Tag Archive for 'student'

Students Are Jailed for Skipping Class in Texas School District

News recently broke that the Fort Bend Independent School District just outside of Houston has been incarcerating truant students. In Texas, students are forced to pay fines if they miss 10 or more days of school within a six-month period. Most of these students are of low-income families. When they fail to pay, they are taken into custody. These students in turn miss even more school once in custody, and some are kicked out of school because of the added absence.

student truancyOver a thousand teenagers have been incarcerated for truancy related charges in the past three years within the Fort Bend school district. Because of the recent revelation, the school district announced it will stop sending truant students to court while a review of the attendance policies takes place.

In addition to this questionable practice, the advocacy group Texas Appleseed discovered that black and Hispanic students were disproportionately sent to court for truancy charges.

Serena Vela, an 11th grader, was jailed for nine days for failure to pay truancy charges. She accumulated more than $2,700, and was unable to pay the fines. Once freed, she was kicked out of school for her added absences. A year and a half later, she works at a pizza place and still does not have her high school diploma. She is just one example of the harmful effects this attendance process has on students.

John Payton’s Strict Oversight of Truancy Cases

Judge John Payton oversees about 80 percent of truancy cases in Collin County. On average, he sends 45 to 50 students to adult jail each year. He claims sending students to jail is a wakeup call for them and will motivate them to stay in school. But if students are being kicked out for missing even more school because of incarceration, how is this helping them?

Payton himself he hasn’t even earned his bachelor’s degree, yet he is in charge of almost all attendance cases in Collin County. He claims that he keeps students under the age of 17 away from felons when he sends them to jail, but jail officials have said this isn’t necessarily the case. He also jailed a student for 11 days whose Facebook page revealed his posts about suffering from depressing, suicide thoughts, and pain. This student spent the whole 11 days in solitary confinement.

Due Process Violations

In Texas, an accumulation of absences is a class C misdemeanor. The charges are held before a “justice of the peace” and municipal courts. The judges in these cases are not required to have a law degree. Buzzfeed News interviewed over 20 families whose child was sent to jail under truancy charges. Not one had a lawyer, directly denying their basic right to due process. Every incarceration of a student without proper due process is unlawful.

College Student Works in Pornography to Pay Tuition

“I’d rather have my dignity and loans than work as a prostitute.”

That was one Internet comment about “Belle Knox,” an 18-year-old Duke University freshman who works as a porn star to pay for tuition. Duke University charges $60,000 per year. Knox claims she makes $1,200 per scene. Knox began filming last November, flying out to Los Angles during school breaks. She was outed by one of her classmates, Thomas Bagley, during a fraternity event. Bagley recognized Knox from one her scenes. Although Knox asked Bagley not to disclose the information, he did so anyway.

belle knoxAfter Bagley’s betrayal, Knox was harassed on campus and online. Many individuals asked that the university expel her, sent rape or death threats, and other types of harassment. Her personal information, including her real name, address, and contact information, was released. One commentator made it a goal to “bang” her before the commentator graduated. Knox quickly became the “Freshman Porn Star” among her peers at Duke University.

Knox responded to her critics and harassers. She gave an interview with her school newspaper, The Chronicle, and wrote a statement on the controversy on XoJane, an Internet magazine about women. Knox was proud of her current position, although she still desired privacy. Knox felt “empowered” by her “honest day’s work.” Knox plans to continue working as a “sex worker” to pay for her education. The men who “consumed her then condemned her” were hypocrites.

Can a Student Be Expelled for Engaging in Pornography?

I looked through Duke’s Conduct Covenant and there is nothing about her conduct that seems like a breach of contract. The Conduct Covenant requires students to conduct themselves honorably in all their endeavors and not to lie, cheat, or steal in their academic endeavors.

It’s possible to say that Knox’s pornography is somehow academic since she is speaking out about justice for sex workers, but I doubt anyone would take that argument too seriously. The pornography is clearly a part-time job, one which takes place away from campus. Second, her writing about sex workers and her engagements in sex are two different activities. Even if the writing might be academic, that doesn’t make the sex academic, especially since the motive behind the sex is profit rather than knowledge.

Using pornography to pay a private Christian school might seem like sacrilege and thus could be less than honorable conduct. However, “honor” is rather subjective and the money is rightfully hers to use as she pleases. As long as pornography isn’t illegal, she hasn’t committed any egregious behavior. I’d say that if Knox is expelled for less than honorable conduct, so should many of her classmates.

If Knox’s conduct is questionable, any students who sent her threats of rape or physical harm are clearly in violation of the code. The code states that any harassment, including sexual harassment, should be brought directly to the Academic Dean. It would be hypocrisy to punish the person being threatened and not the people making the threats.

Louisiana School Intentionally Discriminates Against Pregnant Students For The Heck Of It

One of the more fortunate aspects of living in this modern age of ours is that things like racism and sexism are nowhere nearly as apparent or pervasive as they were in the past.  It’s strange to think that less than a century ago there was no civil rights movement, nor women’s suffrage.  Females were routinely treated as second class citizens, and though it may be arguable how far we’ve actually come, one thing is certain: blatant sex discrimination is now relic of the past.  Well, mostly anyway.

It’s very odd to see obvious discrimination nowadays, especially when it’s directed toward pregnant women by a school no less.  But that’s exactly what’s going down in one Louisiana school.  The Delhi Charter School recently adopted a policy requiring pregnant students to be removed from classrooms and be forced to either study at home or go to a different school.  The policy would also require students suspected of being with child to take a pregnancy test.

Fortunately, Louisiana education officials have already begun the process to force the charter school to drop its discriminatory policy.

The story is surprising on a number of levels.  First and foremost, it’s amazing that the school’s clearly prejudicial policy somehow made it through without seemingly anyone raising the fact that it was obviously unconstitutional.  One of the school board members was even quoted as saying that he had no idea the policy was illegal.

When it comes to constitutional law, it’s usually quite rare for an issue to ever be clearly weighed in one direction or the other.  But the Delhi Charter School’s new rule has somehow defied these odds by being clearly unconstitutional.

The reason is because under the Fourteenth Amendment’s equal protection clause, states are prohibited from discriminating against citizens based on race, sex, and illegitimacy (among other things).  The only way for states to get away with gender based discrimination is if it can overcome the intermediate scrutiny test.  The test basically requires the government actor to show that the discrimination is necessary to further an important government interest and is substantially related to the interest.

In case you’re wondering why Louisiana education officials can tell a charter school what to do, it’s because the school receives a large portion of its funding from the state.  Therefore, it’s a government actor and required to follow the Constitution.

More importantly though, the reason the Delhi Charter School’s policy is unconstitutional is because it specifically targets pregnant people.  And last time science checked, only women can get pregnant.  While the school could argue that the policy is designed to ensure a proper education environment where everyone can learn free of distractions, the problem is that excluding pregnant women isn’t substantially related to this purpose nor does it further it.  Because while non-pregnant students will receive a proper in-class education, pregnant students definitely won’t because they’ll be confined to home study.

Furthermore, it seems like the Delhi Charter School administration must be entirely without legal counsel because if anyone had checked Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, they would’ve realized the policy also violated it, too.

Clearly, whoever was behind passing this policy didn’t put much due diligence into it.  Luckily, it’s likely not going to be around for much longer.  But what do you guys think of the school’s attempted to segregate pregnant students?  It’s clearly unconstitutional, but do these types of rules ever have a place in public education and/or life in general?

For-Profit Colleges Facing Federal Scrutiny

For-profit colleges have been in the news quite a bit recently. As the name implies, these are educational institutions operated by private companies for the express purpose of earning a profit. Most private colleges and universities operate on a non-profit basis. And, as far as I know, so does every public educational institution.

However, like most educational institutions, the students at most for-profit colleges are eligible for federal student loans, as well as educational financial assistance that’s made available to military veterans.

However, because these colleges need to make a profit to stay in business, rather than relying on public funds, private donations, and endowments, many critics have raised concerns that they seriously compromise educational quality in the name of profits, and aggressively recruit students, regardless of the job prospects they’ll have when they graduate.

This can leave students saddled with tens of thousands of dollars in non-dischargeable (meaning it can’t be eliminated or restructured in bankruptcy) student loan debt, with job prospects that were no better than they were before they attended school.

In some cases, this has led to lawsuits against the schools by former students. One of the biggest sectors of the for-profit educational industry is culinary school. Across the United States, there are a large number of for-profit culinary academies. Several culinary colleges, such as the California Culinary Academy, are being sued by former students, who are claiming that they were misled about their job prospects, and the reputation of the school.

One of the most controversial practices engaged in by for-profit colleges is the way in which they recruit former military service members. Under the laws governing federal student loans, for-profit colleges are bound by the so-called “90-10 rule.” This means that at least 10% of the tuition they receive must come from sources other than federal student loans and grants, such as private loans, or from the student simply paying out-of-pocket, and the other 90% can come from federal loans and grants. If the college fails to meet this standard, its students become ineligible for federal student loans, which make up the vast majority of the college’s income.

However, there’s a loophole in this law: educational funds given to members of the military in the form of the G.I. Bill count towards that 10%. So, for every former soldier they enroll with tuition paid for via the G.I. Bill, they can enroll 9 civilian students who can pay with student loans.

This gives them a very strong incentive to heavily market to former soldiers, and get them to enroll regardless of their future job prospects, or even their ability to complete the coursework. For example, there have been cases where they signed up combat veterans who were still recovering from fairly severe brain injuries, as well as mental illnesses such as post-traumatic stress disorder. Some of these students couldn’t even remember what classes they were signed up for. But it appeared that the school didn’t care that they were getting nothing out of their “educational” experience, as long as their tuition checks (paid for by Uncle Sam) cleared.

Not surprisingly, graduates of for-profit colleges tend to default on their student loans at higher rates than other colleges and universities. And because most student loans are paid for by the federal government, it’s the taxpayers who are ultimately on the hook for these loans.

These problems, and the fact that they disproportionately affect students at for-profit colleges, have led to the federal government taking action. The Obama Administration has announced that the Department of Education is instituting a so-called “gainful employment rule” that applies to for-profit colleges receiving federal student loans. Essentially, the rule would require for-profit colleges to meet at least one of three requirements:

  1. At least 35 percent of graduates are actively paying down their loans – lowering the total balance by at least one dollar per year.
  2. Graduates, on average, spend less than 30 percent of their discretionary income on paying down their student loans.
  3. Graduates, on average, are spending less than 12 percent of their total income paying down their loans.

For-profit colleges would only have to meet one of these requirements to maintain eligibility for federal loans. A program that cannot meet any of them will lose this eligibility, effectively shutting it down.

Federal officials estimate that, once these rules are implemented, about 5 percent of for-profit programs will be shut down.

These requirements seem pretty reasonable, and any college that is unable to meet them probably shouldn’t be receiving federal funds. Most for-profit colleges are already responding to these rules by becoming more selective in their admissions (which should lead to smaller class sizes, and a student body that’s more qualified to be in college in the first place), and providing more accurate information about a graduate’s likely employment prospects, and information on avoiding excessive debt.

Hopefully, these new rules will improve the overall quality of for-profit colleges, and the education they provide. Despite their problems, these institutions can fill a valuable niche in the educational market, especially since they largely focus on vocational training that more traditional universities often ignore. However, we shouldn’t allow them to engage in deceptive recruitment practices or saddle the vast majority of their graduates with debts that they cannot hope to pay off.

While the gainful employment rule might be disruptive to some for-profit colleges, I think that, in the long run, it will improve the quality of the education they offer.

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New Student-Teacher Facebook Ban Raises Constitutional Concerns

By now the legal implications of Facebook and social network websites have been thoroughly explored. We’ve seen how Facebook evidence can be utilized in a trial (for better or for worse), and how it even plays out in such obscure areas as jury selection.

But with the introduction of a new Missouri law, the Facebook phenomenon enters into another area of our lives- education. More specifically, Missouri’s new law will make it illegal for a teacher to maintain a private, exclusive relationship with students on social networking websites such as Facebook.

In light of the new law, teachers are being encouraged not to “friend” their students, and to “un-friend” their existing students on Facebook. The law, known as the “Amy Hestir Student Protection Act”, will take effect at the end of August, 2011. It was created in response to a case of student molestation by a teacher years ago; besides the social website provisions, the law also requires school authorities to report any instances of abuse within 24 hours.

Needless to say, Missouri’s law is causing all kinds of stir- I mean, the story is all over the web. One of the main concerns is that the law appears to be overbroad, meaning that it might potentially regulate student-teacher interactions beyond the law’s purpose. In fact, one law professor believes that the Missouri teacher-student Facebook ban is “doomed” due to its being overbroad.

Amidst all the commotion, I’d like to focus in on a few Constitutional challenges against the Act. I feel that these Constitutional concerns can shed some light on the fate of student-teacher relationships online. One challenge that teachers are raising is that the law impinges upon their right to “practice a trade or profession” (i.e., the profession of teaching).

Now, the right to practice a trade or profession is only loosely protected under Constitutional laws. If a law is implemented that will regulate the teaching profession, the law must pass a simple “rational basis” test. In order to pass muster, the Student Protection Act need only be “rationally related to a legitimate government interest”. While that sounds complicated, this is actually a much lower standard than those applied for other rights.

In this case, the “legitimate government interest” would be that of protecting students from sexual abuse by teachers. Is the law “rationally related” to this interest? I would believe so- many instances of teacher-student sexual abuse had their beginnings on Facebook or other similar social networking websites. Restricting private teacher-student interactions online can definitely help reduce the potential for abuse. And so at the outset, it appears that Missouri ban would probably survive a Constitutional challenge based on the right to practice teaching.

Now, compare the “rational basis” standard with other standards used for more “fundamental rights” like the right to free speech). Laws regulating fundamental rights must pass a “strict scrutiny” analysis. This means that the law must actually be necessary to achieve a compelling government interest. Besides that, any law that seeks to regulate a fundamental right must use the least restricting means to accomplish its purpose. It is a much, much higher standard to fulfill than the rational basis test.

In this regard, there are many teachers who claim that the Facebooking restrictions violate the fundamental 1st Amendment right to free speech. If a 1st Amendment free speech challenge is raised, the court would have to use the strict scrutiny approach rather than the more simplistic rational basis analysis. This would make it much easier to strike the law down.

Personally speaking, I’m all for the new law. To me it doesn’t make any sense for teachers to create friendships with students online, especially if they are under the radar and not being monitored by school authorities. In my opinion, the interest in protecting student’s safety outweighs the limitations in communication that the Act might bring.

Also, teachers have so many other options for communicating openly with students online (they can even create public accounts on Facebook apart from their personal page). The ban may even help students learn how to manage separate accounts, which will be a valuable asset for the professional future.

But as you can see, the legal analysis involved with this law is going to be complicated. I’ll leave the results to the courts, but eager to see how the results will turn out. My point is that the interplay of various Constitutional aspects can make some laws very complicated, legally speaking. It’s not a simply a matter of attacking a law head on- there are many different angles and avenues by which a particular law can be struck down or upheld.