Guest Post: “Who’s In Charge Of DAP?”

Elizabeth Scheinberg wrote a guest post on the recent revelation that the Delaware Department of Education would be taking over the administration of the Delaware Autism Program.  Like many of us, she has many questions that beg answers!

Wow! I am surprised that the Autism Delaware press release and news clarification hasn’t generated the scrutiny it needs.

While I appreciate the Autism Delaware (AD) presser and attempt at clarification, I find the document opens additional query about the transparency and integrity of the operation now afoot. But, then special education in Delaware has always been our red-headed step-child with far too few resources and far too less interest in how the money grab works.

  1. In June 2018, legislators passed legislation HB 292 that EXPANDED the role of the Statewide Director, requiring the director to administer autism services to all school districts, even those that have chosen not to associate or adopt the practices of Delaware Autism Program under the previously existing Statewide umbrella. Those districts had a choice to educate their children in-district or to send them to the specialized DAP program houses within the Christina School District. The director was, in turn, to hire and train two Statewide Specialists to help carry the additional burden being placed on the then existing one-man, one-secretary department. Do Not Be Fooled when you hear talk of the OFFICE of Statewide Director. It has always been scant in personnel and deeply underfunded.

 

  1. I think it’s proper to note that in JUNE 2018 the then-statewide director, who has since offered to come out of retirement and is already in negotiations to implement such a plan, had already provided TWO YEARS NOTICE of INTENT TO RETIRE.

 

  1. July 1, 2018, the start of the education fiscal year 2018-19 that should have provided FUNDING for the search, hiring, and training of the two NEW STATEWIDE SPECIALISTS under the statewide director begins WITHOUT funding to fulfill HB 292. Funny how that happens.

 

  1. In August 2018, Dr. Winterling, the then-presiding statewide director begins his long advertised retirement.  Even if Dr. Winterling hadn’t already been inclined to retire, learning of the new legislated responsibilities and work to implement them without the necessary funding probably would have driven any reasonable employee pursue a different job. Fascinatingly, Dr. Winterling is willing to return to staff to assist CSD with meeting the moral templars that Delaware Department of Education has foisted upon them. 

 

IT IS IMPERATIVE TO UNDERSTAND THAT THROUGHOUT THE LEGISLATIVE PROCESS, THE DELAWARE DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION KNEW DR. WINTERLING WOULD BE RETIRING AND THAT THE OFFICE OF THE STATEWIDE DIRECTOR WOULD BE WITHOUT THE LEADER NECESSARY TO CARRY OUT HB292. THE DOE HAD OPTIONS PRIOR TO THE BILL’S ADOPTION, GOING AS FAR AS TO DECLARE A START DATE FOR FISCAL YEAR 19-20 OR LATER OR ADJUST THE LANGUAGE TO REFLECT “UPON FUNDING.” NONE OF WHAT HAS HAPPENED HERE IS AN ACCIDENTAL COINCIDENCE. ONE MUST UNDERSTAND THAT THE EXISTING CREDENTIALING IS SO NUANCED AND NARROW THAT THE POSTING FOR THE POSITION ONLY GENERATED 3 APPLICATIONS OVER 3 YEARS AND DOE WAS PRIVY TO THE DIRECTOR SEARCH COMMITTEE. WHO, YOU MAY ASK, WROTE SUCH AN ONEROUS JOB DESCRIPTION?

THE DELAWARE DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION.

  1. Back to the timeline. AD requested a meeting with CSD’s Superintendent. They received no response. Yet, AD had representation on the search committee and certainly had knowledge for months/years that the search was failing to produce acceptable candidates. NO PARTY TO THAT SEARCH PARTY EVER MADE THAT STATUS PUBLICLY KNOWN. They were also aware that at some point CSD met with DOE regarding the inability to find a candidate that met every requirement of the job description.  Regardless, in November 2018, four months ago, Dr. Winterling returned to DAP and CSD to performs functions of the statewide office.

 

AD does an excellent job NOTING that Title 14 has additional responsibilities that fall within the purview of the Delaware Department of Education. WHAT WERE THEY? and DID THE DOE EXECUTE?  HECK! WHY IS THE PUBLIC RECEIVING ITS BEST PUBLIC UPDATE FROM A THIRD PARTY PARTNER/PROVIDER AND NOT THE DELAWARE DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION?

 

WHY THE SILENCE? WAIT! THAT’S NOT SILENCE. THAT’S THE SOUND OF SOMEONE SHOVELING SOMETHING OF UTMOST IMPORTANCE UNDER THE RUG BY THE TRIFECTA OF CHANGE: SUSAN BUNTING, GOV. CARNEY, AND REP. EARL JAQUES. (Yeah, Earl, remember your rude response to the entreaties of a private citizen begging you repave a crumbling cul-de-sac or the prior years when you disrespected local yet ELECTED school board members. All the way back to the day when Autism families delayed your happy needs-based-funding fiasco for an entire year. Yeah, I have a long memory. You don’t speak for our community. You don’t value us. You have no business making bills that will affect our staff and children.) Sorry, I digressed.

 

  1. Sit back. Breathe it all in. The Christina School District knew it had a retiring director. The state took the opportunity to create a job description that is almost impossible to fill prior to their interruption. I was on the board that searched for and then hired Vince Winterling. Do not think I am joking when I tell you that the previous description was almost clinically impossible to fill – only a candidate with a lifelong career in autism leadership, treatment, and clinical research who is themselves ready for retirement would be eligible to perform under the onerousness of the position description. I can only wonder how it reads today – 10 years later.
  2. In July, Dr. Winterling learns that his office is being tasked with more duties but no funding to perform them. He retires one month later. Within three months, he is back at CSD working to ensure the integrity of the program.

 

  1. Conversely, during the time between July 1, when the state fails to fund the new positions, to the retirement and rehiring of Winterling, the Department has been actively working against the intent of the law and the will of the district, staff, parents, and students. It is stated in title 14 that “The Department, with the approval of the State Board of Education, shall designate a school district or other entity to administer the statewide program (“program”).” This is absolutely true. It is part of the original legislation that was embedded in state code to ensure that the winds of change in our legislature could not simply take the program away, defund, or kill it in any other manner. Christina was chosen and has dutifully been the custodian of the DAP for more than thirty years.

 

  1. Title 14 also states, “If no district or other entity is willing to administer the statewide program, the Department must act in that role.” This language comes directly from Mr. Jaques now infamous bill. Is it even worth mentioning that the Department of Education cannot manage itself without contempt and malcontent much less administer the duties of an educational program for some of the most severely disabled child and young adults you will ever meet. DOE’s Special Education Director(SPED), Mitch, is great. But, not even she has the wherewithal or desire to administer this program.  Fifteen years ago, roundabout, I sat at a very big table, across from Mitch, as the state held one of a handful of meetings discussing the long-term plans for the program. Districts were asked if they were interested in opening DAP sites. Mitch, as the Appo SPED, was adamant that Appo could and did educate its children with autism just fine at home, sending only the worse cases to the DAP centerbase. APPO had no interest in welcoming DAP protocols or leadership into its district. Of course, much of that is ancient history. But, it makes me wonder how many more years until DAP, if taken from Christina, will simply, quietly become no more, especially with Mitch as the head of the state’s special educational services. 


WHERE DOES THE HEAD OF SPECIAL SERVICES FOR STUDENTS IN THE STATE OF DELAWARE STAND ON THIS ISSUE? WHAT ARE HER LONG-TERM PLANS?

 

  1. While Christina and its board was piecemealing a plan to continue to fill the prime leadership position for the administration of DAP/Statewide Program, DOE was actively working against them. Secret meetings? Between who, where? O, the FOIA I wish the News Journal would initiate on this matter.

 

If the AD presser is correct, from Nov. 2018 until Jan. 2019, when the board was finally notified that the state had removed the program from the district, CSD was working to fulfill every element of TITLE 14. The state cited CSD’s failure to advertise for the 2 new experts as a sign that the district was no longer willing to administer the program. Who hires the trainees before you’ve trained the trainer? This configuration of management, the result of HB 292, was new to every party. Furthermore, who hires for positions that OMB doesn’t fund? Christina used to hire some staff on solely local dollars. That bankrupted the district when an unscrupulous louse managed to climb his way into highest position in the district. And although that happened before my soon to graduate daughter even entered the education system, the district is still plagued by that trauma.

 

  1. In January, the School Board was notified that the program had been removed in October. Yet, DOE allowed CSD to interview and hire back Dr. Winterling in November. Then cite them for failing to have the three positions filled and/or advertised in January as their reason for taking the program back in October. That doesn’t even make sense. How did DOE know in October that CSD would not be advertising or hired for any of three positions? How fiscally irresponsible of the Delaware Department of Education! Who made that decision? Who conspired against the program, the position, and the entrusted district?

 

Again, I am grateful the AD presser, but nothing is as succinct as what they have provided to the public. There is clearly much more to be told and not by AD.

 

THE DELAWARE DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION MUST BE CALLED UPON TO EXPLAIN ITS ACTIONS. THE INQUEST SHOULD BEGIN WITH AN ELECTED STATEWIDE BOARD OF EDUCATION – BUT ALAS, THEY ARE APPOINTED, TOO.

HEY, EARL, WHO’S IN CHARGE NOW? IT SURE AS HELL AINT OMB, THE GOV. OR YOU? Who’s running this show? Care to share the RFI? Because that’s what happens whenever DOE inserts itself into education.

Elizabeth Scheinberg is a former CSD board member and mother of two children challenged by autism. As an autism advocate her writing has informed content for both NPR and PBS.

 

Published by

Kevin Ohlandt

I am a proud parent of a son with Tourette's Syndrome and several other co-morbidities. I write on this blog to educate other parents so they know a bit more about not only special education, but all the really bad things that are happening with public schools in Delaware and the USA. We are all in this together, and if our children aren't able to advocate for themselves it's up to us parents! We need to stop letting companies run our schools, and demand our children get a proper education. Our Departments of Education in our states have become weak with fear from the bullying US DOE, and we need to take back our schools!

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