Tag Archive for 'students'

The End of Transgender Segregation in Sports?

Last year, I wrote about Coy Mathis and other transgender students using the restrooms of the sex they identified with, rather than the sex they were born with. California decided to follow up on the case by passing the School Success and Opportunity Act, or AB 1266. The law, passed in August 2013, allows transgender students in public schools grades K-12 to use any bathroom and locker room the student identifies with, and to participate in any sex-segregated school programs, including athletic teams.

transgender sports AB 1266So far, the controversy over AB 1266 has focused on the parents’ concerns that boys will take advantage of the law by entering girls’ bathrooms and locker rooms. If this occurs, then parents and teachers fear that boys will sexually molest girls or violate girls’ privacy by taking pictures.

Oddly, the other portion of AB 1266 hasn’t received much attention. AB 1266 could erase sex segregation in sports. If a transgender girl wants to play varsity football, AB 1266 could compel the school to include the transgender on the team. The transgender student would have to use the same locker room as the rest of the team, but desegregation of the sexes would be a side effect of AB 1266. The bathroom implications of AB 1266 are unclear, but the state law has already admitted one student, Pat Cordova-Goff, into the Azusa High School girl’s softball team.

Pat might say that she is actually a girl and therefore the team is still all girls. However, the rest of the community might still perceive Pat as a boy even if she believes she is a girl. The team and the coach might see a boy. Parents and neighbors might also see a boy. Opposing teams might worry about fairness if Azusa has a boy on their team.

The potential debate sparked by Pat Cordova-Goff could play out on a national level and in more professional sports. Chloie Jonsson, a transgender athlete, is suing CrossFit for its refusal to allow her to compete in a female fitness competition. CrossFit alleges that being a biological man would give Jonsson an advantage while Jonsson asserts that any advantage would be from physical fitness, not masculine strength.

Given the backlash against Jonsson and AB 1266, transgender rights might be the limit of what the LGBT can achieve. Transgenders, whether they are students or athletes, will be hard pressed to convince the public not to believe what their eyes see. Transgenders must focus on social assumptions about sex and gender before making any sweeping policy changes. Transgenders can win the legal battle, but if they push too hard too fast they could lose the political war.

Should High School Teachers Get Tenure?

Imagine if you could be fired because your employer doesn’t like your political background. Did you watch the Republican response to the President’s State of the Union address? You’re gone. Do you oppose same-sex marriage? Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.

teacher tenureMany employees face this issue every day. Employment in the United States is at-will, so anyone can be fired as long as the employer doesn’t discriminate on the basis of religion. However, in many states, teachers are protected from this type of employer scrutiny. Why shouldn’t teachers be bound to the same employment laws as the rest of us?

In Los Angeles, nine high school students are posing this question in court. The students are challenging five California statutes which the students believe have a discriminatory impact on them. The students claim that California’s tenure system protects ineffective teachers and that most of those teachers are located in schools which are made up of racial minorities.

Three of the statutes are procedural laws which requires years of documentation just to fire a teacher. The fourth statute requires schools to grant or deny tenure to teachers after only 18 months of work. The fifth statute is California’s “last in, first out” statute. This type of law requires schools to let go of junior teachers before senior members of the staff. Teacher unions, the state Department of Education, and Governor Brown are defending the laws. They claim that removing the tenure laws would lower moral, violate the teachers’ due process, and unfairly discriminate against older teachers.

It is somewhat unreasonable to complain that older teachers might be discriminated against if the tenure laws were removed. Although age discrimination has been defined as discrimination against people who are 40 or over, the reality is that “last in, first out” laws often discriminates against young teachers. That is equally unjust, but it also makes little sense to defend older teachers over younger teachers. Younger teachers are more likely to have relevant job or college experience which they can pass on to their students. Students can also relate to younger teachers more easily. Granted, not all younger teachers are better than older teachers. In any case, shouldn’t merit decide who stays and who leaves?

Of course, that question is partly the reason tenure was given to teachers in the first place. Who decides what merit is? Students can’t be trusted because they’d be biased and short-sighted, as would their parents. Teachers in Kansas face intense pressure about teaching evolution in science classes. Some parents freak when Harry Potter or The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn are on the summer reading list. There are also parents who seem to care more about their child’s football games than their child’s math scores.

Although students and parents might want to remove teachers who present controversial materials, those are the teachers society should keep. When students are presented with material that they aren’t exposed to at home, they will learn critical thinking skills that Americans need to succeed in a global economy. A high school graduate should be able to accurately explain how evolution works and what questions the theory of evolution answers or doesn’t answer, regardless of the student’s or the parents’ own beliefs about the subject.

However, promoting critical thinking does not directly tie into tenure. If the state wanted to protect teachers from political pressure, the state could easily make a statute doing so. Even if anti-discrimination laws didn’t exist when tenure was first created for university professors in 1990, they exist today for race, religion, and gender. It would not be difficult to extend such protection to political expression. Instead, California and other states keep an outdated system which protects teachers more than it helps students.

Diabetic Students Can Now Receive Insulin Shots from School Staff in California

A Legal Victory for California Diabetic Students and Their Families

On August 12, 2013, the California Supreme Court unanimously decided that unlicensed school staff should be able to administer insulin shots to diabetic students when a nurse is not around. Prior to this ruling, parents of diabetic children often faced serious hardships in ensuring that their children received timely insulin shots at school.

Child Diabetes Insulin Shot

Why Did This Ruling Take So Long To Achieve?

Consider: a number of existing California laws, such as the Education Code, already permit parents and even children themselves to administer insulin shots when necessary. If a child can self-medicate with insulin when necessary, would a trained teacher be any less capable of doing the same for that child?

In the parents’ view, which had been taken up by the state Supreme Court, the practical approach would emphasize equal access to care – administration of insulin (and other prescribed medications) – without jeopardizing diabetic students’ safety at schools.

However, the American Nurse Association (ANA) opposed the idea that non-nurses should be able to administer insulin to students. As a professional nursing organization, ANA worries about the safety of this long-awaited solution that does not come from the expert community of nurse professionals. Many discount ANA’s concerns about safety as related to union interests or professional corporatism, but even if that is so, ANA’s concerns are not without merit.

Health Care Should Not Be Compromised
Obviously, health care professionals perform a range of technical services. However, many of their duties (such as insulin shots) could be safely replicated by unlicensed laypersons. The question can be raised: Would fix-it-yourself outsourcing of health care services increase the quality of health care?

The most important point is this: Health care should not be compromised simply because a particular health care service is traditionally performed by a licensed professional. In education, we want qualified educators to teach our children how to read and write. But no one would argue that only a licensed teacher can help our children learn how to correct a spelling error. The same should be true for health care. We shouldn’t have to rely exclusively on qualified professionals to accomplish acts that could easily and safely be performed by laypersons.

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.

Why Upholding Tuition Breaks for Illegal Immigrants is Not as Bad as It Seems

Illegal immigration is one of those issues that is guaranteed to generate a debate. As a country, we couldn’t be more torn up about it. On one hand, there seems to be something inherently amiss about extending public benefits to those who blatantly violate the law and come onto the land illegally. Furthermore, we simply don’t have the funds in our economy to support them.

On the other hand, we recognize that we are a nation of immigrants. And for many of us, the issue strikes even closer to home, as it is our relatives and close family friends who are the illegal immigrants in question today. Furthermore, as a country we recognize the value that immigrants can bring to our nation, and how investing in them now will pay off in the future.

Well, aside from all the activity going on in Arizona, this issue has reared its head again, now in the state of California. Basically, the California Supreme Court recently ruled that state universities and colleges can continue to extend the in-state discounted tuition exemption to illegal immigrants, as long as the students attended high school in the state.

This ruling is the first of the kind in the nation, and it is expected to influence other states as well. Nine other states also have legislation in place that allow for illegal immigrants to pay the in-state tuition rate. Two of these states, Texas and Nebraska, are dealing with a similar challenge to their laws, and the cases are currently pending in the lower state courts.

There has been a great deal of outcry on this ruling, from both sides. Initially, it does seem unfair “bad” behavior is being rewarded with a tuition exemption. This is especially frustrating when you consider that this tuition exemption doesn’t apply to those immigrants who are actually, legally here. However, upon deeper research, here’s why I don’t think this ruling as unfair as it initially seems.

First of all, this law actually applies to several classes of students, not just illegal immigrants. Technically, the requirement is that the law applies to “any student,” as long as the student is not lawfully here as an immigrant. So while it does include illegal immigrants, it also includes other classes of students. For example, they can be citizens who attended high school in California, but then whose families moved elsewhere. They can also be students who are citizens of another state, but who moved to California to attend high school or boarding school here.

Furthermore, most of these exemptions will end up applying to students from the latter two categories, rather than illegal immigrants. The numbers show that right now, about 41,000 students qualify for these exemptions, but many of them are actually United States citizens. One study shows that of these students, only 25,000 of them are illegal aliens. In another study, 2,019 students paid the exempt-rate at UC schools for the 2008-2009 school year, but only about 600 of these students were undocumented aliens.

Additionally, legislative notes show that the main motivation behind the statute was not to benefit illegal immigrants specifically. Rather, the legislators knew that many students have been in the California school system for many years, since elementary and middle school, and simply wanted to extend this education to them all the way through college. This intent is made clear by looking at the wording of the legislation itself, which states the requirement that students must have attended high school in California for three or more years.

Also, the thinking was that if a student has been a long-term California resident, the student (or rather, the student’s family) would have already paid state taxes and should be able to benefit from the tuition exemptions. Additionally, the legislators recognized that in cases of illegal immigrants, most are waiting for their applications to be processed, and are expected to become citizens.

Thus, I believe that upon deeper research, the statute may not be as unfair as it initially seems. However, there are still good arguments to be made on the other side for repealing the statute. One of them is that this statute actually conflicts with federal law, which states that illegal immigrants cannot receive college benefits based on residency and not offered to all citizens.

So while this ruling is monumental in that it sets a precedent for the rest of the country, it will probably not be the end of the matter either. The case is expected to be appealed to the United States Supreme Court. Only time will tell how this immigration issue, and the immigration debate in general, will end up playing out in our country.



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