There are official background checks, and then there are teenagers with Google.
Tyler Deaton cleared the first hurdle easily enough when he landed a job in February to teach at a Texas high school. A search of databases for the FBI and Texas Department of Public Safety raised no red flags.
But students at Lancaster High School near Dallas Googled the new, young pre-calculus teacher and found news stories from Kansas City with allegations that Deaton’s wife, Bethany, 27, was murdered as part of a coverup by a religious cult to hide a series of sexual assaults.
The group’s supposed spiritual leader? Tyler Deaton.
When word spread through the halls of Lancaster last week, district officials suspended Deaton — and the phones started ringing at the Jackson County sheriff’s office.
“We’ve heard from several parents from down there,” Sgt. Ronda Montgomery said Monday. “Everybody wants to know what’s going on.”
A very interesting development in the case of an Ohio school with a large portrait of Jesus in the halls. The school’s insurance company has voided its liability policy in the case, presumably because they know it’s a losing fight in the courts, and the school now says it will take the picture down.
The Jackson City School District agreed to remove the picture from its high school after a hearing in federal court in Columbus Tuesday.
There wasn’t a court order.
But Superintendent Phil Howard says it decided to have the picture taken down after its insurance coverage was denied for the legal battle.
Howard released this statement: “Our insurance company denied coverage and we can’t risk taxpayer money at this time. We are ordering the Hi-Y club to take down the portrait to avoid the court ordering us to do so.”
Two groups that sued to stop the display of a Jesus portrait in a school district’s middle school now want the portrait removed from the wall of a high school where it was moved last month.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio and the Madison, Wis.-based Freedom from Religion Foundation filed a federal lawsuit in February charging that the portrait, which was then displayed in the Jackson City Schools middle school, unconstitutionally promotes religion in a public school. They filed an amended complaint Monday, asking the court to also prohibit the portrait from display in the high school for the same reason.
School officials said last month that the portrait was moved at the preference of a Christian-based student club the southern Ohio district views as its owner. School officials said then that taking the portrait down would censor students’ private speech.
School district offices were closed Monday night, and school officials did not immediately return a message seeking comment. The 2,500-student district is in Jackson, a city of about 7,000 residents in mostly rural Appalachian Ohio.
The superintendent of the Jackson City Schools, Phil Howard, said last month that the portrait was moved at the request of the Hi-Y club, which put it up in 1947 in a building that is now the middle school.
The complaint about the portrait has left the district in the midst of an ongoing national debate over what displays of religion are
Angelica Gonzales marched through high school in Goth armor — black boots, chains and cargo pants — but undermined her pose of alienation with a place on the honor roll. She nicknamed herself after a metal band and vowed to become the first in her family to earn a college degree.
“I don’t want to work at Walmart” like her mother, she wrote to a school counselor.
Weekends and summers were devoted to a college-readiness program, where her best friends, Melissa O’Neal and Bianca Gonzalez, shared her drive to “get off the island” — escape the prospect of dead-end lives in luckless Galveston. Melissa, an eighth-grade valedictorian, seethed over her mother’s boyfriends and drinking, and Bianca’s bubbly innocence hid the trauma of her father’s death. They stuck together so much that a tutor called them the “triplets.”
Low-income strivers face uphill climbs, especially at Ball High School, where a third of the girls’ class failed to graduate on schedule. But by the time the triplets donned mortarboards in the class of 2008, their story seemed to validate the promise of education as the great equalizer.
Angelica, a daughter of a struggling Mexican immigrant, was headed to Emory University. Bianca enrolled in community college, and Melissa left for Texas State University, President Lyndon B. Johnson’s alma mater.
“It felt like we were taking off, from one life to another,” Melissa said. “It felt like, ‘Here we go!’ ”
Four years later, their story seems less like a tribute to upward mobility than a study of obstacles in an age of soaring economic inequality. Not one of them has a four-year degree. Only one is still studying full time, and two have crushing debts. Angelica, who left Emory owing more than $60,000, is a clerk in a Galveston furniture store.
For the first time since the nation’s governors agreed to use the same formula to calculate high school graduation rates, the U.S. Department of Education has published state-by-state figures that allow apples-to-apples comparisons of student achievement.
The data are for the 2010-11 academic year and show Iowa with the nation’s highest graduation rate of 88 percent. Nevada finished last among the states at 62 percent. (The U.S. average graduation rate has not yet been released because several states still have to be reported.)
As Education Week’s Politics K-12 blog points out, the new report shows considerably wide achievement gaps among minority and economically disadvantaged students when compared with their more affluent white peers. In Michigan, for example, the graduation rate for black students was 57 percent, compared with 80 percent for white students.
The new formula for calculating graduation rates is straightforward: States report the percentage of first-time ninth graders who earn a diploma within four years. Students who receive adjusted diplomas (typically an option for students with disabilities) or GEDs are not counted. The new graduation rate formula is the result of a nationwide initiative that dates back to 2005, when the governors of all 50 states signed a compact agreeing to adopt the new formula by this year. (The District of Columbia also agreed to participate.)
In another conservative experiment with tax dollars there are vouchers going to some highly questionable religious schools, and a lot of Catholic Schools. 8 years later it’s time for the Feds to stop bailing out religious schools and instead invest more in public schools.
When Congress created the nation’s only federally funded school voucher program, advocates said the plan would improve the education of some of the poorest urban youths.
Eight years later, it seems clear that things haven’t gone as planned.
A lengthy investigation of the Washington, D.C., voucher program by The Washington Post showed that many parents use the voucher money to send their children to schools that are unaccredited and unaccountable.
In addition, the program has become a type of bailout for Catholic schools. More than half of 1,584 students who receive vouchers use them to attend Catholic institutions.
Some of the schools examined, which include a K-12 school operating out of a storefront, a Nation of Islam school based in a converted house, and a school built on the teachings of an obscure Bulgarian psychotherapist, could not survive without federal funds, The Post said. In some cases, more than 90 percent of a school’s students pay with federal vouchers.
Congress allocated $20 million for the D.C. voucher program for this year, The Post reported, and since 2004 the federal government has set aside $133 million for the program. Students who meet the household income requirements can receive about $8,000 per year for elementary school and around $12,000 per year for high school.
And yet, the schools are not accountable to the taxpayers who are forced to fund them. No government official has say over the curriculum, academic quality or management of the schools.
In fact, the only requirements for D.C. schools that accept voucher students are that the institutions must have a certificate of occupancy and employ teachers who are college graduates. One requirement that is glaringly absent from that list is accreditation. D.C. private schools aren’t required to be accredited in order to enroll voucher students, and The Post found that at least eight of the 52 schools that accept vouchers lack accreditation.
For the first time in years, the children of Sderot can study in peace.
Living under a constant threat of rocket fire from militants in the nearby Gaza Strip, their schooldays were often interrupted by mad dashes to bomb shelters. But on Monday, they started the school year safe from attack in a new, fortified, rocket-proof school building.
The $27.5 million structure features concrete walls, reinforced windows and a unique architectural plan all designed specifically to absorb and deflect rocket fire. Notices on the walls of the “Shaar Hanegev” High School remind the 1,200 students of their new reality: In case of a warning siren, it reads, stay put.
“You can finally teach without constantly worrying about what to do when there is a rocket attack,” said Zohar Nir-Levi, the principal of the junior high school inside the complex. “You can concentrate on your studies. It used to be that even before you said hello in the morning you were telling people where to run.”
The Israeli military says some 440 rockets have been fired so far this year. In a fresh reminder, two rockets fell in the area on Monday, following a similar barrage a day earlier. No one was hurt.
Over the years, authorities have scrambled to protect the town’s schools, reinforcing buildings with concrete barricades and stronger roofs. A heavily fortified elementary school was also built, as was a special indoor playground with a mini-soccer field, video games and bomb shelters, according to local officials.
But officials say the new high school takes protection to a new level. The school, built on a sprawling campus, took two years to plan and then two more years to construct.
Each grade has its own color-coded building, with colorful tiles lining the floors. It features concrete shelters in the school yard as well, to allow students on recess to find cover in the 15-second window they have between the sound of the siren and the landing of the rocket. A science lab and an auto shop are fortified. Even the angles of the buildings are specially built to deflect incoming projectiles.
The judges split 7-3 on Monday in favor of the plaintiffs.
“Regardless of the purpose of school administrators in choosing the location, the sheer religiosity of the space created a likelihood that high school students and their younger siblings would perceive a link between church and state,” according to the 34-page lead opinion authored by Flaum. “That is, the activity conveyed a message of endorsement.”
High school graduations are ubiquitous in American life - a compulsory school event for all practical purposes - a factor that heabily increases the chances that non-Christian attendees would feel like outsiders to a favored religion, the court said.
“True, the district did not itself adorn the church with proselytizing materials, and a reasonable observer would be aware of this fact,” Flaum added. “But that same observer could reasonably conclude that the District would only choose such a proselytizing environment aimed at spreading religious faith … if the district approved of the church’s message.”
A church environment could also coerce students to accept Christianity, the judges found.
“The only way for graduation attendees to avoid the dynamic is to leave the ceremony,” Flaum wrote. “That is a choice … the establishment clause does not force students to make.”
In May, students at an Oklahoma public high school were given copies of a DVD comparing the Holocaust to abortion—with no warning of the content of the film—after a local family asked the school if copies of the DVD could be passed out to students.
Surprisingly, and perhaps unknowingly, the school agreed to pass out the film to students as long as the students got permission from their parents first. The film, entitled 180, begins with Holocaust and concentration camp imagery before making the comparison between Hitler, Nazi Germany and people who are pro-choice.
Superintendent Marte Thompson said that a student aide accidentally gave out copies of the movie before parents had been asked to give consent. Once school officials realized the nature of the DVD, all copies were confiscated and returned to the local family.
But one student’s stepfather said the students weren’t even informed about what kind of DVD they were receiving—the students came to their lockers to find notes telling them to pick up their free DVDs. And concerned parent Marty Angus says the students watched the movie in class.
“I thought it was graphic and a clear violation between church and state and it was just awful to be shown to a high school student,” Angus told a Fox affiliate.
The film was produced by the Christian ministry, Living Waters. When it was released in 2011, the Anti-Defamation League called the film “one of the most offensive and outrageous abuses of the memory of the Holocaust we have seen in years.”
Alyssa Dedrick was 15 when she began drinking and taking drugs. A year later, she found herself in her first treatment center. It wasn’t voluntary, and she missed hanging out with her friends, who were still experimenting with pot, OxyContin, Percocet and heroin. But her first treatment program didn’t work, because as soon as Dedrick went back to school, she went right back to her old ways. She received treatment four more times, with the same results.
Finally, she and her mother realized that the answer to her seemingly unstoppable problem was not the treatment she received, but where she went when it was over. After her fifth treatment program at the end of her junior year, Dedrick truly wanted to recover. This time, she and her mother decided, she wouldn’t go back to her old high school. Rather than facing the same temptations and triggers, surrounded by friends who weren’t committed to recovery, Dedrick started her senior year at Northshore Recovery High School. It was minutes away from her old high school in Massachusetts, but may as well have been on a different planet.
“I remember going in and thinking, ‘This is a place full of other kids just like me,’” said Dedrick, now 24 and a recent graduate of Clark University. Dedrick has been clean for five years now, and believes her life would be very different if she hadn’t finished high school at Northshore Recovery.
“There was a 50/50 chance of me either dying or getting better,” said Dedrick. “I think going to a recovery school really increased my odds, not only of recovery, but of survival in general.”