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November 11, 2014 9 min read
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| NEWS | Rules for Engagement

Boston Rebuffs School Police on Request to Carry Pepper Spray

School police in Boston will not be permitted to carry pepper spray during their daily duties, acting Superintendent John McDonough told the Boston Herald.

The district had been holding hearings about the subject. The unarmed officers said the spray would give them a tool to subdue violent intruders, the newspaper reported.

“I think what we are hearing so far has persuaded me that pepper spray, no matter how well-developed the policy, and no matter how well-crafted the training, and no matter their good intention—might serve to drive a wedge between our students and the school police who do a great job protecting them every day,” McDonough wrote in a statement.

Around the country, civil rights advocates have pushed for thoughtful agreements between districts and school police that outline the rights of students and limit the amount of force officers can use in schools.

School police in other districts carry pepper spray. In 2010, more than a dozen St. Louis students were treated at a hospital after school security guards used pepper spray to break up a fight.

–Evie Blad

| NEWS | On Special Education

Md. Parents Seek Legislation to Shift IEP Burden of Proof

Parents in the Maryland school district that was at the heart of a 2005 U.S. Supreme Court case that determined the burden of proof in disputes over individualized education programs are lobbying lawmakers for the third time to pass a change they consider to be more family-friendly, reports a local newspaper.

The educational blueprint for students with disabilities, IEPs are created in partnership with teachers, administrators, and parents. Disputes are rare, but a case brought against the 146,000-student Montgomery County, Md., district went to the nation’s highest court.

The high court ruled in Schaffer v. Weast that the party that initiates a complaint over an IEP bears the burden in proving that the educational plans are insufficient. Usually parents are the parties that complain, so advocates for families said the ruling pitted them against well-financed districts that have many experts at their disposal.

The ruling did not preclude states from enacting their own laws on the issue. That’s what states like New Jersey and New York did in the following years, passing legislation that shifts the burden of proof back to districts, which must prove that an IEP is appropriate.

“Right now, parents can lose cases that they should be winning on the merits because they’re so out-resourced and they have the burden of proof,” Julie Reiley, the founder of the Maryland Coalition for Special Education Rights and Burden of Proof, told The Gazette newspaper.

–Christina A. Samuels

| NEWS | Schooled in Sports

More High School Sports Teams Grappling With Hazing Allegations

It hasn’t been a good school year when it comes to hazing allegations and high school sports. Seven football players in Sayreville, N.J., are facing criminal charges stemming from their alleged role in hazing incidents, while the Central Bucks district in Pennsylvania canceled the remainder of its football season in response to “allegations of improper conduct.”

Then, two more hazing allegations surfaced late last month. New York’s Eldred High School forfeited its football team’s season finale “amid reports of widespread and pervasive hazing,” says a statement on the district’s website, while Pennsylvania’s Cheltenham High School released information about a reported hazing incident that occurred in September with its boys’ soccer team.

In Eldred, “members of the football team engaged in such inappropriate hazing acts commonly referred to as ‘tea-bagging,’ as well as students sitting on each others’ faces, and pushing their face into the other student’s ‘junk’ while on school grounds,” says the statement.

The district notified police, who are working to determine whether any students violated the law.

In Cheltenham, members of the boys’ soccer team were “dangled by their underwear” in a hazing incident in September, district spokeswoman Susan O’Grady said in a statement published by local media. The incident, she said, was investigated, and unspecified actions were taken against some athletes and district personnel.

“I think the mere fact that [Sayreville officials] took a stand certainly had a domino effect across the nation,” Claudio V. Cerullo, the founder and executive director of Teach Anti Bullying, a national anti-bullying organization, told local news media.

–Bryan Toporek

| NEWS | Inside School Research

U.S. Census Considers Ditching Question About College Majors

The U.S. Census Bureau is considering cutting seven questions for individuals from its annual American Community Survey, one of which asks Americans who have bachelor’s degrees about their majors.

Like the other questions on the chopping block, the college-major question is not required by law or regulation, and in a recent comprehensive review of the survey, the query was found to have only “programmatic” uses.

Researchers interested in the pipeline of students to the science, technology, engineering, and math fields, for instance, probably find questions like this useful, as may high school principals working with local businesses to plan career academies.

Is that enough to include the question in the survey? Considering that only 43 percent of Americans have any sort of college degree, is there another question that might serve educators and researchers’ needs more?

–Sarah D. Sparks

| NEWS | The School Law Blog

U.S. Supreme Court Declines Review of School Bullying Case

The U.S. Supreme Court has declined to hear the appeal of three Pennsylvania families who alleged in a lawsuit that their school district failed to effectively respond to the bullying of middle school students.

“[L]ife at school” for the three boys “was a daily repertoire of being pushed, shoved, hit, kicked, and verbally abused by a group of larger boys,” said the appeal of the three families.

They charged that the Gettysburg Area school district and various school officials “intentionally denied assistance to the [boys and their parents], refusing to supervise and/or respond to confrontational dangerous situations even though future acts of bullying and injuries were predictable.”

The families alleged that the district violated their First Amendment free expression rights by retaliating against them for complaining and their 14th Amendment due-process rights to receive an education free of physical and verbal abuse.

The families’ suit was dismissed in a federal district court, a decision that was upheld by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit, in Philadelphia.

“As with other bullying cases we have confronted, we are sympathetic to the plight of the student victims,” the 3rd Circuit Court said in January. “However, without any allegation of action by the school district, the case falls squarely within our binding precedent.”

The appellate court noted a 2013 decision by the 3rd Circuit that a case of school bullying by other students typically does not implicate the “special relationship” or “state-created danger” doctrines of government liability. (The Supreme Court last year declined to take up that case as well.)

The 2,900-student Gettysburg district waived its right to file a response to the families’ Supreme Court appeal.

The justices declined without comment on Nov. 3 to hear the appeal in Monn v. Gettysburg Area School District (Case No. 14-193).

–Mark Walsh

| NEWS | Curriculum Matters

La. to Delay Computer-Based PARCC Testing

Louisiana has abandoned plans to administer the PARCC assessments online this year, and will give the tests only on paper, according to news media reports.

State Superintendent John White made the announcement late last month, according to the Times-Picayune newspaper. In addition to the paper-only announcement, White also said the English/language arts portion of the test for students in grades 3-8 would be shortened, and the testing window in a given day also would be pared back.

Amid concerns about the technological readiness for online testing, White had planned to have 3rd and 4th graders take the paper-based version of the test, but higher grades had the option of taking it online, the Times-Picayune reported. The announcement expands the mandate for paper-based testing to all students in 3rd through 8th grade. High school students in Louisiana will still take the state’s own tests, rather than the PARCC exams.

Louisiana has been embroiled in a major controversy about which tests to use.

Gov. Bobby Jindal waged a fierce battle to dump the PARCC assessments, with White fighting to defend the tests.

The dispute tumbled into court, and a judge ultimately ruled that state education officials could stick with the PARCC tests.

In announcing his decision to use only paper-based tests this year, White said he wasn’t as concerned about schools’ technological capacity as he was about the “distraction” of moving to computer-based tests, according to the Associated Press. He said he wants teachers and students to be able to focus on the content of the standards that are being tested, rather than on using new technology.

The state intends to move to computer-based testing for all students, but that plan is on hold until spring 2016.

–Catherine Gewertz

| NEWS | Rules for Engagement

USDA Seeks Local Input on Unpaid School Meal Balances

Unpaid meal balances can be a big challenge for school nutrition directors. When students repeatedly come through the meal line without the means to pay, schools frequently offer them meals, allowing them to accumulate a small debt. But too much unpaid debt can strain nutrition operating budgets, which typically have tight margins.

What’s the responsible way to handle this? The U.S. Department of Agriculture is seeking comments on state and local policies.

In February, a Utah cafeteria worker was put on leave after taking lunches from students with unpaid balances and throwing them in the trash. The incident sparked strong responses, and benevolent strangers even reported to some schools to pay off debts. The USDA’s existing guidance on unpaid meals is minimal. It says schools participating in national meal programs aren’t obligated to provide meals to students with overdrawn accounts, but that the agency “encourages schools to be flexible in this area.”

But the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 requires the agency to examine state and district policies and to explore “the feasibility of establishing national standards for extending credit to children by allowing meal charges, establishing national charges for alternate meals which might be served, and providing recommendations for implementing those standards.”

USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service division is seeking comment on such a policy through Jan. 14.

–Evie Blad

A version of this article appeared in the November 12, 2014 edition of Education Week as Blogs


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