Civil Rights and Testing

A Louisiana parents’ group has filed a civil rights complaint with the U.S. Department of Education, asking for an investigation into the “misuse and abuse of standardized tests” in the state’s new high-stakes testing system.

This fall, Louisiana began holding back 4th and 8th grade students who fail the state’s new standardized tests. As many as 18,000 students in the two grades were retained.

“Not one of the other 50 states has implemented such a scheme for grade school children,” notes the complaint by the parents’ group, Parents for Educational Justice. “There is good reason [for this]- it has proven to be an educational disaster for children in minority and poor schools.”

Susan Bowers, acting assistant deputy secretary, said the Office of Civil Rights has received four complaints – involving North Carolina, Texas, Ohio and Nevada – prior to the one from the Louisiana parents. These were resolved by adding summer school and accelerated programs geared toward the tests. “What we have never done is require the state to stop using the tests,” Ms. Bowers said.

Parents for Educational Justice tried unsuccessfully in federal court last spring to prevent the state from using the test to determine a students’ academic fate.

Transgender Student’s Rights

A transgender student in Brockton, Mass., has won the right – for now – to express gender identity through clothing.

The eighth-grade student will be able to return to school while the legal case continues. The student is known in court records as “Pat Doe,” referred to by her attorneys as “she” but called by school lawyers as “he.”

The transgender student had filed suit against the school district, which had barred the student from school while dressed in women’s clothing. A lower court had ruled that disciplining a biologically male student for wearing girls’ clothing violates the student’s First Amendment right of free expression and constitutes sex discrimination.

The Brockton school system appealed the ruling. On Nov. 6, the Massachusetts Appeals Court ordered a plan to be drafted to allow the transgendered teenager to return to school while the case is pending.

Instead of ruling on the Brockton school system’s appeal, the judge suggested the school system and the eighth-grader’s lawyer, Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD), prepare for a full trial on the lawsuit.

“It seems to me it’s important to get this issue fully fleshed out,” Appeals Court Judge George Jacobs said. “It’s a far better way to proceed and will do the issue far more justice.”

According to GLAD, “The term transgender is used to describe people whose gender identity … is not consistent with their anatomical sex at birth.”

Teachers Pass Up Bonus

Teachers at high schools in Pasco County, Florida have returned their bonus payments, saying they do not want any part of the state’s new $12 million program to pay “a $1,000 year bonus to “outstanding” teachers at “low performing” schools.

The program is part of Florida’s controversial method of ranking schools by student results on standardized test scores in reading and math in 10th grade.

The teachers in Pasco County, in central western Florida, say they’re protesting because they don’t believe the state’s ranking accurately measures school and teaching quality. At Zephyrhills High, teachers signed petitions, gave speeches and tore up fake $1000 checks at an Oct. 24 rally, according to a report in the St. Petersburg Times. The Hudson High faculty voted unanimously to reject the money. Additionally, teachers at Pasco County’s two alternative schools, eligible because they work with potential dropouts, are also passing on the cash because the state didn’t provide enough money to give each teacher a bonus.

Pasco County principals say they expect all but a handful of the roughly 200 eligible teachers to pass up the money, collectively eschewing about $122,000.

“The lesson here is for kids to stand up for what you believe in,” Zephyrhills High history teacher Jean McNary said at the rally. “If you keep your mouth shut, nothing will change.”

Schools Rethink Boy Scouts

The June ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court affirming the right of the Boy Scouts to set leadership limits based on sexual orientation has caused repercussions for the organization with school boards across the country.

School boards in California, Florida, Massachusetts, Minnesota, and New York have taken steps to ban the Scouts from local schools, according to the Oct. 24 School Board News. In these states, several local governments and United Way organizations have stopped providing funds to the group.

An even larger number of districts are reviewing their antidiscrimination policies to determine whether they can continue to support the Boy Scouts.

“Our problem is obvious: We are a public institution in a diverse society and we don’t discriminate,” said Minneapolis school board Chair Judy Farmer. That board voted to bar schools from chartering Boy Scout groups or distributing promotional materials until the organization “rescinds its current policy on Scout leaders.”

That will not happen any time soon, says Boy Scouts national spokesperson Gregg Shields. “No change is in the works,” he said.

The Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network, meanwhile, has begun a national effort to lobby public schools “to stop chartering troops until the national organization rescinds its discriminatory policies.”