Published Online: April 21, 2015
Published in Print: April 22, 2015, as Blogs

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| NEWS | Rules for Engagement

Colorado Lawmakers Ponder Schools' Liability in Attacks

Should victims and victims' families be able to sue districts for failing to secure facilities or to properly identify and address the needs of violent or aggressive students?

Those are questions Colorado lawmakers are grappling with as they consider legislation that would waive schools' governmental immunity in violent situations.

A bill advanced recently by the state's Senate judiciary committee would lower the threshold of liability, allowing victims to claim damages of $350,000 from schools if a court finds violent acts on campus or at school-related activities were "reasonably foreseeable."

Creation of the bill was motivated in part by the family of Claire Davis, a student who died after the 2013 shooting at Arapahoe High School in Littleton. Her family told the committee that the school was aware that the shooter was violent and aggressive, and that it didn't do enough to stop him after he made clear threats. A sheriff's report found he entered through a door that was frequently propped open, even though school security plans said it should be locked.

Currently, schools can be more easily sued if students fall on poorly cleared icy sidewalks than if a violent attack occurs on campus, the Davis family said.

Opponents of the bill, including school boards and charter school organizations, said it could make schools more likely to suspend or expel students struggling with depression or mental-health issues out of fear they may pose a threat.

And "many if not most acts of school violence could be deemed reasonably foreseeable in retrospect" by juries who don't understand all the factors schools must weigh in making safety decisions—such as the cost of facilities upgrades and the need for resources in other areas, Jan Tanner, a local school board member, told the committee.

Because even the U.S. Secret Service cannot define a clear profile for school attackers, schools should focus their energy on responding to the mental-health and personal needs of students with concerning behavior by assembling multidisciplinary teams to address those issues, school safety experts argue.

Evie Blad


| NEWS | Charters & Choice

Will 'Backfilling' Become the Next Big Charter Debate?

"Backfilling," or replacing students who leave in the middle of their school careers, has traditionally been more of a technical term, but it appears as though it may be on its way to becoming a new front in the debate over whether charter schools are serving students equitably.

"Charter schools in New York City that leave classroom seats empty are artificially inflating perceived performance at the expense of real wait-listed children," said Princess Lyles, the executive director of Democracy Builders, in a statement. In a recent report, the group found that charter schools lost an average of 6 percent to 11 percent of their students each year from 2006 to 2014, and that more than 2,500 seats were left open in 2014.

The report charges that one of the reasons charter schools don't replace students who drop out is because new students—who are more likely to come from transient, homeless, or immigrant families—might drag down the school's overall proficiency scores.

"If charter schools are losing the kids who are doing worse and they don't replace them, then their scores will look better," said Jeffrey Henig, a political science and education professor at Teachers College, Columbia University. "And if they're not replacing them, then they will have an advantage ... because traditional public schools have to backfill."

The backfilling issue could become problematic for charter advocates—many of whom are challenging the cap on the number of charter schools in New York in part because of long waiting lists—if some charters are refusing to admit students from those lists.

Arianna Prothero


| NEWS | Politics K-12

Hillary Clinton Campaign Stop Touches on College, NCLB Issues

Just two days after announcing her run for president, Hillary Rodham Clinton visited Kirkwood Community College in Monticello, Iowa—a school that has a strong partnership with K-12 schools, enabling students to earn college credit while still enrolled in high school.

The April 13 event took the form of a round table including high school students, community college students, a high school principal, a teacher, and others. The big themes were college affordability and postsecondary preparedness—but believe it or not, K-12 accountability and even the No Child Left Behind Act also made an appearance.

The Democratic presidential hopeful kicked off the round table with a few remarks. The upshot? She's a huge fan of Kirkwood's approach to dual enrollment and the opportunities it gives students to get actual workforce skills. "The cooperation between the college and the high school is something I want to see a whole lot more of, " Clinton said.

While it sounds like Clinton thinks that most students can benefit from postsecondary training, that doesn't necessarily need to take the form of a four-year degree, at least not right off the bat.

"I do agree ... that we have to do more to open up our education system so that we are meeting individual students where they are and where they could be with the right motivation," she said.

And when it comes to the nclb law, Clinton said, "We've learned what works and what doesn't work so well." The challenge now: "How we take a system that has so much potential and has produced so many positive outcomes for so many people ... instead of arguing about education."

Alyson Klein


| NEWS | Early Years

Home-Visiting, CHIP Programs Both Reauthorized by Congress

In passing the Medicare Access and chip Reauthorization Act last week, the U.S. Senate secured another two years of funding for two programs aimed at helping children get a healthy start: home visiting and affordable health insurance.

The reauthorization will provide $800 million for the Maternal, Infant and Early Childhood Home Visiting program over fiscal years 2016 and 2017. Though the vote wasn't a total surprise, it came at a time when early-education advocates are pushing the narrative that early education is a bipartisan issue. Senators voted 92-8 in favor of the reauthorization language April 14. The House in March approved it 392-37.

Home visiting is the practice of sending nurses or other social-service providers into the homes of pregnant women and new mothers to help set them and their children on a healthy course. A few of the most-rigorous such programs, like the Nurse Family Partnership program, have produced significant results for women and children in terms of both health and early school performance.

The Children's Health Insurance Program, or chip, was also extended through 2017. Chip provides low-cost health insurance for children from families who make too much to qualify for Medicaid but still struggle to pay full price for insurance. Benefits vary by state but universally include routine checkups, immunizations, prescriptions, and dental care, among other health-care basics.

Lillian Mongeau

Vol. 34, Issue 28, Pages 11,18

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