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Education and Schools

What Is "Appropriate" Prom Attire, Anyway?

With prom season in full swing, I have been reminiscing about my own prom. My school — for better or worse — allowed students to wear what they wanted and to bring who they wanted, as long as the date did not violate any statutory rape clauses. Everyone was able to dance and enjoy this one night, where the focus should be on having a great time with your peers that you have spent years with, bidding each other farewell with an epic dance party.

However, many girls across the country are not able to enjoy prom the way I once did and the way many adults before them have. Why? The dress codes for prom have become overwhelmingly stringent in the name of keeping girls from being promiscuous and “compromising their character.” Many schools force students, especially girls, to conform to “traditional,” stereotypical ideals of appropriate attire at their proms. At one school, a student was asked to leave the prom because school officials thought her dress was too revealing, even though the mother and daughter had worked hard to find a dress that fit all of the school’s dress code rules. Read more »

Closing the Literacy Gap Through Early Learning

As summer winds down this month, children across America are getting their backpacks, pencils, and books ready to go back to school. While a new school year means a new classroom, new teacher, and new lessons to learn for most children, some will be left behind, held back a year because they have difficulty reading. The New York Times reported Monday that more and more states are requiring schools to hold back third graders who do not read on grade level. Yet when children are forced to repeat a grade, it may already be too late—several studies have found that students who have to repeat a grade are more likely to drop out of high school. A more effective way to improve children’s literacy is by ensuring children have high-quality early learning opportunities that give them a strong start even before entering kindergarten.

Low-income children are particularly likely to lag in their reading skills. Children in economically disadvantaged families may lack opportunities to develop their language skills at home.  They tend to be read to less regularly, have fewer books in their homes, and hear fewer words in their early years.  In addition, they often are unable to participate in high-quality early learning programs, because such programs are too costly for their parents, unavailable in their neighborhoods, or inaccessible due to parents’ challenging work schedules, lack of transportation, or other barriers. Read more »

The Top 10 Questions to Ask About Your Title IX Rights on a College Visit

‘Tis the season for college visiting. As campuses across America are flooded with high school students this summer, there are some hard-hitting, crucial questions to keep in mind—and they may help to give you better perspective on where you could spend some of the most formative years of your life. Although it might not occur to many prospective students and their parents, one of those questions is how a school responds to reports of sexual harassment and assault. While it’s been in the news a lot lately, campus sexual assault isn’t just a hot topic or fodder for politicians and pundits, but rather a harsh reality for far too many. The more you know about how each school responds to it, the better.

And taking steps to prevent and respond to these acts isn’t just the right thing to do, it’s the law.  Title IX requires all federally funded schools to have policies and procedures in place to help educate the community about sexual harassment and assault and to promptly investigate reported incidents. Read more »

There’s No “Magic” Solution to Bullying and Harassment, But the Safe Schools Improvement Act is an Important Start

“My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic” is a cartoon show that has captured the imaginations of many, with a huge fan base of kids and adults alike. The lessons about kindness relayed in that show should be reinforced by the adults in children’s lives, particularly by those who teach children in our schools. Yet that is not always the case, as 9-year-old North Carolina student Grayson Bruce recently learned. When Grayson was bullied at school for wearing a “girlie” My Little Pony backpack, his school’s administrators told him the solution was simple: Stop bringing the backpack, which was “triggering” the bullying. In other words, he was to blame, not the kids who tormented him for being different from a stereotypical boy.

Grayson’s outraged mother launched a Facebook page in protest, and soon attracted over 700,000 fans. When school officials heard the outcry, they met with Grayson’s parents and reversed their decision. “Every situation with young children is a teachable moment and we will use this example in our efforts to address a wider issue of bullying. The Bruce family has committed to working with us to improve and enhance our anti-bullying programs,” administrators have since stated. Read more »

"Every data point represents a life:" New Data Shed Light on Educational Disparities

We are all familiar with the saying “knowledge is power,” and when it comes to ensuring equal access to educational opportunities, it couldn’t be more true. Far too many students are still not receiving the education they deserve, and data are critical to understanding the magnitude of educational inequity throughout the country.

Today, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) released new civil rights data, the first of its scope in nearly 15 years. The new 2011-12 Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC) compiles data from all 97,000 public schools and 16,500 school districts. This represents 49 million students across the country. And, for the first time ever, all state-, district-, and school-level data are searchable in an online database. These comprehensive data can empower parents, advocates, and local and state governments to assess their schools and help create informed policies that better support students.

Some of the new key data findings that relate to girls and other issues we focus on at NWLC include: Read more »

Absurdity: Corporal Punishment Edition

Earlier this week, Kansas State Representative Gail Finney introduced an appalling bill that would relax the limitations on spanking by parents, caregivers, and school officials across the state of Kansas.* This bill [PDF] would define corporal punishment as “up to 10 forceful applications in succession of a bare, open-hand palm against the clothed buttocks of a child,” and if you hit hard enough to leave redness or bruising – this law lets you know that’s okay.

For two years I taught in a rural school in Louisiana, so this hits really close to home. When I first showed up I knew that corporal punishment was legal – schools still have the authority to use physical discipline methods in 19 states – but I had no idea how frequently I would witness teachers and administrators physically discipline students. According to a study [PDF] conducted by the Louisiana Department of Education, 11,520 instances of corporal punishment occurred in 43 districts in a single school year (districts in Louisiana can choose if they allow corporal punishment on an individual basis, and for most the chosen form of punishment is paddling with a wooden board).

I’m not an expert on corporal punishment, but from my experience I can say that there are 4 major reasons corporal punishment is just an all-around bad idea… Read more »

Principal's Office or Police Station: New Guidance on School Discipline

With the proliferation of “zero tolerance” policies and the increased presence of law enforcement in schools, far too many students are suspended, expelled, or arrested for minor offenses and misbehavior. These policies are pushing students — mostly students of color and students with disabilities — out of school. Read more »

Pregnant or Parenting Student Moms, This is for You!

If you’re a student who is or may be pregnant, a student who is parenting, or a parent thinking about going back to school to further your education, here’s my holiday gift to you. I hope you can use it!

First off, know your rights as a student under Title IX, the federal civil rights law that prohibits sex discrimination in education. At stake is your life and well-being and that of your children, so don’t just take Professor So-and-So’s word for it if you are told you should drop out of the program, switch programs, skip a semester, or accept failure. Brandi Kostal at Logan University in St. Louis and Stephanie Stewart at one of the City University of New York’s many community colleges did not take it when their respective universities would not excuse their pregnancy-related absences nor allow them to make up work they missed. Instead, they sought help and made noise. NWLC filed complaints on behalf of both Brandi and Stephanie and secured settlements – one just last week – in which their colleges agreed to take important steps to prevent and address such discrimination, including adopting new policies regarding the treatment of pregnant and parenting students.

So sure, your professor gave you a syllabus at the beginning of the semester. And maybe it said that you can’t miss a certain number of classes without failing the course. But Title IX says that your school must excuse your absences due to pregnancy or related conditions, including childbirth and recovery, for as long as your doctor says it’s medically necessary. It’s important to know your rights! Read more »

Logan Adopts New Title IX Policy—Other Colleges, Take Note

In July, the National Women’s Law Center (and co-counsel B. Lane Hasler) filed a Title IX complaint against Logan College of Chiropractic University Programs in St. Louis for maintaining an attendance policy that treats pregnancy-related absences as unexcused and for discriminating against pregnant student Brandi Kostal. Today, we settled the case, with Logan agreeing to take important steps to ensure that this type of discrimination does not happen again.

Title IX protects against sex discrimination in education, and pregnancy discrimination is sex discrimination. The law guarantees that schools must give all students who might be, are, or have been pregnant the same access to school programs and extracurricular activities that other students have. This means that schools must excuse absences for as long as the student’s doctor says is necessary, and must let the student make up the work missed while out. These rules apply to all schools that receive federal funds—including colleges whose students get federal financial aid. In June, the Department of Education issued guidance on Title IX’s application to schools’ treatment of pregnant and parenting students, which reaffirmed that students who miss classes, clinic hours, or any other educational programs due to pregnancy and related conditions cannot be penalized and must be given the opportunity to make up work they miss. The law is clear, but many schools do not adopt policies or practices consistent with their obligations under Title IX. Read more »

Reclaim Public Ed

Organizations around the country are setting today aside to have a focused conversation about education. The National Day of Action to Reclaim the Promise of Public Education comes in response to recent school closings, reduced funding, and other cuts that are affecting public education across the United States.

For the National Women’s Law Center, bringing attention to the shortfalls of the education system is important because there’s a lot at stake for at-risk girls, women and families, and their communities. Here are some important reminders why it’s important to #ReclaimPublicEd.