Monday, October 27, 2014
Thanks to John Brittain for allerting me to Sandra Jowers-Barber's, The Struggle to Educate Black Deaf Schoolchildren in Washington, D.C. , and the important history and decision that allowed deaf African American students to receive special education in Washington, DC without having to travel out of state because the school district maintained a racially segregated school system without even a separate education for the deaf.
Friday, October 24, 2014
In a case that Derek previously posted about here, a federal district court has administratively closed a class-action suit filed by special-needs students against the Mississippi Department of Education. The district court’s order allows either party to reopen the suit for noncompliance with the terms of a September 2014 settlement agreement. Corrie Cockrell, an attorney with the Southern Poverty Law Center that represents the students, told the Jackson Clarion-Ledger yesterday, "We reached an agreement with the state because we felt it was in the best interest of our clients." In the case, E.H. v. Mississippi Dept. of Educ., 2013 WL 4787354 (S.D. Miss. 2013), special-needs students sued the Mississippi Dept. of Education for its failure to force Jackson Public School District (JPS) to comply with the IDEA's mandate of a Free Appropriate Public Education. The Department investigated the complaint against JPS and, after finding IDEA violations, ordered the school district to remedy the violations or risk losing its accreditation. JPS missed two deadlines for compliance, prompting the plaintiffs to sue in federal court. The Department eventually found that JPS corrected the IDEA violations, but the student-plaintiffs found that it was difficult to verify the Department’s findings. The students thus asked for quarterly progress reports in the settlement, Cockrell said, to ensure that JPS is “moving in the right direction.” According to the Clarion-Ledger article, the state set a goal for 71% of children with disabilities to graduate, but just 12% of those in JPS did as of 2012. The state's average graduation rate for students with disabilities is 23%. Read the settlement agreement in E.H. v. Mississippi Dept. of Educ. here.
Thursday, October 23, 2014
Federal law prohibits the U.S. Department of Education from funding for-profit charter schools. See Arizona State Board for Charter Schools v. United States, 464 F.3d 1003 (9th Cir. 2006). Various state laws provide for the same. Thus, the holder of the charter for our nation's charter schools are non-profit organizations. The devil--if there is one--is in the details.
Last week, a Pro Publica article broke down the funding stream in a group of four North Carolina charter schools. They are all owned or chartered by a non-profit organization created by Baker Mitchell, a North Carolina businessmen, political advocate, and free-market adherent. Innocent enough. Numerous businessmen and women engage in philanthropic efforts on a routine basis. Many social movements and services would fail without their help. The rub is that close to half of the $55.7 million dollars in federal, state, and local money that these four charters have received over the past six years has gone to for-profit entities that Baker Mitchell owns or controls. His for-profit company, Roger Bacon Academy, manages the charters and its administrative functions. His other companies own the buildings, desks, computers, and supplies that the charters rent or buy. Moreover, the contracts between the non-profit and these service providers were procured not through a competitive bid process, but through what? Mitchell's school managers talking to Mitchell's property managers? It is altogether possible that Mitchell's businesses are cutting the schools a deal, that there is very little profit in the $19.6 million his companies have taken in, and we should be applauding his efforts. But on its face, the arrangement looks like an indirect means of achieving exactly what the federal and state governments purport to object to.
Wednesday, October 22, 2014
The guidance letter on bullying and harassment of students with disabilities that was issued this week by the Office for Civil Rights of the U.S. Department of Education is noteworthy for a number of reasons. First, it reinforces the point made in other Department of Education communications that bullying of these students, if not adequately addressed by school districts, amounts to a violation of the law even if the conduct is not directly tied to the students’ disabilities. Although unaddressed bullying that is related to the disability is a clear violation of the protection against hostile environments established by the law, there is a separate violation when bullying, of any kind or for any reason, interferes with a disabled child’s receipt of an appropriate education. Second, with regard to hostile environment violations, the letter stresses that even if the conduct of the school officials does not rise to the level of deliberate indifference to known deprivation of rights, a violation of the disability discrimination laws still occurs when, as OCR puts it: “(1) a student is bullied based on a disability; (2) the bullying is sufficiently serious to create a hostile environment; (3) school officials know or should know about the bullying; and (4) the school does not respond appropriately.” There are reasons to be skeptical of the use of a deliberate-indifference standard copied without any modification from Title VI and Title IX in Section 504 and ADA damages cases. As Derek Black pointed out in his illuminating article at 15 Wm. & Mary Bill of Rts. J. 533 (2006), even in equal protection cases courts should apply a standard that is lower than the Title VI-Title IX deliberate-indifference standard. But in any case a deliberate-indifference standard does not limit when OCR should act to stop and prevent violations of the law. Third, OCR provides a helpful set of examples of hostile-environment violations, non-disability-based bullying that nevertheless leads to violation of the discrimination laws, and an appropriate response to bullying that avoids violating the law. The letter should make a strong contribution to remedying disability discrimination.
In 1982 in Plyer v. Doe, the Supreme Court struck down a Texas statute that prohibited school districts from enrolling undocumented immigrant students. The Court held that the statute was discriminatory and unconstitutionally irrational. States have enacted statutes similarly aimed at discouraging immigrant students from enrolling on a few occassions since then. None, however, have gone into practical effect, as all have been deemed unconstitutional in short order. In some instances, legislators allowed that they knew the legislation was unconstitutional, but wanted the Court to revisit the rationale of Plyer v. Doe. The Court, of course, has not done so.
Statutes and policies of this sort remain unconstitutional and fervor for them has died down in the past few years. This year, however, has brought a new, but related problem, particularly in those localities that have seen an influx of unaccompanied minors escaping violence, kidnapping threats, and the like in their home countries. Some school districts say they are overwhelmed by the influx of students, and lacking in the space and resources necessary to serve them. Those excuses, however, would earn the districts no quarter in refusals to enroll the students. Instead, the districts admit the students are eligible to enroll, but have excluded them based on inadequate paperwork and documentation. Yesterday's New York Times tells the story of students in Long Island waiting months to be enrolled in the schools, and points out that the problem is not unique to Long Island:
Tuesday, October 21, 2014
On August 14, 2014, the Department of Education denied Florida's request for flexibility in regard to English Language Learners. Friday, Florida Governor Rick Scott requested that the Department refer that denial over to a hearing before an administrative law judge. In his letter to the Department, Governor Scott's first discusses the merits of its ELL program. The letter then addresses the legal issues raised by the denial. First, he first raises the basic issue of process (and the right to a hearing now). Second, he questions whether the Secretary had the constitutional or statutory authority to condition waivers. On that score, he cites the analysis in my article, Federalizing Education by Waiver?, and a memorandum from the Congressional Research Service to the House Committee on Education and the Workforce Majority Staff, which I must admit I had previously missed, but found instructive and will include in my next draft of the paper.
Like David Barron and Todd Rakoff (in In Defense of Big Waiver) and myself, CRS concludes that the Department of Education has broad power to waive various provisions of No Child Left Behind. On the question of the Department of Education's authority to condition those waivers, CRS's analysis probably falls somewhere between myself and Barron and Rakoff. CRS concludes:
On the other hand, if the Secretary did, as a condition of granting a waiver, require a grantee to take another action not currently required under the ESEA, the likelihood of a successful legal challenge might increase, particularly if ED failed to sufficiently justify its rationale for imposing such conditions. Under such circumstances, a reviewing court could deem the conditional waiver to be arbitrary and capricious or in excess of the agency’s statutory authority. Ultimately, the resolution of such a question would probably depend on the facts of a given case.
Below is OCR's dear colleague letter, released today:
As part of National Bullying Prevention Awareness Month, the U.S. Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) today issued guidance to schools reminding them that bullying is wrong and must not be tolerated – including against America’s 6.5 million students with disabilities. The Department issued guidance in the form of a letter to educators detailing public schools’ responsibilities under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and Title II of Americans with Disabilities Act regarding the bullying of students with disabilities. If a student with a disability is being bullied, federal law requires schools to take immediate and appropriate action to investigate the issue and, as necessary, take steps to stop the bullying and prevent it from recurring.
Today’s guidance builds upon anti-bullying guidance the Department has issued in recent years concerning schools’ legal obligations to fix the problem, including:
- A 2013 dear colleague letter and enclosure by the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS) clarifying that when bullying of a student with a disability results in the student not receiving meaningful educational benefit under IDEA, the school must remedy the problem, regardless of whether the bullying was based on the student’s disability.
- A 2010 dear colleague letter by OCR which elaborated on potential violations when bullying and harassment is based on race, color, national origin, sex, or disability.
- A 2000 dear colleague letter by the OCR and OSERS, which explained that bullying based on disability may violate civil rights laws enforced by OCR as well as interfere with a student’s receipt of special education under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).
That the fervor against standardized testing is bubbling over may be best evidenced by the fact that Arne Duncan found it necessary to address the use of standardized tests in a Washington Post op-ed last week. His op-ed walks a very fine line, sympathizing and agreeing with critiques of standardized testing, on the one hand, and defending the tests as a necessary tool for benchmarking students and teachers on the other. His most poignant statement may have been:
To be clear: I strongly believe in using high-quality assessments, including annual tests, as one (but only one) part of how adults improve instruction and hold themselves responsible for students’ progress. With my own kids, I know parent-teacher conferences, grades and other feedback round out the picture of whether they’re on track.
That point, however, is not necessarily in serious contention. Most would allow that tests offer a benchmark for consideration. The new teacher evaluation systems in various states do far more than just "round out the picture." State statutes mandate their consideration in particular ways and with particular metrics that create an entirely new set of motivations for teachers and administrators, and raise an entirely new set of legal issues, hence the series of legal battles brewing in the states.
Monday, October 20, 2014
The U.S. Department of Education published the final regulations for the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013 (VAWA) amendments to the Clery Act today. Below is the Clery Center's summary of college campuses' expanded obligations to report, investigate, and resolve incidents of sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence, and stalking under the new regulations, which require colleges to:
- agree on the law enforcement agencies that will investigate alleged criminal offenses;
- include statements in campus written policies about sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence, and stalking;
- provide prevention and awareness programs for incoming students and new employees and provide written information to victims;
- allow victims and accused persons to have an advisor, including an attorney, accompany them to meetings;
- establish procedures to follow when an incident of sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence, or stalking is reported; and
- set procedures for institutional disciplinary action in cases of alleged dating violence, domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking;
- disclose in their annual statistics the total number of crimes that were "unfounded”;
- include gender identity and national origin as two new categories of bias for a determination of a hate crime; and
- use updated sex offenses definitions that more closely align with the FBI’s updated definitions and terminology.
In the past months, I have commented on school finance litigation in New York, Colorado, New Mexico, Kansas, Texas, Connecticut, New Jersey, and Mississippi; reports decrying the state of funding in Georgia and Wisconsin; and steps by the Alabama Department of Education to propose constitutional changes to education funding in the state. For those wondering whether suing the state is just what education advocates do or if there is some underlying fundamental problem, a new report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities offers a simple explanation (although the report is about data, not school finance litigation). The title of the report, Most States Still Funding Schools Less Than Before the Recession, belies the conclusion. The analysis found that:
- At least 30 states are providing less funding per student for the 2014-15 school year than they did before the recession hit. Fourteen of these states have cut per-student funding by more than 10 percent. (These figures, like all the comparisons in this paper, are in inflation-adjusted dollars and focus on the primary form of state aid to local schools.)
- Most states are providing more funding per student in the new school year than they did a year ago, but funding has generally not increased enough to make up for cuts in past years. For example, Alabama is increasing school funding by $16 per pupil this year. But that is far less than is needed to offset the state’s $1,144 per-pupil cut over the previous six years.
The DC Office of Human Rights' (OHR) report on bullying in DC schools is now available. Its particular focus is an assessment of schools' compliance with the District's 2012 anti-bullying law, which required that schools adopt specific policies.
Based on school responses to OHR's survery, the report found:
- 57 of 61 (93.4 percent) of DC Public Charter LEAs as well as DC Public Schools submitted a bullying prevention policy to the DC Office of Human Rights by September 30, 2014.
- 42 of 61 DC Public Charter LEAs (70.5 percent) and DC Public Schools had policies compliant with the Youth Bullying Prevention Act of 2012 by September 30, 2014.
- 17 charter school policies were deemed compliant upon submission, all of which adopted the mayor’s Bullying Prevention Task Force’s model policy (“model policy”). The remaining 25 compliant policies were revised and resubmitted.
- On initial submission, LEAs were most often non‐compliant on:
- Coverage of electronic bullying off‐campus that interferes with students’ participation in or benefit from schools’ services,
- Having the verbatim definition of bullying as defined in the YBPA,
- Stating that consequences are to be applied in a flexible manner based on students’ developmental age, the nature of the incident, and disciplinary history, and
- Providing a consistent appeals process as defined in the YBPA.
Friday, October 17, 2014
The Center for Budget and Policy Priorities does not frame it exactly the way I did in this post title, but its new report, Creating Opportunity for Children: How Housing Location Can Make a Difference, makes a strong case for housing vouchers as a method for increasing students' academic opportunities and outcomes. Housing vouchers change social and environmental factors, which are equally important in educational outcomes. Moreover, because taking advantage of them requires moving or, at least, has a geographic trigger, they more easily avoid one of the major charges against education vouchers, which is that they can become mechanisms for reducing educational costs for advantaged families that would have opted out of the local public school in any event.
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.
Thursday, October 16, 2014
Forthcoming testimony for the Education Law Center suggests the answer is "no" to the question in this post's title. If that is the case, New Jersey may have revealed itself to be the prime example of inadequate governmental oversight of charters. Forget monitoring the education program and outcomes of a charter, the state has to first know it exists. The Center issued the following statement today:
NJ COULD HAVE OVER 130 CHARTER SCHOOLS, NOT 87
ELC Calls on Legislature to Investigate
Following the revelation by the Attorney General in a court hearing last week that New Jersey has many more charter schools than the 87 in the Department of Education's (DOE) official count, a preliminary investigation by Education Law Center shows that the number of operating charter schools is well over 100 and could exceed 130.
ELC will present this information today to the Senate Education Committee, which is holding a hearing on the status of New Jersey's charter school program.
ELC will testify to the Committee that it is impossible to know "exactly how many charter schools are now open in New Jersey districts. The DOE does not make this information public. All we know is that the DOE lists 87 charters on its website, a number the Attorney General concedes is not accurate. We also don't know how the DOE approved these additional charter schools, and whether they were authorized in compliance with existing law."
Earlier this year, I applauded the Departments of Justice and Education for their stated policies in their new discipline guidance. The question there (and with the recent resource equity guidance) was whether they would enforce the policies. Since then, the Office for Civil Rights at the Department of Education appears to have stayed the course. As just one more example, OCR recently reached a settlement agreement with Tupelo, Mississippi. The press release follows my comments below.
Pay particular attention to the steps the district is required to take. The steps are explicitly aimed at reducing harsh discipline overall, which presumably will bring down the disparities, and improve the educational climate. Now that several of these settlements are in place and OCR is monitoring the data in these districts, OCR should be in a position within the next year to emphasize the efficacy of their efforts. A report comparing pre-settlement and post-settlement outcomes not just in discipline, but in overall educational outcomes, could be a powerful tool in convincing more districts to act.
Alabama's Department of Education is considering changing the way funds are distributed to schools throughout the state. The current approach does not take need into consideration. Rather, all students and districts are treated the same, with each receiving an equal per pupil allotment. The new formula under consideration would distribute the money based on need, meaning "both poor districts and districts seeking to teach special classes of students, including English Language Learners, at-risk students and those in special education." Since "such a change would require a major political effort that would almost certainly require a constitutional amendment," the Department is proceeding cautiously and not pushing the formula change yet. These first steps, however, are generating significant discussion and research within the department.
Wednesday, October 15, 2014
Process versus Substance in Affording Students with Behavioral Disabilities a Free Appropriate Public Education
Susan C. Bon and Allan G. Osborne's new article, Does the Failure to Conduct an FBA or Develop a BIP Result in a Denial of a FAPE Under the IDEA?, 307 Ed. Law Rep. 581 (October 5, 2014), is now available on westlaw. The article analyzes a number of recent cases "decided in the federal trial courts in New York over the question of whether school boards' failure to conduct [functional behavioral assessments (FBAs)] or implement [behavioral intervention plans (BIPs)] denied children the free appropriate public educations (FAPEs) guaranteed by the IDEA." Currently, the IDEA requires that school administrators ensure that FIPs are completed and that BIPs are implemented whenever students with disabilities are removed from their programs for more than 10 days due to disciplinary measures. A number of states, however, including New York, have expanded on these federal requirements and "[e]ven though these cases were primarily concerned with state requirements, which are more comprehensive and specific than the IDEA, there are important implications that can be garnered from this litigation."
Tuesday, October 14, 2014
A report by the Georgia Budget & Policy Institute, 2014 Schoolhouse Squeeze, finds that cuts in state aid to public school have totaled $8.4 billion in recent years. In inflation-adjusted dollars, this has amounted to a 12% reduction between 2002-2015. Local funding, which provides 41% of school district revenues, has not made up the difference. In 89 districts that enroll 80% of the state’s students, school tax revenues have actual dipped an average of 20% in inflation-adjusted dollars, due to continued low property values resulting from the effects of the 2007 recession. Compounding the problem, the proportion of economically disadvantaged students in Georgia has increased 17% percent since 2002, and now represents 62% of the state’s student population. This growth means schools need more money, not less.
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.
Monday, October 13, 2014
Last week, the Gay-Straight Alliance Network and Crossroads Collaborative released a set of reports on bullying and harrassment based on sexual orientation in schools. The reports also addressed whether LGBTQ are subject to disparate discipline. Unfortunately, bullying based on sexual orienation is not new, but what was surprising was that LGBTQ youth are subject to disparate discipline and often blamed for their victimization. A set of policy recommendations by the Advancement Project accompanies the reports.