Go to School, Lose Your Rights?

How far can public schools go in trying to enforce their anti-drug (or anti-weapon) policy?  That question is coming before the Supreme Court on April 21.  That particular case involves a 13-year-old girl who was strip-searched at her Arizona public middle school because she was suspected of having prescription strength ibuprofen.  Savana Redding was stripped down to her underwear and humiliated after another girl at the school was found with the drugs and named the girl as the source.  No drugs were found on her person or in her things.  The incident occurred six years ago.  Since then, the case has made it to the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which subsequently ruled that the search violated the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition on unreasonable search and seizures.  The school district appeals, claiming that the search wasn’t unreasonable because of the girl’s age and “the nature of her suspected infraction”.  Certiorari was granted on January 16, 2009.  Redding is currently being represented by the American Civil Liberties Union.

How can a strip search of a 13 year old girl suspected of having ibuprofen be considered reasonable?  Especially when the only evidence the school had to suspect the girl of having the drugs was the word of another student who was herself in trouble.  She was essentially punished before she even had a chance to explain herself.  The last case the Supreme Court has ruled on about individual searches of students was in 1985, when it ruled that warrantless searches of students’ purses was permitted so long as the search was reasonable.    Searching purses is vastly different from strip-searching- while purses and their contents may have private and personal items to the owner, the student in question is not having their person inspected and the added element of humiliation isn’t so severe.   According to Redding’s affidavit, the search was “the most humiliating experience I have ever had”.  There is no reason why a middle school girl should have been humiliated on the accusations of others.

Not only was this girl embarrassed for no reason, her parents were not even informed of the events that transpired until AFTER the search.  Being upset, her mother spoke with the assistant principal, who apparently didn’t think the search was a big deal since no drugs turned up.  Why weren’t her parents informed of this incredibly invasive procedure before it happened?  At the very least, searches of this kind to minors should be done with a parent or guardian present.  Special protections should, and do, exist for minors.  Even if the Supreme Court rules that searches of this nature are permissible for students suspected (however far-fetched the suspicion may be) of carrying drugs or weapons on their person, a parent needs to know what is happening to his or her child.  Regardless, this case seems to be a violation of the Fourth Amendment, and hopefully the Supreme Court will rule as such.

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Published in: on March 25, 2009 at 3:21 pm Comments Off on Go to School, Lose Your Rights?

The New G.I. Bill

I have spent years being more than a little frustrated with the costs of higher education.  Never once, though, did I take a few moments to consider the plight of those with a more challenging situation than my own.  Since the new G.I. Bill has passed, I have decided to take a look at what it means for veterans today, and how their quests for higher education make my own pale in comparison.

The new G.I. Bill comes into effect August 1, 2009.  Its expansion of benefits (both in terms of who is eligible and in the amount of money available to veterans) should significantly help veterans seeking degrees or vocational training.  It applies to veterans serving after September 11, 2001, with at least 90 days of continuous active service or 30 days and a discharge with a service-connected disability.  Depending on length of service, the bill covers 40-100% of tuition at public universities.  Also available are a housing subsidy and funds to cover expenses like textbooks and supplies.  With longer durations of service, the benefits can be transferred to a spouse or child.

While these benefits are helping veterans pay for school, getting admitted and succeeding there is another question.  Because many veterans are coming back to the admission process with less than stellar high school grades and old SAT scores, schools are adjusting their thinking.  In some cases, it is a conscious decision on the part of admissions offices to take into account the leadership skills and experience that comes with military service.  For other admissions officers, it is a direct connection the applicant has made.  One veteran, profiled in a New York Times article, was afraid that waiting through another admission cycle would push him off track.  He made an appointment with an admissions officer, using his experiences in Iraq to make a connection and get help with the process of getting into a classroom.  Some veterans are finding it difficult to break into private schools (where the G.I. Bill will subsidize the tuition up to the cost of a local public university) where there is a traditionally lower population of veterans.

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Published in: on November 4, 2008 at 8:23 am Comments Off on The New G.I. Bill

Success, School, and Cash

Success is not an objective term. To some people, the mark of success is money, but to others success is not defined by material things.  Many cities have come up with programs in which students are given cash for their academic successes. These incentive programs have been praised for encouraging students to do well in school, and criticized for misplacing the value of education.

Capital Gains is a new program in Washington D.C., which provides cash incentives to students who do well in school (D.C. Tries Cash as a Motivator In School).  When the program begins in October, students will receive $2 for every point they earn through the program.  They will be able to for earn up to $100 per monthgood grades, attending class, and turning in assignments.  SunTrust Bank will establish savings accounts for the students and provide them with money management training (Capital Gains Program Promises Cash for DC Students).

The D.C. Capital Gains Program is funded by the D.C. school system and Harvard’s American Inequity Lab.  It will be run by economist, Roland Fryer Jr. D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty supports the program because he believes giving money directly to the students is a positive alternative to spending a lot of money on the school system itself, as the city has previously done. It is too early to tell whether the D.C. initiative will be a success, but a Texas program similar to the one being implemented in D.C was analyzed, and the results were positive.  The number of students in the Texas program with high SAT scores increased 30% and the percentage of children attending college increased 8%.

The D.C. School Chancellor defended the Capital Gains Program by stating that there are a lot of incentives for D.C. kids to do the wrong thing, and they need incentives to do the right thing to balance that out.  Critics of the program say that it sends students the wrong message by rewarding achievement with money.  The statistics for D.C. school children do support the Chancellor’s and Mayor Fenty’s view that something has got to change in D.C. public schools. Only 8% of middle school students are proficient in math and 12% are proficient in English.

Many other cities are beginning programs in which students get paid for making good grades.  The city of Baltimore plans to give up to $110 per high school student to improve their scores on state exams.  In New York City, students could earn up to $500 for improving scores on English and math tests. In Atlanta, a similar program will pay students $8 an hour for attending a fifteen week after school study program. Virginia joined the Exxon/Mobile funded program which pays students $100 for each AP exam they pass.

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Published in: on October 23, 2008 at 3:04 pm Comments Off on Success, School, and Cash