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Judge orders Missouri students back to school while their off-campus speech lawsuit proceeds

(03/23/12 5:20pm)

A judge ruled two Lee’s Summit North High School students can return to school April 9 after being suspended for 180 days because of their blog, Steven and Sean Wilson are being allowed to return to school after creating and posting blog posts on the website, which district officials claimed disrupted the educational process. Senior U.S.

TRANSPARENCY TUESDAY: When the police investigation ends, your investigation is just getting started

(03/27/12 6:38pm)

Using an under-utilized information source -- the closed files of police investigators -- NBC News has shed new light on what campus police knew in 1998 about now-indicted coach Jerry Sandusky's "private workouts" with young boys in the Penn State locker room. NBC's widely cited reports, accompanied by original police documents posted online, are adding to the public's understanding about whether police responded adequately to the earliest known complaints that Sandusky touched kids inappropriately -- letting him go with the admonition to stop showering with boys, despite a psychologist's warning that the coach's behavior looked like "a typical pedophile 'overture.'" Because institutional memories in newsrooms are short -- and those in student newsrooms especially so -- journalists sometimes forget to follow up on cases that have been closed.

Privacy group's challenge to Department of Education FERPA regs could hamper school accountability

(03/25/12 6:07pm)

Today's Atlanta Journal-Constitution features a multi-part investigative blockbuster that uses computer-assisted reporting to identify suspiciously sharp gains in student aptitude test scores in districts across the country -- gains that, in Atlanta, were found to be evidence of widespread cheating by administrators and teachers. According to the AJC findings, about 200 school districts nationwide -- including schools in Houston, St.

Indiana's HB 1169 goes to conference committee for more tinkering

(03/02/12 8:16pm)

The latest update in Indiana House Bill 1169’s journey through the legislature is starting to make neurosurgery look easy. Tory Flynn, an Indiana Republican caucus spokeswoman, said the House dissented Thursday to a recent Senate amendment. The bill will go to a conference committee made up of both Senators and House members to hash out the kinks. House Bill 1169 began as a bill to give school administrators authority to punish students for off-campus speech — whether lawful or unlawful.

Montana court is another voice in the growing chorus: FERPA doesn't mean what schools say it does

(03/04/12 8:23pm)

A well-known college employee suddenly disappears from campus under a cloud of misconduct rumors. When the news media starts asking questions, the college throws up a steel curtain of secrecy, claiming "student confidentiality." Journalists have become familiar with this bureaucratic dodge, and have come to regard cries of "FERPA" -- the federal student privacy law -- as skeptically as those of, "Wolf!" Now, yet another state court -- this time in Montana -- has agreed with the news media that Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) does not override a state university's duty to produce open records, if the records are primarily about the conduct of an employee and not primarily about students. In a March 1 ruling, Bozeman Daily Chronicle v.

TRANSPARENCY TUESDAY: Profiling a bad guy? His rap sheet may be just a click away.

(03/06/12 9:16pm)

You're researching a news story on deadline about a crime. All you have is the sketchy information from a police report: The name, date of birth, and other vital statistics of the person in custody. In most states, that thumbnail of information is enough to get almost instantaneous access to extensive details about the person's criminal history -- free of charge -- and often a useable photo as well. State Department of Corrections databases are an under-appreciated resource for journalists on the crime beat.

Bill letting Indiana schools punish off-campus conduct gets shipped to study committee, buying students a reprieve

(03/08/12 10:17pm)

On Wednesday, Indiana high school students celebrated "First Amendment Day" at the state Capitol -- and on Thursday, they got to keep their constitutionally protected freedoms safe for at least another year. By a vote of 88-0, the state House voted Thursday night to accept a much-diluted Senate version of HB 1169, a controversial measure that -- as originally filed -- would have enabled schools to suspend or expel students whose behavior anywhere, even at home, was considered an "interference with school purposes." Indiana schools currently can punish illegal conduct that disrupts or interferes with school, but HB 1169 would have allowed suspension or expulsion even for lawful behavior. Instead of granting schools the expanded disciplinary authority they sought, the bill as passed merely calls for the appointment of a 14-member study committee to look at "best practices for school discipline." Among the 14 members will be eight state legislators and three local school administrators; students will not be represented. State Rep.

TRANSPARENCY TUESDAY: Colleges can contract out their services -- but they can't contract away public disclosure

(03/13/12 9:21pm)

With cash-strapped government agencies seeking to contract functions out to private vendors and shrink the public workforce, the "savings" sometimes include economizing on transparency. Journalists seeking information on how public services get delivered are frequently told that the corporate contractors who provide "privatized" government services need not honor requests for public records. Strictly speaking, most state open-records laws apply to documents that are kept, created or used by government agencies in the performance of their duties.

Censorship FAIL: Refusal to publish atheism column puts school district's policies under the constitutional microscope

(03/22/12 7:54pm)

Unless you are one of the financial backers of "John Carter," it is hard to conceive of a more disastrous flop than the Lenoir City School District's efforts to suppress a teenager's column about religious indoctrination in schools. Had Krystal Myers' column, "No Rights, the Life of an Atheist," been allowed to run in the Lenoir City High School newspaper, its impact would have been limited to the Panther Press' tiny audience.

From the "Right Not to Be Annoyed" Department ... where do you go to report annoying legislation?

(03/28/12 7:24pm)

In their never-ending quest to make Connecticut a less annoying place, state legislators -- apparently having solved unemployment, crime and school funding -- have trained their sights on annoying speech. A bill introduced March 22 by the Senate Judiciary Committee -- which is up for a hearing in that committee Thursday -- would create the new misdemeanor criminal offense of "Electronic Harassment." (Note to Dave Barry: "Electronic Harassment" would be an exceptional name for a band.) A person would be guilty of the crime of "Electronic Harassment" under the following conditions: (1) Transmitting information over any electronic medium (anything from radio to the Web to texting), (2) that is based on a person's "actual or perceived traits or characteristics," (3) that causes a person "substantial embarrassment or humiliation within an academic or professional community," and (4) is done with an intent to "annoy" or "alarm" the person. Read that carefully, and think about how much First Amendment real estate it covers. For example ... how about this Al Franken column, "Rush Limbaugh is still a big fat idiot." Transmitted electronically?