USDE, DOJ, and HHS Release First Report to Congress as Part of the Interagency Task Force on Sexual Violence in Education (December 6, 2022)

The Interagency Task Force on Sexual Violence in Education (Task Force), created by the Violence Against Women Act Reauthorization Act of 2022 (VAWA 2022 Reauthorization), presented its first report to Congress today. As required by the VAWA 2022 Reauthorization, the report focuses on recruiting, retaining, and training the U.S. Department of Education’s highly qualified workforce who investigate complaints and enforce Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 (Title IX) and section 485(f) of the Higher Education Act of 1965 (Clery Act). The reauthorization of VAWA and the work of this Task Force continue a long commitment to action by President Biden, who was the primary Senate sponsor of the original Violence Against Women Act, which was enacted in 1994.

The Task Force, which includes the USDE, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), and U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), was established on Sept. 1, 2022. The VAWA 2022 Reauthorization required the Task Force’s first report to be completed by Nov. 30, 2022, which is no later than 90 days after the Task Force’s establishment.

“The Department of Education is fully committed to ensuring that every student has the right to learn in a safe environment free from harassment and sexual violence,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona.

“Sexual violence prevention, particularly in educational settings, is critical,” said U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra. “This report is the first step to providing critical information about gaps in federal law enforcement and resources. HHS looks forward to working across the federal government to advance trauma-informed health care and advocacy services for survivors.”

As required by Congress, the report provides information from the USDE’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) and the Clery Group within the office of Federal Student Aid on the following topics:

  1. An assessment to identify gaps or challenges in carrying out such investigation and enforcement, which may include surveying the current investigative workforce to solicit feedback on areas in need of improvement.
  2. An examination of issues of recruiting, retention, and the professional development of the current investigative workforce, including the possibility of providing retention bonuses or other forms of compensation for the purpose of ensuring the USDE has the capacity, in both personnel and skills, needed to properly perform its mission and provide adequate oversight of educational institutions.
  3. An assessment of the benefits of outreach and training with both law enforcement agencies and educational institutions with respect to such workforce.
  4. An examination of best practices for making educational institutions aware of the most effective campus sexual violence prevention, investigation, and response practices and identifying areas where more research should be conducted. And,
  5. Strategies for addressing such other matters as the Secretary of Education considers necessary to sexual violence prevention, investigation, and responses.

In addressing the USDE’s work on best practices and strategies for preventing campus sexual violence, the report highlights a range of the Department’s programs, including its National Center on Safe Supportive Learning Environments (NCSSLE)’s recent Lessons from the Field webinars on engaging school communities in preventing gender-based violence. Both featured leaders of prevention programming who provided practical, ready-to-use strategies for preventing sexual violence and other gender-based violence on college and university campuses and in secondary schools.

A full copy of the report can be found here.

PSSA Test Scores Continue to Fall Short of Pre-pandemic Levels (December 5, 2022)

On November 28th, the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) released results from the 2021-2022 school year administration of state-level assessments: the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment (PSSA), Pennsylvania Alternate System of Assessment (PASA), and Keystone Exams. 

PSSA data from the 4th and 8th grades showed proficiency levels down between two and 10 points from 2019 to 2022 in language arts, math, and science. In 4th grade, proficiency in English and language arts was 52.2% compared to 63.3% in 2019. In science, proficiency was 73.7% compared to 77.8% in 2019. Math proficiency showed improvement, increasing to 42.3%. However, that is still below the 46.2% mark set in 2019.

In 8th grade, language arts proficiency was 55.6% compared to 57.9% in 2019. Science proficiency was 51.1% compared to 58.2% in 2019. Math proficiency was 22.6%, which is nearly 10 points below the 32.2% mark set in 2019.

The lower tests continue to be an effect of the pandemic.

For more from Fox 43 News, click here.

To view the PDE press release, click here.

Free COVID-19 Testing Offered at Select IUs in Preparation for Holiday Gatherings (November 29, 2022)

As people are preparing for holiday gatherings this season, the PA Department of Health (PDH) is offering free COVID-19 testing and take-home tests at nearly a dozen locations across the state.  

The testing is free and open to everyone. COVID-19 community-based testing sites are operated in partnership with AMI Expeditionary Healthcare (AMI) offering three forms of testing:    
-point of care tests where tests are performed and results are analyzed on-site,   
-distribution of at-home COVID-19 antigen tests, and   
-administration of the mid-nasal passage swab PCR testing.  

Individuals do not need to be experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 to be tested. Patients are encouraged to bring a photo ID, but ID is not required to be tested. Appointments are not necessary as registration will be completed on-site. 

Tests can be picked up at the following IUs: 1, 4, 5, 8, 10, 11, 14, 17, and 19

Gov. Wolf Announces $9 Million For Substance Use Disorder Crisis Stabilization Services (November 29, 2022)

On November 28, 2022, Governor Tom Wolf announced ​the availability of more than $9 million in state grant funding for Single County Authorities (SCAs) to establish or expand crisis stabilization services for individuals with co-occurring mental health and substance use disorders (SUD).

“The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the need for enhanced and coordinated behavioral health services in Pennsylvania,” Gov. Wolf said. “This funding opportunity will make use of Pennsylvania’s share of the federal Opioid Distributor Settlement to build on our existing programs and initiatives.”

Grants of up to $3 million will be awarded to eligible SCAs and can be applied toward a range of activities including construction and building infrastructure, staffing, and programming.

“These grants will help expand or establish services to provide a much-needed component to the continuum of care; reduce the burden on first responders, law enforcement, and emergency departments, and provide timely care to individuals in need,” said state Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs (DDAP) Secretary Jen Smith.

The administration’s goal in offering this funding opportunity is to provide an additional mechanism for counties to invest in infrastructure, staffing, programming, and other necessary components to establish or expand crisis stabilization services.

SUD crisis stabilization services must have the capacity to recognize and manage individuals presenting with a wide range of SUD-related symptoms, mental health disorders, and developmental disabilities. Additionally, services include assessment and stabilization of acute physical and psychiatric symptoms which may include medical management and behavioral interventions, induction on medication-assisted treatment, level of care assessments, short-term stays, and connections to supportive services.

For more information on this Grant Initiative Funding Application, visit the Funding Opportunities page on the DDAP website. Applications must be submitted to RA-DAGrantsMgmt@pa.gov by 12 PM on Wednesday, December 28, 2022.

Questions regarding the funding and the application process should be emailed to RA-DAGrantsMgmt@pa.gov

USDE Seeks Public Comment on Bipartisan Safer Communities Act Stronger Connections (November 25, 2022)

The U.S. Department of Education (USDE) is seeking public comment on Draft Bipartisan Safer Communities Act Stronger Connections Frequently Asked Questions – Nonregulatory Guidance (2022). As indicated in its title, the final document will provide nonregualtor guidance.

In the FAQs, the USDE outlines school violence prevention options under $1B Stronger Connections grant program Schools should take a comprehensive approach to violence prevention that includes not only improved safety measures but meets students’ physical, social, emotional, mental health and academic needs, according to a draft FAQ issued by the U.S. Department of Education for the $1 billion Stronger Connections grant program.  

A September 15, 2022 letter  to Chief State School Officers by U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona provided  information regarding the prioritization of funding for school districts that focuses on poverty levels, as well as other circumstances based on the need to address student vulnerabilities.

The FAQs also provide recommendations for allowable activities under the grant.

The public is invited to provide feedback on the draft document by December 19, 2022.

The USDE will consider all comments in making revisions, as appropriate, but will
not provide individual responses to comments.

Submission Instructions include:
Send comments to: StrongerConnections@ed.gov
Subject line: Stronger Connections Grant Program FAQs Comments: Please submit succinct, substantive comments regarding the draft Bipartisan Safer Communities Act Stronger Connections Grant Program FAQs, which may include:
• Identifying questions or answers in the document, by question number, that you think are not clear and provide a suggestion for enhancing clarity; or
• Providing suggestions for enhancing the document overall, such as an unanswered question.