Education

Briefly Stated: April 6, 2022

April 05, 2022 8 min read
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Vendor Breach Gives Hackers Information on N.Y.C. Students

New York City’s school system is the largest in the country. Now, it has another supersized distinction.

The district is the victim of the biggest cyberattack on a single school system in U.S. history. Hackers successfully targeted a vendor the district contracts with, jeopardizing personal information for some 820,000 current and former students.

Doug Levin, the national director of the K12 Security Information Exchange said the attack, which occurred in January, is one of the clearest illustrations yet of how important it is for districts to carefully vet the security practices of the vendors they work with.

The breach of Illuminate Education, whose software helped the nation’s largest district track grades and attendance, means hackers now have access to such personal information as students’ names, birth dates, and special education and free-lunch statuses, the New York Post reported.

The district has accused the vendor of misrepresenting its security measures.

“We are outraged that Illuminate represented to us and schools that legally required, industry- standard critical safeguards were in place when they were not,” schools Chancellor David Banks said.

Illuminate is in the process of notifying individuals whose data may have been affected, the company said in a statement. The company added that “there is no evidence of any fraudulent or illegal activity related to this incident. … We have already taken important steps to help prevent this from happening again.”

“Since they have not been forthcoming about what actually happened, it’s hard to know if they had a reasonable security program in place or not,” Levin said. “Just having an incident, in and of itself, should not necessarily mean that a company was negligent or acting in a reckless manner. Having said that, the lack of transparency here is concerning.”

The breach comes as school districts across the country—and the companies that serve them—are increasingly hit by sophisticated cybercriminals, many of whom operate overseas in countries that are tough for U.S. law enforcement to reach.

“School districts in general, and this is not just a critique of New York, have not been evaluating their vendors based on vendor security practice,” said Levin, noting districts need to ensure vendors have “reasonable security practices in place.”

Proposed Legislation Would Excuse School Employees in Tennessee From Using Students’ Preferred Pronouns

In Tennessee, lawmakers have forbidden teachers to talk about plenty of racial concepts, but they nonetheless seem bound and determined to protect what teachers say—or don’t say—when it comes to how they address transgender and nonbinary students.

A bill moving through the legislature would allow teachers and other public school employees to avoid referring to students by their preferred pronoun if it doesn’t match the student’s biological sex. Moreover, the measure would shield those employees from civil liability or discipline.

At least in part, the sponsors are basing their case on freedom of speech.

“Freedom of speech and religious exercise includes the freedom not to speak messages against our core beliefs,” said state Rep. Mark Cochran, a Republican. “We are not promoting bullying, but we are protecting against coerced speech, and that is protected under the Constitution.”

Students and teachers both have the same freedom to express their views, he said.

The Hamilton County school district, for one, does not have a policy requiring employees to address students by their chosen name or pronouns, but students can request that they be called by a preferred name and pronouns, said spokesman Steve Doremus.

All legal documentation, such as report cards, diplomas, and other official school documents, reflect the birth certificate name, he said.

Some educators aren’t on board with what the proposed legislation is trying to do.

Jeff Mullins, a teacher at East Hamilton School, said he thinks the measure is cruel and goes against what he feels should be the first tenet of teachers: Love and respect all kids. “We have a duty and obligation, at least in a public school setting, to make sure every single child is welcome to walk through the door, and I feel that honoring a child’s name and honoring their pronoun is such a simple act of kindness and respect that can make them feel welcome.”

According to a legislative committee memo, the bill could violate Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972, which, in turn, could jeopardize federal funding.

Republican Leader Hopes New Redistricting Map Moves Kansas School Board to the Political Right

At least Republicans in Kansas aren’t trying to disguise what they want to accomplish by redrawing the state school board district map.

The state senate’s top leader acknowledges that he wants to move the 10-member elected board’s stance on curricula to the right and give conservatives more say over what’s taught in public school classrooms.

To help that process along, the senate recently approved a bill that was sent to the house, where lawmakers were expected to give final approval to new board district lines before the GOP-controlled legislature was to begin its annual spring break.

Traditionally, redrawing state board districts has been an afterthought for lawmakers. But these aren’t ordinary times.

Conservative lawmakers are frustrated that the board hasn’t moved on its own to limit what can be taught about race and the role of racism in U.S. history or to make it easier to remove materials from classrooms and libraries.

Republicans hold a 6-4 majority on the board, but it has become far less conservative than the legislature.

Senate President Ty Masterson, a conservative Republican and the redistricting plan’s architect, said he’s hoping for “more vibrant conversation” among board members about education policy “instead of one monolithic vision.”

“It would be good if there were more conservatives on the board,” he said. “You have these offices that need more attention because we need more discussion on that, so the result is the state board of education doesn’t reflect Kansas.”

Added state Rep. Kristey Williams, another conservative Republican and the chairwoman of a committee on education spending, “[The board’s] responses to parents’ concerns have not been as robust as I would probably have hoped.” As she also noted, “Kansans are generally to the right of many of our board members.”

Board members drew their own map, one more likely to preserve the political status quo. That proposal avoided putting two incumbents in any district.

Board member Ann Mah, a Democrat, said the board’s plan would ensure that it continues to “stand up” to the legislature.

Judge Sides With Va. Students Seeking COVID Protection

Lawmakers in Virginia may have forgotten about the rights of students with disabilities, but that doesn’t mean they can be ignored.

That’s the upshot of a federal court ruling in favor of a dozen students whose health conditions include cancer, cystic fibrosis, asthma, Down syndrome, and weakened immune systems.

U.S. District Judge Norman Moon last month ruled that an executive order and new law allowing parents to opt their children out of classroom COVID-19 mask mandates cannot prevent those 12 students from seeking a “reasonable modification” that could include a requirement that their classmates wear masks.

The children’s parents sued Gov. Glenn Youngkin, a Republican, and other state officials in February, arguing that the mask-optional policy effectively excludes some disabled children from public schools, in violation of the Americans With Disabilities Act.

Although Moon granted the injunction in part, he emphasized that the executive order and state law remain in effect and said families of other vulnerable children would have to make their own cases.

“This is not a class action, and the 12 plaintiffs in this case have no legal right to ask the court to deviate from that state law in any schools in Virginia (much less school districts) their children do not attend, or indeed even those areas of their schools in which plaintiffs’ children do not frequent,” he wrote.

Youngkin campaigned against mask and vaccine mandates, and one of his first acts after being sworn in as governor in January was signing an executive order that sought to make masks optional in schools.

Confusion, pushback from districts, and litigation quickly followed. In February, the legislature, with a few Democrats joining Republicans, passed a measure banning districts from imposing mask mandates on students beginning March 1.

The injunction will remain in effect until a final decision in the litigation is issued, the judge wrote.

New Orleans Board Rescinds Little-Known Ban on Jazz

Talk about irony. In New Orleans, the birthplace of jazz, the musical genre has been outlawed in schools for a century. Now, though, students and staff are free to teach it, perform it, listen to it, whatever—not that many paid attention to or even knew about the ban.

With its president saying it had racist origins, the New Orleans school board late last month unanimously reversed the little-known prohibition.

“I’m very glad that we can rescind this policy. … It was rooted in racism,” Orleans Parish board President Olin Parker said.

The board’s resolution said it wanted “to correct the previous action of the school board and to encourage jazz music and jazz dance in schools.”

Board minutes from March 24, 1922, said, “it was decided that jazz music and jazz dancing would be abolished in the public schools.”

Officials said that the 1922 board members were trying to distance students from a genre with African American origins.

A copy of a news clipping from that time, posted on The Times Picayune/The New Orleans Advocate website, did not mention race. It quoted the resolution’s sponsor, “Mrs. A. Baumgartner,” as saying she had seen “a lot of rough dancing” at after-school events. “This cheek-to-cheek dancing is terrible,” she said.

Ken Ducote, the executive director of the Greater New Orleans Collaborative of Charter Schools, brought the policy to the board’s attention after reading about it in Al Kennedy’s book Chord Changes on the Chalkboard: How Public School Teachers Shaped Jazz and the Music of New Orleans.

“It was just one of those things that was buried in the books,” said Carlos Zervigon, a current board member. “Obviously, it was ridiculous and never really applied. But what an opportunity to be able to go back and reverse it on the 100th anniversary of its passage and acknowledge what our schools played in the formation and development of music in our classrooms.”

The Associated Press, Wire Service; Alyson Klein, Assistant Editor; and Tribune News Service contributed to this article.
A version of this article appeared in the April 06, 2022 edition of Education Week as Briefly Stated

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