# Schools

Five reasons to vote in today's school board elections

School board elections are being held across Iowa today. Here’s why you should get out and vote.

1. Everyone should support strong educational standards in our schools and competent management of the school district’s affairs, whether or not you have kids in school or will have in the future.

2. Your vote is more likely to make a difference in a low-turnout school board election. Many of these races will be decided by a handful of votes.

You should vote even if your school board election is a snoozer, with only as many registered candidates as seats available. Extremely low turnout creates opportunities for fringe candidates to win seats on write-in campaigns.

3. Your property tax dollars are being spent in the local schools, whether or not you have kids. Homes in a good school district are often worth more than comparable homes in an area with lower-performing schools.

4. School board members vote on some issues that affect the broader economy and quality of life. For instance, property values in established neighborhoods and the ability of many kids to walk to school were harmed when school boards closed Roosevelt Elementary in Ames a few years ago and voted this year to close Roosevelt Elementary in Iowa City.

Iowa school boards will be less constrained in making decisions on school closures going forward. This summer, the Iowa Supreme Court invalidated the Barker rules on school closure procedures that the State Board of Education adopted more than 30 years ago. That ruling simultaneously rejected the lawsuit of parents challenging the Des Moines school board’s decision a few years ago to close several schools. Click here for the Iowa Supreme Court ruling (pdf file).

5. Iowans will have almost no legal recourse against future decisions by school boards, thanks to a law the Iowa legislature adopted during the 2009 session. House File 233 was a below-the-radar bill that unanimously passed both the House and Senate. It changed the rules so that citizens have only ten days (as opposed to the 12 months previously allowed) to file a lawsuit challenging a school board’s decision on disposition of property.

For all practical purposes, it is impossible to find plaintiffs, hire legal counsel, draft arguments and file a complaint in ten days. It’s disappointing that a bill limiting legal checks on a school board’s actions passed with so little public debate. Despite following the news during the legislative session closely, I would never have heard about this bill if not for a panel discussion at the 1000 Friends of Iowa annual meeting in July.

House File 233 makes it all the more important for citizens to choose their school board members wisely. Abuses of power can happen, and there’s no guarantee school boards will always comply with the law. For instance, Spirit Lake school board members “met illegally twice in 2007 and 2008” and were fined by a judge this year. Amazingly, no challengers filed to run against two of the incumbents involved.

If you’re reading this post at work, it should only take you a few minutes to vote on the way home today. Or, if you’re reading this at home, zip out to vote before or after dinner.

Your local newspaper probably has published short bios of the candidates. For those in central Iowa, these nine candidates are seeking four spots on the Des Moines school board, and here’s a list of candidates in other Des Moines-area districts. John Deeth has been covering the Iowa City school board campaign at his blog.

Sometimes it can be hard to figure out what the candidates stand for based on news reports or vague campaign mailings. If you aren’t sure how to vote, ask a friend who has attended a candidate forum or has been following the school board campaign closely. (Teachers and retired teachers can be good sources of information.) Many of my well-informed friends speak highly of Des Moines school board candidate Margaret Buckton, for instance.

Please post any comments about education or school board elections in this thread.

Heads should roll in the Atlantic school district


School officials in Atlantic forced five teenage girls to take off their clothing for a search after a classmate reported $100 missing from her purse, according to the girls’ families and two lawyers.

The classmate and a female counselor stood watch in the girls’ locker room at Atlantic High School as the five girls removed their clothing, lifted up their underwear, and in one case took off all her clothing, according to lawyers Ed Noethe of Council Bluffs and Matt Hudson of Harlan.

Strip-searching is illegal in Iowa schools.

Dan Crozier, the interim superintendent of the Atlantic school district, said the search took place Aug. 21, the third day of school, during a gym class in the last period of the day.

Crozier said faculty members denied it was a strip-search. “According to our board policy, it was an allowable search,” he said.

Two predictions:

This matter will be settled out of court if the Atlantic school district has minimally competent legal advisers.

This interim position won’t lead to a permanent job for Crozier. Telling a group of girls to take off their clothes is an allowable search now? The Register quoted from the district’s search policies:

“A more intrusive search, short of a strip-search, of the student’s person, handbags, book bags, etc. is permissible in emergency situations when the health and safety of students, employees or visitors are threatened.”

I don’t think strip searches should be permitted in high schools at all, but I understand why it might happen if a student claimed to have seen a classmate carrying a gun, bomb or knife. For these girls to be humiliated over $100 allegedly stolen is outrageous.

Earlier this year the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that strip-searching an Arizona middle school student suspected of bringing ibuprofen to school was unconstitutional.

UPDATE: Pam Spaulding discusses this case at Pandagon. An administrator has reportedly been placed on leave because of this incident.

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Legislators not sold on new junk food rules for schools

In April the Iowa State Board of Education approved new nutrition standards:

A special task force drew up the standards, which set limits on calories, fat content, sugar and other nutritional measures. Carbonated beverages are banned. Caffeinated beverages and sports drinks are banned in elementary schools.

But the rules do not apply to food provided by school lunch or breakfast programs, items sold at concession stands or certain fundraisers or items provided by parents, teachers or others for class events.

Although I would have preferred tougher guidelines, these rules were a step in the right direction. To be more precise, they would have been a step in the right direction. After protests from some school officials, the State Board of Eduation “delayed most of the standards from going into effect until the 2010-11 school year.”

By that time, the regulations may have been relaxed, judging from what happened last week in the state legislature’s Administrative Rules Review Committee (unofficial motto: “Where good rules go to die”). The rest of the story is after the jump.

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AP Tests

To the Register Editorial Staff:

Monday's editorial failed to mention one critical weakness of the Advanced Placement system. Although AP tests can garner undergraduate credits, they become an issue when applying to graduate schools. When you read the fine print, most graduate schools require “graded credit” in certain courses. This means that if any prerequisite courses are from AP credits, they will NOT be accepted by the graduate schools.

 By encouraging students to take AP tests for college credit, you are blindly leading them to a dead end after their undergraduate career. In a workforce that is becoming more and more competitive, graduate school is becoming a necessity for more and more students. I believe three things need to be done to fix this problem. First, a new measure of AP competitiveness between schools is required that does not rely solely on the number of tests taken. Similarly, schools need to stop requiring the tests to be taken to obtain a weighted grade if schools want to encourage their students to be successful beyond their undergraduate career. Finally, AP needs to reform to a standard that graduate schools, as well as undergraduate schools, feel is acceptable as a measure of scholastic success.


Rachael Giertz

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The week in Tom Harkin news

I’ve been meaning to write up a few stories about Senator Tom Harkin this week. As you may recall, he has been working on a compromise for the Employee Free Choice Act, which would build the middle class by making it easier for workers to join a labor union. (Click here for background on the EFCA.)

On Monday Harkin told Bloomberg News that the “card check” provision may have to be dropped from the EFCA in order to get the bill through the Senate. “Card check” means that workers could form a union if a majority sign a document stating that they would like to join a union. Republicans and business groups are loudly complaining that this would destroy “secret ballot” elections on unions, ignoring the reality: “[t]he current process is not secret or democratic.”

Anyway, Harkin told Bloomberg that he hopes to find a compromise

that will gain “maybe the grudging support of labor and maybe the grudging support of some businesses.” […]

A softened version of the bill may attract support from more lawmakers, Harkin said. “Many do feel there is an imbalance” in current laws that favors business over labor, Harkin said.

“They may not be for the card-check, but they are for changing election process and procedures and shortening the period of time for elections” to form unions in a company.

The Bloomberg piece didn’t say anything about binding arbitration, which in my opinion is as important a part of EFCA as card check.

Also this week, Harkin told CNN that he supports appropriating funds to shut down the Guantanamo Bay detention complex this year, as President Barack Obama has promised to do.

In other news, I read at La Vida Locavore that Harkin just introduced a bill to amend the Child Nutrition Act of 1996. Jill Richardson writes that Harkin’s bill

will update the rules on what’s allowed to be served or sold in schools. Right now, almost everything is fair game to sell in schools. You just can’t sell the worst junk in the cafeteria during lunch time. Outside of the cafeteria, anything goes. In the cafeteria when it’s not time for lunch, anything goes.

Harkin’s commitment to improving the health and nutrition of American children continually impresses me (see here, here and here).

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Soft drink makers pit public health advocates against "moderation moms" and "hard-working families"

With numerous studies linking soft drinks to rising rates of obesity and type 2 diabetes, especially in children, reducing consumption of sugary drinks would appear to have obvious benefits for public health. Limiting access to soft drinks at school has been shown to reduce children’s overall consumption of such beverages, and raising the price of soft drinks through new taxes would likely reduce consumption among adults too.

Iowa native Susan Neely will lead the opposition to policies aimed at getting Americans to drink less pop, soda or sugary juice and sports drinks. In the Sunday Des Moines Register, Philip Brasher profiled Neely, who has been president and chief executive of the American Beverage Association since 2005. I recommend reading his whole article, but I will comment on a few key points after the jump.

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Note to parents: If it's not working, change it

One of my golden rules of parenting is, “If it’s not working, change it.” We need to get creative if our bedtime routine, mealtime rituals, discipline techniques or outside activities stop meeting our family’s needs. Parents who are inflexible can get locked into power struggles that don’t fix the problem.

Des Moines Register editorial writer Linda Fandel’s follow-up on Isabel Loeffler reminded me of how well things can work out when parents are willing to question and change what isn’t working. In the summer of 2007 I was outraged by Fandel’s feature story on how a Waukee elementary school disciplined Isabel, an eight-year-old on the autism spectrum. She repeatedly spent long stretches in a timeout room as school staff kept resetting the clock when Isabel tried but failed to meet nearly impossible demands. The inappropriate and punitive use of the timeout room didn’t improve Isabel’s behavior and certainly didn’t create a good learning environment for her. Her parents pulled her out of the school and moved to California. Fandel writes:

Officials in the Waukee school district and the Heartland Area Education Agency, which helped prepare Isabel’s individualized learning plan, insisted they had done nothing wrong. But an administrative law judge in 2007 found that the district and AEA used interventions not consistent with accepted practice. That decision was upheld on appeal. A civil suit is pending.

Isabel’s father, Doug Loeffler, recently e-mailed Fandel to say that his daughter “loves school and is very active in several community groups that provide opportunities for children with special needs to work together with children without handicaps.” He also said there is growing interest nationally how schools misuse timeout rooms and physical restraint.

Last year the Iowa Board of Education adopted stricter rules on timeout rooms and certain kinds of physical restraint. I’m glad to know this is part of a national trend, but public policy is no substitute for parents who are willing to get involved and learn what is going on in their child’s school. If the Loefflers had not asked for a videotape to find out why their daughter wasn’t responding well to discipline at school, they never would have realized how inappropriate the school’s policy was.

This thread is for any comments on education, discipline or parenting.

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