Sunday, October 28, 2012

Schools think they own students

Granite City school suspends multiple students over Twitter comments

A sexually inappropriate tweet about a teacher started it, but by the time administrators at Granite City High scoured the recent social media activity of students, at least 10 were suspended, unleashing an explosion of criticism online.

School administrators said they had no choice but to act because students violated school rules. But an official with the Illinois chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union said the school district and others throughout the country are commonly going too far when it comes to monitoring Internet activity outside of school.

“This is punishing students for what they say and what they do outside of the school. And even if what they do and what they say is inappropriate, there’s a mechanism in place already to correct kids behavior outside of school — they’re called parents,” said Illinois ACLU policy director Ed Yohnka.

Indeed, Facebook, Twitter and other social networking activity outside of school has increasingly become an issue as schools tackle online bullying and sexting. Most schools have detailed student handbooks with sections devoted to cellphone, computer and social networking use. Most connect what happens on personal computers and cellphones outside of school with school rules and policy.

The wave of suspensions at Granite City High started after a student wrote a demeaning comment that sexually objectified a female teacher on the social networking site Twitter.

That led two of the student’s friends to click “retweet,” which posted the comment on their Twitter feeds, effectively broadcasting it to a wider net of followers, mostly students. A third friend clicked an icon favoring the original post — which is the equivalent of giving the comment a thumbs-up in social network speak.

One of the students who retweeted the comment about the teacher to his followers said he didn’t give it a second thought. Now the honors student said he is worried about his chances of getting into a Division I school to play basketball.

“I wasn’t even thinking about it. I was at home with my friends when I saw it on Twitter. I laughed and I retweeted,” said sophomore DeAndre Williams. “It’s not like we screamed it down the hallway to her and embarrassed her in front of everybody.”

What resulted was a five-day suspension for him and his three friends.

That led to a complaint by a parent that other inappropriate comments were being posted on the social media site involving the school. What followed was a review of Twitter by school officials that resulted in even more suspensions, said Principal Jim Greenwald.

Not only did school officials discover two other students tweeting inappropriate comments about teachers, they found another student had said she ought to bomb the school so she wouldn’t have to go. That comment was retweeted by three of her friends, Greenwald said.

“We don’t go out looking for individual comments on the Internet, but when it threatens or compromises a person’s sexual integrity or there are comments or threats pertaining to school safety, then that does become school business,” he said.

Greenwald said all the students — regardless of who originally posted the comments or who later passed them on or endorsed them — violated the school handbook signed by each student. Specifically, they violated rules against posting comments that cause “school students or staff members to feel threatened or compromised” or that are “likely to cause disruption in the school,” he said.

Greenwald further pointed to policies forbidding inappropriate language or behavior directed at school employees, even if off-campus.

Greenwald said high school staff spent a lot of time with students at the start of the school year discussing Internet and cellphone usage as it related to school policy. He said the school recently decided to allow more use of cellphones on campus, and because of that, administrators had initiated intense discussion with students about appropriate social networking.

Assistant Principal Skip Birdsong said students need to understand that posting things on the Internet is the equivalent of taking an advertisement out in a newspaper.

“What’s the difference there? It’s in print. It’s the same thing,” he said.

Yohnka, of the ACLU, said schools particularly have no right to punish students for retweeting or liking a comment.  “That’s really punishing thoughts at some point,” he said.

In cases where there’s not a direct threat to the school, Yohnka said school districts are commonly going way beyond their bounds by punishing a student for posting an inappropriate comment off school property.

Greenwald, begged to differ.  “In this day and age of Facebook and Twitter and out-of-school multimedia, this is something we have to deal with,” he said. “We have to be cognizant and aware of what is school business and what isn’t school business.”

He said that nationwide, school policy increasingly calls for intervention if what students “post outside of the school infiltrates and creates the same type of disruption in the school.”

Yohnka said that reasoning typically backfires on schools.  “The reality is that the only thing that is causing the disruption is that now everyone is talking about these students being suspended,” he said.

Several recent cases across the country highlight the conflict.

In Indiana, a senior was expelled from high school after posting from home on his Twitter account and repeatedly using a swear word. Some states such as Indiana and West Virginia are proposing statewide policies prohibiting inappropriate online posts to prevent bullying or offensive speech that might be considered an interference with school functions or educational purposes.

The disciplinary actions at Granite City High on Wednesday prompted outrage online on Twitter, with many students arguing even Friday that they were unfairly punished, and that the school stepped out of bounds by scouring Twitter. Students were marking their tweets with hashtags such as #freejustice, in honor of one of the students who was suspended.

One student, Dylan Thevenout, 17, said he was suspended for five days on Thursday because he was interacting at school with students who had signs protesting the suspensions.

Another student who was suspended acknowledged through Twitter on Friday that the incident had likely been a burden to the teacher. But he also tweeted: “I guess this counts as our senior prank.”

Other people on Twitter have repeated and even elaborated on the sexually inappropriate comment that started the uproar.

Greenwald said the four students involved with the tweet that mentioned bombing were given 10-day suspensions pending an administrative hearing. All other students involved with inappropriate tweets about teachers were given five-day suspensions.

Greenwald said the students will likely be given pre-expulsion meetings when they return, meaning they and their parents will be put on notice that any further disciplinary problems could result in them not being allowed to return to school.

Greenwald said the district had no choice but to view the mention of bombing the school as a possible threat, and brought in police.

DeAndre Williams said that everyone was just joking around and that the school could have handled it differently with warnings. He said he was willing to make an apology. Even though he signed a school handbook, he said he had no idea what it truly meant about out-of-school online behavior.

“They made us sign the handbook and there was some Internet policy, but there was nothing like this where they said they can check our stuff on Twitter,” he said “I would never expect that.”


Pupils aged ten should learn about porn as part of the national curriculum, British teaching union claims

Schoolchildren as young as ten should learn about pornography as part of the national curriculum, a teaching union said yesterday

The National Association of Headteachers said primary school teachers needed to respond to the fact that children were now getting a large amount of their information about sex from the internet.

They said sex education guidelines are hopelessly out of date and cannot cope with the ‘overtly sexualised world’ in which children are now growing up.

But many family campaigners will argue that teaching children about pornography could actually make the situation worse, because children could be introduced to the concept for the first time.

Campaigners say the easy access of porn online is harming children, and the NSPCC says they have seen an upsurge in calls from teenagers upset by what they have seen.

However, another teaching union – the National Union of Teachers – said it was too early to start teaching children about porn at primary school.

The Daily Mail is campaigning for an automatic block on web porn, with adults having to opt in if they want to access it.

In an interview with BBC Radio 1’s Newsbeat programme, NAHT policy adviser Sion Humphreys said teachers should hold lessons on the ‘impact of pornography’.

‘Children are growing up in an overtly sexualised world,’ he said. ‘That includes easy access to porn and they need the skills to deal with it.

‘We would support children being taught in an age-appropriate way about the impact of pornography as part of a statutory Personal Social Health Education programme.’

Mr Humphreys said that lessons could start from primary school but that the material would depend on age.

‘Evidence suggests ten isn’t too young to start lessons on pornography, but it wouldn’t be a full-on lesson but the grounding would be laid down,’ he said.

At the moment, PSHE, which includes sex and relationships education, is not compulsory in England, unlike other parts of the UK.

Biological facts are part of all lessons in secondary school science lessons. Beyond that parents have the right to withdraw their children from any sex education.

The National Union of Teachers however disagreed with their union colleagues.  They told the BBC that referring to issues of porn in lessons is a step too far, and that schools should only talk about it if asked by students.

But Leonie Hodge, from the charity Family Lives, said it was vital children learned about porn.  She said that at a time when 90 per cent of children own a smartphone, it is no longer relevant to talk about ‘making a baby’.

She said: ‘Teenagers are bombarded with pornography from a young age; you can’t escape it. It’s patronising to say they can’t cope with the lesson because they can.’

Siobhan Freegard, founder of website Netmums, said mothers frequently panic when they come across porn on a computer at home and would welcome support from schools.

She said: ‘It can be a minefield. Many don’t know what to do or say. For example a single mother may struggle with teenage boys, a single father may not know how to approach the subject with his daughter.

‘In very traditional households, they might not even talk about sex at all. The ideal solution is for schools and parents to work together.’

The Department of Education would not comment on the NAHT’s suggestion, but told Newsbeat that it is up to individual schools on how they teach sex education.


Australia: Testing the new teacher - the plan to lift classroom quality

TEACHER graduates should be tested on literacy and numeracy skills, ability to communicate and passion for teaching before fronting a classroom, the Australian Centre for Educational Research said.

ACER chief executive Geoff Masters said quality teaching was the key to lifting achievement levels in Australian schools, a key goal of Prime Minister Julia Gillard.

Governments must enhance the status of teachers so the best and brightest are attracted to the profession and admission to teacher education programs is highly competitive, he said.

"Teaching can be highly rewarding, but is also increasingly complex," Professor Masters said.

"Teachers must keep abreast of rapidly changing technologies and provide support for a wide range of personal and social issues that students now face. Work of this kind requires highly skilled, caring individuals."

Speaking ahead of World Teacher Day today, Prof Masters said one way governments could enhance the status of teachers was to ensure that teacher graduates met minimum national standards of literacy and numeracy, as well as the standards for teaching these skills.

Second, make entry to teacher courses more competitive by reducing the number of teachers trained and setting higher hurdles for course admission.

Governments should also develop research-based descriptions of effective teaching practices, provide professional learning to develop practices and recognise and reward great teaching.

High-performing school systems also assess interpersonal and communication skills and the candidate's commitment to teaching as a career.

The state government has released a discussion paper on improving the quality of teaching amid concerns that it is becoming an easy career choice.

As a way of attracting quality people to the profession, responses have suggested a minimum ATAR requirement, increasing teacher wages and universities being more willing to fail unsuitable candidates.

Education department Director-general Michele Bruniges, Board of Studies president Tom Alegounarias and Institute of Teachers chief executive Patrick Lee will make recommendations to Education Minister Adrian Piccoli early next month.


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