Apr 19, 2014 fbook icon twitter icon rss icon


11Tennessee Lawmakers Advance Bill Allowing Teachers To Say "Merry Christmas"

In an ongoing effort to fight against the so-called “War on Christmas,” Tennessee legislators recently advanced a measure allowing public school teachers and students to say “Merry Christmas" in schools. The measure also allows teachers and students to safely wish each other a “Happy Hanukkah” or say any other greeting commonly associated with the many religious holidays that occur during the winter time. Additionally, the bill includes provisions allowing holiday imagery to be displayed in schools, as long as multiple religions are represented. 

The bill was sponsored by State Rep. Andy Holt (R-Dresden), who claimed that it was created to encourage the continued celebration of Christmas in schools, but it was not intended to discriminate against those that do not celebrate the holiday.

“I’m a real proponent of freedom of religion, but not a proponent of freedom from religion,” Holt said, according to the Toronto Sun, “We are just trying to make sure that nobody is to be excluded in this legislation. It doesn’t preclude any other traditional winter celebrations.” 

The main priority of the bill is that all religious holidays can be celebrated in schools, but none should dominate. This has generally been the case already, but the measure would protect teachers from legal action for speaking openly about religious holidays.

According to the Huffington Post, similar legislation was recently passed by lawmakers in the state of Oklahoma.  

article image

11Make Evolution Optional For Students In Missouri, Says Rep. Brattin

A new bill has been introduced in the Missouri General Assembly that would require schools to give advance warning to parents that evolution was going to be taught in their child’s science class. The Kansas City Star reports that under House Bill 1472, introduced by Republican Rep. Rick Brattin, parents would then be allowed to opt their children out of the lessons. Should the proposed legislation become law, schools would also need to provide parents with the “basic content” of the lessons on evolution.

The introduction of the bill has many critics crying foul, arguing that evolution by natural selection is the foundation of modern biology. 

David Evans, the executive director for the National Science Teachers Association, told the Star, “Evolution by natural selection is the unifying principle in the study of biology,” he said. “Would you want to pull your child out of class if you didn’t like grammar?”

Evans believes that allowing children to be pulled from class during lessons on evolution would make it more difficult for American students to keep pace with other students internationally.

Brattin has defended his bill, telling KCTV, "What my bill would do is it would allow parents to opt out of natural selection teaching," he said. "It would not prohibit the child from going through biology from learning about cell structure, DNA and the building blocks of life.” 

"Our schools basically mandate that we teach one side," Brattin said. "It is an indoctrination because it is not objective approach.” 

Some parents agree. Brendan Eastwood, told KCTV, "Evolution is not taught in the Bible so it shouldn't be taught in the class," he said. "Even if I had to spend some time in jail I wouldn't subject my kids to that nonsense.”

Eastwood’s children are grown and he admits he never had to make the choice.

"They didn't teach evolution in the early 90s...that I know of," he said. "Otherwise they wouldn't have been in school.”

Brattin has filed three similar bills in the past, all of which failed. HB 1472 has not been scheduled for discussion in the General Assembly, according the Riverfront Times.

Sources: Kansas City Star, KCTV, Riverfront Times


article image

11Drug-Sniffing Dogs Do Unannounced Search of Salem High School Classrooms in New Hampshire

Students and teachers at Salem High School in New Hampshire had unannounced visitors on Friday morning when seven drug-sniffing dogs arrived to search classrooms as part of a cooperative effort with Salem Police.

According to the Salem School District, the specially trained dogs from Salem and surrounding communities searched more than 20 classrooms in two school hallways for evidence of illegal drugs or drug paraphernalia. No students or faculty were present in the rooms as they were searched.

And the good news is that the search turned up nothing, the Patch reports.

This effort was coordinated by the school’s resource officer, Kevin Swanson, and high school administrators. Officers from Londonderry, Plaistow, Hudson and Methuen, MA joined Salem officers and their dogs in this effort.

One goal of such an unannounced search, the school district said, is “to help students and staff maintain a safe environment by realizing these searches can occur at any time.”

The search occurred at approximately 11:30 a.m. while students were at lunch in the cafeteria. School officials stressed that no single factor contributed to the decision to bring the dogs to the school or to search specific classrooms. The search was supervised by canine officers who were accompanied by Salem High administrators.


When drug sniffing dogs searched a New Jersey high school, they garnered a much more inflammatory headline by WABC News, which announced “High school raided for drugs in New Jersey,” on December 11, 2013.

“There's a rather dramatic crackdown on drugs at a high school in New Jersey,” the report stated, “Students and parents arrived at Lacey High School to a show of police force…The students were put on lockdown in classrooms, while drug sniffing dogs walked the lockers along the corridors.”

One parent told WABC, "I was a little frightened, because I didn't know what was going on.”

"The dogs are trained to smell openings. If they give us a positive indication, we let the prosecutor know," said Sgt. James Reilly, Toms River Police Department.

The police explained that “104 people in Ocean County this year have overdosed on heroine. That's way up from 2012.”

“Last year we had 53, we're going to more than double and that totally unacceptable," said Joseph Coronato, Ocean County Prosecutor.

Teens are being targeted to prevent abuse from even beginning, in a region where a heroine has become a drug of choice, he explained.

"Unfortunately heroine on the East Coast is pure and cheap and that's a deadly combination," Coronato said.

This show is part of an ongoing focus on drug prevention in the county, which will likely begin random drug testing in its middle and high schools by January, if it passes the next board meeting, according to the WABC report.

"There are a lot of issues with heroine and whatever they can do to get it away from our kids, I'm for it," parent Lisa Corletta, told WABC.


Derrick Meador About.com Teaching, writes:

“A “dog sniff” is not a search within the meaning of Fourth Amendment. Thus no probable cause is required for a drug sniffing dog when used in this sense. Court rulings have declared that persons should have no reasonable expectations of privacy in regards to air surrounding inanimate objects. This makes student lockers, student automobiles, backpacks, book bags, purses, etc. that are not physically on the student permissible for a drug dog to sniff. If a dog does “hit” on contraband then that establishes probable cause for a physical search to take place. Courts have frowned upon the use of drug sniffing dogs to search the air around a student’s physical person.”

Source: Patch, ABC, About.com

article image

11NYC Public School Cuts Gifted Program for Lack of Diversity

An academic program for gifted elementary students will be phased out of a New York City elementary school. Officials have decided that the program does not properly reflect the diverse make up of the school population.

Mary McDonald, principal at PS 139, sent a letter to parents on Jan. 24 saying that the school would no longer be accepting applications for Students of Academic Rigor — or SOAR — for incoming kindergartners.  

“Our Kindergarten classes will be heterogeneously grouped to reflect the diversity of our student body and the community we live in,” the letter said.

Many parents seemed dismayed by the decision.  

“Where are they going to put the higher-level students? Sometimes, there are different levels, and teachers can’t handle all the levels in one class,” said one mother who did not want to give her name. She did concede the program had a lot of white students.

Another mother, a Sudanese immigrant, also said SOAR was brimming with white students.  Yet, she was hopeful that her daughter, who consistently has high test scores, would join the program.  

According to records, PS 139 has about 1,000 students, over half of those students are black or hispanic while only 28 percent are white or Asian-American.

Parent Lisa Draho who has children in similar programs that are also being phased out said she felt like the classes were already inclusive. But she expressed confidence in the decision of the principal.

“Mary is very much a principal who really wants the best for the kids,” she said.

Seeking to reassure parents, McDonald sent a follow up letter to parents on Monday.

“At PS 139, we believe that all children can learn and achieve high standards. We also know that we want all children at PS 139 to have equal access to high quality, challenging curriculum, and to have ample opportunities to master complex material and build academic and personal self-confidence. We also want our classes to reflect the diversity of our community. We believe we can have both: classrooms characterized by rigor and diversity,” the letter read.

Sources: Washington TimesNY Daily News

article image

11'Duck Dynasty Clubs' Bringing Prayer Into Schools, Says Phil Robertson's Granddaughter

“Duck Dynasty” star Phil Robertson's granddaughter Sadie Robertson, 16, told an audience in Montgomery, Ala. on Sunday that her family's TV show has led to “Duck Dynasty clubs” in schools across the country.

Student members of “Duck Dynasty clubs” pray before lunch at schools, according to Sadie.

“For a TV show to bring prayer into schools, that’s awesome,” she added.

Sadie was speaking at a fundraiser for a private school, Prattville Christian Academy, at the Montgomery Performing Arts Centre where seats cost $38.50 to $82.50, reports the Montgomery Advertiser.

For people who wanted to meet Sadie, the cost was $100 per ticket.

Sadie's mother, Korie Robertson, accompanied her daughter on the trip, but didn't appear at the fundraiser.

Sadie was asked about her grandfather's controversial statements about gay people and black people during a GQ Interview in December 2013, but declined to answer, noted USA Today.

“I’m sure we could all say a lot about that, but the family has decided we’re not going to talk about it really,” replied Sadie. “But we will say we’re really glad for us all to be back together as a family because [he’s] the leader. We couldn’t do anything without him.”

Sources: USA Today and Montgomery Advertiser

article image

11Michigan's Controversial "Read-or-Flunk" Bills Under Consideration in the State House

America’s education system is surely embattled. Yet, the increasing popularity of statewide “read-or-flunk” laws have drawn criticism despite the laws’ good intentions. According to some excellent reporting by Bridge Michigan, a “two-bill package [Michigan State] House Bill 5111 and House Bill 5144, is similar to legislation in other states, combines intervention efforts to identify and work with struggling students as early as kindergarten, with a third-grade line in the sand: Score at a ‘proficient’ level or above in reading on a standardized test, or expect to stay in third grade.”

Had the laws already been in effect last year, it’s estimated that 35 percent of third-graders in the state would have been retained, approximately 39,000. Under the current system, only 1000 students had been held back. However, the bills only allow for state funding for pilot programs, which, if successful, leaves the cost of implementation to the individual school districts. In fact, the increased cost of educating the students retained is the main sticking point for those who reject these bills—about $7000 per student.

Yet proponents of the bill say the cost is worth it if results in more literate students. Yet, there are those who don’t think that will be the case either. Critics of the law believe that “flunking” a student will do little to encourage him or her. According to the Bridge report, a number of “academic studies have found that students who are retained in early grades are much more likely to drop out of school before graduation.”

Such as it is, neither option seems ideal. Passing students unable to effectively comprehend their own textbooks is certainly not a good idea. However, flunking students may only exacerbate the problem. If the students aren’t able to pass a reading test because there are no consequences for failure, then perhaps the added fear of failure might be a sufficient motivator. Yet, if it is in fact the system itself that is failing the students, flunking them could serve to drive them away from the practice of learning altogether.

article image

11Rep Rick Saccone's "In God We Trust" Bill Most Likely Unconstitutional, Ignores Pa School Troubles

After Tom Corbett’s election to Governor in 2012, he faced immediate criticism for his drastic budget cuts to the Pennsylvania public education system despite increasing tax revenue. Since then, Pa. schools have clamored for more funding or other legislative fixes to help struggling districts.

In October Republican Rep. Rick Saccone offered up a bill in the state legislature that did not address funding problems, but instead would require every school to display a plaque bearing the words “In God We Trust.”

The ACLU has said that the group would challenge the bill in court if it passed calling it unconstitutional. Saccone told Pittsburgh-based KDKA, “Nothing could be further from the truth. Just take a look around [the State Capitol building]. It’s full of more than 50 reference to God, the Scriptures, and the Bible. It’s everywhere.”

For struggling schools that can’t afford to purchase a plaque, the bill suggests that students make it as part of a schoolwide art project. Because “In God We Trust” is the country’s official motto since 1956, Saccone told Newsworks this is “a good history lesson, it’s a good civics lesson, just like we honor the flag every day and say the Pledge of Allegiance.”

Still many both in Pa. and nationally, like Salon writer Aaron Kase, find the proposal practically insulting. Historically laws like this never stand up to scrutiny even in conservative courts so surely it will be found unconstitutional.

Also, it does nothing to address the commonwealth’s education problems. In 2010 Pa. schools were ranked ninth in the country by Education Week’s “Quality Counts” report, the most recent report has seen Pa. fall to 18th in the country. Thus, even if Saccone’s proposal wasn’t intended to be divisive (and with an election coming up, this is most likely a feather in Saccone’s legislative cap), it completely ignores the real issues facing Pa. schools. 

article image

11Pennsylvania Representative Rick Saccone Proposes Bill Requiring Schools To Display "In God We Trust" Slogan

“In God We Trust” has always been a divisive slogan for the United States of America. In a country built upon the principles of religious freedom and founded in part by Benjamin Franklin, a man who insisted that there be a separation between church and state, the phrase is stamped across coins and dollar bills that circulate throughout the country every day. 

A new bill proposed by Pennsylvanian Rep. Rick Saccone would require schools throughout the state to display the phrase in classrooms and other public areas, the Morning Call reports. 

Although Saccone has a history of supporting legislation with religious motives (the representative also proposed and helped pass a bill declaring 2012 “The Year of the Bible”), the phrase “In God We Trust” does have some connection to the state of Pennsylvania. Gov. James Pollock, the leader of the state during the U.S. Civil war, began printing the phrase on U.S. currency during the war when he was running the U.S. Mint. 

Saccone cited a way to interest students in state history as his reason for proposing the bill. 

“When Lincoln became president, he appointed Pollock director of the United States Mint. Pollock suggested the motto ‘In God We Trust’ be featured on all United States currency,” a portion of the bill reads. 

Saccone claims that the word “God” is used by Christians, Jews and Muslims, so the phrase should not cause religious issues when displayed in public schools. Instead, the representative believes displaying the phrase is a way to get students interested in learning the history of the state, and its former Gov. Pollock. 

Many other representatives do not find Saccone’s bill useful, as it doesn’t clearly explain how or why the phrase should be displayed. 

If Pollock’s bill is, indeed, deemed worthwhile, the House could vote on the  proposed legislation in November. 

article image

11Massachusetts Supreme Court to Hear Pledge of Allegiance Case

Since the words “under God” were added to the Pledge of Allegiance by Congress in 1954 — at the urging of President Eisenhower in response to the rising Communist threat — it has been under legal fire from those who feel it violated the separation of church and state.

The most recent of these cases, Doe v. Action-Boxborough Regional School District, which says the Pledge violates students’ rights, will be considered by the Massachusetts Supreme Court this week. The suit was filed anonymously on behalf of an atheist couple who says compulsory recitation of the pledge violates the guarantee of equal protection under the law.

This is the latest in a series of legal battles that have followed the Pledge since it was formally adopted by Congress as the Pledge in the 1940s. The Pledge was written by Francis Bellamy, a socialist minister and author in 1892, published in the magazine Youth’s Companion which advocated that every schoolhouse in America should fly a flag (and also sold flags to those schoolhouses).

Bellamy also included instructions for the children to salute while reciting the Pledge, extending their arms towards the flag. This salute was changed to the hand-over-the-heart salute for civilians because of the Bellamy Salute’s similarity to the Nazi salute. 

Interestingly, the first legal actions brought against the Pledge were filed by Jehovah’s Witnesses, who argued that it violated their religious freedom, considering it idolatry. Still the Supreme Court ruled that students could be compelled to recite the Pledge. However, recently the debate has shifted to whether students can be compelled to swear the Pledge with the words “under God” added, because it is an expression of religious belief. Ironically, Bellamy’s daughter objected to the addition of “under God,” and now those words may strike the Pledge from schools across America.

article image

11New York Mayoral Candidate Christine Quinn Would Consider Morning-After Pill in Middle Schools

New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, who is running for mayor of the city, announced that she may support middle schools providing emergency contraception to girls as young as 11 if studies showed benefit to students.

“I understand it can make some people uncomfortable,” said Quinn, “[but] we need to recognize the reality of what’s happening in children’s lives and give them what they need to make the right choices and protect themselves.”

Quinn noted that despite controversy, the need for such a plan  “may become a reality…you’d love to be in a place where that wasn’t a reality in middle-school children’s lives, but I think that we’re going to have to look at this, and if the data shows us that that is what would be most helpful, that is what we’ll do.” 

This statement came shortly after Planned Parenthood’s New York political wing endorsed Quinn as their mayoral pick.

Quinn’s fellow candidates in the New York race were also questioned on their opinions on emergency contraception in middle school. Both former City Councilman Sal Albanese and current Controller John Liu said that they, too, would consider such a program. Other mayoral candidates, including Anthony Weiner, Bill de Blasio and Bill Thompson, did not respond to reporters about their stance.

Emergency contraception is already available in more than 50 high schools across New York, primarily in areas with high teen pregnancy rates. Students, some of them 13 or 14 years old, may visit school nurses’ offices or on-site clinics for an immediate prescription from a health professional. The city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene reported that over the 2011-12 school year, about 5,500 girls received emergency contraception, with some of them using it more than once.

Parents of high-school students were offered the opportunity to opt out of the plan, but only about 3 percent chose to do so. Middle-school parents would also be able to opt out.

Emergency contraception, or the “morning-after pill,” helps prevent pregnancy after unprotected sex. It is controversial in part because people often confuse it with the abortion pill, when in fact emergency contraception does not terminate pregnancy.

Sources: New York Post, The New York Times, New York Daily News

Syndicate content