Schooled Reporting on education

The year of school safety, or lack thereof

Education | Several horrific shootings and efforts to improve campus safety dominated headlines in 2018
by Leigh Jones
Posted 12/26/18, 12:16 pm

Almost everything in education news this year paled in comparison to the two mass-casualty shootings that claimed 27 lives. School safety dominated headlines from February until the November midterms. But with little agreement on school safety solutions, the news cycle ground on to other things. Here are this year’s top five stories in education.

School shootings and safety

On Feb. 14, 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz walked into Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., and opened fire with a semi-automatic rifle. He killed 17 students and staff in the deadliest high school shooting in U.S. history. But Cruz’s carnage was only the beginning of the deadly violence that rocked American schools this year. In May, a 17-year-old student killed 10 people at Santa Fe High School in Santa Fe, Texas. Intentional shootings at 10 other schools claimed another six lives and injured 20 others. Police across the country thwarted several attempted attacks, including one on Dec. 13.

The shootings, especially in Parkland, renewed the debate over school safety and gun control and propelled a small group of student activists into the national spotlight. The debate over how to prevent future shootings seems likely to dominate headlines next year. The Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission will issue its final report Jan. 1. But some of its pre-reporting recommendations have stirred controversy. On Dec. 12 the group voted almost unanimously to recommend Florida allow vetted and properly trained teachers to carry concealed handguns on campus. —L.J.

Associated Press/Photo by John Raby Associated Press/Photo by John Raby Teachers rally outside the state Senate chambers at the Capitol in Charleston, W.Va., in March.

Teachers win, unions lose

In late February, teachers in West Virginia went on strike. They rallied at the state Capitol for nine days and persuaded legislators to give them a 5 percent raise. Their surprise success emboldened teachers in Kentucky, Oklahoma, Colorado, and Arizona to organize their own strikes, prompting the biggest wave of teacher activism in decades. Union activists hailed the protests, and teachers did gain some ground in pay and classroom funding.

But the unions’ celebration didn’t last long. Despite predictions that teacher activism would have a big effect on the 2018 midterms, that education wave never materialized. They did help flip statehouses in Wisconsin and Kansas to Democrats. But education advocates in states that saw the most teacher-related activism didn’t enjoy significant ballot victories. In the Oklahoma gubernatorial election, Republican Kevin Stitt defeated Democrat Drew Edmondson, who promised to raise taxes to increase teacher pay. Teachers unions also failed to oust Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, a Republican who became a foil for activist teachers during that state’s strikes. And Colorado voters rejected a referendum that would have raised an estimated $1.6 billion for education. —L.J.

Facebook/Harvard University Facebook/Harvard University Harvard University campus

No longer welcome on campus

Harvard University announced in February it would no longer allow campus Christian groups to “discriminate” by holding to biblical beliefs about marriage and sexuality. The Ivy League school’s decision raised fears of a widespread, faith-based purge at private universities. That didn’t materialize, but several public schools decided to challenge Christian groups’ freedom of religion.

The first case originated at the University of Iowa, where administrators sanctioned Business Leaders in Christ over its faith-based leadership requirements. A federal judge ordered the school to reverse course, noting it didn’t equally enforce its nondiscrimination policy against Muslim groups. Religious liberty advocates hailed that ruling, but it didn’t stop other schools from trying a similar approach. A few weeks after the Harvard situation made headlines, Wayne State University kicked its chapter of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship off campus. The school relented after religious liberty law firm Becket filed suit. But in November, apologetics group Ratio Christi filed suit against the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs, for denying it official status over its leadership requirements. —L.J.

Associated Press/Photo by Damian Dovarganes Associated Press/Photo by Damian Dovarganes Neighbors in front of the Turpin home in Perris, Calif., after the couple was arrested in January

Homeschoolers prevail in oversight challenges

Homeschoolers scored two significant wins this year in state-level challenges to their autonomy. In January, police in California discovered one of the worst cases of child abuse in years. David and Louise Turpin had held their 12 children in near complete isolation—under the guise of homeschooling. California lawmakers quickly filed a bill that would have required homeschooling parents to get teaching credentials. It also would have mandated local fire officials inspect all registered homeschools at least once a year. After homeschoolers lobbied against it, the bill’s sponsor dropped it.

A month later, hundreds of homeschoolers rallied at the state Capitol to argue against another bill that would have required state officials to collect and make public a list of families that educate their children at home. After listening to three hours of testimony, lawmakers abandoned the proposal. Several months earlier, homeschooling families in Hawaii also scored an improbable victory against a bill that would have required homeschool parents to pass background checks. That bill’s sponsor shelved the measure after listening to hours of testimony. —L.J.

Associated Press/Photo by Jacquelyn Martin Associated Press/Photo by Jacquelyn Martin Women protest Title IX changes before a speech by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos at George Mason University in Arlington, Va., in September 2017.

Title IX fight

The debate over Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ Title IX policy rewrite regarding sexual assault investigations at schools dragged on all year. But the fight has only just begun. Now that the proposed changes are final, opponents are flooding the Education Department with comments. In the first two weeks of the 60-day comment period, 45,000 people submitted feedback.

The policy changes have supporters, but opponents definitely have the momentum. Women (as the most likely potential victims of sexual assault) are viewed as the underdogs now that the government is trying to scale back Obama-era measures designed to make it easier for them to pursue assault claims. But recent polls show Americans fear the potential for false accusations. One survey found 57 percent of respondents had an equal share of concern for men facing false accusations and women facing possible assaults. DeVos says she wants to protect women while also upholding the due process rights enshrined in the U.S. Constitution. Democrats preparing to take over the House in January don’t see it that way. Expect to see DeVos called into numerous contentious committee hearings in the first few months of the new year. —L.J.

Read more Schooled Sign up for the Schooled email
Leigh Jones

Leigh is acting managing editor for WORLD Radio. She is a World Journalism Institute graduate who spent six years as a newspaper reporter in Texas before joining WORLD. Leigh also co-wrote Infinite Monster: Courage, Hope, and Resurrection in the Face of One of America's Largest Hurricanes. She resides with her husband and daughter in Houston, Texas.

Read more from this writer