Recently in Schools Category

A mom yields to the pressures in our educatio-legal* system to let her son be given the "disabled" label. "I realized was that among the parents I knew, well over 50 percent had their child in some form of therapy". (Linda Keenan, Burbia, Apr. 4).

* Yes, it's a coinage, but since "medico-legal" is by this point an accepted term, it's probably only a matter of time before "educatio-legal" makes its way too.

Deflating many a future backyard birthday party: "Parents who hire bouncy castles for a child and his or her friends could be liable for damages for any injuries suffered by the children after a landmark High Court ruling yesterday." (Times Online/Telegraph).

Sports doctors say more youngsters are coming in with arm injuries from excessive hard pitching on the baseball field. In Washington state, Jason Koenig has lost his lawsuit claiming that North Mason High School was negligent in not overriding his wishes to stay in for all nine innings, 140 pitches, in a game in April 2001, resulting in injury to his arm. (Tom Wyrwich, "Former high school pitcher hopes rules are changed to protect young arms", Seattle Times, Apr. 29).

"Priya Venkatesan (Dartmouth '90, MS in Genetics, PhD in literature) emailed members of her Winter '08 Writing 5 class Saturday night to announce her intention to seek damages from them for their being mean to her." Venkatesan, who is working on a book entitled A Postmodernist in the Laboratory, was the instructor in a class called Science, Technology and Society, evidently an example of the Science Studies genre. "Essentially, I am pursuing litigation to see if I have a legal claim, that is, if the inappropriate and unprofessional behavior I was subjected to as a Research Associate and Lecturer at Dartmouth constitutes discrimination and harrassment [sic] on the basis of ethnicity, race and gender. This includes not just students, but a few faculty members that I worked with." (Gawker, Apr. 29; Dartlog, Apr. 26; IvyGate, Apr. 29; Above the Law, Apr. 29).

We've reported before (Dec. 24-27, 2001; May 7, 2005; parallel case in New York, Jul. 10, 2004) on the lawsuit charging Michigan high school sports directors with sex discrimination for scheduling girls' sports in different seasons than boys'. Such cases are subject to "one-way" attorney fee shifting (plaintiffs collect if they win, but need not fear paying if they lose) and the rules for fee calculations are generous. Now the judge has approved a plaintiff's fee that the athletic directors' association say threatens to push their group into bankruptcy; opponents say it's their own fault for resisting so long. Nearly $3 million in fees plus interest are set to go to Kristen Galles, a solo practitioner in Alexandria, Va., whose large number of billed hours at $390/hour may relate to her having worked without a paralegal or secretary. (Julie Mack, "Michigan High School Athletic Association owes $7.4 million in legal fees, interest to lawyers who won case to change the girls sports season", Kalamazoo Gazette, Apr. 21)(via ABA Journal); "Athletic Group Ordered To Pay $7M", AP/LexisOne, Apr. 2).

Marc Edelman, guest posting at Above the Law (Apr. 24):

For an example of one of the more extreme disability claims, in Badgett v. Alabama High School Athletic Association, 2007 WL 2461928 (N.D. Ala. 2007), the parents of a wheelchair-bound student with cerebral palsy, Mallerie Badgett, brought a claim arguing that wheelchair-bound students should be allowed to compete for team points against able-bodied students running in a track race on foot. According to the complaint, "Miss Badgett [was] concerned that competing in a separate wheelchair division [would] affect her ability to receive college scholarships and other benefits." The Northern District of Alabama ultimately, and wisely, denied Badgett's request for a preliminary injunction.

Edelman also discusses the better-known controversy in which the Lausanne-based Court of Arbitration for Sport will consider (presumably not applying U.S. law) the appeal of double-amputee sprinter Oscar Pistorius who will be arguing that his prosthetic legs do not in fact provide an edge over real legs.

Lott v. Levitt, Part X

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As we discussed in Part IX, one of John Lott's two claims was settled, when Steven Levitt apologized for e-mails he sent another economist. It's questionable how much satisfaction Lott can get from this, since, as an economist, he surely realizes that, without a loser-pays rule or agreement, there is a pooling equilibrium whereby both the sincerely-apologizing Levitt and the insincerely-apologizing Levitt would take the same course of action to avoid spending tens of thousands of dollars defending a de minimis allegation of libel, regardless of the merits of the claim.

The more significant, if less meritorious, claim of libel in Freakonomics is on appeal; Lott is now claiming that the case should have been decided under the allegedly more friendly Virginia libel law than the Illinois law under which his claim fails, but that is generally an argument for (at best) a claim of legal malpractice, rather than for a do-over for an expressly waived argument in federal court. Lott has posted the briefs; David Glenn blogs about the 2-year mark in the case. Not that I think Lott has a valid legal malpractice claim, either, unless his attorneys told him he had a good shot at winning more than he would spend in legal fees.

Lott does interesting economic research, and it is unfortunate he is tarring his reputation with a lawsuit that has the potential to impinge upon academic freedom.

That's Carter Wood's hard-to-improve-on headline over an item on how two youths involved on the perpetrator side of a sensationally vicious attack onboard a Maryland bus are now suing over being barred from the bus system. ("Teen 'Ringleader' In Bus Beating Sentenced To Juvy Jail; Boys To Sue MTA, Schools", WBAL, Apr. 24; Point of Law, Apr. 24; Jeff Quinton, Inside Charm City, Apr. 23; Malkin, Apr. 23).

In addition to being a colleague of mine at the Manhattan Institute, Jay Greene is 1) a prominent national expert on education who 2) is based in the college town of Fayetteville, Ark., so I was eager to hear what he had to say about Dan Barry's New York Times article of last month which called shame on the Fayetteville schools for their supposed toleration of the horrendous bullying of an unoffending high school student by the name of Billy Wolfe. Today Greene has a blog post on the case which concludes, as did I in my Apr. 8 post, that Barry's coverage was by no stretch of the imagination responsible or balanced. Greene zeroes in on Barry's assertions that "It remains unclear why Billy became a target..." and that "[Billy] has received a few suspensions for misbehavior, though none for bullying," both of which appear, at best, grossly misleading in the light of a police report aired in the Northwest Arkansas Times detailing Billy's alleged aggressions against other students, physical and otherwise. Greene also observes that his inquiry to the New York Times public editor about the discrepancies has gone unanswered aside from a form response. He adds:

Finding the police report and collecting all of the interviews found in the NW AR Times article would have required -- uhm -- reporting. It was much easier to take the story that the Wolfes' attorney was peddling. And yes, the Wolfes are suing some of the other students and are planning to sue the school district. Barry's article may read like a plaintiff's brief because there actually is a plaintiff's brief out there. ...

Unfortunately, the Fayetteville School District is inexperienced with handing national reporters and they are handcuffed in responding to accusations because of student privacy issues and a pending lawsuit. Dan Barry from the NYT was able to ride roughshod over a small town school district. Maybe the Gray Lady is the most obvious bully here.

The full post is here. Among other local coverage not linked in my earlier post is an editorial in the Northwest Arkansas Times, Mar. 30, and John Brummett, "Bullies Crying 'Wolfe'", Northwest Arkansas Morning News, Apr. 2.

P.S. And now Gawker is on it.

"Earth To Be Made Child-Safe"


An oldie-but-goodie from The Onion.

The terrors of tag

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From McLean, Va., one of D.C.'s most affluent suburbs: "Robyn Hooker, principal of Kent Gardens Elementary School, has told students they may no longer play tag during recess after determining that the game of chasing, dodging and yelling 'You're it!' had gotten out of hand. Hooker explained to parents in a letter this month that tag had become a game 'of intense aggression.' ... Many schools nationwide have whittled down playground activities in response to concerns about injuries, bullying or litigation." (Michael Alison Chandler, "At McLean School, Playing Tag Turns Into Hot Potato", Washington Post, Apr. 15; reaction via Technorati).

Mark Steyn on the youngster charged with sexual harassment in suburban Washington, D.C.:

Randy Castro is in the first grade. But, at the ripe old age of 6, he's been declared a sex offender by Potomac View Elementary School. He's guilty of sexual harassment, and the incident report will remain on his record for the rest of his school days - and maybe beyond.

Maybe it'll be one of those things that just keeps turning up on background checks forever and ever: Perhaps 34-year-old Randy Castro will apply for a job, and at his prospective employer's computer up will pop his sexual-harasser status yet again. Or maybe he'll be able to keep it hushed up until he's 57 and runs for governor of Virginia, and suddenly his political career self-detonates when the sordid details of his Spitzeresque sexual pathologies are revealed.

("Attack of the preschool perverts", syndicated/Orange County Register, Apr. 12; Brigid Schulte, "For Little Children, Grown-Up Labels As Sexual Harassers", Washington Post, Apr. 3). A contrary view (letter to the editor from Cynthia Terrell of Takoma Park, Md., WaPo, Apr. 5): "The Post showed appalling insensitivity to the inappropriate nature of Randy Castro's act. ...our culture remains largely indifferent to privacy and harassment issues involving gender."

As universities grow apprehensive of lawsuits filed by junior faculty hired for tenure-track positions but then passed over for tenure, they are accelerating the trend toward classifying more junior positions as non-tenure-track -- hastening, perhaps, the eventual demise of the tenure system entirely. (Robert Weissberg, Minding the Campus, Apr. 10). P.S. Our post has prompted a discussion at Workplace Prof Blog.

Last month the New York Times ran a front-page story about the plight of a Fayetteville, Ark. high school student named Billy Wolfe, who had been "a target of bullies for years", physically and verbally brutalized by fellow students despite his family's repeated pleas to a seemingly heedless school district for his protection. (Dan Barry, "A Boy the Bullies Love to Beat Up, Repeatedly", Mar. 24). Billy's parents had sued teens they said had harassed their son, and were also considering legal action against the school district.

The article generated a big reaction, especially after young Wolfe himself appeared on the Today show to discuss his plight. Most observers seemed to agree that the harrowing tale lent credence to the whole idea of using lawsuits as a way of responding to bullying in schoolyards, Facebook, etc. -- an idea that, coincidentally or otherwise, is the subject of an increasingly visible campaign these days. Even as level-headed an educational observer as Joanne Jacobs wrote on her blog, "Normally, I'm anti-lawsuit, but this may be the only way to bully the bullies and the principal to crack down." Huffington Post writer Jonathan Fast cited the article as evidence that schools should adopt "zero tolerance" policies on bullying. Some of the many other blog reactions are assembled here (e.g.: Marcotte, Greenfield, DadTalk, The Common Room).

Could there be another side of the story, you may wonder? Well, as a matter of fact, there is. To find it you need to consult the local paper, the Northwest Arkansas Times (Scott F. Davis and Dustin Tracy, "Who's the bully?: Police, school records raise questions about claims made by Fayetteville High student", Apr. 3)(via Childs). One may argue about whether Wolfe's own alleged exploits in victimizing other kids, as catalogued in the NWAT article, will or should affect the disposition of his family's legal claims. What seems beyond dispute is that the NYT's story would have been very different in the emotional reactions it evoked -- and much less effective in promoting the particular "cause" it was advancing -- had it included that other side of the story.

More/updates: Word Around the Net, Val's Bien, Pennywit @ Likelihood of Success, Joanne Jacobs, Crime & Consequences, Kierkegaard Lives. The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette notes that Arkansas already has an unusually strong anti-"cyberbullying" law which "requires school districts to adopt discipline policies banning harmful and disruptive online behavior", despite misgivings from civil libertarians about official penalties based on students' out-of-school speech: Evie Blad, "School bullies move online; rules tricky to write, enforce", Apr. 6. And Scott Greenfield minces no words:

...what is the New York Times thinking? To have its knees cut off by its Northwest Arkansas namesake is humiliating, but to be shown up as deceptive fundamentally undermines its credibility. Without credibility, the Times is just a dog-trainers best friend and a tree's worst nightmare. ...

The failure of the New York Times to present a full and accurate account of the Billy Wolfe story is disgraceful and unacceptable. ... If you're going to put an article on the front page with a big picture, don't blow it. The Times did. They should be ashamed.

And in our comments section, Ole Miss lawprof Paul Secunda provides the Wolfe family's response to the NWAT coverage. Update Apr. 24: Jay Greene weighs in.

A jury held Archbishop Coleman Carroll High School liable for $14 million on the theory that its officials knew of an underage drinking party to be held at the home of two students, but did not notify authorities. Two of the drunken revelers sped off into a single-car accident in which one was killed. (Adam H. Beasley, "School found negligent in booze party crash", Miami Herald, Mar. 31).

"A prestigious South Korean university that came under fire for hiring a professor who lied about her credentials is suing Yale, saying the American university wrongly confirmed the woman earned a degree." (John Christofferson, AP/Washington Post, Mar. 27).

California homeschooling ruling


The court has granted rehearing, effectively agreeing to reconsider the issue (Malkin, Mar. 27; earlier).

Welcome WBAL listeners

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I was a guest on Ron Smith's Baltimore-based show, with Bruce Elliott hosting, this afternoon to discuss the possible settlement between the state of Virginia and families of slain Virginia Tech students (coverage: CNN, Washington Post, AP). More on the law's response to the Virginia Tech killings here.

Suing teachers in Canada

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"A British Columbia father has sued his son's Grade 2 Montessori teacher claiming that she 'purposely and maliciously worked to damage the self-esteem' of his son over such things as failing to encourage the child's spelling, not sending home a daily homework list and, in one case, displaying an unfinished poem in the school hallway. ...Similar issues will arise in a Montreal courtroom next Tuesday, when a teacher at Westmount's prestigious Roslyn School will face the first of two lawsuits by aggrieved parents." Canada's National Post is kind enough to quote me on the U.S.-style trend (Zosia Bielski, "The new golden rule", National Post, Mar. 20).

15-year-old Vinicios Robacher says he was snoozing away in class when teacher Melisssa Nadeau chose to rouse him abruptly by slamming her hand down on his desk. That rude awakening resulted in pain and "very severe injuries to his left eardrum", according to the pre-lawsuit complaint filed by his lawyer, Alan Barry, with officials in Danbury, Ct. ("Danbury student suing after being awakened by teacher", AP/WTNH, Mar. 13).

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