I am one member of a five person board. The opinions I express on this forum are mine only, and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of the Escambia County Staff, Administrators, Employees, or anyone else associated with Escambia County Florida. I am interested in establishing this blog as a means of additional transparency to the public, outreach to the community, and information dissemination to all who choose to look. Feedback is welcome, but because public participation is equally encouraged, appropriate language and decorum is mandatory.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Give Food to a Hungry Kid, Get Fired!

This was an interesting story from Idaho.  Obviously, there must be more to the story.  I think the employee would have had more of a leg to stand on if she would have offered to pay the $1.70 before she was caught giving away the food.  But I also know it is heartbreaking when students don't have food to eat or money to pay for the food.

From USA Today:

"Bowden says she offered to pay for the $1.70 lunch, but her supervisor wouldn't accept her money. "I know I screwed up, but what are you supposed to do when the kid tells you that they're hungry and they don't have any money?" says Bowden, acknowledging she was once warned about giving a student a free cookie. 'This is just breaking my heart."Now NBC News reports the school district on Wednesday night issued a press release saying that "in  the spirit of the holidays," it has extended "an opportunity for (Bowden) to return to employment'...A petition pressing the district to rehire Bowden had some 78,000 supporters as of Thursday morning." 

Monday, December 14, 2015

Probationary Employee compared with a Regular, Full-Time Permanent Employee

What is a probationary employee?  That’s the question we’re being asked to vote upon this month via our requested approval of an MOU between the district and one certain employee.

As I understand the situation, this employee was terminated during the probationary portion of an initial appointment in a new support position within the district.  When the department supervisor asked to speak with this employee, union representation was requested by this individual.  The supervisor ended the meeting and agreed that the employee could bring someone from the union to the continuation of the meeting with the supervisor.   After a period of time elapsed, the supervisor attempted to re-engage  the discussion with the employee, yet the union rep had not been summoned or had not shown up.

Because the employee was on probationary status, because there appeared to be no real significant effort to bring a union rep to the resumed meeting in a reasonable period of time--- this employee was subsequently terminated by this supervisor.   This is allowed because a probationary employee can be terminated any time with or without cause.  This is a universally accepted, widely understood fact of known truth,  Period.

Three and a half weeks later, this same person was able to be hired in another department of the school district, and during this time this person filed a series of grievances over the action that led to her termination from the initial job.  At the first two levels of grievance meetings, the district’s position with respect to the termination was upheld.  

End of story, right?
No, not quite. 

For reasons I do not understand, our attorney “negotiated” a settlement with the union and their attorneys, after we had won two levels of grievance  hearings.   This settlement  includes a payment

Monday, December 7, 2015

What is FERPA Part III: What about Hearsay Information that is Learned Apart from Student Records?

The majority of the school community at Anywhere USA High School knows that Bluto got suspended for drinking whiskey at a Friday Night Football Game.  Is FERPA applicable if Bluto's suspension is discussed by persons who have no access to his records but know about his suspension?

Imagine if there was a student named Bluto at "Anywhere USA High School," and it was widely known that "Bluto" loved to party.  One night, at a High School football game, many students, faculty, staff, parents, and school board members witness Bluto drinking whisky in the stands.  When  he is confronted by SROs- what if Bluto makes a big scene, starts running around the field intoxicated, and eventually slam-dunks his whiskey bottle into a Tuba as the marching band is performing on the field?  Soon, via social media and even news reports and video of the incident being widely disseminated, lots of people find out that Bluto is in trouble.  An investigation is launched by the school, and obviously Bluto will be getting in serious trouble--and EVERYONE is going to know why.   So, if someone from the school discusses what they observed or heard about happening at the Friday Night Football game, even if it mirrors exactly what will eventually appear on Bluto's official discipline record, does FERPA apply?

This is the million dollar question, right?  Here is my take....*

After reading this case, about a student newspaper prank in 1978, it appears pretty clear to the most casual observer that hearsay and information that is known about a student that is not gleaned from his/her official records is not information that is protected under FERPA.

In Frasca v. Andrews, A New York school district attempted to prevent the distribution of a student newspaper that they deemed offensive. The students who produced the student newspaper, "The Chieftan" and their parents sued to allow the publication and distribution of the paper. While the district did eventually prevail and the newspaper was never widely circulated, one of the school district's arguments that the court tossed aside was a that the distribution of the paper would lead to a violation of FERPA --due to the disclosure of student discipline data in one of the articles.  In turning that argument aside in this case, the court explained that  "the prohibitions of the [FERPA] cannot be deemed to extend to information which is derived from a source independent of school records. Even though a school suspension is listed in protected records, as in the present case, the suspension would also be known by members of the school community through conversation and personal contact. Congress could not have constitutionally prohibited comment on, or discussion of, facts about a student which were learned independently of his school records."(Frasca v. Andrews, 463 F. Supp. 1043 - Dist. Court, ED New York 1979)

So, bringing this back to our story about "Bluto" and his whiskey drinking escapades at a Friday Night football game---if everyone knows, to include School Board Members, that Bluto was suspended from school because they saw or heard or were told unofficially about his suspension from Anywhere USA High School on social media---disclosure of this would not be a violation of FERPA.

And the organization that monitors compliance with FERPA for the OCR, the Family Privacy Compliance Office, (FPCO) has at least on two occasions issued opinion letters on this very issue of hearsay information, and both times they have affirmed the Frasca v. Andrews opinion:  Information learned outside of official records, even if it is sensitive and mirrors what is in a student's disciplinary file, is not covered under FERPA.  You can read these letters  for yourself  here and here.

*The content of this post is my opinion and my opinion only-- based upon a fictional account of an incident that happened nowhere ever combined with what I have read and learned about FERPA over the last two months of intensive research.   I am not an attorney, I did not play one on TV,  and I did not sleep at a Holiday Inn Express last night either—but I can read and I do have an opinion on this subject.  But this is one man’s opinion only.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

What is FERPA? Part II--"The Locker Room Attack"

The "Daily Muckraker" Newspaper  and other various groups want their readers and the community of Anywhere USA to believe everything they say and write, not unlike how the monks are expected to behave  in this Gahan Wilson Cartoon.

FERPA is simple, yet complex.  It has rules that must be followed in order to assure student records are kept confidential.  But as I pointed out in part I, not everything that is known about a student is protected under FERPA.*

So let's look at a fictitious, hypothetical scenario.  I'll call it the "Locker Room Attack at Anywhere USA High School."

Remember, the account below is a fictional story.

Imagine if a basketball team from Anywhere USA High School is in the locker room after losing an important Friday Night game.  Imagine if two of the players from the team lure a team assistant named "Jorge Zapata" (who has a physical disability) out of the locker room and assault him, knocking him unconscious viciously while simultaneously calling him disgusting racial slurs,  like this. [NOTE: This linked video from a recent actual attack near Detroit, MI is violent, disturbing, contains reprehensible images and language,  and is difficult to watch--viewer discretion is STRONGLY ADVISED-victim in this video, according to news reports, retrieved his phone, was not seriously injured, and the perpetrators were caught....]

Imagine if the attackers steal the victim's cell phone and film the incident with the victim's own camera phone while "Jorge" is unconscious.  Imagine if these assailants place this violent video on a social media platform that many of the students in Anywhere USA High School could subsequently see?

Imagine if "Jorge" wakes up, is able to find his phone, and is not too badly injured, and decides not to report the attack because he is humiliated, and instead he just internalizes the matter, and he keeps the incident to himself.  After all, he knows his attackers, and he hears that they are already lining up their stories to say that the whole incident was nothing more than slap-boxing, and the incident is actually going to be blamed on Jorge.  Everyone starts to repeat the story that Jorge started the whole thing by "slap boxing" the players and starting trouble.  If anything comes of the incident, the attackers will say Jorge is simpy "Lying on them!"

The following Monday though, the students at the school are buzzing over the incident; many have seen the video. [NOTE: This linked video from a recent actual attack near Detroit, MI is violent, disturbing, contains reprehensible images and language,  and is difficult to watch--viewer discretion is STRONGLY ADVISED-victim in this video, according to news reports, retrieved his phone, was not seriously injured, and the perpetrators were caught...]

An investigation by the school is launched.  Students are questioned, and law enforcement is brought in.

Meanwhile, within the next week to ten day period, a duly elected school board member for the Anywhere USA School District hears from three  (3) separate parents and three  (3) separate students about the violent assault, and he also hears about but does not see the video [NOTE: This linked video from a recent actual attack near Detroit, MI is violent, disturbing, contains reprehensible images and language,  and is difficult to watch--viewer discretion is STRONGLY ADVISED]taken of the incident from these constituents.  This particular school board member's district includes Anywhere USA High School, and this board member is very engaged with this school, as he has many relatives that attend here.  Furthermore, this school board member has been vocal about his concerns about violence, bullying, and harassment occurring in local schools like Anywhere H.S. USA.    Shocked at what he has heard,  this particular school board member immediately calls the superintendent of the Anywhere USA school district with what he has now heard from several sources close to the incident.

He is told by the superintendent that the situation is known to the district, and that an official investigation is already underway.   "We've got this" the superintendent tells the board member.

Friday, December 4, 2015

What is FERPA? Part I

FERPA is a law that has been discussed a lot recently in and around the Escambia County School District. It has been tossed around a lot lately.  Some people do not understand this law, what it means, and what it does and does not do.  Some people throw out opinions that are incorrect, and expect us all to just swallow these flawed opinions as if they are somehow sacrosanct.

But I don't agree, and I won't be like a monk from a Gahan Wilson cartoon.

Because of all of this, I’ve done a bit of research myself recently, read about 50 FERPA related cases, large portions of two books, and lots of scholarly articles on this subject.  I’ve also spoken to a total of five lawyers (four of whom I agree with) on this subject and I’m going to be posting some of what I have learned about this law on this site in a multi-part series over the next few days.  I’m also going to be talking about FERPA at our next school board workshop.

FERPA was a law that did not go through the traditional rulemaking process in congress; it was an amendment offered on the floor from Senator James Buckley in December of 1974.  The rationale for the law was to address the need to curtail the widespread practice at that time of publicly funded schools’ disseminating student records and other information to unaffiliated persons outside of the schools. 

Additionally, the law was needed to compel schools to allow parents to view educational records, and to challenge the accuracy of such records.  The law also allowed for penalties to be assessed against publicly funded entities that failed to comply with the law, and this “Buckley Amendment” also outlined a mechanism for the filing of complaints against entities that violated the law.  The Connecticut Parent Advocacy Center has a well-written one-page primer on FERPA, here.

So how does this law apply to individual school board members?

I guess that depends upon whom one asks.  So I’ve asked a lot of people. 

Here is my opinion based upon my research*

I started by contacting the Family Policy Compliance Office(FPCO)—the office in the Department of Education, Office of Civil Rights, that receives, reviews, and investigates alleged complaints related to FERPA.

Their website lists many opinion letters that they have published—I've read a lot of them--although it is not a complete list.  For some specific opinion letters one might need, third party entities must be contacted in order to easily retrieve such opinions.

I’ve requested and received several of these opinions, and they have made for interesting, enlightening reading.

The initial and largest take away I have about FERPA, after thoroughly looking into this law from many different angles,  is that enforcement provisions concentrate on correcting behaviors rather than harshly penalizing institutions for single event infractions.   FERPA a law that is considered by some scholars as “essentially toothless.”  This is because hundreds of complaints have been filed against

Congressional Approval of the NCLB Re-Authorization: Taking the Bitter with the Sweet.....

The House of Representatives passed the latest iteration of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act on Thursday, via a 359-64 vote.  Interestingly, every "no" vote came from Republicans.

From Breitbart:

"One of the Republicans who voted against the ESSA, [Tim Huleskamp] said “the new, longer replacement for No Child Left Behind…continues the massive federal overreach into America’s classrooms and homes, denying kids and their parents, teachers, schools, and states control over their own schools.”“The legislation does not repeal all too many of the onerous regulations, mandates, and days of testing that America’s moms, dads and teachers detest,” he continued. “After fourteen years of NCLB, and billions of dollars in new spending, there has been no detectable improvement to education in America"
I have huge issues with the way the Federal Government intrudes in local school district decision-making, so I'm ambivalent about this bill's passage.

Because Liberal groups are leading the cheers for this bill, and because President Obama has signaled his intention to sign the bill once it clears the Senate next week--I am very leery.

The compromise bill is 1,061 pages long, so how many congressmen really read it?

I'm glad the Common Core issue is addressed and put to bed with this law's passage--this is a good thing.

But I also worry that this law doubles down on huge expenditures on early educational programs that do not produce results that last.

I worry because this law still keeps Washington DC bureaucrats and the DOE too heavily involved in local schools.

All in all, there is just a sense of blah as I read about this law, now renamed Every Student Succeeds Act.  Some bitter, some sweet, but mostly blah...

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

FCSBM offers Free Ethics Training for School Board Members

To be fiscally prudent with precious taxpayer dollars, I co-founded and serve as President of an organization that serves school board members statewide--the Florida Coalition of School Board Members.

Soon we will be launching our nationwide platform, The American Coalition of School Board Members, so that we can assist board members nation-wide while saving them taxpayer dollars simultaneously.

With today's technologies and readily accessible open-sourced resources on the internet, we believe strongly that prudent, fiscally conservative school board members should leverage such technology to augment their professional training and development as one way to save taxpayer dollars.

A great example of such wise stewardship is this:

Every year Florida School Board Members must take a required ethics course.  We at FCSBM have put together a FREE Ethics Taining Course utilizing readily available materials, already produced at taxpayer expense.  We recently received an opinion from the state Ethics Commission that validates our training program as one that meets the state requirement.

So we have amalgamated the program and we invite any school board member in the state to take this training for FREE!  If every Florida school board member took advantage of this opportunity, state taxpayers would save $58,000.00 dollars.


Because other organizations charge their members $155 dollars to take this training online, on top of and in addition to the $3,000-$4,000 in yearly membership charges these same organizations hit the