Who Is In Charge

Bill would limit detention of truants

A bill intended to reduce the use of juvenile detention for habitually truant students passed its first test in the House Education Committee Monday, but parts of the measure remain under construction.

Colorado CapitolAnd on a party line vote the committee killed a broadly worded “academic freedom” bill that was promoted by the Seattle-based Discovery Institute, which advocates for the intelligent-design theory of human evolution.

Also at the Capitol Monday, a bill to protect the confidentiality of teacher evaluations was introduced, and a mid-year budget boost for state colleges and universities passed the Senate.

Truancy bill slimmed down

House Education voted 8-5 to pass an amended version of House Bill 13-1021, which now goes to the House Appropriations Committee.

The original version of the bill would have required school boards to adopt truancy reduction policies and set detailed requirements for those policies and for district record keeping on truancy.

At the request of sponsor Rep. Rhonda Fields, D-Aurora, House Education stripped most of those requirements from the bill. Various school district lobbyists had concerns that the original bill was too much of a top-down state mandate and would cost money that school districts don’t have.

As amended, the bill focuses on truant students who end up in juvenile detention centers because they’ve disobeyed court orders to go to school.

The bill says court proceedings should be “a last-resort approach” and sets up several intervention requirements for districts to meet before they could go to court. The bill also would set a five-day limit for the amount of time a truant student could be held in juvenile detention for a single violation of a court order to return to school.

“We really want to limit the number of kids who are truant going into detention,” said witness Meg Williams, an official of the state Division of Criminal Justice who has worked with Fields on the bill.

Fields and witnesses said a little less than 500 students a year are detained for truancy violations, and that in at least one case a youth was held for more than 100 days.

“We understand it’s a tool for the court, but we want to put a limit on it,” said Regina Huerter of Denver’s crime prevention and control commission, who also testified in support of the bill.

The other part of the bill would specify what kind of education students would get while being held in detention. That’s the section that’s still under construction, and Fields is negotiating with interest groups to come up with language that’s agreeable.

“It’s a very complicated issue,” Fields told her fellow committee members, noting that she’s been working on the issue since last summer. (See this EdNews story about Fields’ initial concept for the bill.)

No go for “academic freedom” bill

The outcome never was in doubt, but House Education spent nearly 90 minutes politely taking testimony on House Bill 13-1089, which proposed to create “academic freedom” laws that would encourage and allow teachers and university professors to discuss alternative views about such scientific issues as evolution, climate change and human cloning – and to protect them from retaliation is they did so.

Critics of the bill saw it as a stalking horse to allow teaching of creationism and climate change denial in schools and colleges.

The bill was sponsored by freshman Rep. Steve Harvey, R-Severance, whose website describes him as “a Christian committed to the timeless and eternal principles that honor the God who created us equal and make for a good life and thriving communities.” Humphrey also is the sponsor of a bill that would ban all abortions.

Katie Navin, a representative of the Colorado Alliance for Environmental Education, opposed the bill and said it “could potentially weaken science education.”

Responding to her testimony, committee member Rep. Chris Holbert, R-Parker, referred to “what I believe to be the myth of climate change and global warming.”

Witness Scott Horak, who said he represented a group call Christian Outdoorsmen, supported the bill and said, “I just want to let you know that evolution is not a science and can’t be proven by a scientific process.”

Witness Joshua Youngkin, who identified himself as a lawyer with the Discovery Institute of Seattle, said the bill originated with his group, which supports the intelligent design theory of human origins.

The committee’s seven Democrats voted to kill the bill; all six Republicans supported it. Ranking minority member Rep. Carole Murray, R-Castle Rock, said she entered the committee room prepared to vote “no” but voted “yes” after hearing the testimony.

Bill would keep teacher evaluations confidential

Among new bills introduced in the last few days is House Bill 13-1220, which would require that educator evaluation information must remain confidential. The release of evaluation data has been controversial in other states, including California. The bill was developed from concerns raised by the state Quality Teachers Commission and is sponsored by freshman Rep. Joe Salazar, D-Thornton.

A bill introduced last Friday, House Bill 13-1211, would change the state’s program for providing language training to students with limited English proficiency so that funding would be provided for students for seven years, rather than the current two.

For the record

Other education-related bills advanced Monday at the Statehouse, including:

  • House Bill 13-1144 – The House gave 40-24 final approval to this measure, which would make permanent an additional sales tax on cigarettes and devote the $28 million in annual revenue to higher education.
  • Senate Bill 13-090 – The Senate voted 27-6 to approve this bill, which would give state colleges and universities a $9.3 million boost in their current budgets.

One bill that didn’t survive Monday was Senate Bill 13-055, a Republican-backed measure that would have changed the basis for calculating the actuarial soundness of the Public Employees’ Retirement Association. The bill would have had the effect of downgrading the soundness of the pension system, which covers all Colorado teachers and many other public employees. The Senate State Affairs Committee killed the bill.

meet the candidates

These candidates are running for Detroit school board. Watch them introduce themselves.

Nine candidates are vying for two seats on Detroit's school board in November. Seven submitted photos.

One candidate tells of a childhood in a house without heat.

Another describes the two-hour commute he made to high school every day to build a future that would one day enable him to give back to Detroit.

A third says her work as a student activist inspired her to run for school board as a recent high school grad.

These candidates are among nine people vying for two seats up for grabs on Detroit’s seven-member school board on Nov. 6. That includes one incumbent and many graduates of the district.

Chalkbeat is partnering with Citizen Detroit to present a school board candidate forum Thursday, Sept. 20 from 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., at IBEW Local 58, 1358 Abbott St., Detroit.

Participants will have the opportunity to meet each candidate and ask questions in a speed-dating format.

In anticipation of that event, Citizen Detroit invited each of the candidates to make a short video introducing themselves to voters. Seven candidates made videos.

Watch them here:

School safety

Report lists litany of failings over police in Chicago schools

PHOTO: Scott Olson/Getty Images
Police officers stand alongside Lake Shore Drive in August as protesters decry violence and lack of investment in African-American neighborhoods and schools

The Chicago Police Department doesn’t adequately screen and train the officers it assigns to Chicago Public Schools, and their roles in schools are poorly defined, according to a sharply critical report released today by the Office of Inspector General Joseph Ferguson.

The report lists a litany of failings, including basic administration: There is no current agreement between the police department and the district governing the deployment of school resource officers, or SROs, and neither the schools nor the police even have a current list of the officers working in schools this year.

The inspector general’s report also mentions several sets of SRO resources and best practices created and endorsed by the federal government, then notes that Chicago hasn’t adopted any of them. “CPD’s current lack of guidance and structure for SROs amplifies community concerns and underscores the high probability that students are unnecessarily becoming involved in the criminal justice system, despite the availability of alternate solutions,” says the report.

Chalkbeat reported in August about incidents in which SROs used batons and tasers on students while intervening in routine disciplinary matters.

Scrutiny of SROs is nothing new, and is part of the broader CPD consent decree brokered this week between Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan. That agreement calls for better training and vetting of SROs, as well as a clearer delineation of their roles on campuses—including a prohibition against participating in routine school discipline — beginning with the 2019-20 school year.

Read more: How the police consent decree could impact Chicago schools

But the report from Ferguson’s office says that the consent decree doesn’t go far enough. It chastises police for not pledging to include the community in the creation of its agreement with the school district, nor in the establishment of hiring guidelines; and for not creating a plan for evaluating SROs’ performance, among other recommendations. In addition, the report criticizes the police department for delaying the reforms until the 2019-20 school year. A draft of the inspector general’s report was given to the police department in early August in hopes that some of the issues could be resolved in time for the school year that began last week. The police department asked for an extension for its reply.