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school climate

Karl Springer, superintendent of the Oklahoma City Public School District, recently found himself answering tough questions in the heavy glare of the media spotlight. The issue? Student bullying. "We don't escalate the situation by being macho," says Springer, also a retired colonel in the U.S. Army Reserves and a former Marine Corps captain.

Offering innovative choices to students and families is at the heart of the Cleveland Metropolitan School District's Academic Transformation Plan. Spearheaded by Chief Executive Officer Eugene Sanders, the Whatever it Takes blueprint offers what he calls "a gamechanging opportunity" for improvement through academic and non-academic strategies.

 

A new informal federal survey has found that for many districts, budget cuts have had a profound effect on school safety and security measures. Administrators have been forced to cut safety and security staffing and programs, reorganize security departments and find alternative sources of funding in order to maintain levels of safety and security within their schools.

To date, empirical research of the participation of school district central offices in school improvement efforts has primarily highlighted how central office staff, despite their best efforts, often fail to foster teaching and learning improvement. As a result, central office leaders are left with a heap of examples of what not to do, but few guides for what should be done.

Many are aware of the practical implications of sexual harassment of students by school staff, but such situations can also have considerable legal implications, as well.

While the legal aspects of staff-to-student sexual harassment take a back seat to the moral and emotional considerations, the legal framework provides school administrators with a helpful basis for drafting policies, conducting investigations, and making decisions.

From costly lawsuits on behalf of victims to negative media coverage, such as the one recently played out in the District of Columbia Public Schools when Chancellor Michelle Rhee stated that one teacher was laid off for suspicion of sexual misconduct, districts can face potentially devastating consequences as a result of sexual abuse of their students by district employees.

Undue punitive policies are driving students down a path toward prison, according to a study from the Advancement Project, an organization founded by veteran civil rights lawyers dedicated to racial justice. "Test, Punish, and Push Out," released January 20 as part of the group's Ending the Schoolhouse to Jailhouse Track project, details the impact that high-stakes testing and zero tolerance policies have on graduation rates and students that enter the criminal justice system.

A first of its kind, the Preventing Harmful Restraint and Seclusion in Schools Act has been introduced to set national standards for the practices of controlling disruptive and potentially dangerous students. The bill, introduced in the House of Representatives by Labor Committee Chairman George Miller (D-Calif.) and Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), and in the Senate by Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) in early December 2009, was in response to two studies revealing hundreds of cases across the nation of the misuse of restraint and seclusion.

On July 8, 2008 I testified at a congressional hearing on school safety and bullying prevention. There I met Sirdeaner L. Walker, the mother of eleven-year-old Carl Walker-Hoover, who had recently died by suicide. Walker described in her testimony the bullying that Carl received at school and that he was repeatedly called gay. She described herself as an involved parent who tried to do everything right, and stated that she had informed school administrators about the bullying her son was subjected to at school.

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