The Dream Becomes A Reality: Exceptional Advocacy for Delaware Students

It all starts with an idea.  But ideas that roll around in your mind will always be just that.  It is now time for action!  Therefore, this is the birth of Exceptional Advocacy for Delaware Students.

For almost four years I’ve been writing about education in good old Delaware.  It’s taken me from the bottom of Sussex all the way to the tip-top parts of the state.  I’ve been to Legislative Hall and the Delaware DOE building more times than I can count.  And nothing has changed.  In fact, I’m going to say it is getting worse.  Especially with special education.  But it isn’t just that.  It is also issues dealing with school discipline, race, gender, bullying, classroom management, class sizes, safety, and trauma coming into our schools in ways our educators are just now starting to fathom and understand.

To that end, I am taking my email/Facebook/social media/cell phone advocacy out of the digital world and into the schools.  This will be a huge task and I need your help!

These are the issues I am willing to advocate for students:

Special Education: whether it is IEPs or 504 plans, it is important to know your child’s rights, the parental rights, and the rights of the school.  Many parents feel overwhelmed in IEP meetings.  Trying to learn about federal IDEA law, Delaware State Code, and all the pending special education legislation is a task in itself.  Do you have a child with a unique disability that may warrant very specific goals or accommodations in their IEP?

School Discipline: does the punishment fit the crime?  Does the punishment meet the criteria of the school student code of conduct?  Does it follow state law?  If a student has an IEP or 504 plan was it a manifestation of their disability or just poor choices?  What are the rights of students when there are School Resource Officers, constables, or armed security?  When is physical restraint warranted?  How does it work with transportation and busing when a discipline issue comes up?

Trauma: Is your child going through a Post Traumatic Stress Disorder based on violence in their neighborhood?  Or in their own home?  Are their grades falling behind as a result of this?  Are they acting out?  These are students that may not be special education but need an advocate to help schools and teachers sift through these issues so they can give your child the best education possible.

Bullying: Is your child being bullied?  Are you finding the school isn’t doing everything they can to put a stop to it?  What steps can you take to make sure they do?

These are my goals:

To serve any of the above needs or potential conflict a parent may have with a school.

To guide parents on the appropriate ways to deal with the folks in the schools.  This isn’t as simple as it looks, and when things escalate, there is a proper chain of steps to go through.

To work with every school district and charter school in the state to make sure Parent Council Groups for special education are up and running.

To advocate meaningful dialogue between parents and schools.  This is crucial.  But it is also important to make sure there is one adult in the room who can be unbiased and impartial.  Screaming heads don’t get you far.  It might feel good in the short-term, but it is not conducive to the best interests of the one person who matters the most- your child!

To inform parents of their child’s rights and how that applies to the school setting.  To inform parents of the differences between legislation and regulation and what is enforceable and what is not.

To make sure due process rights are followed to the letter of the law in discipline situations.

I am not an attorney nor do I pretend to be.  I am just a parent with my own special needs child who has run the gauntlet with Delaware schools.  If your child’s school building doesn’t know me directly, they know of me.  All the district and charter leaders know me as well as the legislators.  I have contacts all over the place and know exactly who to go to when things need to happen.  I’ve helped parents out for years but it is time to take it to the next level.

I will be doing this work at no cost.  But any organization or business (whatever this turns out to be based on demand) needs funding.  Pure and simple.  So I am asking for donations from folks in Delaware who see this growing need in our state.  Whether it is a dollar or more, every bit counts.  I am willing to go up and down our state to help our kids.  I am centrally located in Dover so my door is open for all!

If you are of mind to help get this going and help sustain this, any contributions are certainly welcome!  Please go to the Exceptional Advocacy for Delaware Students page here: https://www.gofundme.com/exceptional-advocacy-for-delaware

If you are a parent who needs help in dealing with a situation involving your child at a Delaware school, please contact me as soon as possible.  My email is kjohlandt70@gmail.com and we can exchange phone numbers from there.

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Delaware DOE FINALLY Releases 2016-2017 Annual Bullying Report

After months of waiting, I received an email from the Delaware Department of Education that their 2016-2017 Annual Bullying Report was completed and up on their website.  While I am unable to take a deep dive into this and compare it to previous years, I did want to get it out there for folks to view.  When I asked the DOE last week about the status of the report, they did explain the area that handles the report went through a leadership turnover in the past few months which is understandable for the delay.

A Parent’s Horrifying Experience With Her Daughters’ First And Only Day At Delaware Design-Lab High School

Someone once told me school choice is a roll of the dice.  For this parent and her two daughters, it was a one day nightmare that resulted in the parent pulling her children out of the Delaware public education system and homeschooling her daughters.  Delaware Design-Lab recently requested a major modification to reduce their enrollment (again), despite winning $10 million dollars from XQ Schools in the Fall of 2016.  The parent allowed me to publish an email she sent to the school with her reasons for taking her children out after one day in the school.  I did edit the email for grammatical purposes but none of the parent’s complaints were altered in any way.  As well, I did take out her daughters’ names and replaced them with Daughter A and Daughter J.

Hello Loretta,

There are numerous reasons that we did not stay with Delaware Design Lab.  I am not sure if you are aware how it is being run or what goes on in a normal day but I and the girls saw it.

I wound up in the office in the morning just to let everyone know we were there.  There were tons of students in the office arguing about dress code.  The secretary couldn’t get into her computer, there was tons of chaos. The substitutes didn’t even know where to go and Mr. Harris was nowhere to be found.  They had to have students escort the teachers.  The students were complaining they had no money and had to buy new pants for school and came in jogging pants and completely out of uniform standards.  This was something you and Mr. Harris had stressed on open house night.  There was confusion because the students that took us on tour were not in uniform either and did imply it wasn’t followed to the T at all.  Daughter A asked Mr. Harris and he said leggings were fine but Mrs. Hembree said leggings are not allowed at all.  There was confusion between Business Professional and Business Casual.  I remember both being said.  We went out and got stuff to meet the requirements while the current students are held to no standards or consequences.  That is minor but when you add it all together after the morning I had, and the day they had, it shows that there is no authority or administration adhering to their own guidelines.

The major things you said in the recruiting open house is almost opposite of our experience.  I know you followed through with my emails and we even came in on a Saturday to give you more paperwork.  School was pushed back to the 20th because they needed time to create a schedule for the girls.  I was more than understanding.  When we arrived Tuesday we sat for an hour and a half making schedules that should have already been done.  The counselor, Mr. Burke, was nice and I don’t know where the ball was dropped but it was.  He wasn’t well-informed with all the Design Lab offerings and the other younger gentleman, also a counselor, Mr. Sherodd, didn’t know the definition of some and didn’t seem to want to be bothered.  We were giving grace because we were so appreciative of being accepted late in the year.  It didn’t appear the paperwork I had brought in was even looked at.

So we ignored the fact their schedules should have been ready and the teachers weren’t aware of them coming.  We also gave grace when they received a new scheduling system and couldn’t figure it out or log in and needed to take training on it to be able to get into the system to make an official schedule.  This just added to the confusion and makes all the rumors I heard choosing this school true.

I sent several emails and told you in person the girls had to be withdrawn from Glasgow, and as far as I was told, by Christina School District, they never received it. They withdrew them by my email and acknowledgement of my home school being open.  That goes to show that there is no follow through with a simple request that is detrimental to my kids not receiving truancy.  I don’t even think Mrs. Hembree read the email about the request being emailed to the district office because I had to give her the email address again in person.  All while she is making the copies of my girls’ paperwork, the counselor Mr. Burke is in the office with small talk when he should have been working on the new scheduling system to get my girls a printed schedule instead of a hand written one. I then pick up the girls and they both burst into tears.  Each class they endured the students cussing, screaming, shouting out, didn’t raise hands, and they almost cried how the teachers were treated.  Most teachers didn’t even acknowledge the girls or talk to them.  In not one class, except for History, did they learn and they didn’t even learn that much.  I could see if this was the beginning of the year but not February.  The process should be seamless, the kids should be on point, and the teachers should be able to teach.  They couldn’t even talk because the kids just ran the show.  On top of that some classes were so full there weren’t enough desks.

My Daughter J broke her foot and was in a boot. Daughter A was helping her to gym and said oh now here we go to gym which most kids don’t enjoy anyway and the gym teacher comes up behind her and yells at her and Daughter J on their first day and says “go back to the counselor’s office. I don’t want you in my class you can’t do anything with a broken foot and since you don’t want to be here anyway you can go with her.”  Daugher A was trying to help Daughter J carry her stuff. She had been on her foot all day and was pushed and shoved up and down steps with the rude students.  My daughters were also told the gym teacher made the student who had a broken back last year run because he forgot his note.  That is serious.  My daughter did forget hers and I am so thankful they were sent to the counselor’s office because if she was made to run there would be a lawsuit and the school shut down.

Not being able to take Driver’s Ed was all a huge let down.

They were also called ho’s, bitches, and sluts throughout the day.  They were treated horribly by the majority of the student population.  Daughter J says one girl blurted out she lost her voice because she sucked so much D.  The students called the teachers the N word and were constantly causing chaos.  Where there is no order, chaos abounds.  I was feeling so down about my kids because home school didn’t align with public and it’s not supposed to.  My kids volunteer weekly, respect elders, read on their own, and have desires to become better than themselves every day.  The kids told Daugher J and Daughter A they were too smart for this school and had more potential than majority of the students.  They themselves want to leave Design Lab but can’t because the standards are so low they would be placed in a lower level class.

During the gym hour last period they were sent back to the counselor’s office to pick a new class because they were made aware they were not wanted in gym. While they are sitting there figuring out where they could be put, and the only option was Forensic Science, which neither of them wanted, they hear a student pouring her heart out to the younger gentleman, Mr. Sherodd.  She tells him that she is having some thoughts but wasn’t going to act on them but she was depressed and needed help.  He tells her he is not a counselor but that is how we were all introduced to him.  He said here is a list of therapists.  The student was still talking while he answers the phone and walks out the room.  The student comes over, tells the girls that the school doesn’t ever read their emails, her dad had a stroke a previous year and no one even knew nor were concerned.  She isn’t leaving because it’s her senior year.  When he comes back from his phone call, he sits down and looks at her and says why aren’t you back in class? She responds you didn’t really help or tell me what to do next. He responds I thought you were just going to talk to the student and she said what about these thoughts… should I receive medication, talk to my mom or get a therapist?  He says I am not qualified to tell you whether or not you need medicine but I have the list of therapists you can talk to.  She then stands up while he is talking to Mr. Burke and starts to walk back to class and says so once I start therapy will we be able to talk weekly and he says I am not a counselor and I don’t do weekly meetings.  The student was clearly distraught and going off about Mr. Reek and how he doesn’t teach and they need to hire better people.  Mr. Sherodd tells her to go to the office to complain about the teacher.  Right before she leaves she says he just pointed me to the office.  My girls were heartbroken for her especially after hearing about the shooting in Florida.  This kid is begging for help and no one is helping her.  People should drop what they are doing and help this girl out.

Daughter A also met with the Ashley Bystricki during the day and she didn’t say much whatsoever and nodded repeatedly and when discussing leaving two minutes before class she said that was fine but none of her teachers were made aware.

Mr. Spangler didn’t even acknowledge Daughter J in her math class. The aide gave her a worksheet that Daughter J had previously done the year prior.  They put her in IMP3 which she was the only sophomore and the aide asked Daughter J where she was and she said Algebra II and he said these kids are nowhere near Algebra II.

The only teacher they did like was Ms. Marvel.

The Spanish I teacher, for Daughter A, which was her last day, couldn’t get this one kid to settle, wound up slamming a metal yardstick to the desk scaring everyone and tried to use a pressure point technique on a kid and he just laughed at her.  Daughter A mouthed to her she was so sorry she was being treated like this and came over and offered help to Daughter A.  She was so thankful to be leaving for another school.

Ultimately, the teachers and the students don’t like being there and made it very well known.  There was no follow through on simple, standard requests.  There isn’t even an acting principal.  This environment is not conducive to learning.

This is probably why the school isn’t meeting enrollment and need to request a lower percentage through the DOE.

My kids are accomplishing way more at home with their curriculum, servicing the community, and their faith.  I truly believe homeschooling is the best option especially when this is what goes on in what is supposed to be a professional school setting.

I am reporting the school to the charter board and sending an email to a blogger who holds charter schools accountable.  I also shared it with everyone who wants to hear.  There needs to be better options than public.  This should have been the answer not equal to what the public is.  Most kids said that Design Lab is worse than their feeder Glasgow which isn’t an option either.

Thank you and God Bless,

Parent C

 

These kind of issues are going on in many of our public schools in Delaware.  For parents and students like this, public schools have become a living nightmare.  I recently had a discussion with someone about how public education turned into this, especially in high-needs schools.  When did students rule the roost?  When did some adults become almost numb and uncaring?  I am not saying this is all of our schools.  But it is one too many.  I’ve been in schools that do not have these issues.  But I’ve been in others that do.  It is not a charter school problem, it is a Delaware problem.  Perhaps I am “old school”, but this kind of conduct in our schools is unacceptable.  When there is no authority in schools, students will do whatever they want.  Is it the fault of the students in these situations or the administration?  Or both?

During my recent conversation mentioned above, I explained that education has turned into a business enterprise.  Despite many saying they represent students, that is not always the reality.  I’ve learned to know the difference.  For far too many, it is about the money involved first and students last.  It isn’t the teachers (in most cases), it is the administrators and boards that are responsible for making sure our schools are student first.  In this situation with Delaware Design-Lab, it is obvious, based on this experience, there are serious issues with teacher recruitment.  The environment at this school is NOT conducive to student learning.  Based on the parent’s email, she also had issues in the Christina School District at Glasgow High School.  For any parent to have to run from public education like this is a true shame.

I won’t pretend to have the answers.  I don’t know the solutions.  I can grapple with these issues and write about them, and in my heart I can cry for students that go through bullying and horrible education experiences.  I can write about situations like this.  I ask myself every single day what will be the catalyst for things to truly change.  While a ton of talk is going on about school safety, situations like this are the norm in far too many of our schools, whether they are traditional schools or charter schools.  School safety is paramount but that also includes addressing situations like this.

When I received the email from this parent, I shook my head.  I reached out to the parent again and she agreed I could publish it and added this:

The only good thing I could say about it is it was clean and nice looking.  The kids shared with my girls that most of the time the classes are so full there isn’t a desk for them to sit at.  The teachers are afraid to teach and from what I heard and could tell no acting Principal.  The Open House is very enticing and we thought this was an answer to our prayers.  Unfortunately not at all.  The one catch that is really sad that most don’t know about that Christina District office told us was once you register for a Charter in Delaware you have to complete a full year grade in it to be able to switch back to a public.  So this year wouldn’t have counted they would have had to complete 11th to switch back to a public.  Their public being Glasgow is even worse.  I don’t think parents know when they go to charter if they pull them out they have to go to private, parochial or home school like we are.  

In my own opinion I see a lot more deciding to home school in the years to come.  I don’t know if you write about public but Glasgow High was much worse than Design Lab.  I was there two days trying to register and I cried leaving.  It is so sad our youth have to endure this to get an education.  

Delaware DOE FAILS To Release 2016-2017 Bullying Report Required By Delaware Law

The Delaware Department of Education has not released the state law required annual bullying report for the 2016-2017 school year.  As per Title 14 of Delaware State Code:

(4) The Department of Education shall prepare an annual report, which must include a summary of all reported and all substantiated incidences of bullying, a summary of the information gathered under paragraph (b)(2)f. of this section, and the results of audits conducted under paragraph (d)(4) of this section. The Department shall post the report required by this subsection on its website.

I reached out to the Delaware DOE about this a month ago and received a response from the Public Information Officer, Alison May, that it “should be” released at the end of the month.  Here we are, a month later, and no report.  Which would have put this after the choice window closed in the beginning of January.  How can parents make accurate and informed school choice decisions for their children without information like this?  Bullying is a very big concern for many parents and it helps to know the numbers for these in Delaware schools.  That is, assuming they are reported with fidelity.  I recently heard a tale of a high school principal who took a stack of discipline referrals and put them in a shredder without acting on them.

I took a look at earlier years to see when those reports were released:

2015-2016: 11/29/2016

2014-2015: 9/14/2015

2013-2014: 9/10/2014

2012-2013: 11/6/2013

2011-2012: 9/25/2012

2010-2011: 11/5/2011

So why hasn’t the Delaware Dept. of Education released this report yet?  Is there some type of issue?  The year with a report issued at the latest date in the next school year was the 2015-2016 report.  Here we are two and a half months after that date, in Mid-February, and no report.

I checked into other required reports that haven’t come out from the DOE yet.  We have yet to see the annual report on Teen Dating Violence.  I have to wonder what is going at the DOE under Secretary Bunting’s command.  I know they are going through a “reorganization” but they are still required to comply with Delaware law.  Annual reports need to be released in a timely fashion.  I shouldn’t have to be some citizen watchdog writing about this stuff.  I expect to be able to go to the DOE website and find what I’m looking for.  I don’t mind doing that but I would rather they just do the right thing to begin with.  I would prefer to write about a report instead of a lack of finding one.  So what is the repercussion for the DOE not following state code on this?  There is none.  There is absolutely no accountability except for maybe the Governor calling Bunting and saying “Why am I reading about this on Kevin’s blog?  Get the damn report out!” and Bunting saying “Yes sir”.  There is no mechanism in Delaware to oversee these kind of things and alert the state agency about not following state law.  When it comes to education, I guess that’s me.  And people wonder why I seem upset sometimes and claim I never do some due diligence before I post stuff.

 

Hysterical Providence Creek Email Surfaces. Sad Part Is She Was Serious…

You gotta keep ’em separated. -The Offspring

I received the following email today.  This concerns the “solution” that Providence Creek Academy, a charter school in Clayton, DE, implemented when students weren’t getting along.  Yes, let’s punish whole grades of classes because of the actions of a few.  That is always a smart thing to do!  Especially on the playground.  Weird.  Just weird…

From: Messick Joan
Sent: Tuesday, September 6, 2016 1:15 PM

Subject: Lunch/Recess – Seventh and Eight Grade Students

Good Morning Upper School Team

First, I apologize for not getting this out sooner.

On Thursday, there were several students reporting issues between the seventh and  eighth grade students.  The issues, in my opinion, seem to be brought on by some students intentionally starting arguments between other student and there seem to be issues about who should be where during recess time.  Since seventh and eighth grade students must follow a similar schedule, there isn’t much we can do to separate them during lunch and recess.  This morning I went to all special classes and stem so that I could have the opportunity to talk to all students.  The conversation was pretty one sided and I asked them to listen.  I did ask that if they had any questions, comments, suggestions, complaints or just want to share, they should write it down and ask that a staff member put it in my mail box. 

Side bar, we did have students, a parent, staff members concerned that if we don’t try and do something to be proactive the issues would escalate and change the climate in the upper school for the worse.  At this point it is fair to say that the issues are disrupting recess/lunch, disrupting the educational environment AND students are using social media to make comments that could be considered threatening in nature and there are implications that they might harm another student at school.  We are going to try some things to see if we can calm the issues. 

Starting today, we painted a line on the upper school playground.   Please have the seventh grade on one side of the line and eighth grade on the other side of the line.  We put a path on one side so that when those students are entering the building they don’t have to cross path with the other grade level.  I would have one grade level go in and wait two minutes and have the other grade level go in allowing enough time for the first group to enter their classrooms.  I am in the process in meeting with staff to keep them informed about what is happening and I would appreciate your feedback and suggestions since we will probably meet to discuss what is working, what is not and see if we need to make any additional changes.  Recess is a privilege, not a right.  Please reply to me, not “reply all”. 

Seventh and Eighth Grade students can take turns using each side.  I understand there is a upper school team meeting today after school, please decide as a team how you would like to rotate the grades by day or by week and please let me know.  We think that day on day off would be better because some students might have basketball withdrawalJ. Honestly, I feel sad that we have to do this since SO MANY of our students love recess and are using that time to get some energy out and relax with friends….

Thank you for your consideration and help.  Please keep me informed if there is anything you need and I would really appreciate it if you would send me an e-mail so that I have something that I can use as a resource with names, times and some basic information; And it will help to keep track in case I need to.  I am required to report documented reports of bullying and your e-mails help me with that.  More to follow….Take care.

Lastly, I have already gotten feedback from students and those that have responded think that this is a good solution. 

Joan

 

While I salute Ms. Messick for attempting a solution, does she understand that sometimes kids will be kids?  I understand schools sometimes have to think of creative solutions to problems, but what if some of these 7th and 8th graders actually enjoyed each other and had friendships? If some students are causing issues, deal with those students.  With that being said, I do think it’s great 7th and 8th graders get to enjoy recess.  This email is over a year old so hopefully it all got straightened out.  Any PCA associated people know if this playground line is still in existence?

In other PCA news, many have reached out to me privately to find out how the We’re Worried group is doing.  I have not heard a peep since their Labor Day email when they announced their intent to join DSEA (the state teacher association).  All in good time!

The Hidden Secrets Behind Providence Creek Academy’s Bomb Threat & Audit Investigation

It seems random events are not so random at Providence Creek Academy, the charter school in Clayton, DE. It now appears that the audit investigation into suspected fraud by a former employee was missing a lot of information. Two other employees were also taking funds meant for students for their own personal use. Head of School Charles “Chuck” Taylor covered it all up. Continue reading “The Hidden Secrets Behind Providence Creek Academy’s Bomb Threat & Audit Investigation”

Some Big Education Bills Up For A Vote Today In The Delaware General Assembly

Cursive.  Educator Licensure.  Child Abuse Training.  Bullying.  Gang Detection.  Public School Enrollment for children in custody of DSCYF.  These are the biggest education bills up for a vote today in the Delaware House of Representatives and the Senate.  Two will go to the House and two to the Senate if they pass.  What are these bills?

House Bill #70:

This is State Rep. Andria Bennett’s cursive bill.  It was released from the House Education Committee in April.  It would make cursive instruction mandatory in all Delaware public schools.  It has many in support of the bill, but quite a few are opposed to it as well.

Under current educational standards, students are no longer required to be taught cursive writing and many schools have abandoned teaching cursive writing to students. As cursive writing is still an imperative skill in many professions, this bill makes teaching cursive writing a requirement for all public schools in Delaware.     

VIEW HB70

House Substitute 1 for House Bill #143:

State Rep. Kim Williams’ HS1 for HB #143 deals with teacher licensure and the Praxis exam.

This Act removes the provisional license and re-establishes a 3 tiered licensure system. An initial license provides for two years for the initial licensee to obtain a passing score on an approved performance assessment. This Act provides for reciprocity for a state-created and approved performance assessment from another state or jurisdiction to meet the performance assessment requirement. This Act also eliminates the general knowledge exam for licensure which will result in a savings to the candidate of a range of $100 to $150. Additionally, this Act provides for a reimbursement of no less than $100 to a license holder who meets the performance assessment requirement and becomes employed in a Delaware public school. The Department will be responsible for training local district and school staff on the performance assessment. Additionally, the Department of Education leadership, including the Secretary of Education will be trained on the performance assessment. For enactment, any individual provided an initial license prior to the enactment date will not be subject to the requirement of obtaining a passing score on a performance assessment. Additionally, any individual provided a provisional license prior to the enactment date will be reissued an initial license and the 2 year requirement for meeting the performance assessment will become effective commencing on the new issue date. The remainder of the bill makes conforming changes to cross-references and license designations.

VIEW HS1 FOR HB143

Senate Bill #87:

Senator Margaret Rose Henry’s bill deals with children in the custody of the Department of Services for Children, Youth and Their Families.  The Every Student Succeeds Act has certain provisions dealing with these students and this legislation would bring Delaware in synch with that requirement under the McKinney-Vento Act.

This Act updates the school stability law for children in the custody of the Department of Services for Children, Youth and Their Families (DSCYF) following passage of the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), which reauthorizes the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). ESSA requires Delaware to eliminate the provision “awaiting foster care placement” under § 202(c), Title 14 in accordance with the federal McKinney Vento Homeless Assistance Act by December 10, 2017, and instead create a distinct provision regarding school stability for children in the custody of DSCYF. [42 U.S.C. §§ 11431 to 11435; ESEA section 1111(g)(1)(E)(i)-(iii)), 20 U.S.C. §6311(g)(1)(E)]. This Act clarifies that children in the custody of DSCYF remain entitled to attend their school of origin if it is in their best interests to do so, or are eligible for immediate enrollment in a new school. Sections 1, 2, and 3 of this Act take effect on the effective date of final regulations published in the Register of Regulations and promulgated under authority granted by § 202A(d) of Title 14, which is created by Section 2 of this Act.   

View SB #87

Senate Bill #102:                  

Another Senator Henry bill.  This bill is similar to last year’s Senate Bill dealing with bullying and child abuse training for educators.  This has A LOT of provisions in it.  It was heard in the Senate Education Committee meeting yesterday.  The Delaware DOE, DOJ, and the Office of the Child Advocate worked on this one for a long time.

This Act consolidates Delaware law related to child abuse and child sexual abuse training and detection, suicide prevention, bullying, criminal youth gang detection, and teen dating violence and sexual assault into one subchapter of Chapter 41, Title 14 of the Delaware Code and develops a non-academic training program that coordinates the trainings school district and charter school employees are required to receive. In addition to streamlining non-academic trainings, this Act provides school districts and charter schools with flexibility to meet current and future non-academic training needs of school district and charter school employees, students, and parents. This Act applies to all public schools, including charter schools and vocational technical schools. This Act also makes technical corrections to conform existing law to the standards of the Delaware Legislative Drafting Manual, ensure consistency within the new subchapter, and make references throughout the Code consistent based changes to certain Code designations made by this Act.                    

View SB #102

House Agenda for 6/8/2017

Senate Agenda for 6/8/2017

A Review Of “The Deed: Fixing Education In The First State”: More Of The Same With No Solutions

A University of Delaware class called Documentary Production produced a video called “The Deed: Fixing Education In The First State”.  The cinematography of the video was good, but I feel it should have been renamed “Fixing Education In Wilmington” because that was pretty much what the video was about.

It gave a good history of segregation before 1954, but after that it focused solely on Wilmington.  But I found the stereotypes to be a bit too much.  The video primarily focuses on two Caucasian mothers.  One is in what appears to be a classroom, and the other is out in the suburbs in a very nice home.  When they do show African-Americans (aside from  Tony Allen), it is primarily urban Wilmington.  As if there are no African-Americans in the suburbs.

The TedX Wilmington videos shown in this are from Tony Allen, the Chair of the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission, and Dr. Paul Herdman, the CEO of the Rodel Foundation.  Other folks shown in the video are Dan Rich from the University of Delaware and one of the main WEIC players, Atnre Alleyne from DelawareCAN and TeenSHARP, and Brandywine Superintendent Dr. Mark Holodick.   There are cameos from Delaware Teacher of the Year Wendy Turner and the not-even sworn in yet Christina Board Member Meredith Griffin Jr.

Here is a newsflash.  There are 19 school districts in Delaware.  Up and down the state.  I love Wilmington, but if you are going to make a video called Fixing Education In The First State, you have to focus on the whole state.  This was one of the biggest mistakes WEIC made, focusing on Wilmington and expecting the rest of state to pick up the tab to fix Wilmington issues.  Yes, Wilmington is the biggest city, but many issues with poverty and low-income exist all over Delaware.

Like most discussions about “fixing” education in Delaware, we go through the history and the present situation.  Add some current events like the upcoming Colonial Referendum to make it current.  Show some shots from a WEIC meeting a few months ago when Governor John Carney and Delaware Secretary of Education Dr. Susan Bunting attended for some extra oomph and importance.

I recognize segregation in Wilmington schools and what school choice has done to Northern New Castle County as major problems in Delaware.  But there are other equally important issues, only one of which was briefly touched on in the video- education funding.  We also have special education with a rapidly growing population of students with disabilities, standardized testing, a growing population of English Language Learners, a General Assembly that generally makes some very bad choices for our schools, bullying in our schools,the continued fall-out from the Race To The Top accountability era, a State Auditor who doesn’t audit school districts every year even though that office has to by state law, referenda, a new Governor that is putting a ton of cuts towards school districts (but not charters), the Rodel Foundation’s stranglehold on decisions made in education, data mining of personal student information, and the upcoming and very real threats of competency-based education, personalized learning, an eventual replacement of real teachers with glorified moderators instead in a digital technology wonderland, and the upcoming Blockchain technology which will institute a full-blown “digital badge” scenario, tracking children from cradle to grave and predetermined careers and what their societal worth will be.  And yes, even Social-Emotional Learning is in the process of getting hijacked by the corporate education reformers (more on that soon).

Many of these things aren’t on the radar as much as they should be.  We are still bickering over how to “fix” education but we are stumbling with talking about what is right in education.  We are in a constant state of flux, in a state of constant improvement.  This obsessive need for improvement is actually what is fracturing education the most in Delaware.  The problem comes when we try to measure all these changes by one standardized test.

For an eleven minute video, it would be impossible to catch all the issues in Delaware education.  But showing very old videos of Tony Allen and Paul Herdman don’t do much for me.  Most Delawareans really don’t know who the two of them are.  Just because they have a TedX stage doesn’t give them more importance than a teacher giving a lecture to a class or a parent giving public comment at a school board meeting.  Those are actually the voices we need to hear more of in Delaware education, the everyday citizen.  Not a CEO of a “non-profit” making over $344,000 a year or a well-meaning Bank of America executive.  Don’t get me wrong, I think Tony Allen is a great guy, but it has become more than obvious that WEIC isn’t heading towards the destination it dreamed of and it is time to move on.  As for Dr. Paul “Rodel” Herdman, I have never been shy about my dislike of his “visions” for Delaware schools that have its roots in corporate profit.

We need to focus on what is going right in Delaware education and build from that.  It begins at the grass-roots level, in the classroom.  For that, the student and teacher voice are the most important.  And then the parent.  We go from one reform or initiative to the next, and the cycle goes on and on.

Red Clay Mom Against Bullying Releases Many New Videos…Time To Step Up Red Clay!!!

Twelve days ago, I put up a post about a Mom taking on Red Clay’s “Zero Tolerance Against Bullying”.  Apparently the situation is not getting better and the mom released a bunch of new videos.  This is one mom I wouldn’t mess with Merv!

Red Clay Mom Takes On Red Clay’s “Zero Tolerance Policy Against Bullying”

With Maya Paveza’s permission, she is allowing me to share a Youtube video she released today.  I will let the video speak for itself.  But it is a horrifying story about one student’s personal journey through hell in Red Clay schools over the past eight years.  No student or parent should go through this gut-wrenching hell at all, much less over eight years.  I hope Katarina gets the peace and healing she deserves.  I will post the other videos in this series.  I did the same thing three years ago, albeit in a different format.  Only fitting I help another Delaware student tell her story.

Living With Tourette Syndrome

Tourette Syndrome Awareness Month will take place this year from May 15th to June 15th.  My son has Tourette Syndrome.  As I try to educate myself on his journey through a very complex and often misunderstood disability, I find the best way to understand it is to hear from others who have it.  As such, a gentleman posted the following in a Facebook group this afternoon.  With his permission, he allowed me to put it on this blog:

Let me paint a picture for you. Imagine yourself:

-getting beatings for tics and then having severe outbursts afterwards.
-being hit in the face so hard that your nose starts bleeding.
-being pinched in the arm and having nails dug into your skin every time you tic, then having to wear long sleeve shirts to hide the blood coming from your arms.
-being targeted, bullied, and made fun of at school and in the neighborhood every day.
-having a teacher make you sit under a desk or stand in a trash can for ticcing.
-having to do years of therapy because your caretakers and teachers were insensitive to your needs and insisted on embarrassing you in front of family/classmates daily.

All of these things and MUCH MORE have happened to me, and I honestly can’t think of any other condition that a person could feel guilty for having other than Tourette’s Syndrome. It’s easy to lose count of how many times an authority figure tells (or tries to force) you to stop or calm down, not realizing that they are actually making the situation worse for the person with Tourette’s because of all the pressure they feel in trying not to embarrass the people around them. It’s hard to understand why our minds choose symptoms that are so embarrassing. It’s even harder for people that don’t have this condition to comprehend the fact that we don’t get to choose what symptoms we have and that we are always fighting our bodies every day to do things we would rather not do. There is so very little known about why we tic, why we tic until we are in pain, or hurt ourselves through tics.

It’s a complete nightmare to deal with insensitive people and people with so much lack of understanding. Sometimes their ignorance can be downright shocking. Everybody needs a good reminder every once in a while that people that have Tourette’s Syndrome didn’t ask for it. One more thing: Accepting a friend or loved one’s Tourette’s and being educated on this condition empowers you to stand with that person and support them when somebody out in public is being ignorant. #FeelTheTeel #TourettesSyndromeAwareness

If you know anyone with TS, please educate yourself on the disability and understand that a physical manifestation of Tourette’s is not behavioral.  It is neurological.  It may appear behavioral, but more than often it is not.  It would be like asking a paralyzed person to stand up.  It isn’t going to happen.

My son has TS, and in honor of him and all those who have TS, you will always be heroes in my book.  While all the above has not happened to my son, enough of it has.  It is in his name that I dedicate the entirety of this blog and every word I write has its origins in his own struggles with having a disability and his journey through Delaware education.

Red Clay Schools Continue To Openly Defy Their Own Board of Education With Opt Out Threats

I sent the following email to the entire Red Clay Consolidated School District Board of Education and Dr. Merv Daugherty, the Superintendent of the district.  I am posting the email because I have heard similar complaints from parents several times since the Smarter Balanced Assessment came out in 2015.  What is the point of having a policy if the schools ignore it?

President Obama’s Office Releases Massive “Rethinking Discipline” Report For Schools

Today, the White House released a very long report on school discipline entitled “The Continuing Need to Rethink Discipline”.  The report has a plethora of recommendations for public schools in America.  I agree with most of them based on a cursory glance, but like many reports of this nature that I write about, it fails to recognize the fact that Common Core State Standards or other similar standards along with the high-stakes testing environment accompanying those standards are causing more problems than they are worth in our schools.  I will write more about this as I go through the report in the coming days.

The Every Student Succeeds Act addresses school discipline and how our schools carry out punishment for negative behaviors.  On Monday evening, the ESSA Discussion Group I am a member of in Delaware addressed this very issue.  As well, a Delaware newspaper is working on an extensive article about bullying in Delaware and how our schools respond to bullying reporting.

It remains unclear how the incoming Trump administration will view this report.

For now, please read the below report.

Official Delaware Bullying Report Shows Too Many Schools Are Fudging Numbers And Reasons For Bullying

The Delaware Dept. of Education officially released their 2015-2016 school bullying report.  The report has a lot of good information, but how they lumped certain schools together is just wrong.  One thing to keep in mind is that these reports only reflect what is submitted to the Delaware DOE through the eSchool tracking system.

Charter schools are listed in two categories: those in New Castle County and the rest that are in Kent and Sussex counties.  For the vo-tech school districts, they are listed as “technical” schools.  Which is ironic because there are more students in each vo-tech then in Delmar School District.  As well, the Vo-Techs are all high schools.  The report does not give a breakdown of schools or the grades for the students.  Those are pretty important parts which would give a more accurate picture about what goes on with bullying.

What this report does not reflect is the amount of times teachers may want to submit a bullying report but they are ignored by administration at the school.  Or if bullying is weighted less in an incident over something like offensive touching (most likely fighting) so a bullying incident is not reported by the school.  I believe if a fight starts because of bullying, that should be recorded as well.

The actual report by the DOE lists the alleged incidents over the past five years separately from the substantiated incidents.  This does not give a reader an accurate reflection of true trends within a district or the DOE’s own self-created “districts”.  For as much as the DOE brags about their data capabilities and need for tracking data, this report is lacking in a great deal of information.  Luckily for you, I spent a few hours breaking it down and putting it all together.  The first number for each year is the alleged number of bullying reports submitted by the school.  The second number is the amount of those reports that were substantiated as bullying.  I have some insight after the numbers…

Appoquinimink

12-13     233        73          31.3%

13-14     164        24           14.6%

14-15     237         32           13.5%

15-16     304        35           11.5%

Brandywine

12-13     108        93          86.1%

13-14     63          79           125.4%*

14-15     37          37           100%

15-16     49          21           42.9%

Caesar Rodney

12-13     211        32           15.2%

13-14     118        40           33.9%

14-15     75          14           18.7%

15-16     103        27           26.2%

Cape Henlopen

12-13     42          19           45.2%

13-14     39          13           33.3%

14-15     77          26           33.85

15-16     53          18           34.0%

Capital

12-13     80          28           35.0%

13-14     58          25           65.8%

14-15     51          18           35.3%

15-16     28          15          53.6%

Christina

12-13     130        65           50.0%

13-14     114        38           33.3%

14-15     183        65           47.1%

15-16     134        55           41.0%

Colonial

12-13     248        44           17.7%

13-14     97          37           38.1%

14-15     81          63           77.7%

15-16     116        50          43.1%

Delmar

12-13     90          10           11.1%

13-14     0              6              0 0.0%*

14-15     58          3              5.2%

15-16     25          2             8.0%

Indian River

12-13     215        39          18.1%

13-14     150        25          16.7%

14-15     92          21          22.8%

15-16     252        51          20.2%

Lake Forest

12-13     49          37          75.5%

13-14     30          12          40.0%

14-15     34          1             3.0%

15-16     58          12          20.7%

Laurel

12-13     18          23          127.8%*

13-14     37          18          48.6%

14-15     28          12          42.9%

15-16     27          16          59.3%

Milford

12-13     116        20          17.2%

13-14     31          26          83.9%

14-15     37          15          40.5%

15-16     43          23          53.5%

Red Clay

12-13     596        121        20.3%

13-14     453        132        29.1%

14-15     415        102        24.6%

15-16     428        61          14.3%

Seaford

12-13     28          16          57.1%

13-14     17          18           105.9%*

14-15     34          8              23.5%

15-16     40          21          52.5%

Smyrna

12-13     69          13          18.8%

13-14     47          18          38.3%

14-15     57          20          35.1%

15-16     55          19          34.5%

Woodbridge

12-13     34          8              23.5%

13-14     15          10           66.7%

14-15     4             1              25.0%

15-16     25          9              36.0%

Technical Schools (the three vo-tech school districts)

12-13     44          36           81.8%

13-14     30          67           223.3%*

14-15     18          67           372.2%*

15-16     37          42           113.5%*

Charters: NCC

12-13     89          9              10.1%

13-14     107        22           20.6%

14-15     134        28           20.9%

15-16     125        17           13.6%

Charters: Kent and Sussex

12-13     46          27           58.7%

13-14     72          22           30.6%

14-15     54          10           18.5%

15-16     69          20           29.0%

 

State Totals

12-13     2446      713         29.15%

13-14     1642      632         38.49%

14-15     1706      543         31.8%

15-16     1971      514         26.1%

 

Okay, first off, what the hell is up with the Vo-Tech numbers?  How can you have more substantiated bullying incidents and less actual reporting of alleged incidents?  It doesn’t make any mathematical sense whatsoever.  And the fact this has continued for three years in a row, someone at the DOE is dropping the ball.  Or the DOE messed up the report.  If it is the former, why isn’t the DOE giving technical assistance to the vo-techs on how to accurately report bullying?  If it is the latter, come on guys!  I’ve been asking for this report for weeks but you need to check your numbers.  Aside from the vo-techs, any of the above entries with an asterisk next to it shows the same mathematical anomaly.  With all due respect, John Sadowski runs the school climate and discipline unit at the DOE and I have always found him to be very helpful when I look for information.

I don’t trust a lot of these numbers.  I don’t believe many of our schools are actually reporting everything to the DOE.  Nor do I believe a lot of the substantiated numbers.  I will give a margin of error for students filing false claims or parents overreacting.  But not that big of a margin!  In the first year of this required reporting, I can give some slack as schools tried to figure it all out.  But it is three years later so there should be no excuses.  I don’t like the downward trend in substantiated bullying that is happening as a state, especially in districts like Red Clay, Appoquinimink and the New Castle County charters.  I don’t like the lack of consistency across the districts and charters.  I don’t believe any of the substantiated numbers that are below 35%, and that is stretching the credibility factor on my part.  I’ve always felt many schools in our state do less than the bare minimum when it comes to bullying reporting.  This report proves it.

What makes the reporting given by the schools even more unbelievable is the listed reason for the substantiated bullying incident.  “Peer Attention” and “Other” make up over two thirds of the listed reasons.  That sparks of laziness on the school’s part.  Almost anything could be put into those categories.  But they fail to capture a true reason for the victim of the bullying and why a bully would target someone.  For all the anti-bullying campaigns in schools, if we can’t get accuracy in the reporting of it we won’t be able to eradicate bullying unless we truly understand what is going on.  We need honesty and fairness.  If schools are operating in an environment of fear in reporting truthfully with bullying, then we need to tackle that as well.  But no school is doing anyone any favors by not reporting what is actually happening.  And if teachers continue to be ignored by administrators over bullying reporting, that is something legislation should take care of as soon as possible.

bullying5yrreasons

Here is the actual report issued by the Delaware DOE:

 

 

Dramatic Rise in Expulsions, Weapons, Fighting, Pornography, and Drug Use At Delaware Schools

The Delaware Dept. of Education released figures on School Conduct for the 2015-2016 school year.  In nearly every category there was an increase over the 2014-2015 school year.  One notable exception is a decrease in bullying reporting.  I contribute that not to a real decrease in bullying but schools not reporting incidents as bullying.  That has been an ongoing trend in Delaware.  Offensive touching and fighting/disorderly conduct went up dramatically over the year before.  Pornography and Production more than doubled.  These are very disturbing trends.  What is going on in our schools and districts?  What is happening to students that these numbers keep going up and up?  It will be interesting to see these numbers in a year now that legislation passed where schools don’t have to call the police for many incidents such as fighting/disorderly conduct.

I will attempt to break this down by district and charter schools, and then each school.  That is a lot of hours to do, so please be patient.  None of these reports break down sub-groups or demographics in these offenses and incidents.  So we are unable to see the race or ethnic breakdowns for these or if the students were special education or English Language learners.  The first numbers are for the 2015-2016 year followed by numbers from the 2014-2015 year.

SCHOOL CRIMES

Violent Felonies: 137 (138)

Gun-Free School Offenses- Handgun, Rifle, Shotgun, Starter Gun, Explosives/Incendiary Device: 16 (8)

Weapons Offense: Destructive Weapon, Dangerous Weapon, Dangerous Instrument, Pellet Gun, BB Gun, Knife, Razor Blade/Box Cutter, Brass Knuckles, Bat, Club, Martial Arts Throwing Star: 238 (196)

Drug Offenses: 582 (556)

Assault III: 373 (264)

Unlawful Sexual Contact: 56 (26)

Terroristic Threatening Employee Victim: 0 (0)

School Offenses: 0 (0)

 

DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION OFFENSES

Pornography- Possession and Production: 50 (22)

Criminal Mischief (Vandalism): 434 (316)

Alcohol, Possession and Use: 88 (80)

Drug Use/Influence: 320 (294)

Felony Theft ($1,500 or more): 2 (4)

Bullying: 1,260 (1,320)

Offensive Touching of a Student: 8,156 (6,134)

Terroristic Threatening of a Student: 752 (560)

Sexual Harassment: 272 (246)

Fighting/Disorderly Conduct: 10,450 (8,680)

Inhalants: 10 (2)

Drug Paraphernalia: 176 (148)

Tobacco Possession and/or use: 686 (782)

Medications- Inappropriate Possession and/or use: 58 (56)

Under 12- Assault III Student Victim: 66 (22)

Under 12- Assault III Employee Victim: 22 (22)

Under 12- Unlawful Sexual Contact III Student Victim: 18 (6)

Under 12- Unlawful Sexual Contact III Employee Victim: 2 (0)

Offensive Touching Employee Victim: 1,217 (808)

Terroristic Threatening Employee Victim: 324 (188)

Teen Dating Violence: 6 (8)

Tampering With Public Records: 0 (0)

 

SUSPENSIONS/EXPULSIONS:

Suspensions (Out of School and In School): 49,629 (47,473)

Expulsions: 123 (95)

Days Suspended/Expelled: 114,666 (98,020)

Unduplicated Students Suspended/Expelled: 17,258 (16,852)

Student Enrollment (9/30/15): 136,027 (134,932)

Percent of Students Suspended/Expelled (Out of School and In School): 13% (12%)

Suspensions (Out of School): 27,372 (25,151)

Days Out of School for Suspension and Expulsion (one day or more): 89,983 (72,848)

Unduplicated Students Suspended (one day or more) or Expelled: 12,063 (11,557)

Percent of Students Suspended (out of school) or Expelled: 9% (9%)

 

SUSPENSIONS/EXPULSIONS BY CATEGORY:

Department of Education Offenses: 10,359 (8,623)

School Violations: 38,651 (38,292)

School Crimes: 739 (653)

 

EXPULSIONS BY SERVICES PROVIDED:

Expulsion with CDAP placement: 54 (44)

Expulsion with services: 45 (31)

Expulsion without services: 24 (20)

 

Predicting The Future…Was I Right?

Back in March on 2015, I made several predictions for Delaware education.  I ran across this post yesterday while searching for another post.  As I looked back on these predictions, I wondered if I was right or wrong.  I would say I got about half right and half wrong.  Some were dead on the nose while others I wasn’t even close!

Top Ten Exceptional Delaware Predictions for 2015

1. Mark Murphy is either terminated or resigns

Yes, I was absolutely right about this!  By August 2015, Murphy did “resign”.

2. Mark Holodick takes his place

Nope, Dr. Steven Godowsky took his place.

3. Office of Civil Rights comes back with scathing report against Delaware

Nope, still working on it supposedly.

4. More charter schools get scrutiny over finances

Yes.  Academy of Dover, Providence Creek Academy, Kuumba Academy, Delaware College Prep, whatever is in the unreleased petty cash audit, and Delaware Met.

5. At least 3 districts won’t meet the 95% benchmark for standardized test participation rates

Nope, more than 3 districts didn’t hit the 95% benchmark for the Smarter Balanced Assessment.

6. Delaware parents become a force to be reckoned with education conversation

Maybe.  We did get House Bill 50 passed in the House and Senate but Governor Markell vetoed the bill.  Parents of students with Autism did get Senate Bill 93 passed.  There were other bills that went through, but parent advocacy wasn’t as big in the General Assembly after the veto override of HB50 didn’t go through.

7. Bullying and discrimination will become BIG issues

To me, this is always a big issue.  I think more awareness of discrimination happened due to the situation with cops and African-Americans over the past year.  For bullying, I will have to reserve judgment until I see the report for the 2015-2016 school year.

8. More bills will be introduced AND passed to limit the power of the Delaware DOE, Secretary of Education and the State Board of Education

Not really.  If anything the DOE grew more bold after Mark Murphy left.  Recent months have proved that more than any other time.  But in terms of the legislators, the only thing I can think of which may limit power is placing the State Board of Education under Sunset review.

9. US DOE will approve extension for teacher accountability and the Smarter Balanced Assessment

The US DOE did approve this extension for the 2015-2016 school year, but as I wrote yesterday, this year is another matter.

10. The four Wilmington school districts will become two and Brandywine will cause major problems during the process

Absolutely not!  I can’t recall if the WEAC recommendations came out when I wrote this, but nothing has happened at this point in terms of redistricting.  Brandywine and Colonial did bow out of sending their Wilmington students to Red Clay though, so in a sense it was kind of/sort of right.  But Brandywine didn’t really cause any problems.  But Colonial bowing out was a point of contention for a time.

 

Dover High School’s Anti-Bullying Plan Should Be A Model For All Schools In Delaware

Bullying.  It can be one of the most damaging experiences any student goes through.  It can cause school-wide disruption in some cases and robs students of the ability to learn.  Are Delaware schools safe?  Do they take the best steps to prevent bullying from happening?  Dover High School, in the Capital School District, is in the midst of launching an Anti-Bullying Protocol.  They will be discussing this at the Capital Board of Education meeting this evening.  Principal Courtney Voshell has heard the concerns and sees what happens when bullying happens.  This school, students and staff alike, are sick of the bullying and are saying “Enough is enough!”

Final_ABW_Logo_-_V

Any stop bullying plan is only as good as the implementation of it.  I believe the drive to make this plan work is there, but it’s long-term outlook is unknown.  I believe it is a good plan, but I do have some concerns.  The words “students with disabilities” or “special education” are not mentioned once in the below document.  Special needs students have been the victims of bullying and have also been the agitators of bullying.  There are very specific laws, at a federal and state law, that protects these students in certain situations.  Can a school-wide plan contradict an IEP team, state law, or federal law?  If a school isn’t implementing an IEP correctly, should a student be punished for behaviors that are a manifestation of that disability?  This is a very hard question to answer and I don’t have the answer.  I am not saying this to be a Donny Downer on the plan.  I think it is excellent, and if it takes off, it should be a model for many schools in Delaware.  But I believe this is an angle they should look at.

My other concern is this: Why is this being done at a high school level and not the elementary or middle school levels?  One of the biggest complaints I’ve heard in the Capital School District is the middle schools.  Students are coddled in the elementary schools which go up to 4th grade in this district.  But then they are thrown into one school for 5th and 6th grade, and then another for 7th and 8th.  If those schools aren’t aggressively tackling the bullying issues (and they might be but I haven’t seen any plan this extensive coming from them), leaving the burden on the high school could be a lesson in futility.  I strongly urge William Henry Middle School and Central Middle School to take a hard look at this plan and try it out in their own schools.

I would say a lot of responsibility for bullying should be on the part of parents.  If they see their child participating in any type of bullying activity, they should crush it at the onset.  I always tell my son when he is crossing a line with friends or online.  Even though he has disabilities that affect his thinking at times, it is my duty as a parent to let him know what is right and what is wrong.  By the same token, when I see him standing up for others who are bullied, I congratulate and praise him.  This is just as important.  I firmly believe parents need to watch their children’s social media and online activities, even if they are in high school.  Things happen outside of school that may never manifest itself in that setting.  Parents or guardians need to know who their kids are hanging out with and who could be seen as a bad influence.  If they know of something going on outside of the school, I believe they should proactively tell a school to inform them of the situation.  I don’t expect the school to fix those issues, but knowing about things is half the battle.

If other schools or districts in Delaware are already using this type of bullying plan, I apologize in advance for giving Dover H.S. the credit for all this.  If that is the case, kudos to those schools and to Dover H.S. for picking up the ball and running with it.  This is what we should be doing in Delaware: finding out what truly works and emulating it so all our students can truly succeed (this is not an endorsement for Common Core, Smarter Balanced, or any corporate education reform Kool-Aid agendas).

Howard High School of Technology Protecting Group of Students Who Jumped A Student At Freire Charter School

A few weeks before the violent assault at Howard High School of Technology, a group of Howard students jumped and beat up a student at Freire Charter School, in the mid-town Brandywine section of Wilmington.  How come we haven’t heard about this?  Because even though the Wilmington Police Department wants to act, they can’t.  Apparently there is a memorandum of understanding between Howard High School of Technology and the Wilmington Police Department.  There is a video of the incident but Howard refuses to name the students from their school.  And they don’t have to because of the agreement with Wilmington P.D.

I searched high and low for this agreement, and the only reference to it came from the New Castle County Vo-Tech District’s Student Handbook:

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While I doubt this is the real Memorandum of Agreement with Wilmington Police Department, I am hard pressed to find any justification for Howard’s administration to withhold the names of their students that assaulted another school’s student off their premises.

So what exactly is going on with this school and why is the district downplaying everything?  They say their school is safe, but the things coming out indicate otherwise.  As well, Howard’s school psychologist resigned February 5th of this year according to their February board minutes:

NCCVTMinutesFeb2016

While it is not known if Howard hired a new psychologist since they haven’t updated their board minutes since, Randolph is still listed on the Staff Directory of Howard’s website.  The school has a Principal, three Assistant Principals, and three Guidance Counselors.

I have to know: What kind of world are we living in when the police can’t act because a school is protecting students?  Something is seriously wrong with this school and I am afraid more students are going to get hurt.  What happened to Amy Francis-Joyner was an unspeakable tragedy, but no one else is tackling the problems with the administration at this school.  How many more students will be hurt or even die before this district wakes the hell up?

You would think their Board of Education would say something, but they have not issued any press releases or talked to anyone publicly about what happened and continues to happen at Howard.  Like the Delaware State Board of Education, vocational district boards in Delaware are appointed by the Governor of Delaware.  That’s right.  They were appointed by Governor Markell.  And our Delaware Secretary of Education… where does he come from?  New Castle County Vo-Tech.

I saw a segment on Channel 6 ABC News from Wednesday about the charges filed against the three students involved in Amy’s murder.  They interviewed a student who said he is not allowed to talk about it.  Excuse me?  I knew the district put a gag order on the teachers but now they are doing it with students.  So the next time I see Superintendent Dr. Vicki Gehrt at Legislative Hall or some education meeting and she wants to give me one of her indignant looks, know that she is withholding vital information about the safety of one of her schools.  You can look like the wounded party, but your school is out of control and you damn well know it.  You can choose to ignore the situation and risk the safety of more students or you can actually do something about it.  Or the board can replace her.  Either way, students’ lives are far more important than the illusion this district is casting.

Just this past Monday, Howard Principal Stanley Spoor rather arrogantly told students and the press to not believe everything you hear and say on social media.  Well Mr. Spoor, maybe when the school and the district starts owning up to what is REALLY going on there, then you can start preaching from your pedestal.  Until then, please keep your students safe and make sure there is adequate coverage in your school to watch students.

My Thoughts On The Charges Against Amy’s Murderer And The Accomplices

As I’m sure most of America has heard, the Delaware Department of Justice filed charges against three teenagers involved in Amy Joyner-Francis’ murder two and a half weeks ago at Howard High School of Technology.  There is absolutely no mention of Amy’s head being slammed into the bathroom sink even though some reports stated that at the onset.  Only one girl, Trinity Carr, actually hit Amy.  She has been charged with criminally-negligent homicide.  The other two helped plan the assault up to twenty hours earlier.  But the true shocker was that Amy had a pre-existing heart condition.

According to the News Journal article linked above:

Investigators determined that the fight was a planned confrontation in the girl’s bathroom, but only one girl – 16-year-old Trinity Carr – actually hit Amy that day, according to a statement by the DOJ. The fight was filmed, according to court documents, and shows Carr hitting Amy repeatedly in the head and torso area with “what what appears to be a closed fist.”

The video then shows Carr leave and Amy attempt to stand up from the floor, according to court documents. Amy then appears disoriented, court papers say, and collapses back to the floor. When paramedics found her, she was unresponsive and went into cardiac arrest shortly after.

Knowing what really happened won’t take away the pain and sadness surrounding all this.  It won’t bring back Amy who apparently didn’t know this was coming.  Just a sweet, innocent teenage girl going to school one day.  The question is how many others knew about it.  I am still upset no one else in that bathroom intervened.  I’m assuming her heart condition was private as that has never been mentioned before.  If the intent was there to do bodily harm to Amy, what did Carr think would happen?  While they may not have planned actual murder, how is this “criminally negligent”?  Our justice systems works in funny ways.  Why did it take two and a half weeks when the police had the video the entire time to arrest Carr?  At the very least, the evidence clearly shows an assault.

Trinity Carr, Zion Snow, and Chakeira Wright will have to live with what they did every single day for the rest of their life.  Carr will most likely spend what should be some of the best years of her life in prison.  Snow and Wright will probably be in juvenile detention while their classmates are going to the prom and graduating.  But no amount of justice will ever make any of this alright.  Amy will never have the opportunity for any of those things.  I really hope this is a wake-up call for all of us in Delaware.  We need to make sure this never happens again, and that includes the adults.

Tim Furlong with NBC Philadelphia gave a bit more detail about what happened after the fight:

After the fight, Joyner-Francis complained about head and chest pain. A school resource officer called 911 and Joyner-Francis lost consciousness before medics arrived. CPR was performed as she was flown to a nearby children’s hospital. She later died at the hospital.

Where was this school resource officer during the fight?  I understand fights can happen fast, but where were any adults during this assault?  That is the question no one is asking.  I challenged the district about this a couple of weeks ago.  It was important to clarify their board meeting change, but in regards to my other concerns, they completely ignored them.  Last week I saw the Superintendent of the district for Howard High School, Dr. Gehrt.  She knows who I am cause I’ve seen her at many meetings where I gave public comment.  I saw her at the assessment inventory meeting at the Delaware DOE.  Usually she gives me a smile.  At this meeting, she could only scowl at me.  I’ll take my lumps where I get them.  But at least own up to… something.

Amy’s death affected me immensely, and I didn’t even know the poor girl.  She is a memorial to what we need to fix in our schools.  We can’t stop what happens outside of school, but we can make sure Amy’s death is a living testament to change.  I haven’t heard one word about school climate from those in power.  We have seen plenty in social media comments, but once again it is an empty echo chamber from the decision-makers in our state.  Our legislators have been strangely quiet on the issue.  The Delaware DOE, the State Board of Education, and Governor Markell have been eerily quiet about the situation.  Perhaps things will start to happen now that the investigation is over and charges have been filed.  All I know is something has to happen.  We can’t have another Amy, or all the many living victims of bullying and assault in our schools.  It has to stop.

Amy, Skyline, Bomb Threats, Bus Issues, Fighting, Bullying, Inclusion, Zero Tolerance: How Do We Fix The Mess?

In the wake of what happened at Howard High School of Technology a week ago, many are questioning how to fix what is happening in our schools.  There are no easy answers.  I have not heard anyone defending the perpetrators of Amy’s murder.  But I have seen people describe students who exhibit behavior issues referred to as “animals” and “they should be sent to labor camps”.  While this is an extreme, I’ve heard these types of comments more than once, and I hear it more and more.  Once we go down that path we are essentially labeling these students as helpless and stating there is nothing we can do to help them.  And let’s face facts: when people say this there is a very racist undertone and they are referring to African-Americans.  I don’t agree with it on any level and every time I see it I want to ship the people who would say things like that out of our state.

Just this school year we have seen the following: a charter school that closed mid-year due to an uncontrollable environment, a change in feeder patterns resulting in many instances of bullying at a Red Clay middle school, a bizarre number of bomb threats resulting in many schools closing for the day, a child intimidated by a bus driver in Appoquinimink, a father suing Brandywine over what he alleges are due process violations and unsubstantiated searches, students sent to hospitals as a result of fighting that are never publicly acknowledged but whispered about on social media, inclusion practices that are not working, and a student who died from a brutal assault last week at Howard.

As our state grapples with these issues, we have not seen solutions put forth that look at the big picture.  Why are our students acting out?  Why are many of our schools attempting to hide many of these issues?  I have attended many State Board of Education meetings this year and I listen to their audio recordings.  We don’t hear them discussing these kinds of issues too much, if at all.  They seem to be more concerned with student outcomes based on standardized tests, Pathways programs, charter schools, accountability for schools, and celebrating the good things in our schools while giving short shrift to the issues that truly impact school climate.

It starts there.  To get to the heart of issues like this, you have to start at the top and have it trickle down to the Superintendents or Heads of School, to the building administrators, to the teachers, to the students and to the community.  If we have that massive disconnect at the top, the issues can never truly be addressed.  If our State Board and legislators can’t get these matters fixed, how can we expect our schools to do so?

To adequately blame one thing that started a lot of this, we can blame zero tolerance.  After the Columbine shootings in 1999, a massive wave of zero tolerance spread throughout America.  No school wanted to have a situation like that on their hands.  Students would be suspended for frivolous things.  It got to a point in Delaware where an African-American first grader was expelled in the Christina School District for having a cake knife.  As a result of that one bad judgment call, a complaint with the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) resulted in the district entering an agreement with the OCR.  Because the OCR ruled too many minority student suspensions were happening, the district had to be very careful about how they were meting punishment to students.  Other districts saw what happened to Christina and didn’t want to suffer the same fate.

As a result, there was no consistency throughout the state on best practices.  For all the accountability and “standardization” of students based on very flawed state assessments, there has never been any definitive set of standards for school discipline and school climate.  There is no consistency with how schools report instances of bullying, offensive touching, and fighting.  Delaware Attorney General Matt Denn pointed this out many times but there has been no direct accountability to schools over these issues.  Part of the problem with discipline issues is the unique nature of them.  Because of student privacy and FERPA regulations, many situations can’t be discussed publicly.  There is no accurate tracking method to make sure our schools are recording these instances on the state reporting system, E-school, as required by state law within a set time period.  The result is very bad data in the one area we actually need it the most.  Add in special education issues and behaviors exhibited by students with disabilities.  Is it a result of their disability or is it everyday behavior?  Sometimes we just don’t know.

Some schools are very faithful with recording issues, but far too many aren’t.  How do we know which schools need help with issues if they aren’t being 100% honest about what is going on in their halls?  What shape would that help even be?  If it is a punitive measure from the state, is that going to solve the problem or persuade schools to hide things better?  Non-profits and corporations are lining up to get into our schools to offer what amounts to for-profit assistance.  Under the guise of the Every Student Succeeds Act, there is a call for companies to come into our schools like never before to offer after-school programs and to turn our schools into all-day community centers.  As well, we are seeing some states allowing companies to essentially bet on student outcomes in return for financial profit through social impact bonds.  Many of these ideas are concerning to parents.  Should schools be a place where medical and therapeutic treatment for students occur?  For neglected and abused children, this could be a life-saving measure for those children.  But it also opens up more of our public education system to less control at the local level.  Many feel government should not even be allowed to write something like this into any law.  The Elementary/Secondary Education Act (ESEA) was designed to make sure minority students were given equal footing in schools and were not disadvantaged.  Written in 1965, its goal was actually simple: equal rights for all.  Fifty years later, we are still tackling many of the original issues.  But now we want to turn our schools into more than what they should be.

As far as this insane filming of fights in our schools, it is a new environment with no oversight.  Students want to become social media famous because people come to their profile to look at it.  Something needs to happen immediately.  It is fostering an environment that is not healthy and desensitizes kids to violence.  Even community Facebook pages that have nothing but street fights on them exist unchecked and unmonitored.  In some of these videos, you actually see people telling others how to evade the police and they give warnings when the police are in the area.  For some reason, students are fascinated by this.  But the effect is chilling.  As well, the role of technology in our schools and homes is greater than ever.  But why are we allowing students to carry iPhones around school?  How much of the violence from gaming is warping young minds?  For that matter, what is all this screen time doing to all our brains?

If Amy’s tragic death has shown us anything it is that something is very broken.  We have to fix it, no matter what.  Amy’s situation is by far the worst thing that could happen to a student in school.  But many students bare physical and emotional scars from this broken system.  They are the survivors of fights and bullying that cause trauma to the soul, if not the physical.  On the flip side, we have students like Patrick Wahl’s son Joseph who many view as a victim of very bizarre due process circumstances for a district that still follows zero tolerance tendencies.  There are good things happening in our schools.  Don’t get me wrong on that.  We see students participating in charity events and giving back to their community on many levels.  But that can’t be all the public sees.  We have to look at the bad too.  We can’t put a blanket over the violence in our schools and pretend it isn’t there.  Amy’s death shattered that illusion in our state.

In the shadow of all this is the other illusion the state has cast on parents.  Many parents judge schools based on their performance without realizing the measurement of that performance is fundamentally flawed.  To get a basic breakdown of how this works, many years ago corporations decided they could make money off education.  They tailored reports to give the illusion that “the sky is falling” and all students were in danger of falling behind other countries.  Politicians jumped on the bandwagon through concerted lobbying efforts on the part of these companies, and soon enough new laws came down from a federal level based on student outcomes from standardized tests.  No Child Left Behind opened the door but Race To The Top opened the floodgates for this corporate invasion.  As schools were labeled and shamed under “school turnaround” laws, the US DOE started their ESEA flexibility waiver scheme.  They bribed schools with money to further these agendas.  Our schools and districts took the money with immense pressure from state governments during a recession.  A dramatic shift in school climate happened.  As more and more teachers took part in professional development to train them on the Common Core and other company initiatives, something happened to students.  They were not supervised the way they were prior to all of this and they found new ways to usurp authority, especially in schools with large populations of high-needs students.  Add in the situation with the OCR in Christina, and it was a recipe for disaster.  Diane Ravitch wrote today about the fifteen years of “fake” reform and how the impetus behind it all, NAEP scores, show students who are now seniors more behind than they were compared to their counterparts in 1992.  Common Core doesn’t work.

What if what we are seeing with student behavior and the reasons behind it are all wrong?  What if those who come from poverty, special needs, and low-income minority populations isn’t just misbehavior but something else altogether?  What if it is a direct result of a system designed for conformity?  The supposed goal of the Common Core was to make all students get the same set of standards across the country.  I hear many consistent things from parents in Delaware.  For smarter kids, Common Core isn’t so tough once they get it.  But for struggling students, basically the ones from sub-groups that perform poorly on state assessments, it is much more difficult.  Perhaps what we are seeing with this absolute disregard of authority in schools is a natural defense mechanism kicking in.  A fight or flight mechanism when their way of living, of being, is attacked.  The natural instinct for teenagers is to rebel.  Compound that with an entire education system designed to make students question authority less and use “critical thinking” based on standards that actually give children less choices, and something will give.  We are seeing this now.  And if we continue on the same track, it will get far worse.  If a “smart” student gets it faster, it would naturally put other students behind.  This is the impossible bar the Common Core puts on students.  For the intelligent who come from wealthier and more cohesive home environments, this isn’t a problem.  But for students with disabilities who cannot always control their actions and minority students who do not have the environmental stability their more advantaged peers have, it will take a great deal of effort to catch up with their peers.  Add in the stress and anxiety they have from their environment outside of school to the pressure to perform in school, and the pressure gage gets higher.  Then add the explosive need every teenager has, to belong and have friends, and the gage gets closer to the point of no return.  Throw in a fixation on violence mixed with wanting to be accepted and the Pompeii of public education is set.  Last week we saw the volcanic eruption of rage unchecked and bystanders filming it and doing nothing.

The biggest victims of the education reform movement are inner-city African-American students.  While civil rights groups demanded more equity for these students they fell into the trap the corporate education reformers methodically laid out for them with financial enticements.  The reformers echoed their complaints and pitted parents against teachers.  The reformers used standardized test scores to give a false impression of schools and invented a whole new language based on the word “gap”: the equity gap, the proficiency gap, the honesty gap, and on and on and on.  Add in school choice, a growing charter school movement, forced busing based on a horrible Neighborhood Schools Act in Delaware, and the rise of Jack Markell as Governor wrapped in a corporate bow and the perfect storm began in our schools.

To ignore the plight of African-Americans in Delaware would be a gross injustice.  It goes way beyond apologizing for slavery.  A friend of mine sent me an article about the 1968 Occupation of Wilmington.  The article written by Will Bunch with philly.com talked about the nine-month Occupation of Wilmington by the National Guard following the assassination of the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr.  For the African-American community in Wilmington at the time, this was a grave injustice:

On the other hand, in a sign of some of the deep divide and mistrust in Delaware that lingers to this day, the white Democratic governor down in Dover decided to send in the National Guard – and then kept troops on the streets of Wilmington for nine long months, the longest military occupation of a U.S. city since the Civil War.

And this quote from former Wilmington Mayor James Baker:

But the memory still burns for those who lived through the occupation. “It sent a shock wave through the social-service agencies . . . and the city as a whole,” Baker recalled. “People said, ‘What are we doing?’ “

Many African-American communities in Wilmington are very distrustful of the government, and for very good reasons.  This belief gets handed down from generation to generation.  But when drugs enter a city like Wilmington, followed by violence and murders, that distrust can get out of control.  How do we tackle this?  How do we lift a whole city out of a problem of this magnitude?  When my friend sent me this article, it was a response to my question about why we don’t just send in tons of cops and clean it all up, all the drugs and gangs.  She informed me the last time this happened it didn’t work out too well.  It astonishes me that we are still dealing with issues of race in the 21st Century, but we are and we need to face it and deal with it, all of us.  But at the same time, we cannot ignore what individuals are doing in individual circumstances.

We need to be very careful on how we plan to deal with the situations in far too many of our schools.  Far too much is tied into the very bad education reforms that show, time and time again, how it just doesn’t work.  But our current system has been infiltrated with far too many people tied to these efforts.  I expected to see a late rush of legislation coming forth at Legislative Hall in the final days of June.  With very little community input and transparency, we need to watch our legislators like a hawk and make sure what they put forth is best for students and not the broken system some of them are trying desperately to make permanent.  The funding mechanisms for our schools are under the microscope, but if we squeeze the property assessment orange too fast, it could cause many to leave the state they moved to because of low taxes.  As well, we need to be mindful of laws Delaware could pass in anticipation of the implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act.  The law is still being flushed out in a lot of areas and the DOE and Governor Markell WILL take full advantage of that to please the hedge funders and corporations.

If businesses want to come into our schools and turn them into community schools, they should pay rent to our schools.  If they want to turn education into a marketplace, like any other store they need to pay their rent.  Why are we giving them a free ride while they make millions and millions and our districts get less?  It makes no sense when you look at it like a business model.  But no, our state wants to give them tax discounts for doing business in our state.  We are giving them free reign to pump out the same products over and over again with no actual results.

While these aren’t the solutions we need to make our schools safer, it is a big start.  Our district administrators are far too distracted with all of the nonsense around Common Core, state assessments, personalized learning, and career pathways when they should be focused on the more important things.  The first steps to ending violence in our schools are actually quite simple.  A rebellion like none seen before in public education.  A collective and concerted effort to rid ourselves of the catalysts that are stroking the flames in our children’s lives.  End Common Core.  End state assessments.  End the testing accountability machine that destroys morale in students, teachers, and schools.  End the corporate interference in education that perpetuates the false ideals that if students have more “rigor” and “grit” they can become college and career ready.  We are indoctrinating children at a very young age to be something they are not meant to be.  The human mind won’t allow it.  Some will conform.  But for the growing poor and disabled in our country, they will not be what the reformers want them to be.  You can’t guide a four-year old towards a certain career path based on data and scores.  You can’t say they don’t qualify for special education if a disability has not manifested itself yet.  End the abhorrent amount of data collection on our students for “educational research”.

This is the start.  Let’s get back to more human education.  Why are we doing this to our future?  No child should be a victim of a padded resume or a fattened wallet.  The majority of teachers will tell you privately what we are doing is not working.  Administrators will as well if you catch them on a good day.  But they feel threatened that if they don’t comply their profession will disappear.  They will fight for certain things but when they need to openly rebel against the system, it doesn’t happen.  It is their self-defense mechanism.  The closest we have come to ending this era of education reform is opt out.  But even that is in danger of disappearing if the education tech invaders get their way and have the state assessment embedded in small chunks instead of a once a year test.  The personalized learning and competency-based education models are already calling for this.

When I hear people say “all you do is complain, what are your solutions?”, I cringe.  The problem is so epic in scope, so large in diameter, that it will take a great deal of effort by many well-meaning people to find all the answers.  And when I say well-meaning, I don’t mean the Rodel Foundation or the Governor.  I mean the people who are not affected by corporate greed and a lust for power.  I’m talking about the people who truly want to save our children.