Alabama editorial roundup
The Associated Press
Aug. 16, 2017
Recent editorials from Alabama newspapers:
The Gadsden Times on a law against teacher-student sex:
Legislators shouldn't and generally don't claim to be perfect. Too many well-intentioned laws have had to be tweaked a bit after their passage.
So the next time Alabama legislators gather in Montgomery — whether it's in January for the 2018 regular session, or for a special session before then — they need to be tweaking the state's 2010 law that forbids school employees from having sex with students under the age of 19.
A Morgan County judge last week declared that law unconstitutional and tossed out two cases brought under it against a female teacher from Decatur and a male teacher from Falkville. The woman was accused of having sex with two male students, ages 17 and 18 at the time. The man was accused of having sex with a 17-year-old female student.
The law makes that a Class B felony, and anyone convicted under it faces up to 20 years in prison and must register as a sex offender.
There have been other, unsuccessful challenges, but Circuit Judge Glenn Thompson was the first to side with defendants. He said the law is overly broad and makes it impossible to determine if parties in such cases are consenting adults (Alabama's age of consent is 16), whether any consent was "illegitimate or coerced" or whether school employees or teachers actually are in specific positions of authority over students.
Prosecutors have vowed to appeal Thompson's decision — because it's a constitutional issue, the attorney general's office will be involved — and it's likely the case will wind up at the Alabama Supreme Court. We think it's just as likely that the court will punt this back to the Legislature to fix — and again, that needs to be a priority.
The fix won't be difficult. A revised law simply needs to acknowledge the disparity in power between teachers and other school employees and students, and restate that even for older students, schools continue to operate in loco parentis — in the place of a parent. We think that renders any question of consent moot.
A teacher on hall monitor or early morning duty certainly can discipline a student who's not in one of his or her classes. The line of authority between teachers and students doesn't have to be specifically drawn out on a flow chart; it's inherent.
The same is true with school employees. We hate to deflate students' egos, but office personnel, janitors and lunchroom workers outrank you.
Opponents of the law say in its current form, it could criminalize consensual relationships between teachers or employees at one school, and students at another school. It might be difficult to establish an inherent line of authority there, but we're loath to rely on the good sense of the supposed adults in such situations.
Face it, there's an "ick" factor here that can't be avoided. What parent sends a teenager to school thinking he or she might get close enough to a teacher where mutually raging hormones will cause problems? What teacher would even allow that to happen? (We can recommend some online dating sites for folks that desperate for companionship.)
Alabama has had more than its share of these cases in recent years (there have been some locally), and in 2015 was proclaimed the nation's per capita leader in teacher-student sexual encounters.
Given that, one could say the law hasn't been effective. That doesn't negate the need for it. Make it right, make it work.
Dothan Eagle on members of the National Guard:
Members of the National Guard are often referred to as "weekend warriors" because of their regularly scheduled weekend duty. It's long past time to retire that moniker, as it doesn't now - nor, for that matter, has it ever - given due respect to the gravity of the duty these men and women perform for our nation.
"Citizen soldiers," is more apt, but even that falls short, as National Guard forces are different in many ways from full-time military personnel. Perhaps the greatest difference is that they live civilian lives until they're called upon, and then they drop everything to step into full-time service to our country.
This week, area families gathered to send off 160 area members of the Alabama Army National Guard's 186th Engineer Company on a mission to Kuwait. The group will undergo training at a mobilization station, and then deploy to perform work that utilizes its specialty - clearing land, constructing roads and airfields, and other sorts of ground work.
We applaud these dedicated Americans, not only for their contributions while deployed, but for their willingness to be part of a ready force willing to leave civilian lives, and their families and friends to perform whatever task our nation asks.
Those families and friends, too, sacrifice greatly while their loved ones are away; they deserve the public's gratitude as well.
The TimesDaily on Common Core:
Every year, it seems, the tea party mounts an attack on Alabama's Common Core education standards. They argue the standards, primarily for math and English, are a federal intrusion on the state's sovereignty.
The standards, adopted by the state school board in 2010, provide an instructional framework that mirrors those in other states. The goal is to teach students in similar ways in subjects, guaranteeing an equal footing for educational attainment.
One thing that's important to remember is that Common Core, also known as the Alabama College and Career Readiness Standards, was not imposed by the federal government. The standards were developed, to some extent, by American businesses, which urged state school boards across the country to adopt them.
Again, at least one member of the state school board has introduced a resolution to scrap Common Core and adopt new standards. Betty Peters, R-Dothan, wants Superintendent Michael Sentance to present proposals for new standards at the board's November meeting. A resolution she wrote would eliminate the current standards in 2018.
That is not likely to happen for a number of reasons.
Sentance pointed out that a change of that magnitude would require a tremendous amount of planning and training.
Board member Jeff Newman, a former school superintendent, said changing standards is a big and difficult thing to accomplish. He said new textbooks, assessments and professional development would be required.
Board member Mary Scott Hunter said she doesn't support wholesale changes. In fact, academic standards should be more rigorous, she said.
Peters, in her draft resolution, said student test performance in the core areas has not met expectations, and may be discouraging students from taking higher level courses.
That can be addressed by better teacher training, and by starting to teach higher level course offerings at an earlier age. One key to that being a success would be more tutors in schools.
Sentance, commenting on higher academic standards, said part of the problem in Alabama is that people are credentialed in math at the lowest possible levels, which exacerbates poor performance. He is advocating higher standards and more teacher development.
Public education has become another political football to be kicked around the halls of government. Too many political arguments seep into what should be discussions — and solutions — to better teaching and student academic achievement.
Students and teachers should be the first and foremost priorities for the school board. All political persuasions should be checked at the door.