Smart choices

Liking school is good for teens’ sexual health, report finds

PHOTO: Stephanie Snyder

Students who like school and care about graduating make better choices about sex, according to a new report from the advocacy group Colorado Youth Matter.

The report, released last week, revealed that students with positive attitudes about school have intercourse with fewer partners and use birth control more often.

Lisa Olcese, executive director of Colorado Youth Matter, said it was the report’s most compelling finding and a call to action for educators.

It speaks “to the importance of engaging the whole student,” she said. “Connectedness at school is a protective factor, so how does each school community think about that?”

The report, which comes on the heels of a New York Times story highlighting Colorado’s surprising success in reducing teen pregnancy, fleshes out state trends in teen sexual activity and pregnancy rates.

Among the report’s other findings:

  • Teens who have teachers, relatives or other adults with whom they feel comfortable discussing sensitive issues are more likely to delay sexual intercourse, have fewer sexual partners and use condoms.
  • Latina teens have the highest birth rate among racial and ethnic groups in Colorado, but have also experienced the greatest decline—71 percent—since 2000.
  • A decade ago, Denver and Adams County were among the 10 Colorado counties with the highest teen birth rates. Both have now dropped out of the top 10—closely tracking statewide reductions that observers credit to an initiative to provide long-acting contraceptives to teens and poor women.
  • The counties with the highest teen birth rates are now all rural, though all have much lower rates than the top 10 counties a decade ago.
  • Colorado’s rate of HIV infection among teens increased from 2013 to 2014—most significantly in Denver—but it’s still below national levels.
  • Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth are at much higher risk of being bullied or sexually assaulted at school.

The “State of Adolescent Health in Colorado” report is available for $8 from Colorado Youth Matter.

SCOTUS on IDEA

U.S. Supreme Court, in landmark decision, strengthens rights for students with disabilities

In a landmark decision, the U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday better defined the federal standard public schools must meet for its special education students.

Students with learning disabilities are due “appropriately ambitious” education plans that ensure they will advance through public schools similarly to other students, a unanimous court said.

The court’s decision stems from a lawsuit filed by a suburban Denver family who enrolled their son, known as Endrew F. in court documents, in a private school after they felt the Douglas County School District failed their son, who was diagnosed with autism and attention deficit/hyperactive disorder.

The family sued the district seeking reimbursement for the private school’s tuition, arguing their son was due a “free appropriate public education” as required by the 1975 Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

The school district argued it met the minimum standard in the federal law that defines the rights of special education students.

While the state education department and lower courts agreed with the school district, Chief Justice John Roberts, who wrote the court’s opinion, did not.

“When all is said and done, a student offered an educational program providing merely more than ‘de minimis’ progress from year to year can hardly be said to have been offered an education at all,” Roberts wrote.

Federal law, he continued, “requires an educational program reasonably calculated to enable a child to make progress appropriate in light of the child’s circumstances.”

The decision stops short of defining what progress should look like. Instead, that should depend on each student, the court said.

In a statement, the Douglas County School District said it was confident the district was already meeting the higher standard and would prove so when a lower court takes up the Endrew F. case again.

“The Court did not hold that Douglas County School District failed to meet the new standard, or say that DCSD can’t proceed to prove that it met that standard,” said Douglas County School District Legal Counsel William Trachman in a statement. “Indeed, in this case, the Douglas County School District offered an appropriate Individualized Education Plan and we look forward to proving to the lower courts that the IEP meets the new, higher standard.”

The Colorado Department of Education also released a statement:

“The Colorado Department of Education is firmly committed to providing quality educational opportunities to students with disabilities.  We are pleased to see the that the Supreme Court’s decision seems to give greater clarity by saying an Individualized Education Program  must be ‘reasonably calculated to enable a child to make progress appropriate in light of the child’s circumstances.’  We also appreciate the Court’s reminder that courts must defer to the expertise and judgment of school officials.”

The department will not take a position when the Tenth Circuit Court retries the case in light of the Supreme Court’s clarification of the legal standard.

Colorado's 2017 General Assembly

Corporal punishment bill goes down in Colorado Senate committee

PHOTO: Alan Petersime

A Republican-controlled state Senate committee Monday killed a bill that would have prohibited corporal punishment in Colorado’s public schools and day care centers that receive state funding.

The Senate Judiciary Committee, on a party-line vote, defeated House Bill 1038, sponsored by state Sen. Rachel Zenzinger, an Arvada Democrat.

Republican members didn’t explain their vote. However, during witness testimony, state Sen. Bob Gardner, a Colorado Springs Republican, suggested school districts were already in front of the issue.

“I’m disappointed, to say the least,” Zenzinger said in a statement.  “This practice has no place in a modern nation that prides itself on decades of advancement in the areas of human rights and racial equality. It’s a black mark on our reputation and really defies logic.”

Sponsors of the bill could not point to a single occurrence of corporal punishment happening in Colorado schools or publicly-funded day care centers today.

During Monday’s committee hearing, State Sen. Daniel Kangan, an Englewood Democrat, recounted his own experience of being beaten at a boarding school in England.

“It remains one of my nightmarish experiences of my youth,” he said. “I can’t imagine how this could be positive in anyway.”

The bill had a rocky roll out in the House. Data that was used as justification for the bill was discredited, and Democrats rejected an amendment that would have acknowledged school district level policy on the matter.

While the bill earned bipartisan support from the House Education Committee, only one Republican voted for the bill on the House floor.