honesty policy

Dozens of Stuyvesant HS students suspended for cheating

A dozen Stuyvesant High School students will be suspended for as long as two weeks and more than 50 others could face short-term suspension for cheating.

The punishments are only one component of the school’s renewed response to a broad cheating scandal that broke this summer. Stuyvesant’s new principal, Jie Zhang, is also requiring students to sign on to an academic honesty policy, urging the creation of an “honor code,” and cracking down on student cell phones.

Department of Education officials announced in July that they had determined that 71 students had cheated on final exams, with all but two receiving answers in advance to a city Spanish exam. They said at the time that a student who provided the answers would be suspended and not allowed to return to the school, the city’s most elite. They also said more punishments could come this fall but did not say how many students faced suspension.

Today, the city announced that the number is 66. Zhang informed the students and their families today about the suspensions, which for some students will start on Monday.

A second phase in the department’s investigation into the cheating, which is ongoing, is looking at the school’s original response. The department did not learn about the cheating until nearly a week after then-Principal Stanley Teitel sent a letter to parents informing them that some students had been punished, and the penalties the school levied did not match those outlined in the city’s discipline code.

Teitel barred students who had cheated from participating in graduation activities. But city policy calls for more stringent punishment. Now, 12 students will receive a superintendent’s suspension, which is meted out for more serious offenses and can last for up to 10 days, according to the department. They will have to report to special centers that the department operates for suspended students. Another 54 could face shorter-term principal’s suspensions. In a letter to the students and their families, Zhang said the punishments would be finalized in “suspension conferences” starting next week.

Teitel retired abruptly last month and Zhang was appointed to replace him a week later. She said at the time that her first goal would be improving the school’s “culture” so that cheating does not take place.

“I have not been made aware … or have a reason to believe that there is ongoing cheating there,” Zhang said. “However, my top priority is to create a positive school culture that ensures integrity and zero tolerance for cheating.”

Changes were palpable on the first day of classes, students said as they left the building Thursday. Some reported being required to sign contracts in each class saying they would not cheat or plagiarize. The contract, which the city provided to reporters today, asked students to confirm that they had read an academic honesty policy and understood that cheating would result in no credit and possible suspensions.

One student told GothamSchools that teachers were also stricter this week about whether students could use electronic devices, such as iPods or cell phones, to take notes.

City policy bars students from bringing cell phones to school, but in some schools such as Stuyvesant where there are no metal detectors, the policy has not always been enforced. Teitel had petitioned the city for temporary metal detectors during testing periods, but the city turned down the request. The student who initiated the cheating scandal did so by taking a picture of an exam with his cell phone.

Zhang said she would enforce the city’s policy. During the first two days of classes, school officials confiscated 17 student cell phones, according to the Department of Education.

In a letter to families, Zhang said she is urging the student government to craft an honor code as “a public sign of our commitment to uphold academic integrity at Stuyvesant High School.” In the wake of the scandal, some have criticized the school for breeding a culture of competitiveness in which cheating is inevitable.

Walcott said today that he was satisfied with Zhang’s handling of the disciplinary issues.

“As we said at the start of this investigation, we have zero tolerance for cheating or academic dishonesty of any kind, and the students involved in this incident will now face disciplinary action,” he said in a statement. ” I want to thank Principal Zhang for her assistance and for the steps she has already taken to restore academic integrity.”

 

Stuyvesant Letter

Academic Honest Policy

poster campaign

How one Memphis student is elevating the conversation about school discipline

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede
Posters created by junior Janiya Douglas have amplified student voices about the culture of White Station High School in Memphis.

Now in her third year of attending a premier public high school in Memphis, Janiya Douglas says she’s observed discipline being handed out unevenly to her classmates, depending on whether they are on the college preparatory track.

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede
From left: Janiya Douglas and Michal Mckay are student leaders in Bridge Builders CHANGE program.

“We’re heavily divided in an academic hierarchy,” said Janiya, a junior in the optional program for high-achieving students at White Station High School. “It’s obvious students are treated differently if they are in traditional classes.”

Janiya also has observed racial disparities in how students are disciplined, and the state’s data backs that up. White Station students who are black or Hispanic are suspended at significantly higher rates than students who are white.

Frustrated by what she’s seen, Janiya took her concerns last Friday to the hallways of White Station and hung 14 posters to declare that “our school doesn’t treat everybody equally.”

By Monday morning, the posters were gone — removed by school administrators because Janiya did not get prior approval — but not before other students shared images of some of the messages on social media.

Now, Janiya is seeing some fruits of her activism, spawned by her participation in Bridge Builders CHANGE, a student leadership program offered by a local nonprofit organization.

In the last week, she’s met with Principal David Mansfield, a school counselor and a district discipline specialist to discuss her concerns. She’s encouraged that someone is listening, and hopes wider conversations will follow.

The discussions also are bringing attention to an online petition by the education justice arm of Bridge Builders calling for suspension alternatives across schools in Memphis.

White Station often is cited as one of the jewels of Shelby County Schools, a district wrought with academic challenges. The East Memphis school is partially optional, meaning some students test into the college prep program from across the county.

But Janiya and some of her classmates say they also see an academically and racially segregated school where students zoned to the traditional program are looked down upon by teachers. Those students often get harsher punishments, they say, than their optional program counterparts for the same actions.

“Our school doesn’t treat everybody equally. A lot of groups aren’t treated equally in our school system,” junior Tyra Akoto said in a quote featured on one poster.

“If we get wrong with a teacher, they’ll probably write us up. But if a white student was to do it, they’ll just play it off or something like that,” said Kelsey Brown, another junior, also quoted in the poster campaign.

A district spokeswoman did not respond to questions about disciplinary issues raised by the posters, but offered a statement about their removal from the school’s walls.

White Station is known for “enabling student voice and allowing students to express their opinions in various ways,” the statement reads. “However, there are protocols in place that must be followed before placing signs, posters, or other messages on school property. Schools administrators will always work with students to ensure they feel their voices are heard.”

PHOTO: @edj.youth/Instagram
Members of the education justice arm of the Bridge Builders CHANGE program

To create the posters, Janiya interviewed about two dozen students and had been learning about about school discipline disparities as part of the Bridge Builders CHANGE program.

State discipline data does not differentiate academic subgroups in optional schools. But white students in Shelby County Schools are more likely to be in an optional school program and less likely to be suspended. And statewide in 2014-15, black students were more than five times as likely as white students to be suspended.

White Station reflects those same disparities. About 28 percent of black boys and 19 percent of black girls were suspended that same year — significantly higher than the school’s overall suspension rate of 14 percent. About 17 percent of Hispanic boys and 7 percent of Hispanic girls were suspended. By comparison, 9 percent of white boys and 2 percent of white girls were suspended.

Shelby County Schools has been working to overhaul its disciplinary practices to move from punitive practices to a “restorative justice” approach — a transition that is not as widespread as officials would like, according to Gina True, one of four specialists implementing a behavior system called Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports, or PBIS.

“The whole goal is to not get them suspended, because we want to educate them,” said True, who met this week with Janiya and several other students from Bridge Builders. “When students are cared for emotionally, they perform better academically. As counselors, that’s what we’ve been saying for years.”

Janiya acknowledges that she didn’t follow her school’s policy last week when hanging posters without permission at White Station. But she thinks her action has been a catalyst for hard conversations that need to happen. And she hopes the discussions will include more student input from her school — and across the district.

“Those most affected by the issues should always be a part of the solution,” she said.

Correction: April 10, 2017: A previous version of this story said Janiya put up 50 posters at her school. She designed 50 but actually posted only 14.

a 'meaningful' education?

How a Colorado court case could change how public schools everywhere serve students with special needs

Dougco headquarters in Castle Rock (John Leyba/The Denver Post).

The U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday grappled with the question of what kind of education public schools must provide students with disabilities, hearing arguments in a case that originated with a complaint against a suburban Denver school district and that could have profound implications nationwide.

The case involves a student diagnosed with autism and attention deficit/hyperactive disorder. His parents pulled him out of his Douglas County elementary school, saying he wasn’t making enough progress and the district’s response was lacking.

They enrolled the boy in a private school for children with autism and asked the district to reimburse them for the tuition, arguing their son was due a “free appropriate public education” as required by the 1975 Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

The law spells out the requirements states must meet to receive federal money to educate special-needs students. The district declined, saying it had met the standard of the law.

The family eventually filed a lawsuit against the district. Lower courts all sided with the district, reasoning that it had provided the child “some” educational benefit — the standard cited in the federal statute at issue.

Lower courts across the nation have varied in their definition of the proper standard. The high court arguments Wednesday centered on whether “some” benefit was good enough, or whether special-needs students deserve a more “meaningful” benefit.

Jeffrey Fisher, an attorney for the boy’s family, told the justices that as a general rule, individualized education plans for special education students should include “a level of educational services designed to allow the child to progress from grade to grade in the general curriculum.”

Throughout the arguments, the justices expressed frustration with what Justice Samuel Alito described as “a blizzard of words” that the law and courts have used to define what’s appropriate for special needs students.

Chief Justice John Roberts said regardless of the term used, “the whole package has got to be helpful enough to allow the student to keep up with his peers.”

Neal Katyal, an attorney for the school district, argued that providing children “some benefit” is a reasonable standard.

“That’s the way court after court has interpreted it,” he said. “It’s worked well. This court shouldn’t renege on that.”

Ron Hager, senior staff attorney for special education at the National Disability Rights Network, attended the oral arguments Wednesday and said he was optimistic the lower court’s ruling would be overturned.

He said if the Supreme Court does overturn the federal Tenth Circuit Court’s ruling and requires a higher standard, it won’t necessarily come with major financial costs for school districts. Instead, he said, it will nudge them to be proactive and provide teacher training and intervention services early on instead of waiting until problems — and the expenses associated with them — snowball later.

Marijo Rymer, executive director of the Arc of Colorado, which advocates on behalf of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, said she was heartened to see the case advance to the Supreme Court. Establishing a clearer standard on what constitutes a fair and appropriate education for students with disabilities is a civil rights issue, she said.

“It’s critical that federal law, which is what this is based on, be reinforced and supported, and the court is in the position to deliver that message to the nation’s schools and the taxpayers that fund them,” Rymer said.

Both Hager and Rymer acknowledged that even if the Supreme Court establishes a new, higher standard, it could be open to interpretation. Still, they said it would send a strong message to school districts about their responsibilities to students with disabilities.