Sneezing 101: Sickness in Schools

Right before Thanksgiving, I caught a “head cold” from my husband. His cold went away after a week, but mine got worse. I couldn’t sleep, eat, or breathe through my nose. I finally went to the doctor, who determined from a blood test that I had developed a bacterial upper respiratory infection, which required an antibiotic. The experience took me back to my three boys’ childhood illnesses, including late night bouts with the croup when they were babies; we would turn on the hot shower and steam up the bathroom as per the doctor’s recommendation. It also brought me back to my own childhood sicknesses, when my mother made me feel cozy and safe as I recovered on the living room couch after the doctor gave me a penicillin shot for tonsillitis.

The experience started me thinking of the difficulty parents have nowadays when their kids get sick. With so many parents working outside the home, the question of when to keep a young child home from school is a challenging one.

It is probably better to err on the side of caution. My daughter-in-law recently asked me to babysit for my four-year-old grandson because he hadn’t slept well and was lethargic. That’s a good reason to keep a young child home from school. If a child does not feel well enough to comfortably participate in school activities, he is better off at home.

Most parents know not to send their children to school with fever or a contagious illness. Kids who are vomiting, wheezing, have diarrhea, a rash, or persistent cough do not belong in school. You do not want your child in a compromising and embarrassing position. In addition, she will be sharing her germs with others. No one appreciates that!

Schools are hotbeds of germs. It’s important for children to know to wash their hands often and to cover their mouths when they sneeze. Lately, schools are teaching students to sneeze into the crook of their elbows. The children in this kid-friendly Public Service Video from the Virginia Department of Health describe this method. (http://www.vdh.state.va.us/epidemiology/DiseasePrevention/H1N1/Video/PSAs/Sneezing101.htm)

School nurses encourage seasonal flu vaccinations to prevent flu epidemics in the schools. It is also highly recommended by doctors and nurses that children be vaccinated against communicable diseases. A number of these diseases, including whooping cough, are making a comeback in schools. They are highly dangerous and can be fatal. 

As we enter the flu season, encourage your child to exercise good hygiene and get plenty of sleep. Have a contingency plan for your work if your child is home sick. If you don’t, the school nurse is likely to call before the day is over asking you to take your child home. Better to be safe than sorry. Let your child get the loving care he is entitled to, and to quote my grandmother, “He will be a professor a day later.”


School Shorts – Food for Thought

With all of the attention focused on the Penn State scandal, three provocative education stories have gotten little attention. All of the issues below are worthy of an in-depth discussion. I’d love to hear your opinion on any or all of these. Please leave your comments on the bottom of the page or tweet me @DrMerylAin. 

Is Pizza a Vegetable – What Do You Think? 

Education Week recently reported that pizza with tomato sauce would be considered a vegetable in school lunch programs under changes proposed by Congress. The Agriculture Appropriations bill approved by a conference committee of House and Senate members would also make other changes to rules about what’s served in school lunch programs. In the Education Week piece by Nirvi Shah, Margo Wootan, director of nutrition policy for the Center for Science in the Public Interest, said the following:

“At a time when child nutrition and childhood obesity are national health concerns, Congress should be supporting the U.S. Department of Agriculture and school efforts to serve healthier school meals, not undermining them. Together the school lunch riders in the agriculture spending bill will protect industry’s ability to keep pizza and French fries on school lunch trays.”

What do you think?

Is Pizza a Vegetable? In School Lunches, Congress Says Yes http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/campaign-k-12/2011/11/pizza_would_be_a_vegetable_in.html

Are High School Lockers Obsolete? 

USA TODAY reported that a growing number of US high schools are eliminating lockers. Proponents of lockerless schools contend that new technology, such as iPads, are rendering the need for lockers obsolete. Supporters say removing lockers cuts down on noise and lateness, enhances school safety, and saves money. The Madison County, Mississippi School District saved $200,000 by going without lockers in its new high schools. Other schools are removing lockers from older buildings. 

Are lockers obsolete or do students still need them? 

Hall lockers? Some schools say no – http://USATODAY.com http://usat.ly/vI9KXu

Should Parents Go To Jail if Their Kids Skip School?

Parents in Halifax County, NC may be heading to jail if their children have poor school attendance. The Halifax County court system, three public school systems and county agencies have joined forces in a new initiative called the Tri-District Truancy Procedure to address student attendance issues. 

After more than six unexcused absences, a parent or guardian will be notified by mail that they may be in violation of the Compulsory Attendance Law and may be prosecuted if the absences cannot be justified under the school system’s attendance policy. In addition, after more than six unexcused absences, school personnel will work with the student and family to find out the cause of the absences to determine what should be done. If a student has 10 unexcused absences at the discretion of the school principal, the district attorney’s office may be notified in writing, along with the Department of Social Services. 

A criminal warrant for school attendance law violation against the parent or guardian will be secured, and the parent or guardian will have to attend a truancy hearing, which could result in a 120-day jail sentence. 

School and court officials indicated these new procedures would send a message to parents about their responsibility to make sure their children are in school. 

Is this the right message to send to parents? 

Courts to punish parents on school attendance issues http://www.rrdailyherald.com/news/courts-to-punish-parents-on-school-attendance-issues/article_da2ff198-0966-11e1-86d9-001cc4c002e0.html


What Every Parent, Teacher & Child Need to Know About Sexual Harassment in Schools

In a nationally televised news conference, Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain denied sexual harassment allegations against him, claimed one accuser was “troubled,” and could not remember another complainant. Cain himself predicted that his political adversaries would solicit more accusers in the coming days.

It is no longer unusual to pick up a newspaper, go online, or turn on a TV and see politicians, celebrities, clergy – and educators too — being charged with sexual harassment.

Coincidentally, the allegations against Cain surfaced at the same time a national survey by the American Association of University Women found that 48 percent of 1,965 students said they had experienced verbal, physical, or online sexual harassment in the 2010-2011 school year.

But how do we define sexual harassment? It’s actually a little bit tricky. A simple definition of sexual harassment is that it’s any behavior of a sexual nature that’s offensive in the “eye of the beholder.” This means that if a person feels uncomfortable about a gesture, comment or action, it could be defined as sexual harassment.

The legal definition of sexual harassment in schools can be traced to Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. This federal law made it illegal to discriminate against students on the basis of their sex, and to forbid unwelcome flirtations, sexual advances, propositions, continual or repeated verbal abuse of a sexual nature, use of sexually degrading words or actions, and the display of sexually suggestive pictures.

Every school district assigns one administrator to be the Title IX Officer. As the Title IX Officer in a large New York school district for more than a decade, it was my responsibility to investigate allegations of sexual harassment brought to my attention by administrators, teachers and parents. I wish I could say that there were no complaints, but each year there were several, involving both students and staff.

Before Title IX came into effect, there was no recourse for individuals – students and staff — who felt uncomfortable with unsolicited sexual behavior or comments. But today we live in a very different world. It’s critically important that parents, students, and staff familiarize themselves with the latest policies and make sure that they are followed.

Sexual harassment may occur from student to student, from teacher to student, from administrator to teacher, from administrator to student, or administrator to administrator. There are two types of sexual harassment that particularly concern us in schools. The first kind is “quid pro quo.” That means that if you do something for me, I’ll repay you with such things as grades, promotion or job advancement. This usually has to do with an unequal power relationship between harasser and the target of harassment, or teacher and student. This is clearly against the law.

The other form of sexual harassment is that of a hostile or offensive environment. This is an environment that allows or encourages repetitive patterns of teasing, innuendoes or jokes of a sexual nature, and interferes with someone’s work or academic performance. This may or may not have to do with an unequal power arrangement, and may be employee to employee, student to student or student to teacher. This is also illegal.

The key with hostile environment complaints is that educators are responsible for this state of affairs whether they see the alleged behavior or not. If they pretend they do not see it and ignore it, they are still responsible. If they brush off or minimize complaints, they can also be held accountable. The most important thing for school personnel to remember is that they are held responsible for behaviors they permit as well as for behaviors they commit.

Parents, students, teachers, and administrators should keep the following points in mind:
• Know Your District Policies and Procedures.
• Sexual harassment is not defined by intention. It is defined by the impact on the target.
• Silence does not imply consent.
• Anything that takes place on e-mail or the Internet is easily traceable and can also form the basis for a sexual harassment complaint.
• Teachers should not be alone with students.
• Teachers and administrators are responsible for what goes on in the school. It is the responsibility of the adults in charge to address behaviors that may contribute to a hostile environment.
• Should you observe something you believe is sexual harassment, report it to a school administrator or the District Title IX Officer. All complaints must be investigated thoroughly and promptly.

http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2011/11/09/11harass_ep.h31.html?tkn=SZOFJj9NfrbW/C77Tevw7l65VfrqF1dkZHwo&cmp=ENL-EU-NEWS1

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News and Views – What Do You Think?

This week the news has been full of education stories of interest to parents. So many, that instead of giving my opinion on one topic, I’ve compiled a list for you of six of the most provocative issues.  I’d love to hear your opinion on any or all of these. Please leave your comments on the bottom of the page or tweet me @DrMerylAin. 

1. The Today Show reported that French schools have banned ketchup in an effort to promote healthy eating and combat childhood obesity. As anchor Savannah Guthrie pointed out, “First they give us French fries, and then they take away the ketchup!” 

Q: How healthy is your child’s lunch program? Is there anything you would like to see banned?

http://www.bing.com/videos/watch/video/why-are-european-schools-banning-ketchup/6g37xqg 

2. For parents who are worried about their children’s whereabouts, there’s a new app that makes checking in a game. “Our view is that what makes kids safer is communication and being close to their folks,” said the new iPhone app’s co-creator Matthew Bromberg, “And I don’t want to know where my kid is on the map every single moment. I just want to know what’s going on.”

Q: Do you agree or is this too much control for parents to exert over their children?   http://mashable.com/2011/10/19/imok/

3. Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon repealed teacher-student Facebook restrictions. The controversial law had limited online chats between teachers and students and some alleged that it threatened free-speech rights. 

Q: Do you think students and teachers should be Facebook friends?

http://www.edweek.org/dd/articles/2011/10/21/463731usteachersonfacebook_ap.html via @educationweek 

4. Some elite private schools in New York have reduced the burden of homework on their students.

Q: Do your kids have too much, too little, or the right amount of homework? http://nyti.ms/oWpCn1 

5. Idaho schools will tie merit pay to factors such as parent involvement. In some south-central Idaho schools, teacher bonuses will be based on parent participation, including attendance at parent-teacher conferences. 

Q: Will this promote or stifle parent-teacher relationships?   http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2011/10/24/464180idteachersmeritpay_ap.html

6. Sir Ken Robinson, world-renowned educator and creativity expert, discusses changing education paradigms in a must-see provocative video. He takes on the education establishment, arguing that today’s students are not being properly educated. 

Q: Do you agree or disagree? Let’s discuss.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zDZFcDGpL4U&feature=share


Are Schools Getting Too Carried Away with Technology?

When my grandmother died in 1978 at almost 90, I thought the technological changes she had experienced in her lifetime would never be duplicated. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Technology is now changing at a dizzying pace, and parents and educators have to decide what’s best for our children. It’s a difficult conundrum with dueling points of view.

On one hand, most schools have embraced technology, spending huge amounts of money on upgrading electronic equipment that soon becomes obsolete. First it was the installation of computer labs, then the purchase of laptops, followed by i-Pads. I admit I drooled when Smart Boards were installed in a district in which I was working as a central office administrator. I secretly wished I could be a high school social studies teacher again, and with the touch of a finger take my students to sites that would propel great class discussions.

But technology should be taken just so far. What is the wisdom of turning cell phones into teaching tools in the classroom? Newsday reports that an Amityville social studies teacher recently asked his 11th graders to use their personal cell phones to text a response to a poll about a presidential speech they had just watched in the classroom. According to the article, this is part of a growing local and national trend.

Many other school districts, however, still bar students from bringing their cell phones and smart phones to school – and for good reason. They have been viewed as a distraction, even a dangerous one. Do we really want students checking their e-mail and texting during class? Do we want them using it to make dates during class, surf their favorite sites on the Web, cheat, or even engage in drug dealing? As much as schools will try to restrict its use in school, some students won’t be able to control themselves.

Even if you argue that most kids won’t engage in such nefarious behavior, whatever happened to raising your hand and having a discussion? Do our children have to be tethered to machines 24/7?

Apparently, some people in the computer industry don’t think so. A recent article in the New York Times pointed out that some of Silicon Valley’s technology leaders send their children to schools without computers! They think it’s easy enough to pick up computer skills, and that what’s really important is great teaching that actively engages kids in learning. Engagement is really the issue. Does technology foster engagement or inhibit it?

In addition, public schools have to consider the cost. Computers in education are here to stay but they need to be used judiciously — always with the goal of fostering student engagement and enabling critical and creative thinking.

If cell phones are now becoming the teaching tool du jour, then what do public schools do with the millions of dollars in computer equipment they bought? With built-in obsolescence, it’s critically important that schools don’t spend mindlessly on the latest cool gadget, only to abandon it for a better one a few years later.

Who is watching the technology store in our public school districts? Every year, superintendents and chief technology officers present a computer budget to the board of education and the public. As we go forward in this difficult economy, there needs to be accountability, research, evidence, and a rationale for future spending on electronic devices. Most of all, schools require a clear vision for how they plan on engaging students in learning – both with and without computers. 

http://www.newsday.com/long-island/educators-eye-cellphones-as-teaching-tools-1.3249660 

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/23/technology/at-waldorf-school-in-silicon-valley-technology-can-wait.html?pagewanted=1&_r=1


Parent-Teacher Conferences – Do You Need A Bribe?

It’s the season for parent-teacher conferences and I urge every parent to embrace this opportunity to sit down with your children’s teachers, no matter if your kids are in kindergarten or high school. 

This is your opportunity to find out specifically how your children are doing, and generally what’s going on in their classrooms and in their schools. I have to admit I was a bit disheartened when I recently came across a NEA (National Education Association) article advising teachers of tactics that they might want to use to “lure” parents into attending parent-teacher conferences. I’d be interested in knowing whether you think the parents in your school need to be cajoled into meeting with their children’s teachers, or whether they understand communicating with them is one of the best things they can do to help their kids succeed.  

Among the strategies recommended in the article are student-led conferences, in which students actually prepare and participate in the conference. The article said that feedback on this type of conference was “overwhelmingly positive,” and that there is a growing trend to encourage parents to bring their children to conferences. Other teachers had students prepare and present Power Point presentations to show their parents what they were learning. This tactic reportedly ensured record attendance. 

Not that there’s anything wrong with involving students and giving them a chance to be present, but I’m not sure that quite fits the definition of a parent-teacher conference. It seems to me the parent-teacher conference is one of the few chances you get to sit down with your kid’s teacher — adult to adult — and discuss what’s best for your child. 

Then there were the “bribes” to entice parents to meet with the teachers. These included: extra credit for students whose parents showed up, personal invitations, raffle tickets, a dessert bar, and goody bags. Finally, it was reported that some teachers go on home visits to meet parents who cannot get to the school. 

It’s commendable that some teachers go to such lengths to accommodate parents, but I would think parents would prefer to see the teachers’ creative energies going instead to inspiring the students. 

The article didn’t mention adjusted hours for working parents, which should be pro forma nowadays in all schools and something that parents should insist upon. Similarly, if your work schedule does not allow you to get to school on a particular day, request an alternate date or a phone conference.  

Here are 7 tips for a successful parent-teacher conference:

  1. Come prepared with questions and take notes. Always ask how you can support your child’s learning at home.
  2. Don’t be passive. If you have a particular question or concern, don’t be afraid to bring it up. Be specific. 
  3. Discuss your child’s social and emotional development as well as academic performance. Be sure to let the teacher know if there is anything going on at home that may impact your child’s behavior and performance in school, such as divorce, illness in the family, or a new baby.
  4. If there is a problem, describe how it makes you or your child feel without being defensive or negative. Actively listen to what the teacher says. Come to an agreement about what is best for your child.
  5. Schedule follow-up meetings or telephone calls to be sure the plan is working.
  6. Find out how the teacher communicates with parents, e.g., online, newsletters, agendas, etc.
  7. If you are not satisfied with the conference, you may ask to meet with an administrator.  

Try This: The New Parent-Teacher Conference  

http://www.nea.org/home/40927.htm#.Tpiih8U_Alo.twitter


To Write or Not to Write – That is the Question?

Do you remember third grade penmanship when you were so proud to learn, “script,” distinguishing you as a learner of grown up writing? Well those days may be all but over.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Today Show’s Jenna Wolfe recently polled third graders in Nashville, Tenn., to see whether they preferred print or cursive writing. The students were unanimous in voting for print. And typing won hands-down over printing. 

Forty-six states have now adopted Common Core Standards in an effort to concur on common standards and ultimately common assessments. Cursive writing is a casualty of those standards, having been replaced by the contemporary form of writing — keyboarding.  States such as Indiana and Hawaii have begun eliminating cursive writing from the curriculum and others will surely follow suit.  Teachers claim there’s just no time in the day to teach it, but I still have mixed feelings about its demise. 

There will likely be a benefit for students with illegible handwriting. While teachers have maintained that kids weren’t penalized for poor penmanship that was always hard to prove. So cutting it from the curriculum could help those with challenged handwriting and help to level the playing field. Conversely, writing by hand may be important to cognitive development. Students have different learning styles that include forms of expression. Cursive writing gives young people another avenue to express themselves in an individual, authentic, and creative way. 

No one can argue against the value of teaching keyboarding; it’s clearly an essential skill for the 21st century. On the other hand, when children engage in cursive writing there is no machine in between them and their thoughts. They are so tethered to electronic devices nowadays that eliminating cursive writing makes them even more dependent on electronics. And technology is wonderful only when it works. What happens when the computer crashes or the power goes out? 

Cursive writing is faster than printing.  It’s an equalizer that doesn’t require expensive equipment.  Long before the computer — or even the typewriter — the classics were written in longhand. A contemporary example is that of JK Rowling, the author of the spectacularly successful Harry Potter books.  Prior to becoming a bestselling author, she was a struggling single mother who conceived of and wrote her first book entirely by hand. 

It really boils down to what we believe is important for students to learn. For example, a computer program can solve mathematical problems, but that doesn’t mean we don’t want students to learn how to do mathematical calculations by themselves. Some people love to write in longhand. Why remove this choice from our children’s repertoire? 

As a former history teacher, my heart breaks to think that if students don’t learn cursive writing, they will not know how to read it either. Will they be lost in museums and presidential libraries as they are confronted with the great historical documents written in longhand? How are they going to read and appreciate the Declaration of Independence, the Gettysburg Address, or even their great grandparents’ letters to one another during World War II?

Finally, I am sad to see just one more manifestation of civility lost from our culture. Writing a note in cursive is an expression of caring and cultivation. Jacqueline Kennedy was known for her thoughtful notes. Are thank you, sympathy and congratulatory notes obsolete? It’s hard to argue that e-mails carry the same emotional impact.

And let’s not forget handwriting analysis, which is still an important tool in criminal investigations and employment screening.  The four Today Show anchors – Matt Lauer, Ann Curry, Natalie Morales, and Al Roker – recently had their handwriting analyzed by an expert!

What do you think?

http://allday.today.msnbc.msn.com/_news/2011/10/18/8063805-what-does-the-anchors-handwriting-say-about-them

http://moms.today.msnbc.msn.com/_news/2011/10/17/8369751-has-cursive-seen-the-writing-on-the-wall