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EduClips: School News You Missed This Week From America’s 15 Biggest Districts, Including a Hefty Price Tag for NYC Plan to Send Students With Disabilities to Private School

By Andrew Brownstein | January 10, 2019

EduClips is a roundup of the week’s top education headlines from America’s 15 largest school districts, where more than 4 million students across eight states attend class every day. Read previous EduClips installments here.

New York City — Mayor’s Policy to Send Students With Disabilities to Private Schools Comes With Hefty Price Tag: Mayor Bill de Blasio’s pledge to have the city pick up the tab for students with disabilities to attend private school has come with a hefty price tag: $325 million per year, double what it was when the mayor took office in 2014. It dwarfs the costs of some of the mayor’s highest-profile education initiatives: his Renewal program to turn around struggling schools ($192 million per year), a recent increase in the funding formula that governs city school budgets ($125 million), and the controversial Absent Teacher Reserve pool for educators without permanent placements ($136 million in 2018). According to Chalkbeat, the increase suggests the city is increasingly acknowledging that it can’t provide an adequate education to students with disabilities within traditional public schools. “It’s telling that the city doesn’t have the programming needed to educate a lot of kids,” said Lori Podvesker, a policy manager at INCLUDEnyc, a support agency for young people with disabilities. (Read at Chalkbeat)

Broward County — Post-Parkland, Fort Lauderdale Schools to Get High-Tech Cameras That Recognize People: The Broward County School District is investing $621,000 in a new surveillance system that uses artificial intelligence to recognize people and remember their movements. The 116 new cameras are planned for 36 schools, mostly high schools “with the highest security needs,” and are expected to include Marjory Stoneman Douglas High, where a former student killed 17 people on Feb. 14. The cameras will not include facial-recognition technology, which has been criticized by privacy advocates. (Read at The Sun-Sentinel)

Chicago — City May Have Its Share of Low-Performing Schools, but Other Illinois Districts Are Doing Worse: Chicago may be the city that most people in Illinois associate with low test scores and high dropout rates, but more than half of the state’s worst-performing schools are nowhere near the Windy City. Chicago Public Schools, the largest district in the state, does have the most schools in the lowest-performing category under the state’s new rating system, with 95 of the state’s 205 worst. But such schools comprise a larger percentage of districts in some of the state’s struggling postindustrial communities, such as Rockford, Peoria, and Springfield. Chicago’s 95 lowest-performing schools represent 15 percent of the city’s 619 elementary, middle, and high schools. Rockford’s 16 schools make up 37 percent of the district’s 43 K-12 schools, giving it the largest percentage of lowest-performing schools among the state’s 25 biggest districts. In Peoria, it’s 33 percent. In Springfield, it’s 19 percent. (Read at the Peoria Journal Star)

Philadelphia — Hidden for a Decade, Schools’ Art Collection to Return to the Public, Officials Say: In 2003 and 2004, a collection of 1,200 paintings, sculptures, murals, tapestries, and other pieces once optimistically estimated to be worth $30 million was abruptly removed from Philadelphia’s schools when officials said the works were too valuable to hang unsecured. Now, after being hidden away for more than a decade, the vast collection will return to the public eye, in school halls or traveling exhibits, the Philadelphia Board of Education recently promised. The art includes works by Thomas Eakins, N.C. Wyeth, noted African-American artists Henry Ossawa Tanner and Dox Thrash, and late 19th- and early 20th-century Pennsylvania Impressionists Walter Baum and Edward Redfield. At the time of their removal, some works were proudly displayed with gallery lighting, while others were found stuffed in closets or boiler rooms. (Read at the Philadelphia Inquirer)

Los Angeles: As Teacher Strike Looms, District Faces Unresolved Issue of Lingering Debt: After a court ruling Thursday cleared the way for the Los Angeles teachers union to launch its first strike in 30 years, both sides planned last-ditch talks throughout the weekend to stave off Monday’s scheduled walkout. While the issues dividing the two camps are numerous, they come down to money — in particular, the district’s skyrocketing long-term debt. To stay out of bankruptcy, experts say, the district must slash billions in long-term liabilities, much of it tied to massive retiree health benefit costs. Prescriptions range from making employees and retirees pay premiums to offering early retirement incentives. But United Teachers Los Angeles disputes the district’s claim that it is cash-strapped and says it is “hoarding” nearly $2 billion in reserves. (Read at LA School Report)

Hawaii — Lawmaker Says State Lied About School Maintenance Backlog: The chairwoman of Hawaii’s House Finance Committee has accused the state Department of Education of lying about the size of a repair and maintenance backlog at Hawaii public schools. The department told lawmakers last January that the repair and maintenance backlog was $293 million as of 2017. But later in the year, it told some lawmakers that the true backlog was $868 million. State Rep. Sylvia Luke, a Democrat, said lawmakers may never learn why the backlog was misrepresented to the public. Department officials have said the full extent of the problem was discovered after a deep dive by a new leadership team. (Read at West Hawaii Today)

Miami-Dade — Lawsuits: Moms Allege Former Miami Gym Teacher Preyed Upon Girls: In 2017, Wendell Alfonso Nibbs, a physical education teacher at Brownsville Middle School, was arrested and charged with raping a 15-year-old student. Nibbs, now 51, was subsequently fired from the Miami-Dade County school district. But as the Miami Herald reports, Nibbs had been accused by at least six female students between 2004 and 2016 of inappropriate physical contact, making comments and sending or showing sexually explicit photographs. Each allegation was deemed unfounded by the district, records show. Now, mothers of at least two of the girls have announced lawsuits against the district. One was filed in November. A second is pending. A spokeswoman for the district said, “Miami-Dade County Public Schools does not condone the actions alleged in the lawsuit” and that “all allegations are taken seriously and thoroughly investigated.”(Read at the Miami Herald)

Houston — Board Flirts With State Takeover of Long-Struggling Schools: The clock is ticking for Houston’s school board to face either a state takeover of the district or closure of several chronically underperforming schools. With just three weeks to go before the state’s actions are set in motion by law, the board is facing criticism from members of both political parties for refusing to consider alternatives that would head off state intervention. For example, a school that has been among the lowest-performing 5 percent in the state for five or more years can forestall state intervention by inviting in an outside partner. But for the second year in a row, a slender majority on Houston’s notoriously fractious board has refused to respond to either the legal carrots or the sticks. “What a joke,” Texas Gov. Greg Abbott tweeted. “HISD leadership is a disaster.” (Read at The74Million.org)

Clark County — Former Las Vegas School Board Member Takes His Dispute With District to Court: Kevin Child’s tempestuous tenure on the Clark County School Board, during which he was the subject of multiple complaints, came to an end earlier this week, but his battles with the district are far from over. The one-term trustee filed a wide-ranging lawsuit in September, alleging that other members of the board and district officials conspired to make false claims about him and defame his character. Later this month, a District Court judge is expected to hear the district’s motion to dismiss the suit. “Plaintiff’s complaint reads like a tabloid news article, filled with intentional misrepresentations and falsehoods,” the motion to dismiss reads. Child filed his suit after placing second in a four-way primary for his seat and after the board settled a harassment complaint against the district tied to his workplace behavior. (Read at the Las Vegas Review-Journal)

Palm Beach County — School Board Member Who Took On Radio Station Violated Ethics Code, Investigators Say: A Palm Beach County School Board member violated the board’s ethics code when she vowed in August to punish a Haitian-American radio station during a profanity-laced tirade caught on video, according to a newly released investigation. Debra Robinson, the board’s longest-serving member, was celebrating winning a sixth term when she said that Haitian Creole-language station WPOM 1600 AM, which had grilled her on the air a day earlier, now was “not getting business” from the county’s public schools. “1600 AM already got shut down,” she told about a dozen supporters in a recording of the event that was posted live on Facebook. “I said not only are they not getting business from the school district, they get negative business.” She added: “I keep saying I’m making a list and checking it twice, and I’m writing that [expletive] on the wall.” The investigation — conducted on the board’s behalf by Pinellas County’s inspector general — recommends that the board call for Robinson to take an ethics class, issue an official apology, and recuse herself from media-related topics or votes during board meetings. (Read at The Palm Beach Post)

Noteworthy Essays & Reflections

RESTORATIVE JUSTICE — Major new study finds restorative justice led to safer schools but hurt black students’ test scores (Read at Chalkbeat)

CHRONIC ABSENTEEISM — Bad Data’s Latest Victim: Chronically Absent Students (Read at U.S. News and World Report)

K-12 EDUCATION — Lake & Pillow: Our Schools Can’t Just Serve the ‘Round Peg’ Students. Here’s How We Can Design an Education System for the Tails, Not the Mean (Read at The74Million.org)

BULLYING — It’s Not Just That Racial Bullying Jumped in Schools After the 2016 Election. It’s Where It Did (Read at Education Week)

DESIGN THINKING The Next Revolution in Education: Design Thinking (Read at Forbes)

Quotes of the Week

“Sure, we can wait on HISD to fix them. But I am convinced that without a gun to their head, it won’t happen.” —Houston-area state Rep. Harold Dutton Jr., on the need to turn around the district’s long-struggling schools. Houston has a three-week window to avoid setting in motion either a state takeover or state closure of several schools. (Read at The74Million.org)

“I keep saying I’m making a list and checking it twice, and I’m writing that [expletive] on the wall.” —Debra Robinson, the longest-serving member of the Palm Beach County School Board, on her vow to punish a Haitian-American radio station that had grilled her. Her actions violated board ethics policies, according to investigators. (Read at The Palm Beach Post)

“As a mother, it was very hurting. And it’s still hurting to this day. To see my child have to go through something that I thought the school was there to protect her. And she suffers every day.” —the mother of Jane Doe, the girl alleged in a lawsuit to have been raped by a former Miami gym teacher. (Read at the Miami Herald)

“[L.A. Unified] could be radical and innovative: they could break up schools, they could try to create new schools, they could close schools; but fundamentally, if they don’t change the way they hire, retain, reward or pay educators, there’s not going to be a lot of change. The district could do that, but they’re not going to. … There’s too many moving pieces. Too many vested interests.” —Center for Education Reform CEO Jeanne Allen, on Los Angeles, which faces a teacher strike scheduled for Monday. (Read at LA School Report)

“What data — faces, cars, license plates, etc. — get put into the system for the camera to pull up if it detects an individual, car or other image? What is the criteria for entering such information? Is it objective or subjective criteria? Who decides? How long will it be retained in the database? When will it be deleted from the system? Is there a board policy set on all of this, and upon what current case law is it based?” —Kenneth Trump, a Cleveland-based school security consultant, on Broward County’s plan to install high-tech cameras that can recognize people and track their movements. (Read at The Sun-Sentinel)

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