Saturday, April 30, 2011

CT: Mother pleads not guilty in school case

A homeless single mother who lives in her van pleaded not guilty yesterday to stealing nearly $16,000 worth of education for her son by enrolling the kindergartner in her baby sitter’s school district.

Tanya McDowell, 33, was arraigned in Norwalk, where she was arrested April 14 on felony charges of committing and attempting to commit first-degree larceny.

Prosecutors say McDowell used her baby sitter’s address to enroll her son in Norwalk schools in the fall but should have registered the boy in nearby Bridgeport, a significantly poorer urban district and the location of her last permanent address.

Officials call it the first known case of its type in Connecticut, although similar conflicts have played out elsewhere in the United States as districts try to ensure scarce local tax dollars are used for local students.

“He’s only 5 years old, and it’s hard like to explain to a 5-year-old kid, you know, ‘You got kicked out because we don’t have a steady address yet,’ ’’ said McDowell, an unemployed cook.

McDowell, who is black, has drawn the support of civil rights leaders and parents’ groups and is being represented by a lawyer provided by the Connecticut chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. She faces up to 20 years in prison and up to $15,000 in fines if convicted of the felony larceny charge.

She said before yesterday’s arraignment that her bewildered son, A.J., repeatedly asks why he was kicked out of his school. The boy was removed from Norwalk’s Brookside Elementary School in January and now lives with relatives in Bridgeport, where he attends kindergarten. “He’s very curious in regards to it because he thinks I stole Brookside away from him,’’ said McDowell.

Connecticut students can only attend public schools in the municipality where their parents or guardians reside, unless they go to a magnet school, charter school, or another district under a desegregation plan.

McDowell’s case is not the nation’s first. Last year, a single mother from Ohio was convicted of a felony for using her father’s address to enroll her children in a suburban district rather than the larger, underperforming Akron district.

Gwen Samuel, one of McDowell’s supporters and founder of the Connecticut Parents Union, said she would do the same thing. “I would use the janitor’s address to get my kid a good education; that’s not even negotiable,’’ said Samuel, of Meriden.

McDowell would not comment on the specifics of her case yesterday, but she has said that she did not believe she was doing anything wrong when she enrolled her son in Norwalk.


Fewer British pupils in private schools as fees rise

Fewer children are being sent to independent schools after average fees climbed above £13,000 for the first time, it emerged today.

Figures show the number of pupils in private education dropped for the third year in a row as fee rises outstripped increases in earnings.

Data from the Independent Schools Council shows the average parent is being forced to pay £13,179 in annual fees this year – a 4.6 per cent increase in 12 months. More families also need help to cover the cost of private education.

The price hike could be fuelling a drop in overall enrolments among families already reeling from the recession and the Coalition’s austerity drive. Figures revealed a 0.5 per cent fall in British children this year, although the number of pupils from overseas jumped sharply.

Last night, school leaders insisted the figures – published as part of an annual census – represented a “good result” for the private sector in the face of a huge squeeze in family income.

They said fee rises were kept to their second lowest level in 17 years as they made “significant cutbacks” to building programmes to ease the financial blow for parents. It was also claimed that the overall drop in pupil numbers was not as severe as the fall witnessed during the last recession in the early 90s.

This suggests many parents are still reluctant to pull children out of private education in favour of state schools after 13 years of Labour.

David Lyscom, ISC chief executive, said: “ISC independent schools are showing remarkable resilience against a difficult economic background, reflecting the high quality of education that our schools offer to parents, and the value for money that this represents.”

The ISC said 1,228 schools completed its census in 2010 and 2011. Among these schools, like-for-like pupil numbers dropped by 0.2 per cent to 505,368, although the fall in British pupils was 0.5 per cent.

Overall, there were 506,500 children in 1,234 schools affiliated to the ISC. Figures also showed:

* Some 14 schools linked to the ISC closed in the last 12 months – double the number a year earlier;

* The number of pupils coming from abroad increased by 5.5 per cent, with 24,554 foreign children now in British independent schools;

* Foreign pupils make up almost 4.9 per cent of places, compared with 4.5 per cent a year earlier, with China, Hong Kong and Germany sending the most;

* The average annual fee increased from £12,558 to £13,179, while day fees rose from £10,713 to £11,208 and boarding costs increased from £24,009 to £25,152;

* In total, some 25 schools charged more than £30,000 in fees;

* A third of pupils are now eligible for fee assistance – a rise of 2.2 per cent – with schools spending £260m on means-tested bursaries.

Mr Lyscom said the rise in the number of poor pupils admitted to ISC schools suggested the Government’s university admissions policy – which appears to prioritise those from state schools – was misguided.

“The fact that over £250 million is now being paid by our schools to children who need financial support must make the Government think carefully about its approach to university admissions,” he said. “It would be very wrong to discriminate against these pupils when they apply to university just because they went to a particular type of school. Our schools help promote social mobility; our statistics show how socially diverse they may be.”


Behaviour "not good enough" at one in five secondaries

Even by Britain's low standards

More than 550 secondary schools in England are failing to ensure a good level of order in classrooms, amid concerns teachers do not have the power to control pupils.

In some areas behaviour fell below targets in 75 per cent of secondaries, according to the latest data compiled by Ofsted, the schools inspectorate.

Teachers have warned MPs that the level of discipline in schools is worse than official estimates because head teachers cheat inspectors by suspending unruly pupils or bringing in supply teachers during their visits.

A separate report to be published this week by the National Association of Head Teachers will say the conduct of pupils' families is little better, with one in ten head teachers having been assaulted by a parent or carer in the past five years.

The figures released by Ofsted showed that 82 per cent of secondaries across the country had good or outstanding behaviour – the top two levels of a four-point scale – a slight rise on last year's 79 per cent.

But the statistics showed there is a need for improvement in 18 per cent of secondaries, and that in areas such as Kingston-upon-Hull and Knowsley, Merseyside, discipline at just one in four schools was rated good or better.

Last week the NASUWT union accused heads of brushing low-level bad behaviour under the carpet instead of doling out punishments for fear of attracting greater scrutiny from parents, governors and local authorities.

Earlier this month staff at a school in Lancashire were reduced to a walkout over pupil indiscipline.

The government has pledged to hand teachers more authority by allowing them to search pupils for banned items, give teachers anonymity when facing allegations of misconduct and remove the need for schools to give 24 hours' notice of detentions.

There is also concern about the danger posed to heads by aggressive parents, often resulting when a pupil is excluded from school.

Later this week the National Association of Head Teachers will claim as many as ten per cent of heads have been attacked by parents, including cases of victims being hit with chairs and subjected to serious kicking attacks.

Nick Gibb, the schools minister said: "We remain concerned that nearly 1 in 5 secondary schools behaviour is judged as being no better than satisfactory ... We support teachers to tackle poor behaviour in our schools because until we deal with the persistent low level disruption prevalent in too many classrooms, we will not see the rise in academic standards demanded by parents."

A Department for Education spokesperson added that there was no excuse for aggressive behaviour towards school staff.

An Ofsted spokesperson said: "Schools receive no more than two days notice of an inspection. This means it is easier for inspectors to see schools as they really are. There is very little evidence that schools try to mislead Ofsted, and even for those that may wish to they do not have time to make arrangements which might mislead inspectors about standards of behaviour."


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