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zero tolerance

The groundbreaking move follows negotiations with the federal government, which sent out a letter to school systems warning that disciplinary patterns with “disparate impact” were under suspicion. There is of course a reformist cast for rethinking some harsh aspects of school discipline systems, zero tolerance policies being one, but not the only, example. Such reforms might well have the effect of narrowing disproportionately high rates of discipline for students in some minority groups. But the Minneapolis system’s move (apparently encouraged by Washington) to consider race explicitly in the suspension process, with minority kids getting an additional layer of review, raises the likelihood of a challenge under the Constitution’s equal protection clause, as does the setting of an enforceable compliance objective of achieving identical suspension rates from one demographic group to the next independent of whether misconduct rates are identical. [Tom Corbett/Star Tribune, Hans Bader/CEI, John Steele Gordon/Commentary, RiShawn Biddle/Dropout Nation (a different view)].

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Schools roundup

by Walter Olson on November 12, 2014

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Schools roundup

by Walter Olson on May 29, 2014

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Schools roundup

by Walter Olson on April 8, 2014

  • “Zero Tolerance Hurts Kids and Ruins Schools” [A. Barton Hinkle] “Teen’s military plans on hold after spending 13 days in jail” [WOIO, Ohio]
  • Who knew the visiting scholar of conservative thought would turn out to be conservative? [Boulder Daily Camera re: U. of Colorado attacks on Steven Hayward]
  • Case by case, courts take away right of taxpayers, lawmakers to regulate school spending [Steve Gunn, EAG News; earlier here, etc.]
  • Heather Mac Donald on gangs and the case for school discipline [NRO] More: Ruben Navarrette, CNN.
  • Editorial board endorses parent liability for school bullying [Newark Star-Ledger]
  • States to GAO: feds’ school lunch changes aren’t going well [Jason Bedrick, Cato; Washington Post]
  • Proposed Rhode Island law: “No Child Under 7th Grade Shall Get On or Off School Bus Without a Guardian” [Free-Range Kids] St. Louis: “Mom Arrested for Not Signing School Sign-In Book” [same]

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News item: Ohio school suspends 10-year-old for displaying a “level 2 look alike firearm.” Y’know, the kind you might use to pick your nose [CNN, ABA Journal]

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The Justice Department and Department of Education have sent out a Dear Colleague letter discouraging schools from pursuing strict discipline policies against student misbehavior, especially against “routine” or “minor” infractions; Education Secretary Arne Duncan cited tardiness and disrespect as examples of the latter. [Christian Science Monitor]

Assuming that the federal government has somehow acquired the legitimate constitutional authority to begin dictating the fine points of disciplinary policy to local schools in the first place — a big if — it might seem at first that much of this is innocuous. Some early coverage, for example, makes it sound as if the letter is mostly aimed at obtaining a reconsideration of zero-tolerance policies, long criticized in this space, as well as the sorts of suspensions and expulsions that are based on far-fetched dangers like finger guns or forbidden hugs.

Unfortunately, there’s much more. The letter represents the culmination of a years-long drive toward imposing tighter Washington oversight on school discipline policies that result in “disparate impact” among racial or other groups. Policies that result in the suspension of differentially more minority kids, or special-ed kids, will now be suspect — even if the rate of underlying behavior is not in fact uniform among every group. (Special-ed kids, for example, include many placed in that category because of emotional and behavioral problems that correlate with a higher likelihood of acting out in misbehavior. Boys misbehave more than girls.)

If the policy helps speed the correction of some overly harsh, mechanical school policies, both under the zero-tolerance rubric and otherwise, it may have some positive side effects. But the disparate-impact premise is a pernicious one that’s sure to create many new problems of its own. [Andrew Coulson, Cato; Scott Johnson, PowerLine]

More: in 2012 Senate testimony, Andrew Coulson pointed out that 1) compared with the alternatives, the use of out-of-school suspensions appears to improve the learning environment for other (non-disciplined) students by protecting them from disruption; 2) zero-tolerance policies were adopted in the first place in part as a defense for administrators against disparate-impact charges. In other words, the new supposed remedy (disparate-impact scrutiny) helped cause the disease to which it is being promoted as the cure. (& welcome Andrew Sullivan, Scott Greenfield, Hans Bader readers; cross-posted at Cato at Liberty)

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Schools roundup

by Walter Olson on December 27, 2013

  • Following outcry, Ohio lawmaker drops proposal to license homeschool parents [Jason Bedrick/Cato, sequel]
  • In Colorado U. crackdown on professor’s deviance course, university retracts claim that professor needed to clear controversial teaching with institutional review board [Inside Higher Ed, Zachary Schrag and sequel, background on IRBs]
  • The purely fictional, entirely bloodless “assassin” game — which I remember was played in my own high school years ago without anyone worrying — now seems to be controversial in suburban D.C. because School Violence and Think of the Children. [Washington Post; Bedrick, Cato on pretend "arrow" zero-tolerance case]
  • After son’s death, Ontario mom urges schools to let asthmatic kids carry inhalers [CBC, Bedrick]
  • Cathy Young on how the forces of unanimity police discussions of “rape culture” [Minding the Campus]
  • Kansas regents forbid faculty/staff to post social media content contrary to best interest of university [WaPo]
  • Don’t forget to stop home some time: more public schools serving dinner as well as breakfast and lunch [Future of Capitalism]

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Schools roundup

by Walter Olson on October 17, 2013

  • Opponents, including U.S. Department of Justice, go after school choice programs in court [Jason Bedrick, more]
  • Study finds bullying programs may have opposite from intended effect. Why, next they’ll tell us D.A.R.E. is a flop at curbing drug use. Oh wait [CBS Dallas]
  • National Association of the Deaf files lawsuit against Maryland, seeking captioning at sporting events [WaPo]
  • “NYC will spend $29 million on salaries, benefits of educators it can’t fire” [NY Daily News] [NY Times]
  • Gotta-cover-yourself incident and accident reports clog the classroom day with paper [Ted Frank, Point of Law]
  • “IRBs and mission creep” [Dave Hoffman, Prawfs, earlier]
  • Boy who drew cartoonish bomb at home suspended, reinstated [Fox Carolina, Free-Range Kids]

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Zero tolerance strikes again, this time at North Andover High School in Massachusetts [Jenny Erikson, CafeMom; Jason Bedrick, Cato]

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Guns roundup

by Walter Olson on June 24, 2013

  • Bloomberg’s Mayors Against Illegal Guns blurs lines between 501c(4), New York City government sponsorship [Politico]
  • “Ordinary purposes” of derringer include carrying it around routinely with safety not engaged, argue lawyers in product liability case [Abnormal Use]
  • Connecticut’s confiscatory law: “State took guns of man for mischief night egg fight” [Greenwich Time]
  • “This kind of insurance doesn’t even exist.” Concern over D.C. councilor Mary Cheh’s proposal for mandatory $250K coverage for gun owners [Washington Times]
  • $60K New York City fine for tourist shop that sold gun-shaped lighters [Reason]
  • And more annals of gun hysteria: “Suspension over gun-shaped toaster pastry is now permanent mark on kid’s record” [Eric Owens, Daily Caller] Episode of Lego-sized toy gun ends more happily [LtB] “‘Playing with Toy Guns Desensitizes Children to Using Real Guns…’ Uh, Sez Who?” [Free-Range Kids]
  • “Defense of mass surveillance = defense of more gun control: To get bad guys, treat EVERYONE like a criminal.” [@ABartonHinkle]

I’m a participant in an online forum put on by Common Good this week about the age of zero tolerance for aspirin pills, bans on games of “tag,” and broken-thermometer lockdowns. From their description:

We entrust our children to teachers and principals with the expectation that they will be both educated and protected from harm. When, inevitably, incidents happen — especially when those incidents are tragic and well-publicized — communities often press for stricter rules and procedures. School administrations have reacted to the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School with extreme protectiveness; one school suspended a six-year-old for “pointing his finger like a gun and saying ‘pow,’” while another suspended two boys for playing cops and robbers.

Also featured: Lenore Skenazy, Frederick Hess, Megan Rosker, and Nancy McDermott. From my contribution:

When they “err on the side of safety” in absurd ways, schools reflect trends in the wider society. … Already, by ten years ago, British commentator Jenny Cunningham could write that “A significant body of research evidence now indicates that there has been a drastic decline in children’s outdoor activity and unsupervised play. For example, it has been calculated that the free play range of children — the radius around the home to which children can roam alone — has, for nine-year-olds in the UK, shrunk to a ninth of what it was in 1970. Perhaps most damaging is that a climate has been created in which all unsupervised play is regarded as high risk, and parents or teachers who allow it are seen as irresponsible.” Cunningham notes that families now tend to see the risks of being hit by traffic or (far less likely) abducted by strangers as ruling out outdoor play. “Yet, despite the increasing levels of worry, in reality children have never been safer.” Sound familiar?

I go on to mention CPSIA, the wildly overreaching 2008 law regulating children’s products in the name of safety, and the proliferation of requirements that innocuous everyday chemicals be accompanied by material-safety-sheet paperwork. My conclusion: “If these are the trends in the outside society, how likely is it that schools will be able to resist?” (cross-posted from Cato at Liberty)

Guns roundup

by Walter Olson on May 23, 2013

  • Andrew Cuomo threatened county sheriffs with retaliation unless they stopped publicly criticizing his gun plan [Albany Times-Union; his brutally coercive style in an earlier gun controversy]
  • Quick Obama signing predicted: “USA shows strong support for new global Arms Trade Treaty” [Amnesty International] Senate less enthusiastic about it [The Hill] A dissent: non-lefty Prof. Ku doesn’t think treaty poses big gun control danger [Opinio Juris]
  • “A pencil is a weapon when it is pointed at someone in a threatening way and gun noises are made” [NBC Washington] Time was when you could get the counselors on your case if you *didn’t* bring a Swiss Army knife on a nature trip [Free-Range Kids] “High School Student Expelled for Unloaded Gun Forgotten In Trunk” [same]
  • “Studios fret that New York’s gun laws could hamper film production” [NYTimes]
  • “Why maximal enforcement of federal gun laws is not always a good idea” [Kopel] “The Worst Gun Control Idea Has Bipartisan Support” (new mandatory minimums for firearm possession; Daniel Denvir, The New Republic)
  • D.C. council holds hearing on proposal for mandatory liability insurance for gun ownership; Mayor Vincent Gray doesn’t like idea [WaPo, Eric Newcomer/Examiner, Insurance Journal, CBS Washington; earlier here, etc.]
  • “Yes, They Are Coming For People’s Guns in California” [Brian Doherty]

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Authorities have dropped charges against the Florida teen “who was expelled and charged with two felonies after conducting an unauthorized but harmless science experiment on the grounds of her school.” [Jesse Walker, earlier] And in the feel-good story of the day, former NASA astronaut Homer Hickam “awarded Kiera a scholarship to attend the United States Advanced Space Academy (ASA), a branch of the famous Space Camp in Huntsville, Alabama.” [Black Youth Project]

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“No one was hurt. There’s no sign that [Kiera] Wilmot was up to something malevolent. The kid’s own principal [at Bartow High School] thinks this wasn’t anything more than an experiment, and he says she didn’t try to cover up what she had done. What punishment did you think she received? A stern talking-to? A day or two of after-school detention? Maybe she’ll have to help clean up the lab for a week? Nope. The budding chemist has been kicked out of school and charged with a couple of felonies.” [Jesse Walker]

More: “Scientists Back Kiera Wilmot by Tweeting About All the Stuff They’ve Blown Up” [Tim Elfrink, Miami New Times] Similarly: Ashutosh Jogalekar, Scientific American.

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  • Oh, American Academy of Pediatrics, why are you so consistently wrong? On videogames, on food-ad bans, on guns, CPSIA
  • New book by Annette Fuentes, Lockdown High: When the Schoolhouse Becomes a Jailhouse [John Harris, Guardian]
  • There are genuine problems with some countries’ international adoption practices, but should UNICEF really be pushing toward a “leave the kids in orphanages” alternative? [Nick Gillespie on Reason documentary to be released tomorrow]
  • At expense of both federalism and religious accommodation, bill entitled “Every Child Deserves a Family Act” (ECDFA) would impose anti-bias rules on state adoption and foster care programs [Washington Blade]
  • Cash-for-kids Pennsylvania judge: “Former Luzerne judge Conahan sentenced to 17.5 years” [Times-Tribune, our earlier coverage]
  • “Met a guy who works at my old summer camp. Bunks still do raids on other bunks, but their counselors have to file raid forms first. How sad.” [@adamlisberg]
  • Sex offender registry horror story #14,283 [Skenazy]
  • “Safety rules rob pupils of hands-on science, say MPs” [Independent, U.K.]
  • Gee, who could’ve predicted that? NJ’s aggressive “anti-bullying” law leads to new problems [NYT, Greenfield, PoL, NJLRA] Rapid growth in bullying law assisted by push from Obama administration [WSJ Law Blog, Kenneth Marcus/Federalist Society, Bader]

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Most striking part of this Spotsylvania County, Va. story:

Capt. Liz Scott [of the] Spotsylvania Sheriff’s Office says while Mikel’s punishment [and misdemeanor assault charges] may be controversial, “assault is assault is assault.”

“There were three victims that were involved in this, and I think the public needs to remember that,” Scott told FoxNews.com.

Scott said those victims, two females and one male, complained of feeling a “pinch” or “sting” when they were hit with the pellets and one even had a welt on her arm as result.

Perpetrator Andrew Mikel II is 14 years old. In other school and zero-tolerance news, police in Hammonton, New Jersey have charged a 7-year-old for bringing a Nerf-style toy gun to class [NBC Philadelphia] A lawmaker in Hawaii is proposing to ban the sale of squirt guns to minors [Free-Range Kids] A St. Lucie County, Florida kindergartener who was “voted out” of his classroom by fellow students at his teacher’s suggestion has won a $350,000 settlement. [TCPalm/Orlando Sentinel] And lawsuits by parents against school districts over alleged bullying of kids are said to be burgeoning in Florida [Orlando Sentinel]

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“It depends on your whole interpretation of what a weapon is,” said the superintendent of the Jamesburg, New Jersey district. “It’s not a weapon as a knife is a weapon. But a weapon is anything that has the potential to cause harm.” Better watch out for kids who bring knuckles and fists to school, especially if they try to smuggle them in in the form of innocent-looking hands. [Free-Range Kids]

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Of course everyone has their own favorite insane zero tolerance story. This one, which involves a Swiss Army Knife, an excursion to private school and a series of figures assuring the protagonist “I would love to make this all go away, but my hands are tied,” is Lenore Skenazy’s.

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