Mold Isn’t The Most Dangerous Enemy For The Children Of Pulaski

Jose went to school one day.  His grandma forgot to give him his medicine and he started acting out.  He was sent to the ISS Room.  The In-School Suspension Room.  He liked going there sometimes.  There was stuff he could play with.  They even had a carpet in there.  Not like the cold and hard floor in his regular classroom.  He went into the room and started playing with one of the yoga balls.  He had all this energy he had to get out.  Jose sniffed and smelled something really weird.  Like that time he went to his Uncle’s house.  Jose had gone into the basement to find the basketball.  It smelled like that.  Jose started coughing.  That happened a lot when he went to the ISS Room.  It was the same cough he had when he had to take that test on the computer.  But for some reason they got rid of all those computers.  Jose rolled on the floor with the ball, hacking away.  He wasn’t sure if he needed his inhaler or not.  He couldn’t remember if his grandma brought it to school that day.  Maybe his brother had it.  His chest felt like something was pressing on it.  He started to panic.  As he yelled out, another teacher came running in the room.  She was coughing too.

This is Pulaski Elementary School.  Not now.  Not a few days ago.  But how it was from August 29th until October 7th.  That was the day the students weren’t allowed to go in the basement rooms where all the computers were.  Or rooms 10 or 11.  The teachers believed the district when they said it was okay.  Even though a few of them went to the emergency room.  But what the district didn’t tell the staff, students, or parents was how dangerous it was there.  On August 29th, Pulaski was tested for air quality.  With these tests, they compare the air outside with the air inside.  Inside, Pulaski was 55,000 times greater with mold than it was outside.  The district did tell the teachers… six weeks later.  Students took tests on the computers.  Special education students went to one of the three therapists down there.  For six weeks, everyone was breathing contaminated air.

Yesterday, Acting Superintendent Dr. Robert Andrzejewski gave a press brief at Pulaski.  A reporter asked him if he would send his kids or grandchildren there.  He said yes.  But the reporter asked the wrong question.  She should have asked him if he would have sent them there three weeks ago.  I’m willing to bet his answer would have been much different.  So why didn’t this come out in the News Journal or WDEL?  They simply weren’t given the true situation.  The mold, as Dr. A explained, came from a busted water main.

By the time the school had an air quality test on August 29th, the custodians were told to clean it up.  Armed with nothing but rags and Clorox, they wiped it down.  Hispanic custodians, without gloves or air masks.  Who couldn’t speak English very well.  Perhaps Ed Mayfield, the Assistant to the Superintendent and the Director of Operations, thought the problem would go away soon.  Maybe he didn’t understand the danger.  But the bottom line is he saw the reports and did nothing.  Sure, he may have attempted to clean it up.  But he did not inform the school.  Not the Principal or the staff.  For six weeks.

When the teachers were told about the situation, it was after the Christina Board of Education held a special meeting on the issue.  That was on October 4th.  Mayfield was addressing the staff on October 7th at the school.  At the board meeting a few days before, one of the board members came down from the podium and handed the air quality reports to a staff member of Pulaski.  This staff member had requested this information for weeks.  The board member warned Mayfield about any retaliation to the staff.  Apparently that warning went unheeded.  Veiled threats came out.  The teachers were told if they went to the press it would be a violation of their contract.  Because when teachers signed their contracts with the Christina School District, part of that states they will not put the district in a negative light at all.  Sure, they could have talked to the press.  They also would have lost their job.  It was an impossible situation.

So here we are now.  October 15th.  The staff at Pulaski have been told the mold levels are down.  The Department of Health did a walk-thru yesterday.  All is right with the world.  But the Computer Lab, Room 10, and Room 11 are still closed.  Dehumidifiers are running in those rooms after a mold specialist came in to clean it up.  The origin of the mold was apparently found.  At least that’s what Dr. A is telling all of us.  But Dr. A will most likely be leaving the district soon.  He is only an Acting Superintendent.  The Board’s aim is to have a new Superintendent by January 1st.  Dr. A came in to help Christina win their referendum.  He succeeded on that part.  For the most part though, he hasn’t done a whole heck of a lot.  Most of the day-to-day stuff has been handled by Mayfield.  That doesn’t mean Dr. A wasn’t well aware of the situation at Pulaski.  Dr. A didn’t attend the special board meeting on October 4th.  Dr. A is also on a very short list for the next Delaware Secretary of Education if John Carney becomes the next Governor.

The Christina Board isn’t done with this issue.  It will be part of their next board meeting on October 18th, this coming Tuesday.  At their meeting on October 4th, board members wanted answers to questions about this.  They wanted to know what happened and when.  How much the mold remediation would cost the district.  Things like that.

They wanted to know what the next steps are after the clean-up…

Dr. A will talk about the district’s procedures for handling Indoor Air Quality issues….

But the board, upon hearing other teachers in the district making similar complaints as Pulaski, will review a resolution to have all the schools in the district tested.

At the October 4th board meeting, Ed Mayfield was offered $25,000 on the spot if he would fully test all the rooms at Pulaski.  All forty or so rooms.  He refused.  Mayfield knew it would cost around $500 to test each room for mold.  But he seemed very confident the situation would soon be gone.  Why burden the district with an expense they probably didn’t need to incur.  The 300 plus students and all those staff members would be okay.  They were taking care of it.  It’s not like they knew how bad it was, but they got those levels down thank goodness!  And even if they did know, they couldn’t talk about it.  Forget that it was a health crisis.  Forget some staff members had to go to the emergency room, one by ambulance.  They probably had pre-existing conditions anyways.  Even though he had been with the district for a long time, this was nothing compared to his time as a detective with the Delaware State Police.

Intimidation.

Retaliation.

Endangerment.

Suppression.

Contamination.

Children.

Teachers.

Staff.

I’ve seen a lot in Delaware education.  I’ve written about many things.  Never, in the almost 3,000 articles I’ve written in less than 2 1/2 years, have I been more disgusted and horrified at the same time.  Teachers knew.  They knew something wasn’t right.  They begged the district to do something.  The district knew how bad it was and did nothing until the board intervened.  We still don’t know if the building is completely safe.  They only treated the basement.  There are two floors above that.  Mold travels through the air.  They can be smaller than a micron.  It’s everywhere.  But at high levels, it can cause headaches, breathing problems, and memory loss.

The Pulaski Kennel Cough.  The cough that didn’t start this school year.  It started three years ago.  During another time when the computer lab was closed for many months.

Mr. Mayfield and Dr. Andrzejewski, it is not in the district’s best interest to force teachers to sign gag orders where they can’t talk about a health crisis that has the potential to do harm to the students and staff that the district is entrusted to protect.  Especially when the two of you failed to act as soon as you knew the danger at Pulaski Elementary School.  There is nothing you can do or say to justify that.  You put children in harms way.  The very kids you have been charged to educate.  The special needs children.  The English Language learners.  The poor.  The discriminated.  The ones you forgot about in your neglectful decisions.  Shame on you.  If anyone broke their contract, it is the two of you.  You put Christina in a negative light.

If you are concerned about numbers, try these on for size.

52.8% Hispanic/Latino

40% African-American

16.3% Special Education

29.3% English Language learners

76% Low-Income

These are the numbers you should have been looking at.  These vulnerable kids.  Betrayed by those who are supposed to put them first.  And one of you wants to be Secretary of Education?  How can we expect to trust you with 135,000 kids when you couldn’t provide safety for 300 of them?

The Audacity Of Harrie Ellen Minnehan

Over the past year, there have been several attempts to get Christina Board of Education member Shirley Saffer to resign from the school board.  Back in 2014, Saffer was arrested for harassment following a purported argument with a bus driver.  Last summer, Saffer pled guilty to the misdemeanor charge of harassment, paid a fine, and was ordered to stay away from the bus driver.  What hasn’t been reported was what led to the argument or any physical proof that Saffer used a racial slur in the argument.  Despite this lack of essential forensic evidence, members of the Christina Board of Education have made a few attempts to get Saffer to resign.  With a push from the Friends of Christina group as early as last November, the Board President Harrie Ellen Minnehan appears to be making it her mission in life to make Saffer resign.  The latest attempt, shown below, stems from a civil suit against Saffer and the district.

Earlier this year, the board put forth a resolution asking Saffer to resign.  A lengthy conversation happened at that board meeting in which Saffer’s alleged us of “the n word” was taken out of the resolution as there was no proof it was actually said.  No recordings of the argument showed whether it was said one way or the other.  Let me be very clear: I do not condone the use of that word, ever, and under any circumstances.  I don’t think anyone should use that word in any situation.  Even African-Americans.  It is symbolic of a time in our country’s history when the word was used to denigrate and humiliate African-Americans.  I think ANY use of the word continues to remind us of that history.  I actually saw a fake email, constructed to make it look like I used that word recently.  Anyone who knows me knows I hate that word.  But what was very interesting was who showed me that email and that person’s defense of myself in stating they absolutely knew I didn’t say it.  How would that person know, with 100% certainty, that I didn’t?  Something to ponder readers…but I digress…

If Saffer did or didn’t use the word is now immaterial.  She was accused, pled guilty, and paid her debt to society.  So why is Minnehan continuing the witch hunt?  There is nothing in Delaware law that can make a school board member resign.  If Saffer didn’t resign immediately after the incident, last summer when she went to trial, after the Friends of Christina made a concerted effort to get her to resign, and after the board’s prior resolution a few months ago, why would she do so now?  Her term expires in a little over a year.

Based on the civil suit filed, my guess is Minnehan doesn’t want the district or any board members dragged into it.  Should Saffer resign, I would guess the board and district wouldn’t have to pay any legal costs based on the suit.  Which is certainly Minnehan’s desire.  But by continuing this witch hunt against Saffer, she is stoking the flames.  She wants a confrontation, in my opinion.  But it hasn’t happened.  For a Board President who seems to bash others and their actions, she sure has a way of poking the bear any chance she gets.  What if the board issued resolutions asking for Minnehan to resign based on her time as the Pencader Business School Board President?  I’m guessing she wouldn’t like that one bit.  Saffer is not going to resign no matter how many petitions or board resolutions surface in the future.  Minnehan needs to get over it and pay more attention to her district and stop wasting the board and the district’s time on this.  Just because someone holds a gavel doesn’t make them lord of the universe.  With great power must also come great responsibility.  I’m trying to see some good in Minnehan’s multiple resolutions here, but I just can’t.

Did Saffer make a mistake?  No one knows what was really said that day.  At least with empirical evidence.  No one knows publicly what prompted the exchange of words in the first place.  Yes, she pled guilty, but the charge was harassment.  Without knowing, and this is just a picture I am painting here, Saffer may have seen the bus driver do something.  Nobody just goes up to a bus driver to start something for no reason unless they are clinically insane.  Shirley Saffer is not insane.  At heart, Saffer cares about kids.  She went to the bus, exchanged words with the bus driver, and something was said.  It was in the heat of the moment that Saffer may have said something which could be construed as harassment.  It is something many of us have done at one point in time, including Minnehan.  No one is an angel, no one is perfect.  Saffer, whatever happened that day, regrets what happened.  Of that I can be sure.  But to continue to be held under the microscope constantly by someone who should be viewing her as a part of a seven member team and not this horrible person Minnehan projects… I view what Minnehan is doing as harassment.  I view Minnehan’s attempts to have Saffer resign as petty and vindictive.  I don’t think it is about the money issue.  I think it is about power.  Minnehan wants to solidify support on any future votes for whatever agenda items she wants action on, in my opinion.  In looking at how the board votes on controversial items have gone down, there are three votes that tend to vote one way, and three that vote the other.  Saffer and Minnehan are not on the same team.

Based on comments made by Minnehan on social media during the recent board election race between incumbent Elizabeth Paige and Desiree Brady, Minnehan was very passive-aggressive in her comments about the board and certain members on the board.  While others do this as well, I find it very hypocritical for Minnehan to accuse others of causing controversy when she publicly does it herself.  Because I called her out on this, she unfriended me on Facebook.  I have spent the time since in intense therapy trying to get over it.  It was quite a blow!  But seriously, it was just very odd for her to go on one of her fellow board members campaign page and write disparaging things about the board she is supposed to run as the president.

I’ve known Minnehan for a couple of years now.  I first met her at the epic priority schools Christina board meeting in September, 2014.  I liked how she defended the district and railed against the DOE in the months after.  But by the time the priority showdown reached it’s zenith, I couldn’t tell which side Minnehan was on anymore.  She was in agreement with the majority of the board members in going forth with the MOU with the DOE, but ultimately it was her opposition to one of the key parts of it that led to the MOU not going forth until a revised one went out months later based on the WEAC recommendations.

Minnehan and myself have a history, and it is not a great one.  Last summer we clashed over a crazy innuendo against, ironically, herself and Saffer.  I apologized immediately once I realized how I had been fooled by the person granting the innuendo, in email and on my blog.  But Minnehan kept insisting I come to the next Christina Board meeting and apologize publicly.  I advised her many times it wasn’t going to happen, and even if I could, I had a hernia surgery coming up that would prevent me from attending anyways.  Despite that, she felt the need to apologize for me (for a third time) at that board meeting.  And I won’t even get into the Bizarro world of what happened last month because I still can’t wrap my head around it all.  Based on that, I said I would never write about Christina again.  Obviously, I changed my mind.  I won’t let veiled threats stifle me from expressing my opinion or writing about the district.  And the biggest problem I see is the board president.  I have no doubt she will be offended, but I truly don’t care.  When I see crap like this on their agenda, it makes me want to throw up.  As Bob A said a few months back, “Let it go!”

While this is a federal case, it is not at the federal level.  Saffer lives in Delaware and the bus driver lives in another state.  Based on legal guidelines for lawsuits, the feds take over when the parties live in different states.

Updated, 10:45pm: Apparently this resolution was pulled from Christina’s board meeting agenda tonight.  I wonder why…

 

Colonial School District Board Swindled By WEIC Leaders With Legal Loophole And Backdoor Meetings

On Tuesday evening, the Colonial School District Board of Education passed a resolution with a vote of 4-2 to support the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission’s redistricting effort with the exception of the Colonial portion of Wilmington.  If you listen to their audio recording from the 11/10/15 board meeting it was a very controversial decision.

Board member Melody Spotts questioned the board not even hearing the resolution until the actual board meeting.  Most board resolutions are put out earlier so all board members can read it ahead of time.

Who on the board is seeing this for the first time tonight?  Did you see this prior to today? No. I did not see this posted in Board Docs.  You want us to vote on this today?

The resolution, presented by Board President Joseph Laws, would have Colonial support the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission redistricting effort to send the Christina School District Wilmington students to Red Clay.  It would also allow Laws to remain on the Commission.  What the resolution does not give is an okay by Colonial to send their estimated 150 students to Red Clay as well.  They want to keep the current boundaries.  Laws also mentioned that Brandywine School District feels the same way.  Board member Richard Schiller was not happy with the WEIC response to the board’s October decision.

I don’t agree with the letter from Dr. Rich.  It was very condescending to this board.

Spotts was very upset that Laws and Blakey met with the leadership of WEIC without notifying the rest of the board which Laws quickly deflected in the conversation by asking the board if they wanted to continue to have him represent the district on the commission.  The board agreed but not if meetings are held the week before without the board being notified.

Laws left the door open for the Colonial students to possibly go to Red Clay with the resolution but not with an “11th hour commitment”.  Spotts was adamant about Colonial not sending out a resolution that states Colonial should say how Red Clay spends their taxpayer dollars.  She said their district would not be happy about another district doing the same for them.  The district refuted the claim from WEIC members about a financial incentive for Colonial to back out of the redistricting effort based on the Port of Wilmington area in Colonial.  The district explained this is a tax-exempt area and the district does not make additional money off this.  The funding issue was brought up by Spotts as well:

Sure, we’re building a house, tell me how much it costs later.

Laws explained they are increasing their test scores while other districts in the effort are actually going down.  Laws said he and Blakey met last week with Tony Allen, the chair of WEIC, Joe Pika, and Dan Rich to discuss Colonial’s backing out of the redistricting and said while it was civil it became very contentious.  He told them the Colonial board would not be budging and backing off from their decision unless the board as a whole voted on it.  The WEIC trio asked the board to pass a resolution in support of the recommendations which is where the trap was set for the Colonial board.

What this resolution does is tie the redistricting effort to what is already in paragraph 1026 of Title 14 by eliminating a referendum for the potential school districts:

(c) Subject to subsection (a) of this section, the State Board of Education may change or alter the boundaries of any reorganized school district without a referendum of the voters if the written consent of the owners of the real property to be transferred has been obtained and if also the school boards of the districts affected by such change or alteration have adopted resolutions favoring such change or alteration.

This is the legal loophole to all of this and the WEIC folks clearly know this.  How they could have gotten this past Colonial with nobody questioning it at their board meeting clearly shows this.  Which is why I can no longer support this initiative whatsoever. If the powers that be want to play dirty tricks, then the entire plan is corrupt in my opinion.  While the resolution would allow for Colonial’s students to stay in the Colonial district, it is going to become a hot mess because Colonial’s board passed this resolution which is exactly what the WEIC trio wanted.  The 4-2 vote had the following votes: Yes-Laws, Benjamin, Kennedy and Magee, No-Schiller and Spotts.  Board member Tim Suber was not at the meeting.  The resolution is not on Colonial’s board docs portion of their website and did not appear before the meeting as well.

Backdoor meetings on the whole WEIC/redistricting effort goes against the very spirit of this whole thing, and it was indicated this would not happen.  Now it has, and nobody really knows what was said and if any side deals happened.  I cannot, and will not support this initiative based on that unless a full audio recording of the meeting between Laws, Blakey, Allen, Rich and Pika surfaces with everything that was said at this meeting.  This will not happen, therefore I can not support WEIC.

Is It A Coincidence WEIC, Rodel’s Student Success 2025 & DOE’s SREO Initiative Are All Taking Place At The SAME Time?

There are three major education groups going on right now.  We have the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission (WEIC) led by Bank of America executive Tony Allen, the Rodel sponsored Student Success 2025 brought to us by the Vision Coalition, and the Delaware Department of Education’s Statewide Review of Educational Opportunities (SREO).  These are all going on at the same time, and it makes me wonder…

The biggest thing I noticed on WEIC was the glaring fact there was NO representation from DOE or Rodel on the leadership team.  At first glance, I didn’t notice a lot of the major charter players at all.  But they are well-represented on the Vision Student success 2025 gig:  Rodel’s Dr. Paul Herdman, Eastside Charter’s Dr. Lamont Browne, Teach For America’s Laurissa Schutt, H. Raye Jones Avery, well-known charter supporters and business leaders Gary Stockbridge and Ernie Diastasis, Longwood Foundation President There DuPont, Saul-Ewing Charter School Attorney Jim Taylor, Maria Matos, Freire’s Assistant Head of Academics Paul Ramirez, and Rodman Ward III. And from the DOE there is Mark Murphy (not sure on his status now that he “resigned”), Vice-President of the State Board of Education Jorge Melendez, Chief of the Teacher & Leader Effectiveness Unit Chris Ruszkowski, Chief Academic Officer Michael Watson, and State Board of Education Director Donna Johnson.

As for the Statewide Review of Educational Opportunities, their membership consists of, well, not too many people.  The only folks I’ve seen on paper is Executive Director of the State Board of Education Donna Johnson and DOE Chief Policy and External Communications Officer Susan Haberstroh.  The Legislative Hall duo.  These are the only names on this group at this point and we have no idea who the stakeholders are aside from local education agencies and their data that will be collected.  On it’s face, the SREO is merely a data collection initiative, to be collected, collated, and dissected to find “best practices” in our schools.  My issues with this are 1) the vendor is Public Consulting Group, 2) there are always mitigating factors why some schools are “better” than others and trying to copy certain models in other areas of the state may not work, 3) it was a rush announcement by Governor Markell who actually came to a State Board of Education meeting to announce it in March.

All three of these groups have some similar goals for Delaware education.  If you look at the three documents below, it is easy to see the similarities but all the differences:

While certain goals in these three groups are similar, such as funding and best interests for students, some are very different.  But if you add up all the pieces, it equals a combined picture that includes nearly aspect of Delaware education.  I do not believe this is a coincidence.  A year ago, all roads let to the Wilmington Education Advisory Committee.  Now, all roads lead to Governor Markell and Rodel.

I have hypothesized for a year now that Wilmington will become an all-charter school district eventually.  I still believe this is the Governor’s goal.  Last night, at the Red Clay board meeting, serious questions were asked by the board to Dan Rich and Tizzy Lockman with WEIC.  The board questioned where their authority in all of this is.  In the wording of Senate Bill 122, it states the State Board of Education can act without a referendum if the local school board approves a resolution supporting the WEAC recommendations.  Red Clay did this in April.  The law does not specifically name the school districts that can be redrawn.  So who is to say charter schools can’t be considered a school district?  They can, and they could have say in all of this before all is said and done.

The alignment for a total takeover is present, right now.  But there is one huge glitch in the whole plan…funding.  Who pays for any of this?  Red Clay? Christina? The taxpayers (invariably, they always do), the State of Delaware? Corporations?  And there may be one other snafu in this whole process… but I’m not going to let that cat out of the bag!