Video Of Disabled Student Getting Beat Up In Caesar Rodney High School Adds To C.R.’s Very Bad Week

On Tuesday, a student with disabilities was beat up very badly in the Caesar Rodney High School cafeteria.  According to WDEL’s Amy Cherry, this was not related to the racial slur associated with the high school mascot that shook the Caesar Rodney community this week.

The boy’s parents contacted their advocate, Diane Eastburn, because of the punishment meted out to their son who was massively beat up.  He was charged by the school with “offensive touching” even though he is not seen on the video punching the other student.  The word “bitch” was thrown around prior to the fight.  The disabled student received two days of in-school suspension but his parents do not feel the punishment should have been given to their child since he wasn’t fighting.  The parents and Eastburn contacted WDEL yesterday.  In fairness, I sent Eastburn to WDEL because I was uncomfortable posting the video with minors on it.  The video is very graphic as described by Cherry:

The student was repeatedly being punched in the back of the head as he used his hands to cover his head. The victim student suffered bumps and bruises to his head and face in the assault.

This has Eastburn wondering what is going on at Caesar Rodney High School since these two unrelated incidents happened in the same week:

“There seems to be an underlying hostility in that building,” alleged Eastburn. “And if they’re having problems they need to address it quickly. To be quite honest, they can’t afford not to.  If they start having fights like this, someone’s going to get hurt or worse.  These are lawsuits waiting to happen if they don’t start dealing with the undercurrent in that building.”

These are questions the district are going to have to look at.  I sincerely hope the disabled child does not have a concussion or any lasting damage done in this brutal assault.  I don’t think any student who is attacked should get a punishment like that, whether they are disabled or not.  If words are said, let the punishment fit that category.  But using a poor choice of words is not the same thing as offensive touching in any world.

Updated, 3:15pm: Caesar Rodney School District Superintendent Dr. Kevin Fitzgerald issued the following statement regarding this incident on the district website-

STATEMENT FROM DR. FITZGERALD REGARDING CRHS CAFETERIA INCIDENT

“Recently a fight that previously took place in the Caesar Rodney High School cafeteria has been posted to the internet.  This situation in no way is related to the recent mascot post. After an investigation by the school administration and the Delaware State Police, disciplinary action was taken and an arrest was made.  Fights of this nature, while rare are unacceptable and are not tolerated in Caesar Rodney. The District will continue to work hard to insure the safety of our students.”

 

 

Wahl v. Brandywine Case Settles! Justice For Joseph & An End To Zero Tolerance In Brandywine!

Over two years later, the Wahl family and Brandywine have settled on a matter involving zero tolerance and due process.  As reported by Amy Cherry with WDEL this morning, Patrick Wahl, father of Joseph Wahl, has reached an agreement with the Brandywine School District.  In January of 2015, Joseph Wahl was suspended for bringing “sharp objects” to school.  While not intentional, the discovery of the objects were ripe with controversy.  Patrick Wahl began a one-man crusade to change the district’s zero tolerance policy.

I’ve been following this story for years now and I am delighted Wahl and Brandywine were able to work this out.  This morning, Patrick Wahl released the following statement:

FINALLY! JUSTICE FOR JOSEPH — AND JUSTICE FOR ALL!

I’m very happy to report that the Brandywine School District and my family have settled our differences. I would like to thank the Brandywine School District for all of the work they’ve done to improve policies and to prevent the situation that occurred with my family from ever happening again. At their heart, these changes recognize that “exclusionary discipline” — out-of-school suspensions and expulsions which deny children their property right to a free education — must not be doled out cavalierly, and should be treated with all the seriousness and due process that denying this property right merits.

I said that Joseph’s suspension would not stand. It fell. I said that policies would be changed. They have been. And I said that Delaware’s “Zero Tolerance” laws which tie the hands of school administrators must go. They’re next.

As a result of Joseph’s case, the District has already created and implemented a new, mandatory training program for administrators regarding student rights, due process, what reasonable suspicion is and what it isn’t, how to conduct searches properly, and what the grievance processes are should a student or parent feel treated unfairly. They have fixed their Defiance Policy, clarifying that students can refuse certain requests without fear of punishment. Students will know why they are being searched and absent an immediate threat, students will be allowed to await their parent before any individualized search of their person or personal possessions.

Whenever a student is suspended from school, he or she will be given a form that is now truly informative, even including the contact information for any police officer who has been notified. No parent need lay awake ever again worrying that his child is under criminal investigation, and without any way to find out the status of that investigation. Steps to appeal the suspension are now spelled out on this very form, as is notification of any right to stay in school during an appeal process.

Even more importantly, the District will issue a position statement opposing “Zero Tolerance” laws and calling for our legislators to give our school administrators the ability to address disciplinary issues on a case by case basis. The District vows to lobby for this discretion. Schools breaking their silence on this issue is exactly what’s needed to get our legislators to reform bad law.

Remember when the Christina School District expelled the third-grader whose grandmother had sent a birthday cake and a knife with which to cut it to the school? The teacher used the knife, then reported the girl to the administration for having brought a dangerous weapon to the school. This mind-boggling case led to Delaware amending a law and giving school districts the ability to consider the circumstances when making expulsion decisions. That same law must now be amended once more, this time to include suspension decisions. It is a very simple change to make.

Out-of-school suspensions for first-time, unintentional offenses are especially harmful to the marginal, at-risk student. How many disciplinary issues would be better handled by an in-school suspension, where the offender can be assigned educational tasks like writing an essay about his behavior, performing some service around the school, and perhaps apologizing in front of an assembly? If there is no investigation as to who started a fight, are we punishing the victim and turning a blind eye to bullying?

Case by case does not mean weak! On the contrary, when a punishment does not fit the offense, students learn not about justice but about injustice. Students do not turn in found contraband, because they fear, correctly, that doing so will get them punished. They learn to subvert rules and policies and to have no respect for authority.

How long will Delaware schools be forced to treat plastic knives the same way they treat guns? How long are we going to keep pretending that the Advil a student inadvertently brings to school might as well have been cocaine? What happens when a student from a broken home, already feeling that school may not be the place for him, is told he is not welcome on school grounds or in school activities for a week? How does further alienating him from the school advance his education or that of others? It’s time we end the criminalization of childish mistakes. Zero tolerance policies, too, will fall.

Thank you very much to all of you for your support. Community involvement is essential if our schools are to thrive.

Oh, and one more thing.

I’m 51 years old and starting law school at Widener in the fall!

Hey, Grandma Moses didn’t start painting until she was 78 years old!

#BSDisGreatandGettingBetter

Wahl was not alone in issuing a statement.  The district released the following language concerning the issue:

The District appreciates Joseph Wahl raising awareness of potential imperfections in the Defiance, Search and Seizure, and Due Process provisions in our Student Code of Conduct. While we admit no liability, we have used Joseph’s situation as a learning opportunity and have made substantive changes to the District’s policies, procedures, and practices including changes to our Student Code of Conduct. We have also implemented safeguards to ensure teachers, administrators, and other school employees are properly trained regarding the students’ rights. These revised provisions are available on the District’s Facebook page, website and will be printed in the next printed version of the Student Code of Conduct. Faculty and staff will be receiving training on these revised procedures.”

It looks like Brandywine’s zero tolerance policy will become a thing of the past.  All Delaware school districts should get rid of these obscene policies.  Our General Assembly should do whatever it takes to make them extinct as well.  While no one wants a Columbine situation at our schools, there is such a thing as taking things too far.  Zero tolerance results in situations exactly like what Joseph Wahl went through.

Never underestimate the will and resolve of a parent when something doesn’t feel quite right.  Wahl fought the district, the Brandywine Board of Education, took it to the State Board of Education, had a FOIA complaint ruled in his son’s favor with the Delaware Department of Justice, and filed suit.  Some have said he didn’t have to do this, but look at the results.  He got the district to change a policy.  That is not an easy thing to do, especially when dealing with a discipline issue.  I salute Wahl for his perseverance.

If Wahl does become a lawyer, I can only imagine what opposing attorneys would go through in a courtroom if this case was any indication.

To follow the storyline of Wahl v. Brandywine, please go to the following links.  It looks like all of Wahl’s Youtube videos are no longer viewable.

brandywine-board-violated-foia-according-to-doj-legal-opinion-over-removal-of-student-discipline-record/

holodick-brandywine-name-in-lawsuit-as-father-seeks-justice-for-year-long-nightmare/

patrick-wahl-launches-youtube-video-called-why-im-suing-the-brandywine-school-district-its-not-for-my-kid-its-for-yours/

an-open-letter-to-brandywine-superintendent-dr-mark-holodick/

brandywine-threatens-8-million-in-cuts-if-referendum-doesnt-pass-40-teachers-at-risk-of-losing-jobs/

doc-holodick-gets-superintendent-of-the-year-patrick-wahl-gets-the-ed-parent-warrior-of-the-year-award/

 

Dr. Godowsky And His Baptism Of Fire Today With Opt-Out, WEIC, and The Delaware Met

The new Acting Secretary of Education in Delaware, Dr. Steven Godowsky, had a baptism of fire today.  Appearing at both the New Castle County School Boards breakfast and the State Board of Education meeting today, Godowsky was quoted by WDEL’s Amy Cherry at the school board breakfast as saying:

“It’s not a final decision, but it looks like from all levels of the department…that harsh sanctions will not carry the day,” he said. “There will be minimum sanctions that are required.”

Those minimum sanctions will include schools having to report to the Delaware Department of Education about the students opting out and what their prior scores were, and most likely, how they plan to address opt-out.  As well, they will not meet Reward status even if they qualify for it if their participation rates fall below 95%.  There is a lot of gray area about the word “required” based on Federal “guidance” which is not Congressionally approved or existing regulation.  Schools are required to have students participate in the state standardized assessment, but nowhere does it factor in parent opt-out.  That situation is out of their control.

Godowsky talked at both the breakfast and the State Board of Education meeting about more communication coming out of the DOE.  I think all of this is good, but I will be cautiously optimistic.  Dr. Godowsky came up to me before the State Board meeting started, said hi, and shook my hand.  That is something Mark Murphy never did.  There were times at State Board meetings where I would have brief staring contests with Murphy and he would quickly look away or straighten out his glasses.  I do believe the DOE needs to be much more transparent about things, but that doesn’t change policies coming out of their halls.  There is a very fine line between what is law with federal mandate, what is guidance, and what is interpretation.  I will continue to let folks know what those are as situations arise.

For Godowsky, the State Board of Education meeting was filled with tension during the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission (WEIC) presentation. A contentious back and forth between State Board members and the WEIC presenters, Dan Rich and Joe Pika, in regards to the plan made this the most interesting part of the meeting.  Later on, Godowsky’s first major decision was whether or not to place The Delaware Met up for formal review.  He recommended it to the State Board and they unanimously voted yes, but not without a great deal of discussion surrounding the details around the consideration.  It seemed like the DOE and Godowsky knew a lot more about what is going on with the school but were unable to give details because an official investigation could not be done because they were not on formal review yet.

I advised, in public comment, that I truly hope Dr. Godowsky acts in the best interest of students and not politics.  While his official confirmation will not happen until October 28th in a special session of the Delaware Senate, it seems as though he is making good first steps.  There is still a great deal to be done, but I do see some light shining into some cracks.  But his job will be to listen to everyone involved, not just the policy makers.  I think he is much more personable than Mark Murphy was, and he has much more experience.  His true test will be in the ESEA flexibility waiver, which will come up next month at the State Board of Education meeting.  He has gone on record stating that the harsh opt-out penalties most likely will not occur.  I hope he lives up to this, but at the end of the day we all know this is Governor Markell’s decision.

I still have very grave concerns with things coming out of the DOE.  My biggest priority is special education.  I am slowly learning what the true problems are, and I plan to keep on addressing them.  I still loathe the Smarter Balanced Assessment and Common Core, and I will not give up exposing the machinations behind those messes.  There are many inequalities between Delaware charter schools and traditional school districts I don’t agree with, and that will be a continuous topic of discussion.  There are things going on in traditional school districts that are beginning to surface which could result in further widening between students in need and their peers.  A growing issue with myself and others, not just in Delaware but on a national level, is the amount of data outside companies are legally allowed to have about students.  I firmly believe many companies are using legal loopholes to share student data for unknown purposes, and that should scare the hell out of any parent.  The legislators will be back in a few months, and the opt-out bill will still be a big thing with me.  I will say I do like seeing more transparency coming from the Department though and I truly hope this trend continues.  I don’t trust Governor Markell, and I don’t think what he wants for education is in the best interest of students and teachers.  I don’t believe the Rodel Foundation of Delaware and I will ever see eye to eye.

The WEIC conversation continues, and as revealed this week, major issues are coming up with this redistricting effort.  One of my biggest contentions with the whole thing is policy that will happen for Wilmington that will affect the entire state.  I agree change needs to happen, but there needs to be some Kent County and Sussex County representation for all of this.  I have communicated this, as well as a need for more special education discussion, to the WEIC leadership.  It is certainly a bold and innovative idea, but there are so many things to be sorted out with this, and the timeframe as put forth in the law is very narrow.  I have always had a theory about the endgame of all this, but now I wonder if it will even go through.  I would highly recommend to the WEIC leadership not to leave anyone out of crucial conversation and not to come up with ideas that could cause any of the players to feel isolated or left out.  No one likes being told what will happen, especially to students, and I think Colonial’s recent decision is testimony to this.

While all of this is going on, all eyes will be on Dr. Godowsky as the newest leader of a very unpopular Department who many in the state feel as though they can do whatever they want because they are Governor Markell’s baby.  While Godowsky did say in the WDEL interview that DOE will feel the pinch of next year’s budget deficit, I feel as though they have been living high on the hog and they need a huge trimming.  Welcome to the DOE Dr. Godowsky!

The Kowalko-Schwartzkopf Battle Takes Center Stage At Legislative Hall On First Day

Ten days ago, Delaware House Speaker for the State of Delaware Pete Schwartzkopf kicked State Representative John Kowalko off the education committee and removed him as chair of the energy committee.  While Kowalko has been very outspoken about the decision, including having a press conference before the General Assembly convened on the first day of their legislative session, Schwartzkopf stayed silent on the issue.  Until today.

According to a report from Amy Cherry with WDEL, Schwartzkopf denied his decision was based on Kowalko’s stance on the priority schools which he has made very public.  According to the WDEL report, Schwartzkopf said the following:

He said “I don’t agree with the governor’s plan on the priority schools. I don’t agree that all the teachers up there should have to resign; I don’t think they should have to re-apply for their jobs. I don’t think these principals need to be moved out of their schools,” he said. “I’m directly opposed to it.”  

Cherry reported the following statement: The speaker said he’s been largely silent on the priority schools plan because it’s not a Sussex issue.

Thank the Lord this stuff doesn’t happen down in Sussex.  Newsflash Pete: You represent the state as Speaker of the House, not the county you live in.  How many other statewide issues do you stay silent on cause they happen in your neck of the woods?

 “You know, the bottom line is this, if he wants to come in and talk to me, that’s fine, I’ll sit here and talk with him. I don’t have a problem with that, but the committees aren’t changing.”

Way to be flexible there Pete.  Blame the guy for speaking out on an issue that you completely agree with but manage to stay silent on for over four months.

Meanwhile, at Kowalko’s press conference, the state representative told members of the public to:

“Send letters to every member of the General Assembly and demand they give you honest answers.”  “There are alterior motives at play here.” “41 people are chilled by this leadership attitude.” (speaking about the 41 state representatives)

Kowalko said he is not afraid of being marginalized in the caucus, but he does view Schwartzkopf’s decision as punitive and a punishment.  He views the often phrased “Delaware Way” as a “Department of closeness” and this way of doing things is “incestuous and cronyism”.  He believes the state should have an Inspector General to investigate and “patrol and police a willingness to hide things.”  This new agency, according to Kowalko, should have “no allegiance to anything.” Referring to the bias of the media in Delaware, Kowalko said “If we have silence of the media, we have silence of the public.”

I will definitely say I take Kowalko’s side on this matter, and not just because I agree with his opinions about the priority schools.  Cause I agree with Schwartzkopf’s newly found opinion as well.  I take issue with anyone doing something punitive for being an “activist”.  Someone who rallies the people is an activist.  So what exactly are you doing when you are trying to get their vote Mr. Speaker?

For more information on Schwartzkopf’s side, please read AND listen at http://www.wdel.com/story.php?id=65449