First Person

This week's safe schools snippets

Common Sense Media runs new campaign to curb cyberbullying

When you hear the word “cyberbullying,” the victim and bully come to mind. What about the bystanders? These silent witnesses play a big part in the vicious circle of bullying. That’s why speaking up has never been more important. Take the pledge and watch the video at Common Sense Media.

Emily’s Parade promotes school safety

A parade for both motorcyclists and runners that pays tribute to the memory of Emily Keyes, victim of a school Emily Keyesshooting, raises money, and promotes school safety. The event will be held Sunday, Sept. 25.

The Parade consists of two events: a 45 mile motorcycle ride between Columbine High School, 6201 S. Pierce St., Littleton, and Platte Canyon High School, on U.S. Highway 285 near Bailey, Colo., an annual ritual initiated by riders 10 days after Emily’s death, and a timed 5K run at Platte Canyon in tribute to emergency first responders around the country. Both events are open to the public. Suggested donations and participant sponsorships support The “I Love U Guys” Foundation programs and initiatives.

Online registration for the ride is at http://iloveuguys.org/ride_registration.pl For the ER5K use http://iloveuguys.org/run_registration.pl. At Columbine, gates open at 8 a.m., bikes out at 11:15 a.m. At Platte Canyon, gates open at 9 a.m., runners out at 11:15 a.m. Steve Crenshaw and friends will be playing at Platte Canyon.

More bullying cases have parents turning to courts

Jon Timothy and Tami Carmichael of Cleburne, Texas, are convinced their 13-year-old son Jon’s suicide in March 2010 was the result of daily bullying by peers and the lack of action taken by school officials. Read more in USA Today.

“48 Hours” to air special on bullying in the digital age

Reported by correspondent Tracy Smith, the program airing Friday, Sept. 16 (8 p.m. ET/PT) reveals how the explosion in technology is only making bullying worse, as victims cannot find relief from their tormentors in a 24/7 digital world. The report will have important new information for parents, educators and legislators about how bullying affects children and how to address it. Check out this CBS News report.

Panel finds post-Columbine disciplinary policies criminalize students

Colorado lawmakers and police said Monday that strict disciplinary policies at schools created after the Columbine High School shootings should be scaled back or scrapped and that administrators should have more control over student punishment. Read more in the Washington Post.

N.J. schools brace for anti-bullying rules’ impact

Supporters of New Jersey’s newly amended anti-bullying law say it will create a tough safety net for students who had been afraid to go to school because of continued bullying, even as administrators and others brace for the impact from increased reporting requirements. Read this EdWeek story.

In suburb, battle goes public on bullying of gay students

ANOKA, Minn. — This sprawling suburban school system, much of it within Michele Bachmann’s Congressional district, is caught in the eye of one of the country’s hottest culture wars — how homosexuality should be discussed in the schools. Read more in the New York Times.

Bullying prevention via Shakespeare in Colo. schools

Colorado Shakespeare Festival actors will perform a 17th century play in more than 25 schools from Fort Collins to William ShakespeareTrinidad this fall to set the stage for modern-day discussions about school bullying as part of a collaboration between the festival and the University of Colorado Boulder’s Center for the Study and Prevention of Violence.

From Sept. 20 through Oct. 21, the three-person theater troupe will perform a 50-minute abridged version of Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night” followed by a post-show talk with the actors and classroom workshops centered on bullying prevention. Participating elementary, middle and high schools will receive a study guide about the play’s contemporary relevance and proven anti-bullying interventions and information from the Center for the Study and Prevention of Violence. Read more in this CU press release.

Broomfield police to host school safety presentation

The Broomfield Police Department will host a school safety discussion, “Speaking a Common Language During a School Crisis,” at 6:30 p.m. Oct. 4 at the Broomfield Auditorium, 3 Community Park Road.

John-Michael Keyes, executive director of the I Love U Guys Foundation, will present the School Safety Standard Response Protocol. The protocol has been adopted by Adams 12 and Boulder Valley school districts, as well as numerous districts across the country.

The I Love U Guys Foundation was created after the shooting at Platte Canyon High School in Bailey, in which student Emily Keyes was killed by a gunman. The foundation was named after the last text message she sent to her parents while being held hostage. The Standard Response Protocol was developed by the foundation in collaboration with law enforcement and safety agencies, school administrators, students and teachers.

Topics of the Oct. 4 presentation will include the story and aftermath of the Platte Canyon High School shooting, dispelling the concept that “it can’t happen here,” and a new way to engage in the conversation about school safety. The presentation is ideal for students and families, school administrators and faculty, emergency managers, fire personnel, emergency medical services, law enforcement and public health officials, according to a news release.

For more information, call Broomfield Police public education coordinator Joleen Reefe at 720-887-2084.

University study links school bullying to lack of sleep

A new study suggests not getting enough sleep can get you into trouble — and not just with your doctor.

That was the conclusion of a University of Michigan study published in the journal “Sleep Medicine” last month that suggested children who are bullies are more likely to have sleep problems.

It’s also something Elgin School District U46 officials said they see in schools “all the time.” Read more in the Courier-News.

Psychiatrists prescribe remedies for school bullying

Bullying in school is a process that arises out of toxic group dynamics, not a problem originating with a single troubled person. It may not feel that way when you’ve just been jeered at by one of the stars of the school’s athletic program or the meanest girl in your grade just posted a nasty comment on your Facebook wall, but that is how the American Psychiatric Assn.’s first foray into the subject describes bullying, and it shapes how the nation’s psychiatrists propose to help stamp out the practice. Read more in the Los Angeles Times.

Boulder Valley high schools get concussion help for athletes

Centaurus High School athletic director Paul Roper has started paying more attention to student concussions.

Last school year, he instructed coaches to introduce a gradual return to play for athletes with concussions, starting with exercise and low-impact practices instead of an immediate return to full contact play.

This year, he will have another tool — baseline concussion testing — to help gauge when it’s safe for an athlete to get back in the game. Read more in the Colorado Hometown Weekly.

Elementary student brings live bullets to Boulder school

A student at Boulder’s Foothill Elementary brought two live bullets to school Monday, separating one of the bullets from its casing by hitting it on a rock, according to a letter from the principal sent to parents.

During third-grade recess, the student set off the bullet’s primer while hitting it on the rock, making a loud noise, according to Principal Melissa Ribordy. But the .22-caliber bullet was never fired, and no one was hurt. Read more in the Daily Camera.

Parents and teachers learn valuable info at  school safety forum

Since the school shooting at Columbine High School in 1999 and the recent outbreak of reports of kids committing suicide due to bullying, the safety of students has become a concern of utmost importance for parents, teachers and school administrators nationwide. Read more in Our Colorado News.

First Person

What I learned about the limits of school choice in New York City from a mother whose child uses a wheelchair

PHOTO: Patrick Wall

As a researcher interested in the ways online platforms impact learning and educational decision-making, I’ve been trying to understand how New York City parents get the information to make a crucial decision: where to send their children to school.

So for the past six months, I’ve been asking local parents about the data they used to choose among the system’s 1700 or so schools.

I’ve heard all sorts of stories about the factors parents weigh when picking schools. Beyond the usual considerations like test scores and art programs, they also consider the logistics of commuting from the Bronx to the East Village with two children in tow, whether the school can accommodate parents and children who are still learning English, and how much money the parent-teacher association raises to supplement the school’s budget.

But for some families, the choice process begins and ends with the question: Is the building fully accessible?

The federal Americans with Disabilities Act requires public buildings constructed after 1992 to be fully accessible to people in wheelchairs. However, most New York City public school buildings were constructed prior to that law, and high construction costs have limited the number of new, fully accessible buildings.

As a result, a shocking 83 percent of New York City schools have been found non-compliant with the ADA, according to a two-year federal Department of Justice investigation whose findings the city Department of Education largely disputes. Recently, the city’s Office of Space Management has begun surveying buildings for full accessibility, but more work remains to be done.

One parent’s struggle to find a school suitable for her son, who has a physical disability but no cognitive issues, illustrates what a major role accessibility plays in some families’ decision-making.

Melanie Rivera is the mother of two and a native New Yorker living in Ditmas Park in Brooklyn’s District 22 who shared her story with me — and gave me permission to share it with others. Here is what she told me, in her own words:

My son Gabriel is seven years old. He was born with a condition called arthrogryposis, which affects the development of his joints. His hips, knees, and feet are affected and he has joint contractures, so his legs don’t bend and straighten the way most people’s do. In order to get around, he uses a combination of crutches and a wheelchair.

Before I had my differently-abled son, I was working in a preschool for children with special needs. The kids I worked with had cognitive developmental disabilities.

Despite my professional experience, I was overwhelmed when it was my turn to help my child with different abilities navigate the public school system. I can only imagine the students falling by the wayside because their parents don’t have that background.

When I was completing my son’s kindergarten application, I couldn’t even consider the academics of the school. My main priority was to tour the schools and assess their level of accessibility.

There are only a couple of ADA-accessible schools in my district, and there was no way of indicating on my son’s kindergarten application that he needed one. When we got the admissions results, he was assigned to his zoned school – which is not accessible.

I entered lengthy and extensive mediation to get him into an ADA-accessible school. At that point, I knew I would just have to take what I could get. For families whose children have special needs, “school choice” can ring hollow.

The process of finding any accessible school was a challenge. The DOE website allows families to search for ADA-accessible schools. But the site describes most schools as “partially accessible,” leaving it up to parents to call each school and say, “What do you mean by this?”

When I called the schools and asked, “Are you a barrier-free school?” the staff in the office didn’t know what the term meant. They might reply, “Oh yeah, we have a ramp.” I’d have to press further: “But can you get to the office? Can you get to every floor in the building?” The response was often, “Oh, I don’t know.”

Even the office staff didn’t know. But for my son’s sake, I needed to know.

Gabriel deserves the full range of academic and social experiences. So every day I make sure he’s learning in the least-restrictive environment — from the classroom, to phys ed, to field trips.

I believe the Department of Education also wants to make schools accessible and to place students with different abilities in settings where they’ll flourish, but the current system is not equipped to follow through on those good intentions. While I see gradual changes, I still know that if I don’t find the best placement for my son the system definitely won’t.

At the school level, administrators should know the details of their own school’s accessibility. Teachers should learn to include children with different abilities in their classrooms. Such a commitment means recognizing the value of inclusivity — not viewing accessibility as something ADA says you must do.

Before I had Gabriel, I never thought about accessibility. I never looked at street cutouts or thought about how to enter a store with steps. We’re probably all guilty of perpetuating exclusion at one point or another.

Recognizing that will allow us to change the status quo. It will allow every individual with a physical disability to fully participate in the public school system.

Claire Fontaine is a researcher at Data & Society, a research institute in New York City focused on social, cultural, and ethical issues arising from technological development. Kinjal Dave is a research assistant at Data & Society. You can read more about their project, which seeks to better understand the ways in which diverse New York City parents draw on school performance data, online dashboards, and school review websites when researching schools for their children.

First Person

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

PHOTO: Marta W. Aldrich
Grace Tatter covers a press conference at the Tennessee State Capitol in 2015.

For three years, I covered the Statehouse for Chalkbeat Tennessee, reporting on how policies from Nashville trickled down into more than 1,800 public schools across the state.

Now I’m starting back to school myself, pursuing graduate studies aimed at helping me to become a better education journalist. I’m taking with me six things I learned on the job about public education in Tennessee.

1. Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.

I heard from hundreds of parents, educators, and students who were passionate about what’s happening — good and bad — inside of schools. I covered crowded school board meetings and regularly scrambled for an open seat at legislative hearings where parents had filled the room after driving since dawn to beat the opening gavel. Not incidentally, those parents usually came from communities with the “worst” schools and the lowest test scores. While many disagreements exist about the best way to run schools, there is no shortage of people, particularly parents and educators, who care.

2. Tennessee has one of the most fascinating education stories in America.

I’ve had a front-row seat to massive changes in K-12 education under reforms ushered in by Race to the Top — an overhaul being tracked closely well beyond the state’s borders. But the national interest and import doesn’t end with changes stemming from the $500 million federal award. Tennessee is home to some of the nation’s premier education researchers, making its classrooms laboratories for new ideas about pre-K, school turnaround, and literacy instruction, just to name a few. And at the legislature, more lobbyists are devoted to education than to most any other cause. A lot of eyes are on Tennessee schools.

3. The education community is not as divided as it looks.

During the course of just a few years, I watched state lawmakers change their positions on accountability and school vouchers. I witnessed “anti-charter” activists praise charter leaders for their work. I chronicled task force meetings where state leaders who were committed to standardized testing found middle ground with classroom educators concerned that it’s gone too far. In short, a lot of people listened to each other and changed their minds. Watching such consensus-building reminded me that, while there are no simple debates about education, there is a widespread commitment to making it better.

4. Money matters.

Even when stories don’t seem to be about money, they usually are. How much money is being spent on testing, teacher salaries, school discipline reform? How much should be available for wraparound services? Why do some schools have more money than others? Is there enough to go around? Tennessee leaders have steadily upped public education spending, but the state still invests less than most other states, and the disparities among districts are gaping. That’s why more than a handful of school districts are battling with the state in court. Conversations about money are inextricable from conversations about improving schools.

5. Race is a significant education issue, but few leaders are willing to have that conversation.

More than 60 years after Brown v. Board of Education, Tennessee’s schools are largely racially segregated. Yet most policymakers tread lightly, if ever, into conversations about achieving real racial integration. And in many cases — such as a 2011 law enabling mostly white suburban Shelby County towns to secede from the mostly black Memphis district — they’ve actually gone backwards. Then there’s the achievement data. The annual release of test scores unleashes a flurry of conversation around the racial achievement gap. But the other 11 months of the year, I heard little about whether state and local policies are closing those gaps — or contributing to them — or the historical reasons why the gaps exist in the first place. To be sure, state leadership is trying to address some of Tennessee’s shortcomings. For example, the State Department of Education has launched modestly funded initiatives to recruit more teachers of color. But often, race and racism are the elephants in the room.

6. Still, there’s lots to celebrate.

If there were unlimited hours in the day, I could have written thousands of stories about what’s going right in public education. Every day, I received story ideas about collaborations with NASA in Oak Ridge, high school trips to Europe from Memphis, gourmet school lunches in Tullahoma, and learning partnerships with the Nashville Zoo. Even in schools with the steepest challenges, they were stories that inspire happiness and hope. They certainly inspired me.

Grace Tatter graduated from public schools in Winston-Salem, N.C., and received her bachelor’s degree in history from the University of North Carolina. She’s now pursuing a master’s degree in specialized studies at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.