Handcuffing kids: When is it justified?

handcuffs.jpgI realize that headline sounds like a Nancy Grace special, but in the last 24 hours, I’ve heard about two cases — one in Oakland and one in San Jose — in which kids under 15 were handcuffed at school.

Are these isolated incidents, or do they happen more than the public (and certain members of the press) knows about?

Oakland case: At the school board meeting last night, the parents of a former Montera Middle School student spoke out about the time their son was restrained by a security officer.

According to the district’s account, the boy was sent to the office after disrupting the class. When a security guard and an assistant principal tried to take him into a conference room, the boy physically tried to prevent the AP from unlocking the door, and the security officer cuffed him.

District officials say the incident Continue Reading


Bumping rights for teachers — a good idea?


Unlike the teacher’s union, which is asking for a 20 percent raise for all of its members in the next contract, the Oakland school district isn’t throwing out any numbers.

But the district is broaching some controversial topics in its proposal, including one that teachers and districts across the country grapple with.

One provision of particular significance to teachers, as well as students, is commonly known as “bumping rights.” A teacher who loses her job during a school closure, for example, would have hiring priority at the OUSD school of her choosing, based on seniority.

The district wants to give principals greater freedom to hire the teachers they want — including those outside the district — earlier in the year. Teachers would still have rights to a position at another school, but it wouldn’t necessarily be their top choice.

The New Teacher Project published a report on the subject, titled Unintended Consequences.

I’m anxious to hear what you think.


Dunce caps, “The Box” and other forms of scholastic punishment

dunce.jpgThe days of the dunce cap are long gone (correct me if I’m wrong), but isolation punishment, it seems, is alive and well in schools today.

At Joaquin Miller Elementary School, it takes the form of “The Box.” It actually sounds scarier than it is; it’s a timeout on the 4-square court, a last resort used to avert suspensions.

The Box is not a new disciplinary tactic, but it recently came under scrutiny. Some parents complained that it was being used as a consequence for missing or incomplete homework. The discipline policy changed as a result, and incomplete homework is no longer a Boxable offense. Continue Reading


On the agenda: Sunshine

sun2.jpgSunshining, to be exact.

The district airs its first proposal for the next teacher contract at Wednesday night’s board meeting.

The teacher’s union, which publicly announced its demands already, will formally do so as well.

 The Wednesday evening gathering at 1025 Second Avenue includes a report on how the guv’s proposed budget cuts would affect OUSD, and details of a new incentive plan for substitute teachers.

And here’s something I haven’t seen in my three years covering education: Continue Reading


In search of a good civics lesson


I still remember casting a pretend ballot for the Reagan-Mondale presidential election in 1984. I was in first grade, and Sr. Mary Grace set up a kid-sized voting booth — which, I suspect, served as a precise poll for how our parents voted.

I won’t tell you which box I checked (secret ballot), but the experience clearly left an impression.

Now that the California primary might matter more than it used to, what are teachers and schools doing to bring the process to life? Are there discussions about the issues raised (or not raised) in the debates? The pros and cons of the Iowa Caucus and the Electoral College? Campaign financing? Holes in the media coverage?

If I get some interesting tips, I’ll be sure to write a story about it. Better yet, if you’re planning a class discussion or project on the presidential election (and you’re brave enough to let a reporter into your classroom), let me know.

images from a poster contest at kidsvotingusa.org


Extra! Extra! Bringing back student newspapers


From college applications to chlamydia, movie reviews to sports reports, the Oaktown Teen Times covers it all in its January issue — or all that will fit in eight pages.

The publication is part of the Scholastic Journalism Initiative, an attempt to revive high school journalism. The regular student reporters for the Teen Times are from Media, Skyline and Unity high schools, but the initiative is open to all schools. (The Tribune’s Bay Area company prints it for free, and one of my colleagues, Kristin Bender, is a writing coach.)

Lisa Shafer, a former newspaper reporter and a teacher at Fremont Federation’s Media Academy, noted that a number of high schools — including Oakland Tech, Castlemont and McClymonds — no longer have newspapers. Continue Reading


Teaching for the Tests?

jdutton2.jpgIt’s finals time at Skyline High School, and this is the first year that I’ve ever had all six teachers give a fairly difficult exam. But hey, I should get used to it, from here on out the amount of testing only increases.

I’ve heard that the last few months of Junior Year are going to be filled with more tests than you can wrap your head around. There is the SAT, ACT, SAT II, AP Exams, State Testing, and finals…again. Don’t worry though, I promise to write throughout that hectic mess.

It seems like in just the last 10 years we’ve witnessed a huge increase in the amount of required tests and the way teachers “teach for the test.” Not to mention the fact that schools are funded based on test scores.

Don’t get me wrong, Continue Reading


Chris Rodriguez is out of ICU, starting therapy


Update: The benefit concert is from 2-7 p.m. Sunday (Feb. 10) at Chapel of the Chimes, 4499 Piedmont Ave. More information can be found here.

Christopher Rodriguez is in good spirits, is recovering more quickly than expected and has left the intensive care unit of Children’s Hospital-Oakland. The 10-year-old now spends part of his day in a wheelchair and, according to his mom, is trying to do “wheelies.”

“He has not cried. He’s taken everything as a champ,” his dad said.

Christopher, who was critically injured and paralyzed by a stray bullet that sailed through the wall of his music school Jan. 10, knows he won’t be able to walk for years, at least, his father said. Continue Reading


Cal who? It’s not too late to get clued in about financial aid for college

cash.jpgMarch 2 (actually, March 3 this year) is the deadline for Cal Grant applications.

Whether you know exactly what a FAFSA is, or you thought it was someone’s last name, you might find one of the upcoming Cash For College workshops helpful.

Even if you think your family income might be too high to qualify, I hear that it doesn’t hurt to bring in your tax and income documents just to be sure. Many of the workshops are staffed with people who speak various languages, and they help families fill out those cumbersome forms.

The Cash For College Web site has a calendar which lists the places and times of each workshop. It also includes a list of what to bring. Oakland High, Skyline, Oakland Military Institute, Castlemont, Fremont and Laney College all have sessions scheduled between Jan. 30 and Feb. 23.

image from Argenberg’s Web site at flickr.com/creativecommons