Monday, November 17, 2014

Public High School Aborts Pro-Life Club

The Thomas More Society, a public interest law firm, sent a demand letter Tuesday to a public high school principal in Virginia after he refused to grant Madison Sutherland, a senior at the school, permission to start a pro-life club on campus.

"As there is no legally acceptable reason to reject Ms. Sutherland's application, we request that you reverse your decision and promptly approve Ms. Sutherland's request to establish, publicize, and actively run a pro-life student group at Courtland High School," said the Thomas More Society's letter.

"Should Courtland High School persist in its violation of the EAA [federal Equal Access Act] and Ms. Sutherland's First Amendment rights, we are prepared to pursue the matter in court," it said.

According to the law firm’s news release, Larry Marks, the principal at Courtland High School in Fredericksburg, Va., continually denied high school senior Madison Sutherland’s efforts to start a pro-life club, even after she filed all the necessary paperwork and found a faculty adviser to sponsor the group.

Sutherland had first voiced her desire to start the group on Sept. 23 and filed the paperwork the school required to start the club--including identifying a faculty adviser and submitting a club constitution.

“Abortion is the greatest violation of human rights in our time and I believe the pro-life message deserves a voice at my school,” Sutherland explained in the news release.

On Oct. 10, well past the 10-day window Marks had to decide whether to allow the club, the school sent Sutherland a letter saying Marks had denied her group, because it did not “bear a clear relationship to the regular school curriculum,” and because she had not included by-laws with her proposed constitution, according to Sutherland’s attorneys.

But according to the school’s club application forms, it is not a requirement that a new on-campus club have a relationship to the school’s curriculum, the Thomas More Society said. On top of that, several other clubs at Courtland High School don’t have a curriculum-related purpose--including an equestrian club, and environmental club and a multicultural group, the law firm added.

“As for the proposed club’s alleged lack of any link to the school curriculum, the application form itself concedes that the supposed requirement is not applicable to all groups--instead it asks students to explain the link ‘if applicable,’” the law firm stated. “Selectively enforcing this ‘requirement’ against Maddie and her group is obvious discrimination.”

On Oct. 24, Sutherland re-submitted her application, including proposed by-laws. More than two weeks later, she approached Marks again to ask about her club’s progress.

“Mr. Marks further delayed giving approval for the club, telling her only that he would call her back to his office sometime this week to ‘fix things,’” the law firm explained.

Having done all the necessary work, Sutherland was at a loss as to why Marks wouldn’t approve the group.

“Even though I had found a faculty advisor for our pro-life club and submitted all the necessary paperwork that the school required, Mr. Marks wouldn’t approve our pro-life club,” Sutherland said.

Marks did not return’s phone calls seeking a comment.

Sutherland’s attorneys claim the school’s prohibition of a pro-life group is a violation of pro-life students’ constitutional rights.

“Public schools have a duty to treat all student groups equally,” Jocelyn Floyd, a lawyer at the Thomas More Society, said in the news release. “By denying Maddie’s pro-life group on the grounds that it is not tied to the school’s curriculum, while allowing other non-curricular groups such as an equestrian club and lacrosse club, Courtland High School is violating their students’ First Amendment rights.”

“Maddie and her fellow students have the constitutional right to express their pro-life views,” the firm continued. “As the Supreme Court has consistently emphasized, students do not lose their constitutionally-protected freedom of speech when they enter the schoolhouse gate.”

The Thomas More Society has sent Marks a letter requesting that he rescind his earlier decision to deny the club and allow Sutherland and fellow pro-life students to begin meeting at the school.


Minneapolis Adopts Unconstitutional Racial Quotas in School Discipline

Given a choice between following the law, and doing what a bureaucrat with power over them wants, many people will do what the bureaucrat wants, and ignore the law. That seems to be the lesson of the Minneapolis school system’s decision to adopt race-based school discipline.

The Minneapolis Star Tribune reports that “Minneapolis public school officials are making dramatic changes to their discipline practices by requiring the superintendent’s office to review all suspensions of students of color.” The Minneapolis school system will require prior review before “every proposed suspension of black, Hispanic or American Indian students” can occur, which means the superintendent may “take those suspensions back to” those recommending a suspension to “probe and ask questions.”

Meanwhile, suspensions of white and Asian students will occur without any impediment or scrutiny from the superintendent. This differential treatment is as unconstitutional as giving blacks two opportunities to pass their driving test, and Asians only one opportunity.

This is part of a larger push by the Minneapolis schools to impose racial quotas on suspensions, reportedly to resolve an investigation by the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights. Minnesota Public Radio reports that “MPS must aggressively reduce the disproportionality between black and brown students and their white peers every year for the next four years. This will begin with a 25 percent reduction in disproportionality by the end of this school year; 50 percent by 2016; 75 percent by 2017; and 100 percent by 2018.” Some other school districts investigated by the Education Department have also adopted such “targeted reductions” by race.

Such racial-percentage rules violate the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals’ unanimous ruling in People Who Care v. Rockford Board of Education, 111 F.3d 528, 538 (7th Cir. 1997), which struck down as a violation of the Constitution’s equal protection clause a rule that forbade a “school district to refer a higher percentage of minority students than of white students for discipline.” That court ruling also explicitly rejected the argument that such a rule is permissible to prevent disparate impact. I discuss the unconstitutionality of such rules, and why they are based on multiple misinterpretations of Title VI, at greater length in The Daily Caller, at this link.

Reason magazine says that “The new policy is the result of negotiations between MPS and the Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights.” If that’s true, that doesn’t make it any less unconstitutional: The Education Department's Office for Civil Rights, where I used to work, cannot order schools to violate constitutional rights. The courts made this clear in 1978 when they ruled that the Office for Civil Rights had violated the First Amendment by pressuring the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board into kicking out the Ku Klux Klan because of its racist views. (See Knights of the Ku Klux Klan v. East Baton Rouge Parish School Board). And in White v. Lee (2000), a federal appeals court allowed individual federal civil-rights officials to be sued for interpreting the Fair Housing Act in a way that violated the Constitution.

But in the real world, what school districts care about most is what the Education Department wants, not what’s constitutional. The amount of money a school district would have to pay in damages to a suspended white or Asian student who proves he was treated worse than a similarly situated black student is probably pocket change compared to the millions of dollars a school district court would lose if the Education Department decided to cut off its federal funds for a supposed violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act.


Unschooling made me a libertarian

Elizabeth Tate

When I think about my personal journey to where I am today, there’s no exact time that stands out as the “Eureka, I’m a libertarian!” moment. I don’t remember any sudden lightbulbs going off. I don’t remember the day I first thought poorly of the government, either. It’s always seemed to be things I knew and believed. I might have just been a libertarian straight out of the womb. If I go back to my childhood and think about the reasons I may be in Students For Liberty today, only one thing stands out:

I was homeschooled.

More accurately, I was unschooled. Unschooling is simply the idea that compulsory schooling, indoor activity, and standardized testing are ineffective methods for helping a child to grow and learn. As Ben Hewitt wrote in his article Unschooling: The Case for Setting Your Kids Into the Wild. “I want the freedom for them to be children. No one can teach them that.” The primary purpose of unschooling is giving children the freedom to be a child, while also giving a greater freedom of choice for both caregivers and children. By being unschooled I was truly free to grow and learn at my own pace. My parents were free to choose how I was raised and what they felt was appropriate for me throughout my life. Unschooling got me used to having freedom of choice, and it’s truly why I’m a libertarian today.

Firstly, my academic freedom was invaluable. I never felt pressure to “match up” to what kids my age were doing, no matter if I was “behind” or “ahead.” Likewise, my younger brother was never expected to be exactly where I was when he reached the same age. We were allowed to be on separate paths, without one of us being deemed any smarter than the other. In high school I read Shakespeare and comic books equally. As a child, I built forts and learned everything I know about dinosaurs. I got to take Spanish for eight years starting in 4th grade, when most of my schooled friends only got two years (at most) in high school. This total freedom to choose my interests, with the occasional guidance of parents and teachers, shaped me intrinsically. I won’t settle for less than loving what I do.

Secondly, it taught me the power of community. Homeschool groups were very common in my hometown of Matthews, North Carolina.  These groups served a variety of purposes. They were socialization and friend-making opportunities, given that we weren’t shoved into a building with a few hundred other kids every day. They were also educational opportunities, where a parent with a specific skill set or area of expertise would teach us something. I took Spanish, art, speech and debate, chemistry, biology, and choir through these groups. It was participated in voluntarily, incredibly useful, and gave me an appreciation for coming together for common goals.

Thirdly, the realities of my body were never denied. When I was in middle school, North Carolina public schools still taught abstinence-only sex education. The law was changed in 2009 to require scientifically accurate and comprehensive sex  ed, but had I been in that system I would have been in a flawed class that leads to higher rates of sexually transmitted infections, pregnancies, and little impact on overall attitudes. Luckily, I wasn’t. My parents, including my nurse father, gave me accurate, age-appropriate, and useful sex education that allowed me to make informed and responsible choices later in life. My parents had total freedom in deciding when and how I would learn these things, without the state dictating the terms.

Finally, I learned to appreciate every single one of these choices. So many people I know were never able to choose to learn about what they loved, or only got to learn so much before the passion was curtailed in order to stay with the curriculum. So many people never felt an actual community of learning around them. So many people never got to educate their own children. I’ve come to expect freedom of choice in every aspect of my life, from what classes I take in college to what transportation system I use, from how I distribute my work to the gender of the person I may someday marry. We all deserve to enjoy these choices.


How Online Education Can Save Conservatism

Education, business, and government leaders are gathering this week in Washington, DC to discuss the future of American education at the Thought Leader Summit (held from Nov. 10–13), an event held as a part of the National Education Initiative. Among the many topics that will be discussed is the advancement of online education, a technological gift that could save conservatism in America.

It comes as no surprise to liberty-focused Americans that U.S. education is rife with liberalism. Teachers colleges and teachers unions have worked tirelessly to ensure that school systems across the country are stocked with educators that reject traditional free-market and liberty-focused curricula.

Instead of a fair treatment of history, civics, and economics, liberals utilize “learning” materials, such as one history textbook used in South Carolina that suggests former President Ronald Reagan was sexist, that fabricate the truth to fit their own leftwing agenda.

Teachers and professors don’t even bother hiding their bias. One survey released by UCLA in 2012 shows that more than 62 percent of college professors identify as being either “far left” or “liberal,” while less than 12 percent claim to be “far right” or “conservative.” With results like these, how can conservative parents ever feel comfortable sending their kids off to local public schools or to costly colleges?

The obvious answer is for parents to send children to private schools that embrace personal responsibility and liberty or to start homeschooling. In both situations, however, time, funding, and the teaching ability of the parent may stand in the way as nearly insurmountable obstacles. This is where the advancement of online education could save the day.

In “Rewards: How to use rewards to help children learn – and why teachers don’t use them well,” a new book by Heartland Institute Chairman Herbert J. Walberg and Heartland President Joseph Bast, the authors present the incredible technological advancements that have occurred over the past decade in online education and how these advancements can be used to improve education.

According to Walberg and Bast, “Digital learning stands on its own or adds great blended value because it can adapt to the capacity and speed of individual learners, provide minute-by-minute feedback on learning progress, and provide rewards suitable for individual learners. It is similar to an imaginary inexhaustible, highly skilled tutor.”

Walberg and Bast say that highly successful private and charter schools have taken advantage of this new technology, and the results have been quite astounding. The much-talked-about Rocketship schools, for instance, have produced unmatched test results and student achievement by combining traditional models of instruction alongside digital, personalized instruction.

There’s simply no reason why conservatives cannot take advantage of these models to produce their own liberty-focused curricula that can be used in private schools, homeschools, and in colleges across the nation. No longer is it necessary for parents to become education experts to provide their children with a quality education that embraces liberty.

Some conservatives have already started taking advantage of digital learning to advance the cause of liberty. Perhaps the most famous case is the free, not-for-credit massive online open-enrollment program at Hillsdale College, a liberal arts college based in Michigan who envisions itself as “a trustee of modern man’s intellectual and spiritual inheritance from the Judeo-Christian faith and Greco-Roman culture, a heritage finding its clearest expression in the American experiment of self-government under law.”

Other programs, like Liberty University’s Online Academy, are designed specifically for private schools and homeschools and are geared toward providing a more foundational education compared to the college courses at Hillsdale.

Although many of the education experts and public servants attending the Thought Leader Summit this week are interested in improving American education, few of them embrace the classical liberalism espoused by the Founding Fathers. It’s up to conservatives, Tea Party groups, private schools that espouse liberty, and homeschools to build educational systems that promote the values that built America. Technology has made the once-reasonable excuses of cost, location, and time no longer applicable.

With some hard work and innovative thinking, conservatives now have the opportunity to combat the liberal tide that has swept across the country’s education system over the past 50 years.


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