Thursday, July 23, 2015

68 Dems Ask Education Dep't to ‘Protect LGBT Students From Discriminatory School Environments’

Sixty-eight congressional Democrats have signed a letter to Education Secretary Arne Duncan, asking the Education Department to “use every avenue at its disposal to protect LGBT students from discriminatory school environments.”

This follows failed attempts in both the House and Senate to advance legislation mandating federal LGBT non-discrimination protections in schools.  

The letter-signers, headed by Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.), praised “the unprecedented efforts” Education Department has made recently to address “the many challenges that LGBT students face in our nation’s schools.”

They specifically referred to the guidance issued by the Education Department’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR) in April 2014, saying that “Title IX’s sex discrimination prohibition extends to claims of discrimination based on gender identity or failure to conform to stereotypical notions of masculinity or femininity.”

Polis and his colleagues called this a “promising step,” but they urged Secretary Duncan to “build on these initial steps by developing, finalizing, and issuing guidance that clearly outlines schools’ obligations to protect LGBT students from discrimination under Title IX.”

The Democrats said the guidance should cover “what steps schools must take to cover issues such as access to curricular and extracurricular activities, protecting student privacy, and the application of dress standards.” And it should also help schools understand their “obligation to prevent bullying and harassment against LGBT students under current law.”

The letter cited statistics from the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network’s 2013 School Climate Survey showing that nearly three quarters of LGBT students reported being verbally harassed because of their sexual orientation; 55 percent reported being verbally harassed because of their gender expression; 49 percent said they had been bullied over the Internet; and more than a third had been physically harassed or assaulted.

The letter came last Tuesday, after the Senate rejected an amendment (The Student Non-Discrimination Act of 2015) introduced by Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) that would have mandated a “comprehensive Federal prohibition of discrimination in public schools based on actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity.”

Senator Franken told Buzzfeed News that his amendment would have settled questions about which restrooms transgender students could use. “Transgender students under Franken’s policy would be able use the restroom that corresponds with their gender identity ‘without harassment,’” Buzzfeed reported.

“There’s no doubt bullying or harassment of children based on actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity is a terrible problem,” Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) said on the Senate floor Tuesday evening.  “The question is, is this an argument that is best addressed to the local school board or to the State Board of Education or to a national school board in Washington, D.C.?

“This substitutes the judgment of the people closest to the children who cherish them, substitutes the judgment of Washington bureaucrats for them,” Alexander said. “It allows the federal government to regulate and dictate local school gender identity policies such as those related to restrooms, sports teams, locker rooms, and dress codes. It will lead to costly lawsuits.”

Last week, as reported, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission issued new guidance to protect lesbian, gay and bisexual employees – stepping in because Congress has failed to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.

Current law does not include sexual orientation as a protected class in the workplace. But it does forbid workplace discrimination based on “sex.”

So the EEOC administratively expanded the definition of sex discrimination to cover lesbian, gay and bisexual employees.

In 2012, the EEOC ruled that discrimination against transgenders (also known as gender identity discrimination) is also the kind of “sex” discrimination prohibited under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.


Senators Cruz and Paul Push for Common Core Opt-Out Surge

Senate Republicans and GOP presidential contenders Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky jumped in on a congressional effort to strike against Common Core by advocating on behalf of a recent House bill that would increase the opportunity for students to opt-out of Common Core based PARCC testing which has been a force of frustration and unwarranted obstacles to both parents, students, and teachers alike; while additionally criticizing a version of the Senate education bill which did not go far enough.

The two senators joined forces during a meeting originally to discuss amending to the wildly hated No Child Left Behind law, by rejecting standardized tests mandated by the George W. Bush-era law. Cruz and Paul aim at empowering students by keeping government out of the right for parents to have their students to opt-out of the mandatory testing and exams.

In the past six months, students across the country have opted-out of intrusive PARCC exams (individual state devised Common Core curricula). School boards however have tried to fight back against the massive number of opt-outs by finding creative ways to either humiliate or harass students and their families. Long Island alone caught media attention when they saw some of the highest number of opt-outs in the country this past April.

The bill known as the Every Child Achieves Act of 2015 has the following key components:

This bill reauthorizes and amends the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (ESEA). The bill addresses issues such as accountability and testing requirements, distribution and requirements for grants, fiscal accountability requirements, and the evaluation of teachers...

The bill provides states with increased flexibility and responsibility for developing accountability systems, deciding how federally required tests should be weighed, selecting additional measures of student and school performance, and implementing teacher evaluation systems.

Opponents on left have criticized the opportunity for the opt-out function, saying that:

Opting out of standardized tests destroys the ability to get an accurate read on how students are performing in school and where achievement gaps between disadvantaged students and their peers lie.

Amendments to the No Child Left Behind bill passed in the House of Representatives last week, which included the opt-out clause, yet the two Republicans and presidential rivals felt that though the House bill was a good model to continue off of, the Senate bill did not go far enough and was substantially weaker in protecting the educational rights of students and their parents.

Popular conservatives Ted Cruz and Rand Paul have been a longtime advocates for a complete repeal of Common Core. Senator Rand Paul commented on the companion bill currently in the Senate chamber and how it “retains some of No Child Left Behind’s biggest flaws,” which "lack of adequate parental choice, a federal testing mandate and continued support for Common Core.” The flaws in the Senate's version of the bill were ultimately enough for 2016 contenders Senators Cruz, Paul, and even Marco Rubio to vote against it. Despite their vocal resistance to urge fellow Republicans to vote "nay", the bill ultimately passed in the Senate (the only 2016 GOP contender to vote for the bill was Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina).

While many teachers unions and other organizations against the opt-outs, even Obama appointed Education Secretary Arne Duncan has recently called for "states to evaluate how many tests students take and eliminate what they can." As of now Cruz and Paul are the only 2016 contenders to have a stable stance against Common Core, while other Republicans such as Scott Walker, Bobby Jindal, Chris Christie, and Jeb Bush have had a strange, off again-on again relationship with the education program which has upset so many Americans.


Campus freedom of speech in Britain

Spiked has done a very interesting survey of freedom of speech on UK university campuses, rating each one on how good it is at protecting individuals' right to speak their mind and hear different views.

Needless to say the London School of Economics is right down among the worst. I wasn't surprised to see UCL or Birkbeck with a red flag either. More surprising were the red flags for Oxford and Edinburgh. My own alma mater - St Andrews - was at the other end of the scale and it was interesting to see that the UK's only private university - Buckingham - was also top-rated.

But the really striking thing is just how few universities received a green flag and how many got a red. This really does make the Spiked survey very important and I hope a few universities are now going to take a long hard look at themselves.


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