Education Briefly Stated

Briefly Stated: March 10, 2021

Stories You May Have Missed
March 10, 2021 8 min read
Miguel Cardona is ceremonially sworn in as Education Secretary by Vice President Kamala Harris in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building in the White House complex on March 2, 2021.
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Biden Legal Team Dumps Trump Transgender Edicts

In what was anything but a surprise, the Biden administration has withdrawn legal views filed by its predecessor in hot-button cases in two states that had argued transgender female athletes should not be permitted to compete in girls’ or women’s sports.

The disputes involve transgender-supportive sports rules in Connecticut and, at the opposite end of the spectrum, an Idaho law that bars transgender female athletes from taking part in girls’ sports.

In the Connecticut matter, the U.S. Department of Education’s office for civil rights informed parties that it was withdrawing a letter issued last year that had interpreted Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 and its regulations to mean that transgender female athletes could not take the spots of “biologically female” athletes in track and field or other sports.

Letters from the Trump administration said that the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference’s policy of “permitting the participation of biologically male students in girls’ interscholastic track … denied female student-athletes benefits and opportunities” under Title IX.

In a Feb. 23 letter, the Biden administration said it was withdrawing the Trump administration’s OCR stance for two reasons. First, the OCR interpretation had not gone through the proper review required for a guidance document on a regulatory matter. And second, President Joe Biden signed an executive order on Jan. 20 that stressed the new administration’s efforts to combat discrimination based on gender identity or sexual orientation.

The Education Department will now review the OCR complaints filed by cisgender female athletes against the conference and several Connecticut districts “pursuant” to that executive order.

The Biden administration also filed a statement with a federal appeals court withdrawing a Trump administration brief filed last year supporting the Idaho law.

A federal district judge in Idaho last year blocked the law, ruling that it likely violated the 14th Amendment’s equal-protection clause. The U.S. Department of Justice filed a brief supporting Idaho’s appeal with the U.S. Court of Appeals in San Francisco.

“States may require separate athletic teams for biological females and biological males because the sexes are dissimilarly situated in athletics,” said the Trump administration brief.

LGBTQ Talk Is Out, Federal Appeals Court Rules in Reaffirming the Limits on Students’ Speech

In Spartanburg County, S.C., talk of LGBTQ rights is unwelcome. At least that’s one elementary principal’s view. Now, a federal appeals court has upheld her and other school officials’ authority to ban a 4th grader’s essay in support of such rights from a class booklet that was to be sent home to families.

In explaining her decision, Elizabeth Foster, the principal of Anderson Mill Elementary School, told the child’s mother that “it was not age-appropriate to discuss transgenders, lesbians, and drag queens outside of the home,” and that such a topic “would be disagreeable” in the community, court papers say.

The family sued on free-speech grounds but lost in a federal district court and in a ruling last week by a unanimous three-judge panel in Richmond, Va. , citing the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1988 Hazelwood decision.

Back then, it was student-newspaper articles on divorce and teenage pregnancy that a high school principal had forbidden. The high court agreed: School officials “do not offend the First Amendment by exercising editorial control over the style and content of student speech in school-sponsored expressive activities so long as their actions are reasonably related to legitimate pedagogical concerns.”

This latest controversy arose after 4th graders were assigned to write an “essay to society” on any topic.

In her essay, the student refers to disapproval of transgender people by some in society. “People need to think before they speak because one word can hurt someone’s feelings,” the essay says. “We need to fix this because this is getting out of hand!”

Foster told the girl’s teacher that the topic was inappropriate. The student submitted a second essay, on bullying, which passed muster.

After the mother filed suit, Foster said both essays would be published in the booklet. By then, the mother was concerned about her daughter’s privacy, and both essays were removed.

“While reasonable minds could debate the pedagogical efficacy of shielding 4th graders from topics like sexuality and gender identity,” the appellate court said, “it cannot be denied that maintaining the age-appropriateness of school-sponsored expressive activities is a pedagogical concern.”

Citing Time to Grieve, Equity-Minded Schools Chief at Odds With Mayor Resigns From N.Y.C. Post

Richard A. Carranza talked about needing time to grieve because of the personal toll COVID-19 had taken with the loss of family and friends. What was left unsaid during the recent press conference to announce his resignation as chancellor of the New York City public schools was the discord between him and Mayor Bill de Blasio, who holds considerable sway over the nation’s largest district.

Meisha Ross Porter, the executive superintendent of the Bronx borough, takes over March 15 as the first Black woman to lead the district.

A passionate champion of education equity who spoke out about reintegrating the city’s dramatically segregated schools, Carranza was never able to push his plans through to completion. The New York Times, which extensively chronicled his tenure, said the breaking point came over disagreements with de Blasio about desegregation.

The two have never quite jelled as partners, with Carranza pushing for more radical overhauls and De Blasio generally seen as favoring more modest changes. The Times reported that Carranza continued to oppose the city’s gifted-and-talented programs, which predominately serve white students and rely on admissions tests for students as young as 4.

In 2018, the two men pushed to overhaul admissions at the city’s eight highly selective high schools, which use an entrance-exam policy that has all but shut out Black and Latino students. That plan, which required legislative support in Albany, never passed, and it drew massive condemnation from Asian American parents.

Almost nothing during Carranza’s nearly three-year tenure in New York came easily. He was not even the top candidate for the job: He was selected after Miami-Dade County Superintendent Alberto Carvalho, who had been offered and accepted the job, reneged on live television.

Carranza inherited a district which, in addition to the burgeoning conversation about race and segregation, included baggage from previously established initiatives, such as an expensive, and unsuccessful undertaking to turn around low-performing schools. And he faced other pressures: school policing and of course, the pandemic.

State Threatens License Of Des Moines Leader

Talk about getting tough.

The Iowa educational examiners’ board is seeking to strip Des Moines’ schools superintendent of his administrator license, saying it found probable cause that Thomas Ahart had failed to submit or implement a lawful plan to return students to the classroom during the COVID-19 pandemic.

At the time of Ahart’s decision to stick with remote learning, Gov. Kim Reynolds, a Republican, required schools to provide at least 50 percent of teaching in classrooms and allowed districts to seek temporary reprieves to teach online only when virus activity rose to especially high levels. In January, Reynolds signed into law requirements that schools offer a full-time, in-person learning option, despite an outcry from teachers, school nurses, and other education professionals who said pushing children back into classrooms during the pandemic wasn’t safe.

The examiners board, which is appointed by the governor, has given Ahart the choice to surrender his license or agree to accept a lesser punishment. The board cites complaints that Des Moines schools had not returned to in-person teaching.

School board Chairwoman Dwana Bradley and Vice Chairman Rob Barron defended Ahart, saying his decisions on remote learning were made at the board’s direction. They also pushed back against the examiners board findings, arguing that Des Moines schools have been in compliance with in-person learning requirements and are making up instructional time from the beginning of the year.

“Trying to save the lives of Iowans, during a period unlike anything any one of us has ever experienced should not be met with an attack on Dr. Ahart’s career,” the pair said. “This complaint does nothing to benefit the children of our school district and move us past the pandemic.”

San Francisco Board Pauses Renaming of 44 Schools

School leaders across the country are struggling with what to do about public schools named for mostly historic figures with unsavory backgrounds. They just might want to take a cue from San Francisco’s school board. In very short order, its members directed that 44 schools—about a third in the district—be renamed, a decision that has now come back to haunt them.

Following intense local and national blowback, the board last month put the measure on hold.

Board President Gabriela López said it would make reopening schools during the pandemic the “only focus” and cancel meetings of the renaming committee for now.

In response to widespread criticism that the school board had conducted its own research and had not consulted historians before the near-unanimous decision, Lopez promised a “more deliberative process moving forward, which includes engaging historians at nearby universities to help” with future name-change discussions.

“I acknowledge and take responsibility that mistakes were made in the renaming process,” she said.

The board in late January approved the renaming of schools with the aim of excluding affiliations with racism, slavery, colonization, and other troubled legacies. The namesakes included Presidents Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, and Thomas Jefferson; U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a former city mayor; and others. The historical explanations for removing them varied widely and were roundly judged as flawed.

San Francisco Mayor London Breed condemned the renaming decision for its timing: “What I cannot understand is why the school board is advancing a plan to have all these schools renamed by April, when there isn’t a plan to have our kids back in the classroom by then,” she said after the board’s decision.

Since the school board’s decision, Lopez has struggled to justify the move in interviews. And she and two other board members are now facing a recall petition.

The Associated Press, Wire Service; Stephen Sawchuk, Associate Editor; Tribune News Service; and Mark Walsh, Contributing Writer contributed to this article.
A version of this article appeared in the March 10, 2021 edition of Education Week as Briefly Stated

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