September 21, 2014

Clemson suspends survey over concerns sexual questions were too personal

Courtesy: Clemson University

Courtesy: Clemson University

Clemson University officials have stopped having students fill out a Title IX survey over complaints from some of those students that the questions were inappropriate.

The school said Thursday that more than 6,000 students took the online training module operated by a third-party, which was intended to educate them about sexual discrimination and assault protections under federal laws known as Title IX.

But the online publication Campus Reform noted some students felt the module asked very personal questions, such as how many sexual encounters they’d experienced in the past three months, how many partners, and how often they had drunk alcohol or used drugs.

Clemson’s dean of students and Associate VP for Student Affairs Shannon Finning said the questionnaire was anonymous and meant to help the school prevent assault or sexual harassment. However, she added the school had pulled the survey for now.

“We’re doing that to ensure that it meets the goal of making Clemson a safer campus for all students, faculty, and staff while also respecting individual privacy,” Finning told WORD News in Greenville.

Finning said that, until this week, they had received nothing but positive feedback about the survey for several weeks.

Greenville affiliate WORD News contributed to this report

Winthrop begins search for new college president

The search for Winthrop University’s 11th president will move forward this fall.

Winthrop trustees on Wednesday chose Texas-based William Funk and Associates to lead the process of finding the school’s next leader. Board chair Kathy Bigham said the process may cost more than $100,000.

“One of the things that we were looking for as a board was a consultant that would reach out initially to a broad base of our constituents, from faculty to students to community to alums to leaders in the university donors, and see what they wanted in a president,” Bigham said following the meeting.

The board of trustees earlier this summer fired president Jamie Comstock Williamson, citing an abusive personality and claiming she misled them about a job given to her husband. 

The search will be funded by the Winthrop University Foundation. Since the private entity footed the bill, there was no bidding or procurement process. Bigham said the Board actively participated in the selection of the consulting firm. William Funk and Associates was involved in the recent presidential searches by Clemson and the University of South Carolina.

The Winthrop University Foundation has agreed to pay $140,000 for the search, which will include travel expenses for the board and eventual finalists. Bigham expects the Board to choose the next president next spring.

Andrew Kiel of Rock Hill station WRHI contributed to this report

Former SC governors push for civics portion of citizenship test in schools

Former Governor Dick Riley served as Education Secretary in President Clinton's administration

Former Governor Dick Riley served as Education Secretary in President Clinton’s administration

Three former South Carolina governors have joined an initiative that would encourage high school students to take the civics portion of a test required for immigrants seeking American citizenship.

Former Republican governor James Edwards, along with ex-Democratic governors Jim Hodges and Dick Riley announced their support for the South Carolina Civics Initiative in a Wednesday conference call. The call was intentionally scheduled on the 227th anniversary of the U.S. Constitution’s signing.

Riley said civics education merits more attention than it’s currently receiving in schools. “This idea of civics education is so important for American students, all of them, to know the very basics,” the initiative’s co-chair said in the conference call. “I think it’s important to the country and it’s important to our country’s future.”

The group cited an Annenberg Public Policy Center study which found only one-third of Americans could name one of their government’s three branches.

“Understanding basic civics and how our government works needs to be a priority,” said Columbia restaurateur Bill Dukes, also a state co-chair. “Civic education will enable us to sustain our constitutional democracy.  Our citizens must be informed and responsible.  Our free and open society cannot succeed if our citizens don’t understand the fundamental values and principles of democracy.”

The Civics Education Initiative is asking state lawmakers to consider having students take the test, but not requiring it for graduation. Students could get extra credit on their GPA for a good score, according to a release from the group.

State officials seek exemption from healthy school snacks requirements


USDA guidelines show which snacks are allowed and which are not under "Smart Snacks in School" regulations (Image: USDA)

USDA guidelines show which snacks are allowed and which are not under “Smart Snacks in School” regulations (Image: USDA)

State education officials say they are now taking steps to ease new federal regulations which bar snacks considered unhealthy from being sold on public school campuses.

The Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 was pitched as a way to serve healthier school meals to students, especially low-income children, in an attempt to reduce obesity rates. New nutrition regulations that took effect in July bar any sales of snacks that have more than 200 calories or 230 milligrams of sodium.

But many student and parent organizations were upset with the US Department of Agriculture language that effectively prevents them from selling popular snacks as fundraisers, such as donuts in the morning carpool line or cookies during lunch.

“It is very difficult to find anything that anybody will buy that’s in compliance with the law,” Richland School District Two executive director of operations Jack Carter said, adding that the no-snacks rule covers any period of the day from midnight until 30 minutes after class dismissal.

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SC Senate panel studies teacher dismissal procedure

Classroom at Rosewood Elementary, ColumbiaState Education Superintendent Mick Zais told a legislative panel that the system used to fire underperforming teachers is flawed. Zais testified before memmbers of the Senate Education Committee Tuesday. He said one of the critical ways to improve public schools is to fine tune the way underperforming teachers are terminated.

Zais said it’s important that teachers have the right to due process, however the system now is overly legalistic.

“Obviously we must protect teachers from arbitrary and capricious dismissal, on the other hand we must protect students from ineffective teachers. It’s a balancing act. I think right now we protect teachers at the expense of students and we need to right the balance between those two,” Zais said.

He wants changes to the state’s Teacher Employment Dismissal Act

“You didn’t do the necessary counseling, you didn’t establish a positive organizational climate, you did not supervise the development of this teacher, and you didn’t provide opportunities.” “It’s the principal who’s on trial at these hearings,” said Zais.

Zais said principals have expressed that if a school board overturns a teacher’s dismissal, it becomes almost impossible for the principal to discipline or reprimand that employee.

“If the board overturns the recommendation to separate an ineffective teacher, when that teacher returns to the classroom, they operate with impunity because any follow up action will be branded as retribution and the principal herself will be on trial.”

Zais said he would like to see school superintendents granted the power to make the final decision in teacher termination appeals.

Columbia attorney Al Nickles, who has handled teacher dismissal cases for 30 years, said the current law has stood the test of time and there is no need to fix a system that is not broken.

“We’ve had since 1976 a statute in place that has given teachers the right to challenge what they think are unfair employment decisions and it’s worked. We have a strong body of judicial opinions that support that statute and to jettison that at this point I believe would be foolish,” he said.

Nickles said a school administration has seven years to decide if a person has exhibited the skills and performance to be granted a continuing contract and he believes that is sufficient time to make a sound decision on whether a person can have an effective and successful career in the teaching profession.

“If an administration perhaps does not do its job and provides a continuing contract to a teacher that perhaps should not have earned that contract, they shouldn’t come crying now to the General Assembly now and say ‘change the law.’ The law has provided an adequate opportunity for them to indicate those teachers they want to retain and do not want to retain.”

Nickles works with the South Carolina Education Association, a teachers’ interest group.