Thoughts on Education Week article on why security measures will not stop school shootings

 Image credit: Time Magazine

Image credit: Time Magazine

There was an interesting article this past week on Education Week written by several education researchers who are university education professors in response to the recent school shooting in Florida. The authors say there is “no empirical evidence” that the “target-hardening” approaches schools employ decreases the likelihood of school shootings. “Target-hardening” is a focus on “fortifying” a school with lockdown policies, security technology, checklists to assess student potential for harm, and procedures that in the end send the message that schools are not safe places to be and also impacts and may even change our perspectives of students.

Instead the authors call for an “educational response” by schools. Schools need to examine how their programs and functions create environments of social anxiety, alienation, humiliation, and isolation. This happens via sports, homecoming royalties, dances, tough discipline policies, and emphasizing “expressive individualism” like recognizing academic achievement and “heroic” teachers. By setting up what the writers call “status tournaments,” employing “force and control” in discipline, and focusing on “identity and expression,” schools may be fostering environments that fuel futility and frustration and develop negative self-images that in turn leads some students to react violently.

About the Author: R. V. Stanke, Ed.S, J.D., a licensed attorney, teacher, and school principal, is affiliated with LEAD Legal & Educational Services, LLC.  LEAD Legal & Educational Services, LLC provides services to schools and school districts and offers continuing education programs and graduate courses in school law related areas to teachers and school administrators. For more information contact www.leadeducationservices.com).

Addressing the issue of smartphones in the classroom

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A popular online educator news source is educationweek.org  There are two interesting articles this month (February 2018) on Smartphones.  The articles represent the two sides of the issue of cell/Smartphones in K-12 schools.

As Cell Phones Proliferate in K-12 Schools, Schools Search for Smart Policies, discusses how schools need to embrace and incorporate Smartphones into their instruction and student learning.  The emphasis in schools has been on banning phones, and according to the article that may put teachers in unnecessary “adversarial roles with their students.” The article's point is that given that Smartphones are now in the hands of more students, schools "Don't Make a Ban; Have a Plan."

No doubt Smartphones open up a world of information to the user.  The device is a computer in our pockets. But there is a time and a place for their use, and we need to be mindful of who the users are.  The article says many schools ban them because “we are too afraid of what children are going to see.”  For sure.  We also need to be cognizant of what children may do with phones. “Cyber-bullying” is hard enough for schools to address when it is inflicted outside of school hours, and yet parents often expect the school to deal with it.  Opening the window of opportunity for such misuse can further exacerbate this problem.  And while the article points out a growing use of Smartphones even at the elementary school age, let’s step back and consider whether 2nd graders really need them.  After all, most schools still have computers, laptops, and other internet accessing devices, don’t they? 

A companion article to this one posted earlier this month—The Teenage Smartphone Problem is Worse Than You Think--is also worth a read and some thought and discussion.  The article gives an example of a high school student—an excellent student, by the way—who had volunteered to read in class, but when it came her turn she couldn’t find her place in the paperback.  She apologized for holding up the class.  Her impulse to check her Twitter account had been too strong, and she wasn’t focused. The article discusses the over-use (American teens average of 9 hours a day of entertainment media ?), the habit-forming if not increased addiction to Smartphones by K-12 students, and unrestrained media consumption contributing to diminished attention spans and negatively impacting learning at a prime time in life.

As with many things, moderation is the key.  But the question is:  Is a K-12 student capable of the self-discipline that is required for moderation?   

I recently consulted with and developed a cell phone (Smartphone) policy for a school.  In short, the policy allows such devices on campus, but they are to be off during the school day and kept secure (e.g. locked in student locker).  They can be used in a teacher’s class if specifically authorized by that teacher, used as a subject matter resource for that teacher's class, and during that teacher’s class.  And there are some clear and escalating consequences/enforcement provisions for non-compliance choices by the student.

A specific, clear, and reasonable policy.  That's a "plan and not a ban."

About the Author: R. V. Stanke, Ed.S, J.D., a licensed attorney, teacher, and school principal, is affiliated with LEAD Legal & Educational Services, LLC.  LEAD Legal & Educational Services, LLC provides services to schools and school districts and offers continuing education programs and graduate courses in school law related areas to teachers and school administrators. For more information contact www.leadeducationservices.com).

Sexual Misconduct in the Workplace: A "Double-Edged Sword"

 Was Matt Lauer terminated for sexual misconduct or sexual harrassment? What is the difference?  (Image: CNN Money)

Was Matt Lauer terminated for sexual misconduct or sexual harrassment? What is the difference?  (Image: CNN Money)

One paragraph of a recent FOX news story had Matt Lauer terminated for "sexual misconduct." Another paragraph specified "sexual harassment."  The phrase "inappropriate sexual behavior" has been in the news lately as well.  (Extremely rare that there would ever be "appropriate sexual behavior" in the workplace).  Is there a difference between this terminology?  Definitely. 

“Sexual misconduct” can refer to multiple acts or even a single act—depending on the severity or egregiousness.  “Sexual harassment" is a type of "sexual misconduct," and there are two different types of sexual harassment that can occur in the workplace.  Quid pro quo means "this for that," and involves an authority figure like a manager or some higher-up offering something such as a promotion or pay increase in return for sexual favor(s) or demand(s).  Or threatening consequences for not obliging.

The other form of sexual harassment is hostile environment in which the unwelcome harassment becomes so frequent, pervasive, or severe—descriptors used by the EEOC and the law—that the work environment becomes "hostile."   

So why a "double-edged sword?"  Well, it is imperative that that the employer properly follows up on, investigates, documents, and addresses allegations of sexual misconduct in the workplace. Failure to do so can have significant ramifications--legal and otherwise.  That's one edge of the "sword." 

The other, however, is not so much in the media.  Not so much yet, anyway.  That is the fallout that may occur from wrongfully disciplining employees (i.e. without substantiation or basis). The news briefly reported over this past week that Matt Lauer's attorneys were looking to go after NBC for 30 million bucks for firing him.  But that story dissipated when NBC responded citing what they believe to be a rock-solid "morals" clause in their contract with Lauer, and that they didn't intend to give him a dime. Hard to say.  

But what is currently not in the media are claims by those who may be wrongly accused and wrongly terminated.  An employer who mishandles an allegation of sexual misconduct such as sexual harassment may in turn need to defend against any of a number of claims, including wrongful termination, breach of contract, negligence, defamation, and intentional infliction of emotional distress.  And not so puny “punitive damages” against an employer may be at play as well.

So “en garde!”  A sexual misconduct claim can be a double-edged sword that can cut two ways.

About the Author: R. V. Stanke, Ed.S, J.D., a licensed attorney, teacher, and school principal, is affiliated with LEAD Legal & Educational Services, LLC.  LEAD Legal & Educational Services, LLC provides services to schools and school districts and offers continuing education programs and graduate courses in school law related areas to teachers and school administrators. For more information contact www.leadeducationservices.com).

Recording Conversations in Schools - More Than Meets the Ear

This week CNN reported on a case in Virginia that involved a mother sending a recording device to school with her young daughter to try to capture evidence of her child being "bullied" at school.  This was apparently after the mother had attempted to have school administration deal with the alleged bullying.  The recording device was confiscated, the school contacted police, and felony charges were filed against the parent for intercepting wire, electronic or oral communications as well as misdemeanor charges of contributing to the delinquency of a minor.

 Virginia prosecutors recently dropped charges against Sarah Sims (left, pictured with her attorney) who tried to record bullying at her daughter's school. (Image: KY3.com)

Virginia prosecutors recently dropped charges against Sarah Sims (left, pictured with her attorney) who tried to record bullying at her daughter's school. (Image: KY3.com)

The charges were recently dropped; the prosecutor citing "prosecutorial discretion."  While of course CNN did not have access to all the facts, there was likely more to the story than "meets the eye" -- or in this case -- "the ear."  Virginia is a "one-party consent state," which essentially means that if the party doing the recording is involved in the conversation or one party has given (prior) consent, then such a recording may be "legal." But here the student was a minor ("consent" is an issue with minors), there were multiple parties involved (classroom of students), and reports from CNN stated that the recording device had been in the student's desk "recording the school day." If accurate, the latter would arguably cut against the "one party participating in the conversation" consent exception.  (Is the person who put the recorder in the desk "participating" when s/he may not even be in the room when the device is on and recording?)

While the charges against the mother may have been dismissed, and acknowledging that "bullying" can be a serious issue in schools that needs to be taken seriously, others who may consider doing this or schools facing a similar situation in the future should take heed and take note.  Minors are very much a part of school life (obviously) so "consent" is always an issue.  And besides the general privacy interests that the law seeks to protect when recording conversations of others, in the school setting there are other significant privacy interests.  There could potentially be multiple individuals being inadvertently recorded (again, usually minors), and there are other laws that could be violated, such as the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) and comparable state laws.  Parents are strongly cautioned about considering sending a recording device to school in the back-pack or having one placed in a classroom, and schools need to stick to their policies and not shy away from the laws regarding protection of student privacy rights and keeping such hidden recording devices out of the classroom.

About the Author: R. V. Stanke, Ed.S, J.D., a licensed attorney, teacher, and school principal, is affiliated with LEAD Legal & Educational Services, LLC.  LEAD Legal & Educational Services, LLC provides services to schools and school districts and offers continuing education programs and graduate courses in school law related areas to teachers and school administrators. For more information contact www.leadeducationservices.com).