School & District Management Briefly Stated

Briefly Stated: Stories You May Have Missed (Nov. 13, 2019)

November 12, 2019 7 min read
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It’s Seat Backs, Not Belts That Are Worrisome For School Bus Safety

Those big yellow buses rolling down the nation’s roads are scarier than you’d think, but for a reason that’s far from obvious.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has announced a recall that could affect nearly 54,000 school buses—11 percent of the 480,000 on the roads throughout the country.

What’s driving the recall are the seat backs. They don’t have enough padding to meet federal safety standards, increasing the risk of students getting injured in a crash.

It turns out that seat padding is an important part of protecting kids in school bus accidents.

According to the NHTSA, school bus passengers are protected from crash impact by strong, closely spaced seats with energy-absorbing seat backs. That design, says the NHTSA, is part of what allows students to safely ride in buses without wearing seat belts—that and the fact that large school buses distribute the force from a crash differently from passenger cars.

Still, there’s hardly universal agreement on whether school buses should be equipped with seat belts. The National Transportation Safety Board, a federal agency that investigates crashes, last year recommended that all new large school buses come outfitted with both lap and shoulder belts.

Regardless, statistics show that children are still safer riding to school on a bus than with a parent. More than 25 million children ride school buses every day across the country, while school bus accidents claim four to six lives a year.

The recall affects Thomas Built Buses from the years 2014 through 2020. The parent company, Daimler Trucks North America, reported the issue to NHTSA and will be notifying owners and dealers of the recall. The company plans to fix the problem by adding padding, says the NHTSA.

Districts owning buses that may be affected can contact Daimler Trucks at 1-800-547-0712, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration Vehicle Safety Hotline at 1-888-327-4236, or go to www.safercar.gov.

The recall is expected to begin on Dec. 2.

Schoolchildren Can’t Seem to Escape Ubiquitous Presence of E-Cigarettes

Quick! What are teenagers exposed to on an almost daily basis? The answer: Vaping—a phenomenon that has exploded in just a few short years.

Even if they don’t use electronic cigarettes, they’re being inundated with images of vaping—either from seeing their peers doing it or reading posts about it on social media.

That’s according to a new poll by Common Sense Media, a nonprofit that studies the impact of technology on children and young people. The poll comes as teenage e-cigarette use has ballooned and a slew of vaping-related deaths has sent schools and policymakers scrambling to contain a growing public-health menace.

The poll illustrates how pervasive vaping has become in schools and social-media sites popular with teenagers: 78 percent of teens said vaping is popular among their peers where they live; just over a third said they see classmates vaping in school several times a week, if not daily; and almost 60 percent said they frequently encounter a social-media post that either mentions or shows vaping.

One positive note: Survey results indicate that youths are gaining understanding of the potential harms of vaping.

These survey results come as school leaders and policymakers are starting to take more muscular action against teen vaping.

The nation’s second-largest district, Los Angeles Unified, just sued JUUL Labs, a move that ups the ante on a wave of districts that are filing lawsuits against the e-cigarette manufacturer.

The suit accuses JUUL of marketing to youths and misrepresenting the health consequences of vaping. That’s led, the district’s complaint says, to an explosion of youth vaping that is impeding learning and requiring the district to redirect spending.

Said schools Superintendent Austin Beutner, “We have had to divert dollars away from classroom instruction and instead spend it on counseling and programs to help inform students of the dangers of vaping.”

Somewhat Satisfied, Chicago Teachers Go Back to Classrooms

Eleven days, 25,000 teachers, 300,000 students. After being apart for that long, teachers and students are together again now that the lengthy strike in Chicago has ended.

In return for staying out more than two weeks (in school terms), teachers and paraprofessionals will get raises across the five-year deal—an average of 16 percent for teachers—millions of dollars toward class-size reductions, and promises of additional support-staff positions, such as nurses and social workers.

Teachers, in what they also see as a victory, will be allowed to make up five days of missed instructional time, with less time off for them and students at Thanksgiving, the winter break, and summer. They’ll still lose six days of pay.

All of that, of course, is contingent on ratification of the agreement by the rank and file. Union delegates apparently weren’t that hot for the deal because the vote for passage was close.

What Chicago’s teachers didn’t get was a three-year contract; 30 minutes of morning prep time for elementary teachers; and language backing broader affordable housing policies in the city, state legislative changes affecting the district’s mayor-appointed school board, and state law on the union’s bargaining authority.

“It’s now time for us to move past the acrimony, the name-calling, the outrage hashtags, and get back to focusing on students,” Janice Jackson, the CEO for the school system, tweeted.

That said, Chicago Teachers Union officials and Mayor Lori Lightfoot held separate press conferences announcing the end of the strike on Halloween.

Second Time Around, Can History & Civics Project Succeed?

At a time when the divisions in this country are so great and emotions so raw, can a group design a “road map” to guide teachers, publishers, and state officials on how to craft integrated history and civics content that will satisfy most, if not all?

The curriculum and advocacy group iCivics and several university partners are taking a stab at doing just that—with $650,000 from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the U.S. Department of Education, the same backers of a history-standards project a quarter century ago that soared with anticipation and then burst into flames because, in essence, the documents were deemed to be unpatriotic by opponents.

Both NEH and iCivics officials emphasized that the project will not attempt to write grade-by-grade content standards. But it will detail “high priority” content areas that bridge the two disciplines, along with teaching methods and principles for curriculum development.

Civics and ethics centers at Harvard, Arizona State, and Tufts universities will work with iCivics on the initiative. The document will be unveiled next September.

The group’s executive director, Louise Dubé, said the effort will look at both the “gory and the glory” of the United States’ founding, history, and successes and failures in living up to its ideals. It will also acknowledge that in an increasingly diverse country, all learners need to see a version of history and civics that’s relevant to them.

“I know that we have to acknowledge our patriotism, that we need to believe in this country,” she said. “Some do not like the term ‘patriotism,’ and some do not like to talk about the really dramatically bad parts of our national story, but my hope is we can get beyond that and understand that both co-exist.”

Florida Prepping to Bring Full-Time Adjuncts to K-12 Sector

Enroll in just about any university these days and you’ll likely take at least one class over your college career with an adjunct professor. They’ve become ever more popular with administration officials. Adjuncts, after all, cost a lot less and have fewer protections than tenure-track faculty.

But in the K-12 world, adjuncts tend to be a far rarer species aside from such occasional part-timers as art instructors, tennis coaches, or Spanish teachers.

Florida, though, wants to change that. With concerns over a teacher-applicant shortage there, the state is preparing to offer school districts another path to fill their classrooms—the full-time adjunct instructor.

Districts in the Sunshine State long have had the ability to employ part-time adjuncts, who need not meet the same credentialing as contracted employees and do not fall under the same pay and benefit structure as if they were represented in collective bargaining. Last spring, that changed when lawmakers extended the ability to hire full-time adjuncts as well.

Under the legislation, districts get to set their testing requirement for the instructors to demonstrate their knowledge of the subject they would teach. Adjuncts can keep the position up to three years with a nonrenewable adjunct certificate.

The state education department doesn’t yet have all its rules in place for districts to implement the reworked concept, though the rule changes are on the state board of education’s agenda for its meeting at the end of this week.

One feature the department is proposing: Anyone with a valid full- or part-time adjunct certificate work would be eligible for designation as qualified instructional personnel.

On the other hand, they wouldn’t be eligible to join a teachers’ union.

Briefly Stated Contributors: Associated Press, Alyson Klein, Arianna Prothero, Stephen Sawchuk, Tribune News Service, and Madeline Will. Edited by Karen Diegmueller.
A version of this article appeared in the November 13, 2019 edition of Education Week as Briefly Stated: Stories You May Have Missed


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