School Controversies

The most controversial issues impacting public school students today. From bullying to book bans, this is a comprehensive look at some of the most oft-debated issues. This section features articles on school segregation, religion, over-crowding, civil rights, and green technology.
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Immigration reform has been a hotly contested issue for decades. With Congress deadlocked on the issue, state legislatures across the country have passed strict anti-immigration bills, leaving millions of immigrants in fear of deportation. One source of fear for undocumented families is that local school districts that require birth certificates, social security numbers, and other vital information in order to enroll students will reveal the family’s undocumented status and lead authorities to apprehend them. The fear of legal retribution is so great that for many families, removing their children from school is their only choice.
Plyler v. Doe
The recent wave of state-based restrictions on enrollment of undocumented students is somewhat curious given that the Supreme Court ruled that these students have an equal right to education. In their 1982 ruling in Plyler v. Doe, the justices held that schools cannot:
       ·      Deny a student enrollment based on undocumented status;
       ·      Require different procedures to determine a student’s residency;
       ·      Engage in any activities that may discourage a student from enrolling;
       ·      Require students or their parents to document their immigration status;
       ·      Ask questions that may expose a student’s immigration status;
       ·      Require a student’s social security number for enrollment purposes.


Furthermore, as a result of the ruling, school officials involved in enrollment and intake of new students are not obligated to enforce U.S. immigration laws. Yet, despite these clear-cut guidelines regarding student enrollment, public schools keep finding ways to exclude immigrant and undocumented children.


Alabama – The “Show Me Your Papers State”



In 2011, Alabama, angry over the lack of progress on immigration at the federal level, passed a sweeping immigration bill. Among the many provisions of the bill was a requirement that all individuals possess identification papers in order to prove their citizenship, proof that had to be provided when getting a driver’s license, hooking up home utilities, and enrolling children in school. When the law passed, thousands of immigrant children were pulled out of school by their parents due in part to the law’s requirement that . . . read more
As the pressure to demonstrate student achievement has increased over the last decade, some educators have begun bending the rules. While cheating scandals involving teachers are nothing new, with the passage of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) in 2002, the stakes for teachers and students alike rose dramatically.
NCLB’s strict testing and performance requirements have gotten the most attention over the years. Students in elementary and middle grades are required to be tested annually in math and reading. High school students must be tested at least once between tenth and twelfth grade. Schools must also demonstrate “adequate yearly progress,” in which students show year-to-year improvement towards the eventual goal that 100 percent of students are proficient on tests in both subject areas.
Originally, districts had until 2014 to meet 100 percent proficiency. But by 2011 it became clear that thousands of schools across the country would not meet this goal. As a result, the Obama Administration agreed to award waivers to districts that could not reach the goal, however, districts had to agree to implement teacher evaluation systems that were directly tied to student test scores if waivers were to be granted. Thus, cheating scandals involving educators have since become much more commonplace.
Cheating Cases Reported Across the Nation
Educators in Philadelphia have been charged with “fostering a culture of cheating” after the state’s attorney general discovered in 2008 that teachers had provided test answers to students, improperly reviewed state assessments, and in some cases changed student answers. During the height of the cheating, the number of students demonstrating proficiency on math and reading tests was well above 80 percent. Once the cheating was discovered and stopped in 2012, just 31 percent were proficient in math and 25 percent were proficient in reading. To date, one principal and four teachers at a Philadelphia area elementary school have been charged, although the investigation has involved more than 50 local school districts and has implicated 69 current and former school employees of misconduct.

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The presence of religion, and more specifically, prayer, in public schools has long been a hot-button topic in the United States. Religious parents maintain that their child has the right to pray and engage in other religious activities while at public school. Meanwhile, parents on the other side of the issue argue that their child should not be subjected to state-sponsored religious activities. Numerous court battles have more clearly defined the role religion can play in public schools, however, debate regarding the nature and extent of religious practices at school continues on.
Religion in Schools: A Brief Overview
In the late 1950s, the Board of Regents of New York’s public schools system composed a nondenominational prayer for students to recite at the beginning of the school day. The prayer was strictly voluntary. A group of parents, including Steven Engel, took exception to the practice and filed suit against the Board. After state courts sided with the Board, thus upholding the school’s right to hold the voluntary morning prayer, Engel appealed the case to the Supreme Court. In 1962 the Court handed down their decision in the landmark case, Engel v. Vitale, in which they declared the practice of school-sponsored prayer unconstitutional.

In the majority opinion, the justices argued that neither the voluntary nature, nor the nondenominational nature of the prayer prevented it from violating the Constitution. The fact that the state of New York composed the prayer and provided time for public school students to recite it violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. The Establishment Clause prevents the government from creating any laws with regard to establishing or endorsing an official religion.
Several other cases have since been heard by the Supreme Court regarding this issue. In Wallace v. Jaffree (1985), the Court ruled that an Alabama law providing schoolchildren with a moment of silence for “meditation or silent prayer” violated the Establishment Clause. In the 1992 case Lee v. Weisman, the Supreme Court ruled that invocations and convocations . . . read more
As more parents voice concerns about the dangers of cyber-bullying, one California school district has taken matters into its own hands. The Glendale Unified School District has hired an outside company to track students on social media and send reports of the results to school officials daily. The purpose of the new program is to protect students from potential trouble, including cyber-bullying, suicidal thoughts and even truancy. However, some are questioning whether the school district is blatantly infringing on students’ privacy rights in their quest to keep students a little safer.
Company to Analyze Social Media Posts
The Los Angeles Times reports that the Glendale district has hired Geo Listening, a social media monitoring service that specializes in tracking social media for school campuses. Glendale piloted the program on a smaller scale last year, hiring the company to monitor social websites of students at Hoover, Glendale and Crescenta Valley high schools. This year, the district will pay Geo Listening more than $40,000 to expand their services to eight high schools and middle schools in the district.
According to the Geo Listening website, their monitoring service provides daily reports to school officials about social website activity. Those daily reports break down social media messages into the following categories:
       ·      Cyber-bullying and bullying
       ·      Hate, harm and despair
       ·      Crimes and vandalism
       ·      Truancy
       ·      Substance abuse
The report also shares the frequency and severity of student posts within these categories. All of the information is taken off of public social media pages; texts, email and private messages are not monitored.
Glendale’s Decision to Go to Monitoring
The International Business Times reports that the school district decided to pilot the monitoring program after a student from the district, Drew Ferraro, committed suicide by jumping off the roof of Crescenta Valley High School. Bullying was allegedly a factor in the death of this teen.
“With modern technology, unfortunately we have to stay a step ahead of . . . read more
Cell phones have traditionally been seen by school districts as distractions that interfere with the learning process. Most instituted bans against the use of cell phones during the school day. However, the advent of smart phones has led some districts to re-explore that decision, and some are now backing away from their bans. Are cell phones and public schools becoming a more amicable union, or are districts merely bowing to student pressure?
History of Cell Phone Bans in Schools
For more than a decade, cell phones and other technology devices have been banned in most public schools across the country. The bans were originally instituted to prevent classroom disruptions and distractions, according to the website for the School Safety and Security Services. As the technology has evolved, concerns have been raised over using the devices to cheat on exams. They have also been seen as a security concern, since phones can now discreetly take photographs of tests or students changing in the school locker room.
Over the years, the use of cell phones in schools has become a matter of debate for students, parents and teachers. Advanced technology has now made phones legitimate instructional tools, as students can now use their phones to access an unlimited amount of information from the Internet. Some have also argued that as cell phones become a more prevalent part of today’s culture, keeping phones out of the classroom prevents schools from moving with the times.
Arguments for Continuing the Ban
And so the debate began. Those who continue to support banning phones from classrooms maintain the issue of disruption to the learning process. WBEZ reports that many Chicago- area school districts will be continuing with cell phone restrictions in schools, despite requests from some principals and parents to allow limited use during the day.
“The policy has been for several years that students are not allowed to have cell phones during the academic day,” Tom Hernandez, a spokesperson for District 202, told WBEZ. “They are supposed to turn them off and . . . read more
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