Thursday, March 26, 2015

Dept. of Ed. May Be Thawing on Naming Colleges on Heightened Monitoring Status List

President Obama's administration has taken a great interest in protecting Americans from predatory practices, as evinced by his planned remarks on predatory lenders today in Alabama. The Education Department (and the Justice Dept.) have been watching a few higher education institutions where there have been accounting irregularities with federal funds. In keeping with those efforts, the Ed has placed 67 nonprofit and for-profit institutions on heightened cash-monitoring status, which means among other things that they are restricted from drawing Title IV funds until students receive disbursements from their institutions. The Ed will not reveal which colleges and universities are on its watch list, however, despite requests from Inside Higher Ed and other media to publish the list. Inside Higher Ed reports today that the administration is considering releasing that list. The Ed had not done so before because of the risk, quoting an unnamed Ed official to Higher Ed, that "any public release of the confidential financial standing of these institutions will likely cause the institutions substantial competitive injury.” When it is made public that an institution is on the list, as Computer Learning Centers (CLC) was before its closure, it can be subject to shareholder suits.

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

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Wisconsin AG Petitions In Support of Law Giving Governor Powers in Education Rulemaking

Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel has petitioned the state supreme court to reverse a finding that a new state law unconstitutionally removed powers from the state Superintendent of Public Instruction (SPI) in favor of the Governor. The law, called Act 21, required that the Governor approve the scope and drafts of new administrative rules proposed by the state education superintendent. In February, the Wisconsin Court of Appeals found that Act 21 unconstitutionally took away the SPI’s supervisory rule making power in public education. The case is Coyne v. Walker, No. 2013AP416, 2015 WL 686178 (Wis. Ct. App. Feb. 19, 2015).

 

 

March 24, 2015 in Cases, News | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, March 6, 2015

Connecticut Sees Overall Decrease in Student Suspensions, But State BOE Concerned About Rise in Younger Students' Discipline Rates

Screen Shot 2015-03-06 at 8.12.59 AMThe Connecticut Board of Education released a presentation this week reporting an overall  reduction in the state's suspension and expulsion rate for K-12 students. The state BOE reports that the number of suspensions and expulsions was reduced by 17.1% over the last five years, from 127,000 in 2009-10 to 105,000 in 2013-14. Connecticut BOE officials expressed concern, however, about the rising suspension rate of children younger than 7-- about a ten percent increase in out-of-school suspensions for younger children in the 2012-13 school year. Connecticut BOE Chair Allan Taylor told The Hartford Courant, "The under 7 numbers remain astounding. It strikes me that if a kid is that difficult to deal with, then it's a reason to be providing intensive support. There is no evil intent in kindergarten students and it's hard to see how taking that kid away from the place where he could be getting help is going to improve that child's prospects." Racial differences in statewide suspension rates remained steady, with more than 15 percent of black students and over ten percent of Latino students suspended or expelled last school year compared with fewer than five percent of white students suspended or expelled. See the full presentation, courtesy of NPR, here.

March 6, 2015 in Discipline, News | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Supreme Court Hears Oral Arguments to Decide Whether Teachers Act as Law Enforcement Agents When Interviewing Children About Suspected Abuse

Although the confrontation clause case that the U.S. Supreme Court heard this week is not an education case, Ohio v. Clark has important implications for teachers who interview children under abuse reporting statutes. In Clark, the Court will review an Ohio Supreme Court decision that day-care teachers and social workers should be treated as law enforcement agents because of a statutory  duty to report suspected child abuse or neglect. The case arose when teachers noticed that a three year old boy at daycare was bruised and withdrawn. The child reported to teachers that his mother's boyfriend caused the injuries. Further investigation revealed that the boy's younger sister also showed signs of abuse. The teachers and social workers testified at the boyfriend's trial about the child's report of abuse; the boy did not testify because of a state law presumption that children under age ten are incompetent to testify in court. The Ohio Supreme Court found that the teachers'  testimony about the child's statements violated the defendant's confrontation clause rights. Lyle Dennison at SCOTUSblog posted an analysis of the oral argument in the case this week, excerpted below:

Prosecutor Meyer came to the Court with a simple proposition: because the teacher is not a police officer, and not working for the police, she should be allowed to take the stand and recount the boy’s tale.  The Confrontation Clause, he argued, should only bar the use of evidence gathered by government agents if they don’t come to court.  A private citizen, he meant in his closing comment, is “just not the same” as a government agent like a police officer.

But Stanford law professor Jeffrey L. Fisher, speaking for the man convicted for harming that boy, asked the Court to provide a simple opportunity: give defense lawyers the same opportunity to talk with the little boy as the teacher, the police, and the prosecutors had as they prepared evidence for the trial.  There are ways to conduct an interview with even a small child, Fisher said, that will be sensitive and caring, and have a chance to test the reliability of any story the child told. Fisher’s own suggested approach to the Confrontation Clause was that, if an adult has heard the child’s accusations out of court, and was working within a system that ultimately leads those accusations to become evidence of a crime, the Confrontation Clause should govern.

March 4, 2015 in Cases, News, Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, January 16, 2015

DOJ Sues Chicago Bd. of Education Alleging that School Principal Terminated Pregnant Teachers

The Justice Department filed suit against the Chicago Board of Education in late December, alleging that an elementary school principal discriminated against pregnant teachers in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The complaint alleges that, from 2009 to 2012, a principal at a Chicago elementary school lowered the performance evaluations and moved to terminate eight teachers who announced their pregnancies. The principal also made negative comments to and about pregnant teachers at Scammon Elementary, including: “responding to a teacher's announcement of her pregnancy by saying, “I can't believe you are doing this to me. You are going to be out right before [mandatory] testing!;” asking a Scammon staff member if a teacher who had been pregnant was pregnant again; ignoring a teacher after the teacher announced her pregnancy; ignoring a teacher's request to meet regarding her upcoming maternity leave; repeatedly asking a teacher who was nursing and expressing breast milk questions such as, “That isn't over yet?” and “When will you be done with that?”; and stating that a teacher who requested an accommodation to express breast milk complained too much and was too high maintenance.” The complaint filed December 23, 2014, can be found at United States v. Chicago Board of Education, et. al, 2014 WL 7384980 (N.D.Ill.)

January 16, 2015 in Gender, News | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, December 12, 2014

SMU Enters Compliance Agreement with OCR to Correct Title IX Violations in Handling Sexual Assault and Harassment Complaints

The U.S. Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights (OCR), released its findings yesterday that Southern Methodist University (SMU) failed "to promptly and equitably respond to complaints, reports and/or incidents of gender and sexual harassment of which it had notice."  OCR's investigation letter is here. OCR investigated three complaints by SMU students between June 2011 and March 2013 alleging gender harassment, sexual harassment, and sexual assault. One complaint alleged that SMU violated Title IX when the school failed to appropriately respond to a male student's report that he had been sexually assaulted by another mail student, and that SMU also failed to protect him from the retaliatory actions of the alleged perpetrator’s fraternity brothers and friends. The victim was subjected to taunting and harassment on campus after reporting the sexual assault. SMU did not conduct its own investigation of the complainant’s sexual assault allegation, and the complainant alleges that the school discouraged him from reporting the incident to off-campus law enforcement. A second complaint was from a former SMU employee who alleged that SMU's policies subjected female students to sexual harassment and staff members who complained were retaliated against. Another complaint involved a SMU law student whose law professor referred to her during class sessions and meetings at his home as a “prom/beauty queen,” “hired bimbo,” “bitchy,” “catty,” and “doody blonde." Although SMU investigated the complaint and required the professor to receive sexual harassment training (but did not require the law professor to write a letter of apology to the complainant), OCR noted that SMU never informed the complainant of the results of its investigation. As part of its compliance agreement with OCR, SMU has agreed to:

  • Revise and, following the office's review and approval, finalize its "interim" Title IX grievance procedures.
  • Create a pocket-sized card for all SMU employees with information about how to support students who report sexual misconduct and a checklist for staff members who may meet with a student to outline their rights and the resources available; clearer protections against retaliation.
  • Develop bystander intervention training.
  • Develop a procedure for sharing information between the SMU police and the school's Title IX coordinator.
  • Notify students and employees about the university's Title IX coordinators and their contact information in its nondiscrimination notice and in other publications.
  • Track harassment reports, investigations, interim measures, and resolutions.
  • Train staff and students on the revised university policies and procedures.
  • Conduct annual climate surveys.
  • Reimburse the law student complainant for university-related expenses and counseling.

December 12, 2014 in Gender, News | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Arizona School Board Delays Plan to Redact Abortion References from Biology Textbooks

An Arizona school district joins Texas and Ohio in facing content-based challenges to school textbooks that Derek has discussed on this blog here and here. Arizona’s Gilbert Public Schools Governing Board has announced that it will delay deciding how to redact references to abortion in several of its textbooks, including a biology textbook used in the district’s honors classes. The Board members reportedly disagree about how to comply with an Arizona law that prohibits schools from presenting any information about elective abortion “that does not give preference, encouragement and support to childbirth and adoption as preferred options” (A.R.S. 15-115). The board voted 3-2 at an Oct. 28 meeting to redact pages from its textbooks given to students that do not offer childbirth and adoption as preferred options to elective abortions. Late in November, however,  some board members challenged whether A.R.S. 15-115 requires that all abortion references be removed (including terms such as “spontaneous abortion,” an alternate term for a miscarriage), or simply those that discuss elective abortions. Gilbert’s District Superintendent Christina Kishimoto has said that schools can keep the textbooks intact and still comply with the statute by offering instruction on abortion alternatives. The school board’s decision has attracted national media interest, including a coverage by the New York Times and MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow show.

December 9, 2014 in News, State law developments | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, December 5, 2014

Tucson’s Ethnic Studies Curriculum Caught in the Middle of State and Federal Oversight

Two years after the Tucson Unified School District (TUSD) ended its old Mexican-American Studies (MAS) curriculum, the district continues to be pulled between Arizona politicians’ disapproval of ethnic studies classes and TUSD’s efforts to show remedial progress in the federal desegregation case brought against the district in 1974. Arizona education officials increased the pressure on TUSD this Tuesday making a surprise visit to an ethnic studies class to determine if the district is violating a state law that prohibits any class that promotes “the overthrow of the United States government,” racial resentment, and “ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals” (HB 2281). After HB 2281 was passed and the state threatened to withhold ten percent of the district's funding, TUSD closed down the MAS program in 2012. TUSD’s school board subsequently began offering ethnic studies courses after a federal court ordered the district to develop a culturally responsive curriculum as a part of its remedial action in Fisher and Mendoza v. TUSD, the federal court desegregation case.

The state officials’ compliance visit was reportedly prompted by comments that a TUSD high school principal made at the National Association of Multicultural Educators that the district was once again offering culturally responsive classes. The Arizona education department wrote TUSD in late November, asking the district to turn over all assessments, assignments, lesson plans, student work, and materials used in classes that have a “culturally relevant” focus. 

Coincidentally, the officials’ visit comes on the heels of a new study linking the MAS program to higher student achievement. The study,  Missing the (Student Achievement) Forest for All the (Political) Trees: Empiricism and the Mexican American Studies Controversy in Tucson, links the defunct MAS program with increased graduation rates and standardized-testing results for students who participated in the program from 2006 to April 2012. The study by Nolan L. Cabrera, Jeffrey F. Milem, Ozan Jaquette, and Ronald W. Marx (Arizona) is available in the American Educational Research Journal here

Meanwhile, Arizona seeks to intervene in the desegregation case in Fisher, arguing that the state has an interest in ensuring that TUSD’s current ethnic studies classes do not “foster resegregation along ethnic and racial lines.” A Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals panel heard Arizona’s request to intervene in Fisher this November. Counsel for the Department of Justice opposes Arizona’s intervention, arguing to the Ninth Circuit panel that “Arizona has no ‘protectable interest in this suit’” because the MAS program was ended. The video of Arizona’s oral argument before the Ninth Circuit in November is here. The Ninth Circuit is scheduled to hear oral arguments in the main case in January. 

December 5, 2014 in News, Racial Integration and Diversity, State law developments | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Indiana Supreme Court Considers Arguments in Bus Fee Lawsuit

The Indiana Supreme Court heard arguments Monday in a class-action lawsuit alleging that a school corporation's decision to end free school bus transportation violated the state constitution's education clause. The state supreme court is reviewing the court of appeals' decision in Hoagland v. Franklin Twp. Cmty. Sch. Corp., holding that transportation to and from school is an integral "part of a uniform system of public education" under the Indiana Constitution. The court of appeals found that the school corporation, Franklin Township, acted unconstititionally in discontinuing its free school bus service and in contracting with a third party provider that required students to pay for transportation. The appellate court also noted that school corporations are obligated to provide free transportation for students with disabilities, homeless students, and students in foster care. The court of appeals saw no rationale to exclude any other student who needed transportation to school, even if the student was not in one of the mandatory transportation categories. The Indiana Supreme Court has held that a school corporation could not impose a student-services fee that included payment for school counselors, nurses, and security, because those services were part of a publicly-funded education. Nagy v. Evansville–Vanderburgh School Corp., 844 N.E.2d 481 (Ind. 2006). Franklin Township Community School Corporation cut its bus service after Indiana's public schools lost hundreds of millions of dollars when new property-tax caps went into effect in 2010. The Township later contracted with an educational service center to provide student transportation for an annual fee. The case set for argument is Hoagland v. Franklin Twp. Cmty. Sch. Corp., No. 49A02-1301-PL-44, 2014 WL 2580663 (Ind. Ct. App. June 10, 2014), transfer granted, opinion vacated, 2014 WL 5312934 (Ind. Oct. 16, 2014). Watch the oral argument online here.

November 26, 2014 in News, State law developments | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, November 21, 2014

Cadwalader Report on UNC Prompts Class Action Complaint Alleging "Shadow Curriculum" for Football Players

The NCAA faces interesting times as it defends its role as integrating student-athletes’ education with playing collegiate sports.  In the pending case before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, O’Bannon v. National Collegiate Athletic Association, No. 14-16601, the NCAA will defend its rules prohibiting compensation of student athletes by arguing that those rules protect students from exploitation. But the evidence is mounting that NCAA member schools are themselves exploiting students, and the NCAA will have to justify its amateurism defense against claims that colleges promise student-athletes an education through sports scholarships but are still failing to deliver on that promise for many players. A former University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC) student alleges just that point in a suit filed earlier this month. Former UNC football player Michael McAdoo filed a federal class action complaint against the school, alleging that the Cadwalader Report investigation, which found that that UNC faculty and staff created a “shadow curriculum” for its football players that required little or no academic rigor from 1993 until 2011, shows that UNC officials knew about and facilitated that curriculum. In his complaint, Mr. McAdoo alleges that he wanted to take criminal justice classes but when he arrived at UNC, but football players were steered into three majors: Exercise Sport Science, Communications, or African-American Studies. McAdoo states that he was told these were the only majors that would accommodate his football practice and playing schedule, and that the football program had “relationships” with professors in those departments. McAdoo seeks injunctive relief including, among other things, a court appointee to review football players’ academic schedules for five years and that UNC give four-year guaranteed scholarships to all football student-athletes. McAdoo has sued UNC before in state court after the school declared him ineligible to play college football after he was found to have committed academic misconduct. That complaint was dismissed. McAdoo’s class action complaint can be found on Westlaw: McAdoo v. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 2014 WL 5823326 (M.D.N.C.) (filed November 6, 2014).

November 21, 2014 in News | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Growing Challenges in Managing Charter School Closures: Are Charter School Oversight Laws to Blame?

The on-going spectacle surrounding the closure of Philadelphia's Walter D. Palmer Charter School highlights the challenges that states and school districts face when charter schools abruptly close. For Palmer, among other claims of financial mismanagement, the school was forced to close immediately this October when it enrolled 1,300 in grades K-12 although the Philadelphia school district was only required to reimburse Palmer for 675 students in grades K-8. Stories like Palmer's emergency closure stranding students during the school year are echoed around the country, but in isolation, those stories seem insignifcant and anecdotal. But as states begin to realize that they are not getting better academic outcomes if they saddle local public school districts with hundreds of extra students when a charter school closes abruptly, the laws authorizing charters and allowing them operate without significant oversight are being questioned this week in Florida (and more Florida here) and North Carolina. Education Week also reported last on Arizona's efforts to limit the damage when charter schools fail here.

November 13, 2014 in Charters and Vouchers, News | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

New Lawsuit Alleges that Pennsylvania’s School Funding Arrangement Denies Students an Adequate Education

Yesterday, plaintiffs in Pennsylvania sued to have the state's funding formula declared unconstitutional, alleging that the General Assembly has failed its state constitutional obligation to provide a "thorough and efficient" system of public education. Read the complaint and watch interviews with the plaintiffs at Thorough and Efficient, a joint blog of the Education Law Center of Pennsylvania and the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia. Cribbed from the plaintiffs' press release:

    The Education Law Center of Pennsylvania and the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia sued Monday on behalf of six school districts, parents, and two statewide associations against legislative leaders, state education officials, and the Governor for failing to uphold the General Assembly’s constitutional obligation to provide a "thorough and efficient" system of public ducation. According to the complaint, the Commonwealth has known for nearly a decade that Pennsylvania’s schools are badly underfunded.

    Beginning in 2011, however, state officials abandoned [a working] funding formula, reduced funding to districts by more than $860 million, and passed legislation to prevent local communities from increasing local funding. The complaint alleges that these actions have had devastating consequences for students, school districts, and the future of the Commonwealth. Districts across the state are unable to provide students with the basic elements of a quality education, including sufficient numbers of qualified teachers and staff, appropriate class sizes, suitable facilities, and up-to-date text books and technology. ...

    Plaintiffs allege that this underfunding and consequent underperformance has created a system of public education that is neither “thorough” nor “efficient,” nor “serves the needs of the Commonwealth.” In a second cause of action, the complaint alleges that the current way in which the Commonwealth funds public education denies students equal educational opportunities by creating gross funding disparities between wealthy and poor school districts.

 

Continue reading

November 11, 2014 in Cases, News, School Funding | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, November 3, 2014

Huntsville, AL District's Surveillance of Students' Online Activities Under Scrutiny

The Huntsville, Alabama school district is under media scrutiny for a secret program it started last year to monitor students' social media activity. Two of the five Huntsville school board members have said that they were never told about the program. The surveillance program, called SAFe (Students Against Fear), paid a consulting firm over half of a million dollars last year to monitor students' social media postings. SAFe is also being targeted by the Alabama ACLU for being used to discipline African-American students at a disproportionate rate. Al.com reports that of the 14 expulsions for infractions related to SAFe, 86% impacted African-American students; African-American students comprise about 40% of the school system. Huntsville City Schools Superintendent Casey Wardynski has said that since January, about 600 social media accounts of the district's 24,000 city students have been investigated for images of guns or gang signs on social media sites such as Facebook and Instagram. The SAFe program reportedly started when a high school student posted a series of jokes on Twitter at the end of his junior year that allegedly caught the attention of the National Security Agency. The NSA then called Huntsville to tell officials about a student making violent threats on social media, although the federal agency denies making the contact. The student's posts raised no national or international threat, but the NSA connection is suspected because one of the student's family members from Yemen was part of the group chatting with the student during the tweets. School security searched the student's car shortly after the school system was contacted and found a jeweled dagger from a Renaissance fair in the glove box. The student was expelled for the first semester of his senior year for threats and for a weapons violation. Taking a picture with a gun in Alabama may get you expelled, but in Nebraska, you may pose with one in your senior yearbook portrait, as long as it is done "tastefully."

November 3, 2014 in News | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Civil Rights Leadership Conference Urges ED to Maintain Rigorous Standards for NCLB Waivers

The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights wrote ED Secretary Arne Duncan yesterday to urge the Department to sustain its federal oversight and monitoring for states to earn Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) / No Child Left Behind waivers. The group expressed concern that without federal oversight, states would not establish procedures to support low-achieving students in schools missing their testing or graduation rate targets. The group asked Secretary Duncan "to safeguard the rights and interests of the intended beneficiaries of Title I" by approving a state’s waiver request or extension only if the state meets the following conditions:

1.The waiver plan has been reviewed and recommended for approval by a peer review process that is transparent and inclusive of all stakeholders, and particularly of individuals who represent underserved students and families, including English learners and students with disabilities.

2.The state has and will maintain a statewide accountability system that includes:

    1. Annual numerical targets for all students in all subgroups and all schools and school districts for academic achievement, high school completion and college readiness.
    2. Effective interventions and supports when one or more subgroups in a school or school district miss these targets.
    3. Statewide annual assessments that are aligned with college and career-ready standards and meet the standards set in Sec. 1111(b)(3) of the ESEA.

3.     The state and its local school district agents have effective systems in place to identify students who are at risk of academic failure or of dropping out and to provide such students with timely assistance and support so that they are prepared to meet college and career-ready standards.

4.The state and its local school district agents have a realistic plan for turning around low-performing schools and providing opportunities for students to attend higher performing schools.

The letter comes as indications emerge that the administration is cooling on the use of standardized testing as measures of teacher effectiveness, which has been a big sticking point in NCLB waivers. Read the Conference's letter here.

October 28, 2014 in News | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, October 20, 2014

Dept. of Education Publishes Final Clery Act Amendments

The U.S. Department of Education published the final regulations for the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013 (VAWA) amendments to the Clery Act today. Below is the Clery Center's summary of college campuses' expanded obligations to report, investigate, and resolve incidents of sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence, and stalking under the new regulations, which require colleges to:

  • agree on the law enforcement agencies that will investigate alleged criminal offenses;
  • include statements in campus written policies about sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence, and stalking;
  • provide prevention and awareness programs for incoming students and new employees and provide written information to victims;
  • allow victims and accused persons to have an advisor, including an attorney, accompany them to meetings;
  • establish procedures to follow when an incident of sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence, or stalking is reported; and
  • set procedures for institutional disciplinary action in cases of alleged dating violence, domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking;
  • disclose in their annual statistics the total number of crimes that were "unfounded”;
  • include gender identity and national origin as two new categories of bias for a determination of a hate crime; and
  • use updated sex offenses definitions that more closely align with the FBI’s updated definitions and terminology.

October 20, 2014 in Federal policy, Gender, News | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, October 17, 2014

Street Protests in Philadelphia over Teachers' Union Contracts

Protestors blocked Philadelphia's Broad Street this week to object to the Philadelphia School Reform Commission's unilateral cancellation of teachers' union contacts earlier this month over whether  teachers must pay for their health care. Teachers say that they do not necessarily object to sacrifices to service the district's $81 million debt, but believe that SRC acted unilaterally to end the teachers' union as a part of a contining effort to dismantle Philadelphia's schools, including the district's "doomsday budget," nurse and counselor shortages, and school closings. Unilateral action means that the SRC did not have to prove that ending healthcare coverage justifies cancelling teacher contracts, even if it is true that the district will save a predicted $44 million. SRC Chair William J. Green told media that the SRC participated in 21 months of negotiations with the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, and other unions had made similar concessions.

October 17, 2014 in News | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Justice Department Intervenes in Case of Female Student Who Was Sexually Assaulted While Being Used as "Bait" to Catch Male Student Suspected of Sexual Misconduct

The Department of Justice filed an amicus brief at the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals last month in the case of a female special needs student who was used as "bait" to try to catch a male student suspected of sexual misconduct at an Alabama middle school. In the case, a teacher's aide at Sparkman Middle School convinced a 14-year-old female special needs student to agree to a plan to enter a bathroom with a 16-year-old male student with a history of sexual and violent misconduct. According to the plan, other teachers would be present in the bathroom to catch the male student “in the act” of sexual misconduct before anything happened. The plan was devised to gather proof after the school received reports of the 16-year-old trying to convince girls on the school's "special needs corridor" to have sex with him. The school also had some reports of sex attacks by the male student, but the number is unknown as the school had a policy of destroying documentation of reported attacks later found to be "uncorroborated." The female student was initially reluctant to participate in the plan, but was eventually persuaded by a teacher's aide, June Simpson. Tragically, when the female student met the 16-year-old in the bathroom, no teachers were present to intervene, and the student was violently sexually assaulted. Because there was authorities decided that there was no proof of a forcible assault because the female entered the bathroom voluntarily (although the student was found to have anal bleeding and tearing), the male student was not prosecuted. (He was suspended for five days, but later returned to Sparkman.) One school administrator later testified in a federal court that the female student was "responsible for herself" once she entered the bathroom. 

The female student withdrew from school and sued the Madison County school district in federal court. Last December, the district court granted summary judgment for the school district, concluding that school administrators lacked actual notice of sexual harassment and misconduct by the male student and that administrators were not deliberately indifferent to male student’s history of sexual and violent misconduct under Title IX. The student appealed. The DOJ has intervened as amicus on appeal challenging the district court's findings. In its brief, the DOJ takes the school system to task for its policy of destroying records of proven offenses by a student after the close of a current school year and all complaints found to be unsubstantiated regardless of when they occurred. "As a result," the DOJ brief notes, "school administrators could not consider patterns of prior accusations and were forced to rely largely on memory, which they admitted was “flawed” when deciding appropriate corrective measures for repeat offenders[.]" Read the DOJ brief here.

October 14, 2014 in Gender, News | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Supreme Court Requests Brief from Solicitor General on School Districts' Financial "Stay Put" Obligations

Hat tip to the Disability Scoop blog, which posted this news from the U.S. Supreme Court: On Monday, the Supreme Court asked the Solicitor General to address a pending certiorari petition on the issue of school districts' responsibility to pay private school tuition while special education disputes are litigated on appeal. Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act’s “stay-put” provision, school districts are responsible for paying for a student to remain in an existing educational placement while disputes related to the child’s special education services are resolved. At issue in the petition before the Court, M.R. v. Ridley School District, is whether a school district's financial responsibility dissolves if the parents do not request reimbursement for their out-of-pocket private school costs until after an administrative decision in their favor has been reversed by a court upon further review. The Third Circuit held this February in the case that the Ridley School District (Philadelphia area) had to pay private school tuition for the student while the child’s family continued to appeal their dispute, even though a lower court found in favor of the district -- that the public school provided an appropriate education. A circuit split has developed about whether the stay-put provision applies during the pendency of appeals, with the D.C. Circuit, Sixth Circuit, and district courts in Delaware and the Eastern District of Pennsylvania holding that a school district "need not continue to fund a student's pendent placement beyond district court review," and the Ninth Circuit and a N.J. district court allowing reimbursement through appeal. The National Association of State Directors of Special Education, the National School Boards Association and the Pennsylvania School Boards Association have filed amicus briefs at the Supreme Court arguing that schools should be relieved of the responsibility to pay for private school placements once a court finds in a district’s favor. The Third Circuit decision is M.R. v. Ridley Sch. Dist., 744 F.3d 112, 119 (3d Cir. 2014).

October 8, 2014 in News, Special Education | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Researchers Argue that Wealthy Parents' "Aggressive" Education Spending Contributes to Nation's Wealth Gap

Most Americans would likely agree with economist Thomas Piketty's statement that education “is the most powerful equalizing force in the long run.” An AP article this week explores affluent parents' efforts to make their childrens' education more equal by paying a premium to live in top public school districts, paying for private school, and hiring tutors. In fact, private school tuition at top schools appears to be recession-proof: the article states that between 2007 and 2011, enrollment at the most expensive private elementary and secondary schools jumped 36 percent even as private school enrollment fell overall. The article notes that "[a]ffluent parents tend to get what they pay for: Their children score 125 points higher on SATs than those from the poorest homes, up from a gap of 90 points during the 1980s, according to research by Sean Reardon, a Stanford professor. “The worry is that it becomes a feedback loop, where the children of the rich do the best in school, and those who do best in school become rich,” Reardon said. No blame should be placed upon parents who want to invest in their children, but it also doubtless driving political efforts for subsidized tax scholarhips and voucher programs to assuage less affluent voters who want success for their children too. Read the AP article: School spending by affluent is widening the wealth gap.

October 2, 2014 in News | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

California Student Sues High School for Waiving Academic Requirements After Her Brain Injury

The L.A. Times reports an interesting lawsuit in which a former student is suing her high school for passing her through to graduation after she suffered a traumatic brain injury. The Times reports that the student, Crystal Morales, has asked a federal court to invalidate her high school diploma because the school "cheated her out of a quality education by boosting her grades and waiving assignments after she suffered a traumatic brain injury her senior year." Morales was a senior at Newport Harbor High School in 2011 when she was  hit by a drunk driver outside of the school. Morales returned to school three months later but when she was re-integrated into a regular classroom, she was not required to turn in assignments. Morales wanted to graduate with her friends in the senior class and did so, but now alleges that the school did not appropriately educate her given her disability. Read more about the suit at the L.A. Times website here.

September 24, 2014 in News | Permalink | Comments (0)