Student Well-Being Briefly Stated

Briefly Stated: Stories You May Have Missed

October 26, 2020 9 min read
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Reports of Assault, Rape Increasing on K-12 Campuses

Judging by data the U.S. Department of Education just put out, K-12 campuses are becoming more dangerous—or it could be that students and schools are getting better at submitting reports of sexual assaults. Schools reported nearly twice as many allegations of sexual assaults and rapes in 2017-18 as they did in 2015-16, early analyses of the latest Civil Rights Data Collection indicate.

The collection released this month covers some 50.9 million students in 97,632 district, charter, and juvenile-justice schools. Nationwide, schools reported 786 incidents of rape and attempted rape in 2017-18—up from 394 in 2015-16—and 14,152 incidents of other kinds of sexual assault, such as fondling—up from 9,255. These data include allegations of incidents on campuses or buses or during school-sponsored events.

The department’s office for civil rights said it had taken steps to improve the reporting and data process this cycle, after significant problems occurred during 2015-16. Of the 1,100 rapes originally reported on campus in 2015-16, for instance, more than 200 were attributed to a single district in Murrieta, Calif., where it was later confirmed no actual rapes or sexual assaults had taken place.

As for those who were restrained or secluded, students with disabilities and those covered under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act represented more than three-quarters of students restrained by schools in the 2017-18 school year.

Those numbers suggest that a higher proportion of students with disabilities has been subjected to the highly controversial disciplinary methods since the last time national data were collected.

That shift is in the wrong direction, said Lauren Morando Rhim, the executive director and co-founder of the National Center for Special Education in Charter Schools. “We urge Congress to take action to pass federal protections to eliminate these harsh and inhumane practices, and we urge districts and schools to turn away from these dangerous forms of punishment and instead to commit to holistic approaches to behavior.”

Overall, nearly 102,000 students were subjected to restraint and seclusion during the 2017-18 school year, compared with 124,500 reported during the 2015-16 school year. The numbers are likely to be underreported, however.

When It Comes to Having Targets on Their Backs, Large, Wealthy Districts in the Burbs Hit the Mark

Big. Wealthy. Suburban. Many school officials might envy those traits.

In one area, though, they should be glad they don’t have big, wealthy, suburban school systems. Those are the ones most likely to report a data breach, says the Government Accountability Office, Congress’ investigative arm. And hacking right now is the last thing districts want when COVID-19 has made distance learning the lifeline for so many schools across the country.

Here’s where affluence comes in. The GAO found that districts where no more than one-quarter of students are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch made up 26 percent of reported breaches, although they represent only 15 percent of all districts.

And locale? Suburban districts comprise 61 percent of districts with breaches, although they represent only 39 percent of districts overall. On the other hand, rural districts made up 21 percent of districts with reported breaches, even though they make up 42 percent of districts overall. Urban districts comprise 19 percent of all districts—and 17 percent of districts with reported data breaches.

As for size, school systems with less than 1,000 students make up 60 percent of all districts, but just 18 percent of those with reported hacks. Meanwhile, districts with more than 10,000 students make up just 5 percent of districts overall but 30 percent of reported hacks.

Why might that be? Experts the GAO talked to had a few ideas. For one thing, it might be easier to target larger districts since they are likely to have more staff members and, therefore, more people to be fooled by a phishing email. And bigger, wealthier districts are more likely to use more technology than smaller, poorer ones, which also provides more opportunities for a breach. Wealthy, large, suburban districts are also more inclined to have people constantly monitoring their networks, say a chief technology officer, and may notice—and report—an attack, which less well-resourced districts may not.

And guess who’s right at the top of the cyber-bandit list? A bunch of thieves inside a boiler room? Nope. Taking the top honor are students.

Federal Judge Reluctantly Decides That Students Have No Constitutional Right to Civics Education

Public schools may have been founded on the ideal of turning young people into informed citizens, but a nearly 50-year-old U.S. Supreme Court case trumps the idea that students nowadays have a constitutional right to civics education.

That was the reluctant decision of a federal judge this month in a lawsuit brought by Rhode Island high school students.

The long-awaited ruling, at least for now, means that the state won’t have to scramble to remedy what the students argued was substandard civics preparation in many schools, in violation of their rights. But the plaintiffs have already indicated they plan to appeal the decision.

The ruling comes amid a wave of litigation seeking to show that a constitutional right to education exists. It also comes at a time when the country’s civic participation is in turmoil.The 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision, in San Antonio Independent School District v. Rodriguez, effectively scotched federal fiscal-equity lawsuits in K-12 education. In a paragraph of the ruling, though, Associate Justice Lewis F. Powell suggested that a district or state might fail so egregiously to educate students that it would rise to the level of a constitutional violation.

Referring to Rodriguez, Judge William E. Smith wrote in his Oct. 13 decision, “The arc of the law in this area is clear. So there is little doubt that Plaintiffs’ claims must be dismissed.”But Smith’s decision was notable for his unusual reluctance to dismiss the matter out of hand.

“This case does not represent a wild-eyed effort to expand the reach of substantive due process, but rather a cry for help from a generation of young people who are destined to inherit a country which we—the generation currently in charge—are not stewarding well,” he wrote. “What these young people seem to recognize is that American democracy is in peril.”

He even referenced troubling current events as symptoms of a national problem with civic preparation, pointing to the rise in authoritarianism around the world; echo-chamber news consumption; some of President Donald Trump’s troubling tweets about potentially delaying U.S. elections; and the scenes of civil unrest following George Floyd’s death earlier this summer in Minneapolis, among others.

7 Months and Counting, Home Internet’s Lacking

The vast majority of district leaders and principals say at least some of their students still don’t have sufficient internet access at home for remote learning—seven months into a pandemic that has upended every facet of the American education system.

Recent surveys reflect strong convictions among educators that the level of home internet access in the communities they serve continues to be inadequate. With millions of students learning from home as the COVID-19 pandemic continues, the urgency to resolve those issues remains high.

Slightly more than two-thirds of district leaders and principals say they need government funds to buy hotspots or home Wi-Fi for families, according to a nationwide EdWeek Research Center survey conducted in late September and early October. Only 11 percent of respondents said all students in their school or district have the level of home internet access they need to fully participate in remote instruction.

A second report, this one by Chiefs for Change, a bipartisan group of education leaders, calls for a federal commitment to universal broad-band access.

One federal mechanism for expanding internet access is the existing E-Rate program from the Federal Communications Commission, which supplies funds for schools to extend Wi-Fi service to their physical buildings. But FCC Chairman Ajit Pai has repeatedly declined to grant schools permission to use such funds to extend internet access to neighborhoods surrounding schools, even as homes have become classrooms for millions of students.

Public sentiment to remedy this situation is strong. In a September poll by Morning Consult and the Internet Innovation Alliance, 95 percent of voters said internet access for students and teachers is a problem, and more than 60 percent said broadband access more generally should be an “immediate” concern for Congress. And, the poll found, about half of Americans are even willing to “pay a little more” money if it means extending broadband access to those who don’t have it.

There’s some reason for optimism. A quarter of school leaders surveyed by the EdWeek Research Center said it’s “very likely” all their students will have adequate internet access by the end of the school year, and another quarter said that prospect is “somewhat likely.” Still, that leaves 37 percent who say it’s somewhat or very unlikely that the digital divide will be gone by the end of the school year.

La. Legislators Untangling Online Discipline Policy

Navigating what’s allowable and what’s taboo during online learning is still a work in progress. Lawmakers are trying to bring some clarity to that very issue in Louisiana. State legislators are taking a stab at rewriting the state’s student-discipline laws after a Jefferson Parish 4th grader was suspended because a teacher saw a BB gun in his bedroom during online classes. That child is one of several who’ve gotten into trouble because of the visibility of BB guns in their computer’s viewing area.

Ka’Mauri Harrison was suspended in September for six days for violating a school policy banning weapons on school property and at school events after a teacher saw the gun in his room as he took a test via computer. Initially, Ka’Mauri was recommended for expulsion, though that later was changed to a suspension.

His father, Nyron Harrison, said his son’s brother tripped over the gun and Ka’Mauri picked it up briefly while visible on camera to move the weapon.

“I just felt like my home was totally invaded, once they told me he was taking his test and doing what he was supposed to do,” the father said.

The House bill would give students and their families more options to appeal disciplinary decisions, including filing some challenges in district court. It would require the state’s school districts to clearly define the rules of conduct for students who are taking classes online. Students would be entitled to a school board hearing and judicial review of disciplinary actions.

“This is a very good bill because it addresses a problem that none of us really anticipated,” said Liz Murrill from the Louisiana attorney general’s office. “I don’t think anyone contemplated that all of the on-campus policies would apply to your home.”

Briefly Stated Contributors: Alyson Klein, Mark Lieberman, Christina Samuels, Stephen Sawchuk, Sarah D. Sparks, and Tribune News Service. Edited by Karen Diegmueller.
A version of this article appeared in the October 28, 2020 edition of Education Week as Briefly Stated: Stories You May Have Missed

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