What’s New in Public Policy? October, 2018

Janet Forbushby Janet Forbush, Contributing Editor

Background:  Earlier this week the eight sitting justices of the U.S. Supreme Court returned to the bench or our highest court for a new season to resume deliberations on several issues brought to them by litigants from states across the country.  Meanwhile, just down the street from the U.S. Supreme Court building in Washington, DC, in House and Senate office buildings, discourse is ongoing regarding the suitability of a controversial nominee being considered for membership on the distinguished bench of the U.S. Supreme Court.  The magnitude of the selection of this new justice cannot be overstated in the context of public policy decisions to be made by the Court in the coming decades.  We are currently witnesses to this drama but each and every day we have the privilege of being able to express our views about the choice of this nominee through the simple process of sending an email or calling offices of our U.S. Senators and Congressional Representative.  If you haven’t yet done so and feel energized to take a more active role in this civic process, this week couldn’t be a better time to express your views as a responsible citizen.  Encouraging mentors and colleagues in your programs and work environments to be similarly engaged offers mentees an opportunity to witness how turning a difficult situation into a positive learning lesson is achievable.

Federal and State Developments

A report issued earlier this week by the Office of the Inspector General details the challenges of the Department of Homeland Security in responding to the Trump administration’s zero-tolerance immigration policy.  For example, the computer systems in the agency were unable to track family members separated at the Mexican border and the agency subsequently held migrant child in detention centers far longer than the law allowed.  The report further concluded that a database said to be developed jointly by the Departments of Homeland Security and Health and Human Services to track separated families did not exist. Chronicle readers will not likely forget the searing photographs that appeared in our local papers this past summer of immigrant children being separated from their parents.

This is the first after-action report from the Office of the Inspector General regarding the administration’s so-called zero-tolerance policy which was announced last April by Attorney General Jeff Sessions.  Earlier this week, Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL) called upon Kirstjen Nielsen, Secretary of Homeland Security to resign over what he described were “misleading statements she made to Congress over the zero-tolerance policy.

Meanwhile, but in the context of the same troubling scenario, hundreds of migrant children from Kansas to New York have been wakened in the night in recent weeks and loaded onto buses with backpacks and snacks for a cross-country journey to a tent city on a desert in Tornillo, Texas, located southeast of El Paso.  So far, it is reported that nearly 2,000 unaccompanied children (so far) have been relocated to Tornillo.

This tent city is unregulated except for some sketchy policy guidelines issued by the Department of Health and Human Services.  Schooling is not required.  The prospects for the youngsters are undeniably fraught with long-term uncertainty about the possibility for reunification with parents or other

known, responsible caregivers.  Immigrant advocates have raised concerns that the vast majority of children living in the tent-city in Texas will be there for months.  Another troubling dimension of this matter was highlighted last week by Matthew Albence, a senior official with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).  In testimony before Congress, he reported that ICE has arrested “dozens of people who applied to sponsor unaccompanied minors.”  ICE confirmed after the hearing that 70% of those arrested did not have prior records.  One would want to learn why the individuals were arrested.

A serious policy debacle of this magnitude that demonstrates an egregious lack of interagency coordination and communication at the federal level warrants action from our legislators.  The circumstances of the children need to change sooner rather than later.

Local Education Agencies and Student Sexual Assault

Recently Education DIVE raised timely and provocative questions for readers as to whether schools are prepared to help students speak up about sexual assault.  Under current Title IX regulations, students can ask schools to help address the aftermath of sexual assault incidents, even if the incidents took place off the school campus.  The point is made that students “need a positive environment that has the support systems and policies in place to encourage students to speak up about sexual assault happening in schools.”

Sexual harassment is frequent.  Nearly 80% of American children and teens face this problem at school.  There are countless reasons why young people don’t tell others about their sexual abuse experiences and, as we have witnessed in recent days, this is not unique to youngsters but for young adults and people in different stages of their lives, including seniors, who have chosen to remain silent about their regrettably poignant experiences as survivors.  Victims could be reluctant to divulge this due to a host of concerns…being scared about reactions, choose self-blame, or, hope to protect their families and loved ones.

This is a teaching and mentoring moment in our country on this issue.  Students need positive learning environments to succeed personally and academically.  It is up to all of us to ensure the young people are taught the skills, including growing a healthy gene of ‘self-advocacy’… to speak up and are equipped with the necessary skills and confidence to do so.  Whether new changes to Title IX fostered by Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos to alter Obama administration guidelines for handling sexual assault on college campuses will take hold and translate and transfer to K-12 environments is unclear.

Reading Recommendation

Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt have contributed an inspired suggested addition to the libraries of Chronicle readers and all mentoring/youth advocates entitled “THE CODDLING OF THE AMERICAN MIND” – How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for Failure.  While the locus of their emphasis is on college campuses, the spillover to school, workforce development, and countless  learning environments addresses the startling increases in rates of anxiety, depression, and suicide in this country.  They examine the issues carefully and thoughtfully Lukianoff is president and CEO of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE).  His specialty areas of expertise include First Amendment issues and free speech.  Dr. Haidt is Thomas Cooley Professor of Ethical Leadership at New York University’s Stern School of Business.  These brilliant men have intentionally taken on some “terrible ideas” as they suggest – “What doesn’t kill you makes you weaker; always trust your feelings; and life is a battle between good people and evil people.” (Perhaps we have seen enough these perspectives played out on the national stage for all of our children to see in recent days.)  Published by Penguin Press, this book is available through amazon.com.