New Mexico ACLU Complaint Could Have Huge Impact For Teachers Nationwide

The New Mexico American Civil Liberties Union filed a complaint yesterday with the First Judicial District Court of Santa Fe County.  The plaintiffs, five public school teachers and a parent, allege that the New Mexico Public Education Department is violating their First Amendment rights by forbidding them to talk negatively about standardized assessments.

The concerns are serious, touching on one of the most basic functions of government, public education.  They include criticisms that government officials have prioritized profit and politics over public education; have fundamentally changed education, as teachers must now devote significant hours to teaching to the tests, not their students’ actual education needs; and have ignored that the tests are often developmentally inappropriate and traumatic for some students with disabilities.

The teachers and the parent work or live in the Santa Fe and Albuquerque Public School districts.  Both districts give parents the right to opt their children out of standardized tests, but state law forbids teachers from “disparaging” standardized tests.  The teachers and the parent this robs educators of the ability to advocate for students when they have first-hand knowledge of what high-stakes tests do to students.  They also allege these tests give school districts false labels in accountability measures.

I could easily see this case, if not won at a state level, advancing even higher.  It was only a matter of time before this country saw a case like this.  This could have far-reaching implications for opt out across the country.  If the plaintiff wins, it could be used as precedent in other cases across America.  If they lose, I would certainly hope they would appeal.  I truly wouldn’t mind if a case like this wound up in the United States Supreme Court so the decision on parental rights is made once and for all by the highest court in the country.

New Mexico uses the PARCC as their state assessment.

I salute these five teachers and parent for bringing this case forward as well as the ACLU for taking the case.  It is about time people stood up for their own rights, student rights, and parent rights.  I will be following this case closely going forward!  To read the full complaint, please see below:

Is Regulation 616 A Gift For Delaware Charter Schools To Kick Out The Unwanted?

PrincipalsOffice

Tomorrow the Delaware State Board of Education will vote on Regulation 616.  This regulation concerning school suspensions, expulsions, and out of school placements (alternative schools) is very controversial.  I wrote in December about the Assistant Superintendent from Smyrna’s very funny letter about this regulation, but many more have come in and they are all very alarming.  The biggest of which is one from the American Civil Liberties Union, as seen below:

Continue reading

The Coalition For Fairness & Equity In Schools Needs YOUR Help!

A new group has formed in Delaware called The Coalition for Fairness & Equity In Our Schools.  This group is looking for one thing in our schools, as per their Facebook page:

Diverse group advocating for statewide changes to discipline practices to eliminate suspensions for low-level offenses and adopt a restorative approach.

This group was convened by the American Civil Liberties Union of Delaware to help eliminate the “school to prison” pipeline coming out of many of our schools in Delaware, specifically the Wilmington schools.  You can read more about them here.

To this end, they have started a petition which can be found below, and I strongly encourage all to sign in support of this petition.  As a special needs father, I have seen first-hand what disproportionate discipline can create, and so much of what these children are exhibiting are manifestations of their disabilities.  This doesn’t mean it’s a free-for-all, but it also doesn’t mean punish whenever you want, which leads to social stigma that is very damaging for so many students with disabilities.  I have always promoted a simple mantra: work with the disabilities, not against them.  When anyone tries to fight something that is natural, it becomes stressful for all involved.  This can make a minor situation become infinitely worse.  It isn’t just about social groups for students either.  The adults have a HUGE responsibility in this as well.

I have seen multiple videos from other countries where students disabilities are celebrated, not hidden.  The classes and staff are educated on them, and this creates a much more tolerable environment for all involved: the student with disabilities, their classmates, the teachers, the staff, the admins, and the entire school.  Aside from all this, there are very specific laws regarding disproportionate punishments and manifestation determination.  In Delaware, and also under IDEA and Section 504 law, if a student is suspended more than ten times during a school year, the IEP team or 504 team must convene to determine if a behavior was a result of the disability.  A parent can also request this if they believe this to be true in a discipline situation.

What should result from this is the stakeholders involved get together, talk about the issues and behaviors, and the school psychologist should do a functional behavioral analysis.  Based on the results of this, a behavior intervention plan should be established with all parties agreeing, not just the administrators of the school.  And I would caution parents to be very careful about the wording of these BIPs as they are called.  I highly recommend knowing your child’s disability to the best of your ability, and find out what is typical or atypical behaviors associated with the disability.

When all efforts have failed, and a parent feels their efforts for their child are not being met, that is the time to take further action.  There are numerous things you can do, but one I do NOT recommend is taking that action through the Delaware Department of Education.  Their best solution seems to be “mediate” which is good, but this can also stifle your rights for your child.  Sometimes, as many special needs parents can attest to, you have to fight for your child.  The DOE methods of resolution do not have the best odds of working to your child’s benefit.  I’m sure they would disagree with me, but the bare fact that there have been NO due process hearings in Delaware for two years and a smattering of administrative complaints over a ten year period is testament to this fact.  Their way just doesn’t work.

Furthermore, the number of special education lawsuits when parents reach their wits end (not to get rich quick, that is NOT what happens with these lawsuits) has skyrocketed in Delaware over the past few years.  This is a more proven resolution method for far more parents than the DOE has ever helped over  the past decade.  In fact, many of the curriculums and specific IEPs the DOE wants (which are not part of approved federal IDEA law as brought before the U.S. Congress but resolutions and regulations tacked on by the US DOE with no Congressional approval), will wind up being more harmful to many students in the coming years as they are forced to adapt to national standards that are controversial at best, culminating in standardized assessments that on the surface purport to close the achievement gaps, but will in actuality further widen them.  This will in turn bring in more “consultants” and “non-profit companies” who need to  help these “failing” students.  All the while, teachers who don’t have the proper resources and are dealing with very large classrooms will be evaluated based on these high-stakes assessments.  This is why I don’t trust the DOE, and why any special needs parent should be very wary of them.

But back to this coalition, I am in full support of this group, and this is very needed in our state.  I just wish I had known about it sooner!  I would strongly encourage this group to take a very strong look at various disabilities and the neurobiological events that take place when so many of these “behaviors” occur, as well as the exponential increase of them when unneeded stress is placed on these students from the adults in the school.

Poll: Should ALL School Boards Record Their Meetings?

In light of the Family Foundations Academy mess, and the ACLU Lawsuit against the state of Delaware and Red Clay Consolidated School District over segregation in charter schools, I thought I would run this poll again to see if the results differ from four months ago.  I firmly believe transparency is desperately needed from all the charter schools these days!

ACLU Complaint Against Delaware Charters, The State, and Red Clay

The American Civil Liberties Union of Delaware and Community Legal Aid, Inc. announced at a press conference today that they have filed a complaint with the Office of Civil Rights in regards to the re-segregation of Delaware schools going back to the Charter School Law of 1995.  The complaint, embedded below, is going after the state and Red Clay over discrimination against minorities, as well as low-income and disabled students.

Many in the state have suspected something like this was coming, but I did not think the scope would be this big.  The ramifications of just an announcement of this proportion are very huge for education in Delaware.

CONTACT: Kathleen MacRae, ACLU-DE Executive Director—302.654.5326 x102, kmacrae@aclu-de.org ; Brian Hartman, CLASI Disabilities Law Program Project Director—302.575.0660 x220; bhartman@declasi.org

ACLU and CLASI File Complaint with Office of Civil Rights

CONTACT: Kathleen MacRae, ACLU-DE Executive Director—302.654.5326 x102, kmacrae@aclu-de.org ; Brian Hartman, CLASI Disabilities Law Program Project Director—302.575.0660 x220; bhartman@declasi.org

Wilmington, DE (December 3, 2014) — The American Civil Liberties Union and Community Legal Aid Society, Inc. filed a complaint today with the Office of Civil Rights in the U.S. Department of Education arguing that Delaware’s charter school law and policies have a discriminatory impact on students of color and students with disabilities and have significantly contributed to the resegregation of Delaware’s public schools. Specifically, the complaint claims that the State of Delaware through the Department of Education and the Red Clay Consolidated School District, the two entities that authorize public charter schools in the state, are in violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.

Every student in the State of Delaware deserves equal access to a high-quality education,” said Kathleen MacRae, executive director of the ACLU of Delaware. “But what has evolved since the passage of the Charter School Act of 1995 is state-sanctioned preferential treatment for families who are able to navigate the special requirements of charter school admissions.

“These include such things as high examination scores; essays written by parents to explain why a school is a good choice for their child; access to gifted and talented elementary and middle school programs that help increase academic performance; annual activities fees; mandatory parent involvement, sometimes in fundraising; and mandatory high-cost uniform purchases. These barriers prevent students from low-income African American and Hispanic families from having the same access to high quality charter schools that middle and upper class families have.

“We hope that the Office of Civil Rights recognizes that any system of selection that has the effect of almost completely excluding children with disabilities from the ‘high-achieving’ charter schools is deeply disturbing and must constitute illegal discrimination,” says Dan Atkins, Legal Advocacy Director of the Disabilities Law Program of Community Legal Aid Society, Inc.

It’s terribly unfair to the children with disabilities who should have earned their place in those schools, and it sends a harmful and hurtful message, really to everyone, to continue to shut those students out. We look forward to working with the federal government, the State of Delaware, and Red Clay Consolidated School District to develop criteria that integrate more students with disabilities. This is consistent with the State and Federal Government’s mission to provide equal educational opportunities to all children—regardless of race, income, and disability.”

Racially Identifiable Schools

The complaint documents that over three-quarters of charter schools operating in Delaware are racially identifiable. High performing charter schools are almost entirely racially identifiable as White. Low income students and students with disabilities are disproportionately relegated to failing charter schools and charter schools that are racially identifiable as African American or Hispanic, none of which are high performing.

Another result of the proliferation of charter schools is increased segregation in traditional public schools located in districts where charter schools operate. In addition, when the impact of the Neighborhood Schools Act of 2000 is considered, inner city school children have no good alternatives—they may attend a hyper-segregated traditional public school or attend a hyper-segregated charter school. When charter schools admit a disproportionate number of higher-income White students with no disabilities, the traditional public schools are left with the difficult and costly task of educating the students most challenged by poverty or special education needs.

Recommendations

In order to remedy the current situation regarding Delaware public schools, the ACLU and CLASI urge:

  • A moratorium on the authorization and opening of new charter schools until an effective desegregation plan has been implemented;
  • Utilization of a random opt-out lottery for charter school admissions;
  • Assurance that the cost of attending a public charter school is free and that parents are not required or pressured to purchase uniforms or raise money for the school;
  • Capping class size in traditional public schools at the same level as charter schools and ensuring that total funding for traditional public schools is equal to that of charter schools;
  • Providing additional funding to schools with a disproportionately high number of students of color, students with special needs and low-income students;
  • A plan to ensure that students with disabilities are recruited and reasonably accommodated in all charter schools.