In February of 2017, during the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center crisis, a Delaware Department of Education employee working as a Prison Education Teacher gave information to the News Journal about the situation. The next month, Delaware Secretary of Education Dr. Susan Bunting fired him for “misconduct in office and willful neglect of duty” according to public court documents. Continue reading
This has been floating around Facebook. I don’t know who wrote it originally, but it brought a tear to my eye. Many parents of special needs children see this going on with their kids. It is heartbreaking when it happens. Please, please, please, let your children know we all have differences and those differences are what makes each of us special in our own way!
I would just like to put this out there! If your kids are not around special needs kids at school and have never been taught that not everyone is the same then maybe you could take 10 minutes tonight to explain this to them because even though they may not be around these kids at school, they may see them at church, at the mall, at the grocery store or even at the park. In light of recent events on the exclusion of a child who has autism from participating in a school trip and a Down Syndrome child being kicked out of dance class because she couldn’t keep up, I felt the need to share this. There are boys and girls that nobody invites to birthday parties, for example. There are special kids who want to belong to a team but don’t get selected because it is more important to win than include these children. Children with special needs are not rare or strange, they only want what everyone else wants: to be accepted!!
Hello, and welcome to Exceptional Delaware. My name is Kevin Ohlandt and I would like to introduce you to a blog about Delaware education. For the confused among you right now, I often take for granted that folks reading this blog haven’t been around from the beginning. In fact, most of you haven’t. So I wanted to give a refresher for those just jumping on.
I started this blog a year and a half ago. My original intention was to make this a blog solely about special education in Delaware. I have a son with Tourette Syndrome and co-morbidities that accompany that primary disability. Without going into a lot of details, he had some issues at a Delaware charter school. He eventually changed schools, but during that journey I wasn’t satisfied with just resolving it like that. I began to research special education in Delaware, and quickly found that the problems with special education in our state are symptomatic of a much larger disease.
I soon found myself writing his story on another great Delaware blog, Kilroy’s Delaware. When I finished that, Kilroy suggested I start my own blog (probably so I could stop wasting space on his). And thus, Exceptional Delaware was born. It started out with most of the posts focusing on special education, but it quickly morphed into an almost bizarre cat and mouse game with the Delaware Department of Education. As the months went by, I found out who all the big education players are in the state. In a nutshell, it comes down to Governor Markell and the Rodel Foundation of Delaware. Even bigger than that is the similar stories playing out across America. Each state has a Markell and a Rodel. Who do they all serve? Wall Street. Its called corporate education reform, and it is the single most destructive and devastating force to ever hit public education in our country.
I soon found myself walking out of the bounds of this website and involving myself in Delaware politics. I would write about education legislation and became very involved in an opt-out bill in Delaware called House Bill 50. The bill passed our House and Senate but Governor Markell vetoed the bill last summer. Our General Assembly may attempt to override the Governor’s veto when they return in January which will bring about a host of articles from this blog.
Delaware spends a third of its budget on education. It is over a billion dollars. For a small state, with less than a million people, that is fairly significant. Most of these funds go to our school districts and charter schools, but a large sum of it does go to our Department of Education and their host of education vendors and their attempts to “fix” a broken education system. I put fix in quotes because I do not believe it is as broken as these entities claim it is. The way they do this is very simple. It’s called a standardized test. In Delaware, along with many other states, our test is called the Smarter Balanced Assessment. If the test wasn’t long, complicated, intrusive, destructive, disruptive, money-wasting, and made to make students, teachers, and schools feel like failures I probably wouldn’t give it the time of the day. But it is more than these, and more. It is the central fulcrum behind the education pirates who swarm into states and give the illusion that our schools need help. It is a never-ending cycle that demands constant watch. When you mix politics with big business, it is a nightmare of epic proportions.
I often feel like students with disabilities suffer the most from this drive for “rigor” and for all students to be “college and career ready”. I don’t mind students flexing their academic muscles when they are in high school. I am all for every student doing the best they can. But when false paintings of success are put on a canvas, before the work is even done, I find something very wrong with that. We can’t teach children, at school or at home, if someone else is micro-managing based on false ideology.
All too often the schools that suffer the most from this insanity are the ones with high populations of low-income, poverty, minority, and special education students. The public is waking up more and more everyday to this reality, but occasionally carrots are thrown their way to lull them into a false sense of calm and security. These antics could be called “assessment inventory”, or the “Every Student Succeeds Act”, or an “education funding task force”. What the corporate privateers don’t want you to know is they want schools to fail. They want them to always feel like they need to be fixed. They would not make money otherwise. This charade is supported financially by huge foundations across America, with the biggest being the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. These foundations and non-profits love their charter schools.
Charter schools are public schools, but they don’t operate the same way. As long as they receive federal and state funding, they must behave like traditional public schools. But all too often (not in every charter), some pick and choose who they want. Since charters also receive local funding from the school districts students choice from, this can have a very debilitating financial effect on the local school district. Nowhere is this more apparent than in Delaware’s Christina School District, up in Wilmington.
Traditional school districts have their own issues. Large classroom sizes, less funding from the state, and what are known as referendums. Referendums are an election in the school district. They are needed when the costs to run the district go past the allocated budget. The district needs more funds from its residents to continue. If it passes, the school uses the extra funding from property assessments and makes the necessary adjustments. If it fails, it is very bad for the school district. Many feel that school districts in Delaware spend far too much on administrators within their districts. For a small state, Delaware has 19 school districts, over 25 charter schools, and a fairly large amount of private schools. The private schools have shed students since charter schools gained in popularity beginning twenty years ago in Delaware.
For large cities like Wilmington, the factors of numerous charter schools, failed referendums, charter schools siphoning the local school districts funding, some charters taking the “best and brightest”, and standardized testing that falsely labels schools with huge populations of at-risk students as failures, results in a perfect storm of chaos and disaster. Add in unionized teachers, teacher prep programs like Teach For America and Relay Graduate School, school boards, along with the constantly interfering Department of Education, Governor, legislators, foundations, non-profits, and the corporate education vendors, and a picture forms. This picture shows far too many hands in education and the ones that suffer the most are the children.
This is where I come in. I write about it all in our state. The DOE, the Governor, Rodel, the unelected State Board of Education, charter schools, school districts, legislators, education legislation, special education, bullying, charter school financial meltdowns, standardized testing, vendor contracts, transparency, and more. For the most part it is the chase. The constant and never-ending quest to get information out so the public can see it, while our DOE blithely implements agenda after agenda with no one the wiser. It is exhausting and time-consuming. Along the way, I will write satirical articles to keep my sanity. Sometimes, as I did recently, I will write a human interest story about one particular person. I will branch out to national stories. Sometimes I just break away from it all and write about myself or something as far away from education as possible.
This isn’t my blog. This is Delaware’s blog. One of many. Stories are told all over The First State. Some blogs take place on long Facebook threads. Others are in our major media, such as the News Journal. Media has transitioned over time into a blog-like state. As newspapers and major media outlets are essentially run by advertisers and corporations, the unbiased feel of journalism has radically shifted from what it once was. True journalism does exist, but all too often the sides can become blurry and tainted. I don’t blame the newspapers and major media outlets for this. It is evolution and survival. This is not to say that journalism as we once knew it is dead, but it has changed. There are still great old-fashioned journalists out there who refuse to let themselves sway from the core journalistic principles. But in our 21st Century society, with news available the second you click something, the need for urgency has taken away from the need for unbiased clarity.
After writing at least one article a day for the past consecutive 488 days, 2,112 posts (some of which are what are called “reblogs” from other great WordPress blogs) over the past year and a half, which have received over 525,000 views, over 426,000 which were in 2015 alone, a ton of board meetings, task force meetings, legislative sessions, committee meetings, rallies, phone calls, emails, Facebook posts, tweets, research, and yes, some fun thrown in here and there, I feel like I’ve accomplished a lot on this little blog. I never dreamed I would reach over half a million hits in this short a timeframe. I don’t get paid for this, so it is truly a volunteer function. I think any blogger likes to know they are being read, it is human nature. But even more satisfying is when someone tells me “Hey, that article you did, it helped me,” or “I was able to help my child because of what you wrote”. That means more to me than any number. A lot of this is never seen on here, and takes place offline. I like that people feel they can come to me for advice about what to do. I will flat-out tell them if I can’t help them, but I will also let them know where they can go. Sometimes it is right back to the DOE believe it or not.
I don’t hate the DOE, or the State Board, or Rodel, or even the Governor. I don’t hate any legislators. I believe all humans operate on something called “tainted decency”. We may have the best intentions or motivations, but something along the way leads to something vastly different. For many involved in education, it is their job or business. Their livelihood depends on the success and failure of their allotted tasks. Intention and motivation take on a very different meaning when you have to answer to a superior. And for some, that bait called wealth is a very dangerous and alluring call to action. But it isn’t always the right action. It’s called life, and I’ve gotten things wrong on here. I’ve piped off without thinking, gotten angry, and even hurt my own reputation. I’ve gotten mad at friends. I know it, and at the end of the day, lying in bed with nothing but myself and my thoughts in that transition period between awake and asleep, I feel it. There are things I regret doing during this journey. Things I’ve said I just can’t take back. It is very easy to tell yourself you are in the right, but if it comes at the expense of hurting another without knowing all the facts or justification (as in helping to protect the kids or parents), it can hurt. I’ve been told I am cocky, arrogant, and ignorant. On the flip side, which is even more dangerous in my opinion, I’ve been told I am a “savior for education”. That frightens me more than anything. I am no savior and I am no saint! I’m just a dad writing.
With that being said, and I’ve said this before but not fully implemented this goal, I am going to make a concerted effort to be more careful about what I say and be less opinionated. I’m also going to try to reach out to other parties instead of just doing the blitzkrieg article and ask questions later. I may not agree with another person, and lets face it, many folks will outright lie when you catch them in wrongdoing, but I at least need to give the benefit of the doubt whenever possible. The caveat to this is if children or anyone is in imminent danger. I have received information like this, acted on it, and never written about it. I have no idea what the end results were, but I did my part.
I have one story I’ve been working on for a very long time, and I received information on it the other day that could draw it towards a conclusion, but I don’t even know if it is a story I can or even want to finish. You see, last spring and summer someone reached out to me. I still don’t know what their motivations were half the time, but it was meant to be in confidence. Longtime readers know exactly who this person is. When an issue became very blurry, I performed a very public outing of this person on here and betrayed the single most important journalistic and blogger credo: never out a source. I let personal feelings, stemming from the fact that I felt like I was fooled and played with, cloud my judgment. I justified it even when some were saying I was totally wrong. I don’t agree with about 90% of what this person has to say. I don’t like how they operate or how they go about their job. I feel they interfere and manipulate others. I have information that could, probably, bury this person. And many would cheer if I did so. But I couldn’t live with myself if I did it. Not that way. Not like that. So to this person, and I hope you are reading this, I am sorry for what I did. I still think you have some issues, and I would keep yourself in check, but your fall will not come from that. And you can consider that chapter closed.
Does this mean I am now a Common Core Smarter Balanced Charter School Takeover of Public Education Rodel & Markell loving DOE sympathizer kind of guy? Hell no. None of my feelings have changed on any of it. I will continue to write and do massive amounts of research and not get paid a penny for it. Folks will see me, and wonder what I’m going to write. But the feuding and animosity and vitriol coming out of me, I just can’t keep doing it like that. It’s not good for me and it certainly isn’t good for anyone I profess to help if that is the end result. No more email lightning strike articles. No more outing (it was only the one person). No more screaming at Mark Murphy and the DOE or State Senators during public comment (see many articles from April to July). I want folks to feel they can come to me if they want to clarify something and possibly respond to me if I touch base with them or seek information on something. Threatening and posturing, while it may have short-term benefits, does not solve problems.
If anything, I want to write more about the good out there. Like my recent article on Braeden Mannering, a truly awesome kid with a big heart. I have literally heard teachers tell me they had to stop reading me for a while because of all the doom and gloom I was sending their way. I would like to believe that for every harbinger of doom article, there can be an equally positive and uplifting story. I just have to find them and I am reaching out right here and now for others to let me know about these stories.
When it comes to education, there is no way any one person can cover everything. It is massive in scope and reaches into all facets of society. I find out new things every single day I didn’t know before. It will never end, and it will never be perfect. I’m just one writer in a long history of past, present and future writers doing their part to chronicle the events and confusion and shed some light. If I can help others along the way, it is all worth it.
I’m sick of it. I’m so damn sick of it. How ignorant can people be? They are flying off the handle over nothing. A boy looking at a table at a craft fair. The vendor running it. Boy’s mother bumps into something at the table by accident. Vendor starts screaming at mother and saying something is wrong with her boy. It’s called Tourette Syndrome genius. He can’t help it, but you can help your rage. That is a choice. My sons tics are not. Don’t worry, your not the only one. He’s been called a “mother fucker” recently by an adult. Been told countless other things as well and not just by that man.
Many people have remarked how something is very wrong with him. Thanks for that. I needed your opinion. My recommendation: read up on Tourette Syndrome and then buy a book about judging others and how to keep your mouth shut. Or you can read this, but please shut up. And if you are reading this, and you have children of your own with disabilities, you can still shut up. Thank you. I forgive you. I forgive everyone eventually. But I never forget. And all of you have lost a little bit of light in the world by not knowing the awesome boy my son is.
I have to wonder where manners and any sense of compassion went. It used to be people didn’t do this kind of stuff. But it’s happening, more and more. Yes, I have a son with a disability. And guess what, we’re not going anywhere so you had best get used to it. If you can’t, then deal with it yourself. Don’t bring your prejudice and discrimination to my family’s world. We’ve had just about enough of that. If you can’t handle kids with disabilities at large gatherings, then you might want to stay home. Cause kids like mine, he is one of 13% of kids in this state with disabilities. And those numbers are rising. I can’t say why, they just are. Maybe it’s all the crap in the atmosphere. Maybe it’s all those preservatives we love to put in our body. Maybe God is testing us all to learn patience. I don’t know. But I deal with it, every day. Like every parent, it’s a learning experience, followed by trial and error. I don’t always get it right. Sometimes I get it very wrong. We all make mistakes.
A couple weeks ago I was at my son’s school. A little girl was being accompanied by a teacher. She came in an just stared at me. She didn’t speak at all. My guess is she was autistic. The look she gave me was one of hope, of true happiness. She walked over to me, smiling the whole time. The teacher came over and said I’m sorry. I told her it was alright. We are all God’s children, so how can we judge anyone based on that? If God made some of us to have disabilities, it’s cause God knew the person having them would be very strong. I still think He has a plan for all of this. Throughout history we have been faced with these types of tests and sometimes we pass with flying colors. But sometimes we fail, and when that happens, the world suffers. I want to believe that everyone has goodness in theme, and they can use that compassion and do good things. I know I need to do it more. So how about the next time you see a child having tics, or a child freaking out in a store from sensory overload, or a blind or deaf person struggling, how about you ask them if they need help. Maybe reach out a hand instead of throwing a voice.
This is going to be one of the hardest articles I’ve ever written. The reason for this is because it is deeply personal. I write about bullying and discrimination often on this blog, and I understand it all too well. I see it everyday, in all walks of life.
“People fear what they don’t understand and hate what they can’t conquer.” Andrew Smith
Everyone in this world has bullied or been bullied at some point in their lives. Any time you exert will and force on someone to get a desired outcome, this could be defined as bullying. I am guilty of it. In my quest to have the perfect IEP for my son, I have expected knowledge and wisdom of my son’s disabilities greater than my own. This has been my life for the past 9 1/2 months. I didn’t even realize I was doing it until someone said these simple words: “You’ve had two years to understand your son’s Tourette Syndrome. His teachers have had eight weeks. And I’m sure you don’t fully understand it at times.” In a very odd way, my attempts at advocacy for my son in school can be viewed as a type of bullying. I admit I have been forceful in my attempt to do the best for my son, and at times the lines may have blurred between right and wrong ways to go about that.
“A lot of people are afraid to tell the truth, to say no. That’s where toughness comes into play. Toughness is not being a bully. It’s having backbone.” Robert Kiyosaki
Those words affected me in a huge way. My son’s teachers are with him seven hours a day. When I say teachers, I mean the entire school staff, whether they are certified or not. These are people who have been placed in an educational environment to help children succeed. They have hundreds of decisions they need to make on a daily basis. We expect them to make the right choices constantly. But they can and do make wrong ones. They are only human. Unfortunately, teachers are put in impossible situations all the time with disabled students. When I hear about my son calling out in class, or being disruptive, I sometimes wonder what would happen if a non-disabled student did the same thing. Chances are, with my son’s IEP, he would receive a gentle warning followed by a positive reinforcement statement. For a student without disabilities, the reaction may be different. Is this fair to this type of student?
“I know the world isn’t fair, but why isn’t it ever unfair in my favor?” Bill Watterson
This makes me question humanity itself. We will give one type of treatment to a group of people because we are required to, but not another. Some teachers will utilize the techniques they see in an IEP with the entire class. But for those who don’t, I can see how some students and parents could see this as a type of favoritism or preferential treatment. I think, in an odd way, this creates a bizarre type of resentment against students with disabilities. Students certainly pick up on it. I can see the conversation already: “Johnny threw a pencil and he was talked to and nothing else happened. When I did it, I had to go to the principal’s office.” For this student, something complex happens. He sees Johnny doing things and gets away with it, but for others they get in trouble. Students, especially those in elementary and middle school, are shaped by those around them. They expect everyone to get the same treatment.
“Friendship is born at that moment when one man says to another: “What! You too? I thought that no one but myself…” C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves
Do I think that student is going to reach out a hand of friendship to a disabled student? Sadly, probably not. The opposite usually happens, and this is when teasing or bullying comes into play. It can be a quiet, covert type of bullying. What happens next, which has happened time and time again with my son, is the disabled student’s reaction being far greater than the original sin. It’s like a snowball sliding down a hill, getting bigger and bigger every inch it moves. Soon, what was once a very small thing becomes so enormous it can’t be ignored. These things could be prevented, but it would take a very educated and compassionate person to stop it.
“Understanding is the first step to acceptance, and only with acceptance can there be recovery.” J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.
If the non-disabled student goes home and tells his parents about this, the parent may call the school. Due to privacy laws the school can’t just say “That kid is on an IEP due to his disability.” This puts the school in a very awkward position. This can result in issues where the non-disabled child is pulled out of the school, and perhaps sent to a charter school or a private school. Or the charter school just can’t handle issues with disabled children, and the student is “counseled out”. These scenarios play out every day in our country and many of us don’t see the forest through the trees.
“Being ignorant is not so much a shame, as being unwilling to learn.” Benjamin Franklin
Unfortunately, outside of the school environment, these rules don’t apply. If a disabled child has an issue with another child in the neighborhood, a parent may tell the other parent about their child’s disability. At this point, the parent makes a choice: Do I let my child hang out with another child with this disability knowing issues can creep up more often? My hope would be yes, because it teaches our youth about tolerance and understanding. But the reality is a different landscape. I’ve seen it with my own son, where he is completely cut off from playing with certain children. Far too many people see disabilities as a type of mental illness, and when they hear the word medication, it raises this type of belief to high levels.
“I have learned that the biggest disability any of us may ever face is our own attitudes.” Jeffrey K. Walton
Advocacy is the art of informing another about an issue in a desired attempt to achieve resolution. In so many situations with my son, we have attempted to advocate first before issues could arise. But it is my fear this creates certain labels about him in others minds. When issues happen, the first thing this person may think is “They told me he has issues, well I’m not going to let my own kid be a part of that.” I have seen this time and time again, and it doesn’t matter which child has created the issue. It becomes the simple fact that problems are there, and instead of the adults getting together to resolve it, it becomes a blame game. It results in isolation for my son. The worst part is when he does see these kids again and more issues arise. Then it becomes something bigger than the sum of its parts. This is when parents who may have once been friends, turn on each other. The rational part of the mind is replaced by fear and misunderstanding. Anger takes hold, and that’s when things can get ugly, and what started out as a small problem can result in fences that can never be repaired.
“Anger is an acid that can do more harm to the vessel in which it is stored than to do anything on which it is poured.” Mark Twain
I read the blog Teachezwell often, because this is a special education teacher who is at the top of her game. She gets the students she is helping. She understands how so many of those issues are beyond their capability of controlling. She is not only a teacher, but for these students, their primary advocate at school. I wish I could clone her and place her everywhere in life. But I can’t, and I have to deal with this discrimination my son experiences almost on a daily basis. I see it in stores, or at a park, or anywhere the public is present and they see my son acting out or not listening to me. I understand him and what his limits and capabilities are. I know many of the triggers that cause him to do particular things. But how can I expect others too? Children don’t get an IEP outside of school, but I really wish they could. This is impossible. As long as there is fear and misunderstanding about things that aren’t viewed as “normal”, discrimination will exist.
“Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.” James Baldwin
Let’s face it, the vast majority of people who don’t have disability issues in their everyday lives do not attempt to reach out and educate themselves on it. I don’t blame them. It’s not like I research the effect of global warming on crops in Nebraska because it isn’t a part of my world. But to farmers in Nebraska, they don’t have a choice. If I were to meet one of these farmers, he may try to educate me on the dangers his crops are facing, but I would most likely walk away not absorbing what he said. It’s not because I’m selfish or uncaring, it’s because it doesn’t impact me the same way it does them. This is true of children with disabilities when parents advocate for them to the “outside” world. Adrenaline kicks in during problems, and the basic human tenet of “fight or flight” invariably kicks in.
“Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less.” Marie Curie
Is there any fix to these problems? Not an easy one. It would take a willingness of people to learn and find ways to resolve issues and not escalate them. It sounds very bleak. My heart reaches out to these children who feel cut off from the world and are alone so many times in their lives. They want to feel normal. They want someone to reach out to them and say simple words like “I understand,” or “I know what you are going through.” Loneliness and despair are the biggest enemies to these children. It’s where their thoughts start to live, and a deep and lasting sadness invades the light of their souls.
“There are wounds that never show on the body that are deeper and more hurtful than anything that bleeds.” Laurell K. Hamilton, Mistral’s Kiss
Inclusion is a good thing. It puts disabled children on the same level playing field with their peers. But it can also have some nasty side effects, the biggest being seclusion in an inclusive environment. I know my audience for this article is going to be those who are in this world in one shape or another. But I would encourage anyone reading this to pass it on. All too often, people don’t know what an issue is unless they see it. Please share this with those outside of the disability world. Unless we educate those who don’t have a vested interest, we can’t expect them to care as much as we do. It’s sad, but it’s reality. Whether a child has ADHD, Autism, Tourette Syndrome, or is blind or deaf, humanity doesn’t view these issues the same way as those who are knee-deep into them. But the best we can do is try, and try again.
“Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them humanity cannot survive.” Dalai Lama
To read the very awesome Teachezwell blog, please go to http://teachezwell.me/