Schools liable for cyberbullying

Under civil rights law, school officials must act to curb harassment of students off campus and after school, including cyberbullying, declares a “Dear Colleague” from the Education Department. From the Daily Caller:

“Harassing conduct may take many forms, including verbal acts and name-calling; graphic and written statements, which may include use of cell phones or the Internet… it does not have to include intent to harm, be directed at a specific target, or involve repeated incidents [but] creates a hostile environment … [which can] limit a student’s ability to participate in or benefit from the services, activities, or opportunities offered by a school,” according to the far-reaching letter, which was completed Oct. 26 by Russlynn Ali, who heads the agency’s civil rights office.

School officials will face lawsuits even when they are ignorant about students’ statements, if a court later decides they “reasonably should have known” about their students’ conduct, said the statement.

. . .  “The school may need to provide training or other interventions not only for the perpetrators, but also for the larger school community, to ensure that all students, their families, and school staff can recognize harassment if it recurs and know how to respond… [and] provide additional services to the student who was harassed in order to address the effects of the harassment,” said the letter.

Facebook is adding a feature that will let users “report content to someone in their support system (like a parent or teacher),” Facebook announced March 11 after the White House conference on school bullying. Presumably some children will report perceived harassment to a teacher or principal, making the school responsible for doing something about it.

The National School Board Association objects to expanding schools’ ‘legal risks,” reports Reason.

The remedies being pushed by administration officials will also violate students’ and families’ privacy rights, disregard student’s constitutional free-speech rights, spur expensive lawsuits against cash-strapped schools, and constrict school official’ ability to flexibly use their own anti-bullying policies to manage routine and unique issues, said the NSBA letter.

School officials have a responsibility to protect students from bullying and harassment when they’re in school. Making that a 24/7 obligation . . . It’s too much to ask.

Update: Rep. Jackie Speier, a California Democrat, plans to introduce legislation requiring schools that receive federal aid to report bullying to the federal government and specify whether disabled students were involved.

2+2 = litigation

Judges shouldn’t pick math curricula, writes Joshua Dunn, a University of Colorado political science professor, in the fall issue of Education Next.

In February 2010, a state judge overturned the Seattle school board’s decision to use the “Discovering” math curriculum. The adoption had prompted a lawsuit by a retired math teacher, a professor of atmospheric science and the mother of a high school student.

The plaintiffs argued that the curriculum would widen rather than narrow Seattle’s achievement gap between minority and white children. One of the plaintiffs, Professor Cliff Mass, wrote in his blog, “Seattle Public Schools picked high school math books that are not only bad for everyone, but they are PARTICULARLY bad for the disadvantaged who don’t have extra cash for tutoring or whose parents don’t have the time or backgrounds to help their kids.”

In February 2010, Judge Julie Spector agreed with the plaintiffs in a terse three-page opinion devoid of any analysis. She simply asserted that the district behaved arbitrarily and capriciously and that there was “insufficient evidence for any reasonable member of the board to approve the selection of the Discovering Series.”

The curriculum may be faddish and foolish, Dunn writes, but the judge was “arbitrary and capricious” in substituting her judgment for that of the school board.

While the Seattle school district is appealing Judge Spector’s decision, parents have filed suit to get the Issaquah school district to drop the Discovering series. Bellevue, another district with well-to-do and well-organized parents, faces a possible lawsuit over Discovering.

Show me the money!

The fad of suing states for more education funding has reached the state that can probably least afford it.

More than 60 children and nine school districts across California filed a historic lawsuit Thursday, arguing that elected officials have failed in their constitutional obligation to support public schools.

* * * *

In short, the case seeks to force the state Legislature and governor to fix a broken education funding system – one that has failed to take into account what it actually costs to educate a child, plaintiffs’ attorneys said.

Let me translate that for you: give our schools more money, because the $7500 – $11,000 per pupil that we spend (depending on whom you ask — the lower numbers tend to adjust for California’s higher “cost of living”) isn’t enough.
Part of the reason it’s not enough, we are to believe, is that California is below average:

The lawsuit notes that California lags well behind other states in funding and resources, falling to 44th in per pupil spending among states and 47th when adjusted for cost of living. The state ranks 49th in overall staffing ratios and 50th in librarians, the suit says. To reach the national average the state would need to hire another 104,000 teachers, plaintiff attorneys said.

“What’s most frustrating is that kids in other parts of the country have more opportunity than we do,” said Maya Robles-Wong, 16, the lead plaintiff in the suit and an Alameda High School junior, at a San Francisco news conference. “I’m here today to ask the state to fix this problem.”

There’s something good about the drive to excel: being low man on the totem pole can be a great motivator.  But it should be a motivator to improve.  The problem with looking at states in terms of being below average in expenditures is just that: you’re looking at expenditures.  All you have to do to close the gap is spend more of the taxpayer’s money.  Someone is always going to be below average.  Someone has to be the bottom of the 50-state survey of pupil spending.  (And if states all spend exactly the same, you can make a state below average with a cost of living adjustment!)

The lawsuit is actually funny that way.  Its premise goes something like this: The constitution demands that we do X.  We’re not doing X.  The reason that we’re not doing X is because we don’t have enough money.  Therefore the constitution demands that we get more money in order to do X.  I don’t think it takes a genius to figure out where the problem in that valid but unsound argument is.

In a perfect world, the governor’s office would use this lawsuit as a showcase to ask that question: why is it impossible for schools to work with the money they have?  But we all know that’s not going to happen.

Lawyered to death

Lawyered-up students are harassing teachers and administrators, writes George Will.

A 2004 survey reported that 78 percent of middle and high school teachers have been subjected to legal threats from students bristling with rights. Students, sensing the anxiety that seizes schools when law intrudes into incidental relations, challenge teachers’ authority.

Someone hurt while running at recess might sue the school district for inadequate supervision of the runner, as Broward Country knows: It settled 189 playground lawsuits in five years. In Indiana, a boy did what boys do: He went down a slide head first — and broke his femur. The school district was sued for inadequate supervision. Because of fears of such liabilities, all over America playgrounds have been stripped of the equipment that made them fun. So now in front of televisions and computer terminals sit millions of obese children, casualties of what attorney and author Philip Howard calls “a bubble wrap approach to child rearing” produced by the “cult of safety.”

In Washington state, students are entitled to a lawyer at a truancy hearing, an appellate court has ruled.