Thursday, September 17, 2015

ED Exploring Borrower Defenses, Including State Deceptive Practices Laws, Against Loan Repayment

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.

September 17, 2015 in Federal policy, News | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

The Education Research Alliance Issues Report on the New Orleans Teacher Workforce

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.

August 26, 2015 in News | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Detroit Public Schools Files Civil Rights Complaint Against Michigan Gov. Rick Synder

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.

August 11, 2015 in Discrimination, News | Permalink | Comments (0)

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.

August 6, 2015 in News | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

ED Plans Pell Grant Pilot Program for Prisoners

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.

July 29, 2015 in News | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Settlement Reached For Student Expelled After Protesting College's Parking Deck Plans

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.

July 28, 2015 in Cases, First Amendment, News | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Legal News on IDEA, School Prayer, and Taxpayer Funding for School Board's Political Activities

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, 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.

July 21, 2015 in News | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

ProPublica on What Fisher Is Really About

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.

July 8, 2015 in News | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, June 29, 2015

Supreme Court Will Revisit Diversity Admissions Policies in Fisher v. UT Austin

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.

June 29, 2015 in Cases, News | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Texas Repeals Controversial Truancy Law

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.

June 23, 2015 in News, State law developments | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Local District Says Collective Bargaining Clause on Teachers' Evaluations Trumps New Florida Law

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.

June 9, 2015 in News, Teachers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, June 5, 2015

Flagler County, FL District Settles Discrimination Complaint About Discipline Practices

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.

June 5, 2015 in Discipline, Discrimination, News | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Education Department to Fund Study on Efficacy of Online Community College Courses

The Department of Education reportedly plans to fund a $1.6 million study to review the effectiveness of online community education, following a number of smaller studies that have found that some students are less likely to complete or to do well in online courses. Last year, the Public Policy Institute of California's study of online community college courses found that student success rates in online courses are between 11 and 14 percentage points lower than in traditional courses. The PPIC's study was noteworthy as California has the nation's largest postsecondary education system. Some good news in the PPIC study found that students who take at least some online courses were more likely than those who take only traditional courses to earn an associate’s degree or to transfer to a four-year institution. More data is available in a 2013 study at Columbia University, Teachers College, Di Xu & Shanna Smith Jaggars, Examining the Effectiveness of Online Learning Within a Community College System: An Instrumental Variable Approach.

June 4, 2015 in Higher education, News | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Miccosukee Indian School First Tribal School To Receive Flexibility Waiver Under NCLB

Quoted from The Department of Education announced in a press release Monday that the Miccosukee Indian School (MIS), the only school of the Miccosukee Indian Tribe, has received flexibility from the Elementary and Secondary Education Act/No Child Left Behind. The waiver allows the tribe to use a different definition of Adequate Yearly Progress than the State of Florida where it is located. The MIS is funded by the Department of Interior's Bureau of Indian Education and educates approximately 150 K-12 students. Secretary Arne Duncan says that the waiver allows the tribe to define its own academic and culturally-relevant strategies to reach students. Although the graduation rate increased four percent for Indian youth in recent years, the ED noted that the BIE school graduation rate is 53 percent, compared with 83 percent nationwide. The ED's efforts supports an initiative of the White House Council on Native American Affairs to restructure the BIE from a provider of education to an education service-provider to tribes.

June 3, 2015 in ESEA/NCLB, News | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, May 29, 2015

New Budget Proposal Will Create Two Systems of Public Schools Says Wisconsin Superintendent

Wisconsin education superintendent Tony Evers criticized budget proposals that could bring big changes to the state's public school system. Evers told media yesterday that the proposed 2016-17 budget "erodes the basic foundation of Wisconsin's public school system." Evers said that proposed budget will not be enough to counter inflation public school funding in the first year; in the second year, much of a proposed increase will go to expand the state's school voucher program. Moreover, much of the voucher money will subsidize private school costs for families whose children already attend private school, Evers said. Evers criticized another late addition to the education budget that allows each school district to set its own licensing requirements for new teachers. Evers says that proposal is "breathtaking in its stupidity," because it could allow people to teach without a degree or even a high school diploma and bar the state from imposing any other requirements, including criminal history or background checks. Listen to more of Evers' comments here.

May 29, 2015 in News | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

U.S. Supreme Court Denies Certiorari in New Orleans Teachers' Challenge to Termination After Katrina

The U.S. Supreme Court denied the plaintiffs’ certiorari petition in Oliver v. Orleans Parish Sch. Bd. on Monday, ending the class action suit for 7,600 former New Orleans teachers and school employees. The teachers and other school employees claimed that Louisiana violated due process when the state terminated them after Hurricane Katrina and took over of 102 of the Orleans Parish’s 126 schools. Overturning the Louisiana Court of Appeals decision, the Louisiana Supreme Court below held last fall that the plaintiffs’ claims were barred by res judicata and that the Orleans Parish School Board did not violate the employees’ due process rights by failing to recall them after Hurricane Katrina. The Louisiana Supreme Court held that the plaintiffs’ claims were the subject matter of an earlier settlement between the OPSB and the Orleans Parish’s teachers’ union, the United Teachers of New Orleans (UTNO)—which included three persons who were also class members in Oliver case—and thus barred by res judicata. On the due process claim, the court found that the issues presented by Hurricane Katrina were so unique that there were only 526 positions available for the over 7,600 class members. Acknowledging that there was no recall list for teachers temporarily displaced by Katrina, the court found that OPSB’s employee hotline to communicate to determine which employees could return to work when the schools re-opened, while imperfect, was sufficient to satisfy due process. Finally, the court found that the plaintiffs had no constitutionally protected property interest in the right to “priority consideration” for employment with a third party, the Recovery School District. The Louisiana Supreme Court's decision is here.

May 19, 2015 in Cases, News | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, May 18, 2015

Asian–American Group’s Complaint Attacks Harvard's Admissions Standards

A group representing Asian-American applicants to elite colleges filed a complaint Friday with the Departments of Justice and Education alleging that Harvard University and other private elite colleges discriminate against Asian-American applicants. The complaint by the Coalition of Asian-American Associations, a group of 64 organizations, is based on data from the lawsuit of the Students for Fair Admissions, Inc. filed last November. The group’s complaint is backed by Edward Blum and the team that represented plaintiff Abigail Fisher in Fisher v. Univ. of Texas at Austin. The complainants ask the government to require Harvard to, among other things to 1) stop using racial quotas or racial balancing in its admissions process, 2) limit subjective components in admissions for education purposes only (rather than for racial balancing), and provide more disclosure of its applicant pool qualifications. The Chronicle of Higher Education has posted the complaint here. The complaint’s introduction sums up the group’s concerns:

Over the last two decades, Asian-American applicants to Harvard University and other Ivy League colleges have increasingly experienced discrimination in the admissions process. Many Asian-American students who have almost perfect SAT scores, top 1% GPAs, plus significant awards or leadership positions in various extracurricular activities have been rejected by Harvard University and other Ivy League Colleges while similarly situated applicants of other races have been admitted. Because of this discrimination, it has become especially difficult for high performing male Asian-American students to gain admission to Harvard University and other Ivy League colleges.

Continue reading

May 18, 2015 in News | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Detroit Schools Plan to Create "Old" and "New" Compared to General Motors' Bankruptcy Model

Last week, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder's plan to rescue the Detroit Public Schools (DPS) from its nearly $500 million debt prompted a walkout protest by the city's teachers. This week the plan is being examined more closely. The Governor's plan creates two school districts. The first will made up of the current elected DPS Board members that will exist only to retire debt, much like the General Motors bankruptcy model. The plan creates a new district that will absorb all of the city's students, employees, buildings, and labor contracts called the City of Detroit Education District (CDED). The CDED will be governed by a seven member board appointed by the Governor and Detroit's mayor. Currently, Detroit mayor Mike Duggan opposes the current plan, saying that he sees no reason to continue the state's longtime control of Detroit's schools when that control has failed over the last four years. School districts statewide also oppose the plan, worried that raising extra money will essentially require Michigan's school districts to pay $50 per pupil to avoid raising taxes. Interestingly, Detroit's newspapers on opposite sides of the political spectrum argue that Gov. Snyder's plan should given a chance. Read the Detroit Free Press and the Detroit News' editorials here and here.

May 5, 2015 in News | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, May 4, 2015

OECD Suggests "Regulated School Choice" Reform for Sweden

Sweden has been an enthusiastic model for school voucher and choice programs around the world. This week, a new report reopens the debate about Sweden's school choice reforms that may contain lessons for similar efforts in the United States. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) published the report on Swedish education that in part faults school choice for Sweden's declining performance on international assessments. The OECD report was prompted when Sweden's student performance on the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), dropped significantly from near the OECD average in 2000 to significantly below average in 2012-- the sharpest decline among the 65 participating countries and economies.  In Improving Schools in Sweden: An OECD Perspective, the OECD found that Sweden's school choice reforms were too loosely regulated and that education quality may have suffered from the lack of oversight. The report also points to school choice as a contributor to almost half of Sweden's children from immigrant backgrounds (48%) failing to make a passing grade in mathematics on the PISA. The OECD suggests that Sweden regulate private voucher programs and charters more closely to maintain education quality and improve how disadvantaged families receive information about schools, because the OECD is concerned that disadvantaged families may be overlooking better-ranked schools to stay in more familiar (and at times, more ethnically and socio-economically segregated) environments. When this debate started years ago, economists argued that no one could tell what prompted the decline in Sweden's PISA scores because the country started so many different reforms at once. One economist faulted that the country's largely unregulated entry and oversight in implementing charters and private school voucher programs; another argued that Sweden's schools were hampered in designing their own curriculum and teaching methods. In a Slate article a few years ago, the New Orleans Recovery District Superintendent acknowledged that part of that district's success came from district administrators (rather than market pressures) deciding which charters could stay open and from recruiting top quality teachers and administrators from around the country to start a new district nearly from the ground up, situations unlikely to be replicated in most districts in the nation. Read more about the OECD report and Sweden's response here.

May 4, 2015 in Charters and Vouchers, News | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, April 24, 2015

School Suspends Sixth Grader for a Year for Possessing Leaf Found Not to Be Marijuana

Japanesemapleleaf_thumbnailLast month Derek cited a study correlating higher student marijuana use to schools in which administrators reported using out-of-school suspensions and students reported low policy enforcement. That has not slowed the use of such policies in some districts, however, as the Roanoke Times reports that an eleven year old student was disciplined under circumstances that seem excessive even under zero tolerance policies. Acting on a student tip, an assistant principal at Bedford Middle School (VA) found a green leaf and a lighter in a plastic baggie in a sixth grader's backpack at school last fall. School resource officers from the sheriff’s office field-tested the leaf, which tested negative for marijuana. The student was nevertheless arrested and charged as a juvenile for marijuana possession. Two further tests of the leaf confirmed that it was not marijuana. That confirmation that the bag contained an ordinary leaf was not the end of the matter, however. An administrator told the student's parents that the juvenile's charge dismissal did not resolve the school's zero tolerance policies, and the student was suspended for a year. After sixth months of online education and homeschooling, the student was permitted to return to school (albeit a different school) under strict probationary terms. The student's parents, a current and a retired teacher, have sued the district and the Sheriff's Office for due process violations and for malicious prosecution. The case reportedly has been sent to mediation. Read more about the case here.

April 24, 2015 in Discipline, News | Permalink | Comments (0)