Tag Archives: schools

Survey shows post-election spike in bullying of young people

A post-election survey of youths found 70 percent witnessed bullying, hate messages or harassment, with racial bias the most common motive cited.

The Human Rights Campaign Foundation, the educational arm of the nation’s largest LGBTQ civil rights organization, released the online survey of 50,000 young people on Jan. 18.

More than a quarter of LGBTQ youth said they have been personally bullied or harassed since Election Day — compared to 14 percent of non-LGBTQ youth — with transgender young people most frequently targeted.

Additionally, Hispanic and Latinx respondents were 20 percent more likely than other youth to report having been personally bullied, with harassment targeting both immigrant and nonimmigrant communities.

“Whether the threats come in their schools or from those holding the country’s highest offices, no young person should be bullied or made to feel unsafe,” HRC president Chad Griffin said in a news release. “The alarming results of this groundbreaking survey underscore our fears about the damaging effect the recent election is having on our nation’s youth, and serve as a call to action to all of us committed to helping our young people thrive in an inclusive and supportive society.”

Young people reported feeling nervous and hopeless after the election, with almost half of LGBTQ youth saying they have taken steps to hide who they are by delaying coming out, dressing differently or questioning their plans for the future.

Hispanic and African American young people also reported changing their appearances and routines out of fear of harassment and Muslim, Jewish and Hindu youth all described concealing symbols of their faith to avoid being targeted.

In responses to open-ended questions on the survey, many young people shared stories of how  campaign rhetoric encouraged harassment and bullying.

Wrote one Hispanic 18-year-old from Illinois: “My family and I go shopping and wash clothes at 2 a.m. to avoid seeing and hearing people’s comments.

Findings include:

● 70 percent of respondents reported witnessing bullying, hate messages or harassment during or since the 2016 election.

Of those, 79 percent said such behaviors have been occurring more frequently since the onset of the presidential campaign.

● Among young people who reported seeing bullying and harassment, 70 percent witnessed incidents motivated by race or ethnicity, 63 percent saw incidents motivated by sexual orientation, 59 percent saw incidents motivated by immigration status and 55 percent witnessed incidents motivated by gender.

● Over the past 30 days, about half of transgender youth reported feeling hopeless and worthless most or all of the time and 70 percent said these and similar feelings have increased in the past 30 days.

About 36 percent were personally bullied or harassed and 56 percent changed their self-expression or future plans because of the election.

● Before Election Day 2016, more than half of survey respondents reported thinking about  the election every day and a third thought about it several times each week.

Respondents were solicited through HRC’s social media channels and other organizations, including Mental Health America, the National Queer Asian Pacific Islander Alliance, the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, the Southern Poverty Law Center, True Colors Fund and The Trevor Project.

National Parks Service lifts restrictions on naming rights, clears way for commercialism

After months of reviewing public comments, the National Park Service announced director Jonathan Jarvis signed and finalized “Director’s Order #21,” a policy allowing federal parks to seek donations from corporate vendors, allowing the parks service to partner with alcohol companies, dropping the policy that parks must be free of commercialism and lifting restrictions on naming rights in parks.

This is a statement from Kristen Strader, campaign coordinator for Public Citizen’s Commercial Alert Program:

It is disgraceful that the parks service plans to sell our national parks to the highest bidder despite overwhelming public opposition to increased commercialism in our national parks. More than 215,000 petition signers and hundreds of commenters opposed this policy.

Now that this policy has been finalized, park visitors soon could be greeted with various forms of advertisements, like a sign reading “brought to you by McDonald’s” within a new visitor’s center at Yosemite, or “Budweiser” in script on a park bench at Acadia.

The NPS did make one right move by removing a provision from the policy that would have allowed corporate logos to be placed on exhibits and waysides.

In a society where we are constantly inundated with advertisements everywhere we go, national parks offered a unique and beautiful escape. Even in schools, students endure a constant barrage of billboards, social media advertising and marketing. Until now, national parks have remained relatively commercial-free, which is why they were such a valuable respite.

The finalization of Director’s Order #21 signals a dangerous shift toward opening our parks up to an unprecedented amount of commercial influence.

‘Regulatory vacuum’ exposes Wisconsin children to lead in drinking water at schools, day care centers

Almost two weeks into the school year, Melissa Corrigan got an email from the principal and superintendent of her daughters’ elementary school. Water from four West Middleton Elementary School faucets taken Sept. 1, the first day of school, had tested high for levels of lead or copper. As a safety precaution, the school would provide bottled water to students until the issue was resolved.

Corrigan — whose daughters Brooklyn and Carly are in first and fourth grades — thought little of the news, partly because the email told parents of the school west of Madison that it was “highly unlikely” that the water was unsafe to drink.

But West Middleton’s results were high — one faucet had more than six times the federal action level of 15 parts per billion of lead and nearly 19 times the federal action level of 1,300 ppb of copper. Samples from nine of the 10 faucets showed a presence of lead.

Any amount of lead can cause permanent brain damage, including reduced intelligence and behavioral problems, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Infants and children are considered the most vulnerable to lead’s negative effects.

Fresh evidence of the risk of lead poisoning at school surfaced Friday when Milwaukee Public Schools revealed that testing found dangerous levels of lead in 183 drinking water fountains, including at locations hosting early childhood programs. The months-long testing program involved 3,000 water fountains at 191 school district buildings. The district said it had shut down and plans to replace the fountains that tested at or above the federal action level of 15 ppb, even though “federal and state regulations do not require schools to test drinking water.”

The district failed to respond to repeated questions since mid-November from the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism about whether water at the schools was being tested for lead, and calls and an email to district spokespeople Friday were not immediately returned. The testing began in June.

Efforts to protect Wisconsin children in schools and day care centers from lead in their water have fallen short on several fronts, the Center has found. Among the problems uncovered by the Center in documents and interviews:

There is a lack of testing for lead in drinking water consumed by children while away from home. Federal regulations enforced by the state of Wisconsin do not require most schools or day care centers to test at all. A 2016 USA Today investigation found that an estimated 90 percent of schools nationally are not required to test their water.

There has been confusion over proper lead testing procedures at some schools, day care centers and public water systems in Wisconsin, as the Center has reported. This year, the state Department of Natural Resources waited nine months to send an official notice to public water system operators that the EPA had updated its testing recommendations in response to flaws uncovered by Flint, Michigan’s lead-in-water crisis.

Lead service lines, a significant source of lead in drinking water, continue to provide water to hundreds of schools and day care centers around Wisconsin. In other communities, officials are not sure how many schools and day cares have lead pipes.

Because of West Middleton’s rural Dane County location, the school has its own well and is among the minority of schools that must comply with some of the same testing requirements as municipal water systems. Lead generally makes its way into water not at the water plant but as it travels through service lines and indoor plumbing, all of which could contain lead.

Middleton-Cross Plains Area School District Superintendent George Mavroulis said after learning of the testing results, the school immediately shut off drinking water and consulted with a private testing company and a liaison from the DNR.

Two weeks after the initial test, the K-4 school with 400 students had the same faucets — and three water fountains — tested again. The levels of lead and copper returned to below the action level, and students and staff were again allowed to use the water.

“We tried to do everything in our power to make sure everyone was safe,” Mavroulis said.

The school has since replaced two faucets and plans to replace two more over winter break, he said. Perry Hibner, the district’s spokesman, believed two human errors caused the school’s initial water samples to be high in lead and copper: not flushing the system beforehand, as the DNR suggests after long periods of non-use like summer break, and removing the aerators from the faucets, which allowed a higher than normal water flow.

Subsequent samples were taken after one hour of flushing and six hours of non-use.

The EPA issued new nationwide guidance in February clarifying that public water systems should not remove aerators or flush systems before sampling to avoid masking the level of lead in the water. DNR spokesman Jim Dick said West Middleton was in a “unique situation” because of its failure to previously flush the school’s system after the water had been stagnant for an extended period of time.

Going forward, however, the district will need to conduct two rounds of testing in the next year to assure the water is safe — and follow all of the appropriate sampling methods, he said.

After reviewing West Middleton’s test results, Yanna Lambrinidou, a Virginia Tech University researcher who helped train Flint researchers, said telling parents a health risk was highly unlikely was “a stunningly irresponsible statement, especially after Flint.”

Said Lambrinidou: “There is no safe level of lead in drinking water.”

All licensed day care centers in Wisconsin are required to identify and mitigate dangers from lead paint, but only centers that use private wells are required to eliminate lead hazards in drinking water, according to Joe Scialfa, spokesman for the state Department of Children and Families.

The USA Today investigation found that among schools and day care centers that are required to test, Wisconsin recorded the fourth-highest number of lead exceedances, with 24 between 2012 and 2015.

Lead in small doses dangerous

Exposure to even small amounts of lead can cause permanent damage. A 2012 study of nearly 4,000 fourth-graders in Milwaukee showed that those with elevated levels of lead — even below what is considered dangerous — scored significantly lower on reading and math tests than those without elevated blood-lead levels.

The Center reported in February that at least 176,000 homes and businesses in Wisconsin receive water from lead service lines, which can account for 50 to 75 percent of lead contamination in tap water.

Milwaukee says it has removed lead service lines leading to all of its public school buildings. Madison is thought to be the first city in the nation to remove all lead service lines from its water utility service area.

Milwaukee plans to focus $2.6 million from a new $14.5 million DNR program to begin replacing lead service lines leading to 384 licensed day care centers and 12 private schools in the city. In the meantime, the Milwaukee Health Department has advised those centers to reduce lead exposure by flushing water before using it and consider using only filtered or bottled water for preparing formula.

An additional 17 Wisconsin communities ranging from Antigo to Waterloo plan to use money from the program to replace lead service lines leading to their schools and day care centers.

School officials in Detroit, Chicago, Washington, D.C. and Massachusetts also have found high lead levels in the drinking water at hundreds of schools.

And day care centers — where infants could be fed baby formula made with tap water or toddlers could eat food cooked in lead-laden water — are of particular concern.

Rep. LaTonya Johnson, a Democrat from Milwaukee, operated a day care business out of her 90-year-old home for several years before running for public office. She recently spent $10,000 to replace corroded pipes throughout her northwest side house, which is served by lead service lines.

Johnson said she used a cooler to provide water to children in her care, but not every day care provider does.

“I’m sure people use sink water,” she said. “It’s right there.”

A ‘regulatory vacuum’

In the Lead Contamination Control Act, the EPA recommends that schools test water at each cold water tap — although no frequency is mentioned — share abnormal results with the public and take action to remediate any problems. But these are not requirements.

News investigations have shown that administrators in Newark, New Jersey, Portland, Oregon and Ithaca, New York knew about lead in water at schools for several months or years before the findings became public. Lambrinidou, the Virginia Tech researcher, and others decried the “regulatory vacuum” surrounding water testing in schools in a 2010 paper titled Failing Our Children.

“If you’re a parent … it’s better to know that they’re not doing much than to have false comfort that the schools are taking care of them,” Lambrinidou said.

School leaders mixed on lead mandate

A Center survey of all 424 Wisconsin school district superintendents revealed a mixture of attitudes toward identifying and mitigating lead hazards. Most chose not to complete the survey at all.

The 47 respondents were split on whether there should be a statewide requirement that all public schools test their water for lead. While some do test — either voluntarily or because they have private wells — others said paying for testing is simply not an option.

A Fox 6 News investigation in May surveyed the 10 largest school districts in southeastern Wisconsin, asking if they had tested their schools for lead. Six answered; all said “No.”

Jon Bales, executive director of the Wisconsin Association of School District Administrators, said most of his members support water testing. But if it identifies lead hazards that require costly remediation, he said, “We feel like there ought to be some federal support and state support to do that.”

When officials at Riverside Elementary School east of Wausau discovered that lead from pipes in its foundation was leaching into the water, they opted to remove the school’s drinking fountains entirely. Assistant Superintendent Jack Stoskopf said the school relies on a filtration system for tap water and has spent about $1,000 a month over the past 10 years on bottled drinking water.

“That’s far less expensive than tearing up the foundation of the school and tearing up the pipes,” he said.

Crystal Wozniak, who lives in Green Bay with her 4-year-old son Casheous, said she tried to avoid lead in drinking water when deciding where he would attend preschool. Casheous was lead poisoned when he was 9 months old, possibly from paint.

“The water at a school may be more harmful because they’re ingesting the water, and the food there is made with the water,” she said. “All the kids aren’t necessarily going around licking the walls, but they’re drinking the water.”

The nonprofit Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism (www.WisconsinWatch.org) collaborates with Wisconsin Public Radio, Wisconsin Public Television, other news media and the UW-Madison School of Journalism and Mass Communication. All works created, published, posted or disseminated by the Center do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of UW-Madison or any of its affiliates.

Wisconsin schools, day care centers slated for lead service line removal under new DNR program

Earlier this year, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources launched a $14.5 million program to help “disadvantaged municipalities” replace lead service lines. Of the 38 recipients, 18 communities, including Milwaukee, planned to use at least some of the money to replace lead lines leading to schools and day care centers.

Below is a list of the communities and the estimated number of schools or day care centers with lead service lines slated for replacement under this program:

Antigo — 4 of 4

Ashland — 5 of 5

Clintonville — 2 of 10

Eagle River — 10 of 10

Town of Florence — 2 of 10

Manitowoc — 15 of 15

Marshfield — 10 of 20

Milwaukee — 400 of 400

Monroe — 5 of 5

Mosinee — 2 of 2

Park Falls — 5 of 5

Platteville — 2 of 2

Princeton — 4 of 4

Randolph — 5 of 5

St. Francis — 2 of 5

Sheboygan — 11 of 11

Stratford — 4 of 4

Waterloo — 3 of 3

 

San Francisco teachers union offers lesson plan calling Trump racist, sexist

San Francisco’s public schools have been offered a classroom lesson plan that calls President-elect Donald Trump a racist, sexist man who became president “by pandering to a huge racist and sexist base.”

The union that represents city teachers posted the plan on its website and distributed it via an email newsletter to its more than 6,000 members.

The school district has more than 57,000 students.

It is unclear how many teachers have used the plan outlined by a Mission High School teacher, but it appears to have the tacit support of city education officials.

School district spokeswoman Gentle Blythe said the plan is optional and not part of the official curriculum.

“Educators are entrusted to create lessons that reflect the California standards, support students’ social and emotional well-being and foster inclusive and safe school communities,” she said in a statement that neither praised nor rebuked the lesson plan. San Francisco schools serve diverse populations and teachers are encouraged to include multiple perspectives in lessons, she said.

The Republican Party in San Francisco reacted sharply.

“It’s inappropriate on every level,” said Harmeet Dhillon, an RNC committeewoman from California. She called it “inappropriate propaganda that unfairly demonizes not only the campaign that Donald Trump, the winner, ran, but also all of the people who voted for him.”

The lesson plan was written by social studies teacher Fakhra Shah, who said she hadn’t planned for it to spread citywide — that was a step taken by the teacher’s union. She wrote it at 2 a.m. Nov. 9, just hours after results came in, to help teachers at her school struggling with how to answer students’ questions and concerns about Trump becoming president.

“I think a lot of people were lost for words, wondering, ‘What do we say? What do we do?’” said Shah, whose Latino, African American, white, Muslim and LGBTQ students are worried about a surge in hate crimes since the election.

“We’re calling him out,” she said. “If he’s our president, I have the right to hold him accountable and ask him to take a stance that is anti-hate and anti-racist.”

The plan encourages teachers to let students express their concerns and to offer them hope and tell students that they can keep fighting. “We can uplift ourselves (and) fight oppression here at school even if we cannot control the rest of the country,” she said.

San Francisco is diverse, with many students whose families are in the country illegally and who are worried by Trump’s calls for deportation. She warned teachers that some students may use inappropriate words to express their fear and anger.

“I know that they might curse and swear, but you would too if you have suffered under the constructs of white supremacy or experienced sexism, or any isms or lack of privilege,” she wrote.

About 2,000 San Francisco students walked out of class last week to protest the new president. Earlier this week, Mayor Ed Lee declared that San Francisco would continue to provide sanctuary for all immigrants, religious minorities and gays and lesbians.

The union that represents teachers, the United Educators of San Francisco, defended the plan.

Union President Lita Blanc said that even House Speaker Paul Ryan had called Trump’s campaign racist and sexist.

“There is a time and a place for using words that match action,” Blanc said. She praised the plan’s advice for students — “to stand up and defend themselves, and speak out for themselves and make a difference.”

Kids count: Hillary Clinton wins K-12 vote

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton is the winner of the presidential contest among students in grades K-12.

Approximately 153,000 students across the country cast their ballots in the 2016 Scholastic News Student Vote.

Clinton  received about 52 percent  of the student vote while Republican candidate Donald Trump received 35 percent.

Thirteen percent of student voters wrote in “other” choices.

Write-in votes were cast for Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson (2 percent), U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (1 percent, and Green Party candidate Jill Stein (1 percent).

Students also voted for “Mom,” Kanye West, Harambe the gorilla, Spider-Man and “bacon.”

Votes in the 2016 Scholastic News Student Vote were cast by students in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

Since 1940, the outcome of the Scholastic News Student Vote has mirrored the results of every presidential election, except two: Thomas E. Dewey versus Harry S. Truman in 1948 and John F. Kennedy versus Richard M. Nixon in 1960.

Students who voted for Clinton explained their decisions:

  • “I voted for Hillary because she will be the first woman president. Hillary is showing all women young or old you can do anything.” sixth-grade student in Arizona.
  • “Hillary will make good decisions and do good things for America. She has the experience.” fourth-grade student in New York.

Students who voted for Donald Trump stated:

  • “I would choose Trump because he would be good for business.” fifth-grade student in Georgia.
  • “I voted for Donald Trump because he says that he will make America great again.” sixth-grade student in Arizona.

Scholastic News Student Vote results from key states: 

  • ColoradoClinton 59% Trump 28% Other 14%
  • Florida: Clinton 48% Trump 39% Other 13%
  • Iowa: Clinton 41% Trump 42% Other 17%
  • Michigan: Clinton 49% Trump 36% Other 15%
  • Nevada: Clinton 59% Trump 28% Other 13%
  • New Hampshire: Clinton 50% Trump 31% Other 18%
  • North Carolina: Clinton 49% Trump 40% Other 11%
  • Ohio: Clinton 43% Trump 42% Other 15%
  • Pennsylvania: Clinton 48% Trump 41% Other 10%
  • Virginia: Clinton 50% Trump 37% Other 13%
  • Wisconsin: Clinton 46% Trump 40% Other 14%

“In this unprecedented and contentious presidential race, students have made their voices heard by casting their votes in our mock election for president,” said Elliott Rebhun, Editor-in-Chief of Scholastic Classroom Magazines.

He continued, “The Scholastic News Student Vote is the culmination of a year of coverage in our classroom magazines and Scholastic News online, bringing the election to classrooms nationwide to inform students about the electoral process and the positions taken by the candidates on complex issues — from immigration and the economy to the environment. Our job at Scholastic is to support teachers with age-appropriate content that not only engages students and teaches them about the democratic process, but also helps them think critically about the issues.”

On the Web

To see the full results, visit www.scholastic.com/vote.

 

No, Sen. Johnson, DVDs cannot replace teachers

Recently, Sen. Ron Johnson suggested students would be better off with a good DVD in every classroom rather than a good teacher. He suggested that instead of having history teachers, schools should merely pop in a copy of Ken Burns’ Civil War documentary. That same argument surrounds Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), wherein expert professors record a lecture that is accessible online by thousands, or even millions of students.

There’s no question that technology opens up new opportunities for learning. From TED Talks to MOOCs to Skype, teachers now have the ability to bring expertise into the classroom from around the globe, even to the most remote places. One teacher can now teach a class via streaming video to students in multiple small, rural districts that lack the ability to offer the class on their own. Everyone supports schools taking advantage of technology to create the best educational opportunities for their students.

But we cannot simply manufacture students. Education is more than uploading data into a brain, like the names of generals or dates of battles. It is about digging deeper, discussing and analyzing complex issues and ideas. Education is about developing analytical and critical thinking skills that can be applied throughout one’s life to a variety of different topics.

Developing those skills requires teachers, which cannot be replaced by technology. Sen. Johnson, and those who seek to replace brick and mortar schools, colleges, and universities, fail to understand this.

Sen. Johnson, the best teachers are not necessarily the most charismatic lecturers, or the foremost experts in history or science or literature. The best teachers are those who can create engaging, individual and group learning experiences for their students. They understand and meet the needs of diverse learners, and help students develop the skills necessary to engage with the world throughout their lives. These skills cannot develop by just watching a video.

Teachers also play a critical role in shaping students as people. Both inside and outside the classroom, teachers are mentors and coaches; they provide advice about careers, and about life. Teachers care about their students, and sometimes may be the only people who do. They form relationships that may last a lifetime. Replacing teachers with technology will severely diminish classrooms as places to foster growth as a human.

Funding both K-12 and higher education looms as a critical issue for our state and our country, as does the success of our students, if we want to stay globally competitive. We must look at creative solutions to reduce costs and increase learning. We should use technology to broaden the horizons for our students, but we must also invest in our schools and our teachers.

We must not fall into the trap of treating education as an assembly line, solely used to churn out walking containers of facts and formulas. We must never think that technology can replace the committed, caring teachers and professors who can change lives, and make a difference for generations to come.

State Rep. Mark Spreitzer represents Assembly District 45, which includes Beloit

Court: Walker’s union restrictions voided teacher retirement

A state appeals court says Gov. Scott Walker’s public union restrictions voided retirement benefits for Neenah teachers.

Neenah schools and teachers negotiated a two-year contract in 2009 that provided a stipend and medical benefits to retiring teachers.

The contract included an evergreen clause that guaranteed the deal would continue after the contract expired.

Lawmakers passed Walker’s restrictions in 2011.

Neenah schools subsequently reduced benefits, prompting teachers to sue.

The 2nd District Court of Appeals ruled recently that the school district acted properly, finding the 2009 contract didn’t extend benefits beyond its expiration and the union restrictions voided the evergreen clause.

The teachers’ attorney, Charles Hertel, said he doesn’t believe the union restrictions invalidated pre-existing clauses and plans to appeal to the state Supreme Court.

For-profit college watchdog under federal scrutiny

Federal education officials are deciding whether to shut down the nation’s biggest accreditor of for-profit colleges over allegations that it overlooked deception by some of its schools.

The Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools is meant to be a watchdog for hundreds of for-profit schools, wielding the stamp of approval that colleges need to receive federal money. It’s one of many accreditors authorized by the U.S. Education Department to ensure the quality of schools. But the nonprofit is being accused of employing lax standards and failing to stop schools from preying on students.

Institutions that have operated under the group’s certification include the Corinthian College chain, which closed in 2015 amid fraud allegations, and the ITT Technical Institute chain, which now faces federal charges of fraud. Even after the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau began investigating both in 2013, the council found no major problems during its own reviews. In 2014, it included two Corinthian schools on its annual “honor roll.”

“If accrediting agencies aren’t willing to stand up against colleges that are breaking the law, colleges that are cheating their students, then I don’t know what good they do, and I sure don’t know why we would let them determine which colleges are eligible for federal dollars,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., said at a congressional hearing on Corinthian last year.

At least 17 colleges certified by the council have been subject to state or federal investigations, according to an analysis by the Center for American Progress, a liberal public policy organization in Washington. Over the past three years, those schools received more than $5.7 billion in federal money, the group said.

Attorneys general in more than a dozen states, along with other critics, want the Education Department to strip the council of its authority to accredit schools. The council is up for its regular review this month; it was last approved in 2013.

“This is an outfit that is in the business of sustaining and aiding and abetting with fraud and abuse,” said Barmak Nassirian, a federal lobbyist for the American Association of State Colleges and Universities. “It’s like a consumer fraud dream come true.”

Council officials declined to be interviewed for this story.

Losing recognition would effectively close the council and give its schools 18 months to find new accreditors. Otherwise they would lose access to federal money, the primary source of revenue for most for-profit colleges. Because the council oversees more than 900 schools, some experts question whether it will be spared because of its size.

“The fear of it being too big to fail is the only thing saving it right now,” said Ben Miller, senior director for postsecondary education at the center. “At this point it would be shocking if ACICS didn’t face some sort of sanction.”

Top Education Department officials will decide the group’s fate after an advisory committee issues a recommendation this month. Any decision could be appealed in federal court. Department officials declined to comment on the pending decision but said they’re working to improve oversight of accreditors.

“Unfortunately, in recent years, we’ve seen far too many schools maintain their institutional accreditation even while defrauding and misleading students, providing poor quality education, or closing without recourse for students. This is inexcusable,” Undersecretary Ted Mitchell said in a statement. “Accreditation can and must be the mark of quality that the public expects.”

The council last week announced a series of changes and promised not to certify any new schools until its work improves. In a statement, the council acknowledged that it has problems and needs to fix them.

“The ACICS board of directors is determined to restore trust and confidence in the accreditation process, strengthen ACICS’s oversight of member institutions, and ensure that students are receiving a quality education that will put them on a path to employment,” said Anthony Bieda, the council’s interim chief. The accreditor’s president of seven years resigned in April amid the Education Department’s review.

The changes include a pledge to “ensure greater accuracy” of the data that schools publicize about student success, which were found to be inflated at some colleges. An ethics board will review potential conflicts of interest on the group’s board of directors, which is heavily made up of executives at for-profit colleges. The group will add more training for its volunteer evaluators who visit and assess schools.

Recently, the council has tried to take a firmer stance against troubled schools. In March it attempted to revoke accreditation of California’s Bristol University over academic problems, but a federal judge blocked the move because it would have forced the school to close.

The council also demanded that ITT Tech justify its accreditation amid allegations that the chain concealed failing loan programs from authorities.

But some say those improvements are too little, too late.

The Education Department is supposed to give its authorization “based on whether an agency is a reliable authority, not whether it might be,” said Robert Shireman, a senior fellow at the Century Foundation, a Washington think tank that describes itself as progressive and nonpartisan.

Among the chorus of critics, there’s a debate over the root of the council’s troubles.

Some say it intended well but outgrew its ability to police so many schools. Some say it attracts bad actors because it sets a lower academic bar than other accreditors. Others suggest it intentionally has turned a blind eye to deceptive colleges.

“They demonstrated not just an incompetence to do the job, but an unwillingness to do the job,” said Maura Healey, the Massachusetts attorney general, who has led a push against the group. “They simply shouldn’t be allowed to continue in the business of what is essentially taking advantage of students and taxpayers.”

The department’s decision is also seen as a test of its willingness to regulate for-profit accreditors, which have rarely faced severe sanctions, but are often accused of being too lenient.

“You couldn’t line up a better set of facts against an entity,” said Nassirian, of the association of state colleges and universities. “If this is a hard judgment, then there’s really no hope.”

 

School officials urge parents to halt free ‘Jesus lunches’

School administrators were asking parents to stop hosting free “Jesus Lunches” outside a high school in Middleton, citing legal concerns.

A handful of parents have been organizing the noontime meetings, which students call “Jesus Lunches,” outside Middleton High since 2014. As the meetings grew, organizers moved them to Fireman’s Park across from the school.

Superintendent Donald Johnson and Principal Stephen Plank emailed the parents last week asking them to end the lunches. They say the district leases the park during school hours, so its rules apply. That includes rules about food safety and food preparation, food allergy procedures and visitor policies.

“We believe that religious or political events do not have a place in our school or on our campus, except when sponsored by a student group in accordance with our rules, which require prior approval,” the email said. “In addition, many students have conveyed to us their concern about a group offering free food to incentivize participation in a religious event on campus.”

A statement from organizers provided by parent Beth Williams said the group is legally allowed to gather at the public park, which is accessible to everyone for the purposes of assembly and free speech, the State Journal reported.

“Fireman’s Park, a public park owned by the city of Middleton, remains accessible to everyone in the public for the purposes of assembly and free speech,” the statement said. “By law, the lease agreement between the city and the school district of Middleton does not privatize the park.”

The school officials’ email to parents said organizers have threatened legal action against the school district.

 

Call to action on ‘Day of Silence’

Thousands of students across the country will participate on April 15 in GLSEN’s Day of Silence, an annual event that brings attention to the name-calling, bullying and harassment experienced by lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth in schools.

Students typically take a vow of silence as a symbol of the silencing effect of anti-LGBT language and bullying.

This year, through the theme “Silence is Ours,” the focus will be on reclaiming this silence, shifting it from something forced upon LGBT students to a strategic tool they use to advocate for safe and affirming schools.

GLSEN’s Day of Silence is one of the largest student-led actions in the country, with students from more than 8,000 middle and high schools, colleges and universities in every state.

According to GLSEN’s most recent National School Climate Survey, the only survey on the school experiences of LGBT middle and high school students in the country, 85 percent of LGBT students were verbally harassed at school in the past year and nearly two-thirds heard homophobic remarks frequently or often.

The first Day of Silence was observed in 1996, when students at the University of Virginia responded to a class assignment on non-violent protests

In 1997, organizers took their effort national and nearly 100 colleges and universities participated.

In 2001, GLSEN became the official organizational sponsor for the event.

Day of Silence on the Web

For more information about the campaign or to register, click here.

For resources, click here.