Bryan ISD Investigated for School-Based Ticketing Due To Disparate Impact on African-American Students

From NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund:

In a letter sent to LDF, the U.S. Department of Education has confirmed it will investigate a complaint  that we and Texas Appleseed filed which challenges the “disparate impact” that Bryan school district’s practice of issuing criminal citations for minor misbehavior has on African-American students, who are ticketed at four times the rate of their peers.

“This investigation sends a strong message to school districts around the country that the government takes seriously allegations that police are criminalizing children in school instead of keeping them safe,” said Rachel Kleinman, Assistant Counsel with the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc.

“We are pleased that OCR is pursuing this important issue and look forward to working with the Department of Education and the Bryan school district to find more positive approaches to improving student behavior and keeping more children in class and out of the court system,” said Texas Appleseed Deputy Director Deborah Fowler.

Ann Boney, President of the Brazos County NAACP, said, “We are pleased that we will move forward with this issue and begin developing a positive approach that will benefit all concerned parties.”

African-American students comprised only 21% of the Bryan district’s student population in 2011-12, but received 53% of all tickets issued last year for Disruption of Class and 51% for Disorderly Conduct-Language (profanity). While the Texas lawmakers passed legislation this spring ending school-based ticketing in most cases, school districts can still file formal complaints and send students to court for the same types of minor misbehavior.

“In a very real sense, districts like Bryan are using law enforcement as a disciplinary tool, leading students into the school-to-prison pipeline,” said Senior Attorney Michael Harris, with the National Center for Youth Law. “But research shows these matters are far better handled by educators and parents.”

We are asking OCR to require Bryan ISD to provide additional training for school police officers in adolescent behavior, conflict resolution and de-escalation techniques. We are strongly encouraging implementation of nationally-tested programs shown to reduce disciplinary problems and boost academics—such as School-Wide Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports. Our complaint also proposes:

  • Revisions to the Bryan Student Code of Conduct to establish graduated consequences for misbehavior that minimize missed class time and reserve suspension, expulsion, and police responses to student misbehavior to only those incidents that pose a safety risk;
  • Required campus-based quarterly reporting of data on ticketing and school-related arrests, by type of incident disaggregated by race; and
  • Intervention services for students who receive multiple Class C citations and/or disciplinary referrals and who are at risk of educational failure.

It is a common practice in Texas for school districts to bring in the criminal system to handle issues with students that many people should be dealt with internally. The school-to-prison pipeline in Texas is used way too often and it is about time the Department of Education notices. Hopefully this investigation will lead to the elimination of this disparate impact practice.

U.S. Secretary of Education: Children with Disabilities Held to Same Standards

From Joy Resmovits at the Huffington Post:

Should students with disabilities be held to the same academic standards as their peers? And should schools and teachers be held accountable for their progress?

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan answered that question with a resounding yes, proposing a seemingly wonky regulatory change that could have profound effects on some of the nation’s most vulnerable learners.

Since President Barack Obama came into office, his administration has upheld and advanced policies that have increased the stakes of standardized testing, arguing that student progress ultimately matters above all other concerns. Policies such as the Race to the Top competition derive from the 2001 No Child Left Behind Act, which tied federal school aid to standardized test results. A subsequent 2003 regulation allowed states to use “alternate achievement standards” for up to 1 percent of students with the most challenging cognitive disabilities.

In 2007, the Education Department tweaked the law to allow 2 percent of students per state to learn a curriculum based on “modified” objectives and be measured on an aligned test. The feds based that number on the “percent of students who may not reach grade-level achievement standards within the same time frame as other students, even after receiving the best-designed instructional interventions from highly trained teachers,” the department wrote in the Federal Register. States could use the modified tests to measure student performance of these 2 percent under No Child Left Behind.

Since then, a consortium of advocacy groups representing special education students, such as the Easter Seals and the National Center for Learning Disabilities, have pushed to end the allowance. “The expectation should be that students presently taking the … [alternate exams] will participate in the general assessment, with appropriate accommodations as needed,” the group wrote in July.

Now the Secretary of Education is responding to those pleas. On Friday, the administration posted a proposal to roll back the rule, which would let states already administering alternate tests use them for the last time this school year. The administration can act on its own accord and is gathering feedback from the public until Oct. 7 before making a final decision.

“We have to expect the very best from our students and tell the truth about student performance, to prepare them for college and career,” Duncan said in a statement. “That means no longer allowing the achievement of students with disabilities to be measured by these alternate assessments aligned to modified achievement standards. This prevents these students from reaching their full potential, and prevents our country from benefitting [sic] from that potential.”

Shortly after Duncan released the proposal, he garnered praise from Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), who chairs the Senate education committee, and groups representing student disabilities.

“The 2 percent rule was bad in 2007 because it was basically a punt that allowed the academic progress of a million kids with disabilities to not matter,” said Katy Neas, who leads government relations for Easter Seals. “It was bad from the beginning. It needs to end.”

Others were less sure. “WTF?” tweeted columnist Sarah Littman in response to the news. “HAS @ARNEDUNCAN EVER TALKED TO SPED [special education] KIDS? IS HE [EFFING] SERIOUS?!!!”

The government is aware of these concerns, said Michael Yudin, acting assistant secretary for special education and rehabilitative services, in an interview. “This is not going to be easy … I do talk to parents of kids with disabilities every day — my staff does, my team does,” he said in response to the tweet. “Whether a kid is two or three grade levels down, whether the kid has an [individualized education plan] or not, you still have the kind of challenges: How would you provide the right types of support and instruction to make sure that kid accesses grade-level content? This is definitely going to be hard but we also firmly believe this is doable.”

He added that states would still be able to count 1 percent of kids, those with the most severe disabilities, as proficient on alternate assessments even under the new regulations (the 1 percent rule is a different regulation that the administration isn’t proposing to tweak).

The National Education Association, the nation’s largest teachers union, plans to submit public comments in opposition to the proposal, according to the group’s policy analyst John Riley. “We’ve always opposed these arbitrary percentage caps when it comes to assessing students with disabilities,” Riley said. “Who makes up this 1 percent, this 2 percent number?” Schools should make these determinations on their own, he said.

For the NEA, the question comes down to aspiration versus reality. “We’re talking about students with disabilities who have documented life-impacting issues, that if they could do everything else the other students were doing, they’d be doing that,” Riley said. “We have to take an individualized look at how we’re assessing them … Some students don’t fall on the normal bell curve.”

The administration wants to reverse the rule now because tests are evolving, Yudin said. “When this policy was originally developed in 2007, we were in a different world,” he said. “General assessments were difficult for struggling students with disabilities to access.” New standardized tests aligned to the Common Core State Standards, he said, “were required to be designed in a way that is accessible to all” and are more promising.

“It’s time,” Yudin said. “We’re all moving to college- and career-ready standards.”

Since 2007, only 16 states have used alternative standards and assessments, Yudin said. Next year, only 14 states have plans to use such exams.

Still, said NCLD’s Lindsay Jones, “We agree that they need to be eradicated.” Jones said she’s seen many examples of districts that placed many more students into alternate exams “than we would think need to be there” in order to mask low performance on standardized tests.

“That had a real negative effect on these students,” she said.

The direction the Secretary of Education wants to take is going to have great consequences. Children that have disabilities that have been pushed through grades because of the old standardized testing could be stalled in the same grade now because of the new rule. However, the administration has a good point in that we need to be honest with our children so that they can have a realistic world view. That being said, schools being so college/career centric may not be the best policy for every child. It will be interesting to see how this rule is implemented and if many schools refuse to follow it.

Photo courtesy of A Game of Roles.

Thursday’s Children and the Law News Roundup

Canadian Teen Commits Suicide After Alleged Rape, Bullying, CNN

The family of a teenager who committed suicide after she was allegedly gang-raped and bullied is urging Canadian officials to reconsider filing criminal charges.

Rehtaeh Parsons, a 17-year-old high school student from Halifax, Nova Scotia, was taken off life support on Sunday, three days after she tried to hang herself. Her family told CNN they met with Canadian justice officials on Wednesday and the officials assured them they would take a fresh look at filing charges.

The teen was bullied for more than a year after the alleged sexual assault, which happened in November 2011 when she was 15, her family said.

Authorities confirmed that a photograph allegedly showing Parsons having sex with one of the boys was circulated to friends’ mobile phones and computers. As a result, her family said she developed suicidal thoughts.

Charter School’s Entry Fee is Illegal, The Houston Chronicle

Houston Gateway Academy, a public charter school that serves mostly low-income families, was charging parents fees to enroll their children in violation of state law, according to the Texas Education Agency.

Applicants to the school received a letter saying the fee – $100 for one child or $200 per family – was required for students to land a reserved spot next fall.

The school described the mandatory payment as an “activity fee” that was “for but not limited to special activities, P.E. equipment and other supplies, bus transportation for field trips, enrichment activities and/or renovations district wide.”

Charter schools and traditional school districts are allowed to charge for materials, student clubs, identification cards and a few other areas under state law, but the fees cannot be tied to admission, said TEA spokeswoman Debbie Ratcliffe.

Best and Worst Restaurant Meals for Kids, The Houston Chronicle

A nonprofit consumer advocacy group is urging restaurants to take greater steps to encourage kids to eat healthier.

A recent report by the Centers for Science in the Public Interest looks at nutrition information from kids’ meals in some of the country’s top restaurant chains and evaulates the meals based on nutrition guidelines laid out by the National Restaurant Association’s Kids LiveWell program.

The study, performed by CSPI and the University of North Carolina at Asheville, looked at the 50 top U.S. restaurant chains but could only find nutrition info for 34 of them.