Confidential Records Found in Trash
Although California state law requires that outdated confidential school records be destroyed by burning or shredding, dozens of files containing sensitive information about schoolchildren were found in a playground trash can at Northridge Elementary School in Fair Oaks. The files contained records of behavioral problems, parent-teacher correspondence, observations of family problems, and reports of suspected health and emotional problems, including suspected sexual abuse.
Officials with the San Juan Unified School District expressed regret, saying it was an isolated incident. District staff are regularly instructed on how to dispose of records but in this case someone dropped the ball, said Mike Parks, the district’s director of pupil and personnel services. However, it appeared unlikely the employee responsible would be fired.
While apologetic to those affected, Parks told The Sacramento Bee, “We’re looking at this as a learning experience.”
The Sacramento Bee
June 28, 2001
Forced Apology for Rudeness Sparks Debate
A debate over the limits to free speech in school has ensued after a Connecticut high school student was forced to apologize over the school’s public address system for making disrespectful remarks that disrupted a special assembly on job interview skills. While the Connecticut Civil Liberties Union takes the position that students should be able to present their opinions, school administrators argue free speech can be curtailed if a student’s behavior is viewed as disruptive.
Fifteen-year-old Tristan Kading, a sophomore at Stonington High School, was sent to a mandatory assembly in May, where company officials from McDonald’s had agreed to host a session on job interview skills. When a representative from the company asked for volunteers for mock job interviews, Kading volunteered, but when asked about himself, he said he hated large corporations like McDonald’s.
“That won’t get you a job at McDonald’s,” said the interviewer. Kading responded that he would not want to work for a company that falsely advertises its French fries, a remark that drew loud applause from his friends. Administrators then removed Kading from the assembly and, at the urging of principal Stephen Murphy, he read the apology over the school intercom.
The Hartford Courant
June 3, 2001
Not One Failing School?
There are no failing government schools in Florida, according to the May 30 report card generated by the state’s A-Plus reform plan. While some critics thought the results raise questions about the toughness or validity of the state’s tests, Gov. Jeb Bush contended that absence of failing schools shows the hard work of teachers and students in “developing reading, writing, and math skills is paying off.”
When a school receives two failing grades from the state within a four-year period, its students become eligible for vouchers to attend private schools, or they can transfer to better-performing government schools. In the first round of report cards, 78 schools received their first Fs. But by the second issuance of report cards, all had pulled up their grades sufficiently to avoid a second F. A study by Jay Greene for the Manhattan Institute indicated the threat of vouchers provided a powerful motivation for school staffs to improve.
However, the continued absence of any “failing schools” after report card No. 3 raises a question whether the state is taking too narrow a view of when students should become eligible for “opportunity scholarships.” That narrow view contrasts with the broad school choice opportunities now available to Florida’s disabled children. In late May, Bush signed into law the McKay Scholarship Program, which will make the state’s 340,000 disabled students eligible for vouchers if their parents are not satisfied with their government education.
The Friedman Report
Charter Students Get 1/3 Less Funding
Although Georgia law requires local school districts to treat charter schools “no less favorably than other local schools” when it comes to instructional and administrative funding, DeKalb County school officials are providing Stone Mountain Charter School with 35 percent less funding per student than other county middle schools.
Although Stone Mountain has a contract that specifies it will receive the amount of revenue earned from the full-time equivalent pupil count and appropriate local and federal funds, the full amount of funding has not been forthcoming, forcing the charter school to rely on credit and operate at a monthly deficit. Stone Mountain has taken the public school system to court.
Center for Education Reform Newswire
May 22, 2001
Teacher Performance Pay Plan Signed
Iowa has become the first state to institute a statewide performance pay plan for public school teachers. Gov. Tom Vilsack signed the bill in May over the objections of the Iowa State Education Association.
While the bill eliminates the seniority pay scale, it also contains all the elements that led to backtracking in Cincinnati this year: uncertain funding, uncertain teacher participation, and an extended entrenchment period, which leaves plenty of time to slow it down or stop it before it gets rolling.
Education Intelligence Agency Communiqué
May 29, 2001
Parents Win Homeschooling Case
In a May 31 decision, Circuit Court Judge Tyler L. Gill overruled a lower court that had ordered a 15-year-old homeschooled child into government schooling until she turned 18, two years beyond the state’s compulsory attendance law. The lower court had found the child guilty of truancy and issued a pickup order while issuing an arrest warrant for her mother for contempt of court.
In voiding those orders, Gill wrote that “parents have a fundamental right to direct the education and upbringing of their children. This right includes the right of parents to choose an alternative in lieu of public schools.”
However, the judge did go on to assert that it is reasonable for state authorities to demand proof–such as test scores–from homeschooling parents that their children are being educated.
The Friedman Report
Community Center Barred to Homeschoolers
A group of homeschooling parents in Calvert County wanted to use a local community center to hold meetings of a geography club for their children and other homeschooled children. The county said no, holding the families lost their privilege of using the community center when they decided to homeschool. The families plan to ask a federal court to declare the county policy a violation of free speech and equal protection of the laws.
“Anybody can use the community center, but we don’t want space taken up for private education. We have a lot of facilities for that,” said David F. Hale, president of Calvert County’s Board of County Commissioners.
With the rapid growth of homeschooling, these kinds of controversies are spreading around the country. In Arizona, a couple teaching two blind children at home sued when the Scottsdale Unified School District denied the children use of the county’s special education services.
The Friedman Report
Union Objects to Paying Teacher More
During March of last year, administrators from the Crete Public Schools in Nebraska were looking to hire a new industrial technology teacher. After a month of advertising, the district could find only two qualified applicants, and offered one of them the job.
The candidate told them he wouldn’t take the job for less than $24,000. The district agreed and the board approved the amount, but failed to inform the Crete Education Association, which was in the midst of contract negotiations with the district.
In August, the union and the district agreed on a salary schedule that started at $21,650. Since the new teacher’s contract was now out of compliance with the contract, the district gave the teacher a new contract at $21,650, with a $2,350 bonus to cover the difference between base salary and what he had been promised.
The union filed a complaint with the state Commission of Industrial Relations, claiming the arrangement was a “deviation” that violated the collective bargaining agreement. The commission agreed. The Nebraska State Education Association celebrated the ruling with a four-page cover story in its monthly newsletter, in which it noted, “The district cannot unilaterally offer incentives against the wishes of the local association.”
While the story delved into state and federal labor law in great detail, it failed to report what happened to the teacher and his pay.
Education Intelligence Agency Communiqué
June 11, 2001
Schundler Wins GOP Gubernatorial Primary
Jersey City mayor Bret Schundler won an upset gubernatorial primary victory on June 26 over the best-known Republican in the Garden State, former U.S. Representative Bob Franks, who almost beat Democrat Jon Corzine for U.S. Senate last year. Schundler, who received 57 percent of the vote in the highest primary turnout in 20 years, will face Democrat Jim McGreevey in the fall.
The New Jersey Education Association, the main teacher union in the state, has declared Schundler its No. 1 enemy and is expected to spend “buckets of money” to elect McGreevey.
The union has plenty of reasons to dislike the former Wall Street executive, who has won re-election three times in a staunchly Democratic city where only 6 percent of voters are registered Republicans. Schundler is a strong advocate of school choice, has helped open a charter school, has proposed a tuition tax credit plan, and has questioned the morality of the teacher unions opposing choice in education.
“Tell me how keeping poor kids trapped in schools that consistently won’t reform helps society,” he asks.
Wall Street Journal
June 28, 2001
No College Tuition Vouchers for High Schoolers
Oregon State Senator Avel Gordly, a Democrat from Portland, withdrew a novel school voucher bill from further consideration in June when it became clear the proposal would fail in the House, even though it would most likely pass in the Senate. The bill would have allowed high school juniors and seniors in the state to take college courses, with the tuition paid for their high schools. Classes could be taken at local community colleges and at public or private universities, including religious institutions.
Teacher unions and public school officials strongly opposed the bill, saying it would drain funds from school districts and criticizing the idea as a way to introduce “vouchers” into the state.
Gordly told the Statesman Journal the program had been unfairly tarnished by calling it a “voucher.” It wasn’t a voucher, she claimed, because students would still be enrolled at their public high school. Under this definition, K-12 students could take publicly funded classes at private and religious institutions and not be considered “voucher” students as long as they remained enrolled at their local public schools.
After the bill was pulled, a compromise agreement was reached allowing a state-funded pilot program to be established, with a sampling of students from urban, suburban, and rural districts.
June 22, 2001
Student Kicked Unconscious for “Racist” Rebel Flag
After a school official branded Ryan Zane Oleichi as a “racist” for wearing a tiny Confederate flag on his shirt, students at Labay Middle School outside of Houston, Texas, began to verbally abuse and harass the 13-year-old student.
On April 26, Confederate Memorial Day in Texas, Oleichi was carrying a school library book with a Confederate flag on the cover when he was attacked by a black student and a Hispanic student. The Hispanic student kicked Oleichi in the head with steel-toed boots until he was unconscious, sending him to the hospital for three days. When he returned to school, he was subjected to still more verbal abuse and death threats.
School officials did nothing about the beating incident or about the continuing abuse, even though the Hispanic assailant was now reported as saying he was “not satisfied, and won’t be until Ryan is dead.” The District Attorney also refused to file charges. A week after Oleichi returned to school, his mother withdrew him and will educate him at home.
Oleichi had attended school several times without incident wearing the shirt with the Confederate flag patch, measuring a mere one inch by one and a half inches. But on February 19, Assistant Principal Cheryl Morrison punished him with a three-day detention for wearing the flag on his shirt–even though school rules call for only a one-day suspension for dress code violations. After the detention, Morrison forced Oleichi to apologize publicly to all the black students for being a “racist.”
Southern Legal Resource Center
May 30, 2001
Union Protests Make-up Days
Teacher union representatives from Rutland City have withdrawn a grievance protesting having to work make-up days because of school being cancelled for three days of particularly harsh weather earlier in the year. The city rarely closes school even on days when snow is falling.
When administrators decided to add those days to the end of the school year, the local union representative balked and filed a grievance. Although the teachers wanted their grievance to send a message, community members perceived the grievance as meaning the teachers didn’t want to work, and several letters in the Rutland Herald blasted the teachers. A union representative was quoted as saying, “I’m always aghast at how we’re perceived by the population at large.”
The Rutland City teachers dropped the grievance but came out ahead. Their contract calls for them to work 185 days this year, 178 of which are to be with students. The school board compromised, allowing teachers to work only 183 days, 176 of which will be with students.
June 11, 2001
No Good Deed Goes Unpunished
A mother is challenging the Loudoun County School District’s zero tolerance policy with a lawsuit charging her son’s right of due process was violated when the district suspended him for possession of a knife that he took away from a suicidal student.
Ben Ratner was an eighth-grader attending class in 1999 at the Blue Ridge Middle School when he learned that a troubled friend had a knife and was contemplating suicide. He took the knife from her and locked it in his locker, planning to take it home and have his mother, a nurse, contact the girl’s parents. But school officials found out about the knife from another student and Ratner was suspended for four months by the school board. The girl made an unsuccessful suicide attempt shortly after the incident.
Assisted by the Rutherford Institute, Ratner’s mother appealed to the board to reverse the suspension. Her request was denied, although school officials admitted Ratner’s actions had been “noble” and “admirable” and that he posed no threat to himself or anyone else.