When freaky weather occurred on the date of their last State Board of Education meeting, Executive Director Jenna Ahner canceled the meeting which was to take place in Milford. As a result, all the agenda items from that meeting will be added to the already crowded December agenda. If you plan on attending the thing, this is going to be a long night! The mammoth agenda has a lot going on! Continue reading
The Christina Board of Education meeting last night was filled with some awesome discussion about what appears in the title of this article. I painstakingly transcribed the part of the meeting with the Superintendent’s report to the Board and the crazy discussion after. Board member John Young was on fire!!!! The topics dealt with Governor Carney’s plans for Christina’s Wilmington schools. There is A LOT of information in here. A ton. From venereal diseases to transparency to possible school closures and more! I have a feeling things are going to look VERY different in Christina’s Wilmington schools a year from now. And for the record, I agree with John Young on EVERYTHING he said! Continue reading
Last month, I reported the Delaware State Board of Education was done. The Delaware Joint Finance Committee took their funding away from them. Many assumed they were toast. We were wrong. It appears the Delaware Department of Education will pick up the tab. So there will be more State Board of Education meetings in the future. And there is big news on that front as well. Starting in July, their meetings will begin at 5pm. Which means, you know, teachers and educators and working parents can actually go to these meetings. As well, they will have public comment before each action item (except those which have a formal public comment period, such as charter school stuff and regulations). Unless the Joint Finance Committee or the legislators deny the funding to DOE to do this.
So what happened? The changes to Delaware Title 14 would be monstrous. They would have to change up a lot of things. While some thought things could change in the epilogue language of the state budget (which I oppose in and of itself), it is not an option. New laws would have to come out granting the authority to the Delaware DOE. While those could happen, it would be a headache and a half to get them in play between now and June 30th.
There was talk during the Joint Sunset Review meetings about the State Board taking on one or two new members. With that being said, and probably because of all the confusion surrounding if they should even exist, Delaware Governor John Carney never nominated anyone to take Jorge Melendez’ place on the board. So there could be changes to the membership. I am hoping for some folks with more resistance to the Rodel way of thinking. I haven’t heard anything about Donna Johnson going anywhere. The Executive Director role is chosen by the State Board of Education President which is currently Dr. Teri Quinn Gray. She was appointed by former Governor Jack Markell.
The State Board of Education is still under Sunset Review by that legislative committee. Prior to the announcement about their funding, the committee agreed to hold them over until next year.
The Delaware State Board of Education has always been ridiculous with their public comment policy. You cannot give public comment on any action item on their agenda. Further complicating this absolutely ludicrous scenario is a proposed change which will be up for action at their next meeting, on Thursday March 23rd. The State Board of Education will take action on moving public comment from the beginning of the meeting until towards the end. Thereby ensuring that the public is put on the bottom of the list. There are certain groups that put public comment at the end of meetings, but the State Board of Education needs to hear from the public prior to voting or discussing items. The very nature of attempting to contact a member of the State Board of Education is futile. Everything goes through the Executive Director, Donna Johnson. The State Board of Education will be having a meeting tomorrow at 12 noon to discuss the policy recommendations from the Joint Sunset Committee, a group of legislators who are taking a hard look at the State Board of Education.
As far as this latest action item, I am vehemently against this. The State Board meetings are very long at times and to make members of the public sit through the whole thing just to give public comment is absurd. I hope the State Board votes no on this insane idea.
The Christina Board of Education voted last week to accept the settlement concerning the lawsuit filed by 15 charters against them and the Delaware DOE. Next week, an action item submitted by a board member could cause a tsunami of controversy. As well, there is another action item that will certainly cause another ordeal just by being there. Continue reading
Last Spring, I submitted a Freedom of Information Act complaint against Gateway Lab School, a Delaware charter school, to the Delaware Attorney General’s Office. As any regular reader of this blog is aware, I frequently review meeting minutes for charter schools and school districts. What I saw in the March minutes for Gateway Lab School shocked me. Not so much from what they did, but the fact our Attorney General’s office released similar opinions on these kind of matters in the seven months prior to this. I bear no ill will towards Gateway or their board. I have always commended this charter school for servicing students with disabilities as the bulk of their student population. I was among the majority who felt the Charter School Accountability Committee’s 2014 recommendation to shut the school down was absolutely ridiculous, especially when that decision was based on standardized test scores.
After I filed the complaint, myself and Gateway went back and forth via email on the complaint. During that time, I found another similar action by the Gateway board. While I had some pains submitting the original complaint because of my loyalty for a special needs school, I felt it was important for them to correct this action. Did they? And how did the Attorney General’s office rule on my complaint? Find out below!
Gateway Lab School, a Delaware charter school that serves a very high population of students with disabilities, held a special board meeting on April 4th, 2016. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss a due process mediation. Can you spot the Delaware FOIA violation? It’s easy if you try!
Oops! That’s a big one! I’ve already filed the FOIA complaint to the Attorney General’s office. As a gentle reminder to all school boards in Delaware: you can discuss student related matters in executive session if it pertains to an issue, but you can’t vote on it in executive session. You need to come out of executive session and vote on it then. Now you can’t, and shouldn’t, say this is for x student’s due process mediation situation. But I would suggest giving a number for all action items at a board meeting. Many boards do this already. You can just say, as an example, “In the matter of 16-322, may I have a motion to vote on this action item?”, or something along those lines. It wasn’t that long ago that Brandywine School District’s board had the same issue which is causing issues for the district now as part of a lawsuit.
As well, I have also requested an opinion from the same office about public comment at public meetings. I have noticed some Delaware charter schools ask public comment to be submitted up to two weeks in advance before a board meeting. I don’t think that is in the spirit of the law. Any member of the public should have unfettered access to a public meeting and have the ability to give public comment without having to give advance notice.
Sorry Gateway! Don’t mean to call you out but if all of your board members have not received the full training on these matters I would definitely get on that!
At the House Education Committee meeting in Delaware today, members looked confused as State Board of Education Executive Director Donna Johnson tried to explain to them why they don’t allow public comment before any action items. Citing regulatory laws and charter applications, which are in the synopsis of the bill, Johnson said regulations have a set period of public comment. For charter applications, she said State Board members are required to vote on the charter file which is set up with a public comment period. State Rep. Kim Williams brought House Bill 232 forward because of events she witnessed at State Board of Education meetings.
For a while there, the volley went back and forth between Williams and Johnson. Williams stated she wanted to give public comment on Gateway Lab School’s formal review the day the State Board made their decision but she couldn’t because of this rule. She also cited a recent Regulation, #616, that she wanted to give public comment on but couldn’t. Johnson explained that Regulation 616 was a Secretary only regulation so she could have given public comment. How anyone could ever keep track of all this stuff is beyond me. If you are just a curious member of the public going to these meetings, you would have no clue!
Johnson went on to say the State Board could face a risk of a lawsuit if they voted on something based on a public comment after they have reviewed the entire record. When asked if there has ever been any lawsuit in any situation like this for any state agency, the answer was no. As State Rep after State Rep tried to figure out why the State Board wouldn’t allow public comment, it culminated in State Rep. Sean Lynn stating he felt the opposition to the bill (which only came from Johnson and Kendall Massett with the Delaware Charter Schools Network) was disingenuous and was filled with self-interests. No one on the committee had any reason to oppose the bill and it was released from committee.
For a split second, I almost felt bad for Donna Johnson. Not because I felt she was right, but because she has no idea how she sounds to decision-makers. She doesn’t see how going to bat for her friends in the charter community actually hurts her in the long run. When a fervent charter school supporter like State Rep. Mike Ramone is saying this is an excellent bill and doesn’t understand why this isn’t already allowed, you know there is something wrong with the policy. He questioned Johnson about the ability for a three minute public comment to completely sway a vote. He felt that an official on any board should have enough knowledge of the events to be able to make a sound decision on matters.
Massett gave public comment. She recalled a charter application in Southern Delaware where someone gave a statement that was completely false but there was no ability for the person they were talking about to rebut the comment. This was the only “evidence” she could give to oppose House Bill 232. I believe it was State Rep. Kevin Hensley who stated someone could still file a defamation of character suit in an incident like that.
Both State Reps Kim Williams and Kevin Hensley talked about their time on school boards and they couldn’t fathom not letting the public speak about an action item. Hensley explained there were times when parents or a member of the community approached him about an issue right before a board meeting. He said he would tell them to make sure to give public comment so the whole Board could hear it. Red Clay Superintendent Dr. Merv Daugherty said he may not always like what he hears in public comment, but he appreciates the public comment process. As Lynn said today, “this bill is a no-brainer.”
I gave public comment before the vote. I explained the public comment ban also happens for other charter issues, such as modifications or formal reviews. I cited Family Foundations Academy and the Delaware Met as examples where things happened after the charter record closed and the State Board voted on something without giving the ability to the public to add new events. I said there was an inherent danger with this.
One of the funnier moments came when Ramone kept going on and on about how the meeting room for State Board meetings was too small. He recalled how it is standing room only and many people are forced to stand in the hall. He suggested maybe they meet in the House chambers! While it would be difficult to have seven state board members, an executive director and the Secretary of Education cram into the front of the House chamber, I’ve always suggested utilizing the VERY large conference room at the DOE’s other building over at the Collette Center in Dover. While it isn’t as “official” looking as the Cabinet Room at the Townsend Building, it is certainly big enough to fit the State Board, DOE Chiefs, and at least a hundred members of the public, if not more.
It became very apparent to everyone in the audience today exactly why the Delaware State Board of Education was put on review by the Joint Sunset Committee yesterday. In my opinion, I think this antiquated rule is something that comes from a country where dictators rule and the people are put on mute. Transparency isn’t just being open with your records and dealings, it is also letting the public be transparent about how they feel.
One quick note: House Bill 161, which deals with Parent Empowerment Savings Accounts for students with disabilities, or as most call them, school vouchers, was taken off the agenda for today’s House Education Committee.
After a two-week recess, the Delaware General Assembly returns tomorrow Both the Delaware Senate and House Education Committee meetings have some controversy coming on Wednesday in the form of two bills. Both of these bills may draw a crowd, so get there early! And two very popular bills will finally get a vote this week.
In the House, the Education Committee will meet at 2:30pm to discuss State Rep. Hudson’s school voucher bill. House Bill 161, introduced a year ago, would take the state funding allocated to a particular student and put it in a “Parent Empowerment Education Savings Account”. So, as an example, say a student gets $11,000 in state funding from Lake Forest School District. If the student goes to a private school, those funds would be deposited into the savings account and it would go towards the tuition at the private school (which can also include books, tests, and more). The bill does specify this would only be used for “exceptional children” as defined by state code. When this bill first came out, many thought it would not just mean a child with a disability, but also talented and gifted students. An amendment, added to the bill last June, eliminates that option. This bill is just for students with disabilities.
The problem with school vouchers is it is more funds disappearing from the local education district. The referendums are bad enough, but this would just add fuel to the fire. Many folks who are anti-referendum want school vouchers and they don’t want their local taxes paying for public education. In my opinion, if a parent makes a choice to send their child to a private school, you should still have to pay school taxes. Every state has school taxes, and Delaware is no exception. School vouchers are very popular with Republicans, but the results from other states have been very mixed.
At 3pm, the Senate Education Committee will hear Senate Bill 165. After the controversial Red Clay referendum last year, Delaware Senator Karen Peterson introduced Senate Bill 165. This legislation would cut polling places in school board elections and referendums, and all voting would be done through the U.S. mail. As well, all voters would have to be registered to vote. To add more heat, all school board elections AND referenda would be on the second Tuesday of May. For districts that don’t have a referendum pass, they would have to wait another year to have another one.
A lot of folks do not like this bill at all. Ironically, First State Liberty, the organization in Delaware that makes robo-calls during Christina referenda, is vehemently against this bill. To be honest, I haven’t talked to anyone who supports this bill. This one will draw a crowd. I imagine some folks may want to attend both meetings, so I could see a mad rush to get through the House Education Committee meeting and then folks literally running upstairs to get to the Senate meeting half an hour later.
The Senate meeting will also have a presentation from the Parent Advocacy Council for Education (PACE). Another bill which will be heard in the House meeting will be State Rep. Kim Williams very awesome House Bill 232. This bill would allow public comment on any action item, be it a resolution, a charter school action, or anything else the State Board of Education votes on. Currently, the State Board does not allow public comment at any of their meetings on any action item unless they give explicit permission (as they recently did with the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission redistricting plan). As well, the House Education Committee will hear Senate Joint Resolution #8, which honors Delaware State University for their 125th Anniversary.
School vouchers, referenda, and school board elections. While I don’t expect any of these drawing a crowd like House Bill 50 (the opt out legislation) did last year, I already know people who will be there. The votes from the committee members will be very interesting on these bills.
Two bills released from the Senate Education Committee last June will be given a full Senate vote on Thursday. Senate Bills 92 and 93, both dealing with Autism (see the Education Legislation tab at the top of the page). April is also Autism Awareness Month, so it is fitting these bills will get a vote this month.
The Newark Charter School admission policy has hit a new low. They are not allowing a child with developmental disabilities apply to the school for Kindergarten because she will be six years old when she enters Kindergarten next August. Newark Charter School will have their lottery this coming Monday, February 8th at 6pm.
The parents’ daughter has an extremely rare disability called radioulnar synostosis that impacts her fine motor skills and limits the use of her hands and arms. According to Boston Children’s Hospital, this disability is defined as: Congenital radioulnar synostosis is a rare congenital difference in which there’s an abnormal bony or soft tissue connection between the two bones of the forearm—the radius and the ulna. This disability is so rare, only 400 cases have been reported worldwide.
Her parents made a choice, at the recommendation of her pre-school, to keep her there another year. According to the mom and dad, their daughter needs extra time to develop her fine motor skills and co-ordination based on her disability. Apparently, this does not matter to the Admissions Office at Newark Charter School.
The father was told by the Admissions Office that Newark Charter School could not accept the application and enter his daughter into the lottery based on her age. The parents attended a board meeting at the school and a board member suggested to the parents to apply their daughter for first grade, and upon acceptance, they would assess her and move her down to Kindergarten, if needed. The parents did not find this to be a viable option since their daughter was never in Kindergarten in the first place. This was not an acceptable option for the father, so he contacted the Delaware Department of Education.
The father spoke with the Charter School Office with concerns about the legality of Newark Charter School’s actions. He talked with Jennifer Nagourney, the Executive Director of the Charter School Office. She advised him what the school was doing was completely legal.
After reaching out to a State Representative about the situation, the State Rep. asked the father for permission to reach out to some folks on this issue in an attempt to help. I was one of those people, and I spoke with the parents earlier this evening. The parents are very concerned about this matter and feel other parents have a right to know what the school is doing.
The father claims the Admissions Office referenced a change in their admission policy that went into effect on September 15th, 2015. I went to the school’s board minutes and found the following changes to their admissions policy:
The wording on this board resolution is very vague and unclear. It doesn’t even mention a scenario where a child could be older than five and what their policy is on this. Furthermore, the board voted on this change to their policy without the action item on their agenda. Parents who may have been aware of this planned action could have attended the meeting and given public comment, or reached out to the school to address it with the Admissions Office or their Head of School, Greg Meece. The fact they would deny parents who applied for Kindergarten in the 2015-2016 school year is a mystery to me, but there are multiple reasons why a parent could choose not to send their child to Kindergarten and they have a right to do so. Many families of a child with a disability have made this choice. Charter school boards in Delaware are required to post an Agenda of their board meetings seven days prior to their meeting, which Newark Charter School certainly did in this case. However, it did not post any action items to be voted on by the Board of Directors, just Admissions Policy as part of “business” without any clear details surrounding it.
The board had the same item on their agenda for their August meeting and did discuss admission procedures in the August meeting. They didn’t take a vote on it thought, so the term “business” on their agenda is very misleading and doesn’t indicate what is being discussed or having action taken. While Delaware’s open meeting law does not give an indication either way about discussion and action items, traditional school districts tend to have these clearly listed on their agendas. Clarification in the law is absolutely needed so all public schools have the same level of transparency in regards to board meetings.
On Newark Charter School’s website, under Admissions, their general guidelines for applications do not reference the specific age of a Kindergartner:
I went to their actual Admissions Policy to see what it says on the subject:
Once again, there is nothing about a child being six years old at the time Kindergarten begins. The matter is not even addressed. What it does say is this:
- All Kindergarten applicants must turn five years of age in the period from September 1, 2015 to August 31, 2016 to apply for KN in the 2016-2017 lottery. Students applying for Kindergarten do not necessarily have to be currently enrolled in a pre-K program. A birth certificate showing that the child will turn five-years old on or after September 1, 2015 and no later than August 31, 2016 will be required during the registration process in order for the student to be officially accepted.
- All other applicants to Newark Charter School must apply to the next consecutive grade level that they would matriculate to if they were to remain in their current school (For example, a current 1st grade student must apply to 2nd grade).
Title 14 in Delaware State Code is very clear about what a charter school can or cannot do in the application process:
- 506 Restrictions.
- A charter school shall not:
(3) Restrict student admissions except:
- By age and grade;
(4) Discriminate against any student in the admissions process because of race, creed, color, sex (except in the case of a same gender school), handicap, or national origin, or because the student’s school district of residence has a per student local expenditure lower than another student seeking admission
The wording concerning “by age and grade” is vague. It doesn’t give an actual clarification for it. But it should be assumed it means charter schools will only accept applications for the grades that they have. There are many charter schools that have students in attendance in certain grades where they are much older than their peers based on individual circumstances.
In the situation with this young girl, she could not have matriculated from Kindergarten since she is not currently enrolled in Kindergarten. So the board member’s suggestion was preposterous. I asked the father if the application asked specifically about any disabilities and he did not believe it did. I was able to obtain a copy of the school’s application which verified they did not ask about any type of disability for an applicant.
In my opinion, because of the Board’s lack of transparency concerning these admissions changes back in September of 2015, as well as very unclear wording for any parent applying to the school, this child should be included in Newark Charter School’s lottery. If you agree, please email Greg Meece at Newark Charter School with the subject line: “Let her in the lottery” and please attach a copy of this article. You can email Greg Meece at the following email address: email@example.com
Their lottery is Monday night at 6:00pm. If there are any other parents within Newark Charter School’s five mile radius, from the flagpole in front of their high school, who have also had their child’s application rejected based on this very misleading admissions policy, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or leave a comment on this article.
In the meantime, the daughter’s parents are praying something changes between now and 6pm on Monday.
The Red Clay Consolidated Board of Education will vote on an opt-out policy this evening at their monthly board meeting. This is an action item. Like the Christina Board of Education did a couple months ago, this would make parent opt-out a policy in Red Clay. While both boards as well as Capital passed resolutions over the past year, these policies would ensure superintendents, administrators and schools would have to follow this. I fully support this measure and sincerely hope the board passes this unanimously.
In light of the impending hammer of doom about to be imposed on all Delaware public schools by the unelected State Board of Education and Secretary Godowsky, I encourage ALL boards to adopt this policy. As well, I encourage all parents to opt their child out today. If you live in Red Clay, go to the board meeting tonight at Conrad, beginning at 7:00pm and hand the letter to Superintendent Dr. Merv Daugherty.