Entries in Schools (14)


Schools Face Threats Nationwide Following Newtown Shooting

DON EMMERT/AFP/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- Schools across the country, already on edge following last week's massacre of 20 students and six adults at a Newtown, Conn., elementary school, have been further unnerved following a series of copycat threats, sometimes yielding arrests and caches of deadly weapons.

From California to Connecticut, police in the past five days have arrested more than a dozen individuals in Indiana, Maryland, South Carolina and elsewhere who were plotting or threatening to attack schools.

"After high-profile incidents like the shootings at Columbine and Sandy Hook, threats go off the wall.  Some of those threats turn out to be unfounded, but sometimes those incidents propel people planning legitimate threats," Ken Trump, a national school safety consultant, told ABC News.

Many of these incidents turned out to be little more than young people acting out or seeking attention, but in some cases police found significant stockpiles of firearms and ammunition.

Just a few hours after the world learned what happened inside the halls at Sandy Hook Elementary School, police arrested a 60-year-old Indiana man who had allegedly threatened to "kill as many people as he could before police stopped him," according to the police report, at an elementary school in Cedar Lake, Ind.

When Von Meyer was arrested, just 1,000 feet from Jane Ball Elementary School, police confiscated $100,000 worth of guns and ammunition, including 47 weapons, from his home.  The school was placed on lockdown.

Meyer's case was taken by the Lake County public defender's office, but an attorney has not yet been assigned.  He has been charged with seven crimes, including felonious intimidation, and an automatic "not guilty" plea was made on his behalf at a hearing on Tuesday.

Many of the suspects arrested in the wake of the Connecticut shooting were themselves school students -- teenagers or young adults.

On Wednesday, in Laurel, Md., an unidentified student at Laurel High School was taken to the hospital and placed under psychiatric evaluation after school security officials found maps of the school and lists of students they believed he planned to kill.

Authorities called the evidence a "credible threat."  The student, however, was not arrested or charged with a crime.

In Columbia, Tenn., police arrested Shawn Lenz, 19, who on Saturday posted to Facebook that he felt like "goin on a rampage, kinda like the school shooting were that one guy killed some teachers and a bunch of students."

He later told police that "it was stupid" to have written what he did.  Lenz was arraigned Tuesday on terrorism and harassment charges and was appointed a public defender.  He did not enter a plea.

A Tampa, Fla., school was put on lockdown two days in a row -- Tuesday and Wednesday -- after students found bullets on a school bus.  Police there have made no arrests.

Despite the rash of recent threats, anecdotal data compiled by Trump's National School Safety and Security Services and analyzed by Scripps Howard found that there were approximately 120 known but thwarted plots against schools between 2000 and 2010.  The list is not comprehensive and many incidents likely went unreported.

Fifty-five of those known threats -- all thwarted -- involved guns and 22 of them involved explosive devices, according to the Scripps Howard report.

"We're getting better at preventing these situations," Trump told ABC News.

But in that same time, there were about 50 lethal school shootings, including the killing of 32 people at Virginia Tech.

"While shootings statistically may be rare, they impact a community and these kids forever," said Trump.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Five States to Add 300 Hours to School Calendar Next Year

John Coletti/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- Five states are slated to announce on Monday that they will add at least 300 hours of classroom time to the school calendar next year in an effort to boost student achievement.

Colorado, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York and Tennessee have agreed to take part in the initiative, which will be implemented in 40 schools.  Each school will have the option to either extend the school day or add days to the school year.

Jennifer Davis of the National Center on Time and Learning, one of the nonprofits funding the program, says "This is a very important step forward in education reform across America."

"A variety of research is showing that schools that implement more time will show significant gains with students across the board," she says.

Davis says the added time will allow students to "get more time with teachers to help them with whatever challenges they may face," and will open the door to "broader opportunities in the arts and music and a variety of other enrichment programs."

She expects other states and districts will follow suit over time.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Report on Homophobia in US Schools Finds It's Getting Better

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Life is getting better for LGBT students, according to a report that was released Wednesday by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN).

Its 2011 National School Climate Survey finds that use of anti-gay language has continued to decline and, for the first time, victimization of students based on sexual orientation has begun to drop.

GLSEN, a national organization that focuses on ensuring safe schools for all students, has been documenting the experiences of LGBT students every two years since 1999.

The latest survey includes responses from 8,584 students between the ages of 13 and 20, representing all 50 states and the District of Columbia, as well as 3,224 unique school districts.

GLSEN collected data through national and community-based organizations and targeted online advertising on Facebook.

"We are seeing a trend and we are seeing it sustained over time," GLSEN Executive Director Eliza Byard said.  "The picture out there still remains unacceptable, but it's a consistent story -- in places where schools act and do the right thing, students do better.  There are pockets of hope in this picture."

Byard said schools appear to be safer places for LGBT students for four main reasons: support and response from trained adults; bullying prevention programs; gay-straight alliances that give LGBT students a sense of community; and "accurate and positive depictions" of those students in the curriculum.

"This marks the 12th school year that I have worked at GLSEN on these issues," she said.  "The work is hard, and when you see how bad it can be out there and to actually see change begin to happen in historical time, it's thrilling and critical to keep going."

In 2001, when there was, according to Byard, "a sea of disrespect," an estimated 84.3 percent of students said they heard daily use of words like "faggot" and "dyke."  Today, that number has dropped to 71.2 percent.  After hitting a spike in the expression, "That's so gay," in 2007, usage began to drop, in part because of a GLSEN campaign with the Ad Council that was launched in the fall of 2008.

Despite this progress, the survey found a majority of LGBT students are still faced with obstacles that affect their school performance and psychological well-being.

Nearly 82 percent said they had been harassed at school in the past year because of their sexual orientation, and nearly 64 percent said they felt unsafe.  Almost 30 percent said they had skipped a day of school in the last month because of safety concerns.

Transgender students experienced more hostile school climates than their gay and lesbian peers -- 80 percent reported feeling unsafe at school because of their gender expression.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Chicago School Nets $190,000 in Student Fines

Creatas/Thinkstock(CHICAGO) -- Forget watching the clock, chewing gum, or slouching. At the Noble Network of Charter Schools' 10 Chicago campuses students are on their best behavior-- otherwise it will cost them.

"Students tell us by and large they don't like the whole system as most teenagers would, but the proof is in the pudding," said Michael Milkie, CEO and superintendent of the Noble Network of Charter Schools.

Last year, the schools collected an estimated $190,000 to help defray the cost of having teachers stay after school to supervise detention. Students earn demerits for everything from having flaming hot chips, which Milkie said have been shown to being addictive, to having their shirts untucked.

After earning four demerits, the student is sent to a three-hour detention. Admission fee: $5.

"These are schools of choice. We have thousands on the wait list and we do communicate [this policy] really well with parents," Milkie said.

But Noble's unique approach, which it has relied on for the past 13 years, has drawn scrutiny from some parents and eduction advocacy groups who said it's being used to push out students.

"These extremely punitive, nitpicky programs are not the ones that really work," said Julie Woestehoff, executive director of the Chicago-based advocacy group Parents United For Responsible Education. "The students need to feel they're not like dogs or 2 year olds. They're actually maturing human beings who need some guidance and not someone to jump on top of them."

Donna Moore said her son, who is a second-year freshman, has been hounded at the school for everything from not having his eyes on the teacher at a given moment to having his shoe untied.

"He was retained because of detention. He was told his first year that at that time he had hit 33 detentions and had to retake his freshman year," Moore said, adding that it was impossible for students to keep up on school work when they keep being punished.

But Milkie said the school's unique system of fees -- he doesn't call them fines -- has yielded dividends.

Not only is more money now spent on education and less on paying teachers overtime to supervise detention, but test scores have also improved.

The average ACT score across Noble's 10 campuses last year was 20.3. Chicago Public Schools students scored an average of 17.2. The school's scores have consistently climbed since 2003.

Even though Donna Moore isn't happy with the way her son has been treated, she said she plans to keep him in the Noble school system.

"I send him there because there are not really many choices," she said. "It's the decision to deal with the devil I didn't know versus the devil I did know. Now I want to stay and make it better for all students."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


10 States to Receive Flexibility from No Child Left Behind Rules

Hemera/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- President Obama will announce on Thursday that 10 states will receive flexibility from the most burdensome mandates of No Child Left Behind.

In exchange for this flexibility, the states have agreed to raise standards, improve accountability and undertake essential reforms to improve teacher effectiveness.

The ten states that have been approved under the law are Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, Oklahoma and Tennessee.

The administration is also continuing to work closely with New Mexico, the eleventh state that requested flexibility in the first round. Twenty-eight other states, along with Puerto Rico and D.C., have indicated their intent to seek flexibility.

The decision to provide flexibility followed extensive efforts to work with Congress to rewrite No Child Left Behind. In March 2010, the Obama administration submitted a “blueprint for reform” to the Hill and has met extensively with Republican and Democratic legislators.

The current law labels too many schools as failing, dictates unworkable remedies and results in driving down standards, weakening accountability and narrowing the curriculum.

To qualify for flexibility, states must adopt and have a plan to implement college and career-ready standards. They must also create comprehensive systems of teacher and principal development, including evaluation and support that include factors beyond test scores, such as principal observation, peer review, student work, or parent and student feedback.

States receiving flexibility no longer have to meet 2014 targets set by No Child Left Behind, but they must set new performance targets for improving student achievement and closing achievement gaps.  They also must have accountability systems that recognize and reward high-performing schools and those that are making significant gains, while targeting rigorous and comprehensive interventions for the lowest-performing schools.

Under the state-developed plans, all schools will develop and implement plans for improving educational outcomes for underperforming subgroups of students. State plans will maintain transparency around achievement gaps, and provide greater flexibility to schools in how they remedy those gaps. This means they can invest Title I federal dollars more flexibly rather than following strict federal mandates.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Seven State School Systems to Get Share of $200 Million Jackpot

Creatas Images/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Christmas will arrive two days early for school systems in seven states.

The Education Department announced Friday it will divide a $200 million jackpot among the following states in the latest round of the “Race to the Top” competition:

-- Arizona, $25 million
-- Colorado, $18 million
-- Illinois, $43 million
-- Kentucky, $17 million
-- Louisiana, $17 million
-- New Jersey, $37 million
-- Pennsylvania, $41 million

The states were all finalists in last year’s competition and won for making commitments to invest in college and career prep, particularly in STEM -- science, technology, engineering and math.  California could have won too but the state’s application was incomplete.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan also threatened that one of last year’s winners, Hawaii, could lose more than $70 million of its grant for failing to keep its promises.

Last Friday, the Obama administration doled out $500 million in Race to the Top grants for pre-K programs in California, Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Carolina, Ohio, Rhode Island and Washington.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


No 'Ho, Ho': Texas School District Bans Christmas Messages & Santa Claus

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(FORT WORTH, Texas) -- No, Virginia, there isn't a Santa Claus. At least not in the Fort Worth, Texas school district.

The school district's attorney sent a memo Thursday declaring that it's now prohibited for students to "distribute personal holiday messages" or exchange gifts during class, reports the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

Also, there will be no visits in class from Santa Claus.

The reason, argues district attorney Bertha Bailey Whatley, is that allowing students to exchange gifts and messages during class would "allow a student to distribute a religious message with the gift or card."

The latter practice is a no-no, but as the memo explains, "the school district cannot prohibit the distribution of unsolicited religious material directly to students if it allows other personal messages to be distributed during school activities held during the school day."

In other words, if it wants to keep kids from exchanging religious holiday messages, the district says it must prohibit the exchange of all holiday messages.

On the bright side, the ban only applies to class time -- kids can still exchange all the holiday messages and presents they want before and after classes, and during lunch.

And yes, it's still OK to wish one another a Merry Christmas.

Not surprisingly, some parents aren't pleased with the new rules, and plan to challenge them.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Ten Schools Locked Down During Dragnet for Attempted Cop Shooter

David De Lossy/Thinkstock(GREENVILLE, S.C.) -- Ten schools are locked down, major roadways are closed, and residents have been told to stay indoors as South Carolina police search for a gunman who shot at cops Friday morning.

The man allegedly opened fire around 10 a.m. Friday morning as Greenville County police tried to pull him over for improperly displaying a license plate on his silver Yukon SUV. He began shooting at the officers as he pulled over, and then ran into a nearby apartment complex.

Police are now searching the area to try and locate the gunman.

No one was injured in the gunfire, police said.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Alabama Immigration Law Causes Hispanics to Leave Schools

Creatas Images/Thinkstock(HUNTSVILLE, Ala.) -- Alabama schools are seeing abnormally high rates of absences for Hispanic students after what is widely considered the toughest anti-immigration law in America went into effect.

The law, which was approved by the state legislature and widely backed by voters, allows police to check for papers and detain undocumented residents without bail. It also mandates that public schools share with authorities the citizenship status of all newly enrolled students.

Keith Ward, spokesperson for Huntsville City Schools, one of the largest school districts in the state with 23,000 students, told ABC News that of the 1,435 Hispanic students enrolled in Huntsville schools, 207 were absent last Thursday, the day the law took effect.

As of Monday, that number had decreased to 111, according to Ward. It is still substantially above the average of 20 to 40 absences for Hispanic students for a given week prior to the law. Ward expects the number of Hispanic absences to continue to decrease as the week continues and then plateau.

He credits the decline to the rapid outreach of Huntsville City Schools Superintendent Casey Wardynski.

"The superintendent tried to reach out and explain the terms of what the law means for schools," said Ward. "We have no control over the other aspects of the law."

Wardynski took to YouTube and the district's cable access channel in both English and Spanish on Sept. 30.

"This bill that was passed by our state is really about gathering statistics, it's not about coming to anybody's house, taking anybody away," he said. "The schools are not enforcing extradition."

Under the law, schools are required to ask new students for either a birth certificate or proof they are in the country legally. However, if they are unable to provide proper documentation they are still able to attend school and neither the students nor the parents will be arrested.

"This is just one additional check mark on a registration form," Ward said.

The school then provides statistical information to the state about the number of students who were unable to provide documentation.

The state made available formal letters that schools can send to parents of new students that clarify the requirements of the law and informs parents that they should not be concerned if they are unable to provide citizenship documents or sworn statements.

"Rest assured," reads the letter, "that it will not be a problem if you are unable or unwilling to provide either of the documents."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


California School Superintendent Takes $800,000 Pay Cut over Next Three Years

Creatas Images/Thinkstock(FRESNO, Calif.) -- When a headline starts "School Official Gives Himself a Hefty...," the next word is usually "Raise."

But in Fresno County, Calif., School Superintendent Larry Powell gave himself a hefty pay cut.

On Aug. 31, Powell will retire and then be hired back to fill the remainder of his four year term, reducing his now $250,000 annual salary to $31,020. The move will add over $800,000 to county schools over the next three years.

"My wife and I are very well compensated. We've been very blessed...I've been in this business for 41 and a half years and these are tight budget times in California for public schools," Powell said. "My wife and I thought, what can we do that might help change the dynamic in my particular area."

Powell, 63, said that over the last three years his county has lost $1,600 to $1,900 in funding per student. There are 195,000 students in Fresno County and 356 schools.

"Fresno…has been labeled the Appalachia of the West. We're like a bar bell, we have extreme wealth and extreme poverty…there's no shortage of need locally," he said.

Powell and his wife, Dot, began investigating and realized that with Powell's pension and her retirement benefits from working as a school principal, they had plenty of money to live off of without his full salary. So Powell approached the board of education about letting him retire early and then rehiring him to fill the three years and four months remaining in his term as superintendent.

"It's a unique arrangement that I'm in and it allows me to give something back to the community in a tangible way and I don't think of it as being a hero at all. It was a perfect opportunity to do something where the public benefits, the taxpayer benefits…the taxpayer saves between $150,000 and $160,000 in reduced costs, the county receives $830,000."

Powell's positive actions follow a slew of scandals over the past year in California that highlighted the seemingly huge salaries of officials in the state's public sector. In July of last year, outrage erupted in Bell, Calif., at the revelation that the city manager made nearly $1 million a year. Last month, it was revealed that California's highest paid employee was a prison surgeon who no longer treated patients. That surgeon made over $777,000.

Chris Mathys, the manager of the Valley Taxpayer's Coalition in Fresno, said that his association hopes that Powell's pay cut inspires other public officials.

"That's the exact kind of thing that we need. What we're not seeing enough of is public servants coming forward and saying you've had to tighten your belt in private sector, your 401ks are shrinking," Mathys said. "When people like Mr. Powell come forward and are willing to take the personal cut..when it's your own wallet, your own household, then that really shows you're sincere about your efforts."

Powell said that since his decision was made public earlier this week, he's been overwhelmed by the response.

"My Facebook page has been hit with literally hundreds of thank yous…I'm no hero...It's a way to give back to the community I love and we're going to do that," Powell said.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio