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18th September 2023
California lawmakers pass bill requiring lead testing in schools
California lawmakers have passed a bill that mandates all schools in the state to test for lead in drinking water outlets. The bill requires community water systems serving schools built before 2010 to test all potable water outlets and report the results to the school, educational agency, and state water regulators. Outlets exceeding lead levels of 5 parts per billion would be shut down immediately. The bill also requires schools to notify parents and guardians, shut down contaminated outlets, and provide an alternative source of lead-free drinking water. Schools that have replaced all water outlets after 2010 are exempt from testing. The law is estimated to cost the California State Water Resources Control Board tens of millions of dollars.
Principals urge Congress to preserve Title I funding
School leaders across the country calling on Congress to preserve federal funding for the education of low-income students. The letter, sent by The National Association of Secondary School Principals on behalf of 45 state school leader associations, warns of “drastic reductions” to Every Student Succeeds Act programs if the proposal from the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies becomes law. The opposition comes after a July House subcommittee proposal to eliminate 80% of Title I funding in the FY 2024 budget. Regardless of the final appropriations agreement, Congress has already agreed to level funding for the Education Department in FY 2024 as a result of the Fiscal Responsibility Act. Although FY 2024 begins October 1, it is unlikely Congress will meet a September 31 deadline to approve the budget and would need to approve a stopgap measure to avoid a federal government shutdown.
San Diego Unified raises Latinx/e Heritage Month flag
San Diego Unified students have raised the Latinx/e Heritage Month flag for the first time in the district's history. The flag displays the national flags of several Latin American countries and the word "orgullo," meaning pride. The district has previously raised the Black Lives Matter flag, rainbow Pride flag, and transgender Pride flag. The flag-raising event included performances and speeches from students, who spoke of their pride in their cultural traditions and the need for society to accept and embrace their heritage. Latino students make up 45% of San Diego Unified's enrollment but face worse education outcomes and come from low socioeconomic backgrounds. National Hispanic Heritage Month runs from September 15 to October 15.
Starting school early helps avoid achievement gaps
A new study claims that starting school before the age of two helps children avoid achievement gaps. Researchers focused on a program called Educare, which experts say could serve as a model for the future of Head Start. Educare provides consistency and strong relationships with families by assigning the same teacher to children for their first three years. The program also includes a lead teacher, an assistant, and an aide in most classrooms, allowing for more interaction with children. Educare's daily classroom routines, such as transitioning from the playground to the classroom, demonstrate its commitment to quality early education. “It wasn’t their elementary school experience that was different; their early-childhood experience was different,” comments Diane Horm, director of the Early Childhood Education Institute at the University of Oklahoma-Tulsa and part of a nationwide network of researchers evaluating Educare. “There was no evidence of fade out and no evidence of catch up.”
Appellate court rules San Jose violated Christian club's rights
An appellate court has found that San Jose USD violated the rights of a Christian student athlete club by effectively banishing it from campuses over its leaders' affirmation of their faith's teachings that marriage must be between a man and a woman. The ruling involved a 2020 lawsuit brought by two former Pioneer High School students after the school revoked their Fellowship of Christian Athletes student club status over its leaders' faith affirmation, which school officials argued violated district anti-discrimination policies protecting LGBTQ rights. "This is a huge win for these brave kids, who persevered through adversity and never took their eye off the ball: equal access with integrity," said Daniel Blomberg, vice president and senior counsel at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty. "Today's ruling ensures religious students are again treated fairly in San Jose and throughout California." San Jose USD said in a statement that it is reviewing the court's opinion and assessing its options and next steps. The en banc court found that San Jose Unified had penalized the Fellowship of Christian Athletes club "based on its religious beliefs" and "treated comparable secular activity more favorably than religious exercise" in violation of constitutional religious freedom protections.
More schools bringing back police
School districts nationwide are reversing plans to remove school resource officers or increase their numbers as students return to classrooms this fall. In June, for example, the Denver school board voted 4-3 to permit the "persistent presence of school resource officers" in the city's schools, which was a stark reversal from 2020 when the board voted to eliminate all SROs. Law enforcement officials say their presence in schools has been complicated by staffing shortages and new restrictions, while experts say research shows there's little evidence it will increase school safety and may in fact harm students of color. Although officers reduce some forms of violence, such as physical attacks and fights, they do not prevent gun-related incidents, according to a 2021 study from the RAND Corporation, a nonprofit think tank, and the University at Albany. "The best evidence that we have to date shows no deterrent effect of where gun violence happens in schools or where weapons are brought to schools. ... Similarly, when a shooting does happen in a school, those shootings, actually, on average have been more deadly in schools with police," laments Ben Fisher, a University of Wisconsin-Madison professor who recently reviewed dozens of studies on the effects of police in schools.
Federal judge blocks Escondido Union's transgender policy
The Escondido Union School District's policy on keeping transgender or gender-nonconforming students' identity private, including from their parents, has been temporarily blocked by a federal judge. The judge argued that the policy goes against federal law and is medically unwise. The policy aligns with California education guidance, which emphasizes the safety and privacy rights of transgender students. State officials and LGBTQ advocates have warned that revealing a student's transgender identity without their consent can put them in danger.

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