Weekly Roundup

Let’s change the conversation around mental health, Michelle Obama, February 17, 2016

“Sadly, too often, the stigma around mental health prevents people who need help from seeking it. But that simply doesn’t make any sense. Whether an illness affects your heart, your arm or your brain, it’s still an illness, and there shouldn’t be any distinction. We would never tell someone with a broken leg that they should stop wallowing and get it together. We don’t consider taking medication for an ear infection something to be ashamed of. We shouldn’t treat mental health conditions any differently. Instead, we should make it clear that getting help isn’t a sign of weakness – it’s a sign of strength – and we should ensure that people can get the treatment they need.

That’s why the Affordable Care Act expanded mental health and substance use disorder benefits and parity protections for more than 60 million Americans and required new plans to cover depression screenings for adults and behavioral assessments for kids.”

Criminal Justice Bill Tackles School Prison Pipeline, Ellen Yu, February 15, 2016

“Georgia lawmakers are considering a criminal justice reform package that includes changes to school disciplinary procedures.

[…] 

SB 367 would enact reforms recommended this year by the Georgia Council on Criminal Justice, which said in its report that “most young offenders outgrow delinquent and criminal behavior with increased involvement in school and work.”

“[Y]et schools are one of the largest referral sources for delinquency complaints filed in the juvenile courts,” the report said. 

The proposal would require local school boards to establish a system of “progressive discipline” before filing a complaint against a student for “disrupting a public school.”  

“They are encouraging the use of educational approaches to resolve discipline problems in school as opposed to defaulting to exclusionary practices like suspension and expulsion and complaints being made with the juvenile court,” Carter said of the recommendations. 

[…]

According to data compiled by the Georgia Legal Services Program, 50 percent of students expelled in Georgia in the 2011-2012 school year were African-American. African Americans represented 37 percent of students enrolled. 

Marlyn Tillman, co-founder of Gwinnett SToPP, a parent advocacy group to stop the “school to prison pipeline,” said the changes are long overdue. Her son was suspended in the 10th grade for a T-shirt interpreted by the school as being gang-related. 

“To treat things like a zero-tolerance or to be overly punitive on everything is just not good,” Tillman said. “It’s not healthy for our state, it’s not healthy for our community and it’s not sustainable.”

Broken Foster Care System Is Breaking Lives, Jacqueline Floyd, January 22, 2016

3In the years that followed, Danny’s life followed a miserably predictable downward spiral. He was shuffled from one home to the next, sometimes enduring further abuse from older children, then starting to prey on younger kids himself. He disrupted his classes, had fantasies about hurting or killing himself.

As a result of his tour through Texas’ foster-care system, Danny, who is now 14, is “a very disturbed boy … with a high risk for sexually harming children,” according to a psychologist who examined him.

There are an estimated 11,000 other kids like Danny, permanent wards of the state’s Department of Family and Protective Services.

The barely concealed anger in a federal judge’s 260-page ruling last month suggests  “protective” is a breathtaking misnomer. With the ruthless consistency of a malfunctioning machine, the state takes vulnerable, fragile children – and makes them worse.”

Poisoned Children in Flint, Michigan

Jake May | AP Photo

Beyoncé, celebrity singer, recently announced her financial support towards the Flint Child Health and Development Fund, bringing more attention to the the water crisis in Flint, Michigan. The poisonous water issue came to light in fall of 2015, when researchers concluded the tap water residents were drinking was causing elevated lead levels in children’s blood. Since 2013, Flint had changed their water source. Instead of getting the city’s drinking water from Lake Huron, the city treated water from the Flint river. The lead originated from the corrosive treated water as it leached from the pipes and soldering.

State and federal government failed to address the water crisis in time. The Flint population is concerned that the test results of unfiltered tap water remain high. Although residents have received filters to remove that level of lead, officials maintain that children under 6 and pregnant women should only use and drink bottled water.

About 8,000 children under 6 may have been exposed to the poisoned water, which may have caused irreparable damage to their developing brains and nervous systems. The research indicating a link between lead levels and learning disabilities, violent behavior, attention problem and motor coordination is alarming. Young children under 6 are particularly vulnerable since they are still developing.

Many residents and advocates have expressed their anger towards the government, while also bringing up the racial prejudice and the difficult economic background of Flint residents. Would this have happened if the city was primarly composed of middle class white americans? Flint Mayor Karen Weaver said it would cost $1.5 billion to repair the city’s water infrastructure, and too expensive to switch back to Lake Huron water. Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder finally declared a state of emergency and summoned the National Guard to distribute clean water.

Legal routes include an investigation to determine whether the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality violated the Safe Drinking Water Act by not treating the Flint Water with an anti-corrosive agent. Additionally, the ACLU intend to sue state and city officials for “fail[ing| to cure their noncompliance with the (Safe Drinking Water Act) within 60 days.” There could even be criminal allegations towards lawmakes for negligence and indifference.

With the state emergency money and some charitable funds, Dr. Hanna-Attisha hopes they can seize this opportunity to create a new public health program with psychiatrists, nutritionists and child development experts. She was at the forefront of documenting the blood lead levels in children and is getting together resources to assist with these children’s learning and medical problems.

Our government will have to provide the adequate care and services to help the children in Flint, but also work to prevent this life altering crisis from happening again.

Zero Tolerance Policies: Courts Turn a Blind Eye

Students do not enjoy a Constitutional right to a free education. Nonetheless, in Goss v. Lopez, the Supreme Court held that students are entitled to the Fourteenth Amendment’s due process protections when they are suspended or expelled from school.

The Fourteenth Amendment includes both procedural due process and substantive due process. The first requires specific steps to be followed when taking certain protected rights from individuals, while the latter considers the interests at stake to decide whether the government action is an appropriate means to address the concern at hand. Because school officials are considered state agents, they are bound by the Fourteenth Amendment.

Goss v. Lopez represented a significant win for recognizing students’ rights. The Court found that independent sources—such as state regulations and compulsory attendance policies—could create a property right for students. Moreover, the Court reasoned that extraction from the classroom could tarnish a student’s reputation and consequently hurt her long-term opportunities. As a result, the Court decided that when a student is suspended or expelled for ten days or less, she must be given oral or written notice as well as a potential hearing.

In spite of this symbolic triumph, Goss v. Lopez has proved to be of little help in questioning the validity of zero tolerance rules. Many times zero tolerance regulations mandate a student be automatically extracted from her classroom for certain outlined misbehaviors. Although these policies provide school administrators little discretion in deciding the most appropriate punishment for a student’s misconduct, courts have found that zero tolerance policies meet the rational relation requirement. Thus, as long as an administrator goes through the motions of providing a student notification and a hearing—which is unlikely to change the outlined consequence demanded by a zero tolerance regulation—challenges to these policies will likely fail. Furthermore, Courts’ hesitancy to conduct a fact-finding investigation of a school’s disciplinary measures is attributed to a historic deference to schools’ judgment, a student’s lack of a fundamental right to an education, and—in the case of federal courts—a state’s established role as the overseer of public education.

Yet encouraging courts to take a more active role in examining the soundness of zero tolerance policies could be an effective tool in ensuring a student only loses out on valuable education time when their misconduct poses a sufficient danger to warrant this drastic measure. The real challenge, thus, is finding a way to provide courts with the necessary courage to take on this charge.