Federal Agencies to Create School Safety Clearinghouse (August 11, 2019)

According to Education Dive, in response to pressure from parents who lost children in the February 2018 Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Florida, federal agencies will release a clearinghouse of school safety best practices this fall, allowing administrators to learn from their peers. However, stakeholders are disagreeing when it comes to how to keep schools safe. Policymakers support security devices like cameras, locking mechanisms, and other physical safety features. Researchers lean towards preventative measures to address such things as student depression, bullying, and suicidal tendencies. Also, local schools are encouraged to conduct a security assessment of their premises to facilitate informed decision making. Regardless, federal agencies plan to launch a school safety clearinghouse in the fall of 2019 to bring together “best practices” for schools seeking to maintain a safe school environment and to prevent and/or deter student violence. To read more on this issue, click here.

PDE Receives Tentative Approval of Amended ESSA Statewide Implementation Plan (July 27, 2019)

The U.S. Department of Education (USDE) has tentatively approved Pennsylvania’s revisions to its plan for statewide implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). Revisions include aggregating racial and ethnic group student data by public schools in which no particular racial or ethnic student group meets the minimum n-size of 20 in any single year; additional specificity regarding Targeted Support and Improvement (TSI) designations that must occur annually beginning with the fall of 2019; and examining academic achievement and academic growth in determining annual meaningful differentiation. 

RAND Corp. Study Shows Need to Develop Social and Emotional Skills; US House Proposes Supportive Funding as FY 2020 Budget Showdown Looms (June 1, 2019)

According to new results from a RAND Corporation study, nearly 75% of school principals feel that developing students’ social and emotional skills is a top priority for their schools, with even more teachers supporting the development of specific student skills in those areas. In fact, information gleaned from RAND’s American Educator Panels shows a need to develop such social-emotional learning (SEL) skills as empathy, understanding and managing emotions, and setting and achieving related goals; with the development of these skills resulting in improvements in student achievement, an improved school environment, and improved student behavior.

In support of these findings, the US House of Representatives Appropriations Committee has appropriated $260 million for SEL and “whole-child” approaches as part of its proposed FY 2020 budget. Those funds would provide $170 million for Education Innovation and Research grants, $40 million for full-service community schools to help address students’ non-academic needs, $25 million for mental health professionals and child development experts in schools, and $25 million for SEL-related professional development.

However, President Trump’s proposed budget aims to cut funding for SEL-related professional development funding and to also eliminate the whole-child centered Full-Service Community Schools and Promise Neighborhoods programs.

It appears that a budget fight is looming on this front.

For more information, please go to: https://www.educationdive.com/news/principals-teachers-prioritize-social-emotional-skills-for-students/555744/:


Supreme Court Declines to Hear Boyertown Transgender Case; Bathroom Policy Stands (May 29, 2019)

On May 28, 2019, the US Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal from the U.S. 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals ruling in favor of a Boyertown Area School District  policy that allows transgender students to use bathrooms that align with their gender identity. The Supreme Court’s decision thus leaves standing the 3rd Circuit Appeals Court unanimous 2018 ruling. The policy also provides private bathrooms and locker rooms to those students who report being uncomfortable sharing a bathroom with transgender or cisgender students.

The original plaintiff in the suit was the conservative Christian group, Alliance Defending Freedom, which argued that transgender bathroom use violates a “right to privacy.” However, the fact that the Boyertown ASD policy accommodates “uncomfortable” students with private bathroom accessibility without denying transgender students’ rights significantly undercuts such a privacy argument.

Noted attorney Michael I. Levin from Huntington Valley, PA handled the school district’s defense.

It is important to note that the Boyertown Supreme Court decision has no bearing on other cases  involving the interpretation of federal anti-discrimination laws in this area, which became a bone of contention when the Trump administration reversed an Obama administration interpretation of the Title IX educational equity law as protecting transgender students.

Federal Statistics Show Depression in the Young to be a Major Health Crisis (May 24, 2019)

According to research from federal regulators and medical groups, the suicide rate in the US for pre-teens through young adults (ages 10 to 19) rose by an alarming 56% from 2007 to 2016, which is the most recent year that statistics are available. Additionally, according to the National Institute for Mental Health (NIMH), during that time  only 40% of young people with major depression received treatment. It has been further noted that behavioral health diagnoses have greatly increased over the past decade as more and more young people must cope with mental health and substance abuse issues. In fact, according to information from Fair Health, behavioral health cases increased 108% from 2007 to 2017, going from 1.3% to 2.7% of all medical claim lines. Similarly, the share of claims for those 22 years old or younger with major depressive disorder have increased from 15% to 23% over that same decade.

These skyrocketing statistics have led many to aver that the US medical system is woefully inadequate in meeting the need for teen mental health services, resulting in an extremely  serious public health crisis.