School Climate & Safety Briefly Stated

Briefly Stated: Stories You May Have Missed

January 14, 2020 7 min read
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Wisconsin Panel Rejects Effort to Dissolve District

By Daarel Burnette II

A special state panel in Wisconsin has rejected a financially strapped district’s request to dissolve.

Residents in Palmyra-Eagle, a mostly rural district of 600 students, voted last year to dissolve after the district lost more than half its students to neighboring schools over the course of a decade, sending its budget into a tailspin.

But neighboring districts told a state-appointed panel that receiving so many students from the dissolved district at once and absorbing its debt would overwhelm their budgets. One district threatened to sue.

Palmyra-Eagle’s board now faces a fiscal cliff. The district has little savings and there is little appetite among voters to raise taxes. Last summer, a credit-rating agency placed the district on fiscal watch.

The district faces a $2 million deficit next year.

One very determined group of parents has pitched selling off one of the district’s elementary schools, moving to a four-day school week, and asking a local philanthropist and residents to pay out of pocket for many of the district’s costs, including its elaborate after-school and sports programs.

The panel has heard more than 17 hours of testimony over the last three months from residents for and against the dissolution. The late-night meetings have led to shouting matches and tears.

Katie Maloney, one of the panel members said at the hearing Thursday, according to media reports, “I think there is a new sense of urgency that has developed in this district. And if we were to affirm the dissolution, there is no opportunity for the district to explore all their other options.”

Residents on the east side of the district who voted for the dissolution said on Facebook that the process was a “sham” and that the state is preventing the district from doing what residents repeatedly elected them to do.

Only one member of the panel that considered the dissolution request, a state department official, voted for it, citing the local voters’ will.

According to local media reports, after the vote to keep the district alive, there was a thunderous applause among the more than 200 residents who crowded the district’s high school gym.

Student Vaccination Mandate: Yea or Nay?

A new survey by the Pew Research Center finds that 88 percent of Americans believe the benefits of the measles vaccine outweigh the risks. Adults with more education and higher incomes are more likely to hold that view as are those without children younger than 18. And large majorities of adults, regardless of race or religion, say schools should require it.

High School Students Take Vaping to New Heights

Teenagers know an opportunity when they see one—for better or worse.

In addition to nicotine vaping, which is odorless and can be easily hidden away, they are now vaping marijuana. In fact, 1 in 5 high schoolers admitted vaping marijuana at least once during the prior year, according to a recent report.

Still, the University of Michigan survey, underwritten by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, found vaping nicotine remains more popular: About 1 in 4 high schoolers said they had done so in the previous year.

But marijuana vaping is growing more quickly. About 1 in 7 high school seniors were considered current users of marijuana vaping—they had vaped in the month before they took the survey. That’s almost doubled from 1 in 13 the year before.

The report, in the Journal of the American Medical Association, asks students in grades 8, 10, and 12 about smoking, drinking, and drugs. About two-thirds of the 42,000 participants in the survey conducted in 2019 were asked about vaping marijuana—before reports of a surge in cases of vaping-related lung damage, which, experts believe, could deter usage.

Pumped Up, Even Law Officers Can Miss Their Targets

One way to deal with mass shootings at schools, some argue, is to arm staff, teachers included. But when the adrenaline’s pumping, even well-trained law-enforcement officers make mistakes.

That’s what an Associated Press investigation turned up in examining accidental shootings by law-enforcement agencies across the United States. The analysis of public records and media reports documented 1,422 unintentional shootings by officers at 258 agencies since 2012 at schools or on college campuses.

At least nine states have passed laws allowing employees to carry firearms on K-12 school grounds, according to the National School Boards Association. Nineteen allow anyone with permission from a school authority to be armed at schools.

Experts say anybody carrying guns needs ongoing, intensive training to be able to handle their firearms proficiently and respond appropriately in stressful settings.

“The idea that anybody can go to Joe Smith’s School of Shooting for a day or a week and become proficient at shooting a handgun in a life-and-death situation is a little bit absurd,” said Doug Tangen, the firearms program manager at the state police academy in Washington state.

Accidental shootings can occur when an officer is flush with adrenaline, gets startled, or simply loses his balance, experts say.

In 2016, for example, local, state, and federal officers rushed to Alpine High School in the small town of Alpine, Texas, when a call came in about two shooters inside. As a half-dozen heavily armed officers and agents headed down a hallway, a shot rang out, and an agent fell to the floor, wounded. A U.S. Marshal admitted he had accidentally discharged his weapon.

Facial-Recogition Technology in Schools Poses Worries

Count students, teachers, and other school staff in some pretty tough company in one New York district. They’ll be subjected to the same kind of technology—facial-recognition software—as suspected terrorists and criminals.

The Lockport school system, near the Canadian border, this month will become one of the first in the country to try out such software to alert district officials if someone on a flagged list of individuals shows up at one of its eight schools.

As you might imagine, this action has run into strenuous objections from civil liberties advocates. In a letter, the New York Civil Liberties Union asked the state education department to rescind its permission for the district to proceed. The department “should not allow Lockport’s students, teachers, and community members to be test subjects for inaccurate and invasive technology,” the organization wrote. And in a blog post, the Civil Liberties Union argued that “children as young as 5 ... will have their faces scanned wherever they go. Their images will be captured by a system that is error-prone, discriminatory, and puts students’ safety at risk.”

A federal government study notes there are flaws in the technology. For instance, African Americans and Asian Americans can be as much as 100 times more likely to be misidentified by the technology than white people, says the National Institute of Science and Technology report. Its findings are based on tests of nearly 200 systems with photos of more than 8 million people.

Nonetheless, Lockport won the education department’s approval, after a rocky start, by promising to make some changes.

In a message to parents, the district says: “The system identifies individuals only if they are stored in a database in an identified category which includes sex offenders, staff who have been suspended and/or are on administrative leave, anyone prohibited from entry to district property by court order ... or anyone believed to pose a threat based on credible information.” The program “will not include students in any category for any reason.”

People in the News

In an age when workers are expected to change jobs every few years, Michael Casserly certainly skews the average. After more than 40 years with the Council of the Great City Schools, he’ll step down at the end of this year as the organization’s executive director.

Over that impressive tenure, he’s seen the council more than double in size, begun new technical-assistance programs for member districts, and helped guide the organization through some major education policy landmarks of the 20th and 21st centuries. Those include: the 1983 release of “A Nation At Risk,” the report which kicked off the modern “school reform” era; the rise and fall of the 2002 No Child Left Behind law; debates over national content standards; and the introduction of charter schools.

Even though he’s leaving the top-job post, Casserly will serve as an adviser to the council through 2024.

Describing the decision as the most difficult he’s ever made, Casserly said no one factor figured into it. “There’s nothing that prompted this, other than my own sense that it was really time for a new generation, new blood, new energy, new ideas to lead the organization forward.”

Briefly Stated Contributors: Associated Press, Daarel Burnette II, Alyson Klein, Mark Lieberman, and Stephen Sawchuk. Edited by Karen Diegmueller.
A version of this article appeared in the January 15, 2020 edition of Education Week as Briefly Stated: Stories You May Have Missed


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