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Briefly Stated: Stories You May Have Missed

March 03, 2020 7 min read
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Vaping Company Faces ‘World of Hurt’ With Latest Investigation

“A world of hurt.” That’s how at least how one legal scholar views the latest situation the e-cigarette company JUUL finds itself in.

Just last week, a coalition of 39 states announced an investigation into the marketing and sales of vaping products by JUUL, including whether the company targeted youths and made misleading claims about nicotine content in its devices.

Attorneys general from Connecticut, Florida, Nevada, Oregon, and Texas said they will lead the multistate probe into JUUL, which also is facing lawsuits by teenagers and others who say they became addicted to the company’s vaping products.

The state officials said they also will look into JUUL’s claims about the risk, safety, and effectiveness of its vaping products as smoking-cessation devices.

JUUL said it has halted TV, print, and digital advertising and removed most flavors in response to concerns.

The scope of the investigation by dozens of states leaves JUUL with little choice but to change its marketing practices, said James Tierney, a former attorney general of Maine. “When you see these kinds of numbers, it means they’re in a world of hurt,” said Tierney, a lecturer at Harvard Law School. “They can’t seriously litigate this.”

JUUL launched in 2015 and quickly rocketed to the top of the multibillion-dollar vaping market. The company initially sold its high-nicotine pods in fruit and dessert flavors. The products have become a scourge in U.S. high schools, with 1 in 4 teenagers reportedly vaping in the past month, according to the latest federal figures.

JUUL’s meteoric rise has been followed by a hasty retreat amid a nationwide political backlash over vaping.

The Food and Drug Administration and a congressional panel are investigating whether JUUL’s early marketing efforts—which included online influencers and product giveaways—deliberately targeted minors.

Nine attorneys general previously announced lawsuits against the company, most alleging that it adopted the playbook of Big Tobacco by luring teenagers with youth-oriented marketing while failing to stop underage sales.

Forgoing Mea Culpas, California Pledges Millions to Lift Low Achievers’ Literacy

The children of California won. At least some of them did, sort of.

The state of California agreed late last month to provide $53 million for early-literacy instruction, in what had been viewed as a potentially groundbreaking lawsuit, based on the nature of its argument: Literacy is a right guaranteed to children under the state constitution.

Still, in settling the 2017 suit, the state admitted no wrongdoing.

The agreement sets up a block-grant program for the 75 schools with the highest concentrations of 3rd grade students scoring at the lowest level on state reading tests.

The program would include $3 million to create a “literacy lead” position in the state education department and $50 million over three years for a range of programs and services in grades K-3 to support literacy instruction.

The plaintiffs were children who attended two schools in the Los Angeles area and one in Stockton, as well as their parents and several community-advocacy groups.

A professor who studied the children’s schools for the lawsuit said he saw clear patterns that contributed to their low literacy achievement, patterns that are echoed in many other low-income schools around the state.

Joseph Bishop, who directs the Center for the Transformation of Schools at the University of California, Los Angeles, said the schools had class sizes so large that instructional differentiation was impossible and few or no instructional coaches or literacy experts. Mentoring and professional development for teachers and principals were rare, libraries were often closed, and they had little access to culturally relevant instructional materials.

Mark Rosenbaum of Public Counsel, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, said the settlement represents the beginning of the crucial work to improve the literacy of California’s children so they can be full participants in civic life. “It’s not the end point, nor was it intended to be,” he said.

Student Arrests Down In N.Y.C. Schools, But ‘Juvenile Reports’ Rise

New York City cops may have arrested far fewer students during the first few months of the school year, but they were far from hands-off in their dealings.

The shift is the result of an agreement struck between the school district and the NYPD last summer that discourages criminal charges for lower-level violations like marijuana possession and disorderly conduct.

Between Oct. 1 and Dec. 31, 2019, NYPD officers made fewer than 150 arrests in city schools—about half the number during the same months the previous year. Court summonses for schoolchildren fell even more dramatically—from 124 in the last quarter of 2018 to 51 in 2019.

That drop in arrests, however, coincided with a big surge in “juvenile reports,” which means no charges are filed, but an internal file is kept at a police precinct. Police wrote 518 juvenile reports during the opening months of the school year compared with 385 the year before.

Kesi Foster, an organizer at the advocacy group Make The Road New York, supports the move away from arrests and summonses but warned that even offenses classified as juvenile reports can involve handcuffs and long detentions at police precincts. “For a young person, you can tell them it’s a juvenile report, [but] they’re going to know they just got arrested,” he said.

The stubborn racial disparities in police contact remain, too. Black students made up 55 percent of arrests, despite representing 26 percent of students, similar to last school year.

Miranda Barbot, a district spokeswoman, said, “We’re on the right track, but have work to do.”

Testing Irregularities Found in 2 Big-City School Systems

Spring is in the air, and so, too, are testing irregularities, if not downright cheating.

Students at some Chicago public schools took as many as seven to 10 hours to complete the MAP exam and were allowed to pause the test as many as 19 times. They were among clusters of students at 20 schools who saw such large test-score increases that the chance of a random sample of students achieving the same result was calculated at less than 1 in 1 billion, according to a newly released report by the district’s inspector general that found “worrisome” irregularities in the spring 2018 tests taken in grades 3-8.

Students and staff interviewed as part of the investigation reported “a variety of improper testing procedures. … This included everything from attempts to game the system to coaching to outright cheating.”

The report says more than 24,000 tests took at least three times the national average of about an hour.

Though the irregularities found involved a minority of test-takers—and the report acknowledged that could have happened “for benign reasons"—it says they were “enough to be worrisome and to warrant action.”

Down South, public schools in Louisiana’s Orleans and Jefferson parishes saw widespread testing irregularities as well last year, and many were forced to void the results of high-stakes exams for reasons ranging from administrative errors to cheating.

A state education department report found that 34 tests were voided at 38 of New Orleans’ 78 charter schools. In Jefferson Parish, 218 tests were voided at 27 of the district’s 84 schools.

Calif. Lottery Stiffs Schools Out of Millions, Audit Finds

California Lottery officials call it a matter of interpretation. Other state officials have a different take on it—fleecing.

A scathing audit released last week alleges that the lottery shortchanged schools by millions of dollars over the past four years and recommended that most of the money be repaid.

“The lottery has not followed state law, which requires it to increase its funding for education in proportion to its increases in net revenue,” State Auditor Elaine Howle wrote in a letter to Gov. Gavin Newsom and the legislature.

Howle said the lottery failed to provide $36 million that should have gone to education in the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2018.

The audit said the agency was unable to demonstrate whether it diverts too much money to prizes. In addition, the lottery too often uses noncompetitive contracts for purchasing, so it may not be getting the best value for its money, the audit says.

Voters created the state lottery in 1984 by approving a ballot measure that required 34 percent of sales revenue go to schools and capped administrative expenses at 16 percent. But the legislature acted in 2010 to allow a smaller percentage to go to education as long as lottery managers used “best practices.”

Alva V. Johnson, the lottery’s director, disputed that the agency has shortchanged schools, saying he and the auditors have a “fundamental difference of opinion” over how to interpret the law.

Following on the heels of the audit is a newly launched review by state Controller Betty T. Yee about a lottery-ticket giveaway, which the lottery says was a marketing promotion. The Los Angeles Times reported last month that the lottery gave $212,500 worth of Scratchers tickets to The Ellen DeGeneres’ talk show to be handed out to the studio audience.

The new probe and the audit findings are just the latest in a series of controversies to hit the lottery, including an audit last year that found more than $305,000 in improper or questionable spending on travel, food, gifts to employees, and entertainment.

Briefly Stated contributors: Associated Press, Catherine Gewertz, and Tribune News Service. Edited by Karen Diegmueller.
A version of this article appeared in the March 04, 2020 edition of Education Week as Briefly Stated


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