Thursday’s Children and the Law News Roundup

Judge Backs Student Who Said He Couldn’t ‘Accept Gays’, The School Law Blog – Education Week

A federal district judge has ruled that a high school teacher violated the free speech rights of a Michigan student by removing him from class for expressing views that he didn’t “accept gays” because of his Roman Catholic faith.

U.S. District Judge Patrick J. Duggan of Detroit awarded nominal damages of $1 to Daniel Glowacki, who was a junior at Howell High School in the fall of 2010 when the events at issue occurred.

In a case that, “highlights a tension that exists between public school anti-bullying policies and the First Amendment’s guarantee of free speech,” as he put it, the judge further held that the Howell Public School District was not liable in the case because it removed any record of discipline from the student’s file and has speech and anti-bullying policies that respect students’ First Amendment rights.

Children of “Tiger Parents” Develop More Aggression and Depression, Research Shows, CBS News

In 2011, Amy Chua sparked a nationwide debate when she championed her tough-love parenting style in the book, “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother.” Critics said the iron-fist child-rearing approach of the Chinese-American mom was too intense, stigmatizing or even damaging to the child.

New research and a just-published memoir suggest the critics may be right.

Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, followed more than 250 Chinese-American immigrant families with first- to second-grade children in the San Francisco Bay Area for over two years.

“We found that children whose parents use more authoritarian-type parenting strategies tend to develop more aggression, depression, anxiety, and social problems and have poorer social skills,” said Qing Zhou, an assistant professor of psychology who led the research.

Braille Instruction Receives Boost From Education Department, On Special Education – Education Week

Addressing concerns that some blind and visually impaired youth aren’t receiving Braille instruction when they need it, the Education Department released a “Dear Colleague” letter today reiterating that Braille should be the default literacy medium unless a school team determines that it is inappropriate for a given student.

Advocates Seek to Keep Youth Out of Adult Courts, Juvenile Justice Information Exchange

NEW YORK–New York is one of two states to prosecute 16-year-olds as adults. Some state politicians want to change the law so that anyone ages 16 or 17 goes to a youth court instead of an adult criminal court. Proponents of raising the age argue a higher age of criminal responsibility allows more teens to outgrow criminal behavior. Advocates say that teenagers outgrow criminal behavior when treated like teens instead of adults, a point supported by science. Bills that would allow 16- and 17-year-olds to be tried in juvenile courts were introduced to the State Legislature, one in the Assembly and one in the Senate, but the Assembly sponsor does not think either bill will pass.

Disproportionate Numbers of Minorities and English Learners in Special Education Programs

The overrepresentation and underrepresentation of minority students in special education programs represents a national issue that has pervaded society for the past several decades. Mark Guiberson, author of “Hispanic Representation in Special Education: Patterns and Implications,” explains that “overrepresentation occurs when the percentage of minority students in special education programs is greater than that in the school population as a whole.” Underrepresentation, on the other hand, occurs when schools fail to place students with disabilities in the appropriate programs. While students enrolled in special education programs represent approximately 13.1% of the national student population, the disproportionate enrollment of minority students in special education programs varies state-to-state.

For example, according to Texas A&M University’s Public Policy Research Institute, the minority student population in New York comprises approximately 61.6% of the student population in special education programs, while only an approximate 42.5% of the general student population classifies as minorities. The startling 19% difference between the general population and the population of minority students classified as having disabilities represents an overrepresentation of minority students in special education.

The Public Policy Research Institute found that approximately 14.7% of Oregon’s minority student population classifies as having disabilities while minority children represent 18% of its population, representing a difference of 3.3%. This 3.3% difference between Oregon’s percentage of minority children in the general population and its percentage of minority children in special education represents an underrepresentation of minority students in special education.

While alarming, the respective overrepresentation and underrepresentation of minority students in special education leads to an equally surprising corollary: the overrepresentation and underrepresentation of Limited English Proficiency students (LEPs) in special education programs. The government and most legal agencies tend to use “LEP” to describe students not born in the United States, students whose native language is not English, students who come from an environment where another language represents the dominate language, and students who display difficulties in speaking, reading, writing, and understanding English.

According to the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, in a statement by Peter Zamora, “nearly 80% of K-12 [LEPs] are Spanish-speaking Latinos,” with researchers predicting that, by 2025, one-quarter of the nation’s student population will identify as LEPs.

Of this large population of LEPs, researchers have estimated that “as many as three-fourths of [LEPs] enrolled in special education programs are improperly placed.” According to Guiberson, misidentification “occurs when students with disabilities are identified as having a disability different from the one they actually have” or when schools classify students without disabilities as having disabilities. Misidentification can easily lead to overrepresentation of LEPs in special education programs.

Trends of LEP overrepresentation and underrepresentation exist across the country, particularly in states with the largest number of LEP students. According to Rose M. Payan and Michael T. Nettles, authors of “Current State of English-Language Learners in the U.S. K-12 Student Population,” California, Texas, Florida, New York, and Illinois respectively represent the top-five states with the largest number of LEPs, while South Carolina, Kentucky, and Indiana represent the states with the fastest growing LEP student population.

According to the Texas Education Agency, in the 2009-2010 school year, LEPs represented 14.7% of Texas’ student population enrolled in special education programs. Compared to the 9% of the general population enrolled in special education programs, the state’s 14.7% represents a disproportionate overrepresentation of LEP students enrolled in special education programs.

The overrepresentation continued throughout the next school year with LEPs representing 14.4% of the student population enrolled in special education programs, while only 8.8% of the general population required special education services. Furthermore, in the 2011-2012 school year, LEPs represented 14.3% of the student population enrolled in special education programs, while only 8.6% of the general student population participated in special education programs.

In contrast, Florida’s population of LEP students faces a severe underrepresentation in special education programs. In 2010, when the special education population represented 19.3% of the general student population, LEPs represented only 5.5% of the special education population.

Similarly, in 2011, while the general education population enrolled in special education programs dropped to 19%, the LEP population enrolled in special education programs rose to 5.9%. The underrepresentation persisted in 2012 when the general education population enrolled in special education programs leveled out at 18.6%, while the LEP population enrolled in special education programs rose to 6%.

The overrepresentation and underrepresentation of LEPs in the special education population can largely be credited to the lack of certified professionals in the areas of both special education and English language acquisition.

For example, during the 2009-2010 school year, there was an average of 33.3 students per English as a Second Language (ESL) teacher in Texas, compared to an average of 14.5 students for each general education teacher. The trend similarly persisted throughout the 2010-2011 and 2011-2012 school years, with the average students-per-ESL-teacher ratio representing 43.5 and 47 per ESL teacher, respectively.

The disparity seems to intensify with the underrepresentation of LEP students in special education programs. In Florida, during the 2009-2010 school year, there was an average of 178.6 students per bilingual teacher, compared to an average of 15.8 students for each general education teacher. The trend similarly persisted throughout the 2010-2011 and 2011-2012 school years, with the average students-per-bilingual-teacher ratio representing 219.4 and 241.7 per bilingual teacher, respectively.

Researchers and educational theorists also claim that inadequate assessments and the failure to distinguish between struggles faced by LEP students and struggles caused by learning disabilities also contribute to the misidentification and overrepresentation of LEP students in the special education population.

To better distinguish between the educational struggles exhibited during English language acquisition and struggles exhibited in individuals with learning disabilities, theorists have suggested implementing a three-phase instructional and assessment reform. This three-phase reform includes creating a school environment that encourages the success of LEP students through the use of specific instructional strategies and providing early intervention through supplementary instruction. Early intervention strategies include clinical teaching, the implementation and use of Teacher Assistance Teams, and general education alternatives. The final phase of the three-phase reform includes referring students, who have received the benefits of both a positive school environment and early intervention strategies but still seem to significantly struggle with the educational material, to special education.

While no national standards have been put into place to better serve the overrepresented and underrepresented LEP population in special education programs, the issue presents a societal problem that, if not curtailed, could cause severe and long-lasting intellectual and emotional scars.

Tuesday’s Children and the Law News Roundup

Special Session Will Decide Maximum Sentence for Juveniles, KFDA

Amarillo, TX – Sentencing a juvenile to life without parole is unconstitutional, according to the U.S. Supreme Court.  And now Texas lawmakers are deciding how to change state law to abide by federal law.

Last year, SCOTUS ruled life without parole for someone under the age of 18 constitutes cruel and unusual punishment, and is therefore a violation of the Eighth Amendment.

So Texas, along with several other states, is tweaking its own statutes to stay within federal guidelines.  One of the items on the table in Austin in this year’s special session is Senate Bill 23, which would set the maximum sentence for a juvenile offender at life in prison with the possibility of parole after 40 years.

The Human Voice May Not Spark Pleasure in Children with Autism, NPR

The human voice appears to trigger pleasure circuits in the brains of typical kids, but not children with autism, a Stanford University team reports. The finding could explain why many children with autism seem indifferent to spoken words.

The Stanford team used functional MRI to compare the brains of 20 children who had autism spectrum disorders and 19 typical kids. In the typical kids there was a strong connection between areas that respond to the human voice and areas that release the feel-good chemical dopamine, says Vinod Menon of the Stanford University School of Medicine. But “the strength of this coupling is reduced in children with autism,” he says.

Minority Children with Autism Lack Access to Specialists, CNN.com

African-American and Hispanic children are far less likely to be seen by specialists – for autism, but also other medical conditions – and also less likely to receive specialized medical tests than their white peers, according to a new study published Monday in the journal Pediatrics.

Controversial ‘Right-to-Die’ Legislation Passes in Netherlands . . . For Children, TheBlaze.com

Two European countries are considering or just passed laws that would extend the “right-to-die” to gravely ill children.

Now, in the Netherlands, parents who cannot bear to watch the suffering of their dying child can have doctors administer muscle relaxants that will bring on death quicker, the Dutch Press reported (via Google Translate).

Sibling Bullying Causes Mental Health Problems in Children, The Inquisitr

Sibling bullying is something that affects millions of people, especially children. In a recent study researchers questioned 3600 adolescents aged 10-17. The study found that 32% of the people questioned had experienced at least one type of sibling bullying in the last year.

The study showed that children who are bullied are at a much higher risk of developing mental health issues. It was also noted that regardless of how mild or severe the sibling bullying is, the effect on the child being bullied can be severe leading to various types of mental health issues.