Thursday Reading List: Special Education Law, Protecting Immigrant Students, and School Lunches

Mark Walsh, writing at Education Week, explains how a recent Supreme Court ruling expands rights for special education students:

The decision comes in the case of a Colorado student named Endrew F. whose autism led to behavioral issues in school. After four years in the Douglas County schools, near Denver, the boy's parents believed his academic and functional progress as stalled. Endrew F.'s individualized education programs largely  carried over the same educational goals and objectives from one year to the next, Roberts observed, "indicating he was failing to make meaningful progress toward his aims." The parents pulled the boy from public school amid a dispute over his 5th grade IEP and enrolled him a private school specializing in autism, the Firefly Autism House ... Under established precedents, the family sought reimbursement from the Douglas County district for the private school tuition. They lost before a state administrative law judge, a federal district court, and the 10th Circuit.

The practice of public schools paying private schools to educate students with special needs is widespread. This transfer is possible, because students with disabilities, under federal law, have individual rights to a certain quality of education. No other class of Americans has an individual right to education at the federal level, nor do children who experience disadvantages of other sorts have the sort of legal recourse that special education students have. I'm 100% of supportive of special education students having this "right" ... I also wish that legal recourse were available to other vulnerable classes of children.

Rachel Cohen is in Vice, looking at how schools are protecting undocumented students:

In November, Pew Research Center reported that about 3.9 million kindergarten through 12th grade students in US public and private schools were children of undocumented immigrants, and 725,000 K–12 students were undocumented themselves. Even before President Trump took office, the feds were known to apprehend some of these students and their parents on their way to school. And now, under a White House that has already begun to dramatically reshape immigration policy, undocumented people and their advocates say the simple act of taking a kid to school has become a terrifying ordeal ... Schools have been proactive in hopes of alleviating the anxiety of immigrant children, emphasizing that they remain open to everyone. For example, Chicago Public Schools, the nation's third-largest school district, released a memo in December affirming that it would remain a "safe and welcoming" environment for all students and staff. And in February, CPS announced guidelines for principals should agents arrive on school grounds.

It seems inevitable that we'll see some sort of clash - in the near future - between immigration officials and educators. I've spoken with immigrant advocacy groups, and experts tend to agree that, at the very least, educators can be a bulwark against deportation. When educators testify on behalf of students in deportation hearings, their input can have a significant effect on judges' rulings. Some schools even have adopted affirmative policies that encourage educators to speak up in these situations.

In other news, Yesenia Robles, writing in Chalkbeat, looks at how municipal transportation patterns can work against the goal of providing families with schooling options:

For a number of reasons — including limited resources, logistical difficulties and the hardships of getting multiple agencies with different goals to agree on a plan — solving the transportation puzzle remains elusive in Denver and other cities. A research report last month from the nonprofit Urban Institute identified transportation barriers in five cities, including Denver, and called choice an “empty” promise for many families. While the Success Express has grown, it still only serves a limited part of the city. At the same time, school district and city officials are not on the same page with the region’s transportation agency about a separate proposal to increase transportation for another group of students by providing more public bus passes for high schoolers.

Most big school districts have some form of intra-district school choice for families ... in theory. In practice, however, options are limited by convenience and proximity. Robles looks at the specific complications involved in transportation, but other factors - like housing and employment patterns - play a role as well. At the risk of oversimplifying this issue, I believe that: A) parents, irrespective of their wealth, should have some options with respect to schooling, and B) no matter what other options exist, everyone should have unfettered access to a public school, near their home, that exceeds some baseline standard for quality.

Finally, Melinda D. Anderson, writing in The Atlantic, looks at research to see whether there's a connection between healthy school meals and academic achievement:

As detailed in a recent paper, economists set out to determine whether healthier school lunches affect student achievement as measured by test scores. The intense policy interest in improving the nutritional content of public-school meals—in addition to vendors’ efforts to market their school meals as good for the body and the mind—sparked the researchers’ curiosity and led to an unexpected discovery: Students at schools that contract with a healthier school-lunch vendor perform somewhat better on state tests—and this option appears highly cost-effective compared to policy interventions that typically are more expensive, like class-size reduction.

GIven this result, improving the overall quality of school lunches should become low-hanging-fruit for policy makers ... PUN INTENDED!

Whether or not healthy food has an impact on student achievement, we should feed children well. For some vulnerable children, school is the only place that provides significant nutrition. Anderson is right to highlight the financial tradeoffs. Relative to other expensive reforms, this change seems like a complete no-brainer. Have a great day!