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10-23-14 Education Issues in the News

NJ Spotlight - Schools Told to Look at Sports, Other Student Activities for Problems

John Mooney | October 23, 2014

Memo sent to all NJ districts in wake of Sayreville High School scandal offers guidance on resources available for dealing with bullying, hazing

In the wake of the Sayreville High School hazing scandal, the state has sent New Jersey school districts instructions for taking a second look at their sports teams and other extracurricular activities for any signs of trouble.

The state Department of Education sent a memo to districts this week that provided a checklist of steps to take immediately, as well as some guidance on what may be coming.

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While it did not impose any new requirements, the memo clearly included some signposts to follow in the aftermath of the Sayreville scandal, in which seven senior members of the varsity football team have been criminally charged with abusing freshmen teammates in the school locker room. The team’s coach and assistant coaches, who have been said to be unaware of the locker room activities, have since been suspended with pay.

The state said in the memo that schools should look at any practices where adults were not always supervising students, both in athletic activities and other after-school groups.

“We encourage all schools to use these recent events as an opportunity to ensure students are supervised at all times during extra-curricular and athletic activities, to identify potential bullying and hazing, and to implement best practices to create positive school cultures,” read the memo.

While not unprecedented, such statewide guidance tied to a specific event is rare, maybe not seen since the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings in Connecticut in 2012.

The memo sent to schools was signed by the state Department of Education, the New Jersey Association of School Administrators, the New Jersey Principals and Supervisors Association, and the New Jersey Interscholastic Athletic Association.

State officials have been meeting to discuss how to respond ever since news broke about the Sayreville scandal. Acting state Education Commissioner David Hespe said last night that more guidance from the state may be forthcoming, as law-enforcement officials and the state’s anti-bullying task force continue to discuss and assess the situation.

In the meantime, Hespe said, it was important to at least get out some reminders about what resources are available.

“We wanted to take the opportunity working with other associations to bring attention to the latest and best information we have,” he said.

“This is not just about supervision,” he added, “but how to identify potential hazing situations and more importantly how to put in place and build a school culture that is proactive.”

The memo explicitly listed a number of immediate steps for districts to take, including some of the following:

+ Review district policies and codes of conduct for athletes and coaches “to ensure they clearly state the positive behavior that is expected and that bullying and hazing will not be tolerated at school or during school-sponsored events;”

·         Review district policies to ensure that they appropriately address student conduct away from school grounds;

·         Ensure that plans are in place “for effective supervision of locker rooms, school facilities and school grounds before, during and after athletic and extra-curricular events;”

·         Ensure that school leaders, including the athletic director and school principal, “engage with coaches and activity advisors to assess current issues related to hazing, to identify and address areas of concern and to ensure that policies and procedures around this issue are implemented with fidelity;”

·         Review agreements between schools and law-enforcement officials to “ensure all stakeholders fully understand their legal responsibilities to know when and how to report suspected student abuse to law enforcement and child protective services.”


NJ Spotlight - Five New Charter Schools Get Preliminary OK from State Officials

John Mooney | October 23, 2014

Two approvals are in Plainfield; proposed all-boys charter in Trenton rejected because state law prohibits enrollment based on race or gender

The Christie administration’s trickle of charter-school approvals continued this week, as it announced it had given the preliminary go-ahead to five new schools, including two more serving Plainfield, out of 37 applicants overall.

The five schools approved (with projected enrollments) were:

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·         Bridgeton Public Charter School (Bridgeton), K-4th grade, 285 students;

·         College Achieve Central (Plainfield, North Plainfield), K-9th grade, 1,035 students;

·         Cresthaven Academy (Plainfield), K-3rd grade, 300 students;

·         Empowerment Academy (Jersey City), K-4th grade, 576 students;

·         International Academy of Atlantic City (Atlantic City, Pleasantville), K-6th grade, 698 students.

The five preliminary approvals are only a first step. The five schools will all need to pass a second review before they can open in fall of 2015.

Plainfield is becoming a fertile ground for new charters in the state, with the new approvals bringing to six the number of charters in the Union County city. If enrollment projections pan out, the charter schools could ultimately serve one-third of the students in the school district.

The application process included some notable rejections, too, including the state’s denial of an application for an all-boys charter school in Trenton, the Rising Star Preparatory Charter School.

State officials also rejected a residential school proposed for Camden, led by the SEED network out of Washington, D.C. In fact, no new charters were approved for either Camden or Newark, two centers of the charter-school movement on the state.

Acting state Education Commissioner David Hespe said last night that the rejection of the Rising Star application for an all-boys charter school was a difficult call, but that it ran up against state laws and regulations that prohibit charter schools to show any preference in enrollment based on gender, race or any other such characteristics.

While Hespe wasn’t saying the administration will seek to change in law, he also suggested that the state isn’t ready to decide one way or the other.

“We are very interested in testing out new school and instructional strategies, and we are still in interested in pursuing this,” he said. “But we also want to be sure the legal structure supports this.”

While Hespe acknowledged that five approvals is a small number, coming on the heels of only a handful of charter approvals in each of the last few rounds, he discounted the notion that the administration doesn’t support new charters -- and said observers should stay tuned for the coming application rounds, which will be submitted by more established charter organizations.

“The best time to evaluate our record will be after the coming round,” Hespe said.

The state currently has 87 approved charter schools, serving more than 30,000 students.


Star Ledger - John P. Holland Charter School in Paterson placed on probation

Myles Ma | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com By Myles Ma | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com The Star-Ledger
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on October 23, 2014 at 7:25 AM, updated October 23, 2014 at 7:35 AM

PATERSON — The New Jersey Department of Education has placed the John P. Holland Charter School on probation, the Record reported.

The school violated state law by having two paid employees on its five-member board, state officials said.

Acting State Education Commissioner David Hespe said the school needed to replace the two board members and show that another board member, the principal's sister, recused herself from all votes that would impact her sibling.

Holland will stay under probation until March, when the state decides whether to renew its charter, Hespe said in a letter.

The school website still lists Vice Principal Mike Almasri and fourth grade math and science teacher Katie Caufield as board members.

Myles Ma may be reached at mma@njadvancemedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @MylesMaNJ. Find NJ.com on Facebook.