict students' performances on final exams. She was passing her algebra class, but alleges that because of the district's policy, she fell behind her peers and was not promoted to the next grade. Jones was placed in an online remedial math course, but she states that the class did not assist her as much as an in-person instruction would have, and she was thus unprepared for the next term's geometry class. The complaint contends that the Nashville Metro district removes students from classes prematurely to "fraudulently inflate its End-of-Course scores." The complaint is on Scribd here.
Wednesday, December 2, 2015
The Huffington Post reports that Senators Elizabeth Warren, Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), and Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) scolded the Education and Justice Departments Monday for the government's recent settlement with the Education Management Corporation (EDMC), the for-profit college company accused of using illegal recruiting practices to persuade students to take on massive loan debt for degrees that frequently did not lead to profitable careers. In the recent settlement with the government and four states, EDMC settled claims that it ran employed recruiters to pressure students to attend its its schools, including The Art Institutes, Argosy University, Brown Mackie College and South University. In the letter, Sen. Warren took ED Secretary Duncan to task for stating to the press after the settlement that EDMC's actions were "not misrepresentations to students," and thus, its students may not be eligible for debt relief programs. Sen. Warren's letter argued that student debt relief should have been part of EDMC's $95.5 million settlement with the government or that the company should have been required to admit wrongdoing. Instead, Warren wrote, EDMC's fine was less than one percent of the estimated $11 billion in student loan aid that the company fraudulently received, and because there was no admission of guilt, none of EDMC's individual executives will be prosecuted. Letting the company's executives off the hook conflicts with the Justice Department's "Individual Accountability for Corporate Wrongdoing," policy announced this September, Warren noted. The letter request that the ED and the DOJ respond to the Senators' concerns by December 17.
Friday, November 6, 2015
The New York Times reported yesterday that five students have sued Brooklyn's Achievement First Charter School, alleging that the charter school has failed to provide federally-mandated special education services to students with disabilities. One plaintiff, a mother of a special education student at the school, stated that her child had not received paraprofessional services to which he was entitled for a year. Achievement First is part of a network with schools in New York, Connecticut and Rhode Island. The suit also accuses Achievement First of improperly disciplining special education students, such as on one occasion, sending a third grader to a second grade classroom as punishment for misbehavior. Attorneys for the plaintiffs, the New York Legal Assistance Group, allege that the problems at Achievement First arise in part from the charter network's culture of strict discipline for even minor infractions, which can result in punishing special education students for behaviors related to their disabilities. The NY Times story is here.
Tuesday, November 3, 2015
ED: School District's Continuing Refusal to Allow Transgender Student to Use Girls' Locker Room Violates Title IX
Last Friday Derek's posted about the federal government's amicus brief in support of a transgender's student request to use restrooms that were consistent with his or her gender identity. The Office for Civil Rights delivered the administration's position again yesterday when it told an Illinois school district that denying a transgender student access to facilities consistent with the student’s gender violated Title IX. OCR found that Township High School District 211 in Palatine, Ill., unlawfully denied a transgender student access to gender-appropriate school facilities in violation of Title IX. The district had offered a few alternate facilities to allow the student to dress for athletics and physical education classes, but all of the facilities involved isolating the student from the other female students in the school's locker rooms. The district placed the student in a single-occupancy bathroom to which the student had to walk past fitness and weight rooms when male students were present. Moreover, the student told OCR investigators, using the separate bathroom made her feel "ostracized." For its part, District 211 officials have said they allow transgender students to have access to the bathrooms of the gender they identify if there are stalls, but not to locker rooms where students are undressing. As Professor Sacha Coupet (Civitas Child Law Center, Loyola) summed up the district's position, "it's still a matter of opposite-sex body parts being in a gender-specific space." After the district tried other accommodations short of giving the student access to the female locker rooms, OCR and the district reached an impasse. OCR rejected the district's explanation that it separated the student to protect the privacy of other students. In its Nov. 2 letter, OCR gave the district thirty days to come up with a satisfactory solution or risk jeopardizing its federal funding. The OCR letter, courtesy of the Chicago Tribune, is here.
Wednesday, October 28, 2015
Earlier this summer the Washington Post reported that a U.K. based English tutoring school changed its name from ISIS Schools to prevent confusion with the terror group called ISIS. Many companies around the world are doing that. What stood out was the ease with which ISIS Schools did it, compared with the hand-wringing that we go through in the United States to replace offensive or anachronistic school names. California just took a step forward Sunday with Governor Jerry Brown signing the California Racial Mascots Act, which prohibits public schools from using the term Redskins as a school or athletic team name, mascot, or nickname beginning January 1, 2017. California the first state to ban the use of the term "Redskins." Gov. Brown declined, however, to sign SB 539, which would have prohibited "the use of an elected leader or senior military officer of the Confederate States of America to name state or local property." Gov. Brown said in a veto statement that "[l]ocal governments are laboratories of democracy which are quite capable of deciding for themselves which of their buildings and parks should be named, and after whom."
Friday, October 9, 2015
Cribbed from the Northwest Arkansas Democrat Gazette: Another suit challenging the Arkansas Board of Education's decision to assume control of the Little Rock School District (LRSD) was filed Wednesday, this time in federal court. The federal complaint was filed by parents and students in the Little Rock district and two former school board members who were displaced after the state's January takeover of the district, after which a state court complaint was filed by the same attorney who represents the complainants in the federal case. The federal suit alleges that LRSD's black students suffered racial discrimination after a federal court held that the district had achieved unitary status in 2007, by being disciplined more harshly than their white peers, being educated in inadequate facilities, having their elected school board stripped of power, and by the district's building new schools away from majority-black areas. The complaint also notes that in the LRSD schools with a majority-white student body, the percentage of minority teachers are low (see graphic, courtesy of the Arkansas Times). The suit requests that the school board be restored, that LSRD be enjoined from opening a new school in west Little Rock (a majority-white area), and that the state be enjoined from approving new charter schools until the LRSD has a "constitutionally adequate" facilities plan. The Arkansas Times has posted an unofficial copy of the complaint in Doe v. Arkansas Dept. of Ed. here.
Tuesday, October 6, 2015
Following Education Secretary Arne Duncan's announcement last week that he is stepping down in December, eyes have turned towards Duncan's successor, John King. Here's U.S. News and World Report's 5 Things to Know about the New Education Secretary:
1. King was most recently the commissioner of New York state public schools. In this role, King oversaw New York's schools during a period of tumultuous change driven largely by the state's winning of a federal Race to the Top grant. He supervised the implementation of the Common Core State Standards, new teacher evaluations based in part on student test scores and the expansion of charter schools, among many other significant policy changes.
2. King says he owes his life to public school teachers: "Education can be the difference between life and death," King said last week during a press conference at the White House where President Barack Obama introduced him as the new acting education secretary. "I know that's true because it was for me. New York City public schools teachers are the reason I am alive. They are the reason I became a teacher and the reason I'm standing here today." King had a difficult childhood. By the age of 12, both of his parents, who were public school teachers, had died. After that, he lived with his half-brother, who had alcohol problems, and later his aunt and uncle. School, he said, was his sanctuary.
3. King has gone to battle with teachers unions: Like his predecessor Duncan, King had to stand up to teachers unions while commissioner of New York's public schools, a stance that hasn't historically been the norm for Democrats. In 2014, the state teachers union called for his resignation, and he's not exactly being welcomed into his new role with open union arms, either. "We are disappointed to hear that Deputy Secretary of Education John King Jr. will be appointed as the acting secretary," Randi Weingarten, American Federation of Teachers, said last week in a statement. "No one doubts John's commitment to children, but his tenure as New York state's education commissioner created so much polarization in the state with parents and educators alike that even Gov. Andrew Cuomo is finally doing a mea culpa over the obsession with testing. We can only hope that King has learned a thing or two since his tenure in New York."
4. King is big on charter schools: In 1999, King founded a charter school just outside Boston – the Roxbury Preparatory Charter School – that became the highest-performing urban middle school in Massachusetts. He helped open several others in New York City as the managing director of Uncommon Schools, a nonprofit charter management organization that focuses on closing achievement gaps and preparing low-income students for college. The organization oversees 24 schools throughout the city, as well as in upstate New York, Newark, New Jersey, and Boston.
5. King hasn't been OK'd by Congress for his current position and probably won't be the permanent secretary: When King first came on board at the Education Department, he was a "senior adviser" who was delegated the duties of the deputy secretary, even though he'd been tapped to replace Jim Shelton, who at the time was second-in-command at the department. His adviser title allowed him to shirk congressional approval, a laborious and increasingly political process. When Duncan says his final goodbye to the department in December, King's new position will be acting secretary, which once again will allow him to serve during the remaining year of the Obama administration without getting the OK from Congress.
Thursday, October 1, 2015
The Ninth Circuit Takes The Middle Ground In O'Bannon v. NCAA, But The Case for College Athletes' Compensation Is Still Open
The Ninth Circuit decided O'Bannon v. NCAA yesterday, upholding the district court's finding that the National Collegiate Athletic Association's restraints on what its member schools could pay Div. I college basketball and football players violated the antitrust laws, but vacating the lower court's remedy that would have required the NCAA to allow its member schools to pay student-athletes up to $5,000 per year in deferred compensation. The case arose when class plaintiffs, represented by former UCLA basketball player Ed O'Bannon, challenged the NCAA's rules against player compensation that prohibit college athletes from receiving any compensation to be eligible to play college sports. The NCAA's rules applied to players' names, likenesses, and images even after they finished school, which prompted the suit when O'Bannon and other athletes recognized their likenesses in NCAA-licensed video games. Last year, a California district court ruled that NCAA violated antitrust law by not allowing athletes to be paid for the use of their names and likeness and enjoined the NCAA from prohibiting its member schools from giving student-athletes scholarships up to the full cost of attendance at their respective schools and paying players $5,000 each year in deferred compensation to be held in trust while they were still eligible to play college sports. While the NCAA will be unhappy that the Ninth Circuit declined to exempt it from antitrust scrutiny because of its tradition of amateurism, it should be relieved that the panel credited its argument that amateurism is a legitimate procompetitive purpose that supports the NCAA's eligibility rules. The class plaintiffs, on the other hand, can claim partial victory for the Ninth Circuit's recognition that the NCAA's rules are"more restrictive than necessary to maintain its tradition of amateurism in support of the college sports market," thus providing more traction to help the pipeline of cases pressing for compensation for college athletes, including Jenkins v. NCAA. The Ninth Circuit stressed that its opinion was limited and that it did not want to change college sports into another minor league of professional sports. Mark Edelman at Forbes thinks that the plaintiffs lost this case during the bench trial below in not countering the NCAA's study showing that that its rules increased consumer demand among fans to attend college sporting events - an important pro-competitive benefit. Read the Ninth Circuit's opinion in O'Bannon v. NCAA here.
Thursday, September 17, 2015
The Huffington Post reports on an ED notice extending its information-gathering efforts about possible borrower's defenses for student loan debt from non-traditional or unaccredited post-secondary schools. With the recent troubles of some for-profit schools, including the massive Corinthian College network, the Obama administration has been looking for avenues of debt relief for students of those institutions. In its September 17 notice, the ED seeks continued collection of information from borrowers who believe they have cause to invoke the borrower defenses against repayment of a student loan as noted in regulation 34 CFR 685.206(c)(i) which states in part that “[i]n any proceeding to collect on a Direct Loan, the borrower may assert as a defense against repayment, an act or omission of the school attended by the student that would give rise to a cause of action against the school under applicable State law.” The ED notes that "[p]rior to 2015, the borrower defense identified above was rarely asserted by any borrowers and no specific methods of collecting information was defined or found necessary," prompting, Huffington Post writer Steve Rhode writes, "clever attorneys to show how the schools violated state unfair and deceptive practice laws and that could possibly lead to an elimination of the student loans in full." Read the story at the Huffington Post here and the ED's notice here.
Wednesday, August 26, 2015
The Education Research Alliance for New Orleans (Tulane) has released a report, Significant Changes in the New Orleans Teacher Workforce, on the city's attempts to attract teachers. Many of the city's veteran teachers were fired post-Hurricane Katrina; they lost their suit to regain their positions. Those teachers were replaced, in large part, by short-term teachers from outside of the area who planned to move on after a few years. New Orleans is now trying to recruit minorities and local teachers who may better reflect the city's student population. The report discusses the city's efforts to do that and why it matters. The report is available here.
Tuesday, August 11, 2015
Members of the Detroit Public Schools board has filed a Title VI complaint with the Justice Department against Michigan and Gov. Rick Synder for discriminatory and retaliatory policies that affect the city's minority students, the Detroit Free Press reports. In the 450-page complaint, DPS members allege that Gov. Snyder’s appointed emergency managers have denied the civil rights of DPS students, teachers, and the public by creating “separate and unequal treatment for [the district's] African-American” students. The complaint is the latest salvo in a long-running disagreement between DPS and the governor's office, which DPS accuses of dismantling the city's school system and driving families out of the district to find schools. For twelve of the last fifteen years, appointed emergency managers has had oversight of the district, leaving little power to the DPS board. In the complaint, the DPS board allege that the emergency managers "have engaged in a pattern of discriminatory conduct aimed at ultimately privatizing the district." The DOJ complaint also cites the emergency managers of ignoring warnings about former City Council president Charles Pugh being allowed to mentor teenage boys before the district was sued last year for sexual harassment by a teen with whom Pugh allegedly engaged in "sexting." We have not seen the entire complaint, but DPS has posted an abridged version here.
Thursday, August 6, 2015
Senators Call for An Investigation Into ED's Review Of Compliance With Servicemembers' Student Loan Law
Senators are calling for an investigation into the Education Department's finding that lenders complied with the law requiring student loan relief for military personnel. In a letter to Inspector General Kathleen Tighe, senators Elizabeth Warren (Mass.), Patty Murray (Wash.) and Richard Blumenthal (Conn.) charge that the ED seriously underestimated how often lenders overcharged military personnel in repayment rates under the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA), including a provision limiting the amount of interest on military personnel student loans to no more than 6%. The ED found SCRA violations in less that 1% of the military student loan files of lenders such as Navient, Great Lakes, Nelnet and American Education Services. Those findings conflict with the DOJ and FDIC's May 2014 investigation into student loans servicing that resulted in a $100 million fine against servicer Navient. The senators say that the ED's findings also do not square with their independent investigation. Read the senators' letter here and Washington Post's coverage here.
Wednesday, July 29, 2015
Inside Higher Ed reports that ED Secretary Arne Duncan is expected to announce an experimental sites program this week for prisoners to receive Pell Grants to take college courses. The Prisoner Reentry (Moving Forward) program will grant a limited waiver to a provision in the 1994 Omnibus Crime Bill, in which Congress prohibited prisoners in state and federal prisons from receiving Pell Grants. The administration's program will allow prisoners at 6-7 sites who are within three years of release to participate in a credit-bearing program "that leads to an industry-recognized credential with labor market value," according to the administration's program summary. Secretary Duncan and Attorney General Loretta Lynch are expected to make the announcement at Goucher College's prison education program at the Maryland Correctional Institution on Friday.
Tuesday, July 28, 2015
A settlement has been reached in Barnes v. Zaccari, the long-running case in which a Valdosta State University (Ga.) student was expelled in 2007 after he protested the VSU president's plans to build a new parking deck. After a letter-writing campaign opposing the environmental impact of VSU's parking deck plans, student Thomas Barnes posted a collage on his Facebook page titled “S.A.V.E.—Zaccari Memorial Parking Garage” that included a portrait of then-VSU President Ronald Zaccari. (A copy of the collage can be found here.) Zaccari interpreted the word "memorial" to apply to deceased persons, therefore signaling that Barnes contemplated harm to him. He ordered that Barnes be "administratively withdrawn" from VSU because Barnes presented a “clear and present danger” to the campus. Barnes sued Zaccari in federal court, claiming violations of his due process and free speech rights. The district court denied Zaccari's summary judgment motion based on qualified immunity. A federal district court denied Barnes' First Amendment retaliation claim, finding that because it was pled as a conspiracy claim and VSU's administrators opposed Zaccari's actions, there was no agreement to form a conspiracy. In 2013, a federal jury found the collage was innocuous expression, finding Zaccari personally liable for $50,000 for violating Barnes's rights. In January 2015, the Eleventh Circuit held that the district court erred in granting summary judgment in Zaccari's favor on the First Amendment retaliation claim. Barnes v. Zaccari, 592 Fed.Appx. 859 (11th Cir. 2015). VSU apparently has decided that it is done fighting the case. Read more about the settlement at the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education here.
Tuesday, July 21, 2015
Second Circuit Holds That School District Must Provide Full Value of Compensatory Services Under IDEA, Not Just Lesser Value of What Parents Could Afford
In Doe v. E. Lyme Bd. of Educ., No. 14-1261-CV, 2015 WL 3916265 (2d Cir. June 26, 2015), a Connecticut school board and a student’s parents disagreed over the proper placement and special education services. The parents placed their child in private school while pursuing remedies under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. During the administrative proceedings and subsequent litigation, the school board refused to pay for the student’s special education services, which were not available at her private school. The Second Circuit affirmed the district court’s finding that the school board’s action denied the student a free and appropriate education and affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment awarding no relief as to the FAPE claim because private school was an inappropriate placement because it did not offer special education services. The Second Circuit held that the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act’s requirement for a school district to maintain a stay-put placement is triggered when an administrative due process proceeding is initiated, not when an impasse is reached, The circuit court also held that when a school district commits a stay-put violation, it must reimburse or provide compensatory education for the full value of services that the district was required to fund, not the (lesser) value of services that the student’s parent was able to afford.
Alabama State Auditor’s Suit Dismissed Against School Board That Spent Public Funds Rallying for Property Tax Referendum
An Alabama judge has reportedly dismissed a lawsuit brought by the state auditor who challenged the Baldwin Co., Ala. school board’s spending public funds on a campaign to rally for increased property taxes to fund school construction. State Auditor Jim Zeigler sued in May seeking a ruling on whether school boards could use taxpayer money to fund political activities. Zeigler also sought $250,000 in restitution for the funds that the Baldwin County School System spent on a failed referendum for the property tax increase. According to al.com, state circuit court judge Greg Griffin said that "if political activity included all issue advocacy" then public officials couldn't push in favor of things such as crime bills, changes to state voting laws or tax increases or decreases. The news report is here.
Advocacy Group Reaches Settlement With Georgia District Over School Prayer
A settlement has reportedly been reached settling the lawsuit brought against the to stop coaches from leading Christian prayers before sports and other school-sponsored activities. The American Humanist Association sued in the Northern District of Georgia alleging that the Hall County (Georgia) school district allowed its faculty and coaches to pray with students and insert Biblical passages in sports promotional materials. In last week’s settlement with the school district, Hall County Schools will reinforce “the standards for religious neutrality” required under the First Amendment and hold a constitutional rights training session for administrators. Read more here.
Wednesday, July 8, 2015
Nikole Hannah-Jones at ProPublica published her take on the cert grant in Fisher v. Univ. of Texas at Austin recently in A Colorblind Constitution: What Abigail Fisher's Affirmative Action Case Is Really About, reminding us of a few facts that ought to influence the Supreme Court's next Fisher decision:
1) because UT Austin's policy of admitting the top ten percent of Texas' high school graduates claimed 92% of in-state freshman seats, Fisher faced stiff competition for admission with all other in-state applicants for the remaining eight percent;
2) while some students with lower test scores and grades than Fisher were provisionally admitted, only five of those students were black or Latino; 42 were white;
3) Fisher's lawyers concede, as they must, that Fisher's race was likely not a significant factor in UT denying her admission.
Instead, Hannah-Jones writes, what Fisher's lawyers want is a referendum on whether the equal protection clause "also prohibits the use of race to help them overcome the nation's legacy of racism." Read more at ProPublica here.
Monday, June 29, 2015
The Supreme Court granted certiorari today in Fisher v. Univ. of Texas to revisit race-conscious admissions policies at the University of Texas at Austin. The Supreme Court remanded the Fisher case in 2013 for the Fifth Circuit to conduct a "searching examination" of whether UT's policies were narrowly tailored to serve a compelling government interest. The Chronicle of Higher Education reports that in addition to the Fifth Circuit's upholding UT's policy, the justices may also consider new evidence that then-UT Austin President William C. Powers Jr. intervened on behalf of well-connected applicants (the elephant in the room for racial diversity policies in college admissions). The Chronicle of Higher Education's story is here.
Tuesday, June 23, 2015
Last weekend, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed legislation ending Texas' criminal penalties for the "failure to attend school" law. The controversial law made Texas one of two states that prosecuted schoolchildren (and their parents) when students skipped school or class without a valid excuse. Last year, for example, Texas reportedly prosecuted 100,000 children and their parents for truancy. Now, instead of treating truancy as a Class C misdemeanor, the new law requires schools to address students’ truancy problems, such as homelessness, illness, or other difficulties, before referring students to court. Additionally, truancy matters will now be referred to civil rather than criminal court. With a coalition led by legislators and Texas Appleseed, H.B. 2398 received broad-based support from Texas Association of School Boards, the Texas Association of Business, the Juvenile Justice Association of Texas, Texas Justices of the Peace & Constables Association, and the Texas PTA. Texas was under investigation by the Department of Justice for the truancy law this spring, and a class action suit was filed challenging the law. Read more about the bill at the Courthouse News Service here and H.B. 2398 here.
Tuesday, June 9, 2015
Florida Gov. Rick Scott acquiesced in April to complaints that teachers' evaluations were too heavily weighted to how well their students performed on state standardized tests, signing into law a measure to the reduce the percentage that student scores made up of teachers' evaluations from half to one-third. But one Florida county, Polk County, recently announced that student standardized scores would have no impact on its teachers' evaluations this year. Polk County says that it is bound by a clause in a collective bargaining agreement with a teachers union and therefore it cannot follow state law. The clause prevents the Polk County school district from using student scores as a job-performance factor until both the district and the union, the Polk Education Association, mutually agree on the evaluation system. If the contract provision prevails, similar clauses could impact Florida's teacher evaluation system throughout the state. Read the article about the district's stance here.
Friday, June 5, 2015
Flagler County Schools (FL) agreed to change its disciplinary practices after being sued for racial discrimination against African-American students, reports the Daytona Beach News-Journal. The Southern Poverty Law Center filed a complaint against Flagler Co. Schools in 2012 for removing and arresting black students more harshly than white students. The complaint alleged in the 2010-11 school year, black students made up 16% of the Flagler Co.'s school population, but were 31% of the in-school and out-of-school suspensions and 69% of expelled students. The complaint also alleged that black students were retained at a disproportionate rate of 22%. Flagler Co. school officials told the media that it will, subject to the school board's approval, reduce out-of-school suspensions and form a citizens’ committee to monitor discipline practices. The district also reportedly agreed to reserve out-of-school suspensions for situations when there’s a safety concern, and require district approval for suspensions lasting five days or more. Starting in August 2016, the district will require approval for any suspension of three days or more and consider eliminating out-of-school suspensions altogether.