Education Week Article Sheds Light on Increasing Student Emotional Issues (March 22, 2019)

According to March 14th Education Week article, “[b]etween 2005 and 2017, the proportion of teens 12-17 who reported the symptoms of a major depressive episode within the last year rose from 8.7 percent to 13.2 percent, the data showed. Adults ages 18-25 showed similar trends, while rates remained relatively stable for older generations.” This data supports other studies that show a recent increase in teens that attempted or considered suicide.

Also identified is the need for an increased focus on preparing staff to spot warning signs of serious emotional issues in students, as well as teaching children as early as middle school to spot signs of suicidal thoughts in their peers. The article also points to an ACLU report that shows a lack of resources to address mental illness in schools across the nation, including inadequate numbers of school counselors and psychologists.

Measles Outbreaks Prompt Officials to Re-examine Exemption Laws/Policies (March 17, 2019)

In order to attend school in the US, all 50 states require most parents/guardians to vaccinate their children against select preventable diseases (i.e., diseases that can be prevented through immunization). Such diseases include mumps, measles, rubella (German measles), and whooping cough (pertussis). However, in addition to medical exemptions, most states also allow parents/guardians to opt out of vaccination requirements for religious reasons. Further, 17 states also allow other exemptions, such as allowing families to opt out of school vaccination requirements for personal or philosophical reasons.

Concerns regarding the ease with which parents/guardians can opt their children out of required vaccinations have risen in light of outbreaks of measles and, to a lesser extent, mumps, forcing some states to rethink such exemptions. Over the past two years, more than 500 people have contracted measles – a disease that had been all but eradicated. The measles virus is highly contagious, is airborne, and easily spreads.

It is not only those unvaccinated children who are vulnerable to the virus, but others who have compromised immune systems are also highly susceptible, as well as infants too young to be vaccinated.  

Despite the wrongheaded claims from some in Washington, the scientific consensus about any risk from vaccines is that serious side effects are extremely rare, and any assertions that immunization might be tied to severe consequences like autism were debunked years ago.

Bills to restrict exemptions are now pending in a number of states.

USDE Delay Tactic Vacated by Federal Judge, Significant Disproportionality Rule Now Goes Into Effect (March 9, 2019)

On Thursday, March 8, 2019, a federal judge in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia ruled that Education Secretary Betsy DeVos illegally delayed an Individuals With Disabilities Education Act rule under the Obama administration that required states to identify school districts with “significant disproportionality” in the number of minority students channeled into special education services, segregated in restrictive classroom settings, or disciplined. The ruling called the USDE’s delay of the special education rule “arbitrary and capricious.” The ruling also vacates the decision by Secretary DeVos to incur a two-year delay on the regulation, which instead must immediately go into effect as states are now required to identify school districts with “significant disproportionality.”

ACLU Report Identifies High Rate of Criminalization and Lack of Pupil Services Staff in PA Schools (March 9, 2019)

According to philly.com, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is reporting that their study shows too many disadvantaged students are being arrested instead of receiving preventive mental health aid.

Cops and No Counselors: How the Lack of School Mental Health Staff is Harming Students is an ACLU study that found that about 1.7 million children (30,000 in Pennsylvania alone) attend US schools with police officers, but no counselors; a trend that promotes criminalization and eschews interventive measures. The ACLU also reports that Pennsylvania has the third-highest student arrest rate in the nation as a result of  a 24 percent increase over the past just two years. PA also has the second-highest arrest rate for African American and Hispanic students.

The ACLU used the most recent USDE data, collected in 2015-16, for its study, which determined that pupil services personnel were sorely lacking in the nation’s public schools. For example, in addition to the 1.7 million students that attend schools with police but no counselors, 10 million students are in schools with police but no social workers, six million students are in schools with police but no school psychologists, and three million students are in schools with police but no school nurses.

According to Harold Jordan, a senior policy advocate for the Pennsylvania ACLU chapter, “The shortage of counselors, nurses, social workers, and school psychologists is a significant problem in Pennsylvania.”

The ACLU study also identified an alarming shortage of school counselors, school nurses, school psychologists, and social workers, which creates a lack of opportunity for professional help and intervention for students with serious mental health issues.

According to the ACLU, no state is meeting the recommended ratio of one social worker for every 250 students, only four states meet the recommended ratio of one school psychologist for every 700 students, and only about one-third of schools reported that they did not have a school nurse on staff.

“For a lot of our children — especially in urban areas with this violence, in Chester and Philly…the mental trauma piece is missing,” said Anthony Johnson, president of the Chester-Upland school board, when asked about the ACLU’s finding that many U.S. schools lack needed counselors, psychologists or nurses, even as the number of armed police increases.

PDE Reminds LEAs of State Assessment Participation Requirements (March 3, 2019)

On Friday, March 1, 2019 PA Deputy Education Secretary Matthew Stem released a Penn*Link titled Participation in State Assessments and Parental/Guardian Rights Afforded Under Chapter 4 and Accountability Under ESSA. In the message, LEAs were reminded that, as the PSSA and spring Keystone testing windows approach, they should be mindful of requirements for participation in state assessments.

According to Deputy Secretary Stem, the U.S. Department of Education (USDE) continues to require participation of all students; however, in recognition of special circumstances, USDE provides some flexibility for five percent non-participation.  This five percent flexibility is important to Pennsylvania, as Chapter 4 regulations allow parents/guardians to have their children excused from testing due to a conflict with religious belief.  Though Pennsylvania regulations permit this excusal, USDE does not recognize this as an allowable reason for non-participation and all students who do not participate due to the allowance in Chapter 4 will have a negative impact on an LEA’s/school’s participation rate, and potentially achievement rate as well. For more information, LEAs are invited to view the webinar: https://youtu.be/kPIWKVDkqII. The provision in Chapter 4 specifically says:

§ 4.4 General Policies.

            (d) School entities shall adopt policies to assure that parents or guardians have the following:

(4) The right to review a State assessment in the school entity during the convenient hours for parents and guardians, at least two weeks prior to their administration, to determine whether a State assessment conflicts with their religious belief.  To protect the validity and integrity of the State assessments, each school entity shall have in place procedures to be followed when parents or guardians request to view any state assessment.  Procedures must be consistent with guidance provided by the Department in its assessment administration instructions.  If upon inspection of a State assessment parents or guardians find the assessment to be in conflict with their religious belief and wish their students to be excused from the assessment, the right of the parents or guardians will not be denied upon written request that states the objection to the applicable school district superintendent, charter school chief executive officer or AVTS director.

Parents/guardians are not to be denied their right to have their children excused if they follow proper protocol.  Parents/guardians must sign a confidentiality agreement form prior to reviewing the assessment.  After reviewing the assessment, parents/guardians must state in writing to the school district superintendent, charter school chief executive officer, or AVTS director that they wish to have their child(ren) excused from the assessment due to a conflict with religious belief.  The specific conflict does not need to be stated; simply that it is a conflict with religious belief.

LEAs and schools are encouraged to seek 100 percent participation in the assessments, but please be reminded of parents’/guardians’ rights under Chapter 4.