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.
Thursday, June 5, 2014
In a decsion of interest to schools with professional graduate degree programs, a federal court has blocked Case Western Reserve University (CWRU) from withholding a medical student's degree because he failed to report a DWI arrest while he was in college. The Cleveland Plain Dealer reports that the student, Amir Al-Dabagh, was about to graduate and begin a dermatology residency on June 17 when CWRU told him that he would be dismissed from the medical school "for continued and serious breaches in the code of conduct and standards of professionalism." Al-Dabagh was convicted of a misdemeanor DWI (from the college arrest) this April, and while he did report the conviction to the hospital where he was working, CWRU learned of it before he had an opportunity to report it to the school. U.S. District Court Judge James Gwin wrote that CWRU "acted arbitrarily and capriciously in finding Al-Dabagh did not satisfy the core competency of "professionalism.'" Judge Gwin stated that CWRU recommended Al-Dabagh for a residency and told him that he would graduate with distinction for his research. While the school listed other misbehaviors as part of its consideration, several of the incidents were off-campus. While there was other misconduct related to the student's fitness to be a doctor, such as complaints from a patient's family, giving patient case summaries where he might not have personally examined the patient, and covering for late attendances, CWRU relied on the DWI prosecution as its basis to expel Al-Dabagh. Judge Gwin found that CWRU's finding that Al-Dabagh lacked professionalism to be a doctor was contradicted by the record, and that Al-Dabagh satisfied "all of the University requirements to graduate and receive his diploma." Read more at The Plain Dealer here.
Tuesday, June 3, 2014
The New Orleans Recovery School District (RSD) has become the first all-public charter school district in the nation, and among the commentators on the end of the city's traditional public schools, I wanted to mention Professor P.L. Thomas' recent blog post on "disaster capitalism" and New Orleans' charter school reinvention. Professor Thomas notes that RSD has some ways to go both as an experiment in education and as a model for school choice. On the first point, RSD's schools are low-rated -- the majority of RSD schools rank as “failing” schools under Louisiana's school ratings -- but concluding that RSD is a failure on those grounds is likely premature and more complicated than the state's letter grading system. Professor Thomas notes, "By most indicators, school quality and academic progress have improved in Katrina’s aftermath, although it’s difficult to make direct comparisons because the student population changed drastically after the hurricane, with thousands of students not returning." The Washington Post is also weighing on the second point, whether the RSD truly offers educational equity or school choice:
White students disproportionately attend the best charter schools, while the worst are almost exclusively populated by African American students. Activists in New Orleans joined with others in Detroit and Newark last month to file a federal civil rights complaint, alleging that the city’s best-performing schools have admissions policies that exclude African American children. Those schools are overseen by the separate Orleans Parish School Board, and they don’t participate in OneApp, the city’s centralized school enrollment lottery.
John White, former RSD superintendent and now the state’s superintendent of education, agrees that acess to the best schools is not equal in New Orleans, but calls attempts to challenge the system, such as the filing of the civil rights complaint last month that challenged educational equity in New Orleans, "a joke." The state is constitutionally prohibited from forcing schools to participate in One App.
Thursday, May 29, 2014
A state judge struck down struck down Alabama's tax credits law yesterday on state constitutional grounds. The Alabama Accountability Act gives tax credits for parents who move their children from failing public schools to private schools. Montgomery Judge Gene Reese ruled the Accountability Act violated the Alabama Constitution because it provided public funds for private education, put more than one subject in a bill, changed from its purpose of flexibility, which had virtually no cost, to potentially costing $40 million in annual tax credits. Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange says that his office will appeal the ruling. The Alabama Accountability Act has been troubled from its inception and hit more speed bumps in its implementation, as we have covered here and here. The tax credit law's reality as we posted here, is that tax credits are not feasible for students in "failing" schools to use to transfer when many students live in areas where there is no alternative non-failing public school or private school. According to the Alabama Revenue Department, taxpayers donated $25 million in 2013 to pay for scholarships through Scholarship Granting Organizations, or SGOs, for children leaving failing schools under the law. The Alabama Department of Education estimates that 52 students statewide transfered using tax credits to go to private schools. There were 78 schools on the Alabama failing schools list. Read the ruling here.
Tuesday, May 27, 2014
Consumer Law Group Sues to Disclose Amount ED Pays Private Collection Agencies for Student Loan Debt
The National Consumer Law Center (NCLC) sued the U.S. Department of Education under the Freedom of Information Act last week, seeking the amounts that the Department pays private student loan debt collection agencies. The NCLC says that private collection companies can get 11-percent commissions if they can get a delinquent loan rehabilitated, but may receive only $150 if they get a borrower into a forgiveness program. From the NCLC's release:
In March 2013, as part of efforts to protect student loan borrowers, attorneys with NCLC’s Student Loan Borrower Assistance Project requested that the Education Department turn over public information about the incentives it provides to its private debt collector contractors. ... Outsourcing debt collection activities is not cheap. Taxpayers paid about $1 billion in commissions to private student loan debt collectors just in 2011. Department projections show the outsourcing to private debt collectors growing to over $2 billion by 2016.
The suit was filed in federal district court in Boston. Read more here.
Friday, May 23, 2014
The Law School Admission Council (LSAC) settled a law suit this week to create new scoring practices and to compensate 6,000 students who requested testing accomodations on the Law School Admission Test (LSAT). The plaintiffs in Department of Fair Employment and Housing v. LSAC, Inc., et al., charged that over the past five years, LSAC "flagged" or annotated LSAT score reports for test takers who received accomodations for disabilities under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). LSAC agreed to enter a consent decree to pay $7.73 million in penalties for its practice of flagging LSAT score reports. In a press release, the DOJ stated that "unnecessarily “flagging” test scores obtained with certain testing accommodations in a way that identifies the test taker as a person with a disability and discloses otherwise confidential disability-related information to law schools during the admissions process. [Moreover,] LSAC’s practice of singling out persons with disabilities by flagging their scores – essentially announcing to law schools that examinees who exercise their civil right to the testing accommodation of extended time may not deserve the scores they received – is discrimination prohibited by the ADA." For example, the LSAC denied testing accomodations three times to a visually-impaired plaintiff who despite evidence that she attended a school for people who are blind and had received testing accommodations since kindergarten, the LSAC denied nearly all her requested accommodations and refused to provide her a large print test book. Read the DOJ Press Release here.
Tuesday, May 20, 2014
This Sunday's New York Times Magazine featured a story about the University of Texas' work to reduce the graduation gap between advantaged and disadvantaged students. Part of that work was based on psychological studies showing that students' success rates improved when they began to persuade themselves that they belonged at the school. UT created targeted academic support and a self-persuasion script for students who were susceptible to feeling that they did not belong. From the article:
Every college freshman — rich or poor, white or minority, first-generation or legacy — experiences academic setbacks and awkward moments when they feel they don’t belong. But white students and wealthy students and students with college-graduate parents tend not to take those moments too seriously or too personally. Sure, they still feel bad when they fail a test or get in a fight with a roommate or are turned down for a date. But in general, they don’t interpret those setbacks as a sign that they don’t belong in college or that they’re not going to succeed there.
It is only students facing the particular fears and anxieties and experiences of exclusion that come with being a minority — whether by race or by class — who are susceptible to this problem. Those students often misinterpret temporary setbacks as a permanent indication that they can’t succeed or don’t belong at U.T. For those students, the intervention can work as a kind of inoculation. And when, six months or two years later, the germs of self-doubt try to infect them, the lingering effect of the intervention allows them to shrug off those doubts exactly the way the advantaged students do.