Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Another kid-hating school

An elementary student in Marion County was arrested Thursday after school officials found her cutting food during lunch with a knife that she brought from home, police said. The 10-year-old girl, a student at Sunrise Elementary School in Ocala, was charged possession of a weapon on school property, which is a felony. According to authorities, school employees spotted the girl cutting her food while she was eating lunch and took the steak knife from her.

The girl told sheriff's deputies that she had brought the knife to school on more than one occasion in the past. Students told officials that the girl did not threaten anyone with the knife. The girl was arrested and transported to the Juvenile Assessment Center.


Successful charter school discriminated against

When it opened in September 2003, Sacramento Charter High School faced the challenge of turning around a troubled inner-city high school in which academic performance had plummeted. Where other schools do a phase-in at the start - such as Rosemont High School, which began with 345 ninth-graders in 2003 and added a grade each year - the Sac High charter took over the existing ninth- through 12th-grade student body. This was a transformation school, not a startup.

As the school board considers charter renewal Thursday, members should remember that context. In a short 4« years, the Sac High charter has made progress that should be the envy of any major urban school district. On the state's yardstick for measuring school performance, based on various test scores, the old Sac High had an Academic Performance Index of 568 the year it closed. The Sac High charter improved to 631 by last year. That's still short of the state goal of 800 (on a scale of 200 to 1,000), but the school is making progress.

And consider improvement in the API for one subgroup, black students: It was 474 in the old Sac High 2003-2004 but rose to 624 at the charter by last year, up 150 points. Compare that to Hiram Johnson High School over the same period: 460 to 535, a 75 point gain. And college acceptance rates for the class of 2007, the first class to graduate from the charter, are the highest among the district's high schools.

How has the charter school accomplished this? All students have an individual learning plan. They are expected to visit four-year colleges and win acceptance to at least one. They attend school from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Students who miss assignments attend "Friday Night Blues" sessions to finish work. All students are expected to do 40 hours of community service a year. Discipline is tight.

And now, the PS 7 charter, a K-8 program, is about to send its first class of ninth-graders to the Sac High charter in fall 2008. That school has an API of 749 and fosters a college-going mind-set at an early age. No one should doubt that academic performance at the high school will improve in the next five years.

That's not to say that the Sac High charter hasn't faced problems. One big problem: Exclusion from the recruiting pipeline. While McClatchy, Kennedy, Hiram Johnson, Luther Burbank and the Sac High charter have had enrollment declines, there is a difference. The district doesn't list the charter as a high school, bars it from the open enrollment process, denies it access to middle-school fairs and won't provide names of eighth-graders to the school.

The district and the charter school need to negotiate a separate agreement on recruiting. Other California districts allow independent charters such as Sac High to prepare mailings to eighth-graders where the district affixes the mailing labels (to preserve confidentiality). The other recruiting avenues are noncontroversial and freely accepted elsewhere.

The Sac High charter is embraced nationally as a model for inner-city high school transformation. It should be embraced locally, too. The school board should renew a five-year charter Thursday - and begin negotiations to open the recruiting process. Let the transformation continue.


A Nazi judge in America

A homeschooling mom in Utah has been ordered by a judge to enroll her children in a public school district within 24 hours, and have them in class tomorrow, all because of a paperwork glitch that very well could be the fault of the district. The mother, Denise Mafi, told WND that she already has enrolled her children in the district, under the threat from Judge Scott Johansen, who serves in the juvenile division of the state's 7th Judicial District, that he would order her children taken away from her.

As WND has reported previously, such threats are becoming more and more common in Germany, but that nation still lives by a Nazi-era law that makes homeschooling illegal. Mafi told WND that not only is homeschooling legal in Utah, she's been at it for nearly a decade. So what's the problem here?

It seems that an affidavit she faxed to the local school district for the 2006-2007 school year, documenting her homeschooling plans, was lost by the district. So when she went to court with her juvenile son to have the charges dismissed (under a case held in abeyance procedure) stemming from a clash among children, she suddenly was presented with four counts against her for failing to comply with the state's compulsory education requirement.

She thought she was meeting the court's demands earlier when she enrolled her two youngest children in classes, and put her two older children in an online curriculum connected to the public school. "Well everything fell apart in court today. I had to enroll my two oldest in public school. They start on Monday. If I didn't the judge said I would lose custody of my children. He threw out the plea and we go to trial on January 9th. I have NO CHANCE with this judge. He will find me guilty. He already has. So I will probably be spending some time in jail. Please pray for my children," she noted in an online forum connected to a "Five In A Row" homeschool curriculum she had used when her children were younger.

She said her public defender had reached a plea agreement she thought would be satisfied by her action, an agreement hammered out with the prosecutor. However, the judge rejected everything, she told WND. "It is a long story but basically it boils down to the school district says I didn't file my homeschool affidavit last year. I faxed it to the school district office on Oct. 27, 2006. Somehow it was lost. I have my copy," she said on the forum. "The judge is very anti-homeschooling. Stated last week that homeschool was a failure. I am a total nervous wreck," she said.

She is part of the Utah Home Education Association and she was seeking advice from that organization, but officials could not be reached Friday or Saturday by WND. She is not a member of the international organization concerned with homeschooling called Home School Legal Defense Association, but a spokesman for the organization told WND officials were reviewing the situation, and the initial reaction was that the prosecution of the woman was simply outrageous.

Mafi also told WND that the judge's other demands are that her children are not allowed to miss school unless they have a notice from a doctor, and the judge initially wanted to issue an order that she was not allowed to move out of his jurisdiction for two years. "This is all because the school district says they never received my 2006-2007 homeschool affidavit. I have a copy of the signed affidavit. I have already received my exemption for the 2007-2008 school year," she said.

A WND call to the prosecutor in the case did not get a response, nor did other judicial officials respond to inquiries about the situation.

Mafi told WND the worst part is that because it is a misdemeanor, Utah law does not allow her to demand a jury trial. But it also carries with it a maximum penalty of six months in jail, on each of the four charges. She said she had received a confirmation the fax to the school was received when she sent it, but likes to clean out her paperwork before the start of a new school year, and apparently had disposed of it. She said she has asked her public defender to work on a complaint against the judge and she's trying to raise funds to have a private lawyer continue her case. "If it was any other person in the state, they can put their children in an online public school and it's acceptable," she told WND. "I can't do it. I cannot pull my children out and put them in a private school of my choice." "He [the judge] just does not want them under my supervision," she said.

Mafi said the state has made no allegation of education neglect, and her children are performing work at grade level. But she objects to the public schools' anti-Christian world view, she said.

As WND has reported, German authorities operating under the law stemming from Hitler's desire to control the minds of youth have ruled not only that homeschooling is a basis for child endangerment charges, but a local government was remiss in allowing a mother to take her two children to another country where homeschooling is legal. The recent decision from the Federal High Court in Karlsruhe, Germany's highest court, was reported by the German edition of Agence France-Presse as well as Netwerk Bildungsfreiheit, an advocacy organization for Germans who wish to homeschool.

Now the organization is noting the similarities with earlier court rulings, when Adolf Hitler was in power. A ruling from the State Court in Hamburg dated 1936 pointed to "endangerment of the mental wellbeing of children, who would have been denied participation in the national community.," a premise that corresponds to the recent Federal Supreme Court decision, the group said. "Only the words have been chosen somewhat differently by the Supreme Court in order to conceal the fascist spirit of the decision," the analysis said. "It is quite chilling that the reasons stated by the authorities and courts in child custody terminations in Hitler's regime . correspond in their spirit exactly to the decision recently rendered by the Federal Supreme Court," the analysis said.

It said what courts used to call the "national community" now is the "public" and what was "participation in the national community" now has been called a justified interest in "counteracting the formation of religiously or ideologically characterized parallel societies and integrating minorities in this area."

The analysis found that the "National Socialist (Nazi) regime" specifically targeted members of the Jehovah's Witnesses organization, including the State Court in Hamburg decision from 1936 in which judges found: "Custody rights shall be terminated for parents who, as fanatical Bible students, cannot rear their children in accordance with today's State and because this endangers the mental wellbeing of the children, who are thereby prevented from participating in the national community." Hundreds of children were taken from their families for reasons no more important than they failed to sing Nazi songs with others, the analysis noted.

"Authorities, who interpreted the civil code according to their national socialist legal notions, considered it beyond question that the childrearing practices of Jehovah's Witnesses was 'endangerment of child welfare' and 'mental and moral neglect,'" the analysis said.

WND has reported previously how German officials targeted an American family of Baptist missionaries for deportation because they belong to a group that refuses "to give their children over to the state school system." A teenager, Melissa Busekros, also returned to her family months after German authorities took her from her home and forcibly detained her in a psychiatric facility for being homeschooled. And WND has reported on other families facing fines, frozen bank accounts and court-ordered state custody of their children for resisting Germany's mandatory public school requirements, which by government admission are assigned to counter "the rise of parallel societies that are based on religion or motivated by different world views."

In the case involving Melissa, a German appeals court ultimately ordered legal custody of the teenager, who was taken from her home by a police squad and detained in a psychiatric hospital for being homeschooled be returned to her family because she no longer is in danger. The lower court's ruling had ordered police officers to take Melissa - then 15 - from her home, if necessary by force, and place her in a mental institution for a variety of evaluations. She was kept in custody from early February until April, when she turned 16 and under German law was subject to different laws. At that point she simply walked away from the foster home where she had been required to stay and returned home.

Wolfgang Drautz, consul general for the Federal Republic of Germany, has commented on the issue on a blog, noting the government "has a legitimate interest in countering the rise of parallel societies that are based on religion or motivated by different world views and in integrating minorities into the population as a whole." Drautz said homeschool students' test results may be as good as for those in school, but "school teaches not only knowledge but also social conduct, encourages dialogue among people of different beliefs and cultures, and helps students to become responsible citizens."

The German government's defense of its "social" teachings and mandatory public school attendance was clarified during an earlier dispute on which WND reported, when a German family wrote to officials objecting to police officers picking their child up at home and delivering him to a public school. "The minister of education does not share your attitudes toward so-called homeschooling," said a government letter in response. "... You complain about the forced school escort of primary school children by the responsible local police officers. ... In order to avoid this in future, the education authority is in conversation with the affected family in order to look for possibilities to bring the religious convictions of the family into line with the unalterable school attendance requirement."


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