School House Talk Empowering students.. let them speak

Special Education and the Debate on School Funding Considered

Well, right now we are witnessing the implosion of our education system in the United States as we lay off more and more teachers. We also see that teachers who have already retired are being paid huge amounts of money in their pension, and health care costs. We can no longer afford to do this, and if we tax properties in many states any more than we are now, we are just going to continually see less money coming in due to the near collapse of the real estate market, and all those old folks will become wards of the state where we will spend all our money.

This doesn’t bode well for families of special education children, who often require fewer kids in the classroom, and more supervision. They also require more assistance from school staff, and this all adds costs to teach each student. Meanwhile parents of normal kids are quite concerned because money is diverted into the special education program, and they don’t believe their kids are getting a fair shake. This may or may not be true depending on which side of the argument you stand, but this is the debate that’s going on today.

What Can Parents Do to Ensure a Positive School Experience For Their Children?

bBeing a good parent is a HUGE responsibility. There are so many tasks involved with child rearing and parenting that there’s really no way to be completely prepared. Late nights, diapers, reading “Goodnight Moon” and “Green Eggs & Ham” thousands of times, buying bigger shoes every few months, the list never ends. Parents want their children to grow up to be good, successful adults but it can be difficult to know what to do or how.

Children depend on their parents for everything. It is up to parents, then, to give their children the very best they can: healthy food, clean clothes, good moral lessons and the best education. Good parents work hard to make sure their children are polite, that they know how to tie their shoes and dress themselves. Parents read to their children, helping them learn their letters and numbers and to speak well. All this effort is in preparation for the Big Day when their child will head out into the world and go to school.

The first day of school is a milestone in a child’s (and a parent’s) life. New clothes, a new backpack filled with fresh paper and pencils. That first day is exciting for the whole family. Will the child be happy? Will they make good friends? Will they like their teacher? So many questions, so many unknowns. The truth is, most parents feel they have little or no control over their child’s school experience. They stand at the curb, waving to their child, fervently praying everything will go well.

So, what can parents do to ensure a positive school experience?

Actually, there is a lot they can do. Knowledge is power. The Internet provides a medium in which parents can research all of their school options. There are websites that offer parents access to the various schools in their area and to compare notes with other parents about the focus, philosophy, programs, achievements and challenges faced by each school.

As every parent knows, each child is different. What works for one may not work for another. There is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to education. Some children need to be nurtured while others need to be challenged. Some children thrive under military school discipline while others would wither and fail. Parents need to ask themselves if their child would do better in a large school or a small school. Does the child have special interests or needs? Only with the answers to questions like these can parents select the best school for their child.

School review sites provide parents with a forum where they can learn about each school’s philosophy of education and any special programs they might offer. School profiles gives parents access to the information needed to make the best choice. How is literacy developed at each school? What physical education and extracurricular activities are offered? Are the school’s teams well organized and successful or are they neglected and under-funded? What clubs are available? What forms of technology being used and taught at each school? Does the school have a traditional approach to teaching or do they use an alternative approach? How does each school promote the fine arts? Do they have a drama club or student chorus? What about transportation and bus service?

School profiles can also be used to view student diversity, school calendars, teacher-student ratios, faculty, student performance data, class sizes, before and after school programs, teacher development programs, academic resources, availability of tutoring programs, administrative leadership, enrollment procedures and fees, class placement and parental involvement opportunities.

Schools can be searched by a variety of criteria including location, type of school and parent ratings. School profiles should include the school’s address and phone number, communities served, homepage information and parent reviews. The best sites offer viewers an opportunity to post their own personal reviews. Each addition to this kind of knowledge base provides parents with the information they need to make an informed decision about where their child will succeed academically.

What is a public School Forums?

national-youth-leadership-forum-on-medicineA public forum is a place that has, by tradition or practice, been held out for general use by the public for speech-related purposes.

To determine which of the standards of student expression applies in a given case, many courts first conduct a “public forum analysis.” The public forum analysis determines whether individuals may have access to places for communicative purposes.1

There are three types of public forums:

I. A “traditional”, or “open, public forum” is a place with a long tradition of freedom of expression, such as a public park or a street corner. The government can normally impose only content-neutral time, place, and manner restrictions on speech in a public forum. Restrictions on speech in a public forum that are based on content will be struck down, unless the government can show the restriction is necessary to further a compelling governmental interest.

II. A “limited public forum” or “designated public forum” is a place with a more limited history of expressive activity, usually only for certain groups or topics. Examples of a limited public forum would include a university meeting hall or a city-owned theater. The government can limit access to certain types of speakers in a limited public forum, or limit the use of such facilities for certain subjects. Despite these more proscriptive guidelines, however, a governmental institution may still not restrict expression at a limited forum unless that restriction serves a “compelling interest.”

III. A “closed public forum” is a place that, traditionally, has not been open to public expression, such as a jail or a military base. Governmental restrictions on access to a nonpublic forum will be upheld as long as they are reasonable and not based on a desire to suppress a particular viewpoint. This standard is far more deferential to government officials.

With regard to public schools, the Supreme Court elaborated on the public forum doctrine in cases involving the use of teacher mailboxes, Perry Education Association v. Perry Local Educators’ Association,2 and student newspapers, Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier.3

In Perry, the Court determined that in-school teacher mailboxes were not public forums, and that the school district could allow the official teacher union sole access to the mailboxes, even if it meant excluding a rival teacher union. “Implicit in the concept of the nonpublic forum is the right to make distinctions in access on the basis of subject matter and speaker identity,” the Court wrote.4

The Court went on to say that the deferential access provided to the official teachers’ union was a reasonable way to “prevent the District’s schools from becoming a battlefield for inter-union squabbles.”5

In Hazelwood, the Supreme Court determined that a high school newspaper produced as part of a journalism class was not a public forum. Citing Perry, the Court wrote: “Hence, school facilities may be deemed to be public forums only if school authorities have ‘by policy or practice’ opened those facilities for ‘indiscriminate use by the general public,’ or by some segment of the public, such as student organizations.”6 The majority in Hazelwood also reasoned that because the production of the newspaper was “part of the educational curriculum and a regular classroom activity,” it was a nonpublic forum.

Since the Hazelwood decision, many courts have continued to defer to the judgment of school officials. As a result, many forms of censorship that had previously been unacceptable under the Tinker standard of expression have been upheld.