Friday, June 17, 2011

School Surveys 7th-Graders on Oral Sex‏

A middle school in Massachusetts is under fire for requiring children to complete a graphic sex survey -- without parental knowledge or consent -- that included questions about sexual partners and oral sex.

The Rutherford Institute, a civil liberties organization, filed a complaint with the U.S. Dept. of Education against the Fitchburg School Committee. They are representing the two middle school-aged daughters of Arlene Tessitore.

Tessitore said her daughters, both students at Memorial Middle School, were told they had to complete a Youth Risk Behavior Study. “Kids were actually told to sit down and take them,” said John Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute. “The parents here are very upset.”

Whitehead said the girls were deeply disturbed by the subject matter of the study – including questions about suicide, drug use and sexual behavior. “One of the questions is, ‘have you ever had oral sex,’” Whitehead said. “You’re talking about kids who probably don’t even know what oral sex is.”

He said the survey also delved into even more graphic language. “It’s adult material,” he told Fox News Radio, noting that one question asked students what method they used to prevent pregnancy during their last sexual encounter. “It goes down a whole list, including birth control pills, condoms and one of the answers is ‘withdraw,’” Whitehead said. “Adults know what this is, but kids have to imagine or go online to find out what it means.”

Principal Fran Thomas told Fox News Radio that students were indeed given the survey – and admits it was graphic. But Thomas said the school has nothing to do with the content and they were required to administer the survey to fulfill a grant requirement.

“I can take no responsibility for what’s on that survey,” Thomas said. “It’s not generated by the school system.” Thomas said the survey was funded by a federal grant and administered by LUK Inc., a local social services agency -- in coordination with the Centers for Disease Control.

The organization’s leader did not return numerous calls for comment. But according to its website, LUK, Inc.’s mission is to “challenge and support youth & families to recognize and fulfill their unique and productive potential through community-based prevention, intervention and education services.”

A spokesperson for the CDC denied any involvement in the Fitchburg sex survey. The CDC said only seven states and six urban districts include sexual identity questions on their YRBS surveys – and the questions are optional.

But Principal Thomas disputed that notion. “It was not optional,” he said. “It’s part of a grant that they applied for and the district said you have to administer this survey.”

According to Whitehead, parents were sent a “passive consent” opt-out form. However, Tessitore said she never received the form and never gave permission for her daughters to take part in the survey.

“It was a case of the school telling parents what they were going to do,” he said. “If parents want their kids to answer these kinds of questions as federal law requires, they should give written consent. But if they don’t give consent, I don’t think public officials should be asking children such questions.”

Thomas said he understands the concerns expressed by the parents. But should the middle school be asking children questions about oral sex? “That’s not a question I’d be asking,” Thomas said. “That’s not information that needs to be gathered in an indiscriminate manner – asking every single student these sorts of questions.”

Thomas said it wasn’t appropriate. “I think there are many things that schools are called upon to do because they think they’ve got a captive audience,” he noted.

Whitehead wants the Department of Education to step in and demand that the Fitchburg school follow the law when it comes to parental consent. “Parents send their children to public schools to receive an education; not to become subjects of governmental data mining,” Whitehead said.


What’s in your best interest?

I find it fascinating that the New Albany-Floyd County government school system is working hard to find a way to avoid complying with the new state law that helps charter schools make use of empty school buildings.

Who would have thought that an entity in charge of teaching kids would be so against the basic idea of sharing with others?

On the other hand, I’m equally fascinated that the Indiana Public Charter School Association thinks it’s OK to force the sale or lease of property for $1 when such property is clearly worth much, much more.

Who would have thought that an entity that believes in applying business methodology to education would be so against the basic idea of paying fair market value for a piece of property?

I can certainly understand NA-FC being concerned about maintaining their control over local buildings like the currently unused Galena school. The school district has enjoyed a countywide monopoly for a long time and they have nothing to gain if one of the schools is possibly turned over to a competitor.

I can also understand why Indiana charter schools think they deserve to have control of some of the assets built up over the years by local school districts. After all, charters are government schools too. (It’s like tater tots and hash browns. They look a little bit different and some prefer one over the other, but in the end they are both just greasy processed potatoes.)

What’s really interesting is how both groups are scrambling to claim they are the ones looking out for the “best interest of the taxpayers.” It’s laughable really, to hear both parties talk as if taxpayers were some sort of entity that had a singular interest at heart.

It’s not true of course. As a matter of fact, it’s impossible. Taxpayers are individuals, with unique desires, interests, goals and opinions. There is no magical transformation of those widely varying individual differences when they are all forced to fund a government program.

Some taxpayers want the people who control the NA-FC government school system to do what they can to keep the building out of the hands of other government funded educational entities.

But their neighbors may want a government funded charter school to have the opportunity to use Galena school for the special Republican-mandated discount price of $1.

And still other neighbors may want to sell it off to the highest privately funded bidder and move the property completely out of government hands, returning any and all proceeds back to individual taxpayers.

So there is no such thing as either group working for “the best interest of taxpayers.” The school corporation is interested in the school corporation. Charter schools are interested in charter schools.

If these groups really cared about the taxpaying individual, they would understand the real need society has in completely separating school from the state. They would stop using force and respectfully request funding for their educational offerings. They would allow complete individual freedom in determining whether or not to fund either of their options. They would focus on gaining clients by marketing the benefits of their alternative and actually earn voluntary funding by providing a useful and valuable service.

As long as these groups do not behave in this manner, you can be sure they care nothing about individual interests. They will continue to force you to fund them and as a reward you will get to watch them fight over who gets to use the buildings to indoctrinate kids on ridiculous, false and impossible ideas like “the best interest of taxpayers.”


Chicago Blocks 4% Teacher Raises

The board of education voted unanimously Wednesday to rescind 4% raises that teachers were scheduled to get in the next school year, setting the stage for a fight between the city and the teachers' union.

David Vitale, president of the newly seated Chicago Board of Education appointed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel, said the board valued teachers but with the city's budget troubles, "we cannot reasonably expect to pay" the raises.

Annual 4% raises are written into the teachers' contract, subject to a vote by the board of education. The contract was negotiated in 2007, and this is the first year the board has voted the raises down.

Mr. Vitale said the salary increases would cost the district about $100 million, pushing the district deficit to $712 million on a $5.5 billion operating budget. Chicago teachers will still receive pay bumps for years of service and additional college degrees ranging from about 1% to 5% for most teachers, district officials said.

Karen Lewis, president of the Chicago Teachers Union, blasted the board and Mr. Emanuel, saying the district has given away too many tax breaks to businesses. "This city did not get into this financial mess by overpaying teachers," she said in a prepared statement. "Thirty-thousand hard-working teachers negotiated a contract in 2007 and have spent every day of the last four years keeping our promise to the children of Chicago."

Ms. Lewis asked during the board meeting for the contract to be honored. Union leaders have until midnight Monday to accept the decision or seek to renegotiate the entire contract. Ms. Lewis said she would talk to her membership about the next step.

The board also voted to block salary increases promised to seven other unions representing lunchroom workers, janitors and other school employees.

The vote comes as school districts nationwide are asking teachers to forgo raises or make other concessions. In districts ranging from Los Angeles to Fabius-Pompey, N.Y., teachers have capitulated, partly to avoid layoffs. The battle over teacher salaries gained national attention after Wisconsin lawmakers voted to cap teacher raises and strip unions of most bargaining rights.

School districts are being squeezed as federal stimulus dollars run out, states cut education budgets and teacher pension obligations rise. Chicago district officials expect to lose about $260 million in federal stimulus money and $77 million from the state for the next fiscal year.

Michael Podgursky, a University of Missouri-Columbia economist who studies teacher compensation, said salary increases, rich pension agreements and the teacher hiring binge that districts went on during their flush years have created the current mess. He said nationwide student enrollment has increased by about 20% since the 1980s while teacher employment has grown by about 40%.

"We have a ton more people on the payroll and they are all marching up the salary schedule," he said. "The result is a huge sponge sucking up resources."

Nationwide, the average teacher salary has increased steadily to about $55,350 in 2009-10 from $31,367 in 1989-90, according to the National Education Association, the nation's largest teachers' union. Adjusted for inflation, the increase is about 5.7% over that 20-year period, according to the union.

The Chicago vote wasn't a surprise. Mr. Emanuel, who controls the nation's third-largest school system, has warned for months that teachers would have to sacrifice.

In a prepared statement, Mr. Emanuel commended the board for "courage in facing the hard-truth of a $712 million deficit" and its "commitment to ensuring the public schools are accountable to Chicago's taxpayers."

Mr. Vitale said the district would rather eliminate the 4% pay increase than raise class sizes, cut early childhood education or discontinue a violence prevention program.

He said the district already has trimmed $75 million from the budget, including cutting administrators. He wouldn't rule out teacher layoffs.

Mr. Vitale said he awaits the union decision on whether to accept the pay freeze or open the contract. "Our hope is we can work productively with them to solve this [budget problem] and put children first," he said.


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