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Inside The Law

Inside the Law

New Law Limits Out-Of-School Suspensions

In an effort to keep more of the most troubled students in school, the Connecticut General Assembly recently approved a law that would limit the ability of administrators to suspend students from school for infractions.

The law, which goes into effect in July 2008, requires suspensions to be served in school and extends the limit on the number of days a student may spend in in-school suspension from fi ve to 10. Outof-school suspension could still be levied if a student "poses such a danger to persons or property or is so disruptive of the educational process, that he or she must serve the suspension outside of school," according to the language of the law.

The bill received support from several quarters, according to General Assembly records. George Coleman, the interim commissioner of education, advocated for the law simply because, in his experience, learning primarily happens in school, records state. Elizabeth Brown, director of the state's Commission On Children, also supported the bill, telling the assembly's Education Committee that keeping kids out of school is a direct route to delinquent behavior and causes them to fall further behind in their studies.

The new law, however, is getting mixed reviews from some educators and parents, some of whom see it as another unfunded mandate from the state. According to testimony given by New Haven (Conn.) Public Schools Superintendent Reginald Mayo to the education committee, it could cost that city an additional $1 million a year to properly run in-school suspensions. Mayo still supports the law, testimony said.

The law does not proscribe what should be done in in-school suspension; it is left to the individual district's discretion.

Jeffrey Villar, associate superintendent of Meriden (Conn.) Public Schools, believes the law will completely change the way schools approach behavioral difficulties, but is concerned that the law is clear enough to establish what the threshold is for behavior that would be considered punishable by out-of-school suspension..

Meriden's administrators are meeting with attorneys to discuss the legal ramifi cations as a result of the new legislation.

"Frankly we are very concerned," Villar says. "It is a significant stressor for the system. When kids misbehave now, historically the onus has been on the family to work with the child. There are times when suspension is appropriate and has a big impact on behavior. The behavior doesn't reoccur. This is the first step in maintaining the integrity of the instructional environment."

Melissa Johnson, president of the Connecticut Parent Teacher Association, says she plans to introduce the new law to the entire assembly for consideration. The Connecticut PTA has not yet taken an official position on the legislation, but she has her own thoughts on the law.

"The concept is great. We want kids to be in school, but the funding needs to be behind it... they need to give us the mandate they need to give us the money," she says. "Our school systems are strapped as it is." -Steven Scarpa

Bush Signs Sweeping Math, Science and Technology Bill

President Bush has signed into law the America Competes Act, otherwise known as the "America Creating Opportunities To Meaningfully Promote Excellence In Technology, Education and Science" act (COMPETES). The bill is designed to enhance research and education in math and the sciences through a funding package of about $42 billion. The program would also expand low-income students' vaccess to Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate coursework by training more teachers to offer such courses in math, science and critical foreign languages in high-needs schools.

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi said that the act will "launch new thriving industries that will produce millions of good jobs here at home and a better future for the next generation."

Leading scientists and researchers are also excited about the opportunities afforded by the increased funding, but some observers are much more cynical.

"India, China and other nations are competing with us now because they have broken down suffocating centralization," Neal McCluskey, education policy analyst at the CATO Institute, told the news site "Increasing ours in response simply makes no sense."

Judge Allows Hitler Youth Buttons in School

A federal judge recently ruled that two fifth-grade students at Bayonne (N.J.) Public Schools are allowed to wear buttons featuring a photograph of Hitler Youth to protest the district-wide uniform policy.

Siding with the parents of the students, who had been threatened with suspension last fall for wearing the buttons, U.S. District Judge Joseph A. Greenaway Jr. said the boys could wear the buttons in school but could not distribute them.

In his decision, Greenaway cited the 1969 Tinker v. Des Moines School District case that allowed students to wear black armbands to protest the Vietnam War. He wrote, "A student may not be punished for merely expressing views unless the school has reason to believe that the speech or expression will materially and substantially disrupt the work and discipline of the school."

But Superintendent Patricia L. McGee-han says the district's attorneys maintain that the image "conveys intolerance and racial inequality" that is completely inappropriate in a school setting.

The photograph on the buttons-of uniformed school-aged boys with light hair and fair skin-contains no visible swastikas. But the parties agree they depict members of Hitler Youth.

During a telephone interview McGeehan expressed her disappointment over the students' determination to continue wearing the buttons.

"Our district does so much for the Holocaust. Everyone goes to the city hall" and other places for various sensitivity programs, she says. "We do tremendous things for it."

Teacher Demands to Carry Gun in School

A teacher from South Medford High School in Oregon is suing her district for the right to carry a concealed semiautomatic pistol on school grounds, saying that without it her life is in danger from a violent ex-husband.

Jackson County Circuit Judge G. Philip Arnold recently said he would issue a written opinion on Katz's claim that the district's policy prohibiting teachers from carrying guns on school grounds violates the state law.

Under Oregon law people with concealed handgun licenses can carry guns into public schools, but the law is unclear on whether school districts still have the authority to stop employees from carrying guns onto school property.

Phil Long, superintendent of the Medford (Ore.) School District, says that they do. "Public districts have the authority to regulate student or staff behavior if that behavior would be dangerous to the school," he says. "This is an employer-employee issue, not a private citizen rights issue."

He cites the district's own policy on weapons in schools which states that "employees shall not possess a dangerous or deadly weapon or firearm on district property or at school- sponsored events... including those who may otherwise be permitted by law to carry such weapons."

But the teacher, Shirley Katz, said in a radio interview she has "fi rearms training to carry the weapon safely, even in class."

Her lawyer says the district's policy of disallowing concealed weapons on campus is illegal and places her life in danger.

Seeing the issue as a way for her to stand up for battered women, Katz says she was in an abusive relationship for seven years and that she will not back down.

Oregon Deputy Superintendent Ed Dennis is more cautious about Katz's alleged rights. "You can't guarantee when you take a gun into a classroom and onto a school that it isn't going to fall into the wrong hands," he says.