Tuesday, March 13, 2012

School Threatens to Remove Student From Honors Society Over Church Work‏

A Virginia high school is threatening to remove a student from the National Honor Society because she completed her community service work at a local church.

The 17-year-old senior at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology filed a federal lawsuit claiming that she is a victim of religious discrimination.

“In essence, she was targeted and discriminated against solely because of the religious nature of her community service work,” said Matt Sharp, an attorney with the Alliance Defense Fund. Sharp is represented the unidentified student in her lawsuit.

“There’s no honor in penalizing an honors student’s community service to children just because it happens to be faith-based,” Sharp said. “Positive community service and leadership like this should be encouraged by schools, not subjected to unconstitutional discrimination.”

The trouble started last fall when the student submitted her required hours for membership in the National Honor Society. Students are required to perform at least 12 hours of service to maintain membership. Sharp said his client had more than 46 hours of service – working with children in her church’s “Kids Quest” Sunday school program.

However, the faculty adviser told the student that her hours would not count because her work was done in a church and was in violation of district policy.

According to the ADF, the Fairfax County School Board’s Faith-Based Service Policy states that in order to be considered for credit, faith-based activities “must have a secular purpose…and may not include preparation or participation in the performance of religious services.”

The National Honor Society addressed the issue in a memorandum dated April 2010 and titled, “Can activities done for a religious group be counted as service hours for members completing NHS or NJHS chapter service requirements?”

In short, the NHS said the answer is “yes and no.” According to the memorandum, teaching Sunday school at church “may be readily fall under the aspect of leadership experiences also required of members. Assuming the responsibility for preparing and presenting lessons and supervising a group of students for an hour would generally be seen as evidence of demonstrated responsibility and leadership skills for an individual student.”

However, the NHS defers final permission to the individual school district, noting “One can argue both sides of this question.”

A spokesperson for the school system said they were not aware of the lawsuit and would be unable to comment.

Sharp said the school system’s behavior has been outrageous. “It’s the school policy that prohibits any credit for community service done at church,” he said. “She sees a need and is passionate to help these children. But because it’s done through her church she was told her hours would not be recognized, but if she had gone to the local Boys and Girls Club and done the exact time of work she would have been given credit.”

Unless his client makes up the 12 hours of community service along with four additional hours, her name will be submitted for removal from the NHS.

“This really is an outrageous example of targeting religious community service and religious beliefs for discrimination,” Sharp said.


Australia: Wage bonus for top teachers planned under NSW education shake-up

THE greatest revolution to hit NSW education in 50 years will mean teachers are paid for their performance.

In a massive power shift from bureaucrats to principals and teachers, not only will high-achieving teachers be paid more, principals will be able to hand-pick staff and control school budgets from Kindergarten to Year 12.

The sweeping set of O'Farrell government reforms will be announced today, Sunday. Implementation will begin in April and be complete by 2015.

Education Minister Adrian Piccoli said principals would receive salary incentives to work in remote and disadvantaged parts of the state and would take charge of 70 per cent of school budgets, up from the present 10 per cent.

The moves are likely to spark revolt from education unions because the government is dumping the old formula of setting teachers' pay by years of experience.

Instead, pay will be linked to professional standards - so a brilliant 23-year-old teacher could earn more than a 40-year-old colleague. The reforms cover Kindergarten to Year 12.

Director-General of Education Michele Bruniges said the reform was the biggest in at least 50 years and would result in NSW schools moving from being the nation's most "centralised and bureaucratic" to the most "progressive and innovative".

From next month, principals will have unprecedented control of school budgets, and staff will be paid more to teach in remote and disadvantaged areas, under the reforms, which Education Minister Adrian Piccoli will have fully implemented by 2015.

The reforms are separate to the federal government's proposed changes to the funding models following a report by businessman David Gonski.

The reforms cover all schools and all students from Kindergarten to Year 12 and will mean the Education Department will allocate school funding on a wide range of factors - including the school's location and students' special needs - rather than the present formula where funding is determined simply according to the school's number of students.

Principals will control 70 per cent of their funding budget rather that the 10 per cent they are responsible for now.

They also will be able to source school supplies locally rather than from head office.

School funding will be simplified from 600 separate streams to just two - one for staff and one for equipment. Principals will have the flexibility to take funding from the equipment budget and use it to hire additional teachers if they are required, but they will not be permitted to use funds meant for staffing to purchase other items.

The reforms will start to kick in following the Easter Holidays, for Term Two of the school year, and be gradually phased in for all schools over the next three to five years.

A pilot study of 47 schools is already underway and that will be expanded to 229 schools next year.

Director General of Education Michele Bruniges said the reform was the biggest in at least 50 years and would result in NSW schools moving from being the nation's most "centralised and bureaucratic" to the most "progressive and innovative".

Work on the reforms began in April 2011 following Mr Piccoli's appointment as education minister.

They follow consultations with 1800 principals, as well as the close examination of successful models in countries such as Finland.

Ms Bruniges said the reforms were designed to put teachers and principals front and centre in the education of the state's children.

"The reforms give principals the licence to innovate and their passion for teaching will drive that," she said.

"The situation where the principal of a school must take all direct responsibility, but have no control, is not a good place to be when you are in charge of the teaching and learning of other people's children."

Mr Piccoli said he had formed firm ideas on the best way to drive the state's education needs forward after meeting with more than 200 principals.

"I'm convinced on the feedback from principals and the advice from the Director General that this is in the best interests of students in public schools in NSW," he said.

The state's 2242 principals will have to adhere to new leadership capabilities and standards for principals, and teacher salaries will be based on meeting professional standards that are already in place.

Ms Bruniges said the government expected some resistance from the Teachers Federation, but said the position was non-negotiable from the government's point of view.

"The alignment to salary is a really big item, it's a big change," she said. "Just because you've spent time in the job doesn't mean you deserve a pay rise. You have to achieve certain standards."


Australia: Some kids just need to be flogged

It worked for many years but is no longer allowed

THE victims aren't the only people affected by bullying. Katrina worries for her son, but also for his victims.

"Seth has been involved in a number of different situations, which are disturbing," she said. "Only a few weeks ago, a situation at school escalated where my son strangled a disabled girl, leaving hand marks on her neck and slapped a Year 1 child."

Katrina said she doesn't know what to do about her son's behaviour, which is ruining the lives of her family. "I have tried everything, counsellors, psychiatrist, pediatrician, and no one has the answer," she said.

"Seth is 10 years old and has been to four schools. He is now in a special school, best equipped to deal with his behavioural problems and we are having the same issues."

Seth said his actions come from frustration. "Kids pick on me, they poke me and hit me and that's when I respond," he said. "The other week, a boy was hitting me in the back of my head and kicking my chair. I hit him back and I got in trouble. I don't mean to do it, I just get so frustrated and do things."

Katrina said she feels her efforts to help her son have been a failure. "I feel like many of the professionals I have sought guidance from have simply liked my money," she said. "One doctor said straight to my face, 'Your son's problems are too difficult to be solved'."

Katrina has tried to get Seth involved in sports at the advice of a counsellor but his behaviour has seen him excluded from these facilities as well.

"I have four other children, who all miss out because of one child," Katrina said. "I am lucky to have a husband I can lean on. I feel sorry for anyone who is out there trying to do what I am on their own."


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