Monday, August 31, 2015

ACLU Challenges Nevada's School Voucher Program; Is The State's Poor Funding of Public Schools Relevant?

The ACLU along with the Americans United for Separation of Church and State filed a lawsuit last week challenging the state's voucher program that will send public dollars to private, religious schools.  This, they say, violates the state constitution's proscriptions on the expenditure of public dollars.  “Parents have a right to send their children to religious schools, but they are not entitled to do so at taxpayers’ expense. The voucher program violates the Nevada Constitution’s robust protections against the use of public funds for religious education,” said Tod Story, executive director of the ACLU of Nevada. “This program allows public money to be spent at intuitions which operate with sectarian missions and goals and impart sectarian curricula. This is exactly what the Nevada Constitution forbids.”  The press release offers this further summary:

Under the program, parents of students enrolled in public school for at least 100 days may transfer their children to participating private schools, including religious schools, and are eligible to receive thousands of dollars in public education funds to pay for tuition, textbooks, and other associated costs.  The funds will be disbursed through so-called “Education Savings Accounts,” and there are no restrictions on how participating schools can use the money.

The lawsuit argues that the funding scheme violates Article XI Section 10 of the Nevada Constitution, which prohibits the use of public funds for any sectarian purpose. The lawsuit also claims that the program runs afoul of Article XI, Section 2, which requires the legislature to provide for a uniform system of common schools.

. . .

Gregory M. Lipper, senior litigation counsel for Americans United, added, “Nevada’s Constitution makes clear that the state may not fund religious instruction or religious discrimination. The voucher program flouts this constitutional prohibition. Nevada’s parents, students, and taxpayers deserve better.”

Some may recall that a similar challenge to North Carolina's voucher program failed recently, but because the challenges are based on the state constitution, not the U.S. Constitution's 1st Amendment, North Carolina's decision will have no direct effect.  

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August 31, 2015 in School Funding | Permalink | Comments (0)

21st Century School Integration: Building the Movement for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

This from the National Coalition on School Diversity:

On behalf of the National Coalition on School Diversity, we invite you to attend our third national conference, "21st Century School Integration: Building the Movement for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion,"which will take place in DC on September 24-25th.

The National Coalition on School Diversity ( is a network of nearly 30 national civil rights organizations, university-based research centers, and state and local coalitions working to expand support for government policies that promote school diversity and reduce racial isolation. We also support educators, parents, and students working to create and sustain integration at state and local levels. Our work is informed by an advisory panel of scholars and academic researchers whose work relates to issues of equity, diversity, and desegregation/integration.

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August 31, 2015 in Conferences, Racial Integration and Diversity | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Did Fifth Circuit Strike Wrong Balance in Upholding Student Rapper’s Punishment? by Josie Brown

Last week’s en banc 13-3 decision in Bell v. Itawamba County School Board, ---F.3d. ---, 2015 WL 4979135 (5th Cir. 2015), focused on a high school student suspended for Facebook and YouTube postings of a rap he had composed and performed. The rap presented allegations that coaches at Bell’s school had sexually harassed several female students. These allegations were interwoven with repeated expletives and allusions to potential violent reactions that the coaches’ alleged behavior could spark.  Bell produced his recordings entirely at home, using no school resources, and he never accessed the material while on campus. When one of the coaches named in Bell’s rap heard about the recording, the coach viewed it at school on a student’s phone. After the recording was brought to the attention of school administrators, Bell was suspended and placed in an alternative school for the six weeks remaining in the nine week grading period. At the school and school board level, officials characterized Bell’s message as threatening, harassing, and intimidating toward the teachers named in the rap. School officials did not, however, feel they needed to immediately remove Bell from the premises after they saw the recording, and no criminal investigation was sought or initiated. (The main change is school operations engendered by the video seems to have been a perhaps necessary modulation of the two named coaches’ behavior when interacting with female athletes.) Bell had not previously been disciplined for any offense other than tardiness.  Oddly, what efforts the school district made to investigate the substance of Bell’s allegations remains unclear. Bell had introduced four female students’ supporting affidavits at his school board hearing, and, given that another coach at the high school had been arrested in 2009 after he was alleged to have sent sexually explicit texts of a minor student, one would anticipate that such accusations would be taken seriously.  Bell’s First Amendment challenge to his punishment had failed in federal district court, but he had prevailed on appeal before a divided Fifth Circuit panel. The school district then sought en banc review.    

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August 27, 2015 | 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)

Half of All African American Suspensions and Expulsions Were in Thirteen Southern States

Edward Smith and Shaun Harper have released a new study focusing on suspensions and expulsions in the South.  Most of it is sadly par for the course, but the enormous portion of the nation's suspensions and expulsions that come from the South was shocking.  "Nationally, 1.2 million Black students were suspended from K-12 public schools in a single academic year – 55% of those suspensions occurred in 13 Southern states. Districts in the South also were responsible for 50% of Black student expulsions from public schools in the United States."  The racial disparities also seemed to track consistently higher than than other regions.  "In 132 Southern school districts, Blacks were disproportionately suspended at rates five times or higher than their representation in the student population."  Expulsion disparities were high as well, although slightly lower the suspension disparities.   "In 77 Southern school districts, Blacks were disproportionately expelled at rates five times or higher than their representation in the student population."

The study also includes a nice set of tables with the data for individual school districts, so one can easily see what is occurring in their own community, region, and state.

Get the full report here.

August 26, 2015 in Discipline, Discrimination | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Sex Education Is In for a Controversial Year

In 2012, Arizona law enacted legislation providing that “no school district or charter school in this state may endorse or provide financial or instructional program support to any program that does not present childbirth and adoption as preferred options to elective abortion.”  This fall a sticker on the front of a biology textbook that promotes that agenda is raising eyebrows.  Gilbert Unified School District placed this message on it biology textbooks:

The Gilbert Public School District supports the state of Arizona’s strong interest in promoting childbirth and adoption over elective abortion. The District is also in support of promoting abstinence as the most effective way to eliminate the potential for unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. If you have questions concerning sexual intercourse, contraceptives, pregnancy, adoption or abortion, we encourage you to speak with your parents.

The same group that pushed for this sticker was part of the push for the anti-gay legislation that made national news in Indiana, which brings us to anti-gay sex education in South Carolina.  

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August 25, 2015 in First Amendment, Gender | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, August 24, 2015

Is California's Denial of Religious Exemptions from Vaccines Constitutional?

Earlier this summer, California eliminated religious exemptions from school vaccinations, making it only the third state to do so.  In my previous post on the legislation, I noted that on its face it might raise freedom of religion concerns, but one close examination it probably need only pass rational basis review.  Dorit Rubinstein Reiss has posted a new article on ssrn, Vaccines, School Mandates, and California's Right to Education, that offers a much deeper analysis.  The abstract offers this summary:

California recently enacted Senate Bill 277, which abolishes the personal-beliefs exemption to school immunization requirements. One possible challenge to the law’s constitutionality is that it impermissibly limits the right to education. This Essay rebuts such positions. California’s jurisprudence regarding access to education applies to protected categories; it does not limit the ability of the state to impose health and safety regulations such as immunization requirements. Moreover, the requirement would withstand even strict scrutiny, if applied, because disease prevention in the school context is a compelling interest and there is no alternative that is as effective. Finally, the law actually protects the right of access to education for those whose parents do not have the luxury of choice, such as immune-compromised children, while still reasonably preserving parental choice overall.


August 24, 2015 in First Amendment | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, August 21, 2015

New Study Finds White Teachers Have Far Lower Expectations for Black Students

A new study by Seth Gershenson, Stephen Holt, and Nicholas Papageorge finds a disturbing trend of racially disparate expectations for students based on race.  The abstract offers this summary:

Teachers are an important source of information for traditionally disadvantaged students. However, little is known about how teachers form expectations and whether they are systematically biased. We investigate whether student-teacher demographic mismatch affects high school teachers’ expectations for students’ educational attainment. Using a student fixed effects strategy that exploits expectations data from two teachers per student, we find that nonblack teachers of black students have significantly lower expectations than do black teachers. These effects are larger for black male students and math teachers. Our findings add to a growing literature on the role of limited information in perpetuating educational attainment gaps.

More specifically, they find that "relative to teachers of the same race and sex as the student, other-race teachers were 12 percentage points less likely to expect black students to complete a four-year college degree.  Such effects were even larger for other-race and other-sex teachers, for black male students, and for math teachers. In addition to being statistically significant, these effects are arguably practically significant as well, as they constitute more than half of the black-white gap in teacher expectations." 

Read the full study here.

August 21, 2015 in Discrimination, Racial Integration and Diversity, Teachers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, August 20, 2015

School Funding Litigation Over the Past Year by Molly Hunter

As ofAugust 2015, school funding litigations seeking better educational opportunities for underserved students continue in state trial courts and supreme courts across the country, including in Arizona, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Kansas, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Washington.

In the latest development, the Washington Supreme Court imposed a $100,000 per day sanction on the State, in the ongoing McCleary case.

Both the South Carolina and Washington Supreme Courts declared their states' school funding systems unconstitutional, in Abbeville v. State (S.C. 2014) and McCleary v. State (Wash. 2012). Both supreme courts retained jurisdiction. After the Abbeville decision, the South Carolina Senate and House established task forces to study the situation and recommend remedial measures in time for their 2016 session.

In the face of a huge tax cut, Kansas slashed funding to its schools, which led to the Gannon v. State of Kansas lawsuit. Plaintiffs claimed and state courts have agreed that the cuts made the state's school funding system inadequate and inequitable, in violation of the Kansas Constitution. The state resolved the equity problem in 2014, but made additional changes in the 2015 session. After a hearing, the district court found the state funding system is now violating both the adequacy and equity requirements of the constitution. That decision is on appeal to the Kansas Supreme Court.

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August 20, 2015 in School Funding | Permalink | Comments (0)

Can Schools Drug Test Students Just Because They Park on Campus?

Crivitz High School in Wisconsin is implementing a new drug testing policy this year.  It will randomly test students.  Apparently, the policy is limited to those who participate in athletics and extracurricular activities and those who park on campus.  The school did not release any official numbers, but my guess is that this would encompass about half of the student body, give or take ten percent.  Testing athletes and those in extracurricular activities, assuming the correct procedures are followed is constitutional, but testing those who park may raise certain flags. 
In Vernonia School District v. Acton, 515 U.S. 646 (1995), the Supreme Court upheld a public school's program of randomly drug testing its student athletes.  The Court balanced the state's interests against those of the students, reasoning that the drug epidemic that existed in the school and the special risks associated with playing sports outweighed the minimal invasion of student athletes' privacy. The Court emphasized the students were already subject to communal undress, showers and the like.  A few years later, the Court extended this rationale to students participating in extracurricular activities in Board of Education v. Earls, 536 U.S. 822 (2002), although the analogies between the two case were otherwise weak.
Both of these cases are premised on two key facts that are arguably missing with student drivers. First, student drivers are not exposed to communal undress or overnight trips off-campus during which they are subject to intense monitoring.  In Veronia, the Court, almost derisively, remarked that sports are not for the bashful.  Regardless, all of this was to say that the additional drug testing was not a significant intrusion into privacy beyond what students were already experiencing. Student drivers surely range from the bashful to the brash and, for many, drug testing would be an enormous intrusion into privacy.

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August 20, 2015 in Discipline | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

The Danger of Schools Monitoring Students' Social Media

A growing number of reports reveal that schools are starting to more systematically monitor their students' social media.  The most recent report is from Orange County in Florida, where the school district has purchased software that allows it to do keyword searches across multiple social media platforms for all students.  Some have raise privacy concerns about this trend.  Orange County, at least, does not appear to be crossing any privacy lines because it is only monitoring public posts. They are not attempting to gather students' passwords or anything of the like.  The software simply allows the district to achieve efficiently what any other person with an internet connection could, if the person just had the time and energy to sift through everything.

The more important issues are what exactly districts do with this information.  First, sometimes too much information is a bad thing.  Consider the student who simply complains about his teacher online--something students have been doing in hallways, in cafeterias, on telephones, and in handwritten notes since forever.  That information has had a very short shelf-life and rarely made it to the subjects of the complaints.  It would be a bad thing if now that information got passed along. The likelihood that it could interfere with relationships is significant, while the harm that sharing that information would ward off is almost non-existent.  

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August 19, 2015 in First Amendment | Permalink | Comments (1)

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Twenty Percent of New York's Students Opted Out of Testing: Why It Matters So Much

The New York State Education Department has released the data from the standardized tests administered to elementary students at the end of this past academic year.  The opt-out movement scored a much bigger victory (if victory was its goal) than I ever would have imagined.  Some students opted out for valid health and other reasons, but a whopping twenty percent of students refused to take the tests without any valid excuse.  Presumably they objected based on principle.

A five or so percent opt out would have done little to upset the status quo, but one of this size has enormous ramifications.  First, as a condition of receiving federal education money, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (No Child Left Behind) mandates that 95% of students take the test.  The Secretary of Education has the power to waive a number of requirements, but the Secretary cannot waive this requirement. Congress wanted this one to stick.  As analyzed in an earlier post, this poses a real quandary.  The purpose of the provision was to make sure that schools did not conveniently exempt their weakest students from the test to push up their pass rate.  But when students simply refuse to take the test, holding the school accountable seems unfair and contrary to the purpose of the Act.  The Secretary could take a page from the reasoning of King v. Burwell (the recent Affordable Care Act decision offering a creative reading of the Act to save individual tax credits) and ignore the statutory language and violation.  But absent creative reasoning, New York is in violation it cannot escape.

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August 18, 2015 in ESEA/NCLB, Federal policy, Racial Integration and Diversity, Teachers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, August 17, 2015

NSU Shepard Broad College of Law Symposium: Shutting Down the School to Prison Pipeline

The Nova Southeastern University Shepard Broad College of Law will host a symposium entitled Shutting Down the School to Prison Pipeline on Friday, September 18, 2015. The symposium will examine the practice of funneling school disciplinary matters into the criminal justice system, which stigmatizes the children and disrupts learning. The Nova Law Review and the Gwen S. Cherry Black Women Lawyers Association are the symposium's co-sponsors. Academics, practitioners, policy-makers, educators, community activists, and thought leaders are invited to exchange ideas, form effective strategies, and engage in meaningful dialogue about systemic change for educational reform and new approaches to school discipline. For more information and to register online click here.

August 17, 2015 in Conferences, Discipline | Permalink | Comments (0)

North Carolina Voucher Program Survives Constitutional Challenge, Court Reasons the Special Funding for the Program Exempts It from Scrutiny

Earlier this summer in Hart v. State, the North Carolina Supreme Court upheld the state's Opportunity Scholarship Program, a school voucher program that pays tuition for eligible students to attend private schools using taxpayer dollars.  Plaintiffs alleged that the Opportunity Scholarship Program violates the North Carolina Constitution by allocating taxpayer money to private schools; appropriating taxpayer money to private schools without the Board of Education supervising those funds; and creating a “non-uniform system of schools.”  Plaintiffs also alleged the program was unconstitutional because eliminating accountability and permitting schools receiving voucher students to discriminate based on religion served no public purpose.

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August 17, 2015 in Charters and Vouchers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, August 14, 2015

Supreme Court Fines Washington State $100,000 a Day for Failure to Implement School Funding Remedy

The Washington Supreme Court has lost its patience with the legislature.  In 2012, in McCleary v. State, the court held that the state had failed to comply with its constitutional duty "to make ample provision for the education of all children residing within its borders."  The court left it to the legislature to devise a reasonable solution to the flaws in its funding system.  Since then, the court has forced to order the state to comply with its duty to act within the deadlines the legislature set for itself.  The state has, nonetheless, failed to comply with its own plan.  Last year, the court held the state in contempt for its failure.  Yesterday, the court took the ultimate measure, imposing a fine of $100,000 a day for each day the state remains in violation of the court's January 9, 2014 order.  This step has proven successful in places like Arizona, which drug its feet for years until the court imposed a financial sanction, but then acted within a matter of a couple of weeks.  One can only for the same result in Washington. 

The court's order is here.

August 14, 2015 in School Funding | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, August 13, 2015

New York Issues New Policy on Transgender and Gender Nonconforming Students

The New York State Department of Education has issued new guidance on creating supportive and safe learning environments for transgender and gender nonconforming students.  This guidance is an implementation of both federal law and New York's newly enacted Dignity for All Students Act (“DASA”).  The guidance explains:

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August 13, 2015 in Gender | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

New York Teacher Seeks to Demonstrate How Irrational the State's Evaluation System Is

Sheri Lederman, a 4th grade teacher in Great Neck, New York, with 17 years of experience, is challenging New York's value added method (VAM) for evaluating teachers.  In 2013-14, the system rated her as "ineffective."  This struck her as implausible due to her long track record of strong student achievement results and positive evaluations by her superiors.  

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August 12, 2015 in Teachers | Permalink | Comments (1)

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)

NPR Tells the Story of Modern School Segregation

For those who missed it, a recent episode of This American Life did an excellent job over covering the benefits of school integration and the pitfalls of segregation.  It also includes a close look on how segregation shaped the context in which the Ferguson, Missouri, events unfolded.  The website offers this summary:

Right now, all sorts of people are trying to rethink and reinvent education, to get poor minority kids performing as well as white kids. But there's one thing nobody tries anymore, despite lots of evidence that it works: desegregation. Nikole Hannah-Jones looks at a district that, not long ago, accidentally launched a desegregation program. First of a two-part series.

Listen to the episode here.

August 11, 2015 in Racial Integration and Diversity | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, August 7, 2015

Does Texas Increasing Mandatory School Attendance to 19 Years of Age Raise Liberty Concerns?

LaJuana recently posted on the Texas truancy reform legislation when it was enacted.  Josh Gupta-Kagan followed up on the legislation and tipped me to an interesting detail regarding mandatory school attendance.  The legislation raised the drop out age from 18 to 19.  This move is also coincides with recent changes to compulsory attendance in Kentucky.  The move to reduce dropout nationwide makes obvious sense, but it is not as simple as one might think.

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August 7, 2015 in First Amendment | Permalink | Comments (0)