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Legislative Update – ATPE

Posted by Texas Education on June 27, 2008

this just in from ATPE…

6-26-08 ATPE files suit to protect educator privacy

ATPE filed a lawsuit June 23 against the Austin Independent School District and the Office of the Texas Attorney General to prevent the release of educators’ personal information to local media outlets. Since news of the lawsuit broke, ATPE has heard from many educators applauding the association for taking a stand on educators’ rights:

•One blogger wrote: “I’m a member of one of the other teacher organizations here in Texas (we don’t have unions per se, and are a right-to-work state), but I am thankful that the ATPE has filed this suit to keep the results of teacher background checks from becoming subject to release under the state’s public records laws.”

•One member reported cutting out an article about the lawsuit from The Dallas Morning News and saving it to share at her district’s new-teacher orientation and with campus representatives. (Read the Associated Press article on the lawsuit at www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/ap/tx/5852522.html.)

•Another member wrote: “I [was] aware that we educators will be fingerprinted sometime in the near future, but I did not consider that the background check could be public knowledge. I wholly support the [background check] process to protect all of us, but as your [op-ed at atpe.org] states, all of us deserve privacy. Thank you for your diligence!”

ATPE decided to file the lawsuit after Austin ISD was unsuccessful in its attempt to convince the attorney general’s office to reverse a decision requiring the release of information from Austin ISD employees’ recently completed criminal background checks. Austin ISD is the first district to complete the new criminal background check process mandated by Senate Bill (SB) 9, which was passed by the Legislature in 2007.

In filing the lawsuit, ATPE hopes to protect the privacy of all Texas educators. Although ATPE believes strongly in the use of background checks to identify school personnel whose past convictions indicate that their presence endangers the safety of students and faculty, we do not believe that releasing this personal data serves any public good. If released, the information would make no distinction between serious and minor offenses or distinguish between recent or long-past events. Nor would it discriminate between unfounded arrests and arrests that led to prosecution.

School districts across Texas will complete the SB 9-mandated background checks over the course of the next three years. Because the process raises many questions for educators—from questions of procedure to questions of privacy—ATPE has created a Fingerprinting Resource Center for Texas educators at www.atpe.org/Resources/educators/fingerprintingResources.asp. The resource center contains information about fingerprinting procedures, the history of SB 9 and privacy concerns, and ATPE will also post updates on the lawsuit there. Please share this link with your colleagues.

6-25-08 ATPE testifies against granting state funds to private schools to recover dropouts

The Texas Education Agency (TEA) held a hearing today on a controversial commissioner’s rule that would allow the agency to award grants to schools, including private schools, that identify dropouts and help them receive high school diplomas or achieve college readiness. ATPE has long opposed any program or initiative that directs public funds to private schools and testified at the hearing to outline our concerns about the plan. ATPE is concerned because:

•The plan would send public funds to private schools that are not accountable to the state or taxpayers.

•The plan does not contain safeguards to prevent parents from using this program to remove their children from public schools and send them to private schools.

•The plan does not require private schools to offer services that are research-based.

•The state would have no mechanism for sanctioning private schools under the Dropout Recovery Pilot Program..

View ATPE’s testimony in its entirety at www.atpe.org/advocacy/lan/dropoutRecoveryRuleTestimony.pdf.

TEA plans to implement the program by the end of August. ATPE will continue to monitor this issue closely and will report on any significant developments.

for more updates

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