From “Jon’s Loving Father” To Absolute Insanity: The Exceptional Delaware Story

As I delve into year five on this blog, sometimes it is healthy to take a look back at my humble beginnings.  From the crazy legislation I proposed in 2014 to my modern-day attempt to get a Secretary of Education removed from power, it has been a crazy four plus years!  It started out with a plan and turned into so much more!

Earlier today, I got an email notification about my own personal Twitter account.  I haven’t used that account since the day I started this blog.  I created an Exceptional Delaware Twitter account and have used that ever since.  I decided to take a look at my personal Twitter account and came across a tweet I put up with the epilogue to “A Father’s Cry For His Son”.  In May and June of 2014, I wrote a very long series on Kilroy’s Delaware about my son’s time at a charter school in Kent County.  I wrote under the moniker of “Jon’s Loving Father“.  In the epilogue, I produced a Bible of sorts for what I wanted to see changed in Delaware education.  Most of it had to do with special education.  Looking back at it now, with everything I’ve learned since, made me chuckle.

That last post on Kilroy’s Delaware was June 9th.  Exceptional Delaware was created on June 13th, four days later.  I had a ton of hubris back then.  I still do, but I like to think I know more now than I did then.  I’m not going to put the whole post on here because it was hideously long.

I heard many things about how other children were going through similar situations as Jon, and that was when I decided to write about Jon’s story.  If only one person read it and it was able to help them, that would be sufficient. 

That was basically the catalyst for what has now become over 51 months and over 4,000 articles on this.  And that still holds true.  I don’t do this for anyone more than parents who look for information to help their child.  That is and always has been the heart of the blog.  The rest has just been a gateway into what lurks beneath the veneer we call Delaware.

When it comes to our children, parents don’t have as much capacity for forgiveness.  It’s our job to protect our children, and when we fail, our child fails.

This is something I’ve struggled with over the years.  For involved parents, especially in special education, there are times you want to slam your head into the wall and tuck away into a corner and cry.  It is very easy to hate those who don’t seem to get it with your child.  I still don’t have any easy answers for this.

For the last nine months I kept asking myself “Why?  Why did this have to happen to my child?”  So I started to research everything.  The more I looked, the more I found. 

Four years later and I still haven’t stopped looking.  Sometimes it feels like looking into a well of darkness that can swallow you whole.   I learned, sometimes at a very personal cost, you have to look away.  You have to enjoy life and what it has to offer.  Only then can you appreciate the reasons why the darkness should go away.

There are players out there, dictating our children’s every move in public schools and charter schools.  We are all puppets to these forces.  To these forces it is a game that serves them with the benefits but our children pay the price.

I still believe this on many levels.  I don’t think it is the evil people like I did in 2014.  But there are definitely those in public education who are in it for the big money and not for the benefit of children.  They could be in districts, charters, the Delaware DOE, or various organizations around education.  Sometimes they come in the form of a lawmaker or a state employee in an agency not involved with education.  They are businessmen.  Some are thieves who would steal anything if they didn’t think they would get caught.  There are those who cover for those thieves.  And then there are those who are unwittingly tied into another person’s web, like a guilt by association.

I won’t let my son be a puppet.  I honestly couldn’t give a crap if he is college ready when he is going into 5th grade, because 10 YEAR OLDS ARE NOT ADULTS!!!!  I don’t care about Common Core, or Smarter Balanced Assessments, or Race To The Top.  Because when you get right down to it, most of the educators out there don’t either.  And states are dropping this crap left and right.  But Delaware seems to be hanging onto it, like it’s their lifeline to the future.

I still hate Common Core.  We still have it along with the Smarter Balanced Assessment.  Race To The Top became the Every Student Succeeds Act which embedded some of the worst aspects of RTTT into ESSA but with a softer approach.  While states may have dropped Common Core, they just rebrand it as something else but it is still the same Common Crap.  Over the years I found out Common Core was just a conditioning for children to become wired into digital education.  It also allows for “personalized learning” and “Competency-Based Education”.  Which will slowly transform into digital badges and career pathways beginning at a very young age.  Brick and mortar schools will be gone and in its place will be a future so bizarre no one but the Futurists can imagine it.  We can thank former Delaware Governor Jack Markell for planting the seeds of this dystopian future coming our way.

But when it has run it’s course, and our children are unquestioning, unreasoning, less intelligent zombie clones from the public and charter schools alike, we will all be asking ourselves “what the hell happened?”  It’s not about competing with Asian kids.  It’s not even about competition.  It’s about a lower class subservient to the rich.  Just like it’s always been, but with the elimination of the middle class.

Yes, just four years ago we were told Common Core was here to compete with Asian kids.  As we dive head-first into things like the Blockchain, the world will change.  It is already happening before our eyes.  I would hate to see any child become a zombie clone, but if you don’t believe we are being led into this future one step at a time, start digging.

As parents, we owe it to our children to hold our educational institutions under the microscope when they are doing the wrong things.  But to all special needs parents, get involved!  Go to support groups.  If you can’t find one, create one.  Study your child’s disability until you know more than the professionals.  Don’t go into an IEP meeting without voicing what YOU want on the IEP.  Bring an advocate.  Record the IEP meeting.  Never sign an IEP at the meeting, take the 10 school days to go over it with a fine tooth comb and make sure the IEP benefits your child individually.  Make sure there are realistic goals.  Don’t just assume your child is at fault with behavior issues, find out if there is more going on at the school than what you are being told.  Observe at the school.  Watch how supervision is done at your child’s school.  Document everything.  Email is the best option, but if that isn’t readily available, take notes.  You can even ask for the other party in the room to sign those notes so there is no question about what they say.  Don’t ever be afraid of the administration at a school, but don’t go in guns blazing.  Go in with a clear head, and focused.  If you aren’t being heard, go to the board.  If they won’t listen, go to the DOE.  If they won’t listen, go the US Department of Education.  There are so many choices out there, but don’t expect to just have someone drop them in your lap.  Talk to other parents.  Go to board meetings, let your voice be heard. 

I still believe in every single sentence in this long paragraph.  I wish I could sit here and say because of this blog my child has skated through school ever since with no problems in special education.  I have to do these things still.  It doesn’t end with one successful IEP.  It becomes a living document that could change in a heartbeat due to something as simple as a classroom change.  I would add talking to your State Representative or State Senator.  I’m not saying they can enforce change but they be able to get something moving.  While I am hard on certain legislators over certain bills, I also believe they represent their constituency and should always act on behalf of those constituents.  As much as I write about the Delaware DOE, they are a place to go to when you have exhausted all resources at the top levels of a district or charter school.

See where your elected officials stand on certain issues in regards to your child’s education.  It’s not just about your party of choice, it’s about who is going to do the best possible things for your child. 

If I had known then what I know now with how important elected officials are when it comes to education I might have rethought jumping into matters at Legislative Hall!  Our legislators decide the state funding for education and make many of the laws that tremendously impact education.  And it isn’t always as simple as 1 + 2 = 3.

I don’t hate charter schools.  But I don’t like what a lot of them do, for the same reasons Kilroy and Kavips state on their blogs.  I think any school that has their basic tenets set up in such a way that could put anyone at a disadvantage needs to take a close look at current reality.  Cause reality is ringing your doorbell but you forgot to put in the batteries.

There has been a perception among readers that I hate charter schools. I’ve never hated them.  Do I pick on them? Absolutely.  I pick on districts as well.  But as I’ve always said, charters are smaller and when things go south it is easier to put the pieces together.  Districts are almost like companies.  They are bigger and better at hiding things when they need to.

For the next part of my “Epilogue”, I had several ideas for future legislation.  Despite doing vast amounts of research for nine months before this, I didn’t have the first clue how any of this worked!

1) All IEP and 504 meetings must be digitally recorded.  Of course, FERPA will protect the rights of these students, but they could be very useful if something goes wrong.

Having the state mandate local decisions like this would be very foolhardy. You can’t legislate everything.  The very act of having all these IEP meetings sitting together in some data bank for a potential leak would be a FERPA nightmare as well as potentially damaging a child’s future.  Bad idea on my part!

2) All school board meetings, for any school that receives public funding, charter, public, vocational and alternative alike, must digitally record their board meetings and have them available to the public within 7 business days.

While this bill did not become a reality in the 147th General Assembly, it did in the 148th.  Kilroy’s dream finally became state law and it went into effect with the 2016-2017 school year.  Board meeting audio recordings can give you a plethora of information.

3) All school districts, charter, public, vocational and alternative alike, must have psychiatric or neurological consultation available for any suspected neurologically-based condition within twenty days of a parent’s request for an IEP.

Once again, a bit of presumption on my part. First off, the cost for these constant consultations would be through the roof!  Many IEPs do tend to have some facet of this in them for certain disabilities.  In a perfect world, I would love for every school to have their school psychologist work in tandem with a neurologist on every IEP.  But it just isn’t feasible  Maybe one day.

4) All school districts, public, charter, vocational and alternative alike, shall put on their own website, the number of IEPs, 504s, IEP denials, and 504 denials they have had in the past month, to be updated monthly.  For public schools, this must be put on the district website, as well as the website for each individual school in the district.  They shall also share annual numbers as well, for each school year AND on a 12 month rolling basis.  If a student changes from a 504 to an IEP, or if a decline becomes either an IEP or a 504, the school must make a note of that with the monthly numbers.

To be fair, I was not smoking anything when I wrote that. I remember why I wanted that.  But to require every district and charter school to make this information readily available would be a nightmare of epic proportions.  For IEPs, they sort of do this through the September 30th unit count.  This gives a guesstimate of how many IEPs a school has.  There is no state or federal requirement to report the number of 504 plans a school has.

5) All school districts, public, charter, vocational and alternative alike, shall be completely transparent on their website.  All staff must be listed.  All board minutes must be listed.  All attachments must be listed with the exception of something that can only be handled in an executive session.  All monthly financial information shall be listed.  With that monthly financial information, you must break down the sub-groups of funding you are receiving.

For the most part, most districts and charters list the staff on their website. Board minutes are listed but some get behind on it.  Some districts put attachments of board items on Board Docs.  I think they all should, especially Superintendent reports.  Charters never do this.  Some of them put up a standard agenda that is not in the spirit of the actual meeting at all!  All charters have to put up their monthly financial report they submit to DOE.  But no districts or charters give an exact breakdown of where the money goes.  They do not list a complete checkbook.  Instead they link to Delaware Online Checkbook which is a beast.  Small progress has been made with Senate Bill #172 which Governor Carney signed the other day.  But I don’t believe it will achieve what I initially hoped it would.

6) All schools must report to the DOE, on a monthly basis, how many current IEPs and 504 plans they have, as well as any IEP or 504 denials.

For IEPs, this is done through IEP Plus, the software system for IEPs. I’ve always been curious why 504 plans aren’t submitted to the DOE.  I guess if there is no funding for 504s there is no need.  But it would be interesting to see.

7) The DOE shall do a yearly audit of all school districts, public, charter, vocational and alternative alike, not only for already established IEPs and 504 plans, but also denied IEPs and 504 plans.  The individuals doing these audits must be highly qualified special education professionals who understand IEPs and 504 plans, as well as all of the disabilities and disorders that these plans accommodate children for.  If the DOE determines an IEP or 504 plan was denied for the wrong reasons, the school district must contact the parent(s) within 5 business days and explain to the parent(s) of their procedural rights as well as mail a letter to the parent(s) with the reason for the change as well as a copy of their procedural rights.  The Department of Education shall publish the results of these audits within 30 calendar days of their completion.

IEP denials still happen. They could be for a multitude of reasons.  The student may not meet the qualifications for an IEP.  The school might mess up and deny it because they don’t think the student needs it.  In some cases, parents would rather have a 504 than an IEP.  I had a lot of faith in the DOE when I wrote this.  I believed they had the capacity to accomplish a task of this magnitude.  They don’t.  I still believe there should be a mechanism in IEP Plus for a school to enter something when a parent or the school requests an IEP.  That would show the number of denied IEPs.  It could be good to publish those figures on an annual basis.  But monthly?  Nope.

8) All Delaware parents, custodians, guardians, et al, shall receive, along with their child’s teacher and supply list, prior to the start of the next school year, a pamphlet indicating  what Child Find is, a full disclosure that any evaluations a parent requests must be done at public expense, what IDEA is, how it works, a listing of every disability covered by IDEA, even those covered in other-health impaired, an IEP timeline, a sample copy of an IEP, what a 504 plan is and how it differentiates from an IEP, a sample copy of a 504 plan, and parents procedural rights, whether a child has a disability or not.

I totally forgot about this idea. I still think it is a good one!

9) Any school district found in violation of three or more individual special education audit failures, shall be put on the newly created Special Education review, which shall have the same weight as any other criteria that would cause a school to go under formal review.

Once again, as in #7, not going to happen. DOE doesn’t have the capacity to do this.  Furthermore, formal reviews are for charter schools.  Districts can’t have formal reviews.

10) All school boards, public, charter, vocational and alternative alike, must have a parent of a special needs child as a member of their school board.

As much as I would love this, it would change Delaware election law for school boards. School board elections are set up so anyone can run within that district or a portion of that district.  Many school boards do have a parent of a special needs child on their board.  But mandating this would be bad.

11) No charter school may ask on an application if a child has an IEP, has special needs or any questions relating to a disability.  If a child is selected to attend a charter school through a lottery or the school accepts an application prior to that, then the charter school can ask that question after a student has been accepted.

This is already in effect. If anyone is still doing this, they shouldn’t be.

12) All charter school lotteries must be a public event, published on the school web site 30 days in advance, with two members of the local school district board members in attendance, and all names from applications must be shown to them before they are placed in a closed area prior to the picking of names.

I’m not sure how this would work. Some charter schools don’t have a wait list.  But for the ones that do, lotteries are done.  Newark Charter School has the biggest lottery.  They conduct it every year with a packed crowd of parents praying their child gets in.  Cherry-picking of students at charter schools is not talked about as much as it used to be.  I still believe it exists but our legislators collectively failed to do anything about it.

13) All public, charter, vocational, and alternative schools shall change the number of suspensions that warrants a manifestation determination from 10 to 3.  As well, if a child is removed from a classroom setting 5 times for a period of more than 30 minutes, a manifestation determination must kick in as well.   For any child with an IEP or a 504 plan, a Functional Behavioral Analysis must be completed as well as a Behavior Intervention Plan or modification of an already existing Behavior Intervention Plan.   Ten suspensions is too much missed instructional time and doesn’t benefit anyone.

I have to believe that any significant behavior issue that could change a child’s placement would trigger a manifestation determination hearing. But having one after three days of suspension might be a bit much.  A bad fight could result in three days suspension in some schools.  I still think ten days is too much.  I would go for five with this.

Since Kilroy was kind enough to let me tell Jon’s story, I would like to extend the favor by inviting anyone willing to join to me on Thursday June 12th, at 10 a.m., outside of Legislative Hall to raise public support for House Bill #23.  This bill would mandate that all school districts digitally record their board meetings and put them up on their website within 7 business days.

And so began my first journey to Legislative Hall in Dover. On a rainy Thursday morning, when none of  the legislators were there, I thought my homemade signs saying “All school boards must record” would get that bill signed by the end of the day.  Some folks asked me what it was all about.  I went into Legislative Hall and had to put my signs to the side.  I did talk to the sponsor of the bill, State Rep. Hudson, who informed there wasn’t enough support for the legislation.  At one point, I went into the House Chamber to see Governor Markell giving a speech to a group of students.  It was the first time I saw him but it wouldn’t be the last.  It was a rookie day for me.  I didn’t know nothing really starts there until 2pm.  I didn’t come back until January of 2015 but I was so far into Exceptional Delaware at that point and made some key connections so I was much more prepared for the madness that is Legislative Hall.

Publius e decere: I would love to meet you sometime.  Your comments on this and other stories Kilroy has put up amuse me to no end.

I did get to meet Publius at one point. He stopped commenting on Kilroy’s as Publius about a year before I met him. We went at it over on Kilroy’s many times. I think his heart is in the right place but his delivery needs work.

Like I said, four days after this Exceptional Delaware launched and with a few exceptions, it has been very consistent with putting out articles.  New crises have come up in public education with more school shootings.  As a result of that, hard questions have come up about school safety.  Pay For Success will be a game changer in public education when it comes full throttle to Delaware.  I still have grave reservations about that.  Once Blockchain becomes as big as the internet (and it will), everything in public education will change very fast.  I predict, around 2030 or so, schools will look nothing like what they do now.

Many ask why I do what I do.  It isn’t about changing the system.  It is about exposing the system.  You can’t change it until you expose it.  If you try, it is just baby steps.  Those who join the system in an attempt to change it are very noble.  But once you are in it, it becomes more difficult to do everything you wanted to do.

I suspected, when I first started digging into Delaware public education, there was a great deal of fraud going on at schools.  I had no idea how deep that rabbit hole went.  It has been charters, traditional school districts, and vo-techs.  In my eyes, these are just evil people who truly don’t care about kids at all.

I would say the biggest enemy in public education in The First State is The Delaware Way.  Not the blog by Nancy Willing, but the system that allows for this unholy matrimony between state government and private companies.  It is what allowed Rodel to hijack Delaware education which let all the other corporate education reformers into the door.  So much of their education policy has been mixed into what we once had.  It has become impossible for folks to separate the two.  This is happening in most states.

I won’t even come close to saying I always get it right.  But I try.  And I will own up to it when I don’t.  I have become very careful about getting stuff up when it comes to source information.  There is so much I could have published over the years but didn’t because of a lack of information or the credibility of the source.  I am fully aware some have wanted to use this blog as a revenge tactic or as a pawn in a bigger game.  Fool me once, shame on you.  Fool me twice, shame on me.

I would be remiss if I didn’t once again thank Kilroy for providing a jumping point to blogging.  I still miss Kavips and Transparent Christina but I understand they had to move on.  Like the famous line from Stand By Me, “People come in and out of our lives like busboys in a restaurant,” I find this is true in education at times.  Some have been along for this ride the entire time.  Some are just jumping in.  Some abandoned ship a long time ago for one reason or another.

What I will never do is abandon those who seek help for their child.  I may not be able to fix the problem but I will do everything I can to guide those parents on where to go.  I hear more from those kind of parents and it saddens me.  Special education is becoming a big issue again and I can’t understand why with everything we know.  It is actually the first crack in the foundation and it will bring down the rest of the building if we aren’t careful.

As I looked back on the past I have one step into the future.  Here are some “teases” about what’s to come, along with the usual posts I put up:

The siblings.

Poker Face.

The plan.

Long way down.

Anasazi.

The man behind the curtain.

Upside down.

The war.

Where do the children go.

The shape of things to come.

Comeuppance.

In closing on what I thought would be a shorter article, I want to end with a dialogue I put in that epilogue on Kilroy’s on June 9th, 2014.  One day, years from now, I will be long gone.  Someone will carry the torch.  This is from one of my favorite books of all-time, “The Road”, by Cormac McCarthy:

You have to carry the fire.

I don’t know how to.

Yes you do.

Is the fire real? The fire?

Yes it is.

Where is it? I don’t know where it is.

Yes you do.  It’s inside you.  It always was there.  I can see it.

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