NewTalk tag:newtalk.org,2008-02-11://2 2013-06-05T16:30:37Z Where experts discuss America's toughest issues Movable Type Publishing Platform 4.02a Risk and Legal Fear in Schools tag:newtalk.org,2013://2.110 2013-06-05T14:00:00Z 2013-06-05T16:30:37Z A New Hampshire school district bans dodgeball. A Georgia school sends a kindergartener off in handcuffs. A Florida high school is shut down when a student brings in a mercury thermometer. Across the country, schools and school districts are overreacting... Admin A New Hampshire school district bans dodgeball. A Georgia school sends a kindergartener off in handcuffs. A Florida high school is shut down when a student brings in a mercury thermometer. Across the country, schools and school districts are overreacting to risk—often to the detriment of children’s education.

We entrust our children to teachers and principals with the expectation that they will be both educated and protected from harm. When, inevitably, incidents happen—especially when those incidents are tragic and well-publicized—communities often press for stricter rules and procedures. School administrations have reacted to the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School with extreme protectiveness; one school suspended a six-year-old for “pointing his finger like a gun and saying ‘pow,’” while another suspended two boys for playing cops and robbers.

In addition to protecting children from harm, schools also look to protect themselves from lawsuits, which a study by Public Agenda labeled a “perpetual fear” that influence teacher and principal decision-making. To shield themselves from legal exposure, schools have attempted to eliminate every conceivable risk—no tire swings, no dodgeball, no monkey bars. Field trips require complex liability waivers. Teachers can’t be left alone with students. Every activity requires paperwork—documentation, permissions, waivers.

Administrators’ authority has been diminished by an increased reliance on police to handle disciplinary matters as well as by restrictive policies, often imposed by state legislatures, that create an illusion of safety but prevent schools from making sensible disciplinary decisions.

Schools’ reaction to parents’ and the public’s decreasing tolerance for risk (and the possibility of litigation) has cultural, legislative, and regulatory dimensions. Red tape and legal fear have soured the student-teacher relationship and, with the increasing number of safety protocols and removal of outside-the-classroom activities, have made our schools less welcoming and engaging. The loss of teacher and principal authority in disciplinary matters has made it more difficult to maintain supportive and orderly learning environments, and unnecessary suspensions and expulsions cost students irreplaceable learning time and may create snowballing disciplinary problems.

Our schools should be safe, but are the steps we take in response to threats at the extremes—everyday playground accidents on one end, school shootings at the other—doing more harm than good? Is it possible to address risk and legal fear in a more balanced, less red-tape-intense way? In this forum, we’re inviting experts to consider these questions. Specific discussion topics may include:

  •  What level of risk is reasonable in a school environment?
  •  Are lawsuits really prevalent enough to justify defensive measures taken by schools and teachers? Or is their perception of legal risk exaggerated?
  • Do zero-tolerance policies lead to counterproductive disciplinary action?
  • Should judges take a more active role in setting the boundaries of reasonable risk in schools?
  • When should waivers be required?
  • Do we need to encourage a cultural change against risk obsession?  If so, what role should principals, teachers, and parents play in this process?

]]> A New Hampshire school district bans dodgeball. A Georgia school sends a kindergartener off in handcuffs. A Florida high school is shut down when a student brings in a mercury thermometer. Across the country, schools and school districts are overreacting to risk—often to the detriment of children’s education.

We entrust our children to teachers and principals with the expectation that they will be both educated and protected from harm. When, inevitably, incidents happen—especially when those incidents are tragic and well-publicized—communities often press for stricter rules and procedures. School administrations have reacted to the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School with extreme protectiveness; one school suspended a six-year-old for “pointing his finger like a gun and saying ‘pow,’” while another suspended two boys for playing cops and robbers.

In addition to protecting children from harm, schools also look to protect themselves from lawsuits, which a study by Public Agenda labeled a “perpetual fear” that influence teacher and principal decision-making. To shield themselves from legal exposure, schools have attempted to eliminate every conceivable risk—no tire swings, no dodgeball, no monkey bars. Field trips require complex liability waivers. Teachers can’t be left alone with students. Every activity requires paperwork—documentation, permissions, waivers.

Administrators’ authority has been diminished by an increased reliance on police to handle disciplinary matters as well as by restrictive policies, often imposed by state legislatures, that create an illusion of safety but prevent schools from making sensible disciplinary decisions.

Schools’ reaction to parents’ and the public’s decreasing tolerance for risk (and the possibility of litigation) has cultural, legislative, and regulatory dimensions. Red tape and legal fear have soured the student-teacher relationship and, with the increasing number of safety protocols and removal of outside-the-classroom activities, have made our schools less welcoming and engaging. The loss of teacher and principal authority in disciplinary matters has made it more difficult to maintain supportive and orderly learning environments, and unnecessary suspensions and expulsions cost students irreplaceable learning time and may create snowballing disciplinary problems.

Our schools should be safe, but are the steps we take in response to threats at the extremes—everyday playground accidents on one end, school shootings at the other—doing more harm than good? Is it possible to address risk and legal fear in a more balanced, less red-tape-intense way? In this forum, we’re inviting experts to consider these questions. Specific discussion topics may include:

  •  What level of risk is reasonable in a school environment?
  •  Are lawsuits really prevalent enough to justify defensive measures taken by schools and teachers? Or is their perception of legal risk exaggerated?
  • Do zero-tolerance policies lead to counterproductive disciplinary action?
  • Should judges take a more active role in setting the boundaries of reasonable risk in schools?
  • When should waivers be required?
  • Do we need to encourage a cultural change against risk obsession?  If so, what role should principals, teachers, and parents play in this process?
]]> jessiemez 

Part of the problem is that the media latch onto stories of dangers real or perceived and play them over and over until everyone is terrified. They shamelessly lure viewers to stay tuned during commercial breaks with threats of heretofore unnoticed threats lurking everywhere. "Is your rear view mirror killing you? Stay tuned after the break and find out how." Not only does this spur lawmakers and the public to seek safety measures everywhere, partial responsibility for copycat crimes can be pinned on the media too.

It's a tough, gray area, though, and there's little we can do to curb corporate-owned news outlets from trying to raise ad dollars.

]]> Mack 

In Minersville School District v. Gobitis Felix Frankfurter spelled out the consequences of the Supreme Court becoming "the school board for the country." Three years after that decision the Supreme Court took on that very role trumping the judgment of state legislators all the way down to the judgment of local school boards and administrators. Is it any wonder teachers and principals have so little authority today. In order to restore the authority of the teaching profession you have to restrain the legal profession. And the legal profession which dominates Washington will never concede its power. We are essentially in a legally sanctioned civil war turning children against parents, parents against teachers, etc. The only profession that has thrived and profited from this civil war is...?

]]> Warren 

I am thankful for your voices of reason, and common sense.

LOL, Lenore knows I could go on for hours, from some of the comments on Free Range Kids, that I have made. There are some major roadblocks standing in the way of returning to the days of a child actually having a childhood.

1. Money, and lots of it. Safety, is big business, with a built in, proven marketing campaign. FEAR sells. GUILT sells. Scared people buy and those around them buy, lest something happens, and they didn't buy. The old "if something happened, I would never forgive myself".
2. I have no proof, but I wouldn't be surprised if the companies that benefit from new safety laws, policys and such, are financially supporting the groups that lobby for the changes.
3. It is much easier to implement safety protocols than it is to remove them.
4. And I do not include any on this panel part of the ugly media, but you have to contend with the ugly media, that also live by fear sells.

Like I said I can go on and on, but will leave it here. Thanks you for your efforts.

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