Last week, along with some of my fellow bloggers, I attended the 60th annual meeting of the Education Law Association. This organization is unique in that it brings together those interested in both K-12 and higher education law and policy, as well as three distinct constituencies: faculty, administrators, and attorneys.
My time there was hectic but incredibly informative. (Here is a link to the list of presentation topics.) A particular treat was attending the seminar given by Professor Michael Olivas of the University of Houston Law Center. Olivas was awarded the Steven S. Goldberg Award for Distinguished Scholarship in Education Law for his 2013 book "Suing Alma Mater." (Here is a link to my review of that book.) Olivas' text utilizes a quasi-case study approach to illustrate in-depth some of the legal challenges recently brought before the courts to combat discrimination and disparity. His concluding chapter about the role of purposive organizations is worthy of note and a must-read.
Olivas' inclusion fit seamlessly with the theme of the conference, "The Resegregation of Education in America," as did some of the other keynote speakers. At the conference I was introduced to the work of Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of the University of California, Irvine School of Law, and Dr. Raynard Sanders, host of the New Orleans Impeative broadcast. Both received standing ovations for their moving and passionate remarks, arguing that modern-day movements in education have reverted American schools to the racial separation and inequity that the Brown case sought to end nearly 60 years ago.
Chemerinsky, for whom his incredibly articulate and well researched address I cannot do justice, argued that our political AND personal divestiture in neighborhood schools has led to the very movement that has caused the general public to lose faith in this basic American institution. Sanders, who at the time of Katrina was working as a school principal, went through a thorough account of the events immediately after the devasting hurricane that led to the abolishment of the Orleans Parish School Board and COMPLETE transition to a charter school system. He outlined how federal funds requested by the state board of education were not spent in the way there were intended, and thousands of community teachers were fired. The narrative regarding the success of NOLA schools is somewhat skewed, as the previously failing schools that are now being touted as "turned around" by this new charter system are being evaluated by a new and lowered assessment model.** Both Chemerinksy and Sanders made rousing arguments that both the education and legal communities must take up figurative arms to combat the political attack on education and public sentiment that it is a defunct system.
Other sessions of note included a presenation by Mark St. Louis and Brian Mistler on the legal and psychological concepts related to conflict managment and employee negotiation. Mistler, a counselor himself, provided some useful tools for those working in education (and beyond) to use conflict as an opportunity to learn both sides of any position and to redirect organizational power to achieve harmony. Mercy Roberg took an interesting look into the potential legal issues involved when high school students dual enroll on college campuses. Jermaine Johnson provided a well-researched overview of OCR guidance regarding direct threats and suicidal students. In that same session, I enjoyed a presentation by John Dayton regarding workplace bullies.
Hopefully this BRIEF recap of the conference has piqued your interest and that you may consider joining us in Cleveland in 2015. (If you have not visited the city before, you are in for a treat. Truly a hidden gem of the Midwest!)
**Footnote: Any discussion of the racial inequity in New Orleans schools would be remiss to not mention the active role the Catholic Diocese of New Orleans played in the 1960s to thwart the desegration movement.